Ludwig Derleth was a strange figure, a man who wore only black, carried a mask of Napoleon wherever he went, ate exclusively by himself, and refused to speak to more than one person at a time. He hovered on the fringes of successive esoteric intellectual societies in early-twentieth-century Germany, most prominently the Munich Cosmic Circle and the circle around Stefan George, before leaving the country and, after exploring a religious vocation in Rome, ultimately dying in obscurity in Switzerland.
If he is little known today, however, like many of the members of these esoteric circles his influence appears disproportionate to his memory. In his younger days—as a letter from his own pen reveals—Hans Urs von Balthasar kept a mask of Derleth on the wall of his study, and the Jesuit theologian Erich Przywara cites Derleth as an influence on his own thinking. Though Balthasar later became disenchanted with Derleth’s “integralism”, he continued begrudgingly to respect the man as the immoderate formulator of a “Genghis Khan Catholicism”.
Derleth produced only two substantial works: the “Proklamationen” (“Proclamations”), a brief series of aphoristic pronouncements urging a draconic and warlike renewal of Catholicism executed in two somewhat different editions in 1904 and 1919, and the Frankish Koran, an enormous epic stretching to thousands of pages in its final form. In this post I present some very rough translations from the 1919 edition of the former, and a pdf of the complete German text, which is not otherwise available online.
To the modern reader, the “Proklamationen” appear as a disconcerting inverted image of the liberal Catholicism that has grown to dominate much of the mainstream of Catholic practice. Derleth’s Catholicism is a Christianity composed of all those things—and only those things—that this tendency excludes. Where liberal Catholics focus only on the Gospel’s consoling words to the detriment of whatever is uncomfortable, Derleth focuses monomaniacally on the images of contradiction, division, and pitiless regimentation, making of the Church a structure of domination that demands absolute obedience to “Christus Imperator Maximus”—a strange figure, “no god of war, but war itself”, that blurs disconcertingly into the images of human world-conquerors like Napoleon and Alexander. Where liberal Catholics prize comprehensibility, Derleth writes in a language that fuses the Bible with Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, slipping at points into Latin, hyperbolically archaic, grandiose, and baroque—at times barely comprehensible—in an attempt to revive a “dark-religious” feeling of mystery.
Yet if Derleth demands total submission to Christ’s “supreme power”, it would still be a mistake to read the “Proklamationen”, as Richard Faber has done, as proto-Nazi. The objective of the boundless despotism of Christ appears as the abolition of all the worldly despotisms that can mirror it only poorly. At the same time that revolutionary politics is depicted as the surging “dark powers of Typhon”, Christ himself is made into an archetype of insurrection, the Marseillaise mingling discordantly with the Te Deum. Derleth’s cry against the politics of the masses remains fundamentally, and paradoxically, modernist—a contradiction that touches absurdity in his demand for a “Levée en masse pour l’élite”.
For the Jesuit Fr. Przywara, Derleth stood as the “black-Nietzschean” end-point of a tradition of annihilationist obedience flowing from St. Ignatius of Loyola. This is a tendency that intersects with political currents of dissidence on left and right. A good friend has highlighted the turn of the revolutionary communist Guy Lardreau towards radical Catholicism. The revolutionary function of discipline and obedience is one of the most obvious missing pieces of liberal politics, which organises itself through an atomic and aimless freedom. It finds its archetype—as leftist thinkers from Sorel to Gramsci have equally suggested—in the political form of the Church. Derleth appears as perhaps the purest and most direct distillation of this conceptual identity.
Derleth’s text is infused, however, with a sentiment of history drawing to its end—not in the apocalyptic sense of Luther, but in wearied exhaustion. The explosive language of the “Proklamationen” speaks, in this light, of an interior desperation: a search for anybody who can at last awaken in themselves the “final historical movement”. Derleth himself, of course, was frustrated in his search for an imaginary Church more despotic and more Roman than any before. Yet his continuous signals of contradiction, his relentless insistence on the most discomfiting and radical parts of the Christ narrative, are evocative—and may lead us to re-evaluate the precise function of religion and Catholicism as an impulse to new politics.
