The moral right to direct the conduct of others and the duty on their part of obedience. Authority is a spiritual force resting on the freedom of the will and endowed with a dignity which enables it to yield, not to superior might but to superior right.
Civil authority is the moral power of command (supported when need be by physical coercion) which the state exercises over its members.
It is natural to man to live in civil society, and for families to unite with others, so that when there is civil society there must be authority.
Civil authority originates from God since God is the author of nature which in turn requires civil authority to be set up and obeyed.
The state is established by God and did not happen by chance or compact, but is a Divine and necessary institution.
God forbids anarchy and is at the back of every state, binding men in conscience to observe the laws of the state within its competence "that every soul be subject to Higher Power for there is no power but from God and those that are ordained of God."
This principle, however, does not justify the theory of the "divine right of kings," i.e., from God come the kings, and from the kings the laws, and therefore subjects have no rights.
The theologian Suarez, as defender of the rights of the people, argues that spiritual authority is not vested in the crown, and that it is not immediately the gift of God to the king, but given by God to the people collectively and by them transmitted or confided to the ruler.
Civil authority is both natural and universal, but the distribution of authority or form of government is a human convention and is subject to change.
These forms are classified as monarchies, aristocracies, and democracies.
God fixes the principle that there must be authority everywhere, and that this authority must be obeyed under some form; but it is untrue to hold that men are bound to live under any particular form of authority, and that it cannot be subverted.
Authority rules by Divine right under whatsoever form it is established, but no one form of government is more sacred or more inviolable than another; hence when a change of government is complete the new government rules by right of accomplished fact.
There are limits, however, to civil obedience and to compliance with civil authority.
The authority of the State is absolute, i.e., full and complete in its own sphere and subordinate to no other authority within that sphere.
The state, however, is not to be obeyed as against God, neither can a state command anything and everything; thus to dictate to conscience, to interfere with man's eternal destiny, or his relation with his Maker, to formulate civil laws in conflict with the moral law, to deny the parents' right in the education of the child, and to prevent religious instruction are beyond the power of the state.
The arbitrary use of authority is called tyranny and the liberty of the subject is based on the doctrine that the state is not omnipotent.
Neither is it true to hold that man is all citizen, for besides his political interests, he has his eternal, domestic, intellectual, and artistic interests.
According to the theories of Hobbes and Rousseau, authority resiiles in and originates from the community, the state is omnipotent, though in its origin it is an artificial thing constituted by the citizens; while Hobbes holds that authority is vested permanently in the individual, Rousseau states that this authority is revocable at the will of the citizens. Hegel further developed the notion of state absolutism in which the citizen is wholly subordinated to the civil power.
The fallacies that The State is the source of all right and its rights are unlimited, and Authority is nothing else than numbers and its rights are unlimited, were condemned by Pius IX.
The theories would also embrace the fallacies that right is necessarily attached to majorities, that one man is as good as another, and that the rule of numerical majority is of universal application.
Pope Leo XIII in his Encyclical, , thus sums up the true doctrine:
Man's natural instinct moves him to live in civil society.
Authority no less than society itself is natural and therefore has God for its author.
Hence it follows that public power itself cannot be otherwise than of God.
New Catholic Dictionary