Read Part I here.
Chapter 1: The Bloodshed Increases
November, 1799. Winter is beginning to overshadow Europe. The New Iconoclasts have won their first victories in overthrowing the governments which once paid allegiance to Jesus Christ as King. They have massacred Catholics throughout France. Napoleon and his French armies have begun to conquer and ravage Europe. Rome is under French republican rule. The body of Pius VI lays dead and unburied in France. The Iconoclasts are boasting that the ancient Catholic Church cannot withstand the new republican fervor. The Catholic Church is a thing of the past. Its ancient rituals have no place in the modern world.
Against all the triumph of the New Iconoclasts, the Catholic Cardinals managed to make it out of Rome and escape to Venice and start a papal conclave.
The Holy Roman Emperor (of Austria), still recognizing his ancient role as protector of the pope, paid for the conclave to proceed. The conclave faced a grave difficulty: how were they to respond to the New Icoclasm? Pius VI had condemned the French republicans, the Synod of Pistoia, and suffered abduction and death. Should the conclave elect a Strict Iconodule to oppose the New Iconoclasm, or a Moderate who would be willing to work with the republicans?
After several months of struggle, they finally elected a Moderate, the Benedictine abbot, Barnaba Chiaramonti. There was no papal tiara, so the Venetian women created a paper mache tiara and adorned it with their own jewels. While the republicans were mocking the Church, the new pope took the make shift tiara on his head and boldly took the name Pius VII. This was the man who would win the first battle against the New Iconoclasm.
Servant of God Pius VII
A few short months after the papal election in March of 1800, Napoléon unexpectedly changed his policy toward the Catholics in France. During the Revolution they were massacred. Now Napoleon told Pius VII he wished to restore the pope’s jurisdiction to France. The Papal States were returned to the pope’s rule.
It appears that Napoléon recognized the futility of the revolution to suppress Catholicism in the mass of the population, and thought it best to unify the country under his rule by using Catholicism. In order to do that, he needed the pope’s support.
Before becoming pope, Pius VII was remembered as urging his flock to submit to the republic invaders, since republicanism as such did not conflict with the faith. As pope, he carried this moderation into his dealings with Napoléon.
Pius VII the Moderate signed a Concordat with Napoléon in 1801, and his predecessor Pius VI was finally brought to Rome and given a full Catholic burial in 1802. Pius VII believed that a moderate approach would win over Napoléon, and he even traveled to Paris to celebrate Holy Mass at Napoleon’s coronation in 1804 (where Napoléon snatched the crown and placed it on his own head).
But Napoleon’s ambition was manifested when he immediately disobeyed the Concordat and sought complete control of the Catholic Church. He again sought to conquer Europe in 1806. Napoleon naively believed the pope who crowned him would support him. Pius VII refused, infuriating Bonaparte. With full knowledge of the emperor’s military might, the Pope wrote to him and boldly proclaimed he would never support any nation in war: “We shall endure with resignation, faithful to the gospel and accept every kind of calamity as coming from God.” Napoleon responded in kind and marched on Rome, annexed the Papal States, and imposed a French Republic on the Italians.
Pius VII was a Moderate because he was willing to work with the French Republic. But at this moment he showed his holiness and excommunicated Napoleon and all who helped annex the Papal States. The time of moderation and dialogue had now ended. Enraged, Napoleon seized the pope and locked him away at Savona, north of Rome. Pius VII was then in prison with little food and few to support him for another five years. But for the holy Benedictine monk, it was like returning to the peace of his cell. He steadfastly refused Napoleon’s efforts to dominate the Church.
Meanwhile, as Napoleon continued to make war on Europe, the combined forces of England, Russia, Prussia, Austria and others began to unite in opposing him. Napoleon began to lose his battles, retreating from Russia in 1812 and defeated at Leipzig in 1813. During all this time, Servant of God Pius VII resisted Napoleon, and the emperor was finally forced to give him up to the Austrians as his enemies closed in.
Pius VII triumphantly returned to Rome in 1814, while all of Europe hailed him as a hero who stood up to Europe’s tyrant. This was the real beginning of the celebrity status of the papacy. The next year, Europe dealt the final blow to Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815. He was exiled from Europe to the island of St. Helena, off the southwest coast of Africa (due west from Modern Angolia), where he was a prisoner of the English.
Napoleon showed signs of repentance, and Pius VII petitioned Protestant England to send a Catholic priest to the remote island. Napoleon said concerning Servant of God Pius VII “Alexander the great declared himself the son of Jupiter. And in my time I find a priest who is more powerful than I am.” Napoleon made his confession, received Holy Communion and Extreme Unction and died a Catholic in 1821. After many sufferings and bloodshed, the Catholic Church had won this battle. Pius VII had shown himself to be both a Moderate and Strict, and thus perfectly typified the Tridentine alliance, defeating the power of Napoleon by humble faith. But the war with republican revolutionaries was only beginning, and the one-time French Empire was only a shadow of the horror that would engulf the whole world.
In the next chapter of part II we will see how the revolutionaries wasted no time making spiritual and temporal war on the next four popes, who resisted them with the full force of the papacy, until the ultimate clash happened and disaster struck the Papal States.
Timothy S. Flanders