Perhaps no man captured the imagination of his own and following times as did Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821), the little Corporal who, in 1804, crowned himself Emperor of France and Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. By his force of personality, clear thinking, military genius, and dominating ambition, the stories of his life amaze readers who study them. However, the glamour and success of his campaigns obscured one of the strangest periods in Christian history, and it is well to ponder upon some little-known facts.
The deposed Pope
With the escalation of papal excesses and Vatican deceptions, most Europeans had rejected Christianity and, because of this, Napoleon realized that the government faced the prospect of losing control of the country. In 1809, he ordered his grenadiers to sack Vatican City and they subsequently removed a large quantity of documents from the Secret Vatican Archives and placed them in his Paris headquarters. He deposed Pope Pius VII (1740-1823), ‘a man of gloomy countenance’, exiled him to Savona near Genoa and then, in 1812, relocated him to Fontainebleau near Paris.
A new messiah created
Napoleon then set out to dismantle Christianity and create what he called, ‘a new docile religion’ (‘Chamber’s Encyclopedia’, Vol. IX, pp. 663-665, 1950). He abolished both the murderous Inquisition and the ‘Index of Prohibited Books’, and established a new Catholic creed, a new messiah and a new Christian calendar. Year One was reckoned to start in 1792, and he identified Paris as the ‘holy city’, with Rome its subsidiary.
Pope reactivates the Inquisition with vigour
Beneath the splendid façade, the empire contained the germs of serious weakness, for Napoleon never gained the full affection of his people. After his fall in 1814, Pius VII triumphantly returned to Rome, revoked Napoleon’s ecclesiastical decisions (‘Catholic Church Conspiracies’, Lady Eugene Heron, London, 1949), revived the Jesuits, and ‘with a sarcastic smile’ (ibid), reinstated both the Inquisition and the ‘Index of Prohibited Books’. He established guide-lines to expand and develop a new Sacred Congregation of Propaganda, and signed concordats with Russia and Prussia. He condemned Protestant Bible Societies and Freemasonry, and in what the French Church saw as a personal vendetta, he instructed the Inquisition to rebel against the people of Paris for what he called his ‘degradation’.
The Pope’s revenge
A glaring instance of extremism that the Pope used to seek his revenge is found in a newspaper report published the same year he was released (1814):
‘Witness the horrible crucifixion of females so minutely detailed by Baron De Grimm, who was an eyewitness of them during his residence at Paris, and which were suppressed not by the interference of the clergy, but by order of the Catholic Lieutenant of Police. Let anyone consult the ‘Edinburgh Review‘ of September 1814, p. 302, et seq., and he will find detailed instances of the most horrible fanaticism, which occurred in the streets of Paris’.
(‘Delineation of Roman Catholicism’, Rev. Charles Elliott, D.D., London, 1844, p. 27)
This horrific event was instigated by Pope Pius VII himself, and it is intriguing to reflect upon the comments of Lord Acton, a liberal Catholic, who was one of the few responsible historians to tell the truth about the criminality of not only Pius VII, but all popes. In his famous letter to Lady Blennerhassett (another liberal Catholic), Lord Acton openly declared that popes were ‘wholesale assassins’ and ‘worse than the accomplices of the Old Man of the Mountain’¹ (the worst assassins in history). The records of history support Lord Acton’s comments.
¹ ‘Selections from the Correspondence of the First Lord Acton’, vol. 1, p. 55, 1917