Archive for the ‘divine right of kings’ Tag

Divine Right of Kings   1 comment

Ancient kings discovered it was a lot easier to keep their subjects in line if the subjects thought of them as gods. Thus the Egyptian pharaohs moved from the ceremonial title “son of Ra” to being gods themselves. Caesar Augustus claimed to be descended from Aeneas, son of the goddess Aphrodite, but after he died, the Roman Senate declared him to be a god. Two generations later the Caesars (even when not related to Augustus) were being worshipped in many parts of the Roman Empire.

When the Roman Empire appropriated Christianity as its exclusive religion, all the pagan god-king rhetoric had to be set aside. I suspect Theodosius didn’t think ahead on that. What did he know of the Bible, actually? Deuteronomy 17:15 made clear that human government is a cooperative process between God and His believers:

“When you come to the land the Lord God is giving you and take it over and live in it and then say, ‘I will select a king like all the nations surrounding me,’ you must select (absolutely) without fail a king whom the Lord your God chooses. From among your fellow citizens you must appoint a king ….”

Well, that obviously wasn’t going to work in a dictatorship, so it’s a good thing the Bible wasn’t in wide circulation. In less than a generation, Rome would collapse anyway, leaving the whole God-king-citizen issue for others to sort out.

During the early Dark Ages there was no real government besides the Roman Catholic Church. The popes could (dubiously) claim to be God’s voice upon the earth using the specter of apostolic succession, but as the nobility rose to rule, the Church needed to provide legitimacy to these rulers as well. Thus, they created the  doctrine of the divine right of kings.

Christianity rejected any concept of men who are gods. There is nothing above God and placing any human equal to God is idolatry. So “Christian” kings couldn’t claim they were gods, but they could use the Church to advance the idea that the kings were authorized by God to rule.

The subversion of Scripture was easy. Most people couldn’t read. Even the priests themselves often could not read. They read portions of the Scripture to the congregation, but selective readings allow them to ignore parts like Deuteronomy 17:15. And, in the translation of Romans 13 from Greek to Roman, they changed the emphasis of the word “submit” from a voluntary act of cooperation to a requirement commanded by God.

Under the Holy Roman Empire, the divine right of kings created two heads of state working in harmony for the maintenance of peace and ordered conduct among Christians. Christ was seen as the ultimate King and Pope and kings were His vice-regents. Using Romans 13, the Church – which decided the disposition of men’s souls – put its priests between man and God in matters of faith and put the king between man and God in matters of state and they backed one another up if ever there was a conflict of conscience.

If people objected to some abuse by their government, they were told that Romans 13 said they must submit to the government because the king is God’s representative and good Christians are supposed to submit to God. Similarly, the Roman Catholic Church put forth that believers could not question the dogmas of the Church because the Pope and his priests are the representatives of God on earth and good Christians are supposed to submit to God in all circumstances.

Nobody questions you because to do so is a matter of faith and the pope, the king’s brother, holds the keys to heaven and if you really believe God wants you to obey Him ….

Nice deal, huh? And, it worked … for a while.

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