Napoleon Bonaparte was born on August 15th, 1769 in Corsica, a beautiful French Mediterranean island of mountains and forests. None would have guessed that this child was destined to become the most famous man and one of the most glamorous legends in French history. At the age of ten young Bonaparte was sent to a military academy in France and, despite many setbacks, climbed the ladder of fame to become one of the foremost military geniuses of all time.
The French Revolution saw the gradual emergence of Napoleon. Energetic, aggressive and utterly ruthless; he was renowned for his quick decisions.
Under Napoleonic guidance, the French Directory was overthrown by a coup d'etat on the 9th and 10th November, 1799...and France had a new Government - the Consulate.
Sieyes, the grand Pontiff of the Revolution, created a First Consul to be head of the Executive - and who could it be but Napoleon! Cambaceres & Lebrun were chosen as his assistants. Napoleon soon revealed his extraordinary talent for administrative organization. His first major problem was to put French finances in order for the old Directory did not have a franc left to its name. He commenced by putting his country's coinage on a sound basis with the 5-Franc silver piece.
On August 3rd, 1802 a plebiscite elected Napoleon First Consul for life with an overwhelming majority. Three and a half million said "Yes" and 8,000 said "No"!
Two years later, on December 2nd, 1804, Napoleon I had himself crowned Emperor by Pope Pius VII in the Parisian Cathedral of Notre Dame. For ten years he dominated Europe.
In 1803 his likeness appeared on France's crown-sized coins as "BONA PARTE PREMIER CONSUL" (Bonaparte First Consul). In 1804 the legend read "NAPOLEON EMPEREUR".
Napoleon was restless and could not stand still. This led to his eventual downfall. He boasted of following in the footsteps of Alexander the Great; he matched himself with Julius Caesar; and compared himself with Charlemagne.
Lord Nelson's British fleet was undisputed mistress of the seas and at the famous Battle of Trafalgar on October 21st, 1805, humbled many of Napoleon's ambitions.
Among the French conquests was the island of Mauritius off the east coast of Madagascar on the commercial lines to India. This island was discovered in 1507 by the Portugese, taken over by the Dutch in 1598 and colonized by them in 1638. it eventually passed into French hands and was renamed by them "Iles de France et Bonaparte" and issued its "Dix Livres" dollar in 1810. In the same year it was captured by the British and confirmed to them by the Treaty of Paris in 1814. It then took back its earlier name of Mauritius.
After his disastrous invasion of Russia in 1812, Napoleon's pathetic armies made their calamitous retreat from Moscow.
Entering Paris in March, 1814, Napoleon was forced to abdicate ten days later on April 6th. On April 20th, the man who wanted to rule the world was on his way into exile on the tiny Mediterranean island of Elba. No man had risen higher or fallen lower!
The world thought his career was finished, but no ... ten months after his arrival in Elba he escaped and set out again on an amazing adventure which proved to be his last gamble.
On February 26th, 1815, Napoleon left the island and landed in the South of France on March 1st. Thus began the last act of the play which became known as the "Hundred Days" and which ended with his defeat at the Battle of Waterloo on Sunday, June 18th, 1815.
Napoleon Bonaparte entrusted himself to the British Government and requested what is now known as "political asylum". Writing to the Prince Regent, Napoleon said, "I put myself under the protection of British Law, which I claim from your Royal Highness as the most powerful, most constant, and most generous of my enemies". Instead however, he was considered a prisoner of war until he reached the island of St. Helena off the West African coast. The long voyage from Plymouth, England, on board the "Northumberland" lasted 70 days.
He died at five on the afternoon of May 5th, 1821, after six years of imprisonment. Twenty years later, England took the initiative in having Napoleon's ashes restored to France.
It was King Louis Philippe of France who presided over the solemn re interment of Napoleon's ashes in the crypt under the magnificent dome of Les Invalides in Paris on December 15th, 1840.
Frederick W. Kates, writing in "The Churchman" says, "It is hardly to such a man as Napoleon Bonaparte one would turn for spiritual enlightenment: but it is interesting indeed to note what he said about Jesus of Nazareth and the Christian Religion".
"I see in Lycurgus, Numa, and Mohammed only legislators who, having the first rank in the state, have sought the best solution of the social problem"; said Napoleon, "but I see nothing there which reveals divinity ... 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", he continued in this conversation with General Bertrand, one of his companions during the twilight days of his meteoric career. "Everything 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 ideals 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, is for me a prodigy, a mystery insoluble, which plunges me into a reverence which I cannot escape, a mystery which is there before my eyes, a mystery which I cannot deny or explain. Here I see nothing human.
"The nearer I approach, the more carefully I examine, everything is above me, everything remains grand - of a grandeur which overpowers.
"His religion is a revelation from an intelligence which certainly is not that of man. There is a profound originality, which has created a series of words and of maxims before unknown. Jesus borrowed nothing from our sciences. One can absolutely find nowhere, but in Him alone, the imitation or the example of His life."
In another place Napoleon wrote: "I know men; and I tell you that Jesus is not a man. Superficial minds see a resemblance between Christ and the founders of empires, and the gods of other regions. That resemblance does not exist. There is between Christianity and whatever other religions the distance of infinity...
"I search in vain in history to find the equal of Jesus Christ, beyond the march of events and above the human mind."
Napoleon states his conception of the Christian religion in the following words when he says it 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 this is not the true religion, one is very excusable in being deceived, for everything in it is grand and worthy of God."
Referring to Christ's empire and His Church in contrast to his own passing fame and glory, Napoleon who has been described as the "world's greatest travelling man of slaughter" said: "You speak of Caesar, of Alexander, of their conquests, and of the enthusiasm 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!
"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 engulf 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."
Then, and rather pathetically, the great Napoleon remarked to his companion: "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.
"Behold the destiny, near at hand, of him who has been 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!"