I awoke and three signs appeared to me: the lightning, the eagle and the star.
Like eagles we have come from the rising sun that we may bring the model of courage and obedience to barbarous hordes, and if you wish to know who we are, then ask the Templars and the Orient. They will answer you: an illustrious people enlightened by the sun striving upwards with the nature of the flame.
We have all in league against us and in the name of Jesus of Nazareth we declare war.
What kings, consuls, and dictators have represented upon the steps of the aeons, You have concentrated into an overwhelming constellation of supreme power.
Praise be to the Lord of Paradise alone, to the All-Preserver, the All-Holiest, Whose mercy blazes through the ring of the seven worlds, for we know that His clemency combined with crushing power helps the righteous to victory. We serve You, whether we administer our breath or minister to the people.
We pass before You, O Lord, and give ourselves entirely into Your hand which wields the sword and blesses the fallen.
TO ALL THE REGIMENTS,
MAGAZINES AND WORKSHOPS OF THE WORLD
You may shake thrones and establish the tribunal of folly on their rubble, but do you think that your after-madness attains to the vast image that was born with the first humans in Paradise and returns, again and again, from the waste and ashes of destruction until the last days?
We call the rest of the capable men to the front and retire.
We leave the army and found a new empire.
Praise be to the Lord Jesus Christ and Our Lady, that your works may shine a light unto the people, blazing in the darkness.
We have placed our cause on the granite of the past and we appeal to the tribunal of the dead in the republic of the shades.
This document signifies a challenge.
It is better never to have been born than to be inactive.
But if you are light, then illuminate the darkness.
We see that history is about to run its course. We search for that neighbour in whose heart the final historical movement emerges as the antithesis of fatigue. We set fire to a precious palace and ask our brethren to do the same as a signal.
We ready ourselves to be active in the work of the great turnings of fates.
The Gospel is preached to all primitive, incipient natures in whom the primordial instinct of wonder is still alive, who believe in the miraculous released from all bonds of necessity. We address the kings and the lowest children of the empire, who are capable of great obedience through denial of a modest life. We separate ourselves from everything that collapses quietly without a crash. We speak to the warlike sons of Europe and to the children of God of the inhabited world. We declare Christianity in Christendom. Sigillamus saeculum.
We have been annihilated in a great battle and blasted across the face of the earth. Steadfastly we bear the Cross, and pitilessly the war endures.
Torn away from You through chaotic ages, grant that our love does not lose its cohesion with You and trembles from the convulsions of every pain that the crucified soul has suffered.
Those loyal troops, strong as virgins, remain in the battle, who have harnessed the thirst for glory beneath the yoke of obedience, that their courage may become a vassal of wisdom. Ave Virgo. This delicate, chaste body, drenched in reddest blood, is bare of weapons and invulnerable in a diamond armour.
From the fallen trunk grows a choice shoot according to the arbitrariness of the Lord, Who does not forsake His elite and purifies you through the sieve of defeat on the threshing floor of victory.
No more shall the interior calls of divine honour be overwhelmed by the shrill voices of exterior hardships. A new time is in advent, which begins the work of taking the Imitatio Christi to utmost bravery, that the wound of faith may never heal and that what was felt with pain may not be erased from memory.
Christian life distanced itself from its ideal all the more as rational dogmatics came to predominate and practice hostile to the state declined. Command was given back to conscience broadened into a categorical imperative of history. Every unfactual thought discarded. Every deed, word and sentiment assumes historical tenor. In place of daring fatalism is set the voluntary obedience of the whole person to Christ. We, however, hold up our highest will until the moment of the first victory visibly gained, albeit with dreadful losses from the elite, that we may demand the submission of the world as a means for the clear-out, to eliminate the utmost outrage. For here we have the beginning that is called A.
