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Napoleon as First Consul by Gros (click to enlarge) Pope Pius VII by David (click to enlarge)
Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, architectural epicenter of Roman Catholicism in France

'Everything in this world proclaims the existence of God' - Napoleon

The Concordat of 1801 between Napoleon I and Pope Pius VII ended more than ten years of hostility and violence between the church and the French Revolution by reestablishing Roman Catholicism as a state-supported religion and effecting a compromise between the status of the church under the Ancien Regime and the Civil Constitution of the Clergy of 1790. The Concordat served as a model for agreements with emerging national states throughout the 19th century. In 1993 a modern concordat was reached between Vatican representatives and the government of Poland.

Named Pope Pius VII, Barnabo Chiaramonti was born at Cesena in 1742 and became a Benedictine monk, professor, and abbot. Pius VI made him bishop of Tivoli (1782) and then bishop of Imola and a cardinal (1785). Pius VI died while being held prisoner by the French in 1799, and in March 1800 Chiaramonti was elected pope in a conclave held under Austrian protection in Venice. He would remain Pope until his death in 1823. Pius depended heavily on Enrico Consalvi, whom he created cardinal and secretary of state. Consalvi negotiated the concordat of 1801, which settled the status of the church in France.

Pius was flexible enough to travel to Paris and assist at the self-coronation of Napoleon I (1804), but he would not become a French ally. Napoleon forced Consalvi's temporary resignation (1806) and invaded papal territory, taking Rome in 1808 and formally annexing the Papal States in 1809. Pius excommunicated Napoleon, who imprisoned the pope for five years. Pius returned to Rome in 1814, while the allies defeated Napoleon. At the Congress of Vienna (1814-15) Consalvi obtained restitution of most papal territory and preserved Vatican neutrality. In 1814, Pius reestablished the Jesuit order, which had been suppressed in 1773.

Napoleon understood that the restoration of religious peace was above all things necessary for the peace of the country. The particular hostility of the Catholics in the Vendee to the new state of affairs which resulted from the Revolution was due chiefly to the fact that their Catholic consciences were outraged by the Revolutionary laws. Of the 136 sees of ancient France a certain number had lost their titulars by death; the titulars of many others had been forced to emigrate.

In Paris the Cathedral of Notre-Dame and the church of St-Sulpice were in the possession of 'constitutional' clergy. Royer, a 'constitutional' bishop, had taken the place of Mgr. de Juigne, the lawful Archbishop of Paris, an émigré; even in the churches which the Catholics had recovered, the rites of the 'Theophilanthropists' and those of the 'Decadi' were also celebrated. The nation suffered from this religious anarchy, and the wishes of the people coincided with Bonaparte's projected policy to restore the Catholic Church and Catholic worship to their normal condition in France.

I. THE FIRST MOVES

On the 25th of June, 1800, First Consul Bonaparte, still basking in the afterglow of his victory at Marengo, passed through Vercelli, where he paid a visit to Cardinal Martiniana, bishop of that city. He asked that prelate to go to Rome and inform Pius that Bonaparte wished to make him a present of thirty million French Catholics; that the first consul desired to reorganize the French dioceses, while lessening their number; that the émigré bishops should be induced to resign their sees; that France should have a new clergy untrammelled by past political conditions; that the pope's spiritual jurisdiction in France should be restored. Martiniana faithfully reported these words to Pius. It was only a few months before that Pius VI had died at Valence, a prisoner of revolutionary France.

Pius VII, when elected at Venice, had announced his accession to the legitimate government of Louis XVIII, not to that of the Republic; and now Bonaparte, the representative of this de facto government, was making overtures of peace to the Holy See on the very morrow of his great victory. His action naturally caused the greatest surprise at Rome. The difficuLties in the way, however, were very serious. They arose, chiefly:

(1) from the susceptibilities of the émigré bishops, from the future Louis XVIII, and from Cardinal Maury, who was suspicious of any attempt at reconciliation between the Roman Church and the new France;

(2) from the susceptibilities of the former revolutionaries, now the courtiers of Napoleon, but still imbued with the irreligious philosophy of the eighteenth century.

The distinctive mark of the negotiations, taken as a whole, is the fact that the French bishops, whether still abroad or returned to their own country, had no heart whatever in them. The concordat as finally arranged practically ignored their existence.

