Regnum and Imperium With Thoughts from Guénon

Regnum and Imperium With Thoughts from Guénon


Relatively recently, I had posted a rather heat-of-the-moment comment response to Mark Citadel’s “An Open Letter to Pope Francis” where I laid out my amateur understanding of the feminine nature of the Church and why it should be protected rather than complained about. I had the distinct privilege of seeing that analogy critiqued by Testis Gratus in his “Ecclesia et Imperium.” While I had a short window of jovial conversation with him during a livestream, I also told him that I would affirm his critique with my thoughts on the problems he might have had with my analogy.

The first response I would like to make on his article is the question of superiority vs. inferiority. It might have been misconstrued that I was espousing the idea that the Church was the inferior organism to the Empire. However, this begs the question of what inferiority and superiority actually mean. Let me make myself clear first: the sacerdotal authority is always superior to the temporal power. This has been the supernatural truth for most traditional civilizations. Anything that upsets this order is to be considered anathema. Indeed, Guénon writes: “it is not that anyone has contested […] the fact that each of these two powers […] had its own purpose and its own domain; in the final analysis, the dispute usually bears only on the question of hierarchical relationships that should exist between them.”i The key idea here is, as Guénon points out, that each “had its own purpose and its own domain.”

Now, if we look back to Mark Citadel’s article which precipitated my response, one can clearly see in his list of “suggestions” to Pope Francis such items as: “demand that the United States and its allies cease the armament of Syrian rebels and bombardment of the Syrian government.” This is one example where I would say that domain and boundary between Regnum (The Kingdom of God) and Imperium (The Empire) might be violated with the Pope exercising temporal power (which it had in the past in the scandalous and modern idea of the Papal States). Clearly, this is not a question of superiority or inferiority, but a question of domain.ii To say that the Church is inferior because she should remain in her domain is to imply, by analogy, that the Kshatriya is inferior because he doesn’t micromanage corporations that the Vaishya take care of.

Again, Mark Citadel, in his article, spoke of various historical examples of invasions from Muslim nations such as the Turks in Constantinople with clear indications that the Popes of those days endorsed such defenses of Christendom. He calls for a more “masculine” Roman Catholicism to return with the implication in his letter that it should start with the Papacy. However, this “active,” and militant charism is a prerogative, traditionally, of the warrior caste and the aristocratic estate of the Middle Ages—not of the clergy. Indeed, this is true of most traditional civilizations. Again, going back to Guénon he writes:

The word ‘power’ can then be reserved for the temporal order to which it is better suited when taken in its strictest sense. In fact, the word ‘power’ almost inevitably evokes the idea of strength or force, and above all the idea of a material force, a force which manifests itself visibly and outwardly and affirms itself by use of external means, for such means indeed characterize the temporal power by definition. On the contrary, spiritual authority, interior in essence, is affirmed only by itself, independently of any sensible support, and operates as it were invisibly.iii

This distinction between “active” and “passive” in the material sphere is also what governs my view of the Church as feminine (notwithstanding the preponderance of literature that call to her as “Holy Mother” etc). Again, this demonstrates that it is not a matter of superiority or inferiority, but a matter of domain. The material world was the domain in which Mark Citadel was asking for action and was calling upon the Papacy to lead the way. Thus, if it is the material domain, we must admit that the active role should be taken up not by the priests, but by the warriors. Not by Holy Mother, but by the Emperor.

Let us address now the notion of Papal Supremacy and the letters of Innocent III. Testis cites the “sun and moon allegory” which I shall reproduce from Innocent III’s letter:

Just as the founder of the universe established two great lights in the firmament of heaven, the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night, so too He set two great dignities in the firmament of the universal church…, the greater one to rule the day, that is, souls, and the lesser to rule the night, that is, bodies. These dignities are the papal authority and the royal power…iv

