Vol I No. 7

Public Authority of the Church in the Cranmerian Tradition

Joan O’Donovan
  1. Meanings & Aspects of ‘Public Authority’

In western societies, the terms ‘political authority’ and ‘public authority’ (derived directly from the Latin adjectives publica and politica and the noun authoritas) have long been used interchangeably, to refer to the moral power to rule: that is, to command obedient action from every member of society in the course of enacting justice on behalf of, and for the sake of, society. In so far as western political thought has understood enacting justice as giving binding communal judgments on past human actions, condemning them or vindicating them, and often punishing or rewarding their agents, ‘political’ or ‘public’ authority has been ‘judicial’ or ‘juridical’ (from the Latin adjectives iudicialis and iuridicialis): it has been the moral power to give law as judicial decision. With respect to political authority, then, the verb ‘to command’ means not only to demand, but also to elicit, action or inaction from the ruled; and the power to elicit issues from a combination of factors: from the evident, intrinsic justice of any command, the communal right of the agent to command, and from coercive enforcement. In contemporary secular societies, public authority in this sense attaches exclusively to civil processes of governing, and extends to society-wide bodies which

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