Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER VI: Of the Solemn Celebration of the Concordat at Nôtre-Dame. - Considerations on the Principal Events of the French Revolution (LF ed.)
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CHAPTER VI: Of the Solemn Celebration of the Concordat at Nôtre-Dame. - Germaine de Staël, Considerations on the Principal Events of the French Revolution (LF ed.) 
Considerations on the Principal Events of the French Revolution, newly revised translation of the 1818 English edition, edited, with an introduction and notes by Aurelian Craiutu (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2008).
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Of the Solemn Celebration of the Concordat at Nôtre-Dame.
At the epoch of the accession of Bonaparte the sincerest partisans of the Catholic faith, after having long been victims of a political inquisition, aspired to nothing more than perfect religious liberty. The general wish of the nation was limited to this: that all persecution of priests should cease for the future; that no kind of oath should be required of them any longer; that the state, in short, should in no respect interfere with anyone’s religious opinions. The Consular government, therefore, would have satisfied opinion by maintaining in France a complete toleration, like what exists in America, among a people whose constant piety and severe mores, which are its proof, cannot be called in question. But the First Consul was occupied with no such holy thoughts; he knew that if the clergy resumed a political consistence, their influence would promote the interests of despotism; and his intention was to prepare the way for his arrival at the throne.
He needed a clergy, as he needed chamberlains, titles, decorations, in short, all the ancient caryatides of power; and he alone was in a situation to restore them. Complaints have been made of the return of old institutions; and it must never be forgotten that it was Bonaparte who brought them back. It was he who reorganized the clergy to render them subservient to his designs. The revolutionaries, who, fourteen years ago, were still formidable, would never have allowed a political existence to be thus restored to the priests if a man whom they considered in some respects as one of their party had not assured them, when he presented a concordat with the Pope, that the measure was the result of profound combinations and would be useful in maintaining the new institutions. The revolutionaries, with a few exceptions, are more violent than shrewd, and for that very reason are flattered by being treated as able men.
Bonaparte assuredly is not religious; and the species of superstition of which some traces have been discovered in his character relates solely to the worship of himself. He has faith in his own fortune and has manifested the sentiment in different ways. But from Mahometanism to the religion of the fathers of the desert, from the agrarian law to the ceremonial of the court of Louis XIV, his understanding is ready to conceive, and his character to execute, what circumstances may require. As his natural inclination, however, was toward despotism, he liked what favored it; and he would have preferred the old regime of France more than any person if he could have persuaded the world that he was lineally descended from St. Louis.
He has often expressed his regret that he did not reign in a country where the monarch was also head of the church, as in England and Russia; but as he found the French clergy still devoted to the court of Rome, he chose to negotiate with it. One day he assured the prelates that, in his opinion, there was no religion but the Catholic, which was truly founded on ancient traditions; and on this subject he usually displayed to them some erudition acquired the day before. Then, when he was with the philosophers, he said to Cabanis,1Do you know what this concordat is which I have just signed? It is the vaccination of religion, and in fifty years there will be none in France. It was neither religion nor philosophy which he cared for in the existence of a clergy entirely submissive to his will; but as he had heard mention made of the alliance between the altar and the throne, he began by raising up the altar. The celebration of the concordat was, therefore, if we may use the expression, a full-dressed rehearsal of his coronation.
In the month of April, 1802, he ordered a grand ceremony at Nôtre-Dame. He was present with regal pomp and named for orator at this inauguration, whom? the Archbishop of Aix, the same who had delivered the coronation sermon in the cathedral of Rheims on the day when Louis XVI was crowned. Two motives determined him to this choice: the ingenious hope that the more he imitated the monarchy, the more he suggested the idea of himself being invested with it; and the perfidious design of so degrading the Archbishop of Aix as to render him wholly dependent and give the world the measure of his own ascendancy. He has always wished, when the thing was possible, that a man of note, in adhering to him, should do some action blamable enough to ruin him in the esteem of every other party. To burn one’s ships was to make a sacrifice of reputation to him: he wished to convert men into a sort of coin which derives its value only from the impress of the master; subsequent events have proved that this coin could return into circulation with a fresh image.
