To Kidnap a Pope: Napoleon and Pius VII

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To Kidnap a Pope: Napoleon and Pius VII

To Kidnap a Pope: Napoleon and Pius VII

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Caiani points out that the operation that netted the pope used swarm tactics that Napoleon himself would have approved of, yet while Napoleon was a master of battlefields, the pope proved to be an evenly matched political opponent. The two tussled over a fundamental question, one that still haunts European politics — should the state or the church exercise supreme authority? While Bernier’s political views were flexible, Napoleon’s own religious views were pragmatic and at times Unitarian.

Pope: Napoleon and Pius VII by Ambrogio A Caiani To Kidnap a Pope: Napoleon and Pius VII by Ambrogio A Caiani

Gallicanism, as André Latreille reminds us, had always been a multifaceted phenomenon, Footnote 31 divided, for convenience, into three different strands: monarchical, parlementaire and ecclesiastical. Napoleon was interested in the monarchical branch of this tradition, but the parlementaire strand did re-emerge unexpectedly in 1811. The emperor's attachment to the traditions of the Church of Gaul were to an extent opportunistic. For example, the concordat of 1801 can hardly be held up as a shining example of French ecclesiological tradition. Footnote 32 Indeed, the pope's power as supreme head of the Church was used to force the resignation of the surviving bishops of the ancien régime Gallican establishment. A more Ultramontane measure is hard to imagine. Footnote 33 It was viewed as a crime by the petite église which never forgave Pius vii for his betrayal. Footnote 34 Furthermore, those constitutional bishops who had sworn loyalty to the French Revolution and its civil constitution had remained wary of the Roman dimension of the Concordat. Footnote 35 However the really unknown quantity was the new generation of bishops created after 1800 who had little or no experience of the ancien régime or of a constitutional episcopate. The emperor, as he admitted himself later on St Helena, had badly misjudged the French clergy's attachment to the traditions of Gallicanism. Footnote 36 The experience of revolution during the 1790s had created younger curés and bishops who placed their highest hopes and loyalties in Rome. An imperial state, that had inherited the revolution's non-denominational nature and lukewarm appreciation of religion, remained suspect to them. Pius VII even attended and anointed Napoleon at his coronation as the emperor in 1804. Pontiffs traditionally crowned the Holy Roman Emperor. At the height of the ceremony, Napoleon took the crown from his hands and placed it on his own head. Some writers have seen this move as a snub.

Ambrogio's main research interests have focused on RevolutionaryFrance, Napoleonic Italy and Catholicism. His doctorate examined the declining fortunes of Louis XVI's court during the early French Revolution and was published by Cambridge University Press in 2012. Caiani relates this dramatic story in telling detail but never loses sight of the broader picture, and uses his archival discoveries to excellent effect. The result is both an exciting narrative and a fine work of scholarship, shedding new light on Napoleonic history and that of the modern Catholic Church.”—Munro Price, Literary Review The Concordant agreement was to long outlast Napoleon. Until France’s laïcité law separating church and state would come into effect in 1905, the Concordant was effectively the last word on church-state relations. Napoleon arranged similar agreements with Protestant and Jewish groups in his empire.

Ambrogio Caiani - School of History - University of Kent Dr Ambrogio Caiani - School of History - University of Kent

For cost savings, you can change your plan at any time online in the “Settings & Account” section. If you’d like to retain your premium access and save 20%, you can opt to pay annually at the end of the trial. The empire's legislators were forced to seek other solutions. Two ecclesiastical conseils met in late 1809 and early 1810 charged with advising the council of state on the most effective means of resolving the episcopal stand-off. The most loyal bishops and theologians of the empire, headed by Cardinal Fesch, met to search for a solution. Three series of questionnaires on the governance of the Church during the present crisis were issued and provided the agenda for discussion. Footnote 47 Most preferred a negotiated settlement with the imprisoned pope. They proposed that a delegation be sent to Savona to discuss terms. Footnote 48 For Pius, the release of the college of cardinals and his return to Rome were the sine qua non for future negotiation. Footnote 49 Yet the government was concerned about what would happen if the pope continued to resist conciliation. If you do nothing, you will be auto-enrolled in our premium digital monthly subscription plan and retain complete access for 65 € per month.

The French state would gain thereby the strength that came from social cohesion in the religious sphere and the right to nominate bishops for papal approval. Conversely, by being given a state-sponsored hand in the work of ecclesial reconstruction, the papacy saw an opening for undermining the traditionally problematic autonomy of the Gallican Church in relation to Rome. Napoleon reached center stage following the Coup of 18 Brumaire in 1799. Once in power, Napoleon sought to ameliorate the effects of the French civil war. Those who supported the revolution pitted themselves against both royalist and Catholic forces in the Vendée wars, a series of farmer and peasant uprisings partly over the right to practice the Catholic faith. Napoleon sympathized with the peasants in the Vendée region and sought to reconcile the principles of the French Revolution with the Catholic Church. The pope’s carefully controlled captivity, first in Italy and later in France, would last five years. Incredibly, it was the second time in less than a decade that a pope had been kidnapped. His immediate predecessor, Pope Pius VI, had died in captivity at the hands of the French Revolutionary state. Yet, this affront to the Catholic Church had not involved Napoleon. The general of the age was transiting the Mediterranean on his return to France after his campaigns in Egypt and Palestine when Pope Pius VI died.

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