This article concerns the Eastern Occidental notion of kingship as practiced by the Byzantine Empire, thus a mode of power ingrained in the metaphysical fabric of that part of the world. In some ways, this will be an advocacy piece, a defense if you will, of the caesaropapist mode of governance.
First of all, we must define what we mean. For those unfamiliar with the term, caesaropapism is often poorly defined as the supremacy of the ‘secular’ authority over the church, which is of course a function of the state. This definition, given the history of the practice, is incredibly dubious. For one thing, the sovereign’s authority in religious affairs immediately nullifies any notion of ‘secularism’. The notion of a ‘secular’ ruler is alien to the Traditional way of life. Whether it is the pharaohs of Ancient Egypt or the Tamil ko, rulers have been enthroned via spiritual justification, and this is completely incomparable to the ‘enthronement’ of secular leaders today who derive their legitimacy from the consent of the governed (supposedly).
So, correctly defined and properly understood, caesaropapism is distinguished by the minimization of the authority relationship downstream from the ecclesiastic authority to the imperial authority, as must exist in Roman Catholicism where the Pope is vested with many special powers which ought to force the absolute subordination of the sovereign. However, the caesaropapist structure is not simply a relationship of dependence, which it is often caricatured as. It is instead an interdependence tilted in deference to the sovereign.
Liberals present a false dichotomy to the non-secularist. Either they wish for an ecclesiocracy where the sovereign power rests with the brahmins, or else an ecclesiastic body that is an arm of the sovereign. The former has of course existed, for example the earliest days of the post-Schism Catholic Church where the Pope wielded tremendous political power over sovereigns, something that would wane in time. The latter has also of course existed, great examples being Russia after 1721, and perhaps the Anglican Church under King Henry VIII. However, a true understanding of the Byzantine view of authority and how it was exercised proves this dichotomy to be a false one.
Historians are now more certain than ever that Constantinople saw an interdependence of church and state, rather than a simple dependence. The Emperor was recognized as the ‘head of the church’, but nothing in Byzantine literature points to a belief that he had any kind of infallibility, or even priestly powers (mediating the Divine Realm). His position was thus only a recognition of his divine right and the perennial essentialness of religion to the state over which he was enthroned, which Christianity was affirming. The Emperor was vested with a substantive administrative authority over the church’s so-called ‘external problems’, that is, they would mediate disputes between Church fathers at specially convened councils over which they would preside, they would set the territorial boundaries of religious jurisdictions, and they would appoint the highest religious authority, the Patriarch of Constantinople, usually but not always from a list of suitable candidates provided to them.
It is made clear however that the Emperor’s authority was not infinite. A particularly stark example of this is the very well-known confrontation between Emperor Theodosius I and St. Ambrose, bishop of Milan. After the emperor had ordered the mass killing of citizens in Thessalonica by Gothic troops in response to a minor revolt against some local magistrates, he was barred entry to the Milanese church by the bishop. Rebuking the emperor for his conduct was surely something that would have been quickly halted if misconceptions about caesaropapism were true, and yet the result was surprising. The emperor returned to his palace and spent eight months sighing and weeping because he could not attend mass. Why did he, the head of the Church, not shove Ambrose aside? Because he knew at that moment, in front of that sanctuary, Ambrose had legitimate authority over him.
Emperor Justinian I declared that the ideal relationship between imperium and sacerdotium was one of ‘symphony’. The Church and the sovereign, each with their vested organic spheres of authority were to attend to their roles to the best of their abilities, and when a ‘wrong note’ was played in this symphony, the response from the ‘audience’ was decisive. When the great and venerated St. John Chrysostom was deposed unjustly from his role as Archbishop of Constantinople by Emperor Arcadius, the city erupted in furious riots. The saint is often noted for his opposition to the power of the emperor, but this seems more to do with Arcadius’ viperous wife than anything, and during the previous reign of Theodosius I, St. John had enjoined the entire population of Antioch to repent for mutilating statues of the emperor, likely saving them from the fate suffered by the Thessalonicans.
When emperors attempted changes to the church that were found wanting in their legitimacy, they were often ignored, or met with fierce opposition which forced concessions (Monotheletism a good example of an imperial doctrine which never got anywhere due to opposition within the Church).
The emperor may have had an administrative role which was used very positively on many occasions, but he did not have the same kind of authority over Orthodoxy that the Pope had over Roman Catholicism. This ‘shared power’ relationship between the two is, I think, a desirable way to structure authority. It neither reduces the emperor to a triviality in religious affairs and thus reduces him to a mere secular leader, but also does not subject the fundamentals of the Church to the wims of men with the temporal political concerns which pervade the kshatriya (warrior) caste.
In the Laws of Manu (the most respected ancient source of Hindu legal knowledge), it is made quite clear, “rulers do not prosper without priests and priests do not thrive without rulers”, as well as “the priest is said to be the root of the law, and the ruler is the peak”. All Reactionaries should agree with this sentiment, that the sovereign power and the official priesthood benefit from one another and exist in a kind of symbiosis. Where disagreement arises would be in the particulars of such a relationship.
