Divine Right of Kings

Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Legal, Wikipedia.

Divine Right of Kings

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Although a much-maligned concept today, especially in democratic societies, the divine right of kings is actually a biblical idea. The apostle Paul explicitly states in Romans 13:1-5:

Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment against themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience.

A literal reading of the Bible seems to indicate that once a ruler is in place, people must believe that that ruler is God's choice. He has a divine right to rule.

True, the apostle goes on to warn the king that his is a great responsibility. But the fact remains, according to the Bible, that the king is God's implement of service on Earth.

There have been times in human history when this doctrine accomplished good things. It gave peasants comfort and provided kings the lever they needed to resist even papal commands in the days when church and state were not at all separate. But the dogma also caused great harm when rulers employed it to justify less than noble pursuits.

Taken to its logical conclusion, what does the doctrine mean to those who impose a literal interpretation of the Bible today? Does Paul forbid voting a president out of office? No one seems to take the verses that literally, but no one really explains why this passage can be neglected or labeled a cultural aberration while other verses must be followed exactly.

References in periodicals archive ?
For Martin, man's common nature may be the basis for a theory of government superior to the divine right of kings.
Absolutism, whether in terms of the divine right of kings or of emergency exceptions for the Weimar Republic, becomes the clear result.
Before the Democratic or Republican parties took shape, and even before Federalists and Anti-Federalists assembled their forces, the politics of the United States was defined by a party of revolution against the royal prerogative, the divine right of kings, and the corruptions of empire associated with unfettered monarchs.
In a time of the divine right of kings, there rose a monarch who did not allow absolute power to corrupt him.
While it may be wrong to consider Pascal a supporter of the divine right of kings, still it certainly looks as if Pascal's just commonwealth would be a theocracy, restraining both the will to dominate found in subjects and the ambition of the king.
Few doubted the morality of the death penalty in the age that believed in the divine right of kings," the justice intoned, as if that were relevant to a republic whose Founders deliberately omitted any mention of God from the Constitution and instead ceded civic authority to "We the People.
Theism was thereby perpetuated, along with other aspects of the supernatural, making way as time went on for the often brutal institutional authority of the church, the doctrine of the divine right of kings, male dominance, and the exploitation of Earth's resources.
Appealingly, Rylance's Richard crucially retains his humor in his humiliation; he practically plays the court jester at times, making his points about the divine right of kings with a wit that commands attention now that he can no longer command respect.
The first chapter, "Beginnings: The Roots of James' Role in Religious Culture" examines the Protestant view of kingship and the many ways that writers of the time, including James himself, tried to justify the Divine Right of Kings in the face of the emphatically anti-monarchial attitude of I Samuel 8.
John Neville Figgis, The Divine Right of Kings, 2d ed.