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Napoleon the First grew up in the infidel atmosphere of the eighteenth century, and was all his life so much absorbed with schemes of military conquest and political dominion that he had no time, even if he had the inclination, to reflect seriously on the subject of religion. Ambition was the idol monster to which he sacrificed millions of human beings, and even his devoted wife, whom he ardently loved and admired. But he had too profound an intellect ever to be an atheist. He was constitutionally inclined to fatalism; and like his nephew, the present Emperor of France, he believed in his star. He knew that religion was an essential element in human nature, and the strongest pillar of public morals and social order. In his Egyptian campaign, it is said, he carried with him a New Testament along with the Koran, under the characteristic title, “Politics.” It was from this political point of view that he restored the Roman-Catholic Church in France, which the folly of the Revolution had swept away, but kept it always in subordination to the secular power, and secured to the Protestants the liberty of conscience and of public worship.
During his exile at St. Helena, Napoleon had the best opportunity of reflecting on his unrivaled career of brilliant victory and crushing defeat, and the vanity of all earthly things. He frequently read the Bible. Count de las Cases relates (in his “Memoirs of the Life, Exile, and Conversations of the Emperor Napoleon,” Eng. trans., ed. N. Y., 1857, vol. ii. p. 256) the following fact, which proves at least his respect for the morality of the gospel: “The emperor ended the conversation by desiring my son to bring him the New Testament; and, taking it from the beginning, he read as far as the conclusion of the discourse of Jesus on the mount. He expressed himself struck with the highest admiration of the purity, the sublimity, the beauty, of the morality which it contained; and we all experienced the same feeling.” In his last will and testament, which was drawn up six years before his death, April 15, 1815, at Longwood, Island of St. Helena, he declares: “I die in the apostolic Roman religion, in the bosom of which I was born more than fifty years since.” In 1819, he sent for two Italian priests,—the aged Abbé Buonavita, who had been chaplain to his mother at Elba and to the Princess Pauline at Rome; and the young Abbe Vignali, who was also a physician. He professed his assent and submission to the faith and discipline of the Catholic Christian religion, attended mass every Sunday, and received the sacrament of extreme unction before his death.
These are indisputable facts. They do not by any means justify the inference that Napoleon was a true Christian, as his American biographer seems to think, who very deservedly was honored with a golden snuff-box by the present Emperor of France for eulogizing and canonizing his uncle. His public and private life exhibit no trace of piety. His submission to the rites of the Roman Church on his death-bed is hardly sufficient to be construed into an act of genuine repentance, and may have been dictated in part by policy, or a prudent regard for his own reputation, the interests of his dynasty, and the public sentiment in France. He died amidst dreams and visions of war and victory. “France! Josephine! head of the army!” were his last words,—a suitable summing-up of his life.
But I have no doubt that his intellect bowed before the majesty of Christ. Reasoning from the overpowering authority and dignity of Christ as a teacher, from the amazing result of his peaceful mission, and the imperishable nature of his kingdom as contrasted with the vanity of all human conquests and secular empires, he justly inferred that Christ was more than man; that he was truly divine, and that his Divinity is the key which unlocks the mysteries of Christianity. In this respect, he went farther than any of the witnesses in this collection, who stop with the concession of the unparalleled human greatness of Christ. The logical conclusion of the marvelous intellect of Napoleon, and his profound knowledge of men, may be fairly set over against the illogical denial of Christ’s Divinity by inferior minds.
