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The Life of Virtue - A Look Back at Justice

Sunday, August 09, 2009
We are half-way through our series on the life of virtue and so far we have had one post on prudence and nineteen on justice and its allied virtues. The plan is to have twenty-one further posts, on the virtues of fortitude and temperance and their allies. Clearly justice receives significant attention in Aquinas's consideration of the moral life and this guides our presentation also: just under half of our series is devoted to justice as just under half of his treatment of the moral virtues is devoted to justice.

This is how it ought to be. At the heart of the Biblical revelation is the righteousness of God, God's justice, integrity, holiness, reliability, and judgement. His people are to be holy as God is holy and this means becoming just as God is just. For the Bible, justice is virtue, righteousness is morality. The Messiah comes bringing that justice which is a light to the peoples (Isaiah 51:4). The ten commandments are ten ways of doing justice. One cannot claim to know God while acting unjustly. 'Is not this to know me, to judge the cause of the poor and needy' (Jeremiah 22:16). One cannot claim to worship God while acting unjustly and to try to do so makes such worship abominable (Isaiah 1:11-17) - first 'seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow'. One cannot claim to serve God while acting unjustly. 'Is this not the fast I want, to loose the bonds of injustice' (Isaiah 58:6).

Jesus comes to enact these prophecies, establishing in his own body the kingdom of justice and peace. 'We know that God is righteous and that everyone who does right is born of God' (1 John 2:29). Jesus more than anybody else lived according to the rule of the prophet Micah: 'what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God' (Micah 6:8).

Aquinas develops principles and values about justice already acknowledged in Greek philosophy and in Roman law, but the inspiration for what he writes is the Bible and the paradigm of justice is Jesus, 'the righteous judge', for whose appearing we long (2 Timothy 4:8). In this he follows the approach of St Paul, appealing to what human culture and civilization have to say about truth, goodness and justice, but seeing it all in relation to Jesus. God 'has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead' (Acts 17:31).


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