James I – The Divine Right of Kings

The following is an excerpt from a doctrine in defense of monarchial absolutism. This document states that the king’s power is derived from the authority of God and could not therefore be held accountable for their actions by any earthly authority such as a parliament. 

Originating in Europe, the divine-right theory can be traced to the medieval conception of God’s award of temporal power to the political ruler, paralleling the award of spiritual power to the church. By the 16th and 17th centuries, however, the new national monarchs were asserting their authority in matters of both church and state.

King James I of England was the foremost exponent of the divine right of kings, but the doctrine virtually disappeared from English politics after the Glorious Revolution (1688–89). In the late 17th and 18th centuries, kings such as Louis XIV of France continued to profit from the divine-right theory, even though many of them no longer had any truly religious belief in it.

The American Revolution (1775–83), the French Revolution (1789), and the Napoleonic Wars deprived the doctrine of most of its remaining credibility.

The state of Monarchy is the supremest thing upon earth; for Kings are not only God’s lieutenants upon earth, and sit upon God’s throne, but even by God himself are called Gods. There can be three principal similitude’s that illustrate the state of monarchy; one taken out of the word of God; and the two other out of the grounds of policy and philosophy. In the Scriptures kings are called Gods, and so their power after a certain relation compared to the divine power. Kings are also compared to fathers of families; for a king is truly Parens patriae, the politique father of his people. And lastly, kings are compared to the head of this microcosm of the body of man.

Kings are justly called Gods, for that they exercise a manner or resemblance of divine power upon earth: for if you will consider the attributes to God, you shall see how they agree in the person of a king.  God hath power to create or destroy, make or unmake at his pleasure, to give life or send death, to judge all and to be judged nor accountable to none; to raise low things and to make high things low at his pleasure, and to God are both souls and body due. And the like power have kings; they make and unmake their subjects, they have the power of raising and casting down, of life and of death, judges over all their subjects and in all causes and yet accountable to none but God only…

I  conclude then this point touching the power of kings with this axiom of divinity, That as to dispute God may do so is blasphemy… so is the sedition in subjects to dispute what a king may do in the height of his power. But just kings will ever be willing to declare what they will do, if they will not incur the curse of God. I will not be content that my power be disputed upon; but I shall ever be willing to make the reason appear of all my doings, and rule my actions according to my laws… I would wish you to be careful to avoid three things in the matter of grievances:

First, that you do not meddle with the main points of government; that is my craft… to meddle with that were lessons to me… I must not be taught my office

Secondly, I would not have you meddle with such ancient rights of mine as I have received from my predecessors… All novelties are dangerous as well in a politic as in a natural body and therefore I would be loath to be quarreled in my ancient rights of possessions, for that were to judge me unworthy of that which my predecessors have left me.

And lastly, I pray you beware to exhibit for grievances anything that is established by a settled law, and whereunto… you know I will never give a plausible answer; for it is an undutiful part in subjects to press their king, wherein they know beforehand he will refuse them.

Bishop Jacques Bossuet – The Divine Right of Kings

Bishop Jacques Bossuet was a well known scholar and an excellent speaker. For eleven years, he was tutor to Louis’ son. To help him understand the purpose of absolute monarchy, Bossuet wrote Politics Drawn from the Very Words of Holy Scripture, The following excerpt explains Bossuet’s theory of the divine right of Kings. Louis XIV accepted the ideas expressed in these passages.

The person of the king is sacred, and to attack him in any way is an attack on religion itself. Kings represent divine majesty and have been appointed by Him to carry out His purposes.  Serving God, and respecting Kings are bound together.

But Kings should not believe that they are masters of their power to use at their own pleasure; they must use it with fear and self-restraint, as a thing coming from God, remembering that God will demand an account of how His power has been used.

Kings should tremble then as they use the power God has granted them; and let them beware if they use it for evil purposes. We have known of unjust kings who use the power God has given them to act contrary to His laws and perform deeds of violence and to slay God’s children!

The royal power is absolute. Many writers who hate absolutism have tried to confuse it with arbitrary government, in which the king uses his power for his own pleasures. But arbitrary government and absolute government are completely different.

The King is not responsible to anyone on earth for his acts. Without this absolute authority, the King could neither do good nor prevent evil. His power must be such that no one can hope to escape him.

The King is not a private person. He belongs to the public. The will of the people is included in his will. As all perfection and strength are united in God, so all the power of the individual subjects is united in the person of the King.

The power of God embraces the whole earth and holds it together; the power of the King spreads throughout his realm and holds it together. Should God withdraw His power, the earth would fall to pieces; should the King’s authority end in the realm, all would be confusion.

O Kings, use your power boldly, for it is divine and good for human kind. But use it with humility. You are given this power by God. You are still feeble, still mortal, still sinners.  And you are still answerable to God, needing to give Him a greater account of yourself than ordinary men.

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