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Napoleon on Christ?

(The American Catholic will observe its tenth anniversary in October.  We will be reposting some classic TAC posts of the past.  This post is from November 21, 2014. )

 

 

I have been reading, and enjoying, Andrew Roberts’ new biography of Napoleon.  Although I am not a fan of the Little Corporal, and Roberts clearly is, I appreciate the freshness he brings to a man who has been studied endlessly since his emergence from the maelstrom of the French Revolution.  I am taking this opportunity to repost a post I wrote in 2008 on purported comments made by Napoleon about Christ:

 

 

Napoleon purportedly made some remarkable statements about Christ while he was imprisoned on Saint Helena.  This one was supposedly made to General Bertrand:

” Such is the fate of great men ! So it was with Caesar and Alexander.   And I, too, am forgotten.   And the name of a conqueror and an emperor is a college theme!   Our exploits are tasks given to pupils by their tutor, who sit in judgment upon us, awarding censure or praise.   And mark what is soon to become of me!   Assassinated by the English oligarchy, I die before my time ; and my dead body, too, must return to the earth, to become food for worms.   Behold the destiny, near at hand, of him who has been called the great Napoleon!   What an abyss between my deep misery and the eternal reign of Christ, which is proclaimed, loved, adored, and which is extending over all the earth!   Is this to die?   Is it not rather to live?   The death of Christ!   It is the death of God.”

For a moment the Emperor was silent. As General Bertrand made no reply, he solemnly added, ” If you do not perceive that Jesus Christ is God, very well, then I did wrong to make you a general.”

And this statement, also to General Bertrand:

“The conversation at St. Helena very frequently turned upon the subject of religion. One day Napoleon was speaking of the divinity of Christ. General Bertrand said,

” I can not conceive, sire, how a great man like you can believe that the Supreme Being ever exhibited himself to men under a human form, with a body, a face, mouth, and eyes. Let Jesus be whatever you please—the highest intelligence, the purest heart, the most profound legislator, and, in all respects, the most singular being who has ever existed—I grant it. Still he was simply a man, who taught his disciples, and deluded credulous people, as did Orpheus, Confucius, Brama. Jesus caused himself to be adored because his predecessors Isis and Osiris, Jupiter and Juno, had proudly made themselves objects of worship. The ascendancy of Jesus over his time was like the ascendancy of the gods and the heroes of fable. If Jesus has impassioned and attached to his chariot the multitude, if he has revolutionized the world, I see in that only the power of genius and the action of a commanding spirit, which vanquishes the world as so many conquerors have done— Alexander, Caesar, you, sire, and Mohammed—with a sword.”

Napoleon promptly replied,

” I know men, and I tell you that Jesus Christ is not a man. Superficial minds see a resemblance between Christ and the founders of empires, and the gods of other religions. That resemblance does not exist. There is between Christianity and whatever other religion the distance of infinity.”

 I say these statements were purportedly made by Napoleon because controversy surrounds these and similar statements allegedly made by Napoleon about Christ on Saint Helena.  Go here for some background on the difficulty of confirming these quotes. Continue Reading

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Tolstoy’s Theory of History

I’ve been really enjoying listening to the unabridged War and Peace (I’m listening to a reading by Neville Jason) as a commuting book. It’s episodic enough to be good when listened to in half hour increments, and it’s good enough to be a pleasure to hear while not so stylistic in its prose as to be make one feel as if one ought to be reading it rather than listening. However, this morning I hit one of Tolstoy’s chapter long theory-of-history sections, and was startled at how little sense it made. This is a chunk of Book 9, Chapter 1:

From the close of the year 1811 intensified arming and concentrating of the forces of Western Europe began, and in 1812 these forces—millions of men, reckoning those transporting and feeding the army—moved from the west eastwards to the Russian frontier, toward which since 1811 Russian forces had been similarly drawn. On the twelfth of June, 1812, the forces of Western Europe crossed the Russian frontier and war began, that is, an event took place opposed to human reason and to human nature. Millions of men perpetrated against one another such innumerable crimes, frauds, treacheries, thefts, forgeries, issues of false money, burglaries, incendiarisms, and murders as in whole centuries are not recorded in the annals of all the law courts of the world, but which those who committed them did not at the time regard as being crimes.

What produced this extraordinary occurrence? What were its causes? The historians tell us with naive assurance that its causes were the wrongs inflicted on the Duke of Oldenburg, the nonobservance of the Continental System, the ambition of Napoleon, the firmness of Alexander, the mistakes of the diplomatists, and so on. Continue Reading

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Bishop John Carroll, Joshua Barney and the Bonapartes

One of the difficulties that I often experience when preparing a post on a historical topic for the blog, is deciding what to leave out.  Oftentimes I have far more material than I can put in a post, unless I want to transform the post into a treatise.  In the case of my recent post on Joshua Barney, American naval hero of the American Revolution and the War of 1812, I had to leave out quite a bit on his life.  One portion that I think might be of interest to our readers is his involvement with Jerome Bonaparte, brother to Napoleon Bonaparte.

Continue Reading

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Pat Robertson, Haiti and History

 

For the benefit of Mr. Robertson.  The Haitians revolted during the French Revolution and the reign of Napoleon I.  The Haitians were never ruled by Napoleon III (1852-1870), having their independence recognized in 1825 by France.  Although Voodoo has been sadly ubiquitous in Haiti, there is no evidence of a pact between Satan and Haitian insurgents, although Robertson is not the only person to propound this myth, which is quite common in some evangelical circles.  A good article debunking this myth is here and here.  This of course is far from the first time that Pat Robertson has said something factually challenged and insulting, although considering the vastness of the tragedy, Robertson expounding his kook theory at this point as Haiti mourns countless dead and lies prostrate is truly beneath contempt.  Certain Catholic religious orders enjoin silence for the good of the souls of their members.  Mr. Robertson could benefit by following their example.

For those wishing to donate to Catholic Relief Services for Haiti, here is a link.