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Our Christian Heritage: The 800th Anniversary of the Magna Carta

By Angela Wittman

"A Chronicle of England - Page 226 - John Signs the Great Charter"
by James William Edmund Doyle
Source: Wikipedia

Today marks the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta and as Christians, we would be remiss to not take a few minutes and reflect upon the significance of the document and what it has meant to America, the Founding Fathers and our foundation of liberty. So, please join me as I explore more of it's history.

The Magna Carta was signed June 15, 1215 in England by King John and his barons. King John had a failed reign as it was one marked by tyranny. The website History.com tells us:
Following a revolt by the English nobility against his rule, King John puts his royal seal on the Magna Carta, or “Great Charter.” The document, essentially a peace treaty between John and his barons, guaranteed that the king would respect feudal rights and privileges, uphold the freedom of the church, and maintain the nation’s laws...

And the significance of this document was:
...Earlier kings of England had granted concessions to their feudal barons, but these charters were vaguely worded and issued voluntarily. The document drawn up for John in June 1215, however, forced the king to make specific guarantees of the rights and privileges of his barons and the freedom of the church....

The charter consisted of a preamble and 63 clauses and dealt mainly with feudal concerns that had little impact outside 13th century England. However, the document was remarkable in that it implied there were laws the king was bound to observe, thus precluding any future claim to absolutism by the English monarch...

Being the tyrant he was, it appears King John broke his agreement and civil war broke out, but the foundation for liberty in England had been laid. We're told that: "In 1225, Henry III voluntarily reissued the Magna Carta a third time, and it formally entered English statute law." and the Magna Carta was "a symbol of the sovereignty of the rule of law, it was of fundamental importance to the constitutional development of England." (Source: http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/magna-carta-sealed)

The Library of Congress tells of the influence it had upon our Founding Fathers:
Magna Carta exercised a strong influence both on the United States Constitution and on the constitutions of the various states. However, its influence was shaped by what eighteenth-century Americans believed Magna Carta to signify. Magna Carta was widely held to be the people’s reassertion of rights against an oppressive ruler, a legacy that captured American distrust of concentrated political power. In part because of this tradition, most of the state constitutions included declarations of rights intended to guarantee individual citizens a list of protections and immunities from the state government. The United States also adopted the Bill of Rights, in part, due to this political conviction.

Both the state declarations of rights and the United States Bill of Rights incorporated several guarantees that were understood at the time of their ratification to descend from rights protected by Magna Carta. Among these are freedom from unlawful searches and seizures, a right to a speedy trial, a right to a jury trial in both a criminal and a civil case, and protection from loss of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.

Many broader American constitutional principles have their roots in an eighteenth-century understanding of Magna Carta, such as the theory of representative government, the idea of a supreme law, and judicial review.

LOC.gov continues to tell us of the influence it had upon the Founding Fathers, including James Madison:

Madison's Copy of the Proposed “Bill of Rights”

Proposed Articles of Amendment to the Federal Constitution [Bill of Rights].
[James Madison’s personal copy of printed broadside]. New York: Thomas Greenleaf, September 14, 1789.
 
Page 2Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (035)
The amendments to the Constitution that Congress proposed in 1791 were strongly influenced by state declarations of rights, particularly the Virginia Declaration of Rights of 1776, which incorporated a number of the protections of the 1689 English Bill of Rights and Magna Carta. The fifth through tenth articles of the proposed amendments, which correspond to the fourth through eighth amendments to the U.S. Constitution as ratified, embody this tradition most directly, guaranteeing speedy justice, a jury trial, proportionate punishment, and due process of law.


Another resource I recommend to learn more about the impact of the Magna Carta from a Christian perspective is Dr. Peter Hammond's audio message "Blessing the Nations: Magna Carta 800" posted at Sermon Audio.com (77 minutes).

You can read the full text of the Magna Carta here.

May the good Lord keep the flame of liberty alive in His peoples hearts for the good of the nations and future generations of Christians.

May we never forget our Christian heritage and it's legacy of freedom to worship our Lord and Savior as He commands, while living our lives in peacefulness and freedom from tyranny imposed by wicked men.

In Lord Jesus' Name I pray, amen.

Comments

  1. Thank you, Angela. This is excellent and a great reminder of why our forbears fought for and won freedom on our behalf, but primarily what the Lord Jesus did to set us all free. Be blessed.

    ReplyDelete

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