Chapter 19

 

The Concordat and the Religious Peace

 

 

 

"Politics," Napoleon was fond of saying, "is just common sense applied to important matters." As soon as power was conferred on him in November 1799, he put this maxim to work.

 

After ten years of revolution, the country was in ruins, yet Napoleon was perfectly confident that the French needed no urging to get back to work with the greatest enthusiasm. All French men and women were ready to work to the limit of their abilities to improve living conditions for their families. In order to achieve this, all that was needed was to re-establish public security and allow everyone to reap the rewards of their labours. For the population to be happy, restoring freedom of worship was a priority. Since 95% of the population was Catholic, he first of all applied his energies to the re-establishment of this religion.

At first sight, the task appeared simple. It would just require issuing a couple of decrees and that would be that. But that is not the way things turned out. It was met with violent opposition from every quarter. The most influential political figures, all products of the Revolution, were atheists, and accused Napoleon of wanting to reinstate what they called "ridiculous buffoonery." Among his most virulent opponents were General Moreau, Fouché, Talleyrand, Grégoire, Delmas, Bernadotte, Brune, Oudinot, Gouvion-Saint-Cyr and even La Fayette.

 

The royalists saw their most powerful weapon for winning over the French people slipping from their grasp. The Comte díArtois, the brother of Louis XVIII, went as far as to label Pope Pius VII a criminal for agreeing to deal with Napoleon. This was because he needed the Pope to sign an agreement that would make him the sovereign pontiff of the Roman Catholic church in France. Napoleon was later to say of this agreement, the Concordat, that it was one of the most difficult accomplishments of his entire career.

 

On November 29, 1799, Napoleon signed a decree putting an end to the deportation of priests. On December 28, 1799, another decree was issued, authorizing churches to be opened on Sundays. On December 30, funeral services were held in every cathedral and church to commemorate the death of Pope Pius VI. On June 25, 1800, Bonaparte attended a Te Deum in Milan Cathedral, then met with Cardinal Martiana. He informed him of his plan to conclude a Concordat between the French State and the Holy See.

 

Here is the text of the letter that Martiana addressed to Pius VII at the conclusion of this meeting:

 

"Bonaparte has communicated to me his ardent desire to arrange the ecclesiastical affairs of France, while at the same time procuring peace outside his borders. He asked me to take charge right away of the negotiations between himself and Your Holiness. His intentions seem to me truly sincere, judging by the very reasonable arrangements and demands that he deigned to express to me, and the assurance he gave me that in the event of success, he would employ all his power to ensure that your Holiness recovers all his states."

 

At the beginning of July 1800, Pius VII informed Martiani that he was interested in the proposal, thereby permitting negotiations to get under way. The Concordat was signed a year later, but only after numerous difficulties were overcome, thanks largely to Napoleon's firmness and spirit of reconciliation. He began by making a friend of the Abbé Bernier, who until then had been the leader of the Vendée Catholics in their revolt against the religious interdictions instituted by the Directory.


With his characteristic sincerity and charisma, Napoleon Bonaparte had no trouble convincing Bernier that they should work hand in hand for the greater good of the people. In one stroke, the Civil War that the atrocious repression of preceding governments had only exacerbated, was ended.

 

Bernier, now an ally, lent his support as a bona fide priest through all the various phases that finally led to the signing of the agreement.

 

The first consul related that Bernier was feared among the Italian Cardinals for the violence of his logic. "It almost seemed that he believed himself back in the days when he was leading the Vendéens in their charge against the bleus. Nothing could be more striking than the contrast between his rough manners and the polite phrases and honeyed tones of the prelates. Cardinal Caprara came to me with a bewildered air to ask whether it was true that during the war, the Abbé had built an altar out of the corpses of Republicans to celebrate a mass. I told him that I didn't know, but thought that it was quite possible."

 

"General First Consul," the Cardinal exclaimed in horror, "it is not a red cap that this man should be wearing, but the red bonnet of a revolutionary!"

 

Finally however, Bernier's way of doing things did not do him too much harm, since only a few months later he was named Bishop of Orleans.

First phase: Cardinal Spina was sent to Paris as the Pope's envoy.

Second phase: an excellent diplomat by the name of Cacault was dispatched to Rome with a draft proposal. The affair dragged on owing to procrastination by the Pope's ministers. On May 12, 1801, Napoleon issued an ultimatum, yet no one at the Quirinal would back down.

Third phase: Cacault returned to Paris with the Popeís Secretary of State, Cardinal Consalvi. He in fact occupied the second highest rank in the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church, and the Pope had invested him with the power to make decisions. Napoleon personally participated in the debates, and after much bitter discussion, managed to get him to accept the final text that was signed by the Pope on July 25, 1801.

 

The document rescinded the antireligious edicts of the Revolution. The Papacy recognized the French Republic. All religions were authorized. Church and state would work in perfect agreement. Priests were to receive compensation from the government.

 

Soon, to the great joy of people in every part of the country, the Angelus was once more heard ringing out in even the remotest village.

