Napoleon Bonaparte regarding Jesus Christ [Click to enlarge]
Editors Note: The comments of Napoleon are recorded in various instances and I haven’t found any two that record them in exactly the same way; therefore I am providing you with two different instances here that have some similarities and yet are different, the differences being so diverse and profound I find it necessary to provide them both.
GEN. W. W. BURNS, Asst. Commissary General, U.S.A., sends us, with the request that we should publish, Napoleon’s remarkable testimony to the mysterious power of Christianity, which has become famous through the report of Las Casas. Though it is no doubt familiar to many readers, it is so eloquent an acknowledgment by one of the greatest of men of the existence of a greater than man, that we reproduce it here as requested. In sending it Gen. Burns says:
“The disposition of education is to substitute reason for faith in religion. The intellect, proud of its achievements in science and philosophy, assumes celestial wings, and, like Icarus, would mount to the spheres to find out infinity. The first flight of infidelity makes essay upon the divinity of Christ. The conception by the Virgin was above the known laws of nature, and therefore beyond the finite reason of man. The major premise of a logical syllogism being a mystery and not a received axiom is, to reason, a false assumption from which philosophical truth cannot be deduced. Logic is stopped at the base, and the gods of reason, without faith, must sweep the “divinity of Christ from their horizon.” Mystery, not being a received finite axiom, is false. Nature is admitted true, and deduction, follow, that man is but an animal dies when his heart ceases to beat. Faith is a delusive hope; there is no place for a soul beyond the grave. Since reasoners accept only received deductions from grater reasoners, the fall of ingenious Icarus may be checked to save from destruction by spreading opinions from the acknowledged greatest mind the world has known, and, because of its greatness, associated with infidelity. The following from the lips of Napoleon to Las Casas (himself an infidel), may, therefore, be timely. Nothing could be added without weakening this almost divine discourse.”
There exists an infinite Being compared with whom I, Napoleon, with all my genius, am truly a pure nothing. I perceive him, God; I see him; have need of him; I believe in him. . . . I know men, and I affirm that Jesus, Christ, was not a man. Superficial minds see a resemblance between Christ and the founders of empires the gods of other religions; that resemblance does not exist. There is between Christianity and whatever other religion the distance of infinity. The religion of Christ is a mystery which subsists by its own force, and proceeds from a mind which is not a human mind. We find in it a marked individuality, which originated a train of words and maxims unknown before. Jesus borrowed nothing from our knowledge. He exhibited in himself the perfect example of his precepts. Jesus is not a philosopher; for his proofs are miracles, and from the first his disciples adored him. In fact learning and philosophy are of no use for salvation; and Jesus came into the world to reveal the mysteries of heaven and the laws of the Spirit. Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne, and myself founded empires; but upon what did we rest the creation of our genius? Upon force. Jesus Christ alone founded his empire upon love; and at this hour millions of men would die for him, It was not a day or a battle which achieved the triumph of the Christian religion in the world. No, it was a long war, a contest of three centuries, begun by the apostles, then continued by the flood of Christian generations. In this war all the kings and potentates of the earth were on one side; on the other I see no army, but a mysterious force: some men scattered here and there in all parts of the world, and who have no other rallying point than a common faith in the mysteries of the cross. I die before my time, and my body will be given back to the earth to become food for worms. Such is the fate which so soon awaits him who has been called the Great Napoleon. Paganism is the work of man, Numa, Lycurgus, Memphis, Confucius; Mahommed, and the gods I recognize as beings like myself .. legislators, lawgivers (nothing announced them as divine), with foibles and errors which ally them to humanity. It is not so with Christ; every thing in him astonishes me. His spirit overawes me, and his will confounds me. Between him and whoever else in the world there is no possible term of comparison. He is truly a Being by himself. His ideas, His sentiments, the truths which he announces, His manner of convincing, are not explained, either by human organization or by the nature of things. His birth and the history of his life; the profundity of his doctrine, which grapples the mightiest difficulties, and which is, of those difficulties, the most admirable solution. His gospel, His apparition, His empire, His march across the ages and the realms—everything is, for me, a prodigy. A mystery insoluble, which plunges me into a reverie from which I cannot escape; a mystery which is before my eyes, there, a mystery which I can neither deny nor explain. Here I see nothing human—the nearer I approach the more carefully I examine; every thing is above me—everything remains grand, of a grandeur which overpowers me. His religion is a revelation from an intelligence which certainly is not of man. There is there a profound originality which has created a series of words and of maxims before unknown. Jesus borrowed nothing from our sciences. One can find absolutely nowhere, but in him alone, the imitation of the example of his life. He is not a philosopher, since