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divine right of kings


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The doctrine that monarchy is God's chosen form of government, and that rebellion against the monarch is always a sin. Where active obedience to an evil ruler is morally impossible, it is held that passive obedience (i.e. willing acceptance of any penalty imposed for non-compliance) is demanded.

St Paul's injunction to obey ‘the powers that be’ (Rom. 13: 1–2) reverberated through the centuries as the mainstay of Christian political quietism, though it was modified by the need to ‘obey God rather than men’ (Acts 5: 29). After the conversion of Constantine, Greek theories of divine kingship became Christianized: the Emperor was the earthly image of God's ruling wisdom. Divine attributes were used to describe kings and, in parallel, imperial vocabulary used to describe Christ's kingdom. To the monarch's Godlike nature was added his Christlike nature. Monarchs were quasi-sacerdotal, and anointings became a normal feature of coronations. With the revival of knowledge of Aristotle and of Roman law from the 12th cent., the theory of Divine Right became a theological gloss upon Roman jurisprudence and later upon ideas of absolute sovereignty. Divine Right kingship confronted two opposing traditions: the claim to supreme authority by the Church and popular representative institutions. Under the Stuarts the doctrine of Divine Right was widely accepted by the Anglican clergy, though James II's attack on the C of E eroded its support. Those who opposed it accepted that sovereign authority was ordained by God, but insisted that God left people free to choose the form of government, whether monarchy or not.

Subjects: Christianity.


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