 

Napoleon did not forget Franceís 680,000 Protestants, composed of 480,000 Calvinists and 200,000 Lutherans. By decree, he opened the chapels, and decided that pastors would receive a salary from the State.

 

Nor did he limit himself to liberating Christian religions. He made Judaism the third official religion of France. On May 30, 1806, he convened a meeting in Paris of some of the most distinguished Jews and rabbis from every region of France in order to study and to establish the correct procedures for conferring upon Jews the political and civil status of French citizens, in other words, to make them first-class citizens.

 

On Saturday July 26, 1806, one hundred and eleven representatives of the Jewish communities of France and Northern Italy assembled in the chapel of St. Jean, a building annexed to City Hall in Paris. They had received a declaration from the Emperor: "I want all men who live in France to be equal and to benefit from all our laws." At the very first meeting, Bordeaux banker Abraham Fortado was elected president. In his inaugural address, he eulogized Napoleon in glowing terms: "It is he who has put an end to bloody anarchy and secular persecution."

 

The Great Sanhedrin

 

Napoleon then decided to reunite the Great Sanhedrin the following year. Essentially religious in origin, the Great Sanhedrin is the supreme Council of the Jewish nation. This assembly had governed Israel from 170 B.C. to 70 A.D. A little after the victory at Iena, the Emperor drafted an eight-page memorandum from Posen, on November 29 1806, in which he indicated the broad outlines of the status that was to be granted to the Jews.

 

On Feb. 9, 1807, the Great Sanhedrin came together in great solemnity for a one-month session. The ceremony was based on that practiced in the Jewish state 2000 years ago. The St. Jean chapel was this time supplied with a vast semicircular table around which 71 men took their places, as in the temple in Jerusalem. Commenting on the measures agreed upon in the course of the work, Rabbi Sinzheim declared in his closing speech: "Thou, Napoleon, thou, the beloved, thou, the idol of France and Italy, the consolation of the human race, the support of the afflicted, the father of all people, the Lordís elected, it is for thee that Israel shall erect a temple in its heart. We dedicate to thee the lives and feelings of those whom thou hast just placed among the ranks of thy children by having them enjoy all the prerogatives of thy most faithful subjects." At the end of the last meeting, Napoleon was proclaimed the modern-day "Cyrus" (the king of Persia, Cyrus the Great, was the first ruler to restore the state of Israel). He was warmly and unanimously glorified by all the assembled representatives.

 

The decree of 1806 had freed the Jews from their isolation. The Great Sanhedrin of 1807, by making Judaism the third official religion, forged links that bound them closely to their new country. The resolutions of the Sanhedrin of 1807 thus formed a sort of Concordat which even today remains the organic basis of French Judaism. The measures taken by the Emperor in favor of the Jews sewed a measure of disquiet in the old courts of Europe, particularly those of London, Moscow and Vienna. Metternich, the Austrian ambassador to Paris, wrote to his Emperor: "All the Jews see Napoleon as their Messiah."

 

In fact, the Jews of France and the Empire were so grateful to him that they composed a prayer in his honour. This prayer was inserted in the missals of every synagogue in the Empire. As a result, all the faithful knew it and recited it often:

 

Prayer of the children of Israel, citizens of France and Italy, for the success and prosperity of Emperor and King Napoleon the Great, all glory to his name:

 

Composed in the month of Mar-Hechran, in the year 5567 (1807)

Psalms 20, 21, 27, 147

 

I implore Thee, eternal Creator of Heaven and Earth and of all living things. Thou hast established all the boundaries of the world and assigned to each people its language. Thou hast given the scepter of power to kings so that they may reign with equity, justice and righteousness and so that everyone, according to his station, may live in peace.

 

How truly happy we are, how blessed is our fate, since Thou hast placed Napoleon the Great on the thrones of France and Italy. There is no other man so worthy to reign nor who deserves such honour and recognition; he rules his people with beneficent authority and all the goodness of his heart.

 

Now once more Kings have untied to break their treaties and replace peace with the blood of war. They have gathered armies to fight against him; they have come to our borders, and our master, the Emperor, the King, stands with the might of his army, preparing to confront them.

 

O God! Master of all that is strong, great and beautiful, we implore Thee to remain ever close to him. Help him, support him and deliver him from all evil and tell him "I am your salvation," and make Thy light and Thy truth shine upon him and guide him.

 

Confound, we beseech Thee, the machinations of all his enemies. May all the Emperorís decisions be illuminated by the splendour of Thy wisdom. Strengthen his armies and those of his allies and may all his movements be blessed with intelligence and success.

 

Grant him victory and oblige his enemies to bow down before him and ask for his peace. And he shall grant them peace, for he is a man who longs for nothing more than peace among nations.

 

God of Compassion, Master of Peace, implant in the hearts of all the Kings of the Earth thoughts of peace and tranquillity for the benefit of all mankind. Let the sword not pass through our land and spill the blood of our brethren. Let all nations unite in total peace and tranquillity forever.

 

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