It is with these restrictions that we insert here the famous testimony of the greatest military genius of all times, which has been published by Religious Tract Societies in Europe and America, extensively circulated, and is embodied, among other books, in John S. C. Abbott’s “Life of Napoleon” (vol. ii. chap. xxxii. p. 612 ff.), as also in Abbott’s “Confidential Correspondence of the Emperor Napoleon with the Empress Josephine” (New York, 1855, pp. 353-363), without, however, being traced to a reliable source. A letter to Mr. Abbott, respectfully asking him for his authority, remained unanswered. General Bertrand, an avowed unbeliever, and General Montholon, who, after his return to Europe, became a believer, or at least seriously inclined, would be the proper vouchers, since they heard, and must have reported, these utterances at St. Helena; but I can not find it in their writings, so far as they came to my knowledge. I was informed by Dr. Stowe, that General Bertrand, when on a visit to this country, was asked by a company of ministers at Pittsburg, whether Napoleon really uttered those sentiments in conversations with him, and that he gave an affirmative answer. But, on further inquiry, I could get no satisfactory reply from Pittsburg. I also looked in vain for such strong and explicit confessions in the Memoirs of Las Cases, Antommarchi, and O’Meara, and other authentic sources on the life of Napoleon at St. Helena, although they contain some religious conversations of the emperor, more or less favorable to Christianity and the Bible. The tracts containing Napoleon’s sentiments on Christianity are probably derived from a book, of which, unfortunately, I could only find the title, in French catalogues; viz., “Robert-Antoine de Beauterne: Sentiments de Napoléon sur le Christianisme. Conversations religieuses recueillies a Sainte-Hélène, par le Gén. comte de Montholon.” Paris, 1843, third ed. (see the title in Oettinger's “Bibliographie Biographique”). From Guerard's “Literature Française Contemporaine,” XIX. Siècle, tom. i., Paris, 1842, I infer that this is the same author who wrote a book entitled: “Une Lamentation chrétienne, ou Mort d’un enfant impie,” Paris, 1836, which contains a chapter on the religious death of Napoleon (“Mort de Napoléon religieux”). How far this book is based upon personal communications of Montholon or other authentic sources, I am unable to say, having sought in vain for a copy in the public libraries of New York. Professor G. de Felice of Montauban, in a letter to the “New-York Observer” of April 16, 1842, asserts that the testimony, as published in the French tract below, is undoubtedly genuine, but gives no proof; and states also that Rev. Dr. Bogue sent to Napoleon at St. Helena a copy of his essay on the “Divinity and Authority of the New Testament,” which, according to the testimony of eye-witnesses, he read with interest and satisfaction. In view of all I could gather, I am inclined to believe that these religious conversations of Napoleon have been considerably enlarged or modified in the recollection of Bertrand, Montholon, and other reporters, but are authentic in substance; because they have the grandiloquent and egotistic Napoleonic ring, and are marked by that massive grandeur and granite-like simplicity of thought and style which characterize the best of his utterances. They are, moreover, quite consistent with the undeniable fact, that he expressed himself, both in his testament and on his death-bed, a believer in the Catholic Christian religion, which always taught the Divinity of Christ as a fundamental article of faith.
We give the testimony as we find it, first in the original form, a French tract, marked No. 51, but without date; and then in an enlarged translation from Tract No. 477 of the American Tract Society (New York); and from Abbott’s works on Napoleon, alluded to above.
Il est vrai que le Christ propose à notre foi une série de mystères. Il commande avec autorité d’y croire, sans donner d’autres raisons que cette parole épouvantable: Je suis Dieu.
Sans doute il faut la foi pour cet article-là, qui est celui duquel dérive tous les autres articles. Mais le caractère de la divinité du Christ une fois admis, la doctrine chrétienne se présente avec la précision et la clarté de l’algèbre: il faut y admirer l’enchaînement et l’unité d’une science.
Appuyée sur la Bible, cette doctrine explique le mieux les traditions du monde; elle les éclaircit, et les autres dogmes s’y rapportent étroitement comme les anneaux scellés d’une même chaîne. L’existence du Christ d’un bout à l’autre est un tissu tout mystérieux, j’en conviens, mais ce mystère répond à des difficultés qui sont dans toutes les existences; rejetez-le, le monde est une énigme: acceptez-le, vous avez une admirable solution de l’histoire de l’homme.
Le christianisme a un avantage sur tous les philosophes et sur toutes les religions: les chrétiens ne se font pas illusion sur la nature des choses. On ne peut leur reprocher ni la subtilité ni le charlatanisme des idéologues, qui ont cru résoudre la grande énigme des questions théologiques, avec des vaines dissertations sur ces grands objets. Insensés, dont la folie ressemble à celle d’un petit enfant qui veut toucher le ciel avec sa main, ou qui demande la lune pour son jouet ou sa curiosité. Le christianisme dit avec simplicité: “Nul homme n’a vu Dieu, si ce n’est Dieu. Dieu a révelé ce qu’il était: sa révélation est un mystère que la raison ni l’esprit ne peuvent concevoir. Mais puisque Dieu a parlé, il faut y croire.” Cela est d’un grand bon sens.
L’Evangile possède une vertu secrète, je ne sais quoi d’efficace, une chaleur qui agit sur l’entendement et qui charme le cœur; on éprouve à le méditer, ce qu’on éprouve à contempler le ciel. L’Evangile n’est pas un livre, c’est un être vivant, avec une action, une puissance, qui envahit tout ce qui s’oppose à son extension. Le voici sur cette table, cc livre par excellence [et ici l’Empereur le toucha avec respect]; je ne me lasse pas de le lire, et tous les jours avec le même plaisir.
Le Christ ne varie pas, il n’hésite jamais dans son enseignement, et la moindre affirmation de lui est marquée d’un cachet de simplicité et de profondeur qui captive l’ignorant et le savant, pour peu qu’ils y prêtent leur attention.
Nulle part on ne trouve cette série de belles idées, de belles maximes morales, qui défilent comme les bataillons de la milice céleste, et qui produisent dans notre âme le même sentiment que l’on éprouve à considérer l’étendue infinie du ciel resplendissant, par une belle nuit d’été, de tout l’éclat des astres.
