The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers, vol. 2


CHAPTER THIRTY-FOUR: The Deadly Wound Ends the 1260 Years

I. Papal Government Supplanted and Pontiff Banished

The immediate problem is to trace the overthrow of the Papacy in Italy in 1798. One of the most interesting accounts, as well as a very trustworthy one, of the overthrow of the papal government is by Richard Duppa, 1 in A Brief Account of the Subversion of the Papal Government, 1798. 2 Of this work Duppa says, “It was written with the strictest attention to truth; the facts were recorded by one who was witness to the events.” And he adds, “After a lapse of nine years, no part has been invalidated.” 3 PFF2 749.1


In 1796 Napoleon Bonaparte, on his way to overthrow the pope, incited his soldiers with one of his fiery speeches to the effect that they still had one offense to avenge. The hour of vengeance had struck. To restore the Capitol, to awaken the people of Rome, blunted from centuries of slavery, were to be the fruits of their victories; they would mark an epoch in history. Hearing of this, Pius VI (1775-1798)-born in 1717 as Giovanni Angelico Braschi, and died in 1799—attempted to fortify his position and neglected nothing that might prevent the great catastrophe. Meantime he sent an emissary to Napoleon at Milan and pro posed an armistice, offering heavy reparations and the surrender of Ancona, Bologna, and Ferrara—the northern portion of the papal territory. 4 PFF2 749.2

The French Directory demanded that the Papacy revoke, retract, and disannul all bulls, briefs, rescripts, and decrees affecting ecclesiastical affairs in France issued since the beginning of the Revolution in 1787. This Pius VI refused, declaring he would oppose it with force, and broke off the parley. Napoleon took Imola, the Romagna, the duchy of Urbino, routed the papal army, and made new overtures to the pope. PFF2 750.1


The Directory wished Napoleon to destroy the Papacy, 5 and directed that no successor to Pius VI be elected to the papal chair. It hoped as a consequence, to deliver Europe from the papal supremacy. 6 But Bonaparte negotiated the Treaty of Tolentino, on February 19, 1797, by which the Pope was to abandon Avignon, Venaissin, Bologna, Ferrara, and Romagna (Peter’s patrimony), in addition to heavy indemnities. 7 The papal treasury was unable to meet the monetary demand, and the populace of Rome was showing increasing hostility to the papal government. The pope could scarcely appear in public without being hissed. 8 Revolution was in the air. Incendiary placards were posted on the one hand, and on the other the French were exposed to in creasing insults. A crisis approached. PFF2 750.2

Joseph Bonaparte was sent to Rome as French ambassador, and sought to quiet the situation. But on December 27, 1797, a riot threatened, and the papal government ordered the mutineers to disperse. Duppa records that some in the mob, “proceeded to make public harangues, and pretended to shew clearly, by several texts of scripture, that the time was at hand to over throw the existing government.” 9 The papal troops advanced, and the revolutionists sought refuge at the French embassy. The pontifical soldiers followed and opened fire. Then the French general Duphot sought to quiet the melee, but was shot, and dispatched with papal bayonets. 10 PFF2 750.3


The killing of General Duphot brought on the crisis. The ambassador left Rome in indignation. Reparations were refused, and the Directory, on January 1, 1798, ordered General Berthier, 11 then in Milan, to march upon Rome and conquer it, and to establisha Roman republic. 12 PFF2 751.1

General Berthier advanced, but stopped outside of Rome, awaiting an invitation to enter. Patriots invited him to do so. Thus the French troops entered Rome on February 10, 1798. Berthier immediately pledged by proclamation that the Catholic “cult” should remain untouched. 13 PFF2 751.2


As a last resort the church had had recourse to a vast religious processional through the streets of Rome, with venerated relics, in the hope of staving off the evil day. An elaborate proclamation was issued January 15, 1798, in the form of a printed poster 14 signed by the papal secretary. The three special relics paraded were a portrait of the Saviour supposed to have been painted by supernatural agency, a miraculous picture of the Virgin Mary and the child, and the supposed chains by which St. Peter was fettered. 15 These were then placed on exhibition on the high altar of St. Peter’s, and visited by the people of Rome and the surrounding country. Prayer, fasting, and penitence were urged, and liberal indulgences promised. But the French Army came on. 16 Priests went throughout the city preaching the end of the world and, as customary, calling on miracles to sustain their prophecies. They little dreamed that they were so near the close of their power. PFF2 751.3


