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Napoleon's Religion

( Originally Published 1902 )



NAPOLEON'S exile afforded him the opportunity of thinking of and communicating with God, which he did constantly. His religious opinions became very clear, and his faith exceedingly strong. Toward the close of his life he had a conversation with General Bertrand, who was an unbeliever, in which he expressed some religious views which are worthy to be pre-served through the centuries. He said: I perceive God; I see him; have need of him. I believe in him. If you do not perceive him, if you do not believe in him, so much the worse for you. But you will, General Bertrand, yet believe in God. I can pardon many things, but I have a horror of an atheist and materialist." Continuing, he makes this reference to the New Testament Scriptures : " The Gospel possesses a secret virtue, a mysterious efficacy, a warmth which penetrates and soothes the heart. One finds, in meditating upon it, that which one experiences in contemplating the heavens. The Gospel is not a book; it is a living being, with an action, a power which invades everything that opposes its extension. Behold it upon this table, this book surpassing all others (here the Emperor solemnly placed his hand upon it), I never omit to read it, and every day with the same pleasure.

" Nowhere is there to be found such a series of beautiful ideas, admirable, moral maxims, which file like the battalions of a celestial army, and which produce in our soul the same emotion which one experiences in contemplating the infinite expanse of the skies, resplendent in a summer's night with all the brilliancy of the stars. Not only is our mind absorbed, it is controlled, and the soul can never go astray with this book for its guide. Once master of our spirit, the faithful Gospel loves us. God ever is our friend, our father, and truly our God. The mother has no greater care for the infant whom she nurses."

In the discussion about the Divinity of Christ, General Bertrand said : " 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—by the sword." Napoleon replied with considerable feeling, " 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.

" We can say to the author of every other religion, you are neither gods nor the agents of Deity. You are but the missionaries of falsehood moulded from the same clay with the rest of mortals. You are made with all the passions and vices inseparable from them. Your temples and your priests proclaim your origin. Such will be the judgment, the cry of conscience, of whoever examines the gods and the temples of paganism. Everything in Christ astonishes me. His spirit overawes me, and his will confounds me. Between him and whoever else in the world, there is no possible comparison. He is a being by himself. His birth, and the history of his life; the profundity of his doctrine, which grapples the mightiest difficulties ; his Gospel, his apparition, his empire, his march across the ages and the realms ; everything is for me a prodigy. Here I see nothing human.

" In every other existence, but that of Christ, how many imperfections ! Where is the character which has not yielded, vanquished by obstacles? Where is the individual who has never been governed by circumstances or places, who has never succumbed to the influence of the times, who has never compounded with any customs or passions? From the first day to the last, he is the saine, always the same, majestic and simple, infinitely firm, and infinitely gentle.

" Christ died, the object of the wrath and contempt of the nation, and abandoned and denied by his own disciples. `They are about to take me,' he said, and to crucify me. I shall be abandoned of all the world. My chief disciple will deny me at the commencement of my punishment. I shall be left to the wicked. But then, divine justice being satisfied, original sin being expiated by my sufferings, the bond of man to God will be renewed and my death will be the life of my disciples. Then they will be more strong without me than with me, for they will see me rise again. I shall ascend to the skies, and I shall send to them a spirit who will instruct them. The spirit of the Cross will enable them to understand my Gospel. In fine, they will believe it, they will preach it, and they will convert the world.' "

By his own admission, Bonaparte paid almost no attention to religion during his public career. He was os busy with this world that he could not take the time to think about the next. But as this world grew small and dim to him on St. Helena, the other one became large and distinct. As he lost the Alps, he looked toward Mount Zion; as Europe slipped from his fingers, he reached his hand out to secure the heavenly Canaan. He lost an earthly kingdom, he conquered a greater empire within himself. He lost the crown of France, he gained a crown of immortality. It was worth his colossal failure to have succeeded in finding God in the Divine Christ who saved his soul. What do the ages care whether Napoleon Bonaparte lived to old age, as the Emperor in Paris, or died in exile chained to a rock in the ocean? And what difference does it make to him now?

Subjects as well as rulers are treated to this kind of earthly discipline for their spiritual good. Money is often taken away that men may lay up treasures in heaven ; friends are allowed to desert, that the lonely one may find " Him who sticketh closer than a brother." Loved ones are taken to heaven, to bring it closer and make it more real. In a hundred ways God chops down the earthly supports that hold us up, that we may fall into the arms of the Everlasting. No earthly misfortune is so dark that it will not be the greatest blessing, if it shall bring the soul to a knowledge of God, the joys of Christ's love, and the bliss of immortality.



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