Happy Magna Carta Day!
Today, June 15th, is the 807th anniversary of the sealing of the Magna Carta. It was a document which enshrined the doctrine "Lex facit regem," law makes the ruler, and the ruler is the servant of the law. The rule of law, of course, is an idea which depends on the premise that there are eternal laws, universal principles, inscribed in nature, which can be discerned by the wise.
The first freedom the Magna Carta articulates, the one which the American founders emulated in a more abstract, and thus less Catholic way: namely the freedom of the Church.
The Magna Carta is worth celebrating today especially because it recognizes not just “religion” but true religion as an essential “makeweight” for political order— as the old left radical Sheldon Wolin once put it, a “makeweight” against a whole host of tyrannies that may arise in a variety of different regimes.
It also seems worth celebrating because the document not only recognizes state sovereignty, but also the responsibilities the state has with respect to the common good of families, guilds, and other social and political unions that help secure natural goods.
In this way, Magna Carta reminds us of a proper hierarchy in which everyone’s personal good, and everyone’s communal goods, are all connected by both the metaphysical primacy of the common good, and also to a universal recognition of true religion as essential to the freedom of every part of the whole.
Mostly, the Magna Carta should remind us that “checks and balances”and “rule of law” aren’t liberal but pre-liberal, indeed ancient — and it should remind us that “religious liberty” concerned not an abstract “religion,” but an incarnate one. Even still, we are still living off the fruits of Christian wisdom on just these essential questions of order.
In honor of that, I'll just post here the first and last clauses that the Magna Carta enumerates, namely the priority of God and the freedom of the Church. Any future postliberal political form which is to have any hope of advancing human flourishing must drink deeply from this pre-liberal well of “rightly-ordered Liberty.”
"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. We have also granted to all freemen of our kingdom, for us and our heirs forever, all the underwritten liberties, to be had and held by them and their heirs, of us and our heirs forever."
Magna Carta ends with the idea that the fullness of freedom depends precisely upon the freedom of true religion, indeed, the freedom of the Catholic Church in England:
"It is accordingly our wish and command that the English Church shall be free, and that men in our kingdom shall have and keep all these liberties, rights, and concessions, well and peaceably in their fullness and entirety for them and their heirs, of us and our heirs, in all things and all places for ever."
Happy Magna Carta Day!
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