Berthier called upon the commander of St. Angelo to open the fort. He asked two days for decision, but Berthier gave only four hours. So the fort was evacuated, three thousand French troops taking possession, and taking over the city, with certain cardinals, princes, and prelates as hostages to ensure quiet. From that moment onward Pius VI confined himself to the Vatican. Heavy reparations were exacted for the assassination of General Duphot. Then a petition, drawn up and signed by the French partisans in Rome, demanding a change of government and regime of liberty, was followed by an imposing public demonstration. The Tree of Liberty was planted on the capitol hill, 17 and the new government was established on Pluviose 27 (February 15), whenthe sovereignty of the people was proclaimed and the re-establishment of the Roman Republic was effected. 18 PFF2 752.1


Berthier came to the capitol escorted by a military band, received the acclaim of the great concourse, and gave formal recognition to the Roman Republic and its provisional government. 19 He then ordered the papal arms and insignia everywhere removed. Thus the change was effected without bloodshed. Later when the Sacred Congregation of Propaganda was suppressed, their College at PFF2 752.2

Rome was closed and the building used as a warehouse for confiscated property, and their printing presses and type were sent to France. 20 Vatican Palace was stripped of its valuables, and the sacerdotal vestments of the pontifical chapels were burned for the gold and silver of the embroidery. 21 PFF2 753.1


Meantime, on this very, same day—February 15—on the anniversary of his elevation to the pontificate, Pius VI repaired to the Sistine Chapel, and was receiving the felicitations of the Sacred College of cardinals, when, in the midst of the ceremony, shouts penetrated the conclave, intermingled with the strokes of axes on the doors. Soon General Haller, a Swiss Calvinist, with a band of his soldiers, broke into the chapel, and declared that the pope’s reign was at an end. 22 (Painting appears on page 754.)His Swiss guards were dismissed, and republican soldiers substituted. Ferrara, Bologna, and Romagna (Peter’s patrimony) were taken over, and the cardinals were stripped of authority and possessions. Eight were arrested and sent to the Civita Castellana. 23 The glory, honor, and power had vanished. Soldiers were quartered in the papal palace. Such was the stroke of the sword at Rome. It was the end of an epoch in papal history long before predicted in the prophecies of Holy Writ. Trevor goes so far as to say: PFF2 753.2

“The territorial possessions of the clergy and monks were declared national property, and their former owners cast into prison. The papacy was extinct: not a vestige of its existence remained; and among all the Roman Catholic powers not a finger was stirred in its defence. The Eternal City had no longer prince or pontiff; its bishop was a dying captive in foreign lands; and the decree was already announced that no successor would be allowed in his place.” 24 PFF2 753.3


The pope’s banishment from Rome was then decreed, and Haller was again chosen to inform him. Appearing on the afternoon of February 18, he demanded the pope’s treasures. When the pope protested that the Tolentino Treaty had left him nothing, Haller demanded and took the two rings on his lingers, including the Fisherman’s ring—though only by threat. (This was returned the following day.) Haller told the prelate to be ready to leave the next morning at six. He protested his age—of eighty-one—and illness, Haller nevertheless insisted, and threatened force. Given forty-eight hours to settle the affairs of the church, he was to leave before daybreak. 25 (Painting of departure appears on page 754.) PFF2 753.4

General haller presenting berthier’s ultimatum to pope pius VI, in the sistine chapel at the vatican, on February 15, 1798 (upper}; The declaration of the end of former papal authority, with french original at left and Italian translation at right (center), and inset of berthier, who signed the declaration; and pius VI, sent from rome to france, where he died (lower)
Page 755

It was still night, February 20, 1798, and stormy with lightning and thunder, when the carriage crossed the city, preceded by two men with torches—the guards pointing out the dome of St. Peter’s. Both hisses and prayers came from the crowd that had assembled. Within ten days Pius VI had been dethroned, imprisoned, exiled, his private library confiscated, his state given up to plunder, and his subjects to military control. Reaching Sienna, Pius and his party stopped at an Augustinian convent. But while they were there, an earthquake destroyed several buildings. The Pontiff was therefore housed outside the city in a country home called Hell, a fact that elicited the sarcasm of the unbelieving. 26 PFF2 755.1


But the pope was still in the heart of Italy. So Pius VI was transferred to Florence, constantly under guard of French dragoons. Next his transfer to Parma was decided upon, the departure to take place at 2 A.M. As the pope was suffering from partial paralysis, his guards had great difficulty in effecting the transfer. From here he was taken to Turin, and finally to the French fortress at Valence, in Dauphiny, 27 arriving there July 14, 1799, broken with fatigue and sorrow. He died there on the 28th. 28 PFF2 755.2