Charity Presupposes Justice

Charity Presupposes Justice December 6, 2017

Raffael_053If doing what is just is the same as charity, then love burns cold. Charity transcends justice; it expects justice as the starting point, and if it is not there, it works to establish justice so that it can give of itself afterward. Justice is not just solitary, it is distributive, to be seen personally and communally, and the government’s purpose is for the execution of justice. To say government interferes in charity if it seeks justice is like saying elementary school teachers interfere in the teaching of calculus because they teach basic math. It makes no sense. It is only the excuse of those who seek to disregard justice to turn its execution to be merely an act of charity, thus limiting what charity is, and denouncing at the same time, the execution of justice by turning it into a voluntary choice.  Thus, Pope Benedict XVI wrote in Caritas in veritate:

First of all, justice. Ubi societas, ibi ius: every society draws up its own system of justice. Charity goes beyond justice, because to love is to give, to offer what is “mine” to the other; but it never lacks justice, which prompts us to give the other what is “his”, what is due to him by reason of his being or his acting. I cannot “give” what is mine to the other, without first giving him what pertains to him in justice. If we love others with charity, then first of all we are just towards them. Not only is justice not extraneous to charity, not only is it not an alternative or parallel path to charity: justice is inseparable from charity, and intrinsic to it. Justice is the primary way of charity or, in Paul VI’s words, “the minimum measure” of it, an integral part of the love “in deed and in truth” (1 Jn 3:18), to which Saint John exhorts us. On the one hand, charity demands justice: recognition and respect for the legitimate rights of individuals and peoples. It strives to build the earthly city according to law and justice. On the other hand, charity transcends justice and completes it in the logic of giving and forgiving.[1]

Charity is the grace given by love, which is why it can only occur if it is freely given and received; it is creative and capable of being given in a variety of ways, while justice seeks a particular end. Charity, to be sure, cannot be forced and remain charity. But what is less than charity, justice, can be and often must be enforced when the common good is hurt by its lack. Government might be imperfect, but it is capable of distributing justice in a way which individuals cannot, and those who seek the best of others will welcome the aid of this helpmate of justice. Those who have found justice restored will then be able to take in the transcendent good of charity, rising higher and greater because of it.[2]

Those who oppose government aid for the poor often confuse the promotion of justice as charity, showing that they know nothing about charity. Their greed has withered away their love, allowing them to care less when others suffer injustice, making it that much more vital for the government to step in and protect the common good. For such deniers of charity do not love neighbor, they only themselves, and so they seek to find a way to give themselves all the good they want before letting, almost reluctantly, their neighbor to have their leftovers. They try to decry any and all actions of the government as working against charity because it makes less room, so they say, for one to be charitable, but what they really mean is they do not want others to have their proper good which is due to them unless they receive it begging on their knees, glorifying in the one who deigns to give them what is theirs by natural right. They do not love, they do not know charity, and so those who degrade justice in this way have degraded charity and are, as St. Paul would say, nothing (cf. 1 Cor. 13:2).

While charity must include justice, justice is not charity. Is it no wonder that those who do not know true charity and confuse its execution to be the simple execution of justice also then confuse the church and her works to be some sort of legalistic society where sinners are not welcome? It is not without reason those who lack love turn mere justice to be the end all of charity must also see in the church the end-all of God’s charity to be expressed is the denial of sin, withholding as much as they can, the aid needed for sin to be overturned, just as they withhold such aid in society making it impossible for social sin to be overturned. Their Pelagian ideology is both religious and social, thinking that people can and should be able to do all things themselves and if they cannot do it, no aid should be given to them.  But the weak, the oppressed, the sinners, are all in need of charity to overturn their condition; Jesus did promote justice and declare the need for penance, but he presupposed his healing aid as being the means by which such penance could be done instead of the other way around: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick;  I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Lk. 5:31b-32 RSV).

Thus, Jesus said, he came to proclaim the Jubilee of God, where grace overturns the powers that be, where the poor and oppressed are to be set free:

 The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord (Lk. 4:18-19 RSV).

Pope St. John Paul II made it clear that this is the work which the church is to continue to do; Christians are called to continue to work for justice, to help the poor and oppressed, to free and liberate those trapped by evil:

At the beginning of his ministry, in the synagogue at Nazareth, Jesus announces that the Spirit has consecrated him to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to captives, to give sight back to the blind, to set the oppressed free, to declare a year of favour from the Lord (cf. LC 4,16-19). Taking up the Lord’s mission as her own, the Church proclaims the Gospel to every man and woman, committing herself to their integral salvation. But with special attention, in a true “preferential option”, she turns to those who are in situations of greater weakness, and therefore in greater need. “The poor”, in varied states of affliction, are the oppressed, those on the margin of society, the elderly, the sick, the young, any and all who are considered and treated as “the least”.[3]

