Eight hundred years ago, a 3000-word document was signed that became a foundation for the freedoms we still enjoy today. It is a document which, in fact, loudly echoes in the 856-word Canberra Declaration.
This is the Magna Carta which is Latin for the Great Charter. It was signed 800 years ago on 15 June 1215 by
King John I of England in a meadow at a place called Runnymede. It was the result of tense negotiations with the King and his discontented barons and bishops. Little did they know that this document, handwritten in medieval Latin on untanned animal skin, would become the cornerstone of English common law. Today the Magna Carta is widely regarded as the greatest constitutional document of all times and the foundation of the international rule of law.
The 800th anniversary of Magna Carta was celebrated in Australia and around the world last week on Monday, 15 June 2015. Today, as part of the on-going Australian Celebrations of Magna Carta in 2015, Prime Minister Tony Abbott will deliver a speech on the Magna Carta at the British High Commission in Canberra.
Not so well known, and often down-played in these celebrations, is the importantrole of the Church at its inception. Quoting the Magna Carta, it was Stephen Langton, “the Archbishop of Canterbury, primate of all England and cardinal of the holy Roman Church” who was the major drafter of the Magna Carta. He also was the mediator between the King and his barons.
The Magna Carta begins “John, by the grace of God King of England”. The preamble then declares the purpose of the Magna Carta. In modern English this reads, “KNOW THAT BEFORE GOD, for the health of our soul and those of our ancestors and heirs, to the honour of God, the exaltation of the holy Church, and the better ordering of our kingdom…”.
It is not an accident that the first and last of the 63 clauses state that “the English Church shall be free”. In other words, it was religious freedom, which flows from the Judeo-Christian belief system, that provided the framework for the rights, liberties and freedoms in all the other clauses. When negotiations came to an end, the barons bound King John by oaths, before God and the assembled bishops, to uphold the Magna Carta in perpetuity.
The London Times just recently stated that the historians of the Arts and Humanities Research Council in the UK have credited the Church with Magna Carta’s impact.
“the church was central to the production, preservation and proclamation of Magna Carta“.
Reissued by King Edward I with modifications in 1297, Australia has one of the four surviving copies of this version.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott referred to this in his address on the 800th anniversary at Magna Carta Place near Old Parliament House in Canberra. He shared how Australia’s longest serving prime minister, Robert Menzies, allocated £12,500, regarded as a huge sum in 1951, to buy a copy of the Magna Carta from a British school.
It is on display in the public area of the Senate side of the Parliament House in Canberra. How Australia came to make such an extraordinary purchase is told in a booklet issued by the Australian Senate.
The Magna Carta has been, and remains, fundamental to Australia since 1788 and in the drafting of the 1901 Australian Constitution. This was clearly acknowledged during our bicentennial year when Queen Elizabeth brought one of the four surviving original 1215 copies of the Magna Carta to Australia. She handed over the priceless document when she opened World Expo 88 in Brisbane on 30 April 1988. There it went on display for six months in the Magna Carta Exhibit and was seen by millions.
The many celebrations in Australia and around the world are powerful reminders that the Magna Carta is still relevant today. Virtually every opponent of despotism and tyranny in the English-speaking world has drawn inspiration from the Magna Carta, which declares “To no one will we sell, to no one will we deny or delay, right or justice”. Even in everyday life in Australia we can refer to the Magna Carta whenever our religious freedoms and way of life are threatened.
give thanks to God for the precious Judeo-Christian heritage of the Magna Carta and its impact on Western civilisation.
pray that God will continue to use the Magna Carta and the Canberra Declaration to help shape Australia.
Our precious freedoms give us much to celebrate!
Yours for protecting our long-established freedoms,
David Rowsome and Warwick Marsh
PS We have an urgent request to pray for Michelle Abetz, the wife of Senator Eric Abetz. Michelle was recently diagnosed with terminal cancer. We see this as an outright attack by the forces of darkness on her and therefore Senator Eric Abetz and their three beautiful children. We also see it as an attack against the nation of Australia.
Senator the Hon Eric Abetz is without doubt one of the most outspoken Christians in the Federal Parliament. As Leader of the Government in the Senate he has a strategic role to play at this critical time in our nation’s history. Your prayers are needed for such a time as this.