One will notice immediately that this conflicts not a bit with my previous notes to Mark. Innocent here makes the distinction between the rulership of each domain being one of the soul and the other of the body. Thus, since my contention was Mark’s push for a more corporal militancy in the Papacy, it is clear to see that this is the “moon’s” domain in Innocent’s wording. The question of whether or not Popes can depose and excommunicate Emperors is not even a counterexample since such matters are strictly in the domain of the spirit where the Pope is supreme. Indeed, any talk of Papal Supremacy is to be taken in this light and provides no impediment for an understanding of the Empire being the masculine, material, and active form of Christianity in the material ecumene. Even the strongest words of Unam Sanctam cannot escape from this. Boniface VIII’s words read: “whence, if the earthly power go astray, it must be judged by the spiritual power.”v Thus, it says nothing about the “management” on a corporal plane by the spiritual authority, but speaks of the legitimacy to judge—and, naturally, the higher authority has the legitimacy to judge the lower. Papal Supremacy does not entail making the Pope CEO of every company and, as such, also does not make the Pope Emperor. Therefore, Supremacy is in no means an impediment to differentiation of domains. Guénon also makes this distinction clear when he notes how traditional civilizations have understood that, “spiritual power belongs ‘formally’ to the sacerdotal caste, whereas the temporal power belongs ’eminently’ to this same sacerdotal caste and ‘formally’ to the royal caste, just as according to Aristotle the superior ‘forms’ contains ’eminently’ the inferior ‘forms.’”vi Thus, there is no contradiction with understanding that the Superior contains the Inferior while still allowing the Inferior to maintain its dominion of its sphere.

It might be worth pointing out the paradoxical idea of a feminine figure being superior and yet wielding no power over the masculine inferior. Catholics such as Testis should have seen the example par excellence before his very eyes: the Virgin Mary. Testis would be the first to affirm Peter as the first Pope and yet, up until her dormition, the Virgin Mary was also present with the Apostles and authored no “teaching.” Testis would probably also acknowledge the superiority of Mary and our subjection to her as Queen of Heaven and yet recognize that she is not the Ordinary Magisterium of the Church. Thus, having a feminine superior has no contradiction in Catholic thought since there are no boundaries transgressed.

Back to the main points, however. Testis points out that many of my political ideas stem from Dante’s De Monarchia which is fair enough. He cites how the book itself was banned in the Council of Trent. Excellent, it should have been. Its presumption of initiatory rites being independent from the ecclesial authority was off the mark, but where the initiatory rite flows from was never the point of my response to the article nor is it a part of my political thoughts. In fact, in my initial response, while I make note of Dante’s stance on the matter of the proper domains of authority, I make no presumption to take all of De Monarchia as tenable (nor do I even mention it). While Testis makes it a point to mention that the Church and State were never so separated, I never made such a testament in my initial response either. Even in the analogy, separation was not “complete” as he puts it. When Testis says “A ruler is not a good ruler unless he acts according to Divine Law, which is given to man through God’s Church,” there is no contradiction with my statements at all. Again, it returns to the idea that it is legitimate for the superior to judge the inferior, but that this has no bearing on the domain of each. Regardless of all of this, De Monarchia still represents a pivotal and important work in understanding how politics should be. Guénon sings its praises when he says of its closing remarks that explain how the Emperor is charged with the guidance of souls to the “Terrestrial Paradise” while the Pontiff is charged with the guidance to the “Celestial Paradise”: “in its deliberate conciseness this passage from De Monarchia represents, as far as we know, the clearest and the most complete exposition of the constitution of Christendom and of the way in which the relationships between the two powers were to be envisioned therein.”vii Indeed, study of Dante receives even Papal endorsement when Pope Benedict XV wrote in his Encyclical In Praeclara Summorum:

Among the many celebrated geniuses of whom the Catholic faith can boast who have left undying fruits in literature and art especially, besides other fields of learning, and to whom civilization and religion are ever in debt, highest stands the name of Dante Alighieri […] And you, beloved children, whose lot it is to promote learning under the magisterium of the Church, continue as you are doing to love and tend the noble poet whom We do not hesitate to call the most eloquent singer of the Christian idea. The more profit you draw from study of him the higher will be your culture, irradiated by the splendours of truth, and the stronger and more spontaneous your devotion to the Catholic Faith.viii

His next paragraph deals with the passivity of Church in the model of husband and wife. My first point is that I make no narrow interpretation when making my analogy. Rather, the point was that of the Church being “feminine” hence why I also included the figure of Mother. I bring in the concept of “wife” as an analogy in how the Empire loves the Church to protect her. I would like to ask Testis if he, from now on, will refer to the Church as “Holy Father Church” if he is so adverse to the idea of calling her by her feminine nature. Or, worse yet, give her a neutral pronoun like most moderns are fond of doing to God. Furthermore, the idea of “complete subservience” to the point of “not pointing out sins” is a very specific example of the marriage relationship and too artificial to be normative. Such problems aside, let us not shy away from the concept of the Church being inferior to the Empire. The key here is to view the analogy in the context of the article: the material, temporal sphere of action. As stated already above, such an inferiority through gender role should not be seen as compromising the Church’s essential inner superiority in the same way that Stephen Hawking’s theoretical acumen is not tarnished in his inferiority to run a marathon. Similarly, Pope Benedict XVI’s theological superiority is not tarnished by his inability to decode quantum physics like Hawking. Guénon puts it nicely once again when he says, “the relationship between these two powers may be expressed by saying that the pope must keep for himself the golden key to the ‘Celestial Paradise’ and entrust to the emperor the silver key to the ‘Terrestrial Paradise.’”ix In fact, Guénon himself explicates that the masculine guide Virgil is the “temporal power” while the feminine guide Beatrice is the “spiritual authority” in Dante’s Commedia.x

