The Faith That Does Justice

By Matthew Sweeney, Social Justice Intern

As part of our year of social justice, I thought I’d offer a reflection on justice as a virtue and, in particular on its relation to the virtue of faith. A virtue is a habitual disposition to the good and according to virtue theory there are seven foundational virtues; 4 cardinal (or hinge)—prudence, temperance, courage, and justice—and three theological—faith, hope, and charity. It is my understanding that there is an inherent unity to the virtues, such that one virtue cannot be fully understood or realized without all the others. The theological virtue of faith, for example, is essential not only to the realization of the other theological virtues of hope and charity but also to the fullest realization of the cardinal virtues of prudence, temperance, courage, and justice.

First let’s look at how faith is essential for the full realization of the other theological virtues. The virtue of faith, as an intellectual virtue, is a habitual disposition or character trait of the mind, such that it is capable of receiving infused knowledge. In other words faith allows for the enlightening of the mind by divine grace to the theological truths of Christianity. Because one must know God to love God, and one must love God in order to fully love his children, it thus follows that faith is required for Charity—at least in its fullest form. Faith is also essential to the fullest realization of the virtue of hope. This is because one must know God, know His love for us, and know about his Heavenly Kingdom, in order to be able to place our hope in Him, in His love, and in His Kingdom.

Faith, coupled with hope and charity, is also essential to the fullest understanding and realization of the cardinal virtues of prudence, temperance, courage, and justice. For our purposes, we’ll look at how faith, coupled with charity, it is foundational for justice. We need faith—the truth of Christ—in our minds in order to see the dignity in one another as children of God; and we need charity—the love of Christ—in our hearts, in order to love one another as He loves us. Thus, it is only when we have the virtues of faith and charity that we are able to love one another properly and treat each other righty—i.e. to act justly.

One of the major contemporary distortions of social justice comes from divorcing it from the theological virtues. Without faith hope and love, justice and all the other virtues are cut short. A secularized justice for example, rather than being founded fundamentally on a genuine love for the poor, at best falls back on an ideological love for an abstracted ideal of “social justice”, and at worst on a prideful distain for poverty. The Christian faith gives us access to the mind—divine Truth—and heart—divine Charity—of Christ, which is the true foundation for the full realization of justice and all virtue. Christianity therefore is “the faith that does justice.”