Jacques-Benigne Bossuet's Defense of Absolute Monarchy

Jacques-BĂ©nigne Bossuet (1627-1704) was a theologian at the court of the French "Sun King" Louis XIV; Bossuet was one of history's most fervent defenders of absolute monarchy. For him, only God stands above the person of the king, and the king's authority cannot be challenged by any other human being.

According to Bossuet's treatise, "On the Nature and Properties of Royal Authority," the greatest crime is to attack the person of the king, since the king is not a mere man, but the representative of God on Earth, whose life individuals must guard above their own so as to obtain the grace of God.

Bossuet quotes biblical figures as stating that obedience to rulers is necessary so that those rulers may have the ability to exercise God's moral judgment on Earth. Though Bossuet claims that kings are responsible to God for using their power to advance the public good, he twists this argument to justify absolute authority for kings, since no man should be able to intervene with the king's ability to pass judgment on matters of good and evil and thus be accountable to God for this judgment.

Because the king is directly accountable to God, according to Bossuet, he cannot be held liable to any man for his judgment. Bossuet also compares a king to a father for his subjects, and thus grounds the belief in absolute authority in the Ten Commandments, which include obedience to one's parents. He justifies a king's immense material power as a gift from God so that the king's attention would not need (in theory) to be occupied with the pursuit of further material gains, thus able to be directed for the public purpose that he was intended to fulfill by God.

Bossuet claims, moreover, that, though the king is vulnerable to God, he is vulnerable to God alone, and that it is not moral for mortal individuals to violate any royal command, no matter how unjust, or to resist a king's rule with anything but peaceful criticisms and prayers. The king's divine purpose additionally justifies State intervention in religious matters, since enforcing God's purpose necessarily involves crushing "heathen" religions or ideologies, such as atheism, which doubt or reject God.

Though the king, in Bossuet's view, was supposed to adhere to God's laws and be bound by Christian ethical considerations, there was, in practice, no way to ensure that this would happen, since the king's earthly rule was absolute and no mortal power could serve as a check against his ambitions. Thus, Bossuet's theological defense of absolute monarchy essentially amounts to giving the monarch absolute free rein to do as he pleases.

Published by G. Stolyarov II

G. Stolyarov II is a science fiction novelist, independent essayist, poet, amateur mathematician, composer, author, and actuary.  View profile

Bossuet argues that it is not moral for mortal individuals to violate any royal command, no matter how unjust, or to resist a king's rule with anything but peaceful criticisms and prayers.