2002, Birmingham, UK
Despite the modern secularity, political and social order and cultural values of the Western civilisation are undoubtedly Christian in their origins. We cannot ignore the obvious fact that the Christian conceptions have influenced European and then American nations in all general aspects of life. It should be true, if we will underline that Western civilisation is still culturally Christian in spite of contemporary weakness and unpopularity of the Christian faith and doctrines.
If we shall consciously go back into the history of Europe, we should see the remarkable interaction between the Christian religious and secular political worldviews. The historical bilateral influence of the religion and the politics became a strong basis of the further development of the both religious and political institutions, of the church and the state. We can observe various political terms in the Christian doctrines as well as many religious issues and terms in the political conception throughout the Christian history. David Nicholls justly claims that “the interaction between religious and political discourse – a mutual borrowing of concepts and images – with sometimes the divine and sometimes the political playing the more constructive or dynamic role.”
We could not imagine the development of the modern world, not only of the Christian world, without the substantial interrelation between the religion and politics, and more than it, we are still witnessing the growing religious influence into the political ideology, where the fundamentalist religious thoughts and aggressive ‘messianism’ overwhelm social and political conceptions.
How did the political and religious concepts interrelate in historical perspective? It seems to me that unilateral viewpoints will not provide us with right arguments, and a contrary bilateral and integral approach should paint a clearer picture. Secondly, we have to recognise the evident fact of the historical two-sided interaction between the political and religious linguistic terminology and concepts. “Much of the language used about God in the history of religion (Christian and non-Christian) has, in fact, been political in its primary reference.”
In the Christian history we can find interesting political-religious syncretism, when some theological doctrines are the reflection of the political models, and the political ideology frequently utilises distinct theological matters, so “God’s relationship to the universe has often been viewed as a model for the government’s relationship to its people.” So, as God the creator governs the universe, so the monarch or the government governs the state, as God is the source of the universal right order of the whole world, so the earthly sovereignty provides the right order in its dominion. “God is the supreme governor of mankind, or supreme governor of the world, whose wisdom and goodness are shown in ordaining and establishing a magistracy and government in the world,” outlined Israel Evans in his “A Sermon Delivered at Concord”(1791), and in his words we find the obvious resemblance of divine and earthly political imaginative forms. This likeness is more solid in the Medieval Christian history, which links with the biblical views of the Kingship, both divine and earthly. The Bible, first of all, and other related religious narratives are the sources of the establishment and further development of the Medieval and later political ideology, concretely the passages and concepts concerning the ‘messiah’ and ‘messianism.’ But it must be outlined that the Bible and the related literature have been strongly influenced by the political concepts of the contemporary local and surrounding civilisations. In this matter Leonard Hodgson’s words are significant: “Whether the political experience of the Jews in exile did not influence their theological development more than is commonly recognised.” The human political and social terms and images (king, father, shepherd, etc.) have been boldly utilised in the Bible and other related religious literature concerning the divine characteristics and providence. But this experience is not originally biblical and it goes back to the earlier epoch of the ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian worldviews. This issue should be underlined because of the close historical contacts between the Judeo-Christian world and the above-mentioned civilisations in political and religious issues. We can easily discover the Bible related political imaginative forms in the theological doctrines of these civilisations, where the earthly rulers and kings have been considered as limited manifestations of the supreme deities. But both divine and earthly sovereigns even utilised identical monarchical titles, as John Bainess outlined “The powerful anchoring of rulership in a particular society’s cosmic mission is common to Egypt and to many Near Eastern and other politics, and can pay scant regard to the realities of the political landscape; Egypt is one of the cases where state, civilisation, and cosmos were most nearly co-extensive.” Some scholars believe that the political passages concerning the messianic conceptions entered the Bible from the oriental mythology and political ideology. Eduard Meyer pointed out that “the notion of primeval kingship and the production of dynastic oracles were both clearly attested in Egypt at an early date.”
This sort of integration of the religious and political conceptions characterises the whole history of human civilisation. The Bible and other Judeo-Christian literature are classical examples of the political and divine conceptual interrelations that provide us with multicoloured material concerning the issues of the earthly and divine rulership. So, the biblical conceptions of the rulership have been influenced by the contemporary monarchical ideology, “the essential source for messianism was the royal ideology of the early monarchical period.” But the Bible, mainly its monarchical literature, from its own side became a source of the political ideology in Christian history.