As a side note, if one raises the objection that it is strange to have a “change of gender” depending on domain, this is actually not without precedent. Humanity, for example, regardless of the gender of the individual, takes on the role of “feminine” in relation to God since it is God who inseminates reality and quickens us with essence. A masculine man also takes on a “feminine” quality when in contemplation as he accepts the spiritual seed and allows it to grow into a new life within him. Thus, different domains may reorient the perspective one takes and the predominance of one aspect of a being. To say that there is no such thing as being able to carry both “masculine” and “feminine” in one’s self, that is also untrue as any understanding of the dot of yin in the yang and vice versa and its western equivalents will yield.

Next is Testis’s image of body and soul which is all well and good since it serves a complementary rather than contradictory image to what I was discussing. Thus, I find that there is nothing but accord here as I quote Testis himself: “In this sense, I agree with James. We cannot have a thriving Church without a State for it to flourish in. We much first solve our civil crisis or else the Church will continue to endure in its current form.” As for the masculine/feminine analogy being insufficient without nuance, this is true. Nuance is always necessary because that is the very nature of the richness of the interaction between masculinity and femininity. The call for a simplistic understanding of the masculine and feminine is, ultimately, a modern, and lazy idea. If one cannot suffer the crucible of wielding and understanding nuanced ideas, one can stay in the comfort of modern reductionism or religious, bourgeois moralism which seeks to reduce the complexity of faith to fundamental dogma. Testis’s fear that this will breed scandal and error is a fairly normal heresy-fearing Catholic response and I share it. Which is why my comment was directed not at the hoi polloi but those who have ears for nuance. The world misconstrues the worship of Mary as idolatry, yet we promulgate that doctrine anyway. I will not be afraid to promulgate the feminine Church and our duty as masculine men to protect her just because some proles might consider that carte blanche to subjugate the Church on matters of faith and morals. They can try and I will die fighting them.

iSpiritual Authority and Temporal Power, René Guénon, 7

iiThere is also a rather interesting meditation on the idea of Janus—which is often associated with the dual charge of Ecclesial and Civil authority –as also being the god of boundaries and hence why violation of boundaries would also be an offense against him.

iiiSpiritual Authority and Temporal Power, René Guénon, 16-17

viSpiritual Authority and Temporal Power, René Guénon, 23

viiSpiritual Authority and Temporal Power, René Guénon, 77

ixSpiritual Authority and Temporal Power, René Guénon, 73


7 thoughts on “Regnum and Imperium With Thoughts from Guénon

  1. Excellent article.

    My response was made to your brief comments, so I could only engage with what was there. The main purpose of my article was outlining the Catholic position through presenting a different analogy, not to accuse you of anything.

    Still, I must hold that Dante was wrong and that the two are not coequal. Man is not inferior to Woman because he cannot birth children; such a thing is not a part of his domain. However, Man is superior to Woman in terms of physical strength. Wherever there is any sort of overlap between the spiritual and temporal, the Church is superior. This overlap does exist, such as the case of appointing bishops under a monarch, which is what Dante got wrong.

    The masculine/feminine distinction does not bother me; of course, the Church is Holy *Mother*. However, such language is prone to abuse, as we have seen. Those who miss the nuance will come in and wreck it all with their clumsiness. They say that the Church should be subordinate to State, which implies that it is of less importance. This is an absolute inversion of the truth. Analogies are often used to simply complex topics like this, which is why I am cautious towards yours. The soul and body analogy is probably easier for most to grasp without misunderstanding.

    Perhaps it would be better to construe the Church as a mother to the Empire. Since the Church is the Bride of Christ, the Empire is most certainly not her groom. In a way, sons are ‘subordinate’ to their mother; they obey her since she both birthed them and is married to their father.


    1. I wanted to thank you for your kind comments and I’d like to say that this discussion is excellent because it is also, interestingly, evidence of what I was discussing earlier. I’ll elaborate.

