We preached on the Four Cardinal Virtues for Advent. Here is the last bulletin entry for this moral quartet, for the Virtue of Justice. Humankind was made for virtue, not vice. Our path and destiny are meant to be experiences of the Indwelling of God, so as to be inhabited by The Trinity’s goodness, truth, love and trust; in all contrast not to be filled within with badness, vice and dishonesty in the turned away life from God. St. Paul said: “Be filled with the Holy Spirit, and not drunk on the wine of the world, which is dissipation.” (Eph. 5:18)
The word “cardinal” (as in Cardinal Virtue) comes from the Latin root for hinge, hence the pivot on which all other things turn. Justice is a virtue that is pivotal to our actions and understanding. Did you know: Justice was the most searched word on the internet in 2018? So it shows that many were wondering about it. Yet, too often, justice is not understood or practiced today, as society loses its center, by her turning away from God as to Whom we live and think and act and move in our being. (This Acts 17:28 definition of Christianity seems so far from Western culture in 2018, in a people there once so grounded in Christ and His Church.). Where are we going today? Sadly, to re-definitions of what is goodness or fairness or justice. It is driven by self-centered people (egotists) who want to set their own new definition of justice, trying to leave God out of the equation. When on a human standard alone, they still don’t want the scales of justice to be blind, either, but as favored to their side, and so they argue for their side to be the only right choice of justice, while mocking all those holding to another side from theirs. (‘Sound familiar?) Just what can be a fair or just or good practice, when things are judged or defined so biasedly—in a spirit of control? Well, then! We simply can’t all be making up what justice will be. Recently, I learned a new word to use to describe the many people of this ilk of making their own definitions for justice: they are scurrilous people.
With a world giving less nod to God or Natural Law or God’s notion of holiness, modern people of secularism want justice to be changed to mean what they want it to mean. But Justice is not: What I Want. It would be better to put in the word God. Justice is What GOD wants. (And, therefore—if God calls something good, then we want this goodness as a part of our lives.) That’s the goal of morality—to be just. To be just is often described (as a verb) as to be acting fair and good. For us believers, the Goodness we seek is to be inhabited by the Goodness of God, even God Himself. In a Gospel story, we note how Jesus heard someone using the word “Good” and He asked: “Who is Good but God alone?” In this short phrase of the Savior, it defines that justice is rooted in God’s goodness, not ours in the world.
Justice is a noun, as well as a verb, and the Catholic Dictionary describes it thus: “As a virtue, it is the constant and permanent determination to give everyone his or her rightful due. It is a habitual inclination of the will and therefore always recognizes each one’s rights, under any and all circumstances. The rights in question are whatever belongs to a person as an individual who is distinct from the one who practices justice. The essence of justice, then, as compared with charity, consists in the distinction between a person and his or her neighbor; whereas charity is based on the union existing between the one who loves and the person loved so that the practice of charity regards the neighbor as another self.” (That’s a serious paragraph there! And it can all get even more deep!)
Justice is a word that has many sub-departments, such as distributive justice, occupational justice, environmental justice, restorative justice, commutative justice, informal justice, transformative justice, procedural justice, and more. It’s like the types of Bubba Gump shrimp!
With the basic word of justice, it often has people thinking of some higher authority or power levying a sentence versus the wrong-doer. Perhaps, sometimes, it is a word for being the institution that decides on the rules or laws by which the others must follow for things to be fair or ‘right.’ That’s a start, but justice is a hinge virtue that gives everything its due. It needs a higher and more perfect authority to be the Judge, better than any fallen human being just cannot be. Thus, people acting for justice need to base things on the Perfect Moral One, the LawGiver Himself. Jesus claims to be such the Person. In the end, all will come before Him as Judge. One can call that Divine Justice, when everything has to be answered for, to whomever is responsible, both for the good and the bad. Justice that is overdue to someone can be great in that they finally will reap all the good for their choices and actions, and even if the world didn’t recognize their goodness, God indeed does and will gloriously so do in the final summation.
We Catholics understand Justice as the lived response under the true God’s light. The just person (persons, society) treats Creation, other people, and God as they should be treated, according to their natures and their rights, as endowed by our Maker and Source. Justice cares for the poor and weak, upholds laws, respects human dignity, and shows honor to those in authority. Justice also gives a proper love of self, as God’s vessel or property. Justice is a practice where one (and community) uses all their resources as God’s possession as managed in their own care (and that is called Stewardship.). Justice is done by them because of Divine Inspiration to live this way. For people not necessarily recognizing it religiously, they nonetheless are doing these good works because of acting in the image of God, for how they were created. The original inclination in humanity was to be just and fair and good among all. Justice implies self-knowledge and an ability to understand one’s place in the universe. It then takes a coming to know one’s Maker and His designs—this is the progress of Justice.
