Andrea Vitali's Historical Essays on the Tarot

Emperor Moon and Pope Sun

The thesis of the Church on the superiority of the Pope


Translation from the Italian by Michael S. Howard, June 2013

From the first list of 22 Triumphs, the manuscript Sermo perutilis de ludo, cited elsewhere here (1), we know that the figure of the Emperor preceded in the upward phase that of the Pope, putting it as number III, after the Empress [II] and before the Popess (Faith, IV), who was followed by the Pope as number V.


According to the concept of the Staircase (2), on which the order of the tarot as reported in the manuscript mentioned above is structured, the figures of the Emperor and the Pope are of primary importance: the Emperor was entrusted by God as the temporal power, whose purpose was the wise government of men. He as "Sol Justitiae" he was to exercise his power to provide his people tranquility in life, which is necessary to deal with matters of the spirit. The Pope, as holder of the spiritual power, was on the other hand assigned the task of leading men in this spiritual journey.


The presence of the Empress next to her consort is motivated by adherence to the dictates of the Old Testament (Books of Poetry and Wisdom), in particular the Book of Ecclesiastes (Chapter 1): "The words of Ecclesiastes, the son of David, king of Jerusalem", teaching by which alone everyone under the Sun must live, is expressed in these words"; (Chapter 4) [9] Two are better than one, because two have a better reward for their labor. [10] For if they fall, one will lift up the other. Woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up. [11] Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? [12] If one attacks, two shall withstand him and a threefold cord is not quickly broken". These dictates, including the principle of loyalty to each other, would have to be applied first and foremost by the Emperor, to whose example the people were inspired to conform. Obviously, the figure of the Empress, because she is the holder of a power lower than that of the Emperor, in the order of the Triumphs of the Staircase hers preceded that of the Emperor.


At the same time, the Popess, signifying Faith, preceded the Pope because it was from the latter that her essential truths were defined and fed ex cathedra [from the chair, i.e. of the Pontiff] (3).


If the Empress had loyalty to her husband - every form of betrayal in these terms was considered a crime not only against her husband, but to God - every "loss of faith", as a denial of that loyalty that was had to one’s own religion, was experienced as a betrayal of the man who had set out the principles of faith, that is, the Pope.


To understand why the Emperor precedes the Pope in the order of the Triumphs, manifesting therefore a lower figure than it, you must consider the thinking of the Church of the time (and it could not be otherwise, since the concept of the Mystical Staircase defines this card game), which to confirm this superiority turned mainly to the dictates of the Gospels.


Francesco Bordoni, Father Provincial of the Franciscan Order in Bologna, summarized in this regard the universal and historical positions of the Church in the fourth volume of his work published in Lyon in 1665, entitled R. P. M. Francisci Parmensis Bordoni, Religionis tertiis Ordinis Sancti Francisci, in Provincia Bononiensi Provincialis, & S. Officij Consultoris "Operum Tomus Quartus. In his third discourse, of the four that make up the work, entitled "Theatrum Praecedentiae & Maioritatis", next to the many "Queres" (questions) of "precedence" (for example: the Pope is superior to the Saints and the Blessed?; What type of nobility [of virtue or blood] holds the right of precedence?, etc.), to all of which follow specific responses (Resp.), we take into consideration Queres 42: "An Papa sit maior omnibus, & preaferatur etiam Imperatori?" (4). The immediate response is the following: "Affirmative. Primum probator, tum quia Papa omnia potest". To demonstrate why the Pope has power over everything, the author makes use of the words spoken by Christ to Peter (Matthew 16:19) which promises to the primate: "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."


Without examining the entire treatise in support of this statement, we will focus on the following very significant passage:


“Imperatore maior, & dignior est Papa, quod probatur, tum ex allatis mox rationibus. Tum quia Papa est Magister, Pastor, & Pater omnium. Imperator vero filius est Ecclesia; ac Summi Pontificis illius capitis, & Sponsi, filius autem discipulus, et ovis subsunt patri, magistro & pastori, ergo & Imperator Papae. Tum quia ille est maior & praestantior alio, qui dignitatem recipit immediate à Principe ex allegatis in praecedentibus: sed Papa à Deo Pontificium recipit immediatè. Imperator vero ab homine, & exercitu. Tum quia Imperator iuramentum non tam fidelitatis, quam vassalitatis praestat Ecclesiae, & eius capiti Summo Pontifici, ergo minor est Papa. Tum quia Imperator non potest ligare Papam, nec alium Ecclesiasticum, nec iudicare, utique vero Imperatorem Papa ligare potest, & iudicare, nam Innocentius Arcadium Imperatorem, qui consenserat in exilium Sancti Ioannis, Chrysostomi, excommunicavit, iudicat ergo & ligat Papa Imperatorem. Tum quia Papa & Imperator figurantur in duobus luminaribus Solis, & Lunae, ubi dicitur, quod sicut Luna subest Soli, à quo lumen etiam recipit, ita & Imperator repraesentatus per Lunam subest Papae figurato in Sole, à quo sicut Luna recipit suum lumen, item & Imperator à Papa accipit potestatem imperialem, ut multis probavi in Sacro Tribunali cap. 5 qu. 10. Tum quia dicitur, quod Ecclesia duos habet gladios, iuxta mentem Sacri Evangelis Luca: 22, Domine ecce duo gladij hic. Spiritualem & temporalem, & hic subest illi, quibus spirituali nempe regit animam corpore pretiosiorem, & temporali gubernat corpus cuiuscumque viventis, inferius anima, & hunc gladium temporalem Papa communicat Imperatori & Regibus, aliisque Principibus, ex quo tribunal Papae maius est tribunali Imperatoris, & quandoque Imperiali auctoritate determinat. Tum quia Papa infringit iniquas sententias, & iudicia iniusta Imperatoris, & Regum. Quod non potest facere, si illis non esset maior, & superior. Tum quia Papae iurisdictio est prior imperatoris. Hinc deducitur, Papam esse maiorem Regibus argumento ab Imperatore desumpto, si enim Imperator est inferior Summo Pontifice, à fortiori Reges, qui minores sunt Imperatore”.




The Pope has more power and more dignity than the Emperor, as will be shown shortly from the explanations here. It is because the Pope is Teacher, Pastor and Father of all. Indeed, the Emperor is the son of the Church, son and disciple of the Supreme Pontiff, his head and spouse, and the sheep being subject to its father, teacher and pastor, means that the Emperor [is subject] to the Pope. Thus he is greater and more distinguished than any other who directly receives his dignity from the prince, and was previously delegated [to this position]; but the Pope receives the Pontificate directly from God. Indeed, the Emperor receives [his appointment] from men and the army. This is why the Emperor gives to the Church and its leader the Supreme Pontiff an oath, not so much of fidelity as of vassalage, for which cause he is inferior to the Pope, Because the Emperor cannot compel the Pope, nor any other Ecclesiastic, or judge, while the Pope may in any situation obligate the Emperor and the judiciary; in fact Innocent excommunicated Emperor Arcadius, who agreed to the exile of St. John Chrysostom; thus he [the Pope] judges and constrains the Emperor. Why the Pope and the Emperor are portrayed in the two luminaries, Sun and Moon, as they say, is because, as the Moon is subject to the Sun, from which it receives its light, so the Emperor, represented by the Moon, is subject to the Pope depicted in the Sun, from whom, as the Moon receives its light, so the Emperor receives the imperial power, as demonstrated many times in the Holy Tribunal in chapter five, tenth question. That is why we say that the Church has two gladi [swords] according to the Holy Gospel - Luke 22, O Lord, here are two gladi - Spiritual and temporal, and the latter subject to the former, over which precisely rules the spiritual soul [which is] more precious than the body, and is the temporal ruler over the body of every living creature, which is inferior to its soul; and the Pope sends this temporal sword to the Emperor, the King and the other princes, for whom the court of the Pope is higher than the court of  the Emperor and whoever gets [his powers] from the Emperor. That is why the Pope nullifies the unfair and unjust judgments of the Emperor and the Kings. This he could not do if he was not more powerful and higher. Because the jurisdiction of the Pope is greater [than] that of the Emperor. Which implies that the Pope is above the King, as argued in respect to the Emperor: if the Emperor is inferior to the Supreme Pontiff, even more so [the Pope is superior] to the Kings, who are inferior to the Emperor".




1 - See the article The Order of the Triumphs.

2 - On the concept of the Staircase, read the essay The Mystical Staircase and the section entitled "Celestial Harmony" in the essay The History of the Tarot.

3 - Faith, in the broad sense, is properly understood as the belief in concepts and dogmas, assumptions based only on personal conviction or on the sole authority of those who have set out these concepts or assumptions, beyond the existence of evidence for or against such ideas and affirmations.

4 - Page 547.