[by Dean Smith] This year marks the 800th anniversary of the signing of the English Magna Carta heralded as one of the key foundation stones of the modern liberties we enjoy in the Western world. The original charter drafted by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Stephen Langton, and signed by the unpopular King John on June 15, 1215 sought to bring peace between the monarch and a group of barons.
England was on the verge of a civil war and the Charter was essentially a peace treaty.
Referred to as The Great Charter or The Great Charter of Liberties, historians consider it the major turning point in medieval history that reduced the absolute power of the king eventually paving the way for democracy.
Though it was initially intended to give the Barons more freedom and liberty, it was quickly embraced as a document promoting freedom for all.
A report published in The Medievalist has uncovered some startling revelations about the original document. For decades it was though the Charter was largely secular, however, new evidence shows that the church not only played a key role in its drafting (the first and last line of the Charter state “the Church in England shall be free”) but just as importantly the public promotion of the Charter throughout England.
Speaking to this point, King’s College Professor of Medieval History David Carpenter said:
“We 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.”
At the signing of the Magna Carta it is believed there were at least 11 Bishops in attendance.
It was originally thought the charters were distributed to the Sheriffs. However, that has often been questioned because the Charter in many ways criticized and limited the power of the sheriffs who were lackeys of the king. They would be more apt to destroy the document than promote it or even enforce it.
By going to the Cathedrals, the Charter sidestepped the traditional power base in England. As the Charter circulated through church congregations and was spoken about from the pulpit, it became widely known and was embraced by the English people. Once it captured their hearts and minds, later kings, despite desires to rescind the charter, were powerless to do so because of the broad-based support it now had.
Carpenter described it this way:
“The church therefore was central to the production, preservation and proclamation of the Magna Carta. The cathedrals were like a beacon from which the light of the charter shone around the country, thus beginning the process by which it became central to national life.”
While the church played a critical role in developing the freedoms we enjoy today, oddly forces are now in play trying to restrict the freedoms of the church and Christians.
Throughout the Bible, God speaks about dealing with tyrants who impose unjust laws:
Woe to those who enact evil statutes
And to those who constantly record unjust decisions, (Isaiah 10:1 NASV)
God always intended people to have freedom and justice. This is one of the reasons the Apostle Paul exhorts believers to pray for those in power.
First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, 2 for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. (1 Timothy 2:1-2 NASV)
When is the last time you prayed for your government?
- Magna Carta:The Christian Connection: Barbwire