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Theocracy ( ancient Greek θεοκρατία theokratía from θεός theós "God" and κρατεῖν kratein "prevail") is a form of government in which the state power alone legitimized religiously and by a (in the view of the followers of the state religion) divinely chosen person (god called to be prophet god gifted King, etc.), a priesthood (clergy) or sacred institution ( hierarchy ) is exercised on the basis of religious principles. A state based on theocracy is also referred to as a state of God , since the social norms should be of divine and not human origin. There is neither a separation of state and religion nor of secular law and religious regulations. The conception of a theocracy thus contradicts the ideal of a liberal-democratic constitutional state . If the religious legitimation of power leads to clerical rule, one speaks in political science of priestly aristocracy .

Theocracies in History

According to the Bible, the Twelve Tribes of Israel also formed in pre-state times - whether as amphictyony , is controversial - from around 1250 BC. Chr. To the kingship from Saul approximately v 1050th Chr. After the Tanach one occurring size guided by God, and particularly uniform in the defensive war. Characteristic for the Israelite theocracy of the judges' time was the lack of permanent administrative bodies and the low level of organization as well as the assignment of personal responsibility to the citizens, which was measured in particular by their bond with God. The incursions of neighboring tribes, which were frequent during this period, were viewed, as was the appointment of judges, as regulatory measures of God, which were taken depending on the general degree of connection to God. However, since almost all biblical passages about this time were written much later and were also interpreted in a strongly religious manner, this is considered by many researchers to be rather unhistorical.

The governing practice of the ancient Roman emperors was also theocratic . Following the example of Alexander the Great , and based on the ruling cults in the Hellenistic east of the empire, they allowed themselves to be worshiped as gods. The Roman imperial cult had an important role in supporting the state. The homage to the deified emperor was at the same time a commitment to the principles of the Roman Empire . Apart from the public imperial cult ( sacra publica ), religion was considered a private matter ( sacra privata ). The polytheistic gods of the Romans offered space for religious diversity and tolerance.

Jews and Christians nonetheless aroused anger when they persistently refused to recognize the emperor as God and thus, from the perspective of the Romans, also rejected the religiously legitimized state system. Christians in particular were therefore seen as a political danger and were sometimes persecuted .

Emperor Constantine I initiated a religious turn . He had the persecution of Christians stopped, issued an edict of tolerance for the Christian religion and promoted the establishment of a unified Christian church, including the persecution of heretics, even if it is still disputed today whether and when he himself was baptized. Emperor Theodosius I later elevated Christianity to the state religion of the Roman Empire and thus banned all other cults with the exception of Judaism. The once persecuted church was now endowed with far-reaching political privileges that enabled the extensive expansion of Christianity. In the Eastern Roman Empire , however, the imperial cult lived on in a modified form, in that the emperor now saw himself as a Christian priest-king ( rex sacerdos ) and even as Christ's representative on earth, which was one of the factors in the increasing conflicts with the increasingly monarchist papacy , which has been establishing itself politically since the 6th century. This already experienced its peak of power under Innocent III, who was striving for universal rule . (1198-1216).

The western emperors since Charlemagne also understood themselves - some more, some less - as theocratic. This was particularly evident in the practice of appointing and dismissing imperial bishops and abbots ( investiture ). The separation between ecclesiastical and feudal authority did not yet exist to the extent known today, the emperor was both supreme secular and ecclesiastical ruler, especially as long as the influence of the papacy in the world church was still manageable. The reference of this understanding was the anointing , which represented the ruler's bondage to God. In contemporary panegyric , comparisons with biblical kings like Solomon and David have been drawn over and over again. The so-called Ottonian-Salic imperial church system , which was established under Henry III, is seen as the perfection of theocratic practice . reached its climax, which even influenced the occupation of the Holy See . The church supported him reform movement , however, fought in the investiture controversy with Henry IV. This practice and created with the ( ecclesiastical ) legal separation of Spiritualien and temporalities a construct that the emperor only to the secular authority of Lehnsvergabe reduced. After the end of the investiture controversy, however, the imperial investiture and the conflicts with the papacy continued for a long time.

The title of the text De civitate Dei (literally: “From the civil community of God” ) by the church father Augustine , which is often incorrectly translated as “God's state”, can lead to a misinterpretation . However, this epoch-making text does not deal with theocratic amalgamation of religion and politics, but rather emphasizes the invisible but comprehensive rule of God over the entire history of the world . Augustine makes a fundamental distinction between the "community of God" ( civitas dei ) and the purely "earthly-oriented community" ( civitas terrena ). With this, Augustine already provides the theoretical basis for the later division of spiritual and secular power, which in the Christian Middle Ages is expressed through the rivalry between Pope and Emperor - in modern political systems since the Enlightenment as the organizational separation of church and state.

