PHILOSOPHY- “Imperial Translation And The Unity of Christendom”
An Essay By Bill Collier- Imperial translation and the unity of Christendom are two concepts abandoned by modern Christians mostly because they focus on their flawed application by mere mortals rather than retaining the truth and rejecting only the error.
(Note: I am sticking with the terms “empire” and “imperium”, as referenced in the Middle Ageas, fully understanding that modern readers have their own negative assumptions of these terms, as this is an academic essay and not a sales pitch. I prefer to preserve the original language and terms and explain them to “moderns” in a way they can understand rather than lose their punch and value by substituting modern terms that are equally flawed as vehicles by which to convey these ideas.)
In the Middle Ages the Papacy and the Empire agreed that the ancient Roman “Imperium” had been translated, via the Pope, to the “Holy Roman Empire.” This was fueled by a misreading of Daniel’s prophecy regarding the last 4 empires, with the Romans being the last, and by the ideas that there could only be one single Empire at any given time and a last-days view that the final Roman Emperor would go to Jerusalem and hand his throne to Jesus Christ. However, truth is truth, and there was substance to this idea which did not need to rely on a flawed eschatology (view of the end-times).
All of this revolved around the concept of Christendom which saw all Christians and the institutions, even states, they controlled, as being an indivisible whole which must have one supreme secular leader (the Emperor) and one supreme temporal spiritual leader (the Pope). The concept of Christendom also carried the idea of a form of nationhood shared equally by all Christians with their political and ethnic national affiliations and identities being of far less significance. Today more and more Christians are sensing a need for a unified shared identity that is transcendent of race, denomination, and ethnicity and that equates to a universal nationhood as the nation of ALL Christians and a universal and eternal citizenship as citizens of the Kingdom of God.
We can toss out the errors of a thing without losing its value. The strength of these ideas was born out in time, literally, as the Holy Roman Empire lasted for 1000 years while its last manifestation, under the Austrians, remained essentially relevant until the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire after World War One! There is much then to be learned from these ideas: of “imperial translation” and of “united Christendom” which we can embrace without accepting elements that we know to be false or in error. In essence, the core truths, which may have even eluded the people of the Middle Ages, were so strong that they bore good fruit despite being shrouded in errors of human intperpretation and the parochial interests of those who executed them.
The general principle of imperial translation is that God ordains a political state as a sort of “empire” to be the champion of His People and their freedom to practice and share their faith as well as to school the nations in God’s righteous standard for the nations. This “empire” is a continuity, even if there are lapes in between, of the first Empire to be so ordained, the Christianized Roman Empire. If we stick with the PRINCIPLE and not the specifics that are less important, we can see that this “empire” doesn’t even have to BE an “empire” at all!
So we see the Holy Roman Empire gives way to the British Empire which gives way to America. The “imperium” of secular or regal power as the champion of Christians and their liberties was translated from one to the other. America became then the translated manifestation of the Christianized Roman Empire while the United States remained an imperfect champion of Christian liberty and of God’s righteous standard for civix and civic law.
Never has more than one “empire” acted as the dominant political or regal agent representing and protecting the Christian virtues and Christian liberties. The translation of the imperium from Rome, to the Germans, to the English, and to the Americans has meant that the regalia of Christian secular authority is unbroken, lapses notwithstanding.
We have endured an age in which the notion of Christian secular authority is denied by Christians and non-Christians. This authority includes the sovereign rights to administer regal affairs according to Christian virtues and to enforce all matters reserved by God to this imperium in a most Christian manner. The refutation and denial of this authority has led to a predictable outcome: the secular political authority is becoming a hazard to Christians. To be blunt, without an imperium controlled by Christians the world’s political powers become a hazard to Christians.
The errors of the Christian imperium stemmed from the second aspect of Christendom- the notion of a temporal supreme spiritual authority, i.e. the Pope. The Papacy exercised force to enforce BELIEF AND FAITH, and in so doing violated the boundaries of the sacred authority and the imperium. The imperium cannot meddle in matters of personal belief, nor punish those whose beliefs are not favored. When the Papacy deigned to wage physical war on heretics it both went beyond any spiritual mandate and it compelled the imperium to step into the realm of the spiritual by punishing people who were deemed heretics or infidels by the Papacy.
