Theocracy is a form of government in which a god or deity is recognized as the supreme civil ruler. For believers, theocracy is a form of government in which divine power governs an earthly human state, either in a personal incarnation or, more often, via religious institutional representatives (i.e., a church), replacing or dominating civil government. [ [ CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: Theocracy ] ] Theocratic governments enact theonomic laws.

Theocracy should be distinguished from other secular forms of government that have a state religion, or are merely influenced by theological or moral concepts, and monarchies held "By the Grace of God".

A theocracy may be monist in form, where the administrative hierarchy of the government is identical with the administrative hierarchy of the religion, or it may have two 'arms,' but with the state administrative hierarchy subordinate to the religious hierarchy.

History of the concept

The word "theocracy" originates from the Greek _gr. θεοκρατία, meaning "the rule of God". This in turn derives from the Greek words _gr. θεός ("theos", from [ an Indo-European root] occurring in religious concepts), meaning “god,” and _gr. κράτειν ("kratein"), meaning “to rule.” Thus the meaning of the word in Greek was “rule by god(s)” or human incarnation(s) of god(s).

It was first coined by Josephus Flavius in the first century AD to describe the characteristic government for Jews. Josephus argued that while the Greeks recognized three types of government: monarchy, aristocracy, and anarchy, the Jews were unique in that they had a system of government that did not fit into those categories. Josephus understood theocracy as a fourth form of government in which only God and his law is sovereign. Josephus' definition was widely accepted until the enlightenment era, when the term started to collect more universalistic and undeniably negative connotations, especially in Hegel's hands.

The first recorded English use was in 1622, with the meaning "sacerdotal government under divine inspiration" (as in Biblical Israel before the rise of kings); the meaning "priestly or religious body wielding political and civil power" is recorded from 1825.

The word has been mostly used to label certain politically unpopular societies as somehow less rational or developed. The concept is used in sociology and other social sciences, but the term is often used inaccurately, especially in popular rhetoric.

In the most common usage of the term theocracy, some civil rulers are leaders of the dominant religion (e.g., the Byzantine Emperor as patron of the head of the official Church); the government claims to rule on behalf of God or a higher power, as specified by the local religion, and divine approval of government institutions and laws. These characteristics apply also to a Caesaropapist regime. The Byzantine empire however was not theocratic since the Patriarch answered to the Emperor, not vice versa; similarly in Tudor England the crown forced the church to break away from Rome so the royal (and, especially later, parliamentary) power could assume full control of the now Anglican hierarchy and confiscate most church property and income.

Taken literally or strictly, "theocracy" means rule by God or gods (but is commonly used as the generic term). The more specific term "ecclesiocracy" denotes rule by a church or analogous religious leadership.

In a pure theocracy, the civil leader is believed to have a direct personal connection with God. For example, a prophet like Moses ruled the Israelites, and the prophet Muhammad ruled the early Muslims. Law proclaimed by the ruler is also considered a divine revelation, and hence the law of God. An ecclesiocracy, on the other hand, is a situation where the religious leaders assume a leading role in the state, but do not claim that they are instruments of divine revelation. For example, the prince-bishops of the European Middle Ages, where the bishop was also the temporal ruler. The papacy in the Papal States occupied a middle ground between theocracy and ecclesiocracy, since the pope did not claim he is a prophet who receives revelation from God, but merely the (in rare cases infallible) interpreter of already-received revelation.Religiously endorsed monarchies fall between these two poles, according to the relative strengths of the religious and political organs.

Secular governments can also coexist with a state religion or delegate some aspects of civil law to religious communities. For example, in Israel civil marriage is governed by Jewish religious institutions for Jews, by Muslim religious institutions for Muslims, and by Christian religious institutions for Christians. India similarly delegates control of marriage and some other civil matters to the religious communities, in large part as a way of accommodating its Muslim minority.

Current states with vestigial theocratic aspects


Andorra's government is in some aspect nominally theocratic in that the Bishop of Urgell is one of its co-princes, although the role is virtually entirely ceremonial.

United Kingdom

England has a minor theocratic aspect because the monarch is "Supreme Governor" of the Church of England and "defender of the faith", and is prohibited from being a Catholic. This has been the case since the Protestant Reformation in England, under Henry VIII. Henry VIII created the Church of England in part because the Papacy would not annul his marriage with Catherine of Aragon, but also due to the large amount of political power that the Vatican wielded within England. He wanted to annul the marriage because he could not produce a male heir that wasn't illegitimate. The monarch has virtually no real power, and his/her positions as head of state and church are purely ceremonial. Hence, the ruling government is not subject to any religious interference, and England is a multi-faith society. However the Bishops and archbishops of the Church of England sit in the House of Lords as Spiritual Peers, including the Archbishop of Canterbury and York. This does not apply to Scotland, whose Church of Scotland does not have the same relation to the Country, nor to Wales and Northern Ireland, which have no established church. Queen Elizabeth II, however, is a member of the Church of Scotland and appoints a representative to the General Assembly of the church if she cannot attend personally.Fact|date=May 2007