      The first point which is necessary to examine is that your uneasiness with the gender analogy is very much in line with my predictions on a feminine Church. Your outward worry that such ideas would scandalize the various lost children in the world or that they would return to cause the Church harm is a motherly response and should be lauded for that role. It is protective and passive which is the proper realm of the Church which adapts to its surroundings. Your excellent erudition which links back to various theologians tried to serve the purpose, I think effectively, of moving from the specific case in which I was talking with Mark about (namely, the roles in the material world) to the universal case of the nature of Church in reality (the purely metaphysical). This is a very priestly vocation you have demonstrated. Indeed, Guenon states, “the attention of the Brahmins is fixed solely on the highest goal, in relation to which all the rest is nothing but a contingent and subordinate means. There are even traditional books specifically intended for the use of the Kshatriyas because they present doctrinal aspects adapted to their own nature, and also ‘traditional sciences’ especially suited to them, whereas pure metaphysics is the prerogative of the Brahmins.” (Spiritual Authority and Temporal Power, 21) This is why I mentioned in my response article that your views of body and soul are complementary rather than contradictory to the gender analogy because the view of body and soul is the purely metaphysical understanding as theologians are apt to accomplish whereas the gender analogy is the “active” element in the material world. In essence, you are not wrong, but the confusion is because you are approaching a Kshatriyan discussion from a Brahmin perspective.

      Naturally, the body/soul analogy is “superior” in the same way that sacerdotal authority is superior to temporal power, but to use that as an incursion into a temporal discussion is, poetically, the same error the ultramontanists were committing by overextending Papal Supremacy with the Papal States. Such miscommunication as this should not be surprising since, hopefully, if we both hold the idea that egalitarianism and equality is a false god, then we should not be surprised that you are approaching this problem under the charism of a different essence than I am. Thus, I celebrate the diversity of our analysis, but stress the inappropriate transgression of boundaries when you try to apply your pure metaphysics as contradictory rather than complementary onto a specific, material domain as in the case of the role of virtue (virility, etc) in the creation of a more just social atmosphere as Mark and I were speaking about.

      Lastly, I am well pleased by your comfort to view the scenario as a Mother/Son analogy since that was also originally one of the images I presented in my discussions with Mark. After all, all that was necessary was to incite the masculine (son) element to rise up to protect the mother rather than the son berate the mother for not protecting him. The son having more authority in the material world over the mother is already greatly signified not just in the role of Christ and Mary, but also in the way the ancient Hebrews ran their monarchies as well.


      1. Indeed, this discussion is quite fruitful. It will surely be of great help for other writings in the future.

        You’re probably right. I’m certainly trying to come at it from a more philosophical/theological point of view which will not be suitable for all. No analogy will be helpful for everyone.

        However, my reservations remain. This concerns me; our whole discussion and my own reflection has not relieved the feelings of doubt. That either shows my incompetency (which could very well be true since I am no expert) or that there is something that I intuitively cannot concede.

        Don’t get me wrong- your clarifications on the nuance of the analogy have led me to believe that it is not as bad as I may have first made it out to be. But I worry that it will lead others into error. Of course, I can’t control others’ interpretations and the topic is not one that matters for the salvation of most people in our current situation. Likewise, I have no doubt that your intention was to show the relationship in an understandable and helpful way. The analogy’s seeming proneness to abuse, though, is repugnant to my character, which was part of what caused me intervene. It will require further thought on my part.


  2. If I may be allowed to comment, in my studies of the Medieval understanding of the subject, the distinction between the Imperial power and the Ecclesial power, was not so much of domain, it was rather of kind. The Pope has the Auctoritas, the Divinely given Authority to bind and loose, the Emperor has the Imperium, the power to command, which was granted beneficium by the Auctoritas, and the Kings and Rulers have the potestas, the regal power. Only in Christ, the High Priest King of the Order of Melchisedek are all three of those powers But the Pope could legitimately be the Temporal Head of Rome and the surrounding states, while the Emperor was actually a cleric (subdeacon, and later deacon, which speaks to his office as Servant of the Common Good).

    I have concluded from my studies of the High Medieval understanding, that while the correct relationship between the Church and the State is at once that between the Mother and her son and that of a Soul to the body, the correct relationship of the Pope and the Emperor is that of a father to his eldest son. As the eldest he (the Emperor) has limited authority over his siblings (Kings or rulers) which flows from his Father (the Pope), and he has the duty to defend his Mother (the Church), but the Father has the full authority over all. Of course the analogy is imperfect, as the Pontiff as vicar of Christ only a type of Christ, whose bride is the Church, containing within herself Pope, Emperor, and the whole Faithful.


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