This is the obligation of the Christian, and they must seek it not as an act of charity, but out of justice, following the good which God desired for creation. Once such justice is established, then true charity can take place, helping people transcend themselves and their personal potential by joining in with the grace-giving communion of love. Charity is able to give more than justice, and it is to be given freely, as all such love is. Nonetheless, despite its transcendent nature presupposing justice, charity cannot be used as an excuse to ignore the dictates of justice, because charity without justice is not charity but an evil imitation because it denies the good. This is what happens when those who seek to undermine governmental authority, not allowing it to execute its proper send, justice, because they say it denies charity:  they demonstrate their evil intention, their lack of love, for they show no real concern at all the evil done in the world. They find every reason to excuse themselves from promoting justice, from promoting the common good, and so they reveal themselves to be the enemy of the good, to be promoters of evil; they might come in the form of an angel of light, acting holy and righteous in themselves, but they are like diabolic devils, undermining and contesting against the good.  St. Basil the Great exposed this when he wrote:

Care for the needy requires the expenditure of wealth: when all share alike, disbursing their possessions among themselves, they each receive a small portion for their individual needs. Thus, those who love their neighbor as themselves possess nothing more than their neighbor; yet, surely, you seem to have great possessions! How else can this be, but that you have preferred your own enjoyment to the consolation of the many? For the more you abound in wealth, the more you lack in love.[4]

Love, charity, is lost, when avarice flows, and to undermine justice for the sake of avarice, alas, risks losing everything.  It is, moreover, a greater evil, a greater injustice, when government works not for the sake of justice, but helping the rich get richer, while the poor starve and die, with the excuse that “charity” will compensate what has been lost. Those who say we should just let charity do its job, not knowing what its job really is, show they really do not care for even the justice they say charity should work for because they have no plan of action, no desire to execute such justice themselves, which is why they fight tooth and nail from having to act upon it; instead, they seek gain for themselves, and the more they promote ways for the rich to take from the needy, the greater the evil they embrace.  Thus, St. Gregory Palamas preached:

I wanted to say that there was no greater proof of hatred than preferring excess money to our brother. But I see that evil has found a greater proof of hatred for our fellow man. For some people not only do not give alms out of their abundance, but even appropriate what belongs to others.[5]

As many of the saints indicated, the needs of the poor must be met; excessive goods of the rich come from and out of the hands of the poor; the rich have literally appropriated what the poor should by rights possess. They are thieves, even if legally, they have the appearance of right on their hand, the truth of the matter is they have undermined justice, used government to support such injustice, and so are to be warned that they risk perdition, suffering the fate of all unrepentant thieves:

In just one of your closets there are enough clothes to cover an entire town shivering with cold. You showed no mercy; it will not be shown to you. You opened not your house; you will be expelled from the Kingdom. You gave not your bread; you will not receive eternal life.[6]

Those who support such oppression will, of course, rhetorically justify it by suggesting that anyone who seeks the demands of justice must be “socialists,” and ‘socialism is condemned.” They do not properly declare what the church reject, for if their claim is true, then the Holy Scriptures, and the Sermon on the Mount, would all have to be rejected and condemned for their “socialist” teachings as well.[7] But of course, it should not be surprising that those who have no concern for the good will undermine the good through faulty logic, trying to demonize it any way they can. They do this so as to keep things as they are, fearful that whatever unjust gains they have will be taken away from them; so be it. They have been warned. God is the God of the poor.


[Image=Justice by Raphael [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons]



[1] Pope Benedict XVI, Caritas in veritate, Vatican Translation. ¶6.

[2] The greatest form of charity, God’s grace, likewise transcends human charity, as it deifies us and makes us partakers of the divine nature, turning us, as it were, gods by grace. Human charity, which is in the image and likeness of God, therefore is table to take someone and help them become better than they would be without it.

[3] Pope John Paul II, Vita consecrata. Vatican Translation. ¶ 82.

[4] St. Basil the Great, “To the Rich” in On Social Justice. Trans, C. Paul Schroeder (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2009), 43.

[5] St Gregory Palamas, The Homilies. Trans. Christopher Veniamin (Waymart, PA: Mount Thabor Publishing, 2009), 32.

[6] St. Basil, “To the Rich,” 49.

[7] While Marx does not represent all the possible forms of socialism, it is clear he has become a central talking point in the church’s reaction to modern materialistic socialism. As such, it is important to note, though much of what he said can be rejected, much of what he said remains good and true, and indeed, important for Christians to consider, as Pope Benedict XVI was known to indicate. That there is some common ground between Christians and socialists does not make the Christians guilty by association and condemned as socialists, even as common ground between Christians and pagans does not make Christians pagan and condemned as heathen. Rather, where goodness and truth is to be found, even if it is to be found in the middle of grave error, Christians are to rejoice, work with it, engage it, and promote it lest they undermine the work of God, who is all good and desires the good to be all in all.


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