II. THE THREE PHASES OF THE NEGOTIATIONS

First Phase (5 November, 1800-10 March, 1801)

Spina, titular Archbishop of Corinth, accompanied by Caselli, General of the Servites, arrived in Paris, on 5 November, 1800. Bernier, who had been parish priest of Saint-Laud, at Angers, and famous for the part he had played in the wars of La Vendée, was instructed by Bonaparte to confer with Spina. Four proposals for a concordat were submitted in turn to the pope's representative, who felt that he had no right to sign them without referring them to the Holy See. Finally, after numerous delays, for which Talleyrand was responsible, a fifth proposal, written by Napoleon himself, was brought to Rome, on 10 March, by the courier Palmoni.

Second Phase (10 March, 1801-6 June, 1801)

Cacault, member of the Corps Legislatif, appointed as minister plenipotentiary to the Holy See, reached Rome on 8 April, 1801. He had received instructions from Napoleon to treat the pope as if he had 200,000 men. He was a good Christian, and anxious to bring the work of the concordat to a successful issue. What Bonaparte wished, however, was the immediate acceptance by Rome of his plan of the concordat; on the other hand, the cardinals to whom Pius had submitted it took two months to study it.

On 12 May, 1801, the very day on which Napoleon, at Malmaison, was complaining to Spina of the slowness of the Holy See, the cardinals to whom the proposed concordat had been submitted sent yet another proposal to Paris. But, before this last proposal had reached its destination, Cacault received an ultimatum from Talleyrand, to the effect that he must leave Rome if, after an interval of five days, the concordat proposed by Bonaparte had not been signed by Pius. All might then have been broken off, had the situation not been saved by Cacault. He left Rome, leaving his secretary Artaud there, but suggested to the Holy See the idea of sending Consalvi himself, Secretary of State to treat with Bonaparte. On 6 June, 1801, Artaud and Consalvi left Rome in the same carriage.

Third Phase (6 June, 1801-15 July, 1801)

Consalvi, after an audience with Bonaparte, discussed the various points of the proposed concordat with Bernier, and on 12 July they had reached an agreement. Bonaparte thereupon instructed his brother Joseph, Cretet, councillor of state, and Bernier to sign the concordat with Consalvi, Spina, and Caselli. During the day of the 13th, Bernier sent Consalvi a minute, adding: "Here is what they will propose to you at first; read it well, examine everything, despair of nothing."

Between this minute and the proposal concerning which Consalvi and Bernier had come to the agreement of the day before, there were certain remarkable differences with regard to the publicity of worship; a clause relative to married priests, and always rejected by Consalvi, was inserted; the clauses relating to seminaries, to chapters, and that of the profession of the Catholic Faith by the consuls, to which the Holy See attached great importance were suppressed.

Consalvi received the impression, he expresses it in his 'Memoirs', written in 1812, that the French Government intended to deceive him by substituting a fresh text for the text he had accepted; and d'Haussonville, in his book, 'The Roman Church and the First Empire', has formally impugned the good faith of Bonaparte's representatives. Bernier's aforementioned note of 13 July, recently discovered by Cardinal Mathieu, asking Consalvi to 'read' and 'examine' carefully, proves that the French Government did not intend any deception; nevertheless, the presentation of this new draft reopened the whole question. Talleyrand had taken the initiative in this matter; for twenty consecutive hours Bonaparte's three plenipotentiaries and those of the Holy See carried on their discussion.

The plan on which they finally agreed was thrown into the fire by Bonaparte, who that evening, at dinner, gave way to a violent fit of anger against Consalvi. Finally, on 15 July, a conference of twelve hours ended in a definite agreement; on the 16th Bonaparte approved of it. On his part, after consultation with the cardinals, sanctioned this arrangement, 11 August; on 10 September the signatures were exchanged, and on 18 April, 1802, Bonaparte caused the publication of the concordat and the reconciliation of France with the Church to be solemnly celebrated in the cathedral of Notre-Dame at Paris.

Napoleon's future prisoner, Pope Pius VII in the Sistine Chapel

The French Government by the concordat recognized the Catholic religion as the religion of the great majority of Frenchmen. The phrase was no longer as in former times, the religion of the State. But it was a question of a personal profession of Catholicism on the part of the Consuls of the Republic. The Holy See had insisted on this mention, and it was only on this condition that the pope agreed to grant to the State police power in the matter of public worship.

