On This Day in Napoleonic History – 18 April 1802

18The Concordat is formally proclaimed

Anti-clericalism was a driving force during the French Revolution. Napoleon himself was skeptical about Christianity, even though he once told his doctor, ‘Wishing to be an atheist does not make you one.’ On Saint Helena he would ask Gaspard Gourgaud, ‘Did Jesus really exist?’ His pragmatic view on religion was common among the Enlightenment thinkers. ‘The idea of God is very useful, to maintain good order, to keep men in the path of virtue and to keep them from crime,’ Napoleon once┬ásaid.

Yet, Napoleon knew that the majority of French citizens were still very Catholic at heart. His natural supporters – labourers, artisans and rural workers – were deeply religious and yearned for the return of the Catholic faith┬áto France. As early as 1796 Napoleon had told the Directory that ‘it would be a big mistake to quarrel with that power’, referring to the Pope. Now he was in a position to force some sort of reconciliation that might just remove the main cause of the uprising in the Vendee and the discontent of the Catholics in Belgium, Switzerland, Italy and the Rhine.

The Concordat stated that the Catholic faith could be freely exercised in France, as long as it conforms to the regulations which the government would judge necessary for the public tranquility. There would be new dioceses and parishes, ten Arch-bishops and 50 bishops would be appointed by Napoleon and the Pope. All divine services would include the prayer for the Republic and the Consuls. The Concordat cemented the land transfers of the Revolution – all former church property would belong to those who had acquired it during the Revolution. Ten day week was suppressed and Sunday was restored as the day of rest. The government would pay the clergy’s salaries and the Church would be responsible for primary education. On April 8, without prior consultation with the Pope, restrictions and regulations were appended to the Concordat, protecting the rights of France’s 700,000 Protestants and 55,000 Jews. Although the Concordat was unpopular with the army, the former revolutionaries and the Jacobins, it was generally welcomed in France and won Napoleon the nickname Restorer of Religion. It had healed the deepest wound of the Revolution and remained the basis of the relationship between France and the Papacy for a century.

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