The Imperial Dignity is not in the spoken name itself, but consists and culminates in glorious piety.
-Emperor Louis II, Letter to Basil King of Greece
What is the nature of the Imperium? The Imperium, the Authority to command and administer justice universally, is not mere power, as is so often assumed by those of a certain political conviction. It is a truly unique among temporal authorities in the sense that only one living man may receive it, yet also in that it is essentially non-territorial. The Imperator is the firstborn (in the temporal order) of the Diákonοί kai Leitourgοί Theoú, the Servants and Ministeriales of God.
As such the Emperor’s authority is not primarily expressed in displays of power, indeed it is when he is most powerless and abandoned that it is most truly shown. Insofar as the Emperor is “a poor mortal and a sinner,” charged with the preservation of Concordia (peace, freedom, and the Common Good), he cannot fulfill his duties without complete and unwavering reliance on Divine Providence. The truly great man who wears the Crown of Charlemagne knows that though he does all in his power to work towards the Good, only by the Grace of God is it accomplished. And he will continue to work towards it were all semblance of power stripped from him, for his true authority is the moral authority to remind men of the right cause and call upon them to aid him in it, whether or not they heed him.
Three great moments in the history of the West illustrate this; the Emperor Charlemagne kneeling before the altar of Saint Peter in expectation of the coming of the physical presence of Our Lord Jesu in the Blessed Sacrament, Count Rudolf von Hapsburg kneeling in adoration of the Body of Christ carried by the Priest for the comfort of the sick, and the young Otto von Hapsburg kneeling at the deathbed of his father moments after the dying Emperor had received the Viaticum. In each instance the Imperial Dignity is expressed in literal humility, the lowering of the just man upon his knees in the presence of something far greater than himself. And that real presence, the physical body and blood of the Imperator Cœlestis, is Himself present in what is both the most humble of forms yet equally the most powerful of Sacraments given in mercy to us, poor mortals and sinners.
Each of these moments is deep in historical meaning and symbolism; the sanctification of the Empire in Charlemagne; the victory over injustice and anarchy by Rudolf I. Yet for the purpose of this reflection, the last and most historically recent of these is the most significant. The death of Blessed Emperor Karl and the subsequent accession to the Imperium of the child Otto fundamentally transformed the Austrian Legitimist Movement. Gone were all the floundering theories of Social Monarchy and Pragmatism which could never be satisfied without a powerful Emperor. Instead those retainers of the Boy-Emperor who remained loyal adopted a purer Legitimacy; belief in the primacy of the Natural Law and subsequent Authority. They would follow him though he was stateless for his Authority did not come from any state; they would follow though he was nationless for his Imperium encompassed every nation; insofar as he was a man his homeland was Austria, yet insofar as he was the Emperor his country was the World.
And this Emperor vowed to his dying father a promise so binding that he was willing to go through the humiliation and disgrace of being stripped of his tradition and even of his own family. This promise was to do everything in his power to serve the Good of his peoples with firm reliance on Divine Providence, and this is precisely the Imperium. This is precisely the culmination of Roman Piety which led to the foundation of Christendom. The usurpers who have sought to promote Concordia have always sought to do so through mere power, and so have always failed. Though victory as in the days of Charlemagne or Rudolf I may never come again, this would not in the least effect the Legitimacy and universal Moral Authority of the Holy Emperor or his successors, the reflection on earth of the Empire of Our Lord Jesus Christ. The Emperor of Christendom and his loyal followers may ever truly say;
Lift not my head from bloody ground,
Bear not my body home,
For all the earth is Roman earth
And I shall die in Rome.