The battle on the eternal fields of spirit that will decide the fate of Christian truth against worldly falsehood will not be won by academic chair against academic chair, not with word-arrows whirring against hostile speeches. It is our firm belief that for the Napoleon of metaphysics and all spiritual conquerors of infallibility only an ecstatic knowledge and not the natural light of understanding suffices for the tremendous mission of the future empire. Take good care, however, that they do not spill the evangelical wells and leave the great thing itself and the fact of divine suffering and death to the swinish world of art, that the rock of history does not shake and the Cross of Christ become a bloodless shade in the mere thought-image of the faithful.
The underworld demands a new way of fighting, that the wisdom of the serpent should marry the simplicity of the dove and the demonic be overthrown by its own arts. You should not arm yourselves as you would against armoured gods when you bring the weapons of light shrouded in blood and darkness to the struggle of the eagle against the dragon.
Whoever takes Christianity seriously as a historical power today is not concerned with religious studies, but with world-position and immortality.
The final struggles with annihilated morals pass naturally over into the first outpost-skirmishes with reason, in order to defend against the terrible questioning of all conditions and institutions and avert the unrestricted freedom of thought, so that the sun of merely natural cognition does not eclipse and the twilight of the gods of thought is pulled up from its sinking into eternal night.
But there is a gaping rift between you and ourselves. There is a great world of interior events in construction of which human opinion can know nothing. Why? Because of the abyss. To raise cosmic dams against the madness of reason is no logical work. To assert limits in the limitless requires more than practical comprehension and logical activity, but holiness and heroism. In place of the words in a sentence set a series of actions that prove a new law.
You have rained Your talk of riches, power and glory like a manna of immortality into the parched desert. You save in Your refuge those You wish to intoxicate with the wine of Your blood, and You kick back into the night those You wish to annihilate. You who have come to sift peoples through the sieve like grains of wheat, lead us not into temptation after You have rightly guided us. Only the eternally lost love the dark and the words of the twilight.
The intermediate empire is over, and the cleverness of the serpent has no more significance.
We demand contradiction, so that one endpoint may touch the other unmixed.
Great things cannot be won with cunning, for the sons of darkness are cleverer than the children of light.
The new politics will be blared by trumpets onto every market. The masses will be detonated so as to win the individual, the neighbour who is resolved to stand with us to the utmost danger. Whoever decides for Christ today must take a position with his neighbour, that he may compel the masses to laws of exception of great style. We express an outrage that is not directed against absolute superiority, as human cleverness and cowardice against Christ. The Generalissimo will throw himself into ensuring the maintenance of an army against the masses, against the people. No Christian has the right to die alone any longer. He falls with his neighbour.
The union of the world is today a fact. I align my empire at the centre in the heart of this world. But the heart of Europe is in you.
On the fields of the world, where fathers and forefathers sowed and laboured and did not harvest, send your sickles as razors into the hair of the soil.
We break into the treasury of history to take ownership of the ruinous inheritance of our ancestors. The new migrations of peoples are not failing to materialise, and Catholic efficacy, which pulls the black masses together into a thunderstorm, does not end with them. What for? Why?
What is born in labour is the light of the world, the living meaning, the essence in the thunderstorm of the world, the lightning.
The disciples of love are also sons of thunder.
And what are the means that are at work called?
And a great crowd stood on the mountain and clouds gathered in the distance.
And the Lord called: Behold!
And the faces of those blinded in the light turned to the void.
And the Lord called: Listen!
And the temple drums thundered and the marching drums rolled and the trumpets blared.
And the Lord called: Massacre!
And He strengthened the heart of the immortals, and the sun rose from the red mist.
Battle on Mount Tabor.
Lucidum sicut fulgur.
Under thunder and lightning of a storm night in Babylon.
The dead are rising. Before the steps of the tower every people in history throngs and mingles.
The tremendous cries are growing loud: The Testament! Read the Testament!
And I hear an imperial voice commanding the tumult reply:
The eagle triumphs over the world.
The Testament of Christ is war.
