As a result of this hierarchy, creatures and things on a higher level were believed to possess more authority over lower ones. Plants, for instance, were believed to have authority over the minerals in the soil. They were superior to minerals because, unlike inert matter, they were alive and capable of growth. Consequently, they had Godís sanction to draw nutrients from the earth and grow upon it, while the minerals and soil existed to support plants. Similarly, animals--a step higher on the Chain of Being--were thought to have authority over both inanimate plants and minerals. So horses could trod on rocks and earth and eat plants. Humans in turn were believed to possess greater attributes than animals. Thus it was proper for them to rule over the rest of the natural world. Similarly, spiritual beings like angels and God had greater ability than humanity and so ruled over and controlled humanity as well as the rest of the animal and the inanimate world.
This view of the world as a well-ordered hierarchy ordained by God was (and in some cases remains) enormously influential. It informed how people understood theology, science (especially astronomy), medicine, politics, and history. It was a view with many interesting ramifications. Among these were the following:
Moral Ramifications: it is a moral imperative for each creature to know its place in the Chain of Being and fulfill its own function without trying to rise above its station or lowering itself by behavior proper to the lower links in the chain. A human who eats like a pig, or as randy as goat, has allowed the lower, animal instincts in his nature to override his awareness of God's divine will. He is guilty of fleshly or carnal sin, and he denies spiritual aspect of his nature. Likewise, a human who attempts to rise above his social rank does so through arrogance, pride, or envy of his betters. Here, the error is an intellectual or spiritual sin.
Political Ramifications: the belief in the Chain of Being meant that a monarchical government was ordained by God and inherent in the very structure of the universe. Rebellion against a king was not challenging the state; it was an act against the will of God itself, for a king was God's appointed deputy on earth, with semi-divine powers. King James I himself wrote, "The state of monarchy is the most supreme thing upon earth: for kings are not only God's Lieutenants upon earth, and sit upon God's throne, but even by God himself they are called Gods."
At the same time, however, a monarch had the moral responsibility to serve God and protect his subjects. In return for absolute power, a king was expected to rule with love, wisdom, and justice. To do otherwise was to abandon those natural qualities that make a monarch fit to rule in the first place. Misusing royal authority was a perversion of divine order just as rebellion against royal authority.
In theory, there were two classes of people: Nobles and Commoners. In practice, there are a many gradations of both classes. These gradations, or class levels, were also thought of as parts of a Great Chain of Being, which extended from God down to the lowest forms of life, through the class structure of society and even to the trees and stones of the earth.