While Norway's population is relatively religious in their day-to-day lives by Scandinavian standards, they are by no means highly orthodox, and the Norwegian State retains a few vestigial religious overtones. As in many constitutional monarchies, the Head of State is also the leader of the state church. The 12th article of the Constitution of Norway requires more than half of the members of the Norwegian Council of State to be members of the state church. The second article guarantees freedom of religion, while also stating that Evangelical Lutheranism is the official state religion. [ [ The Constitution of the Kingdom of Norway] ]

On July 9, 2006, a prominent member of HEF, Jens Brun-Pedersen, called for the Prime Minister to advocate the separation of church and state. He argues that the 12th article of the constitution is discriminatory, and that Norway can't criticize countries advocating Sharia law when the constitution favors Lutheran members of society. [ "Visionary or missionary?", Jens Brun-Pedersen, "Dagbladet", July 9, 2006]

Norway is unique in the situation, that socially the policy of the state remains quite liberal - relative to other countries in Europe. Most theocratic states are much more socially conservative than Norway .


There is a significant amount of intertwining of Jewish law (Halakha) and civil law, particularly with regards to the enforcement of Orthodox Jewish weddings for Jewish citizens, rather than allowing freedom to have a civil marriage (although these sorts of laws are being fought and revoked on a constant basis). Another promoted institution is that of the 'yeshiva'- an Orthodox Jewish seminary, often funded to a large extent by the state.

Historical theocracies

The largest and best known theocracies in history were the Umayyad and early Abassid Caliphate, and the Papal States. And as with any other state or empire, pragmatism was part of the politics of these "de jure" theocracies.


An example often given from Antiquity is Pharaonic Egypt when the king was a divine or semi-divine figure who ruled largely through priests. Properly speaking this was originally a caesaropapist order, rather than a theocratic one, since the worldly rulers took charge of religion, rather than vice versa, but once the Pharaoh (since Ramses the Great) was recognized as a living (incarnated) god both definitions concurred.Fact|date=January 2008

In ancient Greece and Rome denying the gods of the state was a crime. In ancient Rome, the emperors were often deified.Fact|date=January 2008

Historical Christian theocracies

Protestant theocracies

Geneva, during the period of John Calvin's greatest influence and the Massachusetts Bay Colony of the "Puritans" had many characteristics of Protestant theocracies.


During the short reign (1494-1498) of Girolamo Savonarola, a Dominican Priest, the city of Florence could have been considered a theocracy. During his rule, un-Christian books, statues, poetry, and other items were burned (in the Bonfire of the Vanities), sodomy was made a capital offense, and other Christian practices became law.


Another ecclesiocracy was the administration of the short-lived State of Deseret, an independent entity briefly organized in the American West by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Its original borders stretched from western Colorado to the southern California coast. When the Mormons arrived in the valley of the Great Salt Lake in 1847, the Great Basin was still a part of Mexico and had no secular government. As a result, Brigham Young administered the region both spiritually and temporally through the highly organized and centralized Melchizedek Priesthood. This original organization was based upon a concept called theodemocracy, a governmental system combining Biblical theocracy with mid-19th-century American political ideals, including heavy reliance upon the U.S. Constitution. The treaty of Guadalupe Hildalgo resulted in the Mexican Cession by which Deseret was incorporated into the United States. In 1849, the Saints organized a secular government in Utah, although many ecclesiatical leaders maintained their positions of secular power. The Mormons also petitioned Congress to have Deseret admitted into the Union as a state. However, under the Compromise of 1850, Utah Territory was created and Brigham Young was appointed governor. In this situation, Young still stood as head of the LDS Church as well as Utah's secular government.

After the abortive Utah War of 1857/58, the replacement of Young by an outside Federal Territorial Governor, the eventual resolution of controversies regarding plural marriage, and accession by Utah to statehood, the apparent temporal aspects of LDS theodemocracy receded markedly. However — like many Christians, Jewish People, and Muslims — Latter-day Saints regard some form of theocracy with God as the head (king) of a chiliastic world government to be the true political ideal. But, until the Second Coming of Christ, the Mormons teach in their 12th Article of Faith: submission to the powers that be. But true to their beliefs in individual liberty and moral accountability, they exhibit a strong preference for democratic-republican, representative government as embodied in the Constitution of the United States. "See also" Theodemocracy.


Montenegro offers a singular example of monarchs willingly turning their power to ecclesiastic authority (Serbian Orthodox), as the last of the House of Crnojević (styled Grand Voivode, not sovereign princes) did, in order to preserve national unity before the Ottoman onslaught as a separate millet under an autochthonous Ethnarch. When Montenegro re-established secular dynastic succession by the proclamation of princedom in 1851, it did so in favor of the last Prince-bishop, who changed his style from "Vladika i upravitelj Crne Gore i Brde" "Vladika [bishop] and Ruler of Montenegro and Brda" to Po "Bozjoj milosti knjaz i gospodar Crne Gore i Brde" "By the grace of God Prince and Sovereign of Montenegro and Brda," thus rendering his "de facto" dynasty (the Petrović-Njegoš family since 1696) a hereditary one.

