Magna Carta: The Christian Connection

Eight hundred years ago the Great Charter was written, and we still are enjoying the benefits of it today. Simply put, this hugely significant document helped secure genuine democratic reforms, restrictions on government powers, equality and freedom under law, and other vital social goods we often take for granted today.

As Lynda Rose of Voice for Justice in the UK put it:

On 15 June 1215, with England on the brink of civil war, King John met with the barons at Runnymede and put his seal to what was in effect a peace treaty: Magna Carta. Today, that Charter has become one of the most celebrated and influential documents in history, rightly seen as the foundation for Democracy worldwide. Lord Denning described it as “…the foundation of the freedom of the individual against the arbitrary authority of the despot.”

magna 1What is not so well known is the overwhelming influence of the Christian church on this vitally important document. Australian law professor Augusto Zimmermann explains the Christian roots:

Common law means a legal system based upon the English legal system; a mixture of customary law, judge-made law and parliamentary law. At least until the early 19th century, the common law was heavily influenced by Christian philosophy. This philosophy argues that there is a divine reason for the existence of fundamental laws, and that such laws are superior to human-made legislation, thus reflecting universal and unchangeable principles by which everyone should live. This assumption was expressed, among other things, in the Magna Carta of 1215, a charter which guaranteed the basic rights and privileges to the English barons against the king. Professor Aroney explains Christianity’s ideological influence upon the Magna Carta:
From [the time of Alfred] the kings of England have traditionally recognised their submission to God. At their coronations they take an oath before the Archbishop acknowledging the Law of God as the standard of justice, and the rights of the church. They are also urged to do justice under God and to govern God’s people fairly. Magna Carta was a development of these themes.

As Zimmermann explains in another important article:

At the time of Magna Carta (1215), a royal judge called Henry de Bracton (d. 1268) wrote a massive treatise on principles of law and justice. Bracton is broadly regarded as ‘the father of the common law’, because his book De legibus et consuetudinibus Anglia is one of the most important works on the constitution of medieval England. For Bracton, the application of law implies ‘a just sanction ordering virtue and prohibiting its opposite’, which means that the state law can never depart from God’s higher laws. As Bracton explains, jurisprudence was ‘the science of the just and unjust’. And he also declared that the state is under God and the law, ‘because the law makes the king. For there is no king where will rules rather then the law.’
The Christian faith provided to the people of England a status libertatis (state of liberty) which rested on the Christian presumption that God’s law always works for the good of society. With their conversion to Christianity, the kings of England would no longer possess an arbitrary power over the life and property of individuals, changing the basic laws of the kingdom at pleasure. Rather, they were told about God’s promise in the book Isaiah, to deal with civil authorities who enact unjust laws (Isaiah 10:1). In fact, the Bible contains many passages condemning the perversion of justice by them (Prov 17:15, 24:23; Exo 23:7; Deut 16:18; Hab 1:4; Isa 60:14; Lam 3:34).

A recent piece in the English press also discusses the Christian role in the production of the Magna Carta:

Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury, played a central role in drafting the charter, which was signed by King John at Runnymede, Surrey. At least 11 other bishops were present.
A briefing note issued to members of the Synod reads: “The Church in England was central to the development of legal and human rights centuries before the French Revolution, now generally credited (along with the Enlightenment) for the secular genesis of human rights: the first parties to the charter were the bishops – led by Stephen Langton of Canterbury, who was a major drafter and mediator between the king and the barons; and its first and last clauses state that ‘the Church in England shall be free’.
“It is important that the Church’s crucial role in Magna Carta and its rights is not air-brushed out in 2015 – as was the role of Christians in the anti-slave trade celebrations.”

And recent research has even further demonstrated the Christians influence and underpinnings of this document.

New research suggests that Magna Carta may have been published predominantly by the church – rather than the Royal government of the day.
The revelations – announced as Britain prepares to commemorate the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta – shed remarkable new light on the politics behind the issuing of the charter.
The research suggests that early 13th century England’s King John was so reluctant to publicize the now world-famous document that the church had to step in to ensure that sufficient copies were made and distributed.
A new investigation into Magna Carta, carried out by scholars from the universities of East Anglia, Cambridge and King’s College London, has revealed, for the first time, that England’s bishops actually placed their own scribes inside the government’s civil service specifically to make copies of Magna Carta – so that every region of the country could have one.

The article concludes:

King’s College London’s Professor of Medieval History, David Carpenter, believes that the new revelations are “exciting discoveries”.
“We now know that three of the four surviving originals of the charter went to cathedrals – Lincoln, Salisbury and Canterbury. Probably cathedrals were the destination for the great majority of the other original charters issued in 1215,” he said.
“This overturns the old view that the charters were sent to the sheriffs in charge of the counties. That would have been fatal since the sheriffs were the very people under attack in the charter. They would have quickly consigned Magna Carta to their castle furnaces.
“The church, therefore, was central to the production, preservation and proclamation of Magna Carta. The cathedrals were like a beacon from which the light of the charter shone round the country, thus beginning the process by which it became central to national life,” said Professor Carpenter.