Non seulement notre esprit est préoccupé, mais il est dominé par cette lecture, et jamais l’âme ne court risque de s’égarer avec ce livre.
Une fois maître de notre esprit, l’Evangile fidèle nous aime. Dieu même est notre ami, notre père et vraiment notre Dieu. Une mère n’a pas plus de soin de l’enfant qu’elle allaite. L’âme séduite par la beauté de l’Evangile, no s’appartient plus. Dieu s’en empare tout-à-fait; il en dirige les pensées et toutes les facultés, elle est à lui.
Quelle preuve de la divinité du Christ! avec un empire aussi absolu, il n’a qu’un seul but, l’amélioration spirituelle des individus, la pureté de la conscience, l’union à ce qui est vrai, la sainteté de l’âme.
Enfin, et c’est mon dernier argument, il n’y a pas de Dieu dans le ciel, si un homme a pu concevoir et exécuter, avec un plein succès, le dessein gigantesque de dérober pour lui le culte suprême, en usurpant le nom de Dieu. Jésus est le seul qui l’ait osé, il est le seul qui ait dit clairement, affirmé imperturbablement lui-même de lui-même: Je suis Dieu. Ce qui est bien différent de cette affirmation: Je suis un dieu, ou de cette autre: Il y a des dieux. L’histoire ne mentionne aucun autre individu qui se soit qualifié lui-même de ce titre de Dieu dans le sens absolu. La fable n’établit nulle part, que Jupiter et les autres dieux se soient eux-mêmes divinisés. C’eut été de leur part le comble de l’orgueil, et une monstruosité, une extravagance absurde. C’est la postérité, ce sont les héritiers des premiers despotes qui les ont déifiés. Tous les hommnes étant d’une même race, Alexandre a pu se dire le fils de Jupiter. Mais toute la Grêce a souri de cette supercherie; et de même l’apothéose des empereurs romains n’a jamais été une chose sérieuse pour les Romains. Mahomet et Confucius se sont donnés simplement pour des agents de la divinité. La déesse Egérie de Numa, n’a jamais été que la personnification d’une inspiration puisée dans la solitude des bois. Les dieux Brama, de l’Inde, sont une innovation psychologique.
Comment donc un juif, dont l’existence historique est plus avéré que toutes celles des temps où il a vécu, lui seul, fils d’un charpentier, se donne-t-il tout d’abord pour Dieu même, pour l’être par excellence, pour le Créateur de tous les êtres. Il s’arroge toutes les sortes d’adorations. Il bâtit son culte de ses mains, non avec des pierres, mais avec des hommes. On s’extasie sur les conquêtes d’Alexandre! Eh bien! voici un conquérant qui confisque à son profit, qui unit, qui incorpore à lui-même, non pas une nation, mais l’espèce humaine. Quel miracle! l’âme humaine, avec toutes ses facultés, devient une annexe avec l’existence du Christ.
Et comment? par un prodige qui surpasse tout prodige. Il veut l’amour des hommes, c’est-à-dire, ce qu’il est le plus difficile au monde d’obtenir: ce qu’un sage demande vainement à quelques amis, un père à ses enfants, une épouse à son époux, un frère à son frère, en un mot, le cœur: c’est la ce qu’il vent pour lui, il l’exige absolument, et il y réussit tout de suite. J’en conclus sa divinité. Alexandre, César, Annibal, Louis XIV., avec tout leur génie, y ont échoué. Ils ont conquis le monde et il n’ont pu parvenir à avoir un ami. Je suis peut-être le seul, de nos jours, qui aime Annibal, César, Alexandre. Le grand Louis XIV., qui a jeté tant d’éclat sur la France et dans le monde, n’avait pas un ami dans tout son royaume, même dans sa famille. Il est vrai, nous aimons nos enfants: pourquoi? Nous obéissons à un instinct de la nature, à une volonté de Dieu, à une necessite que les bêtes elles-mêmes reconnaissent et remplissent; mais combien d’enfants qui restent insensibles à nos caresses, à tant de soins que nous leur prodiguons, combien d’enfants ingrats? Vos enfants, général Bertrand, vous aiment-ils? vous les aimez, et vous n’êtes pas sûr d’être payé de retour. Ni vos bienfaits, ni la nature, ne réussiront jamais à leur inspirer un amour tel que celui des chrétiens pour Dieu! Si vous veniez à mourir, vos enfants se souviendraient de vous en dépensant votre fortune, sans doute, mais vos petits enfants sauraient à peine si vous avez existé. Et vous êtes le général Bertrand! Et nous somiames dans une île, et vous n’avez d’autre distraction que la vue de votre famille.
