There can rarely have been a period over the past eight centuries when the text of the various iterations of Magna Carta and their provenance have not been considered, discussed and evaluated both in their original form and in translation. Historians, ecclesiologists, lawyers and laymen have subjected them to systematic analysis, fostering discussion and debate with increasing levels of subtlety and nuance. This volume stands in a distinguished line of commentaries but takes the particular vantage point of the monolithic English Church as it existed in 1215 and the plural and diverse faith communities of today's more secular age. It does so in the context of changing concepts of civil society, but within the continuum of a citizenry living their lives in accordance with the tenets of their religious beliefs but also under the rule of law of the state. Being in the nature of a social contract, the covenantal features of Magna Carta can be seen as having avowedly religious origins.
From biblical covenant to royal charter
The King sealed the Charter of 1215 ‘from reverence for God and for the salvation of our soul and those of all our ancestors and heirs, for the honour of God and the exaltation of Holy Church and the reform of our realm’. His advisers included two archbishops, seven bishops and Aymeric de Saint Maur, Master of the Temple. Archbishop Stephen Langton was resolute in the promotion of the Church's interests, most conspicuously in clause 1 itself:
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.
This guarantee for the Church was made to God, and so was inviolable. It was made freely and by a promise made prior to the dispute between John and the barons, and so was conscionable. It was commended to the king's heirs, and so was designed to be irrevocable.