Napoleon Bonaparte (1769 – 1821) was a French official and a commander of the French army after the French Revolution. He was appointed first consul by the French government. Soon after, a new constitution was passed, which gave Napoleon absolute power over France. In 1802, he was appointed consul for life. Two years later, he created the Code Napoléon, wherein were listed new laws, traditions and customs.
One major step taken by Napoleon after the disastrous French Revolution was to reunite the Catholic Church and France. In 1801 Pope Pius VII and Napoleon came to an agreement, closing the gap between them. Some of the terms were:
- Catholicism would be acknowledged as the official religion of France
- Bishops would be chosen by Napoleon and approved by the Pope
- Priests would be selected by the bishops from government pre-approved lists
However, there were concessions made by the Pope. Two of these were that the priests would remain government employed (government would pay their salaries), and that the church lands that had been confiscated during the Revolution would not be returned to the pope.
In 1802, Napoleon passed the Organic Articles. These further limited papal authority over French churches. The Organic Articles stated that church marriages would have to be approved by the state, that seminary training for priests would be provided by the government, and that the bishops could not leave their dioceses.
One might wonder why the pope agreed to so many limitations. It was simply because Pius VII did not want to create another schism such as that with England, which had begun with King Henry VIII.
In 1803, Napoleon declared war on England. Part of his strategy involved putting the Continental Blockade into effect. This blockade was a prohibition for all countries under French rule to trade with England. However, England counteracted this and put its own blockade into effect against France.
The Pope refused to take part in Napoleon’s Continental Blockade. As a result, Napoleon confiscated the Papal States and threatened to join them with France. But the pope stood his ground, and in 1809 he excommunicated Napoleon. Later, Napoleon would capture Pius and imprison him in Genoa. In 1814, the pope would be allowed to go free.
In the middle of this complex situation, Napoleon declared himself emperor (1804). He invited the pope to reign over the ceremony. However, Napoleon placed the crown upon his own head.
Throughout his reign the French emperor brought much of Europe under his rule. But when in 1812 he attempted to invade Russia, he lost over 90% of his army. This encouraged the rest of Europe to unite and overthrow Napoleon.
In 1814 France was invaded. After the Congress of Vienna (1814 – 1815), Napoleon was exiled to Elba. But the ambitious and stubborn Napoleon escaped and snuck back into France to raise an army. This culminated in the Battle of Waterloo, which Napoleon lost. He was then exiled to St. Helena, where he died.
Napoleon’s impact on Europe later influenced this continent’s later growth substantially. For one thing the Code Napoléon became the base of several European governmental systems. Also, Napoleon had dissolved the Holy Roman Empire. The countries that had made up this great empire subsequently became independent nations.
This ambitious military leader and emperor was a great figure in Western Civilization.