Haunted by the Emperor

Europe is haunted by the shadow of the Emperor. One senses his absence just as vividly as in former times one sensed his presence. Because the emptiness of the wound speaks, that which we miss knows how to make us sense it. ~ Valentin Tomberg, Meditations on the Tarot

At the apex of everything, as myth and limit, the ideal of the Chakravartin, “the King of the World”, the invisible emperor, whose strength is hidden, powerful, and unconditioned. ~ Julius Evola, Pagan Imperialism

The Gelasian Dyarchy

Rene Guenon wrote an essay describing how the traditional ordering of society was based on both Spiritual Authority and Temporal Power. Ananda Coomaraswamy followed that up with a similar essay describing its application in Indian political thinking. Probably less well known is that the notion of the two powers is firmly rooted also in the Western tradition. The following letter from Pope Gelasius I to Emperor Anastasius in 492 summarizes this teaching:

There are two, august Emperor, by which this world is chiefly ruled, namely, the sacred authority (auctoritas sacrata) of the priests and the royal power (regalis potestas). Of these, that of the priests is weightier, since they have to render an account for even the kings of men in the divine judgment. You are also aware, most clement son, that while you are permitted honorably to rule over human kind, yet in divine matters you bend your neck devotedly to the bishops and await from them the means of your salvation. In the reception and proper disposition of the heavenly sacraments you recognize that you should be subordinate rather than superior to the religious order, and that in these things you depend on their judgment rather than wish to bend them to your will.

If the ministers of religion, recognizing the supremacy granted you from heaven in matters affecting the public order, obey your laws, lest otherwise they might obstruct the course of secular affairs by irrelevant considerations, with what readiness should you not yield them obedience to whom is assigned the dispensing of the sacred mysteries of religion? Accordingly, just as there is no slight danger m the case of the priests if they refrain from speaking when the service of the divinity requires, so there is no little risk for those who disdain—which God forbid—when they should obey. And if it is fitting that the hearts of the faithful should submit to all priests in general who properly administer divine affairs, how much the more is obedience due to the bishop of that see which the Most High ordained to be above all others, and which is consequently dutifully honored by the devotion of the whole Church.

The obvious question, then, is why did not the Medieval civilization persist as long other Traditional societies such as ancient Egypt, China, India, or even Rome. Clearly, the personal element entered into it, since the Pope and the Emperor often intruded into each other’s domain. Then nationalism always threatened the spiritual unity and the political power of the Holy Roman Empire. That is why nationalism is anti-tradition.

Although Julius Evola was wildly incorrect in assuming the Emperor had dominion over the priests, his notion that the Emperor could also possess spiritual authority is worthy of consideration. Valentin Tomberg points out that the Pope and the Emperor are “posts”, not necessarily different individuals. Vladimir Solovyov tried to bring the idea of Tsar and High Priest back into Orthodoxy. However, while the role of the spiritual authority was explicitly defined, the limits of temporal power were not. For that, we can look at the reign of the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II, even though the unity he created did not survive his death.

The Viking Emperor

Frederick II was the descendant of the Normans who had invaded Sicily, although he also had German and Sicilian blood. His intelligence was huge, in stark contrast to the mediocre leaders of our own time. He was trained in scholastic and classical philosophy, but also studied Aristotle and the Islamic philosophers Avicenna and Averroes. Fluent in six languages, he was also a promoter of the arts, particularly poetry.

Frederick served as the model for Dante’s ideas on Monarchy. Thus, for him the State was as much part of the plan for salvation as was the Church. He also seems to have been the inspiration for Evola’s description of the Emperor. Frederick claimed that he was the only true individual in the State, since he is the One, not a part of another (like his subjects).

As King of Sicily, he sought to unify the nation; this required several elements:

  • community of blood
  • community of speech
  • community of festivals
  • community of history
  • unity of law

This created a certain tension since it encouraged a nascent nationalism. The Church was less interested in blood ties, since it was a community of believers. Latin was preferred to the vernacular, and Church feasts to local festivals. This had to be carefully balanced, since it was the Church that guaranteed the Emperor’s position as well as the Holy Roman Empire. This tension persists in our day.

The Rational Order

Frederick’s innovation was to base the State soundly on natural reason, so that it was not a matter of faith or belief. Hence it was purely natural, hence acceptable even to unbelievers. As such, the State was the resultant of three forces:

  • Justitia
  • Necessitas
  • Providentia

To implement these ideas, Frederick created a separate hieratic order of intellectuals, modeled on the chivalric orders. This was not unlike the Prussian State under the Teutonic Order, since the constitution of the Prussian State was likewise based on a rational system. As a matter of fact, the Order of Teutonic Knights in Prussia and the Sicilian hierarchy mutually influenced each other.


