The Divine Life in Man


MEN ARE BY NATURE SOCIAL BEINGS. They live  together and work together for their mutual advantage. This cooperation of men with one another is necessary if men are to achieve real success in human living. If all parents abandoned all children immediately after birth, the children would not live and the human race would perish. If all the patrons of department stores took the merchandise but refused to pay the price, all department stores would be bankrupted and soon there would be no stores at all and no goods to be purchased. If, from birth to death, every man had to do everything for himself, provide his own food, his own clothing, his own home, his own medical care, his own defense against thieves and murderers, his own education, then the human race would perish. The fullness of human living is possible to mankind only through the cooperation of all in the pursuit of the common good of all. Men must live together and work together if each man is to have his chance to lead a full, rich human life. Briefly, men must live in society.

SOCIETY SUCCEEDS IN PROMOTING the common welfare of its members only to the extent that the common life of the members is ruled by order and peace. The United States of America is rich in natural resources. Millions of human beings can live richly and fully through the proper use of these natural resources. But imagine for a moment that the peace and order of the United States did not exist. On Monday farmer Jones might plant his fields in wheat. But on Tuesday farmer Smith would plough up the fields again and plant rye. And before either one of them could harvest the crop, some marauders from the next county might drive up in force and harvest the rye for themselves. This same situation would prevail in all the fields of human endeavor. The storekeeper would never know from day to day whether he had any goods to sell or whether his customers would pay their bills. The lonely traveler would never know whether or not he would complete his journey without being robbed or murdered. The householder would never know when he might be driven from his home by an invader stronger than himself. Without peace and order no society could live long. Without peace and order the life of mankind would be a will-o'-the-wisp tossed about violently by the hurricane winds of brute force.
BUT THE PEACE AND ORDER of society are attained through the practice of the virtue of justice. It is justice which leads the customer to pay the merchant the proper price for his merchandise. It is justice which leads the farmer to respect the fields and crops of his neighbors. It is justice which leads the policeman to enforce the laws without fear or favor. It is justice which prevents a man from stealing the money, the home or the wife of another man. In a word, it is justice which leads each man to give to every other man what is due to him. It is justice which leads men to respect each other's rights. In this way justice gives to society the stability and efficiency which are necessary for successful living.

THE VIRTUE OF JUSTICE is based on the recognition in each man of both rights and obligations. We are all familiar with the notion that men have rights. A man, we say, has a right to his own life.

The worker has a right to his wages. The citizen has a right to be protected by the police against thieves or murderers. A right is something that is due to a man, something that he can claim as his own.

THE RIGHTS OF A MAN may be either natural or positive, that is, they may be due to him simply because he is a man, or because of some agreement reached between men. By nature, for example, each man has a right to his own life or good name. By private agreement the man who sells an automobile has a right to be paid the purchase price. By public agreement---law---each man has a right to the inviolability of his own home. Not even a policeman may enter or search his home without a duly authorized search warrant.

THE NOTION OF RIGHT cannot be divorced from the notion of obligation. If one man has a right, then other men have the obligation to respect that right. If a man has a right to his own life, then no other man can murder him. If a storekeeper has a right to his goods, then his customers have the obligation to pay him for any goods they wish to take for themselves. If every man's home is his castle, then not even the police may enter without his permission or without a search warrant. Every right walks hand in hand with the obligation to respect that right. The action of men in their dealings with one another must be so regulated that the rights of all are safeguarded.
THE VIRTUE WHICH INCLINES MEN to respect the rights of others is the virtue of justice. Justice is a habit by which a man, by a perpetual and constant will, gives to each one what is due to him. It is a virtue because it makes human acts good. It is a virtue of the will of man because it is concerned not with the knowledge of man or the internal passions of man but with man's external actions in relation to other men.

AS WE LOOK at other men we can see them from two points of view. We can look upon them simply as other individuals or we can look upon them as members of the community. Each man is both of these things, himself and a member of the community. And in both ways he has rights and obligations. Our actions in relation to another man considered only as a private individual are ruled by particular justice. Our actions in relation to other men considered as members of the community are ruled by what is called general or legal justice.

PARTICULAR JUSTICE regulates the relations between men considered as individuals. When one man pays another two dollars to mow his lawn, it is particular justice which directs both the making and the fulfilling of the contract. When a man buys vegetables from his grocer, it is justice which inclines the man to pay for the vegetables and the grocer to give his customer both the quantity of potatoes agreed upon by both and the exact change required.

GENERAL OR LEGAL JUSTICE regulates the relations between men considered as members of the community. Its object is the common welfare of all the members of the community. It is general justice which regulates the laws prescribing the requirements for voting. Since its object is the common good of all, and since the moral goodness or virtue of men leads to the attainment of the common good, it it within the province of general justice to direct the acts of all the virtues to the common good.

THE PROPER ACT of the virtue of justice is to give to each man exactly what is due to him. The customer in a store must give to the merchant exactly the price agreed upon, no more and no less. The burdens of taxation should be distributed among the citizens of a state in proportion to their real ability to pay. It follows from this that the mean of justice is not simply the mean of reason. It is also the real mean. Through justice we give to other men exactly what is theirs. If we give more, the excess is due to liberality, not to justice. If we give less, the defect is due to injustice.

