The Chair of St. Peter
Fr. Scott A. Haynes
In the course of human events, many have tried to destroy the Church established by Jesus Christ by attacking the office of the papacy. But, as we gather around the chair of St. Peter, we hear the words of Christ,
“I say unto thee, that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build MY Church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.”
The Emperor Napoleon, in his own day, began to persecute the Catholic Church by attacking Pope Pius VII. In 1804, the Holy Father traveled to Paris to assist at the coronation of the emperor. Upon his arrival, Napoleon tried his utmost to persuade the Holy Father to transfer the Holy See from Rome to Paris. If that had happened, I suppose we would not be Roman Catholics but Parisian Catholics.
Napoleon marched up and down the room, using emphatic language and grand gestures. The Pope sat in his chair and listened in silence—rather unimpressed. When Napoleon finally stopped talking, Pope Pius VII said,
“How well you act comedy.”
Napoleon was incensed at this! In his rage he went to his room and took a drawing of St. Peter’s Basilica and brought it before the Pope. He ripped up the drawing before the Holy Father, exclaiming,
“This is what I shall do to the Catholic Church! I will utterly crush her!”
Pope Pius VII, unmoved by all of this, looked at Napoleon right in the eye and calmly said,
“Now you act tragedy.”
When the Holy Father said those words, he was speaking according to his prophetic office, for anyone who knowingly sets out to destroy the Church that Christ has founded on St. Peter will find themselves in truly tragic circumstances.
What happened next in this story? Napoleon imprisoned the Holy Father for five years. During this imprisonment, on May 13, 1809, Napoleon forced the Pope to relinquish possession of the States of the Church, promising him an income of 2 million francs. From that day forward, Napoleon’s luck seemed to be running out, for a few days later, he suffered a major military defeat that would lead to his ruin.
In the very same castle – yes, even in the very same room that Napoleon had forced Pope Pius VII to sign away the Papal States, Napoleon, himself, was forced to sign the decree of his deposition in 1814, being assigned the very same income he had assigned to the Holy Father, that is, 2 million francs. Coincidence? I think not.
When the Church excommunicated Napoleon, he laughed, ridiculing Peter and the power of the keys, boldly claiming that
“The weapons will not drop out of my soldiers’ hands because of that.”
However, when his troops entered Russia, the majority of his troops, a half a million men, perished, as literally the weapons fell from their frozen hands.
When Napoleon died on May 5, 1821, now he was in captivity on the island of St. Helena. On the same day as Napoleon’s death, Pope Pius VII was in Rome celebrating the feast day of his namesake, St. Pius, having been reinstated in the possession of the dominions of the Church.
St. Matthew’s Gospel tells us that 2,000 years ago Christ built one Church and He built it on St. Peter the Rock. Those blessed words have been tested throughout history. As they were true then, they were true in 1821 when Napoleon died. And I tell you most solemnly, that the words of Christ are just as true even today:
“I say unto thee, that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.”
The Feast of the Chair of St. Peter is celebrated annually on February 22.