7.1.2. Napoleon the Beast and the repatriation of the Jews
The convulsions of the French Revolution gave birth to a political figure that was easily classified as the Antichrist: Napoleon Bonaparte. From a young artillery officer in the French army, Napoleon became emperor over half of Europe within only seven years. During the French First Republic he led successful military campaigns against the First and the Second Coalition, he managed to obtain crucial positions in Italy and Egypt, gained influence and forged alliances for France. The decisive step in Napoleon’s ascension occurred in 1799, when he took advantage of the chaos of the revolution, overthrew the Directory through a coup d’état and installed the Consulate with himself as the First Consul. Five years later his ascension on the scale of power culminated with his coronation as emperor.
Napoleon was associated with the Antichrist for several reasons: he was seen as a progeny of the French Revolution, he tried to subdue Great Britain, he conquered most of Western Europe and created an empire that resembled the Roman Empire, he dethroned the pope and annexed the Papal States to his empire, and last but not least his military genius reminded Christians of the Messiah awaited by the Jews.
Napoleon’s dream was to become as famous as the great leaders of the past; his actions copied those of Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar or Charlemagne.824 In 1797 Napoleon decided that the naval power of France was not prepared to confront the Royal Navy in the English Channel. Instead, he led a military expedition in Egypt to undermine the access of the British in India and to satisfy his fantasy of walking in the footsteps of Alexander. Through the Concordat of 1801 with Pius VII Napoleon aimed to win the pope to his side, but he also imitated Charlemagne in becoming the protector of the church.
In 1802 Napoleon Bonaparte was proclaimed Consul for life and on December 2, 1804, he was crowned emperor under the name of “Napoleon I.” Held at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, the coronation of Napoleon was a copy of the former coronations, both in terms of rituals, being held in presence of the pope, and dress code, many elements used being original from the former European emperors or monarchs. Napoleon mixed the Roman imperial appearance with symbols characteristic to Charlemagne and the Carolingian Empire.825
In territorial terms, the French Empire took the model of the Roman Empire. In May 1805 Napoleon was also crowned in Milan as the king of Italy with the Iron Crown of Lombardy,826 which led to the establishment of the Kingdom of Italy, the annexation of Venice and the occupation of Ancona. In December 1805, through the Treaty of Pressburg, the vassal states of Bavaria, Baden, Württemberg, Hesse-Darmstadt and Saxony were created in Southern Germany, and attached to France as the Confederation of the Rhine.827 In August 1806 Napoleon forced the Habsburgs to abdicate, causing the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire and the end of a political power that lasted over eight centuries. Prussia came under the influence of Napoleon in 1807 and joined him against the maritime power of the British. In 1810 the pope was deported to Savona and the Papal States were incorporated in the empire. In 1811, at the height of his power, Napoleon fulfilled his dream of equaling Julius Caesar: his domination expanded from the Atlantic Ocean to Belarus, and from Norway to Sicily.
The relation of the French emperor with the Papacy became a reference point for 19th-century apocalypticism. During the French Revolution Napoleon resisted the atheists from the Directory, who demanded the march of the French army to Rome, the dethronement of the pope and the dissolution of the Papacy. Instead, Pope Pius VI asked for peace, which was granted to him at Tolentino in February 1797. However, in December, in a riot incited by the papal agents against the French and Italian revolutionaries, the brigadier-general Mathurin-Léonard Duphot was killed and thus the motive for a new invasion was created. General Berthier marched to Rome, entered without encountering resistance on February 10, 1798, and, proclaiming the Roman Republic, he made the Papal States satellites of the French Empire.828 The pope was taken prisoner and was dragged across Europe until he perished in August 1799.
