God Is Justice: To Follow God, We Must Act Through Justice

God Is Justice: To Follow God, We Must Act Through Justice July 19, 2017

God, being good, justly distributes his goodness to the world.  This is because, as divine simplicity indicates, his justice is one with his goodness. Likewise, other attributes of God are one with each other so that even if we logically distinguish various attributes of God, we must realize they are not ontologically distinguished in him.[1] Thus, Nicholas of Cusa, explaining the way God gives to each thing their own good, said it is because God is justice that he does this:

We say that justice distributes to each thing that which is that thing’s own. Since God, who gives all things, is Justice, He distributes all things in justice.[2]

A manuscript of the Court of King's Bench at work [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
A manuscript of the Court of King’s Bench at work [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Justice, therefore, is found in the free distribution of goods; all should be able to attain their need. When we act to make this happen, we are reflecting God’s image and likeness in the world. When we hinder the just distribution of the good through selfishness and greed, trying to take more of it to ourselves than is just and right. we are marring the image of God within us; the good which the other lacks as a result of our injustice not only harms them, but ourselves. Since such injustice can and will cry to heaven, those in positions of authority, the state, have a right to correct the situation. Indeed, as Pope Paul VI declared, that is one of the roles given to those who are called to public office:

No one may appropriate surplus goods solely for his own private use when others lack the bare necessities of life. In short, “as the Fathers of the Church and other eminent theologians tell us, the right of private property may never be exercised to the detriment of the common good.” When “private gain and basic community needs conflict with one another,” it is for the public authorities “to seek a solution to these questions, with the active involvement of individual citizens and social groups.”[3]

While there is some flexibility involved, when the injustice is severe, there is no option left; the common good overrides the injustice of selfish acquisition:

If certain landed estates impede the general prosperity because they are extensive, unused or poorly used, or because they bring hardship to peoples or are detrimental to the interests of the country, the common good sometimes demands their expropriation.[4]

It becomes a sin not only against God, but against the goods which God has given to the earth, against one’s own good, to act contrary to justice and halt the free and universal distribution of goods. When greed is allowed to override justice, when excessive gain and accumulation of goods by some in society displaces the just needs of the rest, God is rejected and in his place a new form of godhood, money, is established by society as Nicholas of Cusa preached:

He sins against his merchandise, because he keeps it hoarded up until it rots. Money is a greedy man’s god, for because of money, he disregards God’s precepts: he lusts, swears oaths, does not worship God, does not love God or his neighbor, etc. He is obedient to money, his master.[5]

It is necessary to denounce the idolatry of money as seen in modern capitalistic societies when they use capitalism and its principles to reject the basic principles of justice. The common good must be seen as overriding individual injustice. If some try to excuse themselves from the common good, we cannot respond with a libertine acceptance of such injustice; we must not let people needlessly suffer and die for the excessive greed of a few.

One of the ways in which the common good can be enforced is in and through taxation.[6] Taxation is not theft if it is done in accordance to justice, working for the just distribution of goods in common to all, taking into consideration the needs of the people. We render what is Caesar to Caesar, which includes the goods of the state, because Caesar or the state must work for the common good; to deny such justice for the sake of extraordinary personal gain is to deny God for God is justice.

This is why it is important to realize that God indeed does work in and with earthly authorities so that they can enforce the just distribution of goods, safeguarding the common good, not just for the present, but also into the future. Taxes, indeed, are a means by which the future good can be protected.  Perhaps there is no better example of this in Scripture than the story surrounding Joseph, the Patriarch who was once thrown into slavery by his brothers but through providence found himself ruling over Egypt. Taxation was the means by which Egypt, and many others (like Joseph’s family) found salvation, for, as St. Ambrose indicated, it was through a tax during times of prosperity Joseph was able to prepare Egypt for the famine to come:

How was he a slave, the man who showed the princes of his people how to regulate the corn supply, so that they knew beforehand and made provision for the coming famine? Or was he a slave, the man who took possession of the whole country of Egypt and reduced its entire population to slavery? This he did, not in order to put upon them the status of ignoble slavery, but to impose a tax, except upon the property of the priests, which remained free from tax because among the Egyptians the priestly caste was held in reverence. [7]