The conceptualisation of the political sovereignty – the monarchy and the government – in Christian history lies in the biblical understanding of the rulership: “The Old Testament description of the king as ‘the Lord’s Anointed’ meshiah YHWH (1 Sam. 24:6 ‘the anointed of the God of Israel;’ 2 Sam. 23:2. and ‘his anointed,’ 1 Sam. 2:10; Ps. 2:2, etc.) reflecting the importance of anointing in Israelite and Judean coronations (2 Sam. 2:4,5. 3; 1 Kings 1:35,45; 2 Kings 9:3,6, 11. 12; 23:30), and the abbreviated description referred to a divinely – approved ruler.”
The king of Israel David was “the anointed of God of Jacob,” and, according to the later eschatological tradition of the Bible, son or the branch of David will restore the Kingdom of Israel. This sort of ‘messianic’ expectation took place in exilic and post-exilic periods of Jewish history, when the word meshiah was associated with the future king.
In the New Testament Jesus of Nazareth was claimed to be the messiah, the anointed one from the branch of David. “We have found the Mes-si-as, which is, being interpreted, the Christ,” who proclaimed the mystical kingdom of God and rejected the kingship on the earth, but who was “crucified by the Romans for claiming to be some kind of ‘king.’ Jesus of Nazareth, son of God, and God’s anointed one of the Davidic branch, is ascribed in monarchical terms in the New Testament. His titles: Son of man, Christ, Lord, Son of God, High priest, Son of David and Saviour are messianic in origin and immediately connected with the political sovereignty, either divine or earthly. So, the messianic in Jewish and Christian traditions was always associated with the political conceptions of kingship, and the Bible recognises the earthly political power as something permitted by God. “Ideologies such as the divine right of kings and more generally the presumed duty of Christians to honour kings and governors (1 Peter 2:13-14) and to regard the powers that be as ‘ordained by God’ (Romans 13:1) – and therefore to be obeyed in all things – have played a significant role in…” political history of the Christian world.
The messianic-monarchical passages of the Bible built a strong basis for the legitimating of the political sovereignty in the Christian world, through which “God was seen increasingly as the governor of the universe…the king must be seen as operating within a system, playing an important part” in the earthly political issues. As Joseph Butler outlined: “Civil Government is that part of God’s government over the world,” and the earthly sovereigns seemed to be God’s legates or assistants that were providing divine policy in their dominions. “Religions are frequently manipulated by governments to strengthen their power, at both institutional and ideological levels,” said David Nicholls. His point of view should be bolstered with the factual materials of the Christian history, where we can often see how the Christian concepts have been used to legitimise the political power.
The royal dynasty of Bagratids reigned in Georgia more than a thousand (8-19 centuries) years and they claimed themselves to be the descendants of the biblical king David, and they utilised the unofficial title “Sword of Messiah.” This Medieval legend was invested to legitimise their political power over the Kingdom of Georgia as divinely ordained rulers and the Christian church actively supported their monarchical rights. “Monarch, you who are called the son of the divinely anointed prophet David, may Christ confirm you in the inheritance of David’s kingdom and virtues. May the rule of your children and their seed never be removed from this land for all time, and be glorified forever,” said St. Gregory of Khanzta to the King in the early 9th century. This significant passage from the Georgian historical narrative highlights how the biblical messianic conception was associated with the political ideology and has been employed for the legitimating of the political power. In Christian history political power was thought to have been established by the divine providence to fulfil God’s will and to protect His creation and right order. The Medieval English historical narrative – Norman Anonymous (1080-1104) – provides us with the significant material: “By divine authority and the institution of the holy fathers kings are consecrated in God’s Church… and are anointed with holy oil and sacred benediction to exercise the ruling power over Christians, the Lord’s people, ‘a chosen generation, an holy nation, a peculiar people’.” According to this document, the monarch receives God’s permission to rule God’s nation and even more: “thus they reign over the Church, which is the kingdom of God; they reign together with Christ in order to rule, protect and defend her. For to reign is to rule one’s subjects well and to serve God in fear.” So, the king reigns together with Christ and he (or she) is anointed with the holy oil as was the king David of Israel “to setting up a human king to be God’s image on earth,” and “no one receives greater or better blessings or is consecrated and dedicated to God with greater or higher sacrament, not even with the same or like sacraments, and in this respect the king is unique.”