Due to the refusal of the Catholic Church to support the Continental System established against England, Napoleon ordered the annexation of the Papal States to the French Empire in 1809. At the same time he issued two decrees through which he reproached the popes the ill use of the “Donation of Charlemagne,” his “predecessor.” Pius VII responded by excommunicating the emperor, but ended up being taken prisoner by the French officers. In 1810, after he divorced Joséphine de Beauharnais, Napoleon married Marie Louise of Austria. Thirteen cardinals were incarcerated for refusing to officiate the new marriage, which further deteriorated the relations with the Catholic Church. The pope remained imprisoned for another five years and did not return to Rome until 1814, when Napoleon was dethroned by the Congress of Vienna and the Papal States were reestablished.829
The subjection of the Papal States and the humiliation of the Papacy got various apocalyptic interpretations. In the 16th century Protestants believed that Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses delimited the end of the 1,260 years. Through a reverse calculation, the persecution of the saints was fitted between the years 330 and 1517. But the Papacy did not fall as the early Protestants expected, and thus the French Revolution and the rise of Napoleon became new eschatological landmarks. With the Papacy in the role of the Beast, the Huguenots saw the incarceration of Pius VI in 1798 as the “deadly wound” from Revelation 13:3. The event, later confirmed by the annexation of the Papal States, marked the end of the 1,260 years of persecution started, through the new calculation, in 538 AD. Also, as at the time of the Reformation, it was believed that the Papacy must be destroyed before the establishment of the Millennium, and Napoleon’s actions (as Luther’s actions) created the impression that this would happen at the beginning of the 19th century.
The Continental System and the regional rivalry between England and France forced the English millenarists to have a different opinion. They associated the relation between the emperor of France and the Papacy with the succession of events between the Dragon, the Beast and the Whore of Babylon described in Revelation 13-18. Hester Lynch Piozzi was the first woman in England who wrote a history of the world, at the end of which she concluded that the First Consul of France was Apollyon, expressly mentioned in Revelation 9:11: “They have over them as king the angel of the abyss: his name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in the Greek [tongue] he hath the name Apollyon.” The name of the Antichrist became clear, and it was (according to the Corsican dialect) “N’Apollione,” the “Destroyer,” or the Beast which hated and destroyed the Whore of Babylon (the Papacy).830 Later, Matthew Habershon identified the reign of Napoleon with the fifth seal from Revelation 6:9-11, the fifth trumpet from Revelation 9:1-12, the fourth, the fifth and the sixth vial of wrath from Revelation 16:4-16 and the seventh head of the Beast from Revelation 13:1.831
Napoleon was seen as the Antichrist also due to the favors he granted to the Jews. In April 1799, when the French troops were besieging the city of Acre in Palestine, Napoleon prepared a proclamation through which he was about to declare the reestablishment of the Jewish state in the Palestinian area within Ottoman Syria:
Rightful heirs of Palestine! … Hasten! Now is the moment, which may not return for thousands of years, to claim the restoration of civic rights among the population of the universe which had been shamefully withheld from you for thousands of years, your political existence as a nation among the nations, and the unlimited natural right to worship Jehovah in accordance with your faith, publicly and most probably forever (Joel 4,20).832
The Corsican was convinced that one day the Jews would regain their homeland. He was confident that he would occupy Acre and in the next days he would enter Jerusalem, where he would read the declaration. But the siege was lost to the Ottomans, partly due to British intervention, and the plan to reestablish the Jewish state was abandoned.833
During the English Civil War, when people asked themselves how English society should be reorganized, the political philosophy advanced by Hobbes and Locke was suffocated by the religious alternatives. By contrast, the French revolutionaries removed religion from political affairs and organized their society according to the philosophy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and his “social contract.” Through the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen in 1789 the French Revolution abolished the differential treatment of people, while freedom of belief was guaranteed as long as public order was not disturbed. At a time when various European countries restricted the rights of minorities, Napoleon’s conquests spread the modernist ideas of revolutionary France: equality of citizens and the supremacy of law.
Napoleon Bonaparte was baptized Catholic. But, according to …
This text is incomplete. If you wish to read it in full, please purchase the book History of the Apocalypse from one of the stores below for only $2.99
Instant download in ePub format for desktop and mobile devices
Share this page
Please read the rules before making a comment