Soldiers, holy madness is breaking out and the time is coming that will force you to make a decision. Either Christ or the Emperor.
What counts for you? We despise your currency and give the coin back to the one whose picture and inscription it is.
Jesus of Nazareth is the last and utmost consequence of the Roman world-dynasty conceived as a person and the firstborn brother of the Caesars who assumes their dominion, placed into the flow of history as that magnetic power that tirelessly attacks like fire and never has to defend. While the firebrands of speeches were ignited on the lakes and the mountains, which shall not be extinguished in the hearts of the people until the last days, the listening and obedient heard a thunderstorm rolling from the distance heralding the black fate of Tiberius. They saw Satan fall from the heavens like lightning.
Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s—this word drew the boundaries of the empire over which supreme dictatorial power reigns, to the narrow of the circlet on the Caesarian forehead and to the foot-length soil under the imperial sandal at once.
The resurrection of the dead gave the first great premonition of every insurrection that signifies the highest intensification of life, and the certainty that the Crucified lives on in mutinous storms of people and revolutions, in their scorn and revolt against every earthly despotism besides Him, as the immovable archetype and most glorious human form.
What His disciples once received in silence in words of promise, brazen trumpets now cry from the roof of the world to the sleepers through the night:
The desert is growing green,
and it emerges from the tombs in a golden light.
What was lost is found again.
The whole empire now belongs to Christ.
How difficult obedience is for humans is shown by the fact that an immortal order has been raised in history against which the commands of despots seem like the demands of children, and that everyone reads all these ordinances and requires them as human maxims without one of them treating Christian practice seriously.
But if it is treated seriously, then all the roads backwards are sealed off, and terror lies on the threshold of the abandoned house.
But those who are called must go forwards until they encounter the moment in which they see Christ and the Cherubim, the armoured gods of battle.
You will love the Lord your God in all your heart, in all your soul and in all your thought. That is the first and great commandment. The second is likewise this: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. But the law that is valid through God in division borders the law book of the world as contradiction.
My brothers, beware of humans.
The vineyard of the world is devastated.
Hold your hearts steadfast, you noble ones.
I send you against the saplings with the blade.
Beyond division no house and no hearth, no lord and no God.
It is impossible to be loyal to one when you are in league with many.
We defy the judgement of the foremost Roman historian: Odii generis humani convicti sumus.
A new love in the rising of the sun, beginning with the rupture of family, of people, of humanity, timeless attachment to the heart of Jesus, who wrenches all our passions purified into His holy Will.
I give you a new law: Nobody commands. You have redeemed us from the prison of wanton freedom.
Our Lord is Christus Imperator Maximus.
Do you have the spirit of the heroic Macedonian king who, even with his armies in mutiny, did not turn back at the Hyphasis? Do you know what it means to always be alone among people with the command of Christ, when the world perishes for you in the west with the sun?
There is a steeply drawn path to the sun and a boundless untrodden land and in it three positions deployed against each other: A, B and C.
We take A, we claim A, we occupy A.
A steadfast death is our way to B.
We submit in obedience to you, O Lord, that we may vanish over it without hope.
We know the Beatitudes.
Ignorance became elevated. The old empire wasted away. The ship of revolution must go through thunder of blood.
The lightning bolts of your words shoot through the bloody warmth of the seething matter of the people, for the dissolution of death obtains.
We await a competition of youthful forces plunging into your flaming light like moths and keeping their royal word in great things against darkness and fate. May they die as firstfruits without the triumph of the living suffering from the defeat of their brothers. It is inconceivable how a good general can wage war mercifully in a world of grief, sickness, death.
He must attack fire with fire.
These generals will emerge with the black signs of power: sub signo mortis.
Christus Imperator Maximus, on whom the eyes of countless peoples are fixed.
I have come in power not to be served, but to serve.
I have no concern for myself, I have an army to maintain.
Mine are the dockyards and the ships, the idle warriors in the camps, the falling soldiers and even the final outpost, languishing in the shifting sands of the desert.
