The 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta was on Monday, 15 June.
I was reading an article by the EA’s David Landrum and he noted that even though the anniversary was extensively covered by the news media he noted that there was a deafening silence on the Christian roots of Magna Carta amongst our secular, liberal elites. He said this represents nothing less than historical deconstruction, an attempt to re-write history to suit their own worldviews and therein shape the future.
Landrum said: Be honest: how aware are you about the Christian roots of this historic document? Who do you think wrote it? Who do you think convened the meeting when it was signed? And whose demands are stated at the beginning and at the conclusion of it? Maybe it was the barons or nobles? No. It was the Church that wrote it. More specifically, it’s highly likely that it was the Archbishop of Canterbury Stephen Langton. Once exiled by King John – the truly awful king who was forced to sign Magna Carta – Langton was a theological genius with a particular interest in what the book of Deuteronomy had to say about equality before the law, even for kings. This was pretty radical thinking for the time, but imagine how it sounded to Moses and the Israelites. To the bishops gathered at Runnymede in 1215, the signing of Magna Carta represented nothing less than the culmination of a centuries-long war between the pagan and the Christian concepts of law and power.
David posed the question whether, as we debate British values and consider a British Bill of Rights, and the possibility at some point of a written constitution, will the debates display an embarrassment about God in public life. This would be to ignore the pivotal role that the Church, across the denominations, has played in contributing to the common good in the past and it would be a squandering of this resource in the present.
The story behind Magna Carta
King John murdered those who stood in his way. He seized property and twisted the law to suit his own ends. He imposed taxes without justification and he ignored legitimate authority and law to rule as a tyrant.
In May 1215 the barons rebelled and with an army they gathered and confronted the king. John knew he could not win so at Runnymede he signed the peace treaty known as Magna Carta. It only remained in force for ten weeks but was then replaced by others which built upon that foundation (it was reissued in 1216, 1217, 1225 and 1297). Its influence has remained for 800 years.
Clauses 39 and 40 are particularly relevant to our age, the age of Guantanamo Bay detention camp and illegal renditions (state kidnap).
Clause 39: “No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land.”
Clause 40: “To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.”