The virtue of justice: Ad alterum

The Virtue of JusticeMichael A. Hayes

The image of justice, Lady Justice, " from the Latin Justitia, the Roman goddess of justice " is sometimes depicted as a blindfolded woman holding a set of scales in her right hand and a two edge sword in her left hand. The iconography symbolizes the working of justice where the blindfold represents objectivity; the scales represent the balancing of the arguments; and the two edged sword rep- resent the power to implement justice.

In contrast Christian iconography offers another image: the image of the Redeemer Christ as Pantokrator, no longer martyr on the cross but now come in glory to judge the world. The Pantokrator is sometimes depicted as holding a book in his left hand " the symbol of human actions in the world " and with his right hand giving a blessing, as if to impart divine mercy.

The Christian understanding of the virtue of justice places its understanding not so much in the legislating of justice but in terms of relationship to the 'other' (ad alterum) and how the individual lives out this capacity to take on the instruction of Jesus, 'You shall love your neighbour as yourself ' (Mk 12.31).

'The increasingly close interdependence which is gradually encompassing the entire world is leading to an increasing universal common good, the sum total of the conditions of social life enabling groups to realise their perfection more fully and readily, and this has implications for the rights and duties of the whole human race.' (GS 2.26)

It is clear from this statement from the Second Vatican Council's document on The Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes) that justice and the common good are inextricably linked. Justice is concerned with upholding the common good of the whole of society; it seeks to change an unjust society; it has concern for the rights of others whether in dignity, property, or reputation. Justice, therefore, correlates to a primary given of human experience, 'otherness', the ad alterum. For St Ambrose justice is 'that which renders to each what is his or hers, and claims not what is another's; justice disregards one's profit in order to maintain a common equity' [De officiis, Bk 1,24 (PL 16:62)]. This proposition originates from the demand of scripture for the Christian to have an active commitment for one's neighbour and that responsibility for humanity is a shared task (see, for example, Jn 13.34-35; Mk 12.28-31; Mt 5.43-48; Lk 10.25-37). This understanding of justice helps to develop and maintain the flourishing of human life in the context of community.

For the Christian this understanding is predicated on the assertion of Jesus, 'Set your hearts on his kingdom first, and on God's saving justice, and all these other things will be given you as well.' (Mt. 6.33). This dictates the direction for action in the world, for it establishes the ultimate purpose, the real aspiration of human living, divine destiny which is communion with God.

The virtue of justice is one of the distinctive features, when embraced, that enables the Christian to live well in future hope of a divine destiny. To embrace this quality of justice the Christian has, therefore, always to have an eye to the common good. To live justly the Christian is always audacious and importunate for the common good.

The Christian understanding of justice is then not some abstract objectivity con- cerned with weighing arguments and enforcing legislative decisions, but 'God's saving justice' " the action directed towards the well-being of the other and the common good. This can be seen from the setting in which the prophet Micah utters God's word on justice:

'He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?' (Micah 6.8)