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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.

References in periodicals archive ?
During the rule of the Pahlavis from 1925 to 1979, the independence of the hierocracy was not impaired, though its power was greatly reduced, thanks to the shah's secularizing policies.
Khatami's political allies included regime technocrats, reformist clerics and others who had been marginalized by the hierocracy that emerged from the revolution, as well as the country's disenfranchised middle classes, including especially students and women.
To enforce his rule within the hierocracy, the supreme leader is able to exert his authority through a range of coercive instruments--including, perhaps most notoriously, through a body known as the "Special Court of Clerics" (Dadgah-e Vizheh-ye Rowhaniyat).
Even Ayatollah Sistani--the preeminent marja of Najaf, Iraq, who has always enjoyed considerable autonomy from the Iranian hierocracy, and who represents a more traditional Shiism--cannot operate his office or manage his religious-financial network within Iran (and in some cases in other countries in the Middle East such as Lebanon and Syria) without cooperating with the Iranian regime.
Following their deaths, the traditional centers of religious authority that operated as a religio-political check on the newly formed hierocracy went into steep decline, and a younger generation of clerics reared by the Khomeinist regime has come to occupy positions of great religious and political influence.