We must avoid all rhetoric which justifies the way the rich manipulate the system in order to accumulate the goods of the earth solely for themselves. When they find excuses to suggest why they are worthy and no one else is for what they have attained, we must respond in saying excessive wealth can never be earned; while it might take work to steal, the mere fact it is work does not guarantee the wealth is properly earned. What they offer in defense of their avarice must be denounced, with sarcastic allegory if necessary, as was done in the medieval story, Ysengrimus:

The poor man is happy with a little; I’m rich, so I take a lot. Little concern for the poor man affects God. God has made everything for the rich man, guards it for him and bestows it on him; the rich man knows what good things taste like, whereas the poor man has no idea. The rich man knows what riches are; when known, he desires them, and when desired, he strives for them, working out beforehand which are to be striven for. When they are striven for, he finds them, and once found, he consumes or stores them, according to rank, income, time, manner and place. He amasses and deploys; he is respected, praised and love, well known and popular far and near. As for the wretch who doesn’t get a taste of any good things, he doesn’t seek any, so let him live without wealth, let him live without respect. Let no one love such a man – let no one even deign to hate him![8]

This is always the defense which is given by predators who seek to stop justice; they warp the notion of justice in favor of those who already hold excessive wealth, justifying the withholding of resources to the needy for the sake of the rich. Just as a wolf seeking to feed off of prey will excuse the harm they do to their prey, so the rich will rhetorically justify themselves through the perversion of justice. No one who loves God, no who loves justice, will agree with such excuses as they will see it is the inversion of justice which is the basis of all that is anti-Christ, the spirit which justifies evil as a good and harm to the poor as unimportant. For Christ, of course, says:

But woe to you that are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you that are full now, for you shall hunger. “Woe to you that laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep. Woe to you, when all men speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets (Lk. 6:24-6 RSV).

Jesus came to rescue those being abused by systematic sin, the poor, and set them free, to receive the justice if God. While such justice transcends earthly concerns, we must also understand, it also includes them. For God is a God over all the earth. We cannot neglect justice on the earth and be unconcerned about it and follow God. To reject justice is to reject God for that is who God is.  Social justice must always be a part of the Christian faith because God is just; when injustice promotes itself as a false good, its evil must always be exposed. Those who use words of justice for injustice must never be accepted: theft is evil, and to be rejected, but taxation is theft only if it removes the just distribution of goods and harms the poor and needy by robbing them of their goods for the sake of the rich. When the rich continue to take from the livelihood of the poor, preventing the just distribution of goods, taxation is not theft but its elimination, just as if some police officer took the unjust gains of a thief and returned what was stolen from the victim to them is not theft, but its reversal. Let us, therefore, promote justice, promote the just distribution of good, and follow God, making sure all get what they need so that the good can prevail.


[1] Thus, his goodness is one with his justice which is one with his wisdom and all of those are one with his love. God is love even as God is good and just and wise. The title or term Sophia, which is used to designated the one divine simple essence of God, helps reminds us that behind all the qualities which we rightfully attribute to God find themselves together as one essential unity.

[2] Nicholas of Cusa, Nicholas of Cusa’s Didactic Sermons: A Selection. trans. Jasper Hopkins (Loveland, Colorado: The Arthur J. Banning Press, 2003), 12.

[3] Pope Paul VI, Populorum Progressio. Vatican translation. ¶23.

[4] Pope Paul VI, Populorum Progressio, ¶24.

[5] Nicholas of Cusa, Nicholas of Cusa’s Early Sermons: 1430 – 1441. trans. Jasper Hopkins (Loveland, Colorado: The Arthur J. Banning Press, 2003), 207.

[6] This is not to say all forms of taxation are just, but rather the realization that taxation can be just and is a normative means by which the common good is promoted.

[7] St. Ambrose, “Letter to Simplicianus (c. 386)” in St. Ambrose: Letters. Trans. Sister Mary Melchior Beyenka, OP (New York: Fathers of the Church, 1954), 289.

[8] Ysengrimus. trans. Jill Man (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2013), 51.


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