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To define and, principally, to realize justice

on Friday, 01 August 2003. Posted in General audience

by Pope John Paul II, general audience of November 8, 1978

It is not man who is at the service of the system,
but the system which must be at the service of man

Pope John Paul I and John Paul IIPope John Paul I with his future successor, Cardinal Karol Wojtyła

This month of November invites us to bring our attention on the life of each man and on the life of all humanity, in the perspective of final justice.

Nearly all of us are conscious that, in this world, it is impossible to realize justice in all its dimension. No doubt, the words so often heard, “there is no justice in this world”, are a bit simplistic. But they are true. Justice is greater than man, greater than his terrestrial life.

It is difficult for men to establish among themselves, among diverse milieu, among society and the groups composing it, among nations, relations just as they would hope for. Each man lives and dies as though thirsting for justice, because the world is not capable of fully satisfying a being created in the image of God, neither in the deepest part of his being, nor in the different aspects of his human life.

Thus thirsting for justice, man aspires to God who is Justice. In the sermon on the mount, Jesus said it clearly: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they shall be satisfied” (Mt. 5,6).

To define and realize justice

Without wandering from this evangelical vision, we must equally consider justice as a fundamental dimension of human life here below: the life of man, of society, of humanity. It is the moral dimension. Justice is a fundamental principle of the existence and the coexistence of men, of communities, of societies, and of nations.

Justice is also a principle of the existence of the Church, People of God, a principle of the coexistence of the Church and of various social structures, in particular of the State, as also international organizations. On this ground, vast and varied, man and humanity searches unceasingly for justice: it is a continual process, an extremely important task. According to the different relations and situations, justice has received, all along the centuries, definitions which were more and more appropriate.

Whence the concept of justice: commutative, distributive, legal, and social. All this shows how justice is fundamental for moral order, among men in social and international relations. We could say that the meaning itself of the existence of man on earth is linked to justice.

To define correctly what is due to each one on the part of all and to all on the part of each one, what is due (debitum) to man on the part of man, everywhere. To define and principally to realize!

It is a great thing for which a nation lives, and because of it, its life has meaning.

Systems at the service of man

We have assisted, all along the centuries, to an incessant effort, to a continual struggle to put more and more justice in our society. We must consider with respect the numerous programs and reformative systems of diverse tendencies. But we must become aware that here it is not a question of systems, but first a question of justice and of man.

It is not man who is at the service of the system, but the system which must be at the service of man. In consequence, these systems themselves must guard against becoming hard. I am thinking of the social, economic, political, and cultural systems which must be respectful of man, of his integral good, and capable of rectifying themselves, of rectifying their own structures in adjusting them to the needs of the full truth concerning man.

From this viewpoint, we must grant full value to the effort accomplished in our days to consolidate the rights of men in the life of humanity, of peoples and States. The Church of our century is in continual dialogue with the contemporary world at all levels, as testified by the numerous encyclicals of the Popes and the doctrine of Vatican Council II. The actual Pope must return often upon this vast subject which he is only pointing out at this moment.

Each of us must be able to live in justice and, moreover, be just and act with justice concerning those who are close to him, those who are far, towards the community, society, and... towards God.

Love presupposes justice

Among the numerous forms of justice, there is one which concerns what man owes to God. It is a theme, very vast in itself! I will not enlarge upon it at this time, but I cannot forbear to point it out.

Let us dwell, meanwhile, on men. Christ left us the commandment of love of neighbour. This commandment holds all that concerns justice. There can be no love without justice. Love is over and above justice, but at the same time, it presupposes justice. Even the father and the mother who love their child must be just toward him. If justice is unsteady, love also is threatened.

To be just is to give everyone his due. This concerns temporal and material goods. Here, the best example could be the remuneration for work, the right to the fruit of his labour or his land.

Also, we must render to man respect and consideration, which are his right.

The more we know man, the more he reveals to us his personality, his character, his intelligence, and his heart. And so we become aware — and we must become aware — of the criteria by which we must measure and what it means to be just towards him.

It is consequently necessary to constantly deepen our knowledge of justice. It is not a theoretic science. It is a virtue, a strength of the spirit, of the will, and of the heart. We must also pray to be just and to know how to be just. We cannot forget the words of Our Lord: It is the measure which you use that will be used as a measure for you. A just man, a man of just measure.