he advances by miracles, and from the commencement his disciples worshiped him. He persuades them far more by an appeal to the heart than by any display of method and of logic. Neither did he impose upon them any preliminary studies or any knowledge of letters. All his religion consisted in believing. In fact, the sciences and philosophy avail nothing for salvation, and Jesus came into the world to reveal the mysteries of heaven and the laws of the spirit. Also, he has nothing to do but with the soul and to that alone he brings his Gospel. The soul is sufficient for him as he is sufficient for the soul. Before him the soul was nothing; matter and time were the masters of the world. At his voice everything returns to order; science and philosophy become secondary. The soul has recognized its sovereignty. All the scholastic scaffolding falls as an edifice ruined before one single word—faith. What a master! and what a word ‘ which can effect such a revolution. With what authority does he teach us to pray! He imposes his belief and no one, thus far, has been able to contradict him: first, because the Gospel contains the purest morality, and also because the doctrine which it contains, of obscurity, is only the proclamation and the temple of that which exists where no eye can see and no reason can penetrate. Who is the insensate who will say no to that intrepid voyageur who records the marvels of the icy peaks which he alone has had the boldness to visit? Christ is that bold voyageur. One can doubtless remain incredulous, but no one can venture to say, it is not so. Unquestionably, with the skill of thinking, one can seize the key of the philosophy of Socrates and Plato, but to do this, it is necessary to be a metaphysician, and moreover with years of study one must possess special aptitude. But good sense alone, the heart, an honest spirit, are sufficient to comprehend Christianity. The Christian religion is neither idealogy nor metaphysics, but a practical rule, which directs the actions of man, corrects him, counsels him, and assists him in all his conduct. I search in vain in history to find the similar to Jesus Christ or anything which can approach the Gospel. Neither history nor humanity, nor the ages nor nature, can offer me anything with which I am able to compare it or explain it. Here everything is extraordinary. The more I consider the Gospel, the more I am assured that there is nothing there which is not beyond the march of events and above the human mind. Even the impious themselves have never dared to deny the sublimity of the gospel, which inspires them with a sort of compulsory veneration. What happiness that book procures for those who believe it I What marvels those admire there who reflect upon it!
All the words there are embedded, and joined one upon another, like the stones of an edifice. The spirit which binds these words together is a divine cement, which now reveals the sense, and again vails it from the mind. Each phrase has a sense complete, which traces the perfection of unity, and the profundity of the whole. Book unique where the mind finds moral beauty before unknown. and an idea of the Supreme, superior even to that which nature suggests. Who but God could produce that type, that ideal, of perfection, equally exclusive and original?……..
Christ proposed to our faith a series of mysteries. He commands with authority, giving no other reason than those tremendous words—I am God… He, declares it. What, an abyss he creates by that declaration between himself and all fabrications of religion. What audacity, what sacrilege, what blasphemy, if it were not true! I say more: the universal triumph of an affirmation of that kind, if the triumph were not really that of God himself, would be a plausible atheism, an excuse and a reason for it.
Moreover, in propounding mysteries, Christ is harmonious with nature, which is profoundly mysterious. Human life is a mystery, in its origin, it organization, and its end. In man and out of man everything in nature is mysterious. The creation and the destiny of the world are an unfathomable abyss, as also the creation and destiny of each individual. Can one wish that religion should not also be mysterious? The Gospel is not a book, it is a living being, with an action, a power which invades everything that opposes its extension. . . . What a proof of the divinity of Christ: with an empire so absolute, he has but a single end-the spiritual amelioration of individuals the purity of conscience, the union to that which is true—the holiness of the soul. Christ speaks and at once generations become his, by stricter, closer ties than blood–by the most sacred, the most indissoluble of all unions. He lights up the flames of love, which consumes self-love, and prevails over every other love. The founders of other religious never conceived of this mystic love, which is the essence of Christianity, and is beautifully called charity. In every attempt to effect this thing, namely, to make himself beloved, man deeply feels his own impotence. Christ’s greatest miracle, therefore, is the reign of charity.
What an abyss between my deep misery, and the eternal kingdom of Christ, which is proclaimed, loved, and adored, and which is extending over the whole earth! Call you this dying? Is it not living rather? The death of Christ is the death of a God, which would be the annihilation of the universe.
It is also recorded one day, Napoleon was speaking of the Divinity of Christ; when 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, Brahma. Jesus caused himself to be adored, because his predecessors, Isis and Osiris, Jupiter and Juno, had proudly made themselves objects of worship. The ascendency of Jesus over his time was like the ascendency 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.”
“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 religions the distance of infinity.
“We can say to the authors of every other religion, ‘You are neither gods, nor the agents of the Deity. You are but 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.
“Paganism was never accepted as truth by the wise men of Greece; neither by Socrates, Pythagoras, Plato, Anaxagoras, or Pericles. On the other side, the loftiest intellects, since the advent of Christianity, have had faith, a living faith, a practical faith, in the mysteries and the doctrines of the gospel; not only Bossuet and Fenelon, who were preachers, but Descartes and Newton, Leibnitz and Pascal, Corneille and Racine, Charlemagne and Louis XIV.
“Paganism is the work of man. One can here read but our imbecility. What do these gods, so boastful, know more than other mortals; these legislators, Greek or Roman; this Numa; this Lycurgus; these priests of India or of Memphis; this Confucius; this Mohammed’?-absolutely nothing. They have made a perfect chaos of mortals. There is not one among them all who has said any thing new in reference to our future destiny, to the soul, to the essence of God, to the creation. Enter the sanctuaries of paganism: you there find perfect chaos, a thousand contradictions, war between the gods, the immobility of sculpture, the division and the rending of unity, the parceling out of the divine attributes mutilated or denied in their essence, the sophisms of ignorance and presumption, polluted fêtes, impurity and abomination adored, all sorts of corruption festering in the thick shades, with the rotten wood, the idol, and the priest. Does this honor God, or does it dishonor him? Are these religions and these gods to be compared with Christianity?
“As for me, I say, No. I summon entire Olympus to my tribunal. I judge the gods, but am far from prostrating myself before their vain images. The gods, the legislators of India and of China, of Rome and of Athens, have nothing which can overawe me. Not that I am unjust to them. No: I appreciate them, because I know their value. Undeniably, princes, whose existence is fixed in the memory as an image of order and of power, as the ideal of force and beauty: such princes were no ordinary men.
“I see, in Lycurgus, Numa, and Mohammed, only legislators, who have the first rank in the State; have sought the best solution of the social problem: but I see nothing there which reveals Divinity. They themselves have never raised their pretensions so high. As for me, I recognize the gods, and these great men, as beings like myself. They have performed a lofty part in their times, as I have done. Nothing announces them divine. On the contrary, there are numerous resemblances between them and myself,—foibles and errors which ally them to me and to humanity.
“It is not so with Christ. Every thing in him astonishes me. His spirit overawes me, and his will confounds me. Between him and whoever else in the world there is no possible term of comparison. He is truly a being by himself. His ideas and his sentiments, the truths which he announces, his manner of convincing, are not explained either by human organization or by the nature of things.
“His birth, and the history of his life; the profundity of his doctrine, which grapples the mightiest difficulties, and which is of those difficulties the most admirable solution; his gospel, his apparition, his empire, his march across the ages and the realms,—every thing is for me a prodigy, a mystery insoluble, which plunges me into reveries which I can not escape; a mystery which is there before my eyes; a mystery which I can neither deny nor explain. Here I see nothing human.
“The nearer I approach, the more carefully I examine, every thing is above me; every thing remains grand,—of a grandeur which overpowers. His religion is a revelation from an intelligence which certainly is not that of man. There is there a profound originality which has created a series of words and of maxims before unknown. Jesus borrowed nothing from our science. One can absolutely find nowhere, but in him alone, the imitation or the example of his life. He is not a philosopher, since he advances by miracles; and, from the commencement, his disciples worshiped him. He persuaded them far more by an appeal to the heart than by any display of method and of logic. Neither did he impose upon them any preliminary studies, or any knowledge of letters. All his religion consists in believing.
“In fact, the sciences and philosophy avail nothing for salvation; and Jesus came into the world to reveal the mysteries of heaven and the laws of the spirit. Also he has nothing to do but with the soul; and to that alone he brings his gospel. The soul is sufficient for him, as he is sufficient for the soul. Before him, the soul was nothing. Matter and time were the masters of the world. At his voice, every thing returns to order. Science and philosophy become secondary. The soul has reconquered its sovereignty. All the scholastic scaffolding falls, as an edifice ruined, before one single word,—faith.
“What a master, and what a word, which can effect such a revolution! With what authority does he teach men to pray! He imposes his belief; and no one, thus far, has been able to contradict him: first, because the gospel contains the purest morality; and also because the doctrine which it contains of obscurity is only the proclamation and the truth of that which exists where no eye can see, and no reason can penetrate. Who is the insensate who will say ‘No’ to the intrepid voyager who recounts the marvels of the icy peaks which he alone has had the boldness to visit? Christ is that bold voyager. One can, doubtless, remain incredulous; but no one can venture to say, ‘It is not so.’