Come to me all you who attain in desire to the ether-pure heights that only the eagles can reach, I give you the feeling of power in human need, that your marrow and veins may glow with new fortune.
To glance at unreason makes you miserable. Obedience gives you sight. Meaning and purpose is not in this world, but in my strategy.
I am no god of war, but war itself.
And it came to pass that a disciple brought tidings from the vineyard and the command:
The Lord sends me against the wicked saplings with the blade.
And the people raged and roared and bent over in laughter, and a strong man stepped before the young man and called: What is that madman saying? Who understands the word of the winegrower? What is this?
And the disciple stabbed him on the spot.
And the wave of people rushed over him to overwhelm him. But the young man stood and spoke:
Kill us, but know this: The Lord sends us against you that we may prove.
The people hate and scorn me: Behold, the outlaw! The one forsaken by the armies! You command?
And the Lord says: I command, but you do not obey. None of you has seen the haunting fire that erupts from the centre of things and flickers around me. Cowardly sons of sin, full of inconsistency, pretence, ingratitude, common pride, limited wills of your own, frivolous daring, how can you hone yourselves to bow in that sweet yoke under my burdens? The royal path of chastity has not yet gone over you.
And the people laugh and mock: Inexplicable words! What is this?
And the Lord says: A new teaching, a command, and those who follow me turn into frenzied, holy embers and are no longer like the people, which is subject to the pull of gravity and the force of the fall. The stones are falling and the eagles are rising. The precipitous sky is darkening with clouds in the storm flight of the black eagles—because the Kingdom of Heaven suffers violence.
From the gloomy depths of the state the dark fatal powers of Typhon are rising again, discord, fates of death, deceiving speeches and ambiguous words, cloudy forms from the dregs of evil rustling on huge shadowy wings, transforming into the hurricane of revolutions, roaring in rioting masses like cataracts freed from their dams surging over the market and alleyways of the capitals, and, blown by the breath of my mouth, vanishing once more as they are torn into vain bubbles of air.
We claim the A positions.
We eliminate the painful labours of the woman who bears.
If you are not born from above you cannot enter into the untrodden empire, the eternally maternal.
We transform all human maxims into axioms of wedding A.
What is happening?
In art: il Grande Lusso.
In deed: the Bonaparte path.
In life: alien and distant from the human.
In being: roboris intactus virgo.
I slept and awoke on a lion-skin bed—amidst a strange song above me in the vault, and there was a blazing circle on the empty wall, and in the gloom there appeared the face of the Emperor reddened by Muscovite flames, and the Emperor said:
The clouds burst with lightning.
The seven metal gates open.
Empire rises above empire secure in the counsel of the world-conqueror.
And there grew from the sun a new sun like another day, so that I, wrested from death, stared into the motionless lights.
What is in A? War and the Cross.
The suffering B.
The Kingdom of Heaven is no idle bliss, but the new beginning of historical missions.
The Kingdom of Heaven is like a commander levying a new army.
On the eve of death in Babylon the form of Achilleus drew to the head of the dying king and spoke: Alexander, it is possible to lead the legions across the borders of the inhabited world.
And Alexander replied: Tomorrow we set out.
And the coat lay lightly on me in the night watch and the star stood precipitously over the ridge, and in the sweet-smelling coolness the form with wings that caught many storms drew to my head, coloured red by the torch; in the day before sunrise I heard a raging voice from the heavens calling: Bathe yourselves in blood. Satiate yourselves with blood. Intoxicate yourselves with blood, that you may not be like the pale breathless armies of Hades.
And I caught a crashing confusion of sounds from afar and suddenly, clearly across the yawning chasm a murmuring through the purified air of tremendous waves and flapping wings, and the metal voice of a child said: The gate of Asia is opened.
Who commands the eagles in this night?
And the trumpets blared through the lights the name: Franciscus Imperator Paupertatis.
My Kingdom is not of this world.
I took a fire from the house of my Father and kindled it in you, which shall never be extinguished, that your light may shine over the people, and that is the light of the earth, that you may do the work of my Father in the vineyard of war and that that Kingdom may be glorified in you in which my Father is King.