The imperium CAN impose a righteous standard based on Christian virtues found in Scripture as relates to man’s relation to man and his treatment of the physical creation, but as to man’s relation to God, this remains always and purely God’s direct provenance. In other words, God delegates physical salvation from harm and abuse to an imperium of men within the boundary of His Righteous standard, but eternal salvation is delegated to no human being or agency.
I would propose that this “imperium” cannot make Christians, but it can protect them, as well as non-Christians, from temporal/physical harm and hazards based on the core ideals of Biblical governance- Unity in diversity, Popular sovereignty, Democratic equality, and Rule of law. These ideals and the governing philosophy that flow from them are Christian but they are materially and politically liberating to anyone who uses them, regardless of their religion.
Another aspect of Christendom that was in error was that we needed a supreme temporal spiritual authority. The very idea of Papal supremacy over all Christians removed Christ as the head of Christendom and replaced Him with a Pope as His spiritual vicar. Between man and God stand no priest or Pope. It can be argued and demonstrated that the translation of supreme imperium as the secular Christian authority has occured and requires one secular head, albeit one very accountable secular head, but in matters spiritual and personal only Christ is the head. But this secular head of an empire need not even be one person, and nor can this empire claim to be supreme over all political states.
The “imperial translation” is not about a person. The translation isn’t from “person to person” but from “empire to empire” with each being a translation of and improvement upon the original Christianized Roman Empire, which was deeply flawed but which was used by God despite its flaws.
This “empire” is not global, it is no one-world scheme! It signifies, rather, the pre-eminent position of that “empire” as the dominant champion of Christian liberty. There may be many constituent states within that empire and many states outside that empire whose governments might be called just toward Christian liberty (even if the governors thereof are not Christians). It is not a matter of hegemony but of demonstrable prominance by virtue of the vastness of resources able to be pooled for the defense of Christian liberty. (As noted: the “empire” need not even be an “empire.”)
All of this is gratingly out of sync with today’s conventional wisdom, but the ideas of imperial translation and a united Christendom are truth and if they are truth the abandonment of these ideas will provide such severe consequences as to render them desirable again. Already we see that the consequences of the loss of a Christian imperium have been grave. Despite the mistakes and flaws of men who have tried to live up to these ideas, we are worse for the fact these ideas have been temporarily abandoned. Again, the hard truth here is that Christian liberty in the temporal rests with political states advancing Christian virtue as it pertains to civil law and adhering to God’s righteous standard within the LIMITED sphere of the “imperium” (really, the civil, civic, and regal powers, or political states).
It is not our task or right to advance the Kingdom of God by force. But it is our right, as we have seen God confirm in history through His Blessings, to use political power in defense of liberty, including Christian liberty, and to enforce God’s righteous standard for the political state and civil law. As long as the spiritual matters of pure faith and worship are inviolate, we have every right to seek our own “imperium” as a translation of and improvement upon the first and proceeding “imperiums” which have come before us. As long as the imperium is just and fair and protective of all, Christian and non-Christian alike, then it will be blessed.
In due time God WILL raise up a new “empire” since America has surrendered its “imperium” and has become a hazard to Christian liberty. (Unless America repents and a spiritual revival leads to a return to limited government that protects liberty for all.) As for the spiritual unity of Christendom, this does not come from an “organization” or a “pope”, it comes from the heart. The ideals of spiritual governance and the tenets of Christian universals will spread and multiply adherents until, one day, a kind of spiritual unity emerges that is totally unorganized by man.
In 1982 I foresaw this imperium: a global distributed “empire” of diverse constituent states animated by the core ideals of Biblical governance, respecting God’s righteous standard for the nations, refraining from regulating or controlling matters not assigned the political state, and championing not only Christian liberty but the liberty of all persons within its “imperium.”
Whether that vision is literal or figurative is not important, what is important is that something LIKE it is inevitable, should the Lord tarry. And when Christians seek freedom from oppression they will run to where this “empire” has political or other legal standing in order to find refuge, as they once fled to America (and still do). Only in the future I foresaw those “islands” of safety were distributed here and there all over the world so that nobody was ever to far away from one of these places.
The spreading and broadcasting of the vision associated with this “empire”, of the core ideals, and of the governing philosophy with its governance and lifestyle discipline, will be coupled with choices, relational and lifestyle changes, and new organizations, structures, and institutions which make the future emergence of this foreseen reality possible and inevitable. We stand before the beginning of the ultimate emergence of something ennobling, new, and powerful that will help millions of Christians survive and thrive in a world that is suffering from bad choices.