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1. government by a deity or by a priesthood
2. a community or political unit under such government


government by a priesthood.



a form of government in which both political power and religious power are centered in the church.

Usually the supreme power in a theocratic state is vested in the leader of the predominant church, so that he is the head of state and is recognized as a “living god,” as “god’s vicar on earth,” or as the “chief priest” (he may be called the pharaoh, caesar, emperor, or caliph). In practical terms, the state’s power is vested in the church hierarchy and in the priests. “God’s will,” as expressed, for example, in the holy scriptures and the sharia, is acknowledged as law, together with the will of the head of state and of the church.

The term “theocracy” first appeared in a work by Flavius Josephus. Examples of theocracies during the era of the slaveholding system were the ancient Eastern despotisms of Egypt, Babylonia, the Judaic kingdom, and the Arab caliphate. In the Middle Ages the theocratic power of the pope was established in the papal domain. In accordance with the political doctrine of Catholicism of that time, the power of a European monarch was considered to be derived from and subordinate to the pope’s supreme power. The material expression of this dependency was the church tithe, a levy exacted in the Catholic countries of Europe. Today, theocratic forms are preserved only as vestiges of the past in underdeveloped countries.