The divine legitimation of the political power became actual in the Byzantine Empire in the 7th century and the emperor Heraclius I (610-641) inaugurated the use of a new monarchical title “King faithful in Christ God.” John Meyendorff has commented upon this titular innovation and outlined that “Basileus was a biblical and messianic term: in the New Testament, Christ is the true and unique basileus, or king, so that the emperor being ‘faithful’ was now associated himself to Christ’s royal ministry.”
During the whole medieval period of Christian history it was strongly believed that “the divine source of all legitimate power must never be forgotten.” Messianic political ideology was highly accepted in the later period (17-19 centuries) of Christian history, although with insignificant terminological alternations – democratisation of the language – provided by the new political orders in Western Europe and North America. Political ideologist of the 17-19 centuries such as Richard Price, Isaac Watts, Joseph Priestly, William Paley, Joseph Butler, Isaac Newton, Samuel Clark, etc., frequently justified the civil governments with the divine will and law, as John Tucker claimed in his “An Election Sermon:” (1771) “Civil government is founded in the nature of man, and in the constitution of things, which are from God” and “Who is the head of the system, and supreme governor.” And again in resemblance to the Feudal system, government of the new political and economical system has received a special divine support and legislation. “God rules according to general laws, which derive ‘the constitution of the universe;’ in a similar manner, earthly rule should be characterised by the same predictability and rationality.”
This theopolitical view drives us to the conception that earthly political power should imitate divine experience of the universal governor, and if God is the ‘father’ of the whole world, so the king or the president, or the prime minister should be a ‘pater patriae.’ The imitation of the divine manner of the kingship-rulership was a considerable feature of the political conceptions in Christian history. “King should imitate the great King and Sovereign of the Universe,” remarked Samuel Clark.
It is evident fact that political sovereigns usually imitated Christ’s messianic characteristics as the earthly reflections of divine righteousness and conscientiousness in Christian history. So, the main aim of the prudent ruler is to protect and solicitude its nation in benevolence in the way God does. The kingship of David as the ideal model of the providentially appointed ruler of God’s nation has had a strong affect in the medieval political conceptions. Monarchs received highly respected messianic characteristics as pious defenders of the Christian faith and Christian nation, and “the numerous comparison – explicit and implicit – between the biblical kings David and Solomon, and the monarchs build up a picture of a race and kingdom especially blessed by God, and having a peculiar relationship with Him.”
Royalism was boldly connected with the messianic conceptions of the Christian theology in the Medieval Christendom. The king was recognised as shadow and reflection of Christ. “Noble king, you are lord of the earth, but Christ is Lord of the heavens, the earth and the underworld; you are lord of this nation, but Christ is Lord of all men that are born; you are king of this transitory time, but Christ is King eternal,” said St. Gregory of Khanzta to the king Bagrat of Georgia in 9th century. In Medieval France Valois royal dynasty was compared with biblical king David to ensure that French kings “will always be ideal kings,” and monarchs were associated with Christ. “Small wonder, therefore, that the comparison even becomes that with Christ and political theorisers had encouraged an appreciation of the Messianic character and eschatological function of the Valois monarchy.”
This sort of ideological comparison between the kingship of Christ and earthly monarch is a significant feature of the Christian history. William Horbury has emphasised special connections between the Christ and the cult of ruler in the ancient Near east and underlined trustworthy parallels, where the Christ’s title lord (Greek Kyrios) has particular significance, because “it is perhaps more likely that Kyrios too is royal title and Kyrios was already a title applied to the messiah.” In Christian history too we can emphasis the equal royal titles (lord, king, sovereign, etc.) for Christ and ruler that shows evident theoretical resemblance between the divine and earthly kingships and highlights the ideological aspiration of Christian sovereigns to be in the likeness of Christ. Herewith, political ideology actually employed the imitation matter for the sake of monarchy, so “the king should reign together with Christ… and the Lord Christ reigns jointly with him; Christ is the natural lord, and because kings reign together with Christ, one and they both, at one and the same time, bestow the privileges and carry out the measures pertaining to his kingdom.” King James I of England had imitated Christ’s characteristics when he told Parliament: “I am the husband, and all the whole isle is my lawful wife, I am the head and it is my body; I am the shepherd and it is my flock.”
In terms of political and messianic interrelations this conception drives us to the next considerable issue – expectation. Through the Christian history we can find remarkable parallels between the divine messianic and earthly political-messianic expectations, when political sovereignty attempts to fulfil goals and mission of divine character. The messianic motives were quite popular in the Jewish world of the second temple period, and they always were associated with the expectation of the future Davidic king, who will restore a powerful kingdom and who will establish righteousness and peace with God’s support. But Jesus, who was claimed in the New Testament to be Messiah-Christ, rejected earthly kingship or any kind of secular power. In Jewish expectations “the Messiah was to be a political king, but “Jesus’ kingship is in any case of a completely different quality. It has nothing to do with the kingdoms of this world.” Despite this, in the Roman and Jewish political circles of Palestine he was associated with the Davidic king and was charged in political aspirations. Even later at the time of the emperor Domitian (81-96) descendants of David have been persecuted as possible messianic pretendents, and two grand-nephews of Jesus were questioned concerning the messianic kingship of Jesus, but they responded that “it was not a temporal nor an earthly kingdom… that it would be appear at the end of the world, when coming in glory he would judge the quick and dead, and give to everyone according to his works.” According to same Eusebius after the capture of Jerusalem Vespasian (69-79) “commanded all of the family of David to be sought, that no one might be left among Jews who was of royal stock.”
Despite of unexpected rejection of earthly political power, Jesus’ “teaching became God’s action in history,” and He was “spiritual” messiah, deliverer, and saviour, “the messiah who seems often to be envisaged as an embodied spirit.” Jesus’ doctrines of “Kingdom values” such as justice, freedom, peace and truth became a foundation of the later ideal kingship in Christian history. So, the Kingdom of God strongly affected royal ideology of the Christendom, and Christ’s messianic attributes concerning the future expectation were imposed into the earthly rulers. In terms of expectation, messianic and political are dramatically connected and Christian kings or governments adopted Christ’s mission to establish justice, freedom, peace and truth in their dominions. Christ – “the Spiritual King” – became a model to “His image, the earthly monarch, the friend of God, whose rule is modelled after the heavenly pattern and through whom God realises His plan for history,” and the Christian ruler that unifies two messianic images of Christ and David should save the state and the nation from evil, corruption, and dissolution, and should renew them “from within by overcoming the godless powers.” So, political powers “realised messianic eschatology” of Christ, and the interpretation of Jesus’ teaching together with the doctrines of Christian theology and biblical traditions, mixed with contemporary political, social and cultural contexts formed the original political ideology of the Christendom that is messianic in its roots. The royal doctrine in Elizabethan England provides us with a remarkable pattern. “Queen’s highness is the only supreme governor of this realm, and of all other her highness’s dominions and countries, as well in all spiritual or temporal… and I do promise that I shall bear faith… So help me God.”
The messianic expectations are well accepted in the politics of the 20-21 centuries too in spite of the secular character of the modern political ideology. The context and language are different from that of the Medieval, but the amazing links between the Christian messianism and “realised political eschatology” are on face. “The civilised world faces unprecedented dangers,” because some countries “constitute an axis of evil, to threaten the peace of the world”… “I will not wait on events, while dangers gather,” said the President of the United States of America, George Bush, and continued, “I will not stand by, as peril draws closer and close… I know we can overcome evil with greater good… to lead the world toward the values that will bring lasting peace… evil is real, and it must be opposed. God is near… and we will see freedom’s victory. May God bless.”
David Nicholls convincingly outlined that “images and concepts of God have been related to political rhetoric at specific periods of history and in particular cultural context,” and “a significant link between representations of God and of the State, with respect to the predominant images and concepts employed in particular contexts.” We cannot reject that “the heart of Jesus’ teaching about the kingdom is not merely a call to decision in the abstract, but a call to act in certain ways which correspond to the nature of God’s kingly rule. It is call to do God’s revealed will on earth as it is done in heaven.”
Actually it is an evident fact that Christian messianic conceptions have been solidly utilised to support the political powers, as well as “ecclesiastics have been known to exploit political power to forward their peculiar interests.” The political doctrines have exploited messianic imaginative forms and conceptions, as I have outlined in this essay in three main issues: legitimation, imitation, and expectation, and we can speak about some kind of “sacralisation of the politics” that has inhomogeneous historical consequences and sometimes these varied religious-political interactions have became a source of totalitarianism and tyranny, but sometimes in contrary it was an ideological support for positive social and political transformations.
At the end we can outline that the messianic conceptions have been strongly influenced into the political doctrines in Christian history and still they are considerable in modern politics of the post-Christian civilisation.