A form of civil government in which God himself is recognized as the head. The laws of the commonwealth are the commandments of God, and they are promulgated and expounded by the accredited representatives of the invisible Deity, real or supposed-generally a priesthood. Thus in a theocracy civic duties and functions form a part of religion, implying the absorption of the State by the Church or at least the supremacy of the latter over the State.
The earliest recorded use of the term "theocracy" is found in Josephus, who apparently coins it in explaining to Gentile readers the organization of the Jewish commonwealth of his time. Contrasting this with other forms of government-monarchies, oligarchies, and republics-he adds: "Our legislator [Moses] had no regard to any of these forms, but he ordained our government to be what by a strained expression, may be termed a theocracy [theokratian], by ascribing the power and authority to God, and by persuading all the people to have a regard to him as the author of all good things" (Against Apion, book II, 16). In this connection Josephus enters into a long and rather rambling discussion of the topic, but the entire passage is instructive.
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The bearing of these passages on the historic institution of the theocracy varies in the estimation of different scholars according to the date assigned by them to the sources to which the passages belong. Wellhausen and his school, chiefly on a priori grounds, consider them a retouches of the post-exilic period, but it is far more probable that they form a part of a much older tradition, and indicate that a belief in the Lord's kingship over the Chosen People existed prior to the establishment of the earthly monarchy. At the same time, there is no sufficient warrant for assuming on the authority of these texts that the theocratic rule in Israel came to an end with the inauguration of the monarchy, as is plain from the narration of the Lord's covenant with King David and his descendants (2 Samuel 7:1-17). According to the terms of this covenant the earthly monarch remains under the control of the heavenly King, and is constituted His vicegerent and representative. And this direct dependence of the king on the Lord for wisdom and guidance is assumed throughout the historical records of the Hebrew monarchy. The supreme test of the worthiness of any king to occupy his exalted position is his fidelity to the Lord and His revealed law. The historical books, and still more the writings of the prophets, voice the constant belief that God exercised a special and efficient rule over Israel by blessings, punishments, and deliverances. In the post-exilic period the hierocratic rule became the dominant feature of the Jewish theocracy, and, in spite of its limitations and perversions, it prepared, according to the designs of a wise Providence, the way for the New Dispensation-the Kingdom of Heaven so often mentioned in the Gospels.
Publication information Written by James F. Driscoll. Transcribed by Herman F. Holbrook. Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XIV. Published 1912. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, July 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York
VIGOUROUX, Dictionnaire de la Bible, s.v.
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