Virtues Associated With Justice – Part 1 of 8

Father Pegues continues his exposition of St. Thomas Aquinas’ Treatise on the Cardinal Moral Virtues (Summa Theologica II-II, 47-170) by discussing nine virtues associated with the moral virtue of justice. These are religion, filial respect, reverence, gratitude, retributive justice, natural equity, truthfulness, friendship and liberality.

“The first eight refer to particular justice, the ninth to general or legal justice. Of the first eight, three—religion, filial respect, and reverence—have something in common, for they are outside the domain of strict justice, not because there is no debt to be paid, but because of the impossibility of attaining justness in the acquittance of the debt: religion with regard to God, filial respect with regard to parents and one’s country, reverence with regard to the good and to those in high places. The other five virtues are defective on the part of the debt; for they do not refer to something which is legally due to another, such as could be exacted in justice before a tribunal, but only to something which is morally due, the payment of which is left to the good will of each; such payment is, however, necessary for the well-being of human life and the harmony of the relations between men, either necessarily as truthfulness, gratitude, and retributive justice, or for the betterment of human relