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Nature And Grace by Aquinas

Article One Whether There Is Justice in God

Whether There Is Justice in God

We proceed to the first article thus:

1. It seems that justice is not in God. Justice is condivided with temperance, and temperance is not in God. Neither, therefore, is justice in God.

2. Again, he who does whatsoever pleases his will does not act from justice. Now the apostle says that God |worketh all things after the counsel of his own will| (Eph.1:11). Justice ought not then to be attributed to him also.

3. Again, a just act consists in giving to someone his due. But God owes nothing to any man. It follows that justice is not applicable to God.

4. Again, whatever is in God belongs to his essence. But justice cannot belong to his essence, since |good pertains to an essence, and justice to an act,| as Boethius says (Lib. de Hebd.). It follows that justice is not applicable to God.

On the other hand: it is said in Ps.11:7: |the righteous Lord loveth righteousness.|

I answer: there are two kinds of justice. One kind has to do with giving and receiving in return, with buying and selling, for example, and other kinds of transaction and exchange. The philosopher calls this commutative justice, or the justice which regulates transactions and exchanges (5 Ethics 4). This justice does not apply to God, for |who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again?| as the apostle says in Rom.11:35. The other kind of justice has to do with distribution. It gives to each according to his worth, like a manager or steward, and is consequently called distributive justice. Now the just rule of a family, or of a nation, reveals that there is justice of this kind in its governor. So also the order of the universe, which appears in natural things as well as in matters of the will, reveals the justice which is in God. Thus Dionysius says: |we ought to see that God is truly just, in that he gives to each thing that exists whatever is due to its worth, and preserves it in its proper order and virtue| (8 Div. Nom., lect.4).

On the first point: some moral virtues are concerned with the passions. Temperance is concerned with desire, fortitude with fear and daring, meekness with anger. We cannot attribute such virtues to God, since God has no passions, as we said in Q.19, Art.2, and Q.20, Art.1. Neither has he any sensitive appetite, which these virtues would require as their subject, according to what the philosopher says in 3 Ethics 2. There are, however, certain moral virtues concerned with actions like giving and spending, such as justice, liberality, and magnificence. These belong to the will, not to the sensitive part of the soul. There is therefore no reason why we should not attribute them to God. But we must attribute them as they apply to the actions of God, not as they apply to the actions of a citizen. It would indeed be ridiculous to praise God for the virtues of citizenship.

On the second point: since the object of the will is some good which the intellect appreciates, God can will only what accords with his wisdom. His wisdom is like a law of justice. It ensures that his will is right and just, and that he does justly whatever he does by his will, in the same way as we do legitimately whatever we do according to the law. But while we obey the law of one who is above us, God is a law unto himself.

On the third point: to each is due what is its own. But its own is that which is ordained for it. Thus a servant belongs to his master, and this relationship cannot be reversed, since the free is the cause of itself. The word |due,| therefore, denotes the relation of exigence or necessity which obtains between a thing and that for which it is ordained. Now there is a twofold order in things. There is the order whereby one created thing exists for the sake of another. Parts exist for the sake of a whole, accidents for the sake of substances, and each thing for the sake of its end. There is also the order whereby all things are ordained to God. We may accordingly discern two ways in which God acts with justice -- in respect of what is due to himself, and in respect of what is due to a creature. In either way, God renders what is due. It is due to God that created things should fulfil whatever his wisdom and his will ordains, and that they should manifest his goodness. God's justice upholds his right in this respect, rendering to himself what is due to himself. It is also due to each creature that it should have what is ordained for it. It is due to a man that he should have a hand, and that other animals should serve him. Herein also God acts with justice, giving to each thing what is due according to its nature and condition, although this is due only because each thing is entitled to what God's wisdom has ordained for it in the first place. But although God renders to each thing what is its due in this way, he is not thereby a debtor, since he is not ordained to serve anything. Rather is everything ordained to serve God. God's justice, then, sometimes means the condescension of his goodness. At other times it means that he gives merit its due. Anselm speaks of it in both senses in Proslogion 10, |it is just when thou punishest the wicked, since they deserve it. It is just when thou sparest the wicked, for this is the condescension of thy goodness.|

On the fourth point: justice can belong to God's essence even though it relates to an act, since what belongs to an essence may also be a principle of action. In any case, good does not always relate to an act. We say that a thing is good not only because of what it does, but also because it is perfect in its essence. For this reason, the passage quoted affirms that good is related to the just as the general to the special.

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