Essay on Napoleon Bonaparte and the Catholic Church

Essay on Napoleon Bonaparte and the Catholic Church

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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 Frenc...


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... Papacy since 1500: From Italian Prince to Universal Pastor. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2010. Print.

Ellis, Geoffrey James. The Napoleonic Empire. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003. Print.

Hales, E. E. Y. The Emperor and the Pope: The Story of Napoleon and Pius VII. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1961. Print.

Holtman, Robert B. "The Catholic Church in Napoleon's Propaganda Organization."
The Catholic Historical Review 35.1 (1949). JSTOR. Web. 10 July 2011. .

O'Dwyer, Margaret M. The Papacy in the Age of Napoleon and the Restoration: Pius VII, 1800- 1823. Lanham, MD: University of America, 1985. Print.

Olson, Roberta J. M. "Representations of Pope Pius VII: The First Risorgimento Hero." The Art Bulletin 68.1 (1986). JSTOR. Web. 10 July 2011. .

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