The virtue least able to stand alone

Children reveal our instinct for fairness, the root concept in the virtue of justice. Of course, as every parent knows, that instinct is often distorted, with the desire for fairness being expressed only as “fairness for me.” Justice is a virtue with deep, visceral content. Whenever it is invoked, it should be accompanied with flags of warning. Of all the virtues, it is the least able to stand alone.

The virtue of justice, when taken alone, moves towards vice. The instinct for fairness quietly blends with the sin of envy, the desire that someone should “get what’s coming to them,” ironically named, “just deserts.” When we take pleasure in another’s misfortune, it is not the virtue of justice – it is the sin of envy. It is quite rare in our world that we find justice standing alone, pure and undefiled.

When mixed with envy, justice has the nightmare problem of no limitations. It is never satisfied with fairness – it requires punishment (inevitably justified as “fairness” or “recompense” or “justice”). The desire for justice, by itself, easily becomes an instrument of great evil … The natural appetite for justice knows no limit. The quiet virtues of temperance and prudence are the necessary antidotes to such excess. They are also much less easily acquired.

… Temperance and prudence require ascetical efforts.

Fr. Stephen Freeman, Justice, Temperance, Prudence and the Virtue of “No”.

Bonus from the same blog:

Conservatism is easily little more than the resistance to change. Receiving a tradition is a matter of a living relationship with what has gone before and recognizing its place in the present. Conservatism treats the past as important – tradition treats the past as still present.

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God’s Justice

Saint Isaac of Syria famously said “We know nothing of God’s justice, only His mercy.” …

God’s justice is inscrutable. We cannot know it or fathom it or understand it. It’s a useless concept when it comes to understanding our obligations to God. God is just because He is not unjust. But what it means to say that God is just is simply beyond our ken.

The results of the distortions caused by faulty theologizing about God’s justice is a God that is not worthy of worship. There are those who not only glibly consign sinners to hell but also postulate that the righteous will rejoice in the torment of sinners because of their delight in the goodness of God’s justice. Those with normal human sensibilities are repulsed by such notions. Those who embrace such heresy have their soul’s perverted desire for infinite justice confirmed. Such theology doesn’t heal the soul; it corrupts it further and feeds its passions.

Father Stephen Freeman, Justice Enough?

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“The remarks made in this essay do not represent scholarly research. They are intended as topical stimulations for conversation among intelligent and informed people.” (Gerhart Niemeyer)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.