Your hands give the fateless vessels of gold and earth, and you lend to the mortals lust for women and expensive clothes and perfume and you prepare for the steadfast yet purer dwellings and the Kingdom in which my Father is King.
For Yours is the arbitrary will.
You are the vast and knowing.
The Lord says: Behold the emperor who wandered from madness to madness and suffered that I might accompany him among the elect. Verily, I say unto you: Degenerate containers of disgrace are transformed into holy vessels of selection according to the will of the Lord.
And the beloved disciple found Caligula waking from bad sleep, as he waded barefoot through hellish smoke and horrors in oppressive heat through the black streams of blood, who sought in desolate golden agony the pure daughter of richly decorated splendour.
And the loving one trod quietly to the unsuspecting man and called: Come, the Lord is calling you.
And the man with the golden mask turned around and saw nobody. But the Nike hovered visibly before him in illuminated scenes on colourful golden balls, over the swelling sea in the red morning, and he wed the plunging stars.
Heaven drank the damp embers and the streams dried up.
But for the first time the emperor walked with firm feet once more on black earth and stood beneath the holy timber of devastation.
The Cross a world-tree.
Martin Luther was a demon on the offensive, who dealt the first incurable wound upon the field and construction site of God against the defensive systems of the ancient faith. A primordial dream faded away, an unrepayable loan was lost, as the unbound crowd rose and sneered at the things the gathered peoples had long offered in adoration to the fathers. Through sudden overthrow that which had seemed established and ordered for eternity crumbled into unstructured rubble, and the palmy paradise of the Pope, rich in golden splendour, was burnt up in the lava glow of the word together with the holy altars and the sacrifices brought to them. But twice defeated and twice invincible, Rome’s wealth and simplicity defied ruin because it lived on full of power in the consciousness of its eternal destiny. We venerate Ignatius of Loyola, who with a handful of soldiers stood out obediently to order in this breach against the half-begun, unfinishable work of the Reformation, and repulsed the shatterers who sought to destroy the visible image of the divine regiment in the ineradicable eternal form of the Vicar of God on Earth. At that time a new tyranny was sunk into the Roman furrow, fallow from the ruin of the world, amidst the thousand-voiced wail of the laurel leaves, and all peoples were called as instruments to build the throne of the divine empire.
We submit unconditionally to the leader with the general staff, who, with unquenchable fire, finally destroys the makeshift foundations of the intermediate empire because he precedes the heir to the fisherman’s ring who builds his Church on this rock and is awaited as the King and Saviour of the World and Redeemer of Time.
Truly an impenetrable secret is spread about your waking sleep, that you shall not break the seal yourself and unwittingly let loose God’s sword of judgement upon earth. You fought the battle and did not know it. You seized the circlet from his forehead and you were not crowned. Your naked soul, united with poverty, was clad in a starry cloak, while your body donned the haircloth of renunciation.
If you speak of strength, you say: The lightning.
I say: The lightening one.
I laid my speech into your heart that you might remember me among the masses of the ungrateful, and I taught you my golden law and the supreme power and the great command, that the way to yet greater things may be opened to the steadfast, which fall as immortals on the day of battle and lie prostrate beneath triumphant banners as holy prohibitions and firstfruits of glory.
Soldiers, a storm is raging high in the heavens. I hear cannon thunder and church music. The enchanting tones of the Marseillaise mingle into the Te Deum laudamus.
And your fire will run from city to city, and those who listen to you will revolt against their house, and their people will deliver you into the hands of the just, and the courts of the prisons will be filled. But if you should tread before the throne of judgement of the empire, say this: We belong in obedience to the Lord. What do you think we shall answer? “You are mutinous soldiers and apostates from the brazen order of Christ and we deliver your indictment into the hands of the Lord, in whose name we have been given authority to judge the dead living and the living dead.
Kill us, but know this: The Kingdom is at the gates.”