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Catechism, Imperial


Name given to the Catéchisme à l'usage de toutes les Églises de l'Empire français, published by order of Emperor napoleon i (May 1, 1806). When the concordat of 1801 was promulgated, the French government promised in the organic articles (art. 39) attached to it a single liturgy and a single catechism for all dioceses in the country. Unification had previously been urged in the cahiers of the clergy in 1789, and its need became more evident with the Concordat's new division of dioceses. Pre-Revolutionary sees were accustomed to their own catechisms. New dioceses often comprised portions of three or four former ones, with the result that there were instances of several different catechisms in use within a single diocese. The task of composing a uniform catechism was confided to the Director of Cults Portalis, and to the worthy Abbés d'Astros and Jauffret, who drew inspiration from the catechism composed for the Diocese of Meaux by Bossuet.

Between the completion of the draft copy (1803) and the published version (1806), Napoleon proclaimed the French Empire. To gain a populace submissive to such innovations as military conscription and the novel taxes suggested by his ambitious policies, and to heighten his authority, he sought more and more to utilize the Church. At his insistence the chapter in the new catechism on the Fourth Commandment contained audacious statements concerning the respect and affection due to authority, and specifically to Napoleon's person and dynasty. When Pius VII refused to grant needed ecclesiastical approval, Napoleon turned to the compliant caprara, papal legate to Paris, and pretended that his approbation was that of the Holy See.

This catechism's deviation from traditional Catholic teachings on submission to authority, and its endeavor to remove from bishops liberty to establish the text of the catechism caused lively emotion among French Catholics, and in Rome. Despite the Emperor's injunctions, episcopal submission was merely nominal. On one pretext or another bishops avoided use of the catechism. In Belgium, opposition was open; in France, it kept increasing with Napoleon's persecution of Pius VII. In 1814, with Napoleon in defeat, King Louis XVIII hastened to suppress the Imperial Catechism, and to restore to each bishop the power to provide a catechism for his own diocese.

Bibliography: a. latreille, Le Catéchisme impérial de 1806 (Paris 1935).

[a. latreille]

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