by Dick Wells, Jr. Warden
Another Word re: the Virtues
First, here’s just a follow-up on Father Bottom’s previous clarifications and thoughts about the Cardinal Virtues. As we know, these are not the only virtues, but together they are the foundation for all others. The word cardinal comes from the Latin cardo (pertaining to a hinge; applied to that on which something turns or stands or a cardinal point). The Cardinal Virtues remind me of the two commandments on which hang all the Law and the Prophets.
Thus, the four Cardinal Virtues provide a base, or hinge, or hanger, we follow in order to live by the other virtues.
The first use of the word “cardinal” to describe these virtues is in St. Ambrose of Milan’s commentaries on the Gospel of Luke. It also appears in writings of St. Augustine, St. Jerome, and St. Thomas Aquinas. As Christians, we need to understand that these virtues are more than just the gift of God. There is among some “modern” Christian groups a misunderstanding that righteousness (and thus living the Cardinal Virtues and more) just automatically comes with accepting Christ. We know otherwise because we must walk in the way of Jesus; that is, hard human work is required to practice and carry out the virtues. What is required of us is that we have a responsibility to participate in the life of the virtues by the power of God’s Spirit.
As Dr. Peter Kreeft writes: “God’s word says that ‘faith without works is dead.’ The works of virtue are the fruit of faith, that is, of a live faith. … (God) makes his power and grace available to us once we are joined to Christ. But if we simply sit back and let that spiritual capital accumulate in our heavenly bank account without making withdrawals and using it, we are exactly like the wicked and slothful servant who hid his master’s money rather than investing it, in Jesus parable of the talents (Mark 25, 14-30).”
Leading us to The Cardinal Virtue of Justice.
Justice gets high praise in the Scriptures. All 10 of those oft repeated Commandments are concerned with justice. And Jesus, the Most Just of all, died for the unjust, bearing our sins so that we could be reconciled to God (Romans 5:10-11; 2 Corinthians 5:18-21). Yes, Paul, too, is telling us to get off our collective duffs and do the work of God through Christ.
Then Justice is the virtue that lets us take on our Christian responsibilities and to give to others what is due them. Justice means that we respect others and all of God’s creation and fulfill our obligations to people and to all of God’s creation.
Even ancient philosophers recognized the importance of justice as a sort of perfect balance in which ALL parts, all things, are fairly balanced in relation to the whole. Much later, Thomas Aquinas said justice (and the other three Cardinal Virtues) form the moral development in all people, and among Christians those Virtues can only be understood and fully achieved through the Grace of God.
The Individual and Justice
I have freely used the word “we” to be inclusive for us Christians in talking of our rights and responsibilities in living the Cardinal Virtue of Justice. But for Christians, Justice is individual before it is group. Each of us must understand that we are just or unjust to ourselves before we are just or unjust toward others. However, don’t be misled in thinking about this individual responsibility as a sort of “moral relativism.” Moral relativists (or ethical relativists) might maintain that justice is established by the individual, and that morality is created by human beings and subject to them alone. This means objective moral truths do not exist. Moral relativism would says that what is right today may be wrong tomorrow and that all things are subject ot change – even truth and justice. But traditional Christian worship shows us that morality (and justice) is objective and fixed in our guidance from God.
Kreeft says: “The human body has a structure that is inherent, not socially changeable, and the laws of its health are equally inherent and unchangeable, objective. The same is true of the soul. Virtue is simply health of soul. Justice, the overall virtue, is the harmony of the soul, as health is the harmony of the body. Justice is not just paying your debts, not just an external relationship between two or more people, but also and first of all the internal relationship within each individual among the parts of the soul.”
When we let the Word of God guide us and we act upon the Word we will have justice for ourselves and for others. We are assured that what is just today will not change and be unjust tomorrow. By being guided by God’s Word and obeying him, we will build our individual lives and work to ensure a just foundation within our society.
Some Anglican Guidance about Justice
Excerpts from the Prayer Book Catechism at the back of the BCP:
Q: What response did God require from the chosen people?
A: God required the chosen people to be faithful; to love justice, to do mercy, and to walk humbly with their God. …
Q: What is our duty to our neighbors?
A: Our duty to our neighbors is to love them as ourselves and to do to other people as we with them to do to us; …To be honest and fair in our dealing; to seek justice, freedom, and the necessities of life for all people; and to use our talents and possessions as ones who must answer for them to God. …
Q: How does the church pursue its mission?
A: The church pursues its mission as it prays and worships, proclaims the Gospel, and promotes justice, peace, and love. …
And lastly, one passage that resonates especially with me, primarily because of my work in many nations around the world, is part of The Baptismal Covenant (see page 305):
Celebrant: Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
Me: I will, with God’s help.