Christianity and the Rule of Law

Research output: Chapter in Book/Published conference outputChapter


Fernanda Pirie, an anthropologist of law, thinks the rule of law is four thousand years old. The phrase itself in English, however, was popularized by the constitutional lawyer Albert Venn Dicey only less than 150 years ago. Dicey’s own definition is rarely supported nowadays, but the expression is much invoked, albeit with radically different meanings. This chapter adopts a pared-back understanding of the initial part of Dicey’s concept when considering the relationships of the rule of law to Christianity and society as a whole. A history of ideas should not collapse all virtues into the rule of law. Just as there are other faiths, so there are other values alongside the rule of law, such as justice, democracy, equality, and freedom. The rule of law matters, even in extreme circumstances of oppressive legislation. The leading Marxist historian E. P. Thompson, in his study of the draconian Black Act of 1723, could see redeeming features in the rule of law, which he described as “an unalloyed human good.” This chapter presents brief examples of Christian attitudes to the rule of law through the ages, and it offers reflections on how views evolve alongside the impressions themselves. The chapter concludes that bilateral relationships between Christianity and the rule of law are best understood as parts of a bigger picture of human flourishing.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Oxford Handbook of Christianity and Law
EditorsJohn Witte, Rafael Domingo
PublisherOxford University Press
ISBN (Electronic)9780197606780
ISBN (Print)9780197606759
Publication statusPublished - 20 Nov 2023


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