2) Napoleon and the Church

2) Napoleon and the Church

2) Napoleon and the Church

[Again, I’m assuming you remember the basics of Socials 9]

  • Because of the weakness of the Directory, Napoleon first took over France, and then he extended his influence to most all of Western Europe by 1814.
  • He named himself Emperor of France, and forced Holy Roman EmperorFrancis II to call himself only the Emperor of Austria in 1806; this officially ended the Holy Roman Empire that arguably Charlemagne and Pope Leo III started in 800.
  • While his authority was at its peak, he also had his run-ins with the Church.

a) Concordat of1801 with Pope Pius VII

  • Pius VI, the pope during the French Revolution, died in 1799
  • When Napoleon overthrew the Directory and took over the government, he remembered the Vendée Counter-Revolution.
  • To placate the Catholic peasants of France, he negotiated a deal with the new pope to replace the Civil Constitution of the Clergy:

- Napoleon guaranteed the free practice of Catholicism.

- The Pope gives the right of nominating bishops to the Emperor, but reserves the right of canonical institution.

- Any church property seized by the State during the French Revolution remains state property, but in compensation the clergy will receive a salary from the State.

- All clergy must take an oath of allegiance to the Emperor.

b) Coronation of Napoleon 1804

  • In1804, Napoleon bullied Pius to come to France to crown him emperor just like Leo III crowned Charlemagne.
  • Usually, the pope crowns the emperor as a sign that his authority comes from God.
  • Napoleon instead famously grabbed the crown out of the Pius’ hands and put the crown on himself symbolizing that the authority did not come from anyone. He then crowned his wife Josephine.
  • This was a public insult, and Pius was not happy, but he could do nothing. The imperial painter Jacques Louis David painted the scene after putting in a propaganda-type addition on his own.

c) 1806--Napoleon’s additions to the French Catechism

  • Soon after his coronation, Napoleon began to break his promise and interfered with religious instruction.
  • He added the following instructions to the Catechism that all Catholics had to memorize:

Q. What are the duties of all Christians toward the Emperor?

A. Christians…owe in a special manner to our Emperor Napoleon love, reverence, obedience, loyalty, military service, and the taxes imposed for the preservation of his empire…

Q. Why are we obliged to perform our duties to our Emperor?

A. Because …by heaping favours upon our Emperor in peace and in war, [God] set him up as our sovereign and has made him the minister of His power and His image on earth. To honour and serve our Emperor, therefore, is to honour and serve God Himself.

Q. How should we regard those who fail to perform their duty to our Emperor?

A. According to…St. Paul, they resist the order established by God and risk eternal damnation.

Q. Will the duties which we owe to our Emperor be also binding with regard to his lawful successors?

A. Yes, without any doubt, because we read in Sacred Scripture that God…gives empires not only to one person in particular, but also to his family.

--from Catéchisme á l’usage de toute les églises de l’Empire Française, Paris, 1806.

d) Confiscation of Church lands in other parts of Europe

  • Napoleon did keep the Concordat of 1801, but that only applied to France.
  • Wherever Napoleon had hegemony in Europe, he actively seized church lands.
  • Dioceses and monasteries in Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands were actively taken into state hands.

e) Seizure of the Pope 1808

  • Napoleon was at war with England and its allies, but Pius VII refused to heed his request to declare war on England.
  • In retaliation, Napoleon sent troops to Rome. He annexed the Papal States and exiled Pius to Fontainebleau, where he remained in solitary confinement for 6 years.
  • Pius remained there until he was liberated in 1814 after Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo.
  • His health was ruined for the rest of his life, but before he died in 1823, he managed one important act: the restoration of the Jesuits as a religious order in 1814.
  • Napoleon’s time in power ended when he was exiled to the island of St. Helena in 1815, where he died in 1821.
  • Still, Napoleon’s attempts on the Church would set a precedent, and other nations would follow suit in the mid-19th century.


1)Use Napoleon’s catechism to explain how he tried to use Royal Absolutism and Religious Nationalism to control the Church.

2)In what other ways did Napoleon attack the Church?

3)In what way was David’s painting a form of propaganda for Napoleon’s ideas? Take a close look at how he portrayed Pius VII.