The Moral Virtue of Justice – Part 4 of 7

Father Pegues continues his exposition of the virtue of justice by discussing sins against the property of another, which offends against commutative justice.

He states that every human person has the right to possess and use certain things “without the interference of anyone else.” This right “comes from the very nature of man himself; for since he is a rational being and made to live in society, his own good, the good of his family, and the good of society absolutely demand that the right of property be safeguarded. . . . The right to possess is a condition of man’s liberty, it is, moreover, for the family, the way par excellence whereby it is upheld in all its rights and is the guarantee of its existence in the society; further, this right of property effects that in the society itself more care is taken of things.”

The right to possess property entails these duties: “They are, first of all, the duty of taking care of one’s belongings and of doing one’s best to promote their productiveness. Then, according to the productiveness of these things, one must in due measure, after supplying one’s own wants, use these things for the good of others who are in the society. There is indeed a duty in social justice of giving to those who are in need the superfluity of one’s possessions, or of employing the labour of others, or of giving facilities for such labour to those who by this means earn their livelihood, and this one must do for the love of the public good generally.”

“The state in the interests of the public good has the right to make levies on the goods of individuals as regards whatever it judges necessary or useful for the good of the society, and individual members are bound to conform to the laws made by the state for this end. . . . But the good of individuals and the need of supplying their necessities does not oblige with the same rigour, for there is no positive human law constraining one to this.”

“On the other hand, the natural law demands this in all rigour. Not to succour the needy with the superfluity of one’s possessions is to act in direct opposition to the natural law; this obligation enforced by the natural law takes on a sacred character through divine positive law, especially through the law contained in the Gospels. God Himself preached this personally in order to impress more on the minds of men what He had already graven on their hearts.”

Sins against the property of another are theft, which is the appropriation of another’s property secretly, and robbery, which is the appropriation of another’s property by violence. “Robbery is more grave than theft; but theft, in itself, is always a mortal sin unless the thing taken is of small consequence.”

Quotations from Thomas Pegues, Catechism of the “Summa Theologica” of Saint Thomas Aquinas, trans. Aelred Whitacre (New York: Benziger, 1922).

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