EUGENE AND THE HISTORY OF FRANCE: NAPOLEON I AND THE CHURCH

In order to understand the actions and the charism of Eugene de Mazenod, we need to spend some time understanding the historical and political situation in which he lived and to which he responded.

In 1802 Eugene’s time of exile ended and Napoleon (who had become ruler in 1799) made it possible for him to return to France to live with his mother. Yvon Beaudoin narrates (http://www.omiworld.org/en/dictionary/historical-dictionary_vol-1_n/867/napoleon-i/:

Napoleon became aware that he needed the support of the Church. He drew up a Concordat with the Holy See which was signed on July 15, 1801 and promulgated April 18, 1802. In virtue of this concordat, the clergy gave up their right to the property they owned, but the state committed itself to see to the sustenance of the bishops and the priests as employees of the state. The government appointed the bishops, but it was the Pope who granted them canonical installation. Priests who had emigrated were allowed to return and the churches were reopened.

In Eugene’s writings of this period, he never mentions Napoleon by name, but in 1802, he stated his frank opposition to the Concordat and, on this occasion, stated that the Pope “si è sporcificato”, that is, he dishonoured himself, stooping to gestures of baseness. (LEFLON, I, Eugene de Mazenod, trans. Francis D. Flanagan, o.m.i., p. 233)

Upon his return to France in 1802, Eugene had a more accurate view of the situation and the advantages provided by the Concordat. In the course of his trip to Paris in 1805 with a view of obtaining a passport for Sicily, he wrote his father on August 14:

Tomorrow … is the day of the Assumption, a big feast for many reasons […] There will be horse races; then illuminations and fireworks, for as well as the feast that the whole Church solemnly celebrates, it is also Napoleon’s birthday. Thanks will be given to God too for the success of the concordat, and with good reason; any Catholic with an iota of zeal for the good of religion should join his thanksgiving to those of the Church in France. Religion had been given up for dead in this kingdom; and if the peace accorded to the Church had not enabled its ministers to protect the young, I mean the nascent generation, from the contagion which had affected all age-groups, but especially those we call the children of the revolution, all those of 18, 20 years of age would be ignorant of God’s very existence.

(Oblate Writings I, vol. 14, no. 10, p. 18-19)

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One Response to EUGENE AND THE HISTORY OF FRANCE: NAPOLEON I AND THE CHURCH

  1. Eleanor Rabnett, Oblate Associate says:

    I think of the many times in my life where I have seen the actions of others through the lens of where I was at the time. Sometimes my view has been quite narrow and other times it has been the view that I have adopted from another(s). Easy for me to understand how Eugene in the space of just a few years could see something so differently each time.

    There have been times in my life where my view seemed to be dependent on what I needed or wanted at the moment, or who I ‘hung around with’. I have sat there this morning recalling times that I hurt someone(s) because of my need to be a part of something greater than myself and so allowed myself to be self-righteous and judging, with a view that was narrow, controlling and harmful to all concerned. And to make matters even clearer it was done wearing the cloak of piety and religion. It hurts when I think of the pain that I caused to another. Steps 4 and 9 of the 12 Steps come to the forefront and even as I write this I think of the times off and on when I thought of a particular incident but pushed it away, rationalizing etc. This morning it now sits there like a huge rock before me and I think of the line “…my sin is always before me”. I would have been much more comfortable if this morning had remained to be ‘just about Eugene and the situation in France’.

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