Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Symphony Simplified


In my work covering John Strickland’s books on Christendom, where he covers 2000 years of Christian history, both East and West, he has used the word Symphony to described the intended governance method of the East.  The idea is that the emperor will rule as a proper Christian emperor, guided by the bishops.

Jonathan Pageau, in explaining the symbolism of the double-headed eagle, has offered his take on this governance model.  He is asked, what is the symbolism of the double-headed eagle, especially as it relates to empire:

I have talked about this on the symbolism of the left and the right hand.  It has something to do with authority and power; it has something to do with the two keys of St. Peter, of, let’s say, the Church and the state.  You can understand it that way.

The Church as spiritual authority without physical power and the state as temporal power, physical power, whose authority isn’t in itself – it has to come from the other side.  So, you can understand it as this mode of reality of spiritual authority and temporal power. At least that’s the way I understand that.

And those two are joined in Christ in a way in His icon.  You actually see this manifested in the icon of Christ Himself, as the blessing hand: as Christ blesses, He manifests this direct authority.  And usually in His left hand He has a book, this indirect or secondary aspect.  So, you have direct language, then you have written language – which is like law or a materialized authority. 

That’s the relationship between the spiritual and the temporal, and that’s the relationship between Church and state in the Byzantine understanding and later in the Holy Roman Empire in general.  You see this symbol in the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Russian Empire and all sorts of other places.

As I have noted elsewhere and often, the relationship of Church to emperor in the West was not the same as the relationship of Church to Emperor in the East.  The former cannot be described as a state, while the latter more easily fits the description.

What I have read elsewhere: this symbol has been used in many places both east and west, Christian and Muslim – and Hittite before any of this.  In Byzantium, it does appear to signify the Church and the state under one crown:

The two heads and two sceptres of the eagle symbolize the two authorities, the Church and the State under one Crown, the Christian Empire - one Empire under God. The co-existence of the Church and State in "Symphonia", a period of peaceful co-existence and co-operation, where the Emperor made into laws the decisions of the Church Synods (especially those of the Ecumenical Councils), while the Church authorities respected the laws of the State.

Another source explains it so:

The double-headed eagle is the most recognizable symbol of Orthodoxy today (other than the cross) and was the official state symbol of the late Byzantine Empire, symbolising the unity between the Byzantine Orthodox Church and State, which was governed by the principle of Symphonia or Synallelia, that is, a "symphony" between the civil and the ecclesiastical functions of Christian society.

This source continues to offer that the two heads also meant to cover east and west: Constantinople and Rome.  Although, certainly by the time it appeared in the eleventh century in the east, this could only have been wishful thinking.

One author questions why it is so strongly associated with the Byzantine Empire at all, given its widespread use dating even thousands of years earlier.

Another author offers a similar interpretation as does Pageau – albeit, applicable to many cultures, not just Byzantine and not just Christian.  The symbol represents physical power with one head, and spiritual power with the other.  He states it may be used differently today, but historically it symbolized the representative of God on earth.

It is used in Scottish Rite Masonry, and is used on Russia’s coat of arm.  What it meant or means elsewhere is secondary to this post.  As Pageau offered toward the end of his statement, this is his understanding in the Byzantine context – which is also the context for the idea of Symphony raised by Strickland.


Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words….


  1. Ideally there is a symphony between church and state. But for it to really be a symphony one can't be on top of the other. They have to work together side by side in their "separate" realms of authority.

    But governments are beasts wanted to devour evermore of life including the areas of authority the church should be over. So it doesn't really work in the real world. At best the church is powerful enough to hold the state back to some degree. We aren't at that point now. We are all being consumed by the state.

  2. Considering all that I've come to believe (much of it thanks to this blog) about the corrupting influence of worldly power, and the benefit of having a rival spiritual power (however flawed) to check it, this doctrine of symphony seems almost quaint in its naiveté. And it's not unlike the Progressive creed of enlightened bureaucrats working in tandem with PhDs to bring salvation through the State.

    1. "...this doctrine of symphony seems almost quaint in its naiveté."

      This is what I am struggling with. I understand it would be wonderful if it could be regularly achieved.

      But that darn "if" gets in the way of every scheme that doesn't recognize that the worst of fallen man will rise to the top of such a system.

      It is the same "if" that gets in the way of every utopia.

  3. Here are some of the things I think it will take to have a Christendom of liberty:

    1.) The Church must be an international authority autonomous from any other governing political body. It's territorial sovereignty must be respected and protected and held sacred.
    2.) The Church must get its proceeds by way of voluntary donation from the laity. It cannot become reliant upon the taxing powers of the various nations in which it's laity reside.
    3.) The Church must not be afraid of politics. It must speak out against all political policies which directly contradict the Commandments of God. The Faith isn't just a hobby; it's a way of life.
    4.) The Church must teach that Jesus is our one true King, (political, social, religious), and any temporal or spiritual governing authority here on earth is merely a temporary Steward, like Lord Denethor of Minis Tirith in 'The Return of the King.'
    5.) Citizens or subjects of the various nations should swear fealty to their local temporal authority or private law association (protect hearth and home) and the Church (protect Jesus' bride), remembering that their loyalty to God is always first and foremost.

    I think the magic of liberty is a monopoly of international religious authority or at least a massive confederation of religious authorities which influences a polycentric localized political structure. Notice how this is nearly the opposite of what we have now in these USA. Of course when I say religious I mean Christian.

    I'm sure there is more to be said, and what I've said above can be justly criticized at least to some degree. But this is where I'll leave it for now.

    The double headed eagle is an elegant idea and makes for a great and fearsome emblem, but it represents an idea which is more likely to replace God with the State than it is to create a state of Godliness.

    1. Two thumbs up for your last paragraph. Would have made a nice conclusion to my post!