Spiritual Authority

Discussion of Terms

This section contains 1) Basic definitions indicating range of meaning, and 2) Extended discussion of terms as relates to a full definition of Spiritual Authority.

Basic definitions:

Discussion of terms:


We immediately see that there is more variation in the meaning of "authority" than there is of "spiritual." Spiritual connotes something that is both sacred and immaterial and is connected with that which is sacred and immaterial in humanity (the soul) and sacred and immaterial in the greatest, most abstract, most awesome being that could be imagined (God). This suggests a transcendent aspect that permeates the world. At the extremes are Spirit, in the middle is what is material, empirical, sense-able. My attempt to show this graphically is below:

> Material World <

Soul ------------------ God

Spiritual World < > Spiritual World

Thus, what is spiritual concerns that which is most abstract. It is at once the least accessible (because of the limitations of our senses), and the most accessible (because it concerns that which is most central and most eternal).


"Authority" is less easy to pin down. Yet, interesting conclusions result from careful examination of the structural options for authoritative power. There are four variant meanings to authority.

The first variant is the commander, the chief, the king. This is the one who can and does command obedience to specific directives. Obedience is exacted because of duty. A clearly directs B:

A -> B

This type of authority rarely exists. Perhaps when a person has a gun to your head; but, even then, often the one who holds the trigger is a servant of the one who owns the gun.

The second type of authority is that which is given, assigned, delegated to another. In this case, power is dependent on an outside source (i.e. X) to which both A and B are obedient. Here X is the ultimate authority which is manifested by A for B. It is important to note that B is responsive to X through A.

X -> A -> B

This same type of delegation of authority applies to when A has been given authority by X in a specific field. This field can be administrative (i.e. city transit authority) or academic (i.e. noted authority). It is still true that A is the mediary - middleman - of power for X over B.

The third type of authority is distinctive. The third type of authority lies in the realm of rules, guides and precedents. The idea here is that some pre-existing statements dictate behavior. These prior conditions direct everyone in the same way. In other words, if B has access to the same information, he would be forced to follow the same course of action. However, since B is not able to keep up with all possible rules or precedents, there are acceptable authorities (A) who remind and represent them (a good example is a police officer). In this case X operates directly on everyone, but is explicitly represented by A.


prior existing rules, guides, procedures existing over

A -> B

Any type of justification or grounds for action operate in the same manner.

Fourth and finally, authority that derives from persuasion or confidence arising from prior experience is an authority that in actuality rests on the one being commanded. In this case, B empowers A. Note carefully the next diagram:

B -> A -> B

Here B gives power to A, which is then used in turn to command B. This form of authority is a different form of delegated authority. Understand this point closely. Here is where the crux of the issue of spiritual authority in the modern world as we see in our preliminary definition of spiritual authority.

Continue to: Spiritual Authority: A Preliminary Definition.

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This page created on July 12, 1996.
Most recent revision was August 27, 1996.
Copyright © 1996 Gerardo Marti
For information regarding this site, please send email to gerardo@worldnet.att.net.

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