Acton Institute Powerblog

Affirming the Rule of Law

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The Magna Carta

On this day, 790 years ago, the rule of law was affirmed in Britain. On June 15, 1215, King John of England signed the Magna Carta at Runnymede. Viewed as the basis of English common law, which greatly influenced the foundations of American society and government, the Magna Carta recognized a law greater than the will of the king. As Winston Churchill spoke of “a law which is above the King and which even he must not break,” Lord Acton too said similarly, “Socrates taught a law independent of the state and superior to it.”

The Magna Carta can be viewed, in Churchill’s words, as a “reaffirmation of a supreme law and its expression in a general charter,” which “is the great work of Magna Carta; and this alone justifies the respect in which men have held it.”

Jordan J. Ballor Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty, where he also serves as executive editor the Journal of Markets & Morality. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary. He has authored articles in academic publications such as The Journal of Religion, Scottish Journal of Theology, Reformation & Renaissance Review, and Journal of Scholarly Publishing, and has written popular pieces for newspapers including the Detroit News, Orange County Register, and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. In 2006, Jordan was profiled in the book, The Relevant Nation: 50 Activists, Artists And Innovators Who Are Changing The World Through Faith. Jordan's scholarly interests include Reformation studies, church-state relations, theological anthropology, social ethics, theology and economics, and research methodology. Jordan is a member of the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA), and he resides in Jenison, Michigan with his wife and three children.

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  • As noted in an earlier post, this week is marks the 790th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta. Five years ago, Religion & Liberty published a series of essays on foundational documents in the history of Western civilization, or, as Edmund Burke