For Frederick, Justice is both the founder of, as well as founded in, the State. Kings and the State became necessary only because of the Fall. For Dante, the Roman Empire was symbolized by the Tree of Knowledge. The Emperor, then, would lead men back to the highest natural wisdom at the entrance to Paradise; then the Church would take up the task bring men back to that primeval state of innocence.

Adam was a law-breaker, hence the State and Justice became the remedy. Frederick implemented a new Book of Laws for Sicily. Its purpose was Justice:

daily to conceive new methods to reward the virtuous and to pulverize the vicious under repeated blows of punishment, when the old human laws under the changes wrought by time and circumstance no longer suffice to eradicate vice and to implant virtue.


Basing himself on the teachings of Aristotle and Aristotle’s Arabic commentators, Frederick saw the State and the King arising from natural necessity. Hence, there was no need for any other justification. Earlier leaders may have claimed that the State was instituted by God, or a god, but that could not compel belief. As belief in the god waned, then the state lost its support. However, Frederick claimed that the need for a ruler could be grasped by reason, or else the human race would have destroyed itself. Dante later elaborated on this idea in De Monarchia, claiming:

Thus Monarchy is necessary for the safety, for the advantage of the world.

Of course, Necessitas encompassed more than that alone. It referred to the inevitability of things according to a natural law. Human life itself was subject to the law of Necessity. Rationality, then, results in the implementation of the laws of nature into the positive law of the State.


Frederick rejected the idea of a capricious God, intervening miraculously into human affairs. Obviously, this is unlike the pagans, for whom the gods and goddesses were always interfering arbitrarily in world events. For Frederick, God’s Providence was itself the Law, or the Logos as we would prefer to state it. That means that the natural order was itself the reflection of the Divine Order, and so Providence was Rational. The Scholastics has a similar definition:

Providence is the Reason of a purposeful order of things.

Moreover, it was the Emperor who was the mediator and interpreter of the Divine Plan.

Marriage Laws

As an example of a specific application of Frederick’s notion of Justice, we will consider the marriage laws that he implemented in Sicily. While not denying its sacramental value, Frederick regarded marriage as a necessity of nature for the preservation of the human race. Hence, the intention of those laws was improving the breed. Specifically, a Sicilian was forbidden to marry a non-Sicilian. This is his justification:

It has often grieved us to see how the righteousness of our kingdom has suffered corruption from foreign manners by the mixture of different peoples. When the men of Sicily ally themselves with the daughters of foreigners, the purity of the race becomes besmirched, while evil and sensual weakness increase, the purity of the people is contaminated by the speech and by the habits of the others, and the seed of the stranger defiles the hearth of our faithful subjects.

The Church was only concerned about the spiritual makeup of the marriage partners. That is, she follows a “moral logic” (in Valentin Tomberg’s terms), while the State follows an “organic logic”. This logic, moreover, is justified by the very nature of things.

NOTE: We discussed the idea of the right of the state to determine its genetic makeup in Social Surgery. Clearly, Frederick was centuries ahead of Bradley in this regard.

Heresy Laws

The Catholic Faith was declared the State Religion. Hence, heresy was not simply a crime against the Church, but was considered to be treason against the State. It was considered both blasphemy against God and an attack on the Emperor. Hence, heresy was a State matter and did not involve Church officials. In this, Frederick modeled these laws on Imperial Rome.


The heresy laws did not apply to the Jews, Muslims, and Orthodox Greeks living in Sicily. Nevertheless, they were segregated from the Catholic Sicilians. Moreover, they were subject to their own laws. For example, the Jews were permitted to follow their own religious laws. They were even exempt from the laws against usury, which would have consequences years later. Although Jews and Muslims could not be oppressed, they were never full citizens. The same tolerance was not afforded to heretics or apostates.

The primary reference for this material is Frederick the Second by Ernst Kantorowicz.

13 thoughts on “Haunted by the Emperor

  1. Schuon on the faculties of man:

    “…it is necessary to distinguish between virtues and talents: the former are ‘celestial’ and ‘vertical,’ and the latter, ‘terrestrial’ and ‘horizontal’; which means that the former are intrinsically necessary whereas the latter are simply useful, at least in a spiritual context. A man may be a saint without being a genius, and a genius without being a saint; but in men of a prophetic nature both values are necessarily combined to the extent they have a creative mission”

    I feel this may clear up misunderstanding leading to rejecting any of Frederick II’s legacy, particularly the idea that his talents lent more toward being spiritually useful rather than trying to build his personage up to be a faultless prophet or a saint.

