Eugene de Mazenod lived under the First Empire (Napoleon I) and the first years of the Second Empire (Napoleon III).
First Empire (1804-1814)
On May 1, 1804, Napoleon succeeded in having the Senate bestow upon him the title of hereditary Emperor of the French. For all intents and purposes, he re-established the monarchy that the Revolution had destroyed. At the time, he was so popular that by means of a plebiscite the people approved the vote of the Senate. The feasts of consecration and of crowning in the presence of Pope Pius VII on December 2, 1804 were carried out with solemnity. The Emperor took up residence at Les Tuileries and held court there like the kings of old.
His rule had many positive aspects to it, in particular, a better understanding with Rome and religious peace, but the wars continued. Three coalitions made up of countries of Europe formed against France (1805, 1806 and 1809). Napoleon was often victorious. In 1809, he was master of one half of Europe and his ambition was growing. However, each of his victories cost him dear in terms of men and money. The Emperor’s popularity began to wane in France and the people of Europe sought to recover their freedom. The war against Spain (1808-1813) and the Russian campaign with its disastrous retreat (1813) brought a decline in Napoleon’s power. He was compelled to abdicate on April 6, 1814 when the European armies invaded France.
In his correspondence, Eugene de Mazenod does not mention Napoleon’s wars, nor his political activities. He treats of the Emperor strictly in terms of religion. With regard to this topic, see the article, Napoleon I.
Second Empire (1852-1870)
In 1852, prince Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, Napoleon I’s nephew, had himself proclaimed emperor with the title Napoleon III and the people approved this new regime by a plebiscite on the 21 and 22 of November of that year. Napoleon III enjoyed almost absolute power until 1860, maintaining suppression of freedom of the press and the right of public assembly. After this, his government became more liberal.
The reign of Napoleon III brought material prosperity to France. Important public works were carried out in the larger cities. The railway system expanded. Many social laws were passed. In his correspondence and in his diary, Bishop de Mazenod made a few allusions to the prosperity of Marseilles.
During the first years of the Second Empire, the relations between the Church and the State were excellent. The Emperor was a practicing Catholic as well as the Empress, Eugenia de Montejo, who is reputed to have had the ardent faith of the Spanish. The ministers of the state, the minister of public worship in particular, took into consideration the needs of the Church. The Church was given special treatment in the sense that the bishops enjoyed a freedom of expression that was exceptional. The budget for public worship went from 39 to 48 millions. The state administration authorized gifts and bequests to religious establishments and allowed religious congregations to develop.
Bishop de Mazenod took full advantage of the good dispositions of the Emperor and his ministers to benefit the diocese of Marseilles. He obtained subsidies to increase the allotment paid to the clergy, for the creation of parishes and mission chapels, and especially for the cathedral and for the basilica of Notre-Dame de la Garde. The civil and religious authorities requested in vain for the title of archdiocese for Marseilles. That, in turn, would have increased the allotment paid to the bishop whose expenses were high because of the many visitors he entertained. (Letters of Canon Jeancard to Mr. Reybaud, May 15, 1851 and of Bishop de Mazenod to the minister of public worship March 15, 1853, etc.)
In terms of personal favours, Bishop de Mazenod was appointed a senator in 1856 (see the article, Senator); in 1858, he obtained that Bishop Jeancard would be appointed as his auxiliary (see the article, Jeancard) and was put forward as a candidate for the cardinalate in 1859. (see the article, Cardinalate) His relations with the Emperor were courteous and frequent. (see the article, Napoleon III)
In 1852, at Bordeaux, in a speech which was, in a way, a declaration of the policy of the Second Empire, Louis Napoleon had said: “The empire is peace.” Nevertheless, he allowed himself to be drawn into several wars, in particular, the Crimean War from 1854-1856 and the Italian war in 1859. On April 13, 1854, Bishop de Mazenod published a pastoral letter to ask for prayers on the occasion of the Crimean War and, on September 12, 1855, he had the Te Deum sung in thanksgiving for the victory of Sebastopol. The Italian war of independence of 1859 was a source of concern for him. The French armies helped the Piedmontese to expel the Austrians. On May 15, 1859, Bishop de Mazenod wrote a pastoral letter on this occasion and, at the request of the civil authorities, but without having any heart for it, he had the Te Deum sung on the occasion of the victories of Magenta on June 4 and of Solferino on June 24.
Subsequently, Bishop de Mazenod found that the Emperor was deficient in his defense of the Pope and the Pontifical States, threatened by the revolt of its legations and the designs of Cavour, especially since Napoleon was contemplating withdrawing the French army from Rome. It was the French army that had made it possible for the Pope to return to Rome in 1849.
Thus it was that, at the end of 1859, Bishop de Mazenod wrote two letters to the Emperor to remind him that the Church of France was relying on him to protect the Papal States.
The wars of Italian unification ended with the taking of Rome in 1870. That same year, Prussia, in its design to achieve German unification by annexing Alsace Lorraine, defeated the French army at Sedan. Napoleon III surrendered and gave himself up as a prisoner on September 2. This brought about the fall of the Empire.
Yvon Beaudoin, o.m.i.