That we may all be just! That we may ever strive to become just!

To all, my blessing.

John Paul II

Nearly all of us are conscious that, in this world, it is impossible to realize justice in all its dimension. No doubt, the words so often heard, “there is no justice in this world”, are a bit simplistic. But they are true. Justice is greater than man, greater than his terrestrial life.

It is difficult for men to establish among themselves, among diverse milieu, among society and the groups composing it, among nations, relations just as they would hope for. Each man lives and dies as though thirsting for justice, because the world is not capable of fully satisfying a being created in the image of God, neither in the deepest part of his being, nor in the different aspects of his human life.

Thus thirsting for justice, man aspires to God who is Justice. In the sermon on the mount, Jesus said it clearly: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they shall be satisfied” (Mt. 5,6).

To define and realize justice

Without wandering from this evangelical vision, we must equally consider justice as a fundamental dimension of human life here below: the life of man, of society, of humanity. It is the moral dimension. Justice is a fundamental principle of the existence and the coexistence of men, of communities, of societies, and of nations.

Justice is also a principle of the existence of the Church, People of God, a principle of the coexistence of the Church and of various social structures, in particular of the State, as also international organizations. On this ground, vast and varied, man and humanity searches unceasingly for justice: it is a continual process, an extremely important task. According to the different relations and situations, justice has received, all along the centuries, definitions which were more and more appropriate.

Whence the concept of justice: commutative, distributive, legal, and social. All this shows how justice is fundamental for moral order, among men in social and international relations. We could say that the meaning itself of the existence of man on earth is linked to justice.

To define correctly what is due to each one on the part of all and to all on the part of each one, what is due (debitum) to man on the part of man, everywhere. To define and principally to realize!

It is a great thing for which a nation lives, and because of it, its life has meaning.

Systems at the service of man

We have assisted, all along the centuries, to an incessant effort, to a continual struggle to put more and more justice in our society. We must consider with respect the numerous programs and reformative systems of diverse tendencies. But we must become aware that here it is not a question of systems, but first a question of justice and of man.

It is not man who is at the service of the system, but the system which must be at the service of man. In consequence, these systems themselves must guard against becoming hard. I am thinking of the social, economic, political, and cultural systems which must be respectful of man, of his integral good, and capable of rectifying themselves, of rectifying their own structures in adjusting them to the needs of the full truth concerning man.

From this viewpoint, we must grant full value to the effort accomplished in our days to consolidate the rights of men in the life of humanity, of peoples and States. The Church of our century is in continual dialogue with the contemporary world at all levels, as testified by the numerous encyclicals of the Popes and the doctrine of Vatican Council II. The actual Pope must return often upon this vast subject which he is only pointing out at this moment.

Each of us must be able to live in justice and, moreover, be just and act with justice concerning those who are close to him, those who are far, towards the community, society, and... towards God.

Love presupposes justice

Among the numerous forms of justice, there is one which concerns what man owes to God. It is a theme, very vast in itself! I will not enlarge upon it at this time, but I cannot forbear to point it out.

Let us dwell, meanwhile, on men. Christ left us the commandment of love of neighbour. This commandment holds all that concerns justice. There can be no love without justice. Love is over and above justice, but at the same time, it presupposes justice. Even the father and the mother who love their child must be just toward him. If justice is unsteady, love also is threatened.

To be just is to give everyone his due. This concerns temporal and material goods. Here, the best example could be the remuneration for work, the right to the fruit of his labour or his land.

Also, we must render to man respect and consideration, which are his right.

The more we know man, the more he reveals to us his personality, his character, his intelligence, and his heart. And so we become aware — and we must become aware — of the criteria by which we must measure and what it means to be just towards him.

It is consequently necessary to constantly deepen our knowledge of justice. It is not a theoretic science. It is a virtue, a strength of the spirit, of the will, and of the heart. We must also pray to be just and to know how to be just. We cannot forget the words of Our Lord: It is the measure which you use that will be used as a measure for you. A just man, a man of just measure.

That we may all be just! That we may ever strive to become just!

To all, my blessing.

John Paul II

This article was published in the August-September, 2003 issue of “Michael”.