All Justice Is Social Justice

All Justice Is Social Justice February 18, 2019
Coat of Arms of Baja, California / WikimediaCommons

To be a person is to be social in nature: this is a truth, not only within humanity, but divinity itself. For the Trinity demonstrates God is personal, not because God has some created other as a partner (though he does), but because in the eternity of God, the Father begets the Son and the Spirit spirates from the Father and through the Son. The inter-personal relationship of the Trinitarian persons is a divine society, forming the foundation for all created forms of society.  God is personal. The interpersonal relationships of the persons of the Trinity revealed to us in the economy of the incarnation (though they transcend what is revealed) show to us that there is a social dimension in the Godhead itself, the dimension which allows us to know and say God is love. Humanity, made in the image and likeness of God, therefore has a social dimension which ties us together as one (even if in our sin, we try to divide ourselves from the rest of humanity and become individuals cut off from the whole). Divine Wisdom, Divine Sophia, Love is manifested in humanity, where our proper nature is a reflection of love, and justice exists only in that love. Society is not the collection of some independent individuals, but rather the reflection and engagement of the interdependent relationship of persons who need each other for the full revelation of their own personal nature.

The social dimension inherent within humanity means that all true justice contains a social dimension to it, making all justice social justice. This does not make the adjective “social” in social justice unnecessary, but rather, it is to be used when the social dimension of justice is neglected or rejected. It is vital that the social dimension of justice is affirmed when people who think societies are based upon rugged individualism seek to make all justice private. Individualism cuts off from its purview the social dimension which connects people to each other, overturning the interdependent relationship which exists between persons, and as such, it ignores the social harm which is done as the result of particular forms of injustice.

Scripture, however, is clear: our sins, our injustice, do not affect us alone. Though the guilt is personal, the consequences of that guilt affects society as a whole, and as such, those who come afterward will live in and experience the consequences of sin:

The LORD passed before him, and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation”  (Ex. 34:4-6 RSV).

While the consequences are social, and many people will be affected by what we do, it remains that the guilt associated with our actions is ours (as well as those who cooperate with our evil, allowing sin to be communal as well):

The soul that sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son; the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself (Ezek.  18:20 RSV).

What is important to remember is that what we do does not affect ourselves alone. As we commit acts of injustice, those around us are also wounded. Likewise, as those around us are wounded, society as a whole becomes wounded. We are in this together. Though the guilt is personal, the consequences of our actions affects others and not just ourselves. When we sin, we are therefore guilty of the social consequences of our actions, and if we want to repent, if we want to fix the harm which has been done, we must realize that we have a responsibility to change and repair the harm which we have done to society. This connection between our personal sin and our social guilt explains why James told us to confess our sins to one another (cf. Jas. 5:16), as our actions affect not just ourselves, but everyone else around us. This is especially true in regards the ecclesial community, because the church is not some ordinary social institution, it is the integrated social community of the body of Christ; the church is meant to overcome the disintegration of humanity into private individuals cut off from each other, but when it allows such sin or those within its institutions commit such sin, that function is not only hindered but subverted, causing the church to act contrary to its purpose. The harm which is done within the church is a greater harm, a greater Satanic harm, and sins, such as racism, sexual abuse, when found within the church, must be rooted out as swiftly and as efficiently as possible so that the church can effectively be the sign of Christ to the world. Yes, the wheats and the tares will be together until the end of time. That does not mean the church can continues to ignore such injustice: to do so is to go against her very essence. Such compromise will interfere with Christ’s attempt to use the church as a vessel of grace to the world. As all grace comes to us as a potential, and that potential must be actualized through engagement with it, so the church must actualize the grace rendered to it, both within by constantly purifying itself, and without as it shares the grace given to it to others, so that they too can experience the healing grace of God as all of humanity is called to be one like God is one.

This is why pride, or self-love, is a grave sin, for it seeks to overturn the social order, telling us to view our individual desires as being more important than social justice.  Though all sin harms the social order, some of it is not intentional, while self-love, which makes us attach ourselves to ourselves, cutting away the love which is meant to be shared from all, is intentional. This is why it is is one of deadly sins, indeed, it can be said to be the root sin from which all other evil flows, and even those sins which are not directly related to self-love, contain unconscious elements of it, so that if we root out self-attachment and die to the self, we will find ourselves once again thinking and acting in accordance to justice and not its antithesis.  In this fashion, St. Maximos the Confessor was clear, our self-love, which also brings us to attach ourselves to a very limited notion of the self (with our body as the center of our being) is the mother of all vices and if we want to be virtuous and just, we will overturn it in ourselves:

Guard yourself from self-love, mother of vices, which is unreasonable affection for the body. For from it doubtless arise those first three capital, impassioned, raving thoughts – I mean gluttony, avarice, and vainglory. They have their origin in some needful demand of the body; from them the whole catalogue of vices is born. One must then, as has been said, necessarily be on guard and war against this self-love with great sobriety. When this is done away with, all of its offspring are likewise done for.[1]

Self-love, individualism, all turn us away from justice, though many have been trained to think in terms of justice along the lines of such erroneous ways of activity.  It is because of this libertarian denial of the person and its proper relationship to humanity as a whole, justice must be examined so that its social dimension is not forgotten, and any discussion of justice can be and should be established as social justice so that individualistic ideology does not interfere with the proper restoration of justice by denying the need satisfaction to be done for the healing of society as a whole. We are, therefore, called, as St. Caesarius of Arles indicated, to reestablish harmony, and all that we are told to do or not do, should reflect this:

In order that with God’s help you may be able to do this, keep peace yourself and recall to harmony those who are at variance. Avoid falsehood, dread perjury as perpetual death, do not bear false witness or commit theft. Above all, as already said above, give alms to the poor according to your means.[2]

Justice, when done, restores harmony; harmony exists when we are in right relationship with each other. Those who are poor and destitute suffer injustice, which is why giving alms to the poor, or other means of helping lift them up to a harmonious relationship with the rest of humanity, is an important foundation, if not the foundation, by which desire for justice in the world is to be fulfilled. God promises justice for the poor and oppressed, while those who work against that justice have been warned: they rejoice now, but that joy will be temporary, and they shall weep and morn for the injustices which they have committed.  Ignoring the social dimension of justice, ignoring the need to restore the harmonious balance of humanity, will not lead to the kingdom of God, but fires of hell.


[1] St. Maximus the Confessor, “Four Centuries on Charity” in St. Maximus. Trans. Polycarp Sherwood O.S.B., S.T.D. (New York: Newman Press, 1955), 165.

[2] Saint Caesarius of Arles, Sermons: Volume I. Trans. Sister Mary Magdeleine Mueller, O.S.F. (New York: Fathers of the Church, Inc., 1956), 75.

 

Stay in touch! Like A Little Bit of Nothing on Facebook


Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!


TRENDING AT PATHEOS Catholic
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment