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The Cardinal Virtues - Justice

Catechesis by Pope St John Paul II      
General Audience, Wednesday 8 November 1978 - in English, French, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"Dear Brothers and Sisters,
1. In these first audiences when I have the joy of being with you, who come here from Rome, from Italy and from so many other countries, I desire, as I said on 25th October, to continue to develop the themes set by my predecessor, John Paul I. He wanted to speak not only about the three theological virtues - faith, hope and charity - but also about the four cardinal virtues: prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance. He saw in these seven virtues like seven lamps of the Christian life. Having been called by God to eternity, he was only able to speak about the three principal ones: faith, hope and charity, which illuminate the entire life of a Christian. In meeting with you to reflect upon the cardinal virtues in the spirit of my late Predecessor, I his unworthy successor wish in a certain sense to light the other lamps at his tomb.

2. So today I will speak about justice. It is perhaps good that this is the theme of the first catechesis in the month of November. Indeed, this month leads us to fix our gaze on the life of each man, and at the same time on the life of all humanity, from the perspective of final justice. We are all, in some way, aware that, in the transience of this world, it is not possible to realise the full measure of justice. Perhaps the words so often heard: "There is no justice in this world" are the fruit of a too easy simplification. However, there is equally in them a principle of profound truth. Justice is, in a certain way, greater than man, than the dimensions of his earthly life, than the possibilities of establishing in this life fully just relations among men, environments, societies and social groups, nations and so on. Each man lives and dies with a certain feeling of insatiability for justice, since the world is not able to satisfy fully a being created in the image of God, neither in the depths of his person nor in the various aspects of his human life. And thus, through this hunger for justice, man opens himself to God who "is justice itself". Jesus expressed this in the Sermon on the Mount in a very clear and concise way, saying: "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be satisfied." (Mt 5, 6).

3. Having before our eyes this evangelical meaning of justice, we must consider it at the same time as the fundamental dimension of human life on earth: the life of man, of society, of humanity. This is the ethical dimension. Justice is the fundamental Principle of the existence and the coexistence of men, as well as of human communities, of societies and peoples. Furthermore, justice is the principle of the existence of the Church, as People of God, and the principle of coexistence of the Church and the various social structures, in particular of the state, as well as of international organizations. In this wide and differentiated terrain, man and humanity continually seek justice: this is a perennial process and it is a task of supreme importance.

According to different relationships and different aspects, justice has obtained, over the centuries, more appropriate definitions. From here the concept of justice: communicative, distributive, legal and social. All this testifies to how much justice has a fundamental significance for the moral order among men, in social and international relations. It can be said that the very meaning of man's existence on earth is linked to justice. To define correctly "how much is due" to each one from all and at the same time to all from each one, "that which is due" (debitum) to man by man in different systems and relationships — to define, and above all to realise — is a great thing, through which each man lives and, thanks to which, his life has a meaning.

Therefore, during the centuries of human existence on earth, there remains a continuous effort and a continuous struggle to order with justice the whole of social life in its various aspects. The multiple programmes and the activity, sometimes reformative, of various trends and systems, need to be looked at with respect. At the same time, it needs to be kept in mind that it is not here foremost a question of systems, but of justice and of man. Man cannot be for the system, but the system must be for man. Therefore man needs to be defended from the rigidification of the system. I am thinking of social, economic, political and cultural systems which must be sensitive to man, to his integral good, which must be capable of reforming themselves and their own structures according to that which the full truth about man demands. It is from this view point that the great effort of our times must be evaluated, which tends to define and consolidate "the rights of man" in the life of today's humanity, of peoples, and of States.

The Church of our century remains in continual dialogue on the great front of the contemporary world, as testified by the numerous encyclicals of the Popes and the doctrine of the Second Vatican Council. The current Pope will certainly have to return repeatedly to these topics. In today's brief exposition, I have limited myself to only pointing out this vast and differentiated terrain.

4. It is therefore necessary for each of us be able to live in a context of justice and, even more, that each of us be just and act justly in regard to those near us and those far away, to the community, to the society of which one is a member... and in regard to God.

Justice has many references and many forms. There is also a form of justice that regards what man "owes" to God. This is a major, vast theme by itself alone. I will not develop it now, although I cannot fail to mention it.

Let us give our attention, today, to men. Christ left us the commandment of love of neighbour. This commandment also contains everything that concerns justice. There can not be love without justice. Love "surpasses" justice, but at the same time it finds its verification in justice. Even a father and a mother, loving their own child, must be just with him. If justice falters, love also is in danger.

To be just means to give to each one that which is due to him. This concerns temporal goods, of a material nature. The best example here can be remuneration for work or the so-called right to the fruits of one's own work or of one's own land. However to man is due furthermore his good name, respect, consideration, the reputation that he merits. The more we know a man, the more his personality, his character, his intellect and his heart are revealed to us. And the more we realize — and we must realize! — with which criterion to "measure him" and what it means to be just towards him.

It is therefore necessary continually to deepen our knowledge of justice. It is not a theoretical science. It is virtue, it is capacity of the human spirit, of the human will and also of the heart. Moreover it is necessary to pray so as to be just and know how to be just.

We cannot forget the words of Our Lord: "The amount that you measure out is the amount you will be given" (Mt 7, 2).

The just man, the man of "just measure".
May we all be so!
May we all strive constantly to become so!
My blessing to everyone."