Justice and Charity
Justice and charity
This way of viewing justice has direct consequences upon its relation to charity. The relationship becomes difficult because the first movements of justice and charity are now contrary. Being a form of love, charity implies an openness to the other and a readiness to give more than is strictly required. Justice, if it is primarily a claim to our rights, will be basically an insistence on receiving, and even a struggle to gain what is due us. According to this latter concept, charity will have to be satisfied with what is left over after justice has been done. It will be nothing more than a remnant, a form of optional generosity which may be exercised after the rights of the law are satisfied. This is why in current parlance charity is associated with alms. Its meaning has become impoverished.
On the other hand, if the virtue of justice is understood as the generous and spontaneous will to render to each his due, and is thus oriented to the other, it finds a place within the concept of love. It is already a form of charity and the very foundation of this virtue. The first law of charity will be that we practice this kind of justice, whose circle can then be extended beyond the strict precepts of the external law. Authentic justice inclines us, for example, to give to our parents, children, and neighbors, beyond what is legally required for their subsistence, the kindness and affection they have a right to expect from us, and that not in niggardly fashion, but with generosity. In regard to others, justice inclines us to carry out our allotted tasks conscientiously, especially those connected with our profession, for this may benefit many other people and lead us eventually to assume public functions which, beyond our legitimate concern for our own particular interests, we will perform with an eye to the common good. This kind of justice is not rigid but very supple and adaptable to individual needs and situations.
We see from this how the ancients could say that the object and principal effect of justice was to create friendship among men, in their individual relationships and in the setting of political life. It is precisely this idea of friendship that St. Thomas [Aquinas] uses to define charity - the love which unites us to God and neighbor. Justice, even when simply human, works toward the same goal as charity, bu the latter carries us farther. Justice is a certain will to give. It includes uprightness, rectitude in judgment regarding what is due to each person, and proper human relations.
The justice of God and His mercy
If we turn to Scriptures once more, we understand why it refers to God's justice as a supreme quality and invites us to love, hunger, and thirst for it. When Scripture speaks of justice it has obviously risen above the plane of purely human relationships and is considering it as that divine quality which is the source of all justice, notably man's. In God justice is one of the aspects of His mercy and liberality, that generosity with which He distributes freely to every creature whatever it needs, and gives to man, in particular, the gift of justice, which is the will inclining him to give God and neighbor their due with a glad heart.
The justice of God is distinguished from His mercy because it stresses the idea of rectitude, uprightness, and the harmonious ordering of those things which are fitting, while love and mercy point more directly to spontaneity, generosity, and abundance in the gift. But Scripture never sets these virtues in opposition. It often mentions them together to show us that they are two aspects of the one same quality whose richness surpasses our words and ideas.