Evola in Revolt Against the Modern World:
“If on the one hand the original synthesis of the two powers is reestablished in the person of the consecrated king, on the other hand, the nature of the hierarchical relationships existing in every normal social order between royalty and priestly caste (or church), which is merely the mediator of supernatural influences, is very clearly defined: regality enjoys primacy over the priesthood, just as, symbolically speaking, the sun has primacy over the moon and the man over the woman. In a certain sense this is the same primacy over Abraham’s priesthood that was traditionally attributed to the priestly regality of Melchizedek, who performed sacrifices in the name of the Almighty, the God of Victory (“God Most High who delivered your foes into your hand,” Gen. 14:20)”
In one of his fleeting substantive considerations of the Eastern Occident, Evola seems to praise the caesaropapist model, even though he exaggerates its practical power. We see once again the allusion to ‘Solar’ and ‘Lunar’ modes which describe dominant and subservient relations, akin to a husband and wife, Christ and the world, etc.
Now, Guénon in The Crisis of the Modern World:
“If however the intellectual elite were effectually constituted and its supremacy recognized, this would be enough to restore everything to order, for spiritual power is in no way based on numbers, whose law is that of matter; besides-and this is a point of great importance-in ancient times, and especially in the Middle Ages, the natural bent of Westerners for action did not prevent them from recognizing the superiority of contemplation, or in other words, of pure intelligence. […] Action, being merely a transitory and momentary modification of the being, cannot possibly carry its principle and sufficient reason in itself; if it does not depend on a principle outside its own contingent domain, it is but illusion; and this principle, from which it draws all the reality it is capable of possessing-its existence and its very possibility can be found only in contemplation, or, if one will, in knowledge, for these two terms are fundamentally synonymous, or at least coincide, since it is impossible in any way to separate knowledge from the process by which it is acquired.”
For Guénon, the sovereign has no power other than what the priest may bestow, he is almost like a statue that is given life only by the eternal maintenance of the contemplative principle by the brahmin caste. He does not place as much value on the transitory virtues of the kshatriya caste (embodied in moments) as Evola does, though by no means dismisses it. True caesaropapism then seems to tow some kind of line between the two scholars. prioritizing the warrior only on the grounds that the state is a temporal phenomena that has to contend with temporal issues on a day to day basis, but never fully subjecting the priesthood to an absolute authority apart from God. An organic balance of power ensues and we have the picture of a stable Reactionary system. As is typical with such things, there is a give and take within the flexible Christian model.
Finally, it is worth addressing the question of the special breed, the fusion of the two principles in the form of the warrior priest, the man of great contemplation and esoteric spirituality who is also called to action in its purest form. Whether we may speak of the Shaolin monks or the Knights Templar, the powerful energy marshaled by such enlightened souls, instruments of Divine will on earth, can never be dismissed in spite of its rarity. In my mind, what better use for such a caliber than the role of a particular judiciary, that in which the Sovereign and the Church both have vested interest. Men committed in service to God and nation, with reign over the civil society. Such would be a proud profession, inherited by blood and charged with the upkeep of the ordered society. To give an idea of what this might look like, a single cleric of this type ought to command the respect and deference given to ten of what we in the Modern World perceive to be an ‘officer of the law’, owed not only to their strict piety but their capabilities as well.
Rare as such men are, to make a caste of them is a pinnacle of true civil development. If caesar has temporal authority, and priest has eternal duty, then the men between are the armed guards of the state’s essence, that being Tradition itself, and in their sacred responsibilities they raise the population to the heights of human possibility in accordance with its ‘Imago Dei’. Vladimir Solovyov had interesting words that would seem to relate to this subject:
“As Priest, King and Prophet, He has given Christian society its absolute form in the trinitary monarchy. Having founded the Church upon His Priesthood and sanctioned the State by His Kingship, He has also provided for their unity and their unified progress by leaving to the world the free and living activity of His prophetic spirit. And as the Priesthood and the Kingship of the GodMan reveal His divine nature through the medium of human instruments, so it is with His prophetic office. A third principal ministry must therefore be admitted in the Christian world — the synthetic unity of the first two, offering to Church and State the perfect ideal of deified Humanity as the supreme goal of their common activity.”
To cap off this essay then, I have laid out the extent of my political thought on at least the portion of state organization concerning warrior and priest, taking from the Orthodox tradition of caesaropapism. Not set in stone as some shell to be slipped into, there is no reason it cannot be improved with current meta theory being developed by the Reactosphere. As a base however, it is a working model.
(Thanks to epicworldhistory for some useful info I had not been aware of previously)
Some house cleaning to go through:
In relation to the above essay, a lengthy discussion on this topic (church/state relations) hosted by Reactionary Ian, and also featuring Teleolojik Folkways, Michael Sebastian, Nick B. Steves, AntiDem, and from an opposing persuasion, anabaptist Todd Lewis. Was very interesting and enjoyed the interaction.