Ad Limina Apostolorum (Blog) | St. Augustine's Library
Thursday, April 28, 2005

Justice is not reducible to the categories of this world 

Zenit has chosen to reissue a homily of the Holy Father's (then Cardinal Ratzinger) from March 2005, on the fortieth anniversary of the Vatican II Constitution Gaudium et Spes. (Be sure that every theologian in the country is now digging through used bookstores, trying to find copies of Cardinal Ratzinger's commentaries on the Council. All of the sudden it's somehow . . . more relevant.) The theme of the homily is the virtue of 'justice'.

Classical theology, as we know, understands the virtue of justice as composed of two elements which for Christians cannot be separated; justice is the firm will to render to God what is owed to God, and to our neighbour what is owed to him; indeed, justice toward God is what we call the 'virtue of religion'; justice toward other human beings is the fundamental attitude that respects the other as a person created by God.

As Christians we must constantly be reminded that the call of justice is not something which can be reduced to the categories of this world. And this is the beauty of the Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, evident in the very structure of the Council's text; only when we Christians grasp our vocation, as having been created in the image of God and believing that 'the form of this world is passing away... [and] that God is preparing a new dwelling and a new earth, in which justice dwells' (Gaudium et Spes n. 39), can we address the urgent social problems of our time from a truly Christian perspective.

This is where our Holy Father's Augustinian background shows its face: in the steadfast refusal to allow nature to remain isolated from grace. There is no corner, no hollow where nature can hide from the gleaming countenance of the divine face. It was made for God and will ever remain unsatisfied and fragmented so long as it is estranged from Him: "Thou hast made us for thyself, and our hearts our restless until they find rest in Thee." This is as true for virtue as it is for human government.

In his masterpiece, City of God, Augustine takes head-on the pretensions of Roman aristocracy, that Rome stands alone as the world's commonwealth, the perfect embodiment of justice on earth. But for Augustine, there can be no justice unless and until God is recognized as God: Since Rome was always too proud for this, he draws the startling conclusion that, in the end, "there never was a Roman republic."
[A] republic cannot be administered without justice. Where, therefore, there is no true justice there can be no right. For that which is done by right is justly done, and what is unjustly done cannot be done by right. For the unjust inventions of men are neither to be considered nor spoken of as rights . . . . Consequently, if the republic is the weal of the people, and there is no people if it be not associated by a common acknowledgment of right, and if there is no right where there is no justice, then most certainly it follows that there is no republic where there is no justice. Further, justice is that virtue which gives every one his due. Where, then, is the justice of man, when he deserts the true God and yields himself to impure demons? Is this to give every one his due? Or is he who keeps back a piece of ground from the purchaser, and gives it to a man who has no right to it, unjust, while he who keeps back himself from the God who made him, and serves wicked spirits, is just? (Ibid.)
Henri de Lubac has shown how the thought of both Augustine and Aquinas (shown here and elsewhere to have been very much in agreement with Augustine) was misconstrued by later scholastics into imagining, beneath man's supernatural end, a subordinate yet integral, 'natural' end. Around this latter end were built entire systems of theology, philosophy and political theory. Once churchmen had fashioned an alternative, natural end for man, the Enlightenment thinkers happily dismissed with the supernatural end altogether and contented themselves with the natural. To this natural end could be oriented all the resources of man's natural reason, all the activities of the political state, the common good, the goals of science, etc. Augustine never denied that there were lesser 'goods' beside The Good, but it did not take long before men denied that there was a Good at all, and satisfied themselves with the accumulation of lesser goods, mere shadows of Goodness.

As Pope Benedict XVI notes, all men clamor for lesser goods, for the earthly justice that is owed' them by their neighbor, reducing, all too often, the virtue of justice to the 'categories of this world'. But it is the solemn duty of the Church to remind man that there is a higher justice, inseparable from the lower, a higher Good of which all the lower goods are but fleeting mirages. Whenever nature sets itself up against its Maker, and fashions a fortress for itself impenetrable by divine grace, it can only wither and die within. Only when grasp our divine vocation, our heavenly calling, only when we note that we are not made for this world but for Another, "can we address the urgent social problems of our time from a truly Christian perspective."

# posted by Jamie : 11:57 AM


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Ad Limina Apostolorum: An ecclesiastical term meaning a pilgrimage to the sepulchres of St. Peter and St. Paul at Rome, i.e., to the Basilica of the Prince of the Apostles and to the Basilica of St. Paul "outside the walls".

"Augustine of Hippo Refuting Heretic"
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