On the day of the concordat, Bonaparte went to the church of Nôtre-Dame, in the old royal carriages, with the same coachmen, the same footmen walking by the side of the door; he had the whole etiquette of the court most minutely detailed to him; and though first consul of a republic, applied to himself all this pomp of royalty. Nothing, I allow, ever excited in me so strong a feeling of resentment. I had shut myself up in my house that I might not behold the odious spectacle; but I heard the discharges of cannon which were celebrating the servitude of the French people. For was there not something peculiarly disgraceful in having overturned the ancient regal institutions, surrounded at least with noble recollections, to take back the same institutions in the forms of upstarts and with the chains of despotism? On that day we might have addressed to the French the beautiful words of Milton to his countrymen: We shall become the shame of free nations, and the plaything of those which are not free; is this, strangers will say, the edifice of liberty which the English boasted of building? They have done nothing but precisely what was requisite to render them forever ridiculous in the eyes of all Europe.2 The English at least have not fulfilled this prediction.
In returning from Nôtre-Dame, the First Consul said in the midst of his generals, Is it not true that today everything appeared restored to the ancient order? “Yes,” was the noble reply of one of them,3 “except two million Frenchmen, who have died for liberty and who cannot be brought to life.” Millions more have perished since, but for despotism.
The French are bitterly accused of irreligion. One of the principal causes of this unhappy result is that the various factions for twenty-five years have always wished to direct religion to a political end, and nothing is less favorable to piety than to employ it for any other end than itself. The nobler its sentiments are in their own nature, the more repugnance they inspire when hypocrisy and ambition take advantage of them. After Bonaparte was Emperor, he appointed the same Archbishop of Aix of whom we have been speaking to the Archbishopric of Tours: the Archbishop, in turn, in one of his pastoral charges, exhorted the nation to acknowledge Napoléon as legitimate sovereign of France. The minister who had the superintendence of religious affairs, while he was walking with a friend of mine, showed him this charge and said: “See, he calls the Emperor great, generous, illustrious: all that is very well; but legitimate is the important word in the mouth of a priest.” During twelve years from the date of the concordat, the ecclesiastics of every rank have never let an opportunity pass of praising Bonaparte in their way; that is, by calling him the envoy of God, the instrument of his decrees, the representative of Providence upon earth. The same priests have since doubtless preached another doctrine; but how can it be supposed that a clergy, always at the orders of the existing authority, whatever that may be, should add to the ascendency of religion over the soul?
The catechism which was received in every church during the reign of Bonaparte threatened with eternal punishment whoever should not love and defend the dynasty of Napoléon. If you do not love Napoléon and his family, said the catechism (which, with this exception, was the catechism of Bossuet), what will happen to you? Answer: Then we shall incur everlasting damnation.* Was it to be believed, however, that Bonaparte would dispose of hell in the next world because he gave the idea of it in the present? The truth is that nations have no sincere piety, except in countries where the doctrine of the church is unconnected with political dogmas, in countries where the priests exercise no power over the state, in countries, in short, where a man may love God and Christianity with all his soul without losing, and still more without obtaining, any worldly advantage by the manifestation of this sentiment.
[1. ] Pierre Jean Georges Cabanis (1757–1808) was a close friend of Mirabeau’s and a prominent member of the French Ideologues. He was elected deputy to the Council of Five Hundred and was later an opponent of Napoléon.
[2. ] In his political writings John Milton (1608–76) put forward a strong defense of freedom of the press and endorsed the principles of classical republicanism, which he regarded as compatible with Christianity. For more information see John Milton, Areopagitica and Other Political Writings of John Milton (Indianapolis, Ind.: Liberty Fund, 1999), 2–51, 415–45.
[3. ] Probably General Delmas (1766–1813).
[* ] P. 55. Q. What are the duties of Christians toward the princes who govern them, and what are our duties in particular toward Napoléon I, our Emperor?
A. Christians owe to the princes who govern them, and we owe in particular to Napoléon I, our Emperor, love, respect, obedience, fidelity, military service, the taxes which are imposed for the preservation and defense of the empire and his throne. . . . To honor and serve the Emperor is therefore to honor and serve God himself.
Q. Are there not particular motives which ought to attach us more strongly to Napoléon I, our Emperor?
A. Yes; for it is he whom God hath raised up in difficult times to re-establish the public worship of the holy religion of our ancestors, and to be its protector. He has restored and preserved public order by his profound and active wisdom: he defends the state by his powerful arm; he has become the anointed of the Lord by the consecration which he hath received from the sovereign Pontiff, the head of the Catholic church.
Q. What ought we to think of those who should fail in their duty toward our Emperor?
A. According to the Apostle Paul, they would resist the established order of God himself, and would render themselves worthy of everlasting damnation.