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Love, Justice, And Vaccine Mandates

Love, Justice, And Vaccine Mandates August 26, 2021

torstensimon: COVID19 vaccines / pixabay

The COVID19 pandemic continues, thanks, especially because many have not done what they can to contain it. Many people who can get the vaccine refuse to do so. Many people who can wear mask refuse to do so, even when they are sick and coughing. Many people refuse all social distancing measures, and so if someone around them gets sick with COVID19, they and their loved ones get sick as well, with many of them dying of the disease which they once denied was a real threat.  ICU beds are running out  as people are dying, waiting for medical attention. So much of this could have been prevented if only people did what was needed and did not resist the state when the state told them to act for the sake of the common good and get vaccinated and wear masks where appropriate. The state has the right to issue mandates which work for the protection of society, if such protection can be shown to be effective and morally sound, both which have been proven in regards the vaccine and masking mandates.

While there are many religious leaders, especially evangelical Christian leaders, who have provided misinformation on vaccines and on COVID19, more religious leaders around the world have been telling their faithful to get vaccinated and to do what they can to help save lives. Pope Francis said that the faithful should not need a mandate to get vaccinated as they should do so out of the Christian obligation to love one’s neighbor. But, because many people are not doing as they should voluntarily, and the need is great (for the number of needless deaths will only increase when there are no more ICU beds available), it is possible to mandate what should be done out of love: justice must imposes its demands when people will not act out of charity. This is why we see bishops, Catholic and Episcopal, requiring workers in their dioceses to get vaccinated, even as others indicate they will not give out religious exemptions to those who want to claim religious opposition to vaccination.

It’s sad to see all the Christian opposition to proper and needful initiatives to save lives. Christians should know better. The foundation of Christian morality is the law of love, and that law, as St. Augustine explained, means Christians should do nothing which would cause undue harm or evil to their neighbor:

The rule of love is that one should wish his friend to have all the good things he wants to have himself, and should not wish the evils to befall his friend which he wishes to avoid himself. How shows this benevolence to all men. No evil must be done to any. Love of one’s neighbor workerth no evil (Rom. 13:10). Let us then love even our enemies as we are commanded, if we wish to be truly unconquered. [1]

Letting a deadly virus spread and destroy lives which do not have to be destroyed is far from love; it is either  done out of malice, selfishness, or the kind of pride associated with people who do not like to be told what to do and will not do what they are told to do, even when it is for their own best interests. Those who fight in this manner, while claiming to be Christian, should heed Scripture, because it consistently tells them to humble themselves, for it says it  is with such humility we get grace and the benefits of grace can be activated in our lives (cf. Jas. 4:6 and Prov. 16:18). It is, moreover, an issue of salvation, for those who ignore justice, those who ignore the needs of the common good for the sake of their own private desires, risk condemnation because they have not established the law of love in their own lives, while those who are concerned with the common good and work for it out of love, engender the right disposition for their own salvation, as Julianus Pomerius wrote about in the fifth century:

In view of this one should consider whether they act justly who, removing themselves from all occupations and devoting themselves to spiritual pursuits,  do nothing for human society, and, preferring their own desires to the advantage of all, disregard the common good by choosing a welcome freedom. For, to be unwilling to help the afflicted when you can, to wish to enjoy restful quiet without regard for the common good is surely not equity. Those who  respect this equity of all life for the good of all and, as though born for another, guard and love one another’s salvation. [2]

Christian writers have long understood the implications of this. Society is formed for the sake of the common good, and society can and should put laws and regulations into place which protect the common good from the hands of private individuals whose inordinate desires, if left unchecked, would harm society. Roger Bacon, therefore, pointed out that the public good is more important than private desires while pointing out that when the public good is embraced, the private good can be improved as well:

But public good takes precedence of private good, as Aristotle says in the first book of the Metaphysics. But the part preceding contains the public good ; this part urges upon men private good. For love is the greatest virtue, and is ordained for the common good, and peace and justice are its companions, virtues which transcend the morals of individuals. For man is a social animal and it is in accordance with his own nature, as Avicenna says in the fifth book on the Soul, that he should not live alone like a beast which in its life suffices itself alone. Therefore the laws regulating men with regard to the last topic are more important. [3]

In relation to our human character, St. Thomas Aquinas said that there are many goods for us to follow, among which is our political good, whereupon once again, we find the need to protect and promote the common good:

But the proper good of man must be considered in various ways, according as man is understood under various aspects. The proper good of man as man is the good of reason, in that to be a man is too be rational. But the good of man considered as an artist is the good of art; so also considered in his political character, his good is the common good of the state.[4]

The good must be obtained in a proper fashion, and then preserved. “But to love the good of any society involves a twofold consideration: first, in the manner in which it is obtained; secondly, the manner in which it is preserved. “[5] In regards vaccination and mask mandates, those who are vaccinated and those who wear masks are helping to preserve the good of society, while those who do not do so, hinder and destroy the common good, leading to an unseemly number of unnecessary deaths.

Origen tells us that Jesus Christ takes on the qualities associated with the divine energies so that we can label him with such qualities, such as truth, justice and sanctification:

The Lord Jesus Christ is justice. No one who acts unjustly is subordinate to Christ, justice. The Lord Christ is truth. No one is subordinate to Christ, the truth, who lies or holds false teaching. The Lord Christ is sanctification. No one is subordinate to Christ, sanctification, when he himself is profane and defiled. The Lord Christ is peace. No one is subordinate to Christ who is hostile or bellicose, unable to say, “I was peaceful with those who hate peace.” [6]

Justice demands us to work for and promote the common good. If we work for the common good, we will protect life. When we ignore the demands of justice for the sake of own personal desires, we find ourselves standing away from Christ, who is, as Origen said, justice. We stand in opposition to him and what he would have us to do, that is, we end up standing against the dictates of love and what they would have us do in the present situation. We should not need mandates. We should not need to be told what to do. But, sadly, we find that when there are no such mandates in place, people will continue to act selfishly and ignore the needs of their neighbor. The state can’t mandate love and force us to act out of love, but it can promote justice and tell us to follow rules in accordance to the dictates of justice. Christians must not try to use the voluntary expectations of love to undermine the necessary needs of  justice, because the two issues are separate. The state can’t mandate love, but it can and must do what it can to promote the common good, which means, to regulate actions which would cause harm to society. The state can mandate vaccines for this reason.


[1] St. Augustine, “Of True Religion,” in Augustine: Earlier Writings. trans. John H.S. Burleigh (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1953),270.

[2] Julianus Pomerius, The Contemplative Life. Trans. Mary Josephine Suelzer, PhD (Westminster, MD: The Newman Bookshop, 1947), 155-6.

[3] Roger Bacon, Opus Majus. Part II. trans. Robert Belle Burke (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1928), 663.

[4] St. Thomas Aquinas, On Charity. Trans. Lottie H. Kendzierski (Milwaukee, WI: Marquette University Press, 1960; repr. 1984). 28 [ Art. II].

[5] St. Thomas Aquinas, On Charity,  29 [ Art. II].

[6] Origen, Homilies on the Psalms: Codex Monacensis Graecus 314. Trans. Joseph W. Trigg (Washington, DC: CUA Press, 2020), 90 [Homily 2 on Psalm 36].

 

 

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