King Alfred the Great and Our Common Law

Then, King Alfred goes on to trace the growth of Church Law — as laid down by various Ecclesiastical Councils, both Ecumenical and English.16 The concluding words17 of his introduction then state that compensations for misdeeds on the part of men were ordained at many such Councils — and written in their records, with varying provisions.

Thus Alfred first sets out the Ten Commandments — verbatim. Exodus 20:1-17. Next, from the passage Exodus 21:2 to 23:9, he recites many of the Old Testament case laws. Then, he moves on to the New Testament — citing from Christ's Sermon on the Mount and also from the Acts of His Apostles. Finally, Alfred records his own case laws for medieval England.

Alfred declares that when Christ came to the Mediterranean World (or 'Middle Earth'), He Himself did "approve" the "judgments" alias the judicial laws. Very far from ever having abrogated or destroyed them — He Himself therefore still requires that at least their 'general equity' be observed.

This was clearly also Alfred's own understanding and legislative endeavour. He does, of course, certainly distinguish between the Old-Israelitic format of the judicial laws of Moses on the one hand — and the general equity thereof, on the other. This can be seen                                               

11 R. Holinshed: op. cit., I 247f & 619f. 12 Chs. 1-48, in ed. R.D. Giles's Whole Works of King Alfred, AMS Press, New York, I-IV, 1969. 13 Chs. 20-23. 14 Mt. 5. 15 Acts ch. 15. 16 Law Code, ch. 49:1-7. 17 Ib., ch. 49:8.


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by King Alfred's own adaptation of those Old-Israelitic case laws to meet the different conditions of early-mediaeval Anglo-Saxon Britain. Compare, for example, Alfred's own laws 11 & 27 & 44-47. Yet, in so adapting, King Alfred clearly preserves and enforces within English Common Law the general equity of those Old-Israelitic judicial laws.

To prove this — just compare the statements of Mosaic Law with Alfred's AngloBritish Common Law and also with the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Westminster Larger Catechism. For the New Testament itself — at Matthew 5:5-21f & First Timothy 5:17-21 etc., presupposes inter alia Exodus 20:1 to 23:9f in the Old Testament. Alfred cites Exodus 20:1 to 23:9 — as well as Matthew 5:17-19 & 7:1-12 and Acts 11:19-26f & 15:20-29 & 16:4-5. The Westminster Confession (19:4f) cites Exodus 21:1 to 22:29, as well as Matthew 5:17f and First Corinthians 9:8-10 etc.

After recording Exodus 20:1 to 23:9, King Alfred declares: "These are judgments which Almighty God Himself spoke to Moses and commanded him to keep. Now, since the Lord's only begotten Son our God and healing [Saviour] Christ has come to Middle Earth [alias the ‘Mediterranean World’] — He said that He did not come to break nor to forbid these commandments but to approve them well, and to teach them with all mildheartedness and lowlymindedness." Matthew 5:5-19 cf. the Westminster Confession of Faith 19:5.

"Then, after His throes [or ‘sufferings’], before His Apostles had gone throughout the Earth to teach, and while they were yet together — they turned many heathen nations to God. While they were all together, they sent errand-writing to Antioch and to Syria — there to teach Christ’s Law [cf. Acts 11:19-26f]…. This is then that errand-writing which the Apostles sent to Antioch and to Syria and to Cilicia, which is meet for the heathen nations turned to Christ [cf. Acts 15:20 & 16:4-5]:

"'The Apostles and Elder Brethren wish you health! Now we make known to you, that we have heard that some of our fellows have come to you with our words, and that they have commanded you to bear a heavier way [or ‘law’] than we enjoined, and that they have too much misled you with manifold injunctions, and have more perverted than corrected your souls. So we assembled ourselves about this. Then, to all of us it seemed right that we should send [to you] Paul and Barnabas – men who will give their lives for the Name of the Lord. With them, we send Judas and Silas, so that they may say the same to you.'"

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