Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) was, by all accounts, a giant of history. Soldier. General. Emperor. Exile. And although no would add ‘theologian’ to this list, Napoleon faced a question common to all mankind: Who is Jesus Christ?
History has seen many different answers. Christians have claimed Him as Savior, others have considered Him just another wise teacher, and skeptics have deemed Him to be a largely mythological figure.
Near the end of his life, the exiled Emperor Napoleon had a conversation with one of his generals about the deity of Christ.
General Bertrand said, “I can not conceive, sire, how a great man like you can beleive that the Supreme Being ever exhibited himself to men under a human form, with a body, a face, mouth, and eyes.
“Let Jesus be whatever you please – the highest intelligence, the purest heart, the most profound legislator, and, in all respects, the most singular being who has ever existed – I grant it.
“Still, he was simply a man, who taught his disciples, and deluded credulous people, as did Orpheus, Confucius, Brama.”
To this Napoleon responded by saying:
“I know men, and I tell you Jesus Christ was not a man.
Superficial minds see a resemblance between Christ and the founders of empires and the gods of other religions. That resemblance does not exist.
There is between Christianity and other religions the distance of infinity.
Alexander, Cæsar, Charlemagne and myself founded empires. But on what did we rest the creations of our genius? Upon sheer force. Jesus Christ alone founded His empire upon love; and at this hour millions of men will die for Him. In every other existence but that of Christ how many imperfections!
From the first day to the last He is the same; majestic and simple; infinitely firm and infinitely gentle. He proposes to our faith a series of mysteries and commands with authority that we should believe them, giving no other reason than those tremendous words, ‘I am God.’”
Refering to other so-called gods that have been worshipped by man, Napoleon said:
“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. 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 ideas and His sentiments, the truths which He announces, His manner of convincing, are not explained either by human organization of by the nature of things.
The Bible contains a complete series of acts and of historical men to explain time and eternity, such as no other religion has to offer.
If it is not the true religion, one is very excusable in being deceived; for everything in it is grand and worthy of God.
I search in vain in history to find the similar to Jesus Christ, or anything which can approach the Gospel. Neither history, nor humanity, nor the ages, nor nature can offer me anything with which I am able to compare it or explain it. Here everything is extraordinary.
The more I consider the Gospel, the more I am assured that there is nothing there which is not beyond the march of events and above the human mind. Even the impious themselves have never dared to deny the sublimity of the Gospel, which inspires them with a sort of compulsory veneration.
What happiness that Book procures for those who believe it!”
So said Napoleon Bonaparte.
What about you? Who do you say that Christ is? Scripture tells us that “every knee should bow…and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” Even the great Napoleon.
Note: Yes, Jesus was both God and man. Napoleon’s quote that Jesus “was not a man” is presumably meant as “Jesus Christ was not a mere man.” Again, he wasn’t a theologian.
Sources: There are many early accounts of these and similar remarks about Christ and Christianity from Napoleon. The above account is found in full in John S. Abbott’s The History of Napoleon Bonaparte, published in 1855 – just 34 years after Napoleon’s death.