Republic of Ireland

It has frequently been arguedwho that in the early years of the Irish state, the Roman Catholic hierarchy, in particular John Charles McQuaid (Archbishop of Dublin 1940-72), held power comparable to elected officials. For example, Health Minister Noel Browne was forced to resign in 1950, partly because of McQuaid's opposition to the Mother and Child Scheme. Also, many things forbidden by Catholic doctrine - condoms, abortion, divorce - were also illegal in Ireland up to the 1980s and 1990s. The Constitution of Ireland, enacted in 1937, originally recognised the Catholic Church as having a special status, and to this day it retains some religious elements: for example, its opening words are "In the name of the Most Holy Trinity...".

Province of Quebec (Canada)

The province of Quebec was considered a main Catholic stronghold of the world from its foundation up to 1960, the Quiet RevolutionFact|date=June 2008. The ecclesiastical regime which ruled Quebec from the 1930s to the early 1960s is mostly associated with the highly controversial premier Maurice Duplessis. During that time, the line separating the civil, political authorities and the Catholic Church was all but obliterated.

Historical Sikh theocracies

ikh Confederacy

Sikh Confederacy was a collection of small to medium sized independent sovereign, Sikh states, which were governed by barons or sardars, in the Confederacy. There was not much political movement in the Confederacy but all the barons were very strongly linked with the principles established by Guru Gobind Singh, the founder Chief of the Khalsa Army. The nation lasted for span of a century and a quarter. The first 50 years, the nation was governed by the barons meeting together once a year in a all faith-wide meeting called Sarbat Khalsa in which not just them the respective barons of the states were allowed but anybody was allowed to participate into. Even today, the tradition lives on as once in a while Sarbat Khalsa are called and people in large gatherings come to join them.

Historical Islamic theocracies

In Islam, the period when Medina was ruled by the Islamic prophet Muhammad is, occasionally, classed as a theocracy. By 630, Muhammad established a theocracy in Mecca. Other plausible examples of Islamic theocracy might be Mahdist Sudan and the Taliban state in Afghanistan (1996-2001). Most irregular was the non-permanent rule of the Akhoonds (imams) in the later princely state of Swat, a valley in (first British India's, later Pakistan's) North-West Frontier Province. Theocratic movements arose in the Arab world in the 1970s.

Historical Buddhist theocracies

The period when Dalai Lamas ruled Tibet, especially before certain twentieth century reforms, has also been deemed a Lamaist (Buddhist) theocracy until his government was forced into exile by the People's Republic of China which annexed the region [ [ Friendly Fuedalism - The Tibet Myth ] ] .
Mongolia also had a theocratic Lama before the Soviets installed a satellite communist state, but there since the start in 1639Clarifyme|date=March 2008, when the son of the Mongol Khan of Urga was named a Living Buddha (Bogdo gegeen), the dynasty espoused theocracy and secular aristocracyFact|date=January 2008.


Japan was a nominal theocracy until it was defeated in World War II when Emperor Hirohito was forced to deny in the nihongo|"Ningen-sengen"|人間宣言 the claim that the Emperor of Japan was divine. Formerly, the Meiji constitution of Japan stated that Emperor was sacred, but a claim of personal divinity was only made by the Showa emperor. The claim that the imperial family are descendants of Amaterasu (天照) (the sun goddess) has not been denied officially. During this period, although the Emperor had some influence, Japan was a constitutional democracy ultimately dominated by the military.

In popular culture

*In the animated series "", the fictional nation known as the Air Nomads was ruled by a theocratic establishment.

*In the world of "Warhammer 40,000", the Imperium follows the system of theocracy by obeying 'The Immortal God-Emperor of Mankind'.

*The Covenant in " Halo" is a theocratic hegemony.

* The Yuuzhan Vong species in "Star Wars" are ruled by a warlike theocracy.

*In Phillip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" series, the universe to which the main character belonged was ruled by a theocracy known as the Magisterium.

*In 'The Handmaid's Tale', The Republic of Gilead, where the narrator lives, is a devout Christian theocracy.

* One of the major groups of antagonists in Neal Asher's The Line of Polity are a theocracy, usually referred to simply as "the Theocracy".

* The moon Hela in Alastair Reynolds's Absolution Gap is run by a theocracy.

* The Ori from the sci-fi TV series Stargate SG-1 are a direct theocracy.

ee also

*Establishment of religion
*Islamic republic
*List of forms of government
*Religious left
*Christian left
*Christian right
*Religious right
*Unification Church


Further reading

*cite book|last= Ankerl |first= Guy |title= Global communication without universal civilization |year= 2000 |series= INU societal research, vol. 1: Coexisting contemporary civilizations: Arabo-Muslim, Bharati, Chinese, and Western |publisher= INU Press |location= Geneva |isbn= 2-88155-004-5

External links

* [ EtymologyOnLine]
* [ Is Judaism a Theocracy?]
* [ First Things, August/September 2006, p. 23-30] - Theocracy, Theocracy, Theocracy
* [ Caliphate: The Future of Islamic Theocracy]
* [ Freedom of Religion in Israel]
* [ History and development of Watchtower Society.] Bible based teachings that Kingdom of God will restore Theocracy to the Earth.

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