Justice is in the realm of the Holy, yet it began to be understood by the Greek Philosophers or Asian ones as of the highest human good. If prudence is a virtue that would appeal to Aristotle, justice, then, on a natural level, is the virtue that might more resonate with Confucius. (Example: Confucius says: A/ “Do not repay evil with kindness, but repay kindness with kindness, and evil with justice.” B/The higher type of man clings to virtue, the lower type of man to material comfort. The higher type of man cherishes justice, the lower type of man cherishes the hope of favors to be received.” And did you think Confucius in the West was just a simple fortune-cookie author?!)
The just man, often mentioned in the Sacred Scriptures, is distinguished by habitual right thinking and the uprightness of the person’s conduct toward their neighbor. In Colossians 4:1 St. Paul counsels “Masters, treat your slaves justly and fairly, realizing that you too have a Master in heaven.” This Scripture implies a deepening justice is come in Jesus Christ. Our relationships to one another and to the world are anew in Christ. Justice is always a forward-looking virtue. God has a time coming when the Lion and Lamb will lay together (Isaiah’s vision) or when all people will see it together (“it” is justice in God’s Glory all revealed). This is our Advent expectation!
In Catholic-Christian moral theology, Justice is a quality or habit which perfects the will and inclines it to render to each and to all of what belongs to them. The object of the virtue of justice is the other person’s rights, whether Natural or bestowed by Church or State. Justice requires that all persons should be left in the free enjoyment of all their rights. The rights which belong to every human being inasmuch as he is a person are absolute and inalienable.
For Catholics living in these United States, it is interesting to hear this language of rights and justice and liberty and justice for all as being in the nation’s founder’s minds. Those founders often referred to God or the Deity as the principle behind all such high ideas and human government. Are we thinking that way today in our government? I dare say not so much anymore, noting our government looking too often to eliminate even language and references to God, steering people away towards atheistic and agnostic and secularist and neutralist positions versus religious ones, and making judgments apart from divinely inspired Natural Law.
We Catholics hold to the existence of a Just God, and to a Natural Law that can be recognized by humankind as signposts in how to live aright with one another, self, and to our Maker. Thomas Aquinas writes much about justice and its many categories of interest and application. Yet, in this fundamental understanding of religion and justice, T.A. developed a theory of proportional reciprocity, whereby the just person renders to each and all what is due to them in due proportion: what it is their moral and legal rights to do, possess, or exact. Justice toward God is called the “virtue of religion.” Into modern times, we hear much of Catholic expounding the moral teachings as important measures for which to follow as so to please God with one’s response to Him. In modern times, we are hearing more of values and ethics are something we must teach in Catholic classes for our people, for its notion is all getting lost in public education.
In our Advent series, we have looked at each Cardinal Virtue as the means for living, and how the virtue is meant to be lived in the mean (middle). Each virtue has its extremes to avoid, as to not turn justice into something else. It is applied in Justice. One extreme pole of justice would be the negative term of wanting to punish any “deserving” criminals severely. One thinks of old movies of Dirty Harry dealing out judgment to scuzzy criminals with the barrel of his Smith and Wesson .44 magnum (“the most powerful handgun in the world”). Yet on the streets today, would a gang member then be justified in killing people so to control the drug trade into money in their own pocket, rather than an undeserving rival? In Advent terms, while Christ IS coming to judge the earth with lightning in His eyes, it would be a mistake to think of justice only as dealing out punishment and that God as Justice is just punishment and control. Justice is a virtue that is first and foremost a positive thing. In our relationship with God, we render Him His due in the form of love, service, and gratitude as our Creator. Living justly toward God is to render him these things perfectly. In relation to our neighbor, Romans 13:7 sums just action well: “Pay all of them their dues, taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.” When we respect law enforcement or pay our taxes, we are living justly. When we act as stewards in our Faith, we are living justly. Justice is a positive thing; only God may have the vengeance part of it, but that’s only due to a choice that must be made to either obey or disobey Him. God has no liking to punish out. That’s an extreme. The other extreme pole) is viewing justice as a vague and sentimental desire to help everyone. This is too often mislabeled under the guise of “social justice.” It is not justice to take OPM (other people’s money) and serve it out sentimentally to go help everybody and anybody, as if it’s good to do (especially when it doesn’t bother you at all or ask much of you). Some extremists in this pole are selfishly interested in courting favor by the gesture. Jesus once chided the leaders for asking far too much of their people, while not even lifting a finger themselves. He saw their injustice, and called out their fakeness and hypocrisy. As Thomas Aquinas distinguished, “Charity, which inspires compassion, should motivate us to help our neighbor, not justice.” To avoid violating natural law in the name of justice, we must first understand what rights God actually gave us and not invent rights that do not exist.
In close, I have seen a bumper sticker than summarizes this whole aspect of how to live the Faith. It is a quote from the prophet Micah: “Only to do justice and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God.”–Micah 6:8. Imagine that: Wisdom told rom a car on a highway! The whole verse says this: “You have been told, O mortal, what is good, and what the LORD requires of you: Only to do justice and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God.” Amen! It is something to think about as we go on into Christmas. Justice is begun to be revealed in Christ in His First Coming, and it will pummel down in the Glorious Return of The Lord’s Anointed, The Blessed Son. ‘Better to live justly!