Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
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New York: Maynard, Merrill, and Co.
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Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
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GRACE OF GOD. The majority of the kings of modern Europe, in public acts and on their medals or coins, have given themselves the title of kings by the grace of God, Dei gratia rex. This is the exact and complete formula of legitimacy and divine right. Formerly coins bore this device, Sit nomen Domini benedictum. In these four words the Dei gratia rex already existed in germ. Indeed, what other motive could Charle-magne or Philip Augustus have for blessing the Lord except for having made them kings? The Roman emperors, before Christianity, although their power was absolute, did not pretend to hold it by the grace of God. The principle on which it rested was not divine right, it was delegation by the people to which they appealed. In the twelfth century the legists of Bologna did not yet profess a theory different from that of the Institutes: "By the law Regia according to which the empire was constituted, the people yielded all their power to the prince." From this the jurist Theophilus concluded that "the prince is not only master of our property but even of our lives," which proves that even the most senseless despotism has always found defenders.


—With Christianity appeared new ideas on the origin of power and the source of sovereignty. When Pepin was consecrated king by St. Boniface in 752, the character of royalty was changed. The king became the anointed of the Lord; an indelible sanction which came from heaven was given to his power. The person of the king was thenceforth as inviolable and sacred as that of the priest, and the prince had soon to accustom himself to place the origin of his right in the will of God. Beginning with Theodosius the Younger, the emperors of the east were anointed, their example was followed by the Visigoth and Frankish kings. But the theory of divine right which was to flow from this was formulated much later.


—Under the reign of Charles II. in England Filmer became its interpreter. The following are the principal features of the system he invented, and which was reproduced afterward with more or less modifications by writers of the theocratic party. Hereditary monarchy in the order of primogeniture is also conformable to the will of God: it is of divine institution; no opposing right can be invoked against the prince who possesses it by the grace of God; no human power can be arrayed against it. From this it follows that the monarch who holds his rights from Heaven alone, is absolute, and can not be bound to his subjects by any engagement, and that the promise which he gives simply expresses his present intention without binding him by any obligation. These absolutist doctrines were placed under the authority of the Holy Scriptures, which, however, appear to be rather opposed to them. Thus, in the Scripture God punishes the chosen people for having desired a king; and in the history of the Hebrews the order of primogeniture is far from being rigorously observed; we find that the youngest brothers are by preference the object of divine protection. Isaac was not the eldest son of Abraham, nor Jacob of Isaac, nor Judah of Jacob, nor David of Jesse, nor Solomon of David. In polygamous countries little account is generally taken of the rights of primogeniture. As to the New Testament, Filmer could have found there no example favorable to his thesis. Neither Tiberius to whom Christ enjoined men to pay tribute, nor Nero whom St. Paul commanded men to obey, were monarchs by divine right. (See Macaulay's "History of England.")


—Filmer's theory was not an isolated fact. Bossuet in France lent it the support of his eloquence and genius. This theory is found entire in these eloquent words. "To God alone belong glory, majesty, independence; he alone establishes thrones and destroys them; he gives his power to princes or withdraws it." The king, according to Bossuet, reigning by the grace of God, could not recognize an authority superior to his own, except the divine power itself, whose representative he is upon earth.


—These words, by the grace of God, taken in themselves, would seem to express merely an idea of submission and respect, a pious invocation of the divine power. In truth, everything takes place by the will of God, but it is not in this sense and with this humility that the device appears in history; it has a more ambitious and haughty meaning. It is the negation of the sovereignty of the people, it is the formula of a power "from which the people should endure everything, which can not itself be forfeited, no matter how senseless and incapable it may be, of a right which pretends to be superior to all rights, indefeasible, and which would be inviolable if all other rights were violated." (Guizot.)


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