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Catholic Dictionary




The right of a society to direct and compel the members to co-operate toward the attainment of the end of that society. Ultimately all authority in a society comes from God but in different ways, depending on the kind of society.

In a conventional society, founded by the free agreement of men and women who set its purpose and choose its means, God is the final source of authority, but indirectly, in the sense that he is the source of everything. He created the persons who form the society and gave them the faculties by which to direct the society.

In natural societies, such as the family and state, God is the source of authority directly and immediately. He established the natural law that requires that people organize themselves. The authority passes from God directly to the society and not through the personalities of the founders.

In theocratic societies, such as the Catholic Church, God founded a particular society by supernatural revelation. He specified its structure and determined its leaders. Here God is most directly and immediately the source of authority, not only in governing but also in teaching the faithful who belong to the society. (Etym. Latin auctoritas, source, authorship, authority, weight, might, power.)