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Magna Carta Exists Thanks to Christians' Influence, Say Church Leaders as UK Celebrates Document's 800th Anniversary

Magna Carta Exists Thanks to Christians' Influence, Say Church Leaders as UK Celebrates Document's 800th Anniversary

Visitors to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, including Peter Drummery (C), of the Massachusetts Historical Society, exhibit curator Gerald Ward (R) view one of four remaining copies of the original Magna Carta, a document written in 1215, June 30, 2014. An inspiration for the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights, the document is on loan from England's Lincoln Cathedral. | (Photo: Reuters/Gretchen Ertl)

Churches in the United Kingdom will be celebrating the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta by focusing on the Christian influence of the document.

Both the Church of England's General Synod and other church officials have called on England to remember the church's involvement in the Magna Carta's creation.

The Right Rev. Alan Smith, the bishop of the Diocese of St Albans, sent a letter in January about his concern over the church's role being minimized in popular memory of the 1215 political milestone.

"It is interesting that in so many of the discussions about Magna Carta, the central role of the church and in particular that of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Stephen Langton, is almost completely missing," wrote Smith.

"The bishops had an important role in the difficult and complex process whereby King John was forced to make a number of concessions and commitments."

Smith is not alone in making an effort to emphasize the Christian contribution to the creation and signing of the Magna Carta.

Last July the Church of England's leadership, the General Synod, debated a motion arguing that the ecclesial body fight popular society's secularizing of the historic event.

Supreme Court Justice, Antonin Scalia. | (Photo: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)

"The Church in England was central to the development of legal and human rights centuries before the French Revolution, now generally credited (along with the Enlightenment) for the secular genesis of human rights," read a briefing note on the motion.

"It is important that the church's crucial role in Magna Carta and its rights is not air-brushed out in 2015 — as was the role of Christians in the anti-slave trade celebrations."

Latin for "Great Charter," the Magna Carta was signed by King John of England on June 15, 1215, in response to pressure from secular and religious leaders over the monarch's abuses of long-held laws and customs.

According to an entry on the website, the Magna Carta was "effectively the first written constitution in European history."

"Of its 63 clauses, many concerned the various property rights of barons and other powerful citizens, suggesting the limited intentions of the framers," continued

"In 1776, rebellious American colonists looked to the Magna Carta as a model for their demands of liberty from the English crown."

Originally penned in Latin, the Magna Carta includes four references to God and in its first clause addresses the status of the church regarding government control.

"In the first place we grant to God and confirm by this our present charter for ourselves and our heirs in perpetuity that the English Church is to be free and to have all its rights fully and its liberties entirely," reads the opening clause.

"We furthermore grant and give to all the freemen of our realm for ourselves and our heirs in perpetuity the liberties written below to have and to hold to them and their heirs from us and our heirs in perpetuity."

Much has been made of the Magna Carta's influence on United States constitutional law by historians and prominent legal officials.

At the Federalist Society's 2014 National Lawyers Convention held last November, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia gave a history lesson on the Magna Carta and its influence on American jurisprudence.

"Many of the ideals held most sacred in the American imagination originated or at least were first committed to writing 800 years ago," noted Scalia.

A 19th century artist's rendering of the signing of the Magna Carta on June 15, 1215. | (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

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