THE VIRTUE OF JUSTICE is the mortar that binds together the bricks of the house of mankind. It is justice which gives to human life the stability which men need to work without fear or anxiety in the search for happiness. Where justice rules, there men need not fear that their food will be taken from their mouths or their homes burned to the ground by vandals. It is justice which gives men the inspiration to work fruitfully. Where justice rules, there men know that the fruits of their labor are their own. Justice is more excellent than the other moral virtues. It surpasses fortitude and temperance because it is a perfection of the rational will of man, which is a more excellent power than the sensitive appetite, the subject of fortitude and temperance. It is more excellent than prudence, for general justice seeks the common good---which is superior to the private good of the individual---and particular justice is directed also to the good of another.

THE VALUE OF JUSTICE can be measured also by the evil of injustice. The unjust man despises the rights and the persons of his fellowmen. He takes what is not his without regard for the rights of others. The money, the good name, the property, even the life of his neighbor he will destroy in pursuit of his own selfish ends. In this way he becomes an evil force destroying the unity of society. Every unjust man is a threat to the peace and order of human social living. As the number of the unjust increases, the stability of social life dies. Men lose their incentive to work for themselves or for the common good. Suspicion and hatred replace trust and love in the hearts of men. The law of force and cunning replaces the law of justice.

SINCE INJUSTICE always consists in an injury inflicted on another person, it is contrary to the law of charity. By its nature then it is mortally sinful. But it may sometimes happen that the injury is so slight that it is not altogether contrary to the will of the person injured. To steal five cents from a millionaire can hardly be a mortal sin. Basically the gravity of the injustice will be measured by the will and the circumstances of the person injured. To steal even a small sum of money from a very poor person can be mortally sinful. On the other hand one cannot steal large sums even from the wealthy.

PARTICULAR JUSTICE is either distributive justice or commutative justice. Distributive justice governs the distribution of the goods or the burdens of society to the individual members of society. It is distributive justice, for example, which provides for public education and public hospitals. The burdens of taxation and military service fall under the province of distributive justice.

COMMUTATIVE JUSTICE, on the other hand, rules the relations between individual men. It governs all the actions by which things are transferred between men. If the transfer is involuntary on the part of the original owner, as in the case of theft, then the action of the thief is an injustice and commutative justice demands that the stolen object be restored to its owner. If the transfer is voluntary, as in the case of buying and selling, then commutative justice rules the action of both the buyer and the seller.

THE MEAN TO BE FOLLOWED in distributive justice is the mean of geometrical proportion. The common goods of the community are to be distributed according to the relation between the citizens and their usefulness or prominence in the community. The mayor of a city, for example, will be paid a higher salary or pension than any lesser employee of the city.

ON THE OTHER HAND, the mean of commutative justice will be the exact arithmetical mean. If a man has borrowed twenty-five dollars from someone, he must repay twenty-five dollars. If he has stolen ten dollars, he must restore ten dollars.

THE FACT that commutative justice demands the restitution of what has been taken from someone else shows the foolishness of commutative injustice. The thief who has stolen money is obliged to restore it. The liar who has ruined a man's reputation is obliged to do what he can to retract his lies and their evil effects. As long as he clings to his injustice, the unjust man is an enemy of society and of himself. As long as he refuses to restore the order of justice, he is outside the order of charity and so cannot find true happiness.

THE SINS against justice are many. One sins against distributive justice by respect of persons. Distributive justice demands that the common good be distributed to persons according to their dignity or usefulness to the community. Thus justice demands that only a qualified person should be appointed to a judgeship. But the sin of respect of persons consists in giving a man something simply because he is the person he is. Thus the mayor who would appoint as judge a relative who was not qualified for the position would be guilty of the sin of respect of persons.

SINCE COMMUTATIVE JUSTICE regulates the relations between individual men, and since the actions of men in relation to one another are by far more numerous than the actions of distributive justice, the sins against commutative justice are more numerous also. We can injure our neighbor unjustly by murder or bodily injury, by theft and robbery, by bearing false witness against him in a court of law, by accusing him unjustly, or, if you are a judge or juror, by giving an unjust judgment against him, by reviling or backbiting him so that he loses his good reputation, by cheating him in a contract of sale, by lending him money at an exorbitant rate of interest, and  so on.

SINS AGAINST JUSTICE are the cause of tension and unrest in human society. Sins against distributive justice cause either anger or cynicism in the citizens. Anger can lead to sedition or revolt. Cynicism leads either to the moral corruption or the civic apathy of the members of the community. In either case the moral temper of society declines and men forsake the order of charity for the disorder of selfishness.

 SINS AGAINST COMMUTATIVE JUSTICE are even more destructive of the peace and order of society. Lying and stealing and murder destroy men's trust in one another and so prevent the harmonious cooperation of men with one another for the common good of all. When men cannot trust their neighbors, then they cannot work together effectively. When no one can be sure from day to day that what he has is his and will remain his, then all incentive to fruitful work is destroyed.

INJUSTICE THEN DESTROYS both the common good and the good of individual men. It destroys the happiness of society. Justice, on the other hand, means happiness in society. When men are just, then all can feel easy and secure. Human energies can be directed without anxiety to the search for real happiness. Without the fear and anxiety born of injustice men can direct their hearts and minds to the fulfillment of the law of charity. From one point of view charity is the cause of justice. For when men love one another they will be just to one another. From another point of view, justice is indispensable for charity. For when injustice reigns in society, then men find it hard to love one another and easy to love only themselves. The happiness of society then demands both charity and justice---charity as the motive of justice and justice as the strong bulwark of charity.