Last year while in England I had the privilege of seeing one of the four original copies at Salisbury Cathedral. I wrote an article about this at the time, noting the huge discrepancy between the Christian beginnings and development of England and its current anti-Christian stance. As I wrote there:

England is now an incredibly darkened and demonic place, with so much intense hatred of all things Christian. It is very difficult indeed for biblical believers to stand strong at the moment. Nonetheless, I have met many of these champions of the faith, pinpoints of light in a very black place, who are fighting the good fight.
But one after another they are being sued, harassed, bullied, pursued by the police, or taken to task legally by the secular lefties. This is really leading to full-scale persecution of true Christians. I thought things in Australia were bad, but they are even worse in the UK.
So please pray for the remnant of believers who are seeking to stand strong here. They are few and far between, but they are some of the boldest and bravest believers I have found. They know how dire things are, and they are still holding firm.

Magna Carta forever changed the world, and we still are enjoying the fruit of this overwhelmingly Christian document. But the tragedy is, the Western world is quickly renouncing its Christian past. And with it, it is renouncing freedom, democracy and rule of law.

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9 Replies to “Magna Carta: The Christian Connection”

  1. Bill, yours is the first article on Magna Carta that has made any mention of Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury and his brother bishops in the genesis of that document. All the other articles I’ve read talk about King John and the barons. Why am I not surprised?

  2. Hi Bill,

    In Henry Bracton’s treatise he wrote, “That the King should not be under man, but under God and the law.”

    Centuries later, James I (who believed in the divine right of kings) proudly said to Sir Edward Coke, “Then I am to be under the law. It is treason to affirm it.”

    To which Coke replied with Bracton’s famous quote.

    I consider Coke’s reply to be the high point of the Common Law.

    The vapid nonsense spouted by many judges these days disgraces our rich heritage.

    Nick Davies

  3. Dear Bill,

    Thank you for the informative article on the Magna Carta.

    Don’t hold your breath people because for all the MSM blather about the Magna Carta you won’t hear of the Christianity’s role in spreading it.

    I knew England was getting more and more pagan but it was just one more proof of it when I saw an episode of the Antiques Roadshow recently on TV which was filmed in the magnificent Gothic cathedral in Beverley near York in England.Needless to say the cathedral was thronged with people for that event

    Nearly two years ago I visited the coal mining village where I was born. Since my last visit nearly twenty years before I was distressed to find the lovely little Methodist chapel I used to attend when I was a child derelict and boarded up.Its garden was knee deep in weeds and grass.

    It is hard to believe that in less than one lifetime people have become so faithless. They will eventually get what they deserve.

  4. Yes we will get what we deserve, Patricia, as we see Christian churches all over the land turned into trendy residences, coffee shops, video stores.

    Meanwhile mosques are flourishing.

  5. It is good to read of the Church’s influence and role in the Magna Carta. After reading that I thought I would re-read the reports in the Dubai print media, where I am currently visiting.

    It is a bit of a mixed bag because the reports say the Pope declared the Charter as invalid shortly after it was signed by King John I. However later in the article it quotes:

    “Researches who have carried out a three-year study said it appeared that the church, rather than royal officials, was responsible for its publication and preservation….Magna Cart, signed by King John 800 years ago, laid the groundwork for the modern state, imposing the first limits on the monarch’s power. Now the true extent of the role the church played in sending its message across Britain has been uncovered by academics studying the four surviving copies of the parchments. After scrutinising the handwriting, researchers working on the University of East Anglia and King’s College London’s Magna Carta Project are convinced that the Lincoln and Salisbury charters were written by religious scribes working outside the court. This means the famous Runnymede deal was backed by England’s bishops, as much by the rebel barons whom John was hoping to appease. Scholars believe the Lincoln charter was written by a scribe working for the Bishop of Lincoln, while the Salisbury charter was done by a scribe working for the Dean and Chapter of Salisbury”.

    The one page spent on the Magna Carter unfortunately concludes with an Op-ed piece from the Guardian which doesn’t mention God or the church and concludes with this ridiculous modern sentiment: “We are free in part because we believe we are free and because we have determined that we should be free. We have Magna Carta and its history to thank for that – but history is not enough: after 800 years, we may now need a comparable feat of farsighted courage”

  6. Dear Sir:

    I very much appreciate your post on the Magna Carta: Magna Carta: The Christian Connection (June 16, 2015).

    May I reproduce it in my own blog, with full attribution and link to you?

    My blog is The Pull of the Land: A Window Into Venezuela (

    I would very much appreciate it.

    Kind regards,

    Richard M. Barnes

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