The Moral Virtue of Justice – Part 5 of 7

Father Pegues continues his exposition of the virtue of justice by discussing sins against commutative justice that are committed by words. There are two types of such sins: “those that are committed in the solemn act of judgment; and those that are committed in the ordinary course of life.” There are five sins of the first type:

The first is the sin of the judge who judges unjustly. A judge should consider himself “a living justice, whose duty it is to restore in the name of the society which he represents the injured right to whosoever has recourse to his authority. It is his duty to judge those only who come under his jurisdiction: moreover, in drawing up his judgment he must take as his basis the facts of the case as set forth by the parties in litigation; . . . he must always dispense justice in its integrity, not showing to the culprit pity falsely so-called.”

Another sin committed in the solemn act of judgment is “the sin of those who are wanting in their duty as accusers, or who accuse unjustly.” The duty of accusing is “incumbent upon every man living in a society who knows of some evil that assails the society itself; he is thereby bound to bring to the notice of the judge the author of the evil so that justice may be done; he is free from this obligation only if he is unable to establish the truth of the fact juridically. Accusation is unjust when from simple malice one falsely imputes crimes to another; or if when one is called upon to give evidence one does not follow up the accusation according as justice demands.”

A third sin committed in the solemn act of judgment is “the sin of the accused who refuses to conform to the rules of the law.” These rules are “that he is bound to tell the truth to the judge when the latter, in virtue of his authority as judge, interrogates him; and that he must never defend himself by fraudulent means.” The accused “has no right to make an appeal from a just judgment with the sole object of retarding the putting into execution of the judgment. He may make an appeal only when he is the victim of manifest injustice. . . . The man who is unjustly condemned to death can resist even by violence provided no scandal is given.”

A fourth sin committed in the solemn act of judgment is the sin of the witness who is “wanting in his duty either by abstaining from giving evidence when he is required to do so by the public authority; . . . or whenever his evidence may prevent loss to someone; or by adducing false testimony.”

A fifth sin committed in the solemn act of judgment is “the sin of the advocate who refuses to defend a just cause such as can be defended by him only; or who defends an unjust cause particularly in civil causes; or who demands an exorbitant sum for his fee.”

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

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