Le Christ parle, et désormais le générations lui appartiennent par des liens plus étroits, plus intimes que ceux du sang; par une union plus sacrée, plus impérieuse que quelque union que ce soit. Il allume la flamme d’un amour qui fait mourir l’amour de soi, qui prévaut sur tout autre amour.
A ce miracle de sa volonté, comment ne pas reconnaître le Verbe créateur du monde.
Les fondateurs de religion n’ont pas même eu l’idée de cet amour mystique, qui est l’essence du christianisme, sous le beau nom de charité.
C’est qu’il n’avaient garde de se lancer contre un ecueil. C’est que dans un opération semblable, se faire aimer, l’homme porte en lui-même le sentiment profond de son impuissance.
Aussi le plus grand miracle du Christ, sans contredit, c’est la règne de la charité.
Lui seul, il est parvenu à élever le cœur des hommnes jusqu'à l’invisible, jusqu’au sacrifice du temps: lui seul, en créant cette immolation, a crée un lien entre le ciel et la terre.
Tous ceux qui croient sincèrement en lui ressentent cet amour admirable, surnaturel, supérieur; phenomène inexplicable, impossible à la raison, et aux forces de l’homme; feu sacré donné à la terre par ce nouveau Prométhée, dont le temps, ce grand destructeur, ne peut ni user la force ni limiter la durée. Moi, Napoléon, c’est ce que j’admire davantage, parce que j’y ai pensé souvent. Et c’est ce qui me prouve absolument la divinité du Chlrist!
J’ai passionne des multitudes qui mouraient pour moi. A Dieu ne plaise que je forme aucune comparaison entre l’enthousiasme des soldats et la charité chrétienne, qui sont aussi différents que leur cause.
Mais enfin, il fallait ma presence, l’électricité de mon regard, mon accent, une parole de moi; alors, j’allumais le feu sacré dans les cœurs. Certes je possède le secret de cette puissance magique qui enlève l’esprit, mais je ne saurais le communiquer à personne; aucun de mes généraux ne l’a reçu ou deviné de moi; je n’ai pas d’avantage le secret d’éterniser mon nom et mon amour dans les cœurs, et d’y opérer des prodiges sans les secours de la matière.
Maintenant que je suis à Sainte-Hélène—maintenant que je suis seul et cloué sur ce roc, qui bataille et conquiert des empires pour moi? Où sont les courtisans de mon infortune? Pense-t-on à moi? Qui se remue pour moi en Europe? Qui m’est demeure fidèle, où sont mes amis? Oui, deux ou trois, que votre fidélité immortalise, vous partagez, vous consolez mon exil.
Ici la voix de l’Empereur prit un accent particulier d’ironique mélancolie et de profonde tristesse. “Oui, notre existence a brillé de tout l’éclat du diadême et de la souveraineté; et la votre, Bertrand, réfléchissait cet éclat comme le dôme des Invalides, doré par nous, réfléchit les rayons du soleil. Mais les revers sont venus, l’or peu à peu s’est effacé. La pluie du malheur et des outrages, dont on m’abreuve chaque jour, en emporte les dernières parcelles. Nous ne sommes plus que du plomb, général Bertrand, et bientôt je serai de la terre.
“Telle est la destinée des grands hommes! Telle de César et d’Alexandre, et l’on nous oublie! et le nom d’un conquérant, comme celui d’un empereur, n’est plus qu’un thème de collége! Nos exploits tombent sous la férule d’un pédant qui nous insulte ou nous loue.
“Que de jugements divers on se permet sur le grand Louis XIV.! A peine mort, le grand roi lui-même fut laissé seul, dans l’isolement de sa chambre à coucher de Versailles—négligé par ses courtisans et peut-être l’objet de la risée. Ce n’était plus leur maître! C’était un cadavre, un cercueil, une fosse, et l’horreur d’une imminente décomposition.
“Encore un moment:—voilà mon sort et ce qui va m’arriver a moi-même—assassiné par l’oligarchie anglaise, je meurs avant le temps, et mon cadavre aussi va être rendu à la terre pour y devenir la pâture des vers.
“Voila la destinée très prochaine du grand Napoléon—Quel abîme entre ma misère profonde, et le règne éternel du Christ prêché, encensé, aimé, adoré, vivant dans tout l’univers—Est-ce là mourir? n’est-ce pas plutôt vivre? voilà la mort du Christ? voilà celle de Dieu.”
L’empereur se tut, et comme le général Bertrand gardait également le silence: “Vous ne comprenez pas, reprit l’empereur, que Jésus-Christ est Dieu; eh bien! j’ai eu tort de vous faire général!”
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, themost 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, Cæsar, 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 Cæsar, 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, Cæsar, 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 Cæsar 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.”
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