“Moreover, consult the philosophers upon those mysterious questions which relate to the essence of man and the essence of religion. What is their response? Where is the man of good sense who has never learned any thing from the system of metaphysics; ancient or modern, which is not truly a vain and pompous ideology, without any connection with our domestic life, with our passions? Unquestionably, with skill in thinking, one can seize the key of the philosophy of Socrates and Plato. But, to do this, it is necessary to be a metaphysician; and moreover, with years of study, one must possess special aptitude. But good sense alone, the heart, an honest spirit, are sufficient to comprehend Christianity. The Christian religion is neither ideology nor metaphysics, but a practical rule which directs the actions of man, corrects him, counsels him, and assists him in all his conduct. The Bible contains a complete series of facts and of historical men, to explain time and eternity, such as no other religion has to offer. If it is not the true religion, one is very excusable in being deceived; for every thing in it is grand, and worthy of God. I search in vain in history to find the similar to Jesus Christ, or any thing which can approach the gospel. Neither history, nor humanity, nor the ages, nor nature, offer me any thing with which I am able to compare it or to explain it. Here every thing is extraordinary. The more I consider the gospel, the more I am assured that there is nothing there which is not beyond the march of events, and above the human mind. Even the impious themselves have never dared to deny the sublimity of the gospel, which inspires them with a sort of compulsory veneration. What happiness that book procures for those who believe it I What marvels those admire there who reflect upon it!
“All the words there are embedded, and joined one upon another, like the stones of an edifice. The spirit which binds these words together is a divine cement, which now reveals the sense, and again vails it from the mind. Each phrase has a sense complete, which traces the perfection of unity, and the profundity of the whole. Book unique! where the mind finds a moral beauty before unknown; and an idea of the Supreme, superior even to that which creation suggests. Who but God could produce that type, that idea of perfection, equally exclusive and original?
“Christ, having but a few weak disciples, was condemned to death. He died the object of the wrath of the Jewish priests, and of the contempt of the nation, and abandoned and denied by his own disciples.
“‘They are about to take me, and to crucify me,’ said he. ‘I shall be abandoned of all the world. My chief disciples 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 shall see me rise again. I shall ascend to the skies, and I shall send to them from heaven 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.’
“And this strange promise, so aptly called by Paul ‘the foolishness of the cross,’ this prediction of one miserably crucified, is literally accomplished; and the mode of the accomplishment is perhaps more prodigious than the promise.
“It is not a day, nor a battle, which has decided it. Is it the lifetime of a man? No: it is a war, a long combat, of three hundred years, commenced by the apostles, and continued by their successors and by succeeding generations of Christians. In this conflict, all the kings and all the forces of the earth were arrayed on one side. Upon the other, I see no army but a mysterious energy, individuals scattered here and there, in all parts of the globe, having no other rallying sign than a common faith in the mysteries of the cross.
“What a mysterious symbol, the instrument of the punishment of the Man-God! His disciples were armed with it. ‘The Christ,’ they said, ‘God, has died for the salvation of men.’ What a strife, what a tempest, these simple words have raised around the humble standard of the punishment of the Man-God! On the one side, we see rage and all the furies of hatred and violence; on the other, there are gentleness, moral courage, infinite resignation. For three hundred years, spirit struggled against the brutality of sense, conscience against despotism, the soul against the body, virtue against all the vices. The blood of Christians flowed in torrents. They died kissing the hand which slew them. The soul alone protested, while the body surrendered itself to all tortures. Everywhere Christians fell, and everywhere they triumphed.
“You speak of Caesar, of Alexander, of their conquests, and of the enthusiasm which they enkindled in the hearts of their soldiers; but can you conceive of a dead man making conquests, with an army faithful, and entirely devoted to his memory. My armies have forgotten me even while living, as the Carthaginian army forgot Hannibal. Such is our power! A single battle lost crushes us, and adversity scatters our friends.
“Can you conceive of Cæsar as the eternal emperor of the Roman senate, and, from the depth of his mausoleum, governing the empire, watching over the destinies of Rome? Such is the history of the invasion and conquest of the world by Christianity; such is the power of the God of the Christians; and such is the perpetual miracle of the progress of the faith, and of the government of his Church. Nations pass away, thrones crumble; but the Church remains. What is, then, the power which has protected this Church, thus assailed by the furious billows of rage and the hostility of ages? Whose is the arm, which, for eighteen hundred years, has protected the Church from so many storms which have threatened to ingulf it?
“Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne, and myself founded empires. But on what did we rest the creations of our genius? Upon force. Jesus Christ alone founded his empire upon love; and, at this hour, millions of men would die for him.
“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 influences of the times; who has never compounded with any customs or passions? From the first day to the last, he is the same, always the same; majestic and simple; infinitely firm, and infinitely gentle.
“Truth should embrace the universe. Such is Christianity,—the only religion which destroys sectional prejudices; the only one which proclaims the unity and the absolute brotherhood of the whole human family; the only one which is purely spiritual; in fine, the only one which assigns to all, without distinction, for a true country, the bosom of the Creator, God. Christ proved that he was the Son of the Eternal by his disregard of time. All his doctrines signify one only and the same thing,—eternity.
“It is true that Christ proposes to our faith a series of mysteries. He commands with authority, that we should believe them,—giving no other reason than those tremendous words, ‘I am God.’ He declares it. What an abyss he creates by that declaration between himself’ and all the fabricators of religion! What audacity, what sacrilege, what blasphemy, if it were not true! I say more: The universal triumph of an affirmation of that kind, if the triumph were not really that of God himself, would be a plausible excuse, and the proof of atheism.
“Moreover, in propounding mysteries, Christ is harmonious with Nature, which is profoundly mysterious. From whence do I come? whither do I go? who am I? Human life is a mystery in its origin, its organization, and its end. In man and out of man, in Nature, every thing is mysterious. And can one wish that religion should not be mysterious? The creation and the destiny of the world are an unfathomable abyss, as also are the creation and destiny of each individual. Christianity at least does not evade these great questions; it meets them boldly: and our doctrines are a solution of them for every one who believes.
“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 every thing that opposes its extension. Behold! it is upon this table: this book, surpassing all others [here the emperor deferentially placed his hand upon it], I never omit to read it, and every day with the same pleasure.
“Nowhere is to be found such a series of beautiful ideas; admirable moral maxims, which pass before us like the battalions of a celestial army, and which produce in our soul the same emotions which one experiences in contemplating the infinite expanse of the skies, resplendent in a summer’s night with all the brilliance 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 even is our friend, our father, and truly our God. The mother has no greater care for the infant whom she nurses.
“What a proof of the Divinity of Christ! With an empire so absolute, he has but one single end,—the spiritual melioration of individuals, the purity of the conscience, the union to that which is true, the holiness of the soul.
“Christ speaks, and at once generations become his by stricter, closer ties than those of blood,—by the most sacred, the most indissoluble, of unions. He lights up the flames of a love which prevails over every other love. The founders of other religions never conceived of this mystical love, which is the essence of Christianity, and is beautifully called charity. In every attempt to affect this thing, viz. to make himself beloved, man deeply feels his own impotence. So that Christ’s greatest miracle undoubtedly is the reign of charity.
“I have so inspired multitudes, that they would die for me. God forbid that I should form any comparison between the enthusiasm of the soldier and Christian charity, which are as unlike as their cause!
“But, after all, my presence was necessary: the lightning of my eye, my voice, a word from me, then the sacred fire was kindled in their hearts. I do, indeed, possess the secret of this magical power which lifts the soul; but I could never impart it to any one. None of my generals ever learned it from me. Nor have I the means of perpetuating my name and love for me in the hearts of men, and to effect these things without physical means.
“Now that I am at St. Helena, now that I am alone, chained upon this rock, who fights and wins empires for me? who are the courtiers of my misfortune? who thinks of me? who makes effort for me in Europe? Where are my friends? Yes: two or three, whom your fidelity immortalizes, you share, you console, my exile.”
Here the emperor’s voice trembled with emotion, and for a moment he was silent. He then continued:—
“Yes: our life once shone with all the brilliance of the diadem and the throne; and yours, Bertrand, reflected that splendor, as the dome of the Invalides, gilt by us, reflects the rays of the sun. But disaster came: the gold gradually became dim. The rain of misfortune and outrage, with which I am daily deluged, has effaced all the brightness. We are mere lead now, General Bertrand; and soon I shall be in my grave.
“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 tutors, 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 whom the world 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.”
Whatever else one may say in response, it is difficult to explain this away as mere eloquence. In fact, it was to counter mere eloquence and such artificial power that Napoleon said what he did. With unbelievable insight, he saw how Jesus Christ conquered. It was not by force, but by winning the heart.