From time to time I go on a history binge to learn something about a topic that I know nothing about. One time it was Napoleon Bonaparte. At the time it occurred to me that I knew nothing of his story, and my interest was piqued enough that I decided to dig in. I read articles, listened to podcasts, and watched movies and lectures. There’s much to say about this man: his upbringing, his forceful and strategic mind, his leadership, his opportunism, and his notable miscalculations. Let me tell you what I’m learning about that.
Napoleon’s greatest miscalculation…
You’ve probably heard the expression “Napoleon’s Waterloo”. It’s a reference to the leap that he made, against all odds, in a battle near Waterloo, Belgium, on June 18, 1815. He lost the battle to the Duke of Wellington in a tragic defeat, and in the process he was exiled by the allies to live out the remaining years of his life on a tiny speck of an island in the Atlantic known as St. Helena’s. He had at one time been the Emperor of France, but he died in lonely ignobility at the age of 51.
Historians often refer to Waterloo as Napoleon’s greatest miscalculation, but I’m not so sure. I think his greatest miscalculation occurred over ten years earlier, on December 2, 1804, the day he was crowned as Emperor. France had lived without a king for ten years, in the aftermath of the French Revolution. Along came Napoleon, who worked himself up through the ranks, eventually winning over opposition to becoming Emperor. He was 35 at the time.
How to fail at humility:
The seminal moment occurred on December 2, 1804. All of French nobility had gathered on that day at Notre Dame Cathedral, along with 400 musicians. Pope Pius VII was there as well, for the purpose of crowning Napoleon, but as Napoleon ascended the steps to be crowned by the Pope, he reached over, took the crown himself from the pillow upon which it rested, and placed it on his own head. He was leaving no room for doubt: Napoleon would bow to no one, including religious authority.
He’s not the only one.
I think that was his greatest miscalculation, and I think that it can be mine, too. I am seeking God to show me a greater path of humility these days, trying to live the admonition of the Apostle Paul:
“For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.” (Romans 12:3).
I’m thanking God that He is in charge. I’m glad to work among friends like you—people who seek to live humbly for His glory.
***What challenges to humility do you face? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.***