According to Catholic theologians, is every lawfully-constituted civil authority divinely-instituted like the Church (Mt. 16:18-19)?

Pope Leo XIII, in his 1881 encyclical on the origin of civil power, Diuturnum §8, says that "political power […] comes from God"; cf. Romans 13:1-5.

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    Are you referring to the concept of civil power, as such. Or are you asking about any particular power, historic or extant ? At times, evil reigns and needs to be deposed.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jun 10, 2022 at 0:02
  • @NigelJ I mean lawfully constituted civil authority.
    – Geremia
    Commented Jun 10, 2022 at 0:04
  • Given that you say, "I mean lawfully constituted civil authority", that would include atheistic authorities as well as ones that promote idolatry and persecution of Christians. The scope is so broad, also covering a sweep of 2,000 years, that even a Catholic response would require reams of quotes, to compare views of early centuries with modern ones. I hope someone has the references and time to do that!
    – Anne
    Commented Jun 10, 2022 at 16:02
  • @Anne "lawfully constituted civil authority" "would include atheistic authorities as well as ones that promote idolatry and persecution of Christians" Good point.
    – Geremia
    Commented Jun 10, 2022 at 18:15
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    I think you should elaborate on why you suspect the origin of political power (from God) amounts to society being "divinely-instituted" (and what the latter means)
    – eques
    Commented Jun 10, 2022 at 19:10

2 Answers 2


Not sure how anyone completely nullifies or sidesteps Romans 13. Yes, there will be limits. No, it's not compatible with opposing the existence of governing authorities. We'll see what the Catholic theologians say, though.

Romans 13:1-2 ESV Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. [2] Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.

  • The Noahic covenant, yeah? Commented Jun 10, 2022 at 13:13
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    Given that this question is tagged "catholicism", this answer doesn't answer the question.
    – eques
    Commented Jun 10, 2022 at 13:34
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    @eques It answers the headline question, but not the in text one, I guess. Commented Jun 10, 2022 at 19:35
  • @LukeHill The authorities in question are getting paid taxes, and are referred to as rulers. Commented Jun 10, 2022 at 20:23

God instituted the Church (spiritual power), and the spiritual power institutes the civil power.

Hugh of St. Victor (✝1141) wrote (De sacramentis, PL 176:418, quoted in Integralism ch. 5 "Temporal authority (I): its origin", § "Institution of the temporal authority"):

It belongs to the spiritual power both to institute the earthly power, so that it may exist, and to judge it if it be not good. It was itself instituted by God to be first, and if it should go wrong, it can be judged by God alone, as it is written: The spiritual judges all things, and is itself judged by none (1 Cor. 2[:15]). That the spiritual power is, in regard to its divine institution, both first in time and greater in dignity is clearly declared in the ancient people of the Old Testament, where first of all the priesthood was instituted by God, and afterwards, the royal power was ordained by the priesthood, at the command of God. For this reason, in the Church, the priestly dignity still consecrates the royal power, both sanctifying it by a blessing, and forming it by an act of instituting.

Pope Pius XI, Divini illiud magistri distinguishes three necessary societies:

  1. […] there are three necessary societies, distinct from one another and yet harmoniously combined by God, into which man is born: two, namely the family and civil society, belong to the natural order; the third, the Church, to the supernatural order.
  2. In the first place comes the family, instituted directly by God for its peculiar purpose, the generation and formation of offspring; for this reason it has priority of nature and therefore of rights over civil society. Nevertheless, the family is an imperfect society, since it has not in itself all the means for its own complete development; whereas civil society is a perfect society, having in itself all the means for its peculiar end, which is the temporal well-being of the community; and so, in this respect, that is, in view of the common good, it has preeminence over the family, which finds its own suitable temporal perfection precisely in civil society.
  3. The third society, into which man is born when through Baptism he reaches the divine life of grace, is the Church; a society of the supernatural order and of universal extent; a perfect society, because it has in itself all the means required for its own end, which is the eternal salvation of mankind; hence it is supreme in its own domain.

He doesn't say civil society is, like the family or Church, "instituted directly by God" or "supreme in its own domain". The temporal power is subjected to the spiritual power.

  • Interesting, but this would only seem to apply to civil society that is a perfect society, and/or that consecrated and sanctified by the Church. That would seem to exclude most if not all modern polities.
    – User65535
    Commented Jun 11, 2022 at 6:57
  • @User65535 Civil society is a perfect society because it has "in itself all the means for its peculiar end, which is the temporal well-being of the community".
    – Geremia
    Commented Jun 11, 2022 at 20:01
  • Israel's 1st king was a de-facto rejection of God as King. (1 Samuel 8). Saul was anointed by God, through Samuel, as a Divine condescension to hard-heartedness not divine approval. Commented Sep 25, 2023 at 11:59

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