This question had been one of the most troublesome that arose during the course of the deliberations. In the matter of these police powers it had been agreed after many difficulties that the following should stand as Article I of the concordat:  'The Catholic, Apostolic and Roman Religion shall be freely exercised in France. Its worship shall be public while conforming to such police regulations as the government shall consider necessary to public tranquillity.'  The pope agreed to a fresh circumscription of the French dioceses. When this subsequently took place, of the 136 sees only 60 were retained. The pope promised to inform the actual titulars of the dioceses that he should expect from them every sacrifice, even that of their sees.

According to Articles 4 and 5 the French Government was to present the new bishops, but the pope was to give them canonical institution. The bishops were to appoint as parish priests such persons only as were acceptable to the Government (Art. 9); the latter, in turn, stipulated that such churches as had not been alienated, and were necessary for worship, would be placed 'at the disposition' of the bishops (Art. 12). The Church agreed not to trouble the consciences of those citizens who, during the Revolution, had become possessed of ecclesiastical property (Art. 13); on the other hand the Government promised the bishops and parish priests a fitting maintenance (sustentationem, Art. 14).

Such were the principal stipulations of the concordat. Certain of its articles have been fully discussed, particularly by canonists and jurists, notably Articles 5, 12, and 14, relating to the nomination of bishops, the use of churches, and the maintenance of the clergy. Moreover, the law known as "The Organic Articles", promulgated in April, 1802, and always upheld by later French governments in spite of the protest of the pope, made immediately after its publication, has in various ways infringed on the spirit of the concordat and given rise during the nineteenth century to frequent disputes between Church and State in France.

IV. RESULT OF THE CONCORDAT

The concordat, notwithstanding the addition of the Organic Articles, must be credited with having restored peace to the consciences of the French people on the very morrow of the Revolution. To it also was due the reorganization of Catholicism in France, under the protection of the Holy See. It was also of great moment in the history of the Church. Only a few years after Josephinism and Febronianism (q. v.) had disputed the pope's rights to govern the Church, the Papacy and the Revolution, in the persons of Pius VII and Napoleon, came to an understanding which gave France a new episcopate and marked the final defeat of Gallicanism.

V. FATE OF THE CONCORDAT

The French law of 9 December, 1905, on the Separation of Church and State, against which Pius had protested in his 'Allocution' of 11 December, 1905, was based on the principle that the State of France should no longer recognize the Catholic Church, but only distinct associations cultuelles, i. e. associations formed in each parish for the purpose of worship 'in accordance with the rules governing the organization of worship in general.' In case of the non-formation of such associations destined to take over the property, real and personal, of the churches or fabriques, this property was to be forever lost to the Church and to be turned over by decree to the charitable establishments of the respective communes.

By the Encyclical 'Gravissimo Officii', of 10 August, 1906, the pope forbade the formation of these associations cultuelles or associations for worship. Rome feared that they would furnish the State with a pretext for interfering with the internal life of the Church, and would offer to the laity a constant temptation to control the religious life of the parish. Thereupon, the State applied strictly the aforementioned law, considered the fabriques, i. e. the hitherto legally-recognized churches, as no longer existing, and, in the absence of associations cultuelles to take up their inheritance, gave over all their property to charitable establishments (établissements de bienfaisance).

Exception was made for the church edifices actually used for worship; at the same time nothing was done concerning the numberless legal questions that arise apropos of these edifices, e. g. right of ownership, right of use, repairs, etc. At the present writing, therefore (end of 1908), the Church of France, stripped of all her property, is barely tolerated in her religious edifices, and has only a precarious enjoyment of them. On the other hand, since ecclesiastical authority has forbidden the only kind of corporations (associations cultuelles) which the State recognizes as authorized to collect funds for purposes of worship, the Church has no means of putting together in a legal and regular way such funds or capital as may be required for the ordinary needs of public worship.

Thus the churches of France live from day to day; neither the parish nor the diocese can own any fund, however small, which the parish priest or the bishop is free to hand down to his successors; all this because the State stubbornly insists that only the above-described associations cultuelles (which it knows are impossible for French Catholics) shall be clothed with the right of ownership for purposes of worship. Though the present condition is necessarily a transitory one, it appears, unfortunately, to offer one permanent element, i. e. the certain loss of all the property once belonging to the fabriques. The worst enemies of the French clergy must admit that, in order to safeguard its principles, the Church which they accuse of avarice has sacrificed without hesitation all its temporal goods.

Vive Le Premier Consul!