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Napoleon Bonaparte And The Catholic Church

2182 words - 9 pages

Tension grew between the Catholic Church and France during the French Revolution, leading to a schism, which deeply devastated the Church’s economy. Pope Pius VII and Napoleon Bonaparte came into power as the French Revolution was ending. For different reasons they both saw the importance of restoring Roman Catholicism’s position in France. The Catholic Church’s initial support of Napoleon greatly affected both parties (O’Dwyer 12-14, 43, 49). This statement has led me to ask the following question: To what extent did the support of Napoleon affect the Church’s role as a political and economic power in France? In this paper I will argue against the traditional view that Napoleon’s contract with the Catholic Church was solely beneficial to himself and was at the expense of the Papacy’s power. Instead, I will claim that the Church’s support of Napoleon helped the Papacy reclaim the power it once had and was more economically beneficial than Napoleon’s brief political gain. This paper is significant because it challenges traditional views of the relationship between Napoleon and the Catholic Church and, on a bigger scale, analyzes the effects revolution can have on religion, politics, and society. I will first discuss the background historical context that establishes the issues presented and then I will explore the traditional view and then try to revise this argument.
Before the French Revolution, the Catholic Church had an extremely strong presence in France. The Church had a high percentage of the population as followers and possessed vast land holdings. However, as the revolution became more powerful, the old regime’s social, political, and religious foundations were shaken. The National Assembly, a founding group of the French Revolution, placed all of the Church’s property in the France’s hands on November 2, 1789. Tensions and antipathy continued and eventually led France into a schism (O’Dwyer 12-14). The loss of one of its great powers caused the Catholic Church great distress. Pope Pius VI, who ruled during the Revolution, died and in 1799, Pope Pius VII was elected. Pius VII inherited many problems, including the division between France and Rome.
Just as Pope Pius VII was coming into power, Napoleon Bonaparte, a young, military genius, was elected as First Consul of the Post-Revolutionary French government (O’Dwyer 43, 49). Both Napoleon and Pius VII saw the importance in ending the schism and restoring Catholicism in France. Napoleon saw the reestablishment of the Catholic Church in France “as a social bedrock and as an ideological anodyne” (Ellis 41) and used it to gain immediate political power. The Catholic Church wanted influence in France again and was willing to strike a deal with Napoleon to do so. In 1801 they officially published the Concordat, which restored Catholicism as the main religion in France (O’Dwyer 56). In 1802, Napoleon, without Pius’ consent, added an additional “a list of police regulations that severely...

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