  2. Oh, sorry to hear that. Get well soon.

  3. The blog is OK, Mr J, but the proprietor has not been feeling well.

  4. Is this blog defunct?

  5. A somwhat hostile, but nevertheless interesting, article on Kantorowicz:https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2016/06/15/when-emperors-are-no-more/

  6. OK, Restorationist, it is true that I’ve relied on Kantorowicz since Evola thought so highly of him, and also of Frederick II. Dante’ view was somewhat mixed, since Frederick was placed in hell as a heretic. I don’t want to focus on the marriage laws. Other than that, I’m not sure what other historical facts are either false or so objectionable. I did not find any treatment of his reign at the Habsburg Restoration website.

  7. @Cologero
    It’s interesting that you would say that I of all writers am a victim of the “superstition of facts,” given my understanding of myth in history. I understand that all men are flawed and that does not detract from their greatness, and I understand that history has a deeper significance than mere facts, and this is precisely why I challenge your vision of the heretic Frederick II. There is after all Historical Truth, and Kantorowicz’s idolization of Frederick II is contrary to the historical truth. Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa was a Great Man, his descendant was a not, and was in fact the anti-type of everything an Emperor of Christendom embodies. This idea of the “ethnic unity” of the Sicilian people did not even last the reign of Frederick if it ever existed at all. I cannot find the alleged miscegenation laws in the Liber Augustalis, and I would ask you to provide one source other than Kantorowicz that cites them. When King Carlu reigned in Sicily Angevins and Provencials from France settled there and certainly married with the locals in all of the Two Sicilies (as a Calàbbrian I ought to know). As captain of the last remnants of the Empire, I stand against all the false Imperialism of Frederick Staufer, with its usurpation and violation of justice. It was because of the Staufens that Providence raised up the Count of Hapsburg to the Imperial Dignity, that it might be restored to virtue, that noble crown which was stained by the heretic, the tyrant, and the usurper. So yes his ethnic laws would be and are null and void if they ever existed.

  8. @Restorationist, while I wish you well in the re-establishment of the Holy Roman Empire, I’m afraid that, in this case, you have fallen victim to the Superstition of Facts. As Guenon put it: “certain defenders of Catholicism, not only its adversaries, believe that everything can be reduced to a simple question of historicity, which is one form of the modern superstition of fact.”

    The danger with that approach is to miss the meaning and significance of the facts. For example, the Medievals admired the “Nine Worthies”, including among them such flawed men as Julius Caesar and even King David. The history of Great Men does not follow such a “pure” path as you propose. That does not at all mean that History is not under the guidance of Providence. (Coincidentally, there will be a post on this very topic this week.)

    Frederick’s laws in Sicily persisted until the 19th century, null or not. So if you would like to restore the HRE, what do you think of some of Frederik’s laws, and their application to the HRE? Specifically, do you disagree with this application of Justice? “daily to conceive new methods to reward the virtuous and to pulverize the vicious under repeated blows of punishment”.

    How about Frederick’s criminalisation of heresy or interdiction of miscegenation in order to preserve the spiritual and ethnic unity of the Sicilian people. Would the restored HRE consider those laws “null and void”?

  9. There is a major problem with is article, and that is that Frederick II was a heretic, Usurper (in the case of Sicily), and deposed anti-Emperor. The true King of Sicily Walter I sojourned in exiled in France (as was later his son Walter II), and thus the laws of Frederick in Sicily were null and void. Frederick himself was deposed as Emperor for being a heretic by Pope Innocent IV. After the end of the Walterine line Sicily lacked a legitimate king until Carlu I d’Angiò was enthroned by Pope Clement IV and this was later confimed by Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf I.
    (A side note; Kantorowicz’s work is biased toward the Hohenstaufens in the extreme, and is generally regarded as among the less accurate historical works.)

  10. I look forward to it! What you have said makes sense, dividing the core of society (which is esoteric) from the core of policy, which is based on sound reason.

    By the way, I recently moved my blog over to WordPress, so feel free to update the link on your blogroll whenever you get the time.


  11. @Mark, I believe that Maistre had in mind attempts like Rousseau’s to base the legitimacy of the state on pure reason; ultimately, there it can only be based on a spiritual authority. That does not imply that specific policies should be irrational; quite the contrary. Since you mentioned Tomberg, Tomberg identified orders of logic beyond formal logic: viz., organic logic and moral logic. That will be a topic here in the near future.

  12. Just a minor correction: Avicenna was not an “Arabic Philosopher”. He was Iranian.
    Otherwise a very interesting article.

    [Thanks for bringing that to my attention … unfortunately, I was quoting the book]

  13. A lot of food for thought here (Tomberg is one author I should certainly read more of). What would be your response to Maistre’s critique of basing the state around ‘reason’? Is the kind of ‘reason’ that Maistre criticized of a different order than Frederick’s?

    In your view, does the priestly caste have any judicial authority. If not for heresy, then for what, beyond intra-ecclesiastic discipline?

Leave a Reply

Copyright © 2008-2013 Gornahoor Press — All Rights Reserved    WordPress theme: Gornahoor