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What is the doctrine of the Divine Right of Kings?

March 9, 2017

The Doctrine of the “Divine Right of Kings”

Frontispiece to Thomas Hobbes, The Leviathan (1651), by Abraham Bosse (1602-1676)

When the Protestant Reformation took off in the early 1500s, many religious reformers rejected the authority of the pope and the Catholic Church.  As a result, kings and queens of the monarchies of Europe gained power.  Monarchical power increased as reformers, counter-reformers, and the people sought the protection of the monarchies during the religious civil wars.

During this time, the doctrine of the “Divine Right of Kings” gained strength.  The Divine Right of Kings was the belief that the king or queen derived his or her authority to rule directly and only from God.  As such, he or she was not accountable for his or her actions to any earthly authority or to the people.  To be sure, the monarch or hereditary ruler was expected to abide by God’s moral law and civil laws, and he or she might also at times answer to a church that held some power. For the most part, however, he or she could only be judged by God.  Any subject’s attempt to judge the monarch was considered defiant of God’s will.  The monarchs, therefore, tended to rule absolutely—without any real limit or restriction.  The Divine Right doctrine, therefore, was deeply flawed.

Monarchs held the authority to determine and enforce the religious doctrine of the official state church in his or her kingdom and to impose this doctrine on the people.  Religious oppression and persecution resulted for those who differed in their beliefs from the official church.

Subsequently, some thinkers rose up and challenged the Divine Right of Kings, calling for not only religious but also political reform in the church and civil government.

 

high-school-activity

From AHEF and Angela E. Kamrath.

Source:  Kamrath, Angela E.  The Miracle of America:  The Influence of the Bible on the Founding History and Principles of the United States of America for a People of Every Belief.  Second Edition.  Houston, TX:  American Heritage Education Foundation, 2014, 2015.

Activity:  Miracle of America High School Teacher Course Guide, Unit 1, Part 1, Activity 3:  Causes and Effects of the Reformation, pp. 56.  HS.
This unit is available to download from the Member Resources at www.americanheritage.org.

Copyright © American Heritage Education Foundation.  All rights reserved.

Published by: The Founding

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