A legal maxim is an established principle or proposition of law that is universally admitted as being just and consonant. They are principles and authorities, and part of the general customs or common law of the land. Most of the Latin maxims were developed in the Medieval era in European countries that used Latin as their language for law and courts.
The attitude of early English commentators towards the maxims of the law was one of unmingled adulation. Thomas Hobbes described the maxims of law as having the same strength and effect in the law as statutes. Francis Bacon, in the Preface to his Collection of Maxims, wrote that not only will the use of maxims be useful in deciding doubt and helping soundness of judgment, but, further, in gracing argument, in correcting unprofitable subtlety, and reducing the same to a more sound and substantial sense of law, in reclaiming vulgar errors, and, generally, in the amendment in some measure of the very nature and complexion of the whole law.
In later times, less value has been attached to the maxims of the law. But both historically and practically, they must always possess interest and value.
From a Christian perspective, the maxims were developed during a time when God’s Word was still considered authoritative for all spheres of life. The laws of courts and kings complement the law of God. The history of English Common Law, going all the way back to the Magna Carta (it’s 800th birthday being June 15th of this year!), is incomprehensible without a solid understanding of Scripture.
So we bring you a weekly taste of various English maxims of law, from the pen of a friend who we will call Maximus. This friend, though not a lawyer, is very well read in the history of law. He attends Jubilee Church, the Canadian Reformed Church in Ottawa. He will typically present a maxim, show where in scripture its foundation lies, and then provide a brief reflection or show how it applies it to an issue today.
We hope you enjoy this piece of Christian history and culture and see its value today.