The so-called holy experiment in Pennsylvania from 1681 to 1756 could also be called theocracy . It was the first and only Quaker state . More on this in the article Quakers and William Penn .

Theocracies today

! Theocratic Republics Today
! Partly theocratic republics
! Republics with state religion
! Republics with special recognition of a particular religion

Since the Enlightenment, western states have strived for a separation between state and religion . Some even try explicitly to represent a laicism , which has not infrequently triggered fundamentalist counter-reactions.

Islamic Republic of Iran

An example of a theocracy today is the Islamic Republic of Iran , founded in 1979 , which claims to be a theocracy. Nonetheless, Iran's political system contains pseudo-democratic elements. According to the constitution, for example, it is possible for the council of experts, directly elected by the people, to vote out the leader . It should be remembered, however, that the candidates admitted to the election can only be mullahs with at least the religious title of Hodschatoleslam , who are suitable for political and social leadership according to Article 109 of the constitution and who have the ability to give legal opinions ( Idschtihād ). In fact, the deselection of the Fuehrer is likely to be a purely academic question, since the Fuehrer determines half of the Guardian Council and this one pre-selects the candidates for the Council of Experts.

Vatican City State

The Vatican City State is known as a theocracy because it is a clear priestly rule. As an approximation to the legal practice of modern constitutional states, the Vatican State has had a Basic Law since its foundation in 1929, which was renewed in 2000. Nevertheless, the Vatican is not immediately subsumed under the concept of theocracies, because the papal rule is justified in a pragmatic way that seems unusual for theocracies with the fact that it requires a small sovereign territorial base for the freedom of the church (especially of secular rulers). Insofar as the Vatican State is under the rule of clergy, it is more likely to be inherited from the principal dioceses of feudal times and, of course, from the Papal States ; where like this, and unlike them, he has no feudal lord over him.


The theocracy would contribute to the realization of the Kingdom of God "on earth" and enforce the theocracy as a political design image. It becomes a political religion and state ideology . The absolutist idea of divine right comes very close to a theocratic idea.

Salvation expectation teachings

For the time after Christ's second coming at the Last Judgment, Christians expect a “kingship of God” ( basileia tou theou ) under the immediate “power and glory” of the Lord Jesus Christ, which has been associated with chiliastic and millenarian ideas since the early days of Christianity .

The Jehovah's Witnesses and the Bible Students movement in general expect a concrete, this-worldly theocracy on the "cleansed earth", while the traditional Christians understand the kingdom of God as an otherworldly kingdom of heaven in the eternity of Almighty Lord God - outside of the space-time dimension.

See also


On the concept of theocracy
  • Wolfgang Hübener: The lost innocence of the theocracy . In: Jacob Taubes (Ed.): Theokratie (=  Theory of Religion and Political Theology , Vol. 3), Munich / Paderborn 1987, pp. 29–64.
  • Bernhard Lang: Theocracy . In: Handbook of Basic Concepts for Religious Studies , Vol. 5, ed. by Hubert Cancik, Burkard Gladigow and Karl-Heinz Kohl , Stuttgart 2001, pp. 178-189.
Further literature
  • Otto Plöger: Theocracy and Eschatology, Neukirchen 1959
  • Egon Boshof: The Salians . 4th, updated edition, Kohlhammer, Stuttgart [u. a.] 2000.
  • Franz-Reiner Erkens: The sacred rulers in the Middle Ages. From the beginning to the investiture dispute . Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 2006.
  • Karl Jordan: Investiture Controversy and Early Staufer Period. 1056-1197 . 10th edition, DTB, Munich 1999.
  • Kevin Phillips: American Theocracy. The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century. Viking Books, 2006, ISBN 0-670-03486-X ( review ; also available as an audio book)
  • Claus Bernet : Built Apocalypse. The Utopia of the Heavenly Jerusalem in the Early Modern Age. Zabern, Mainz 2007, ISBN 978-3-8053-3706-9 .

Web links

Wiktionary: Theocracy  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Walter Ullmann: The power of the papacy in the Middle Ages , Graz 1960, p. 24 f.
  2. See Egon Boshof: Die Salier , 4th, updated edition, Kohlhammer, Stuttgart [u. a.] 2000; Karl Jordan: Investiture Controversy and Early Staufer Period. 1056–1197 , 10th edition, DTB, Munich 1999, as well as the literature cited therein and in general all the extremely numerous literature on the investiture dispute
  3. ^ Wahied Wahdat-Hagh : The Islamic Republic of Iran. Berlin 2003, ISBN 3-8258-6781-1 , p. 259 ff.
  4. The new Basic Law of the Vatican State