Life in a Theocracy


Life in a Theocracy

Today, we in the west as blessed that we do not live in a Theocracy and that we all live in a secular democracy.  Although the church on occasions does come into our lives—that is if we let it. However, secularism was not the case in Italian history up until 1870.  As a considerable sway of what is now Italy was a Theocracy, lasting for over a thousand years from 756-1870. It was named the Papal State, a state ruled by despotic Pope-Kings.  A sovereign nation whose lands were not inherited from a thankful God, no, on the contrary, it was gained by the connivance of the church hierarchy, who dabbled in fraud, counterfeit and deceit to achieve sovereignty. 

Fraud that brought the Church of Rome unimagined wealth in every form imaginable, that was not all, wealth was coming from every corner of Christendom to the church coffers in the form of tax, which is still received today.

However, my discussion is not on the wealth nor what the church today receives; it is about theocracy, the life of the people who live in a religious ruled country/state.  We are lucky that scholars of the near past who documented the life of the people and their rulers. One would think it was a blessed life, full of love and caring, but nothing could be further from the truth as it was never-ending serfdom with the lives of the people not changing for more than a thousand years.

The ISIL/ISIS caliphate, which has featured mainly in the news media since 2014 to present, which has witnessed the horrors of a religious war.  With their destruction of ancient structures and art, the beheading of western prisoners and civilians, and the executions of non-Muslim faiths, homosexuals, and musicians of western music and dance, etc.  Are very similar to what went on in Christian wars and its theocracy up until 1870, which is not that long ago, as my great-grandfather Siôn Harri (John Henry) would have been a young man at the time.  

There have been several theocracy caliphates since the 7th century, two of which have been in Europe, such as the Caliphate of Córdoba (929-1031) aka Al-Andalus (Spain).  And the Ottoman caliphate (1517-1924), which in 1453 conquered Constantinople aka Byzantium converting its magnificent cathedral Sancta Sophia (“Holy Wisdom”) aka Hagia Sophia into a Mosque, it had been the jewel in the crown of Christendom.   Constantinople is now named Istanbul. When we see countries and states rules by Religious regimes (theocracy) like we see in the Middle East including the Arabian peninsula, and the harshness that people live under it is natural to see that the whole nation could be suffering from a type of Stockholm Syndrome. 

Today these are the main Theocracies are Afghanistan, Iran, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Vatican City*, Sudan, and Yemen.

*Vatican: Though all the other discussed countries are ruled in some form by a theocratic Islamic Government, the Vatican City is the only country in the world with an absolute theocratic elective monarchy that is guided by the principles of a Christian religious school of thought. The Pope is the supreme power in the country and leads the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the Vatican government.  This is also perhaps the only monarchy in the world that is non-hereditary in nature.

Malachi B. Martin, the Irish/American Catholic scholar and Jesuit professor of at the Vatican’s Pontifical Biblical Institute, when writing about the Papal States (756-1870) and the Pope-kings wrote: the legacy of Pius VII (1800-23) was a terrible one: oppression, surveillance, a dictatorship.  Between 1823 (death of Pius VII) and 1846 (when Pius IX was elected), almost 200,000 citizens of the papal states were severely punished (death, life imprisonment, exile, galleys) for political offences; another 1.5 million were subjected to constant police surveillance and harassment.  

There was a gallows permanently in the square of every town and city and village.  Railways, meetings of more than three people, and all newspapers were forbidden. All books were censored.  A special tribunal sat permanently in each place to try, condemn, and execute the accused. All trials were conducted in Latin.  ninety-nine percent of the accused did not understand the accusations against them. Every Pope tore up the stream of petitions that came asking for Justice, for the franchise, for the reform of the police and prison system.  When revolts occurred in Bologna, in the Romagna, and elsewhere, they were put down with wholesale executions, sentences to lifelong hard labour in the state penitentiary, to exile and torture. Austrian troops were always being called in to suppress the revolts….[Malachi Martin (1981), Decline and Fall of the Roman Church, p.254, Secker & Warburg, London]

The thought of another Christian theocracy makes me cringe, as they had their chance once, and they showed that religion over more than a thousand years did not change the lives for the better of it people.  Now, in this supreme hour Pius IX, in 1869, there was no help from any secular quarter, no temporal power to turn to. All the major powers and many lesser powers of Pius’s day have decided the papacy must go.  The authoritative London Times has already written its lugubrious obit in which it will shed crocodile tears over ending of the Papal State. Its God had left—America and Europe were still critical at Pope Pius IX kidnapping of the Jewish boy Edgardo Mortara in 1858, just over a decade earlier.  The Pope-kings had shown that they did not want modernity to in any form to enter their sovereign state. The banning street lighting in 1831, stating that God very clearly established the delineation between night and day, and putting lights up after sundown flew in the face of God’s law.

What do you think, would you like to live in a theocracy, that terrorised it, own people?  The very same thing could happen in a Protestant theocracy, even worse; perhaps the theocracy was ruled by the likes of the Creationist and fundamentalist, what do you say?

For Malachi (Brendan) Martin S.J. (1921-1999)





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