Monday, June 15, 2015
Today, June 15, 2015, marks the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta. It is as relevant today as it was 800 years ago. Elements have found their way into longstanding Anglo-American and other law. I find, in particular, the Magna Carta’s discussion of the libertas ecclesiae pertinent. In the first substantive discussion, the Carta states:
In the first place we have granted to God, and by this our present charter confirmed for us and our heirs forever that the English Church shall be free, and shall have her rights entire, and her liberties inviolate; and we will that it be thus observed; which is apparent from this that the freedom of elections, which is reckoned most important and very essential to the English Church, we, of our pure and unconstrained will, did grant, and did by our charter confirm and did obtain the ratification of the same from our lord, Pope Innocent III, before the quarrel arose between us and our barons: and this we will observe, and our will is that it be observed in good faith by our heirs forever.
Of course there are components of this text that raise certain questions about whether the temporal sovereign himself had the authority which he was granting to others, including God. In a later context, Thomas More reminded the civil authorities of his time, particularly King Henry VIII, of the legal significance of these words from the Magna Carta. The king chose to ignore More’s counsel and the words themselves when he substituted as the law of the realm his own will-based legislation that was flawed. In the 21st century, these words of the Magna Carta have, I think, a bearing on the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. After all, the Constitution came from the same bolt of legal fabric as did the Magna Carta.
I am presently working on an essay about religious freedom and the bearing that the Declaration of Religious Freedom of the Second Vatican Council has on the important legal and civil right of religious liberty. With God’s grace, I shall have something completed by the end of the summer. The words of the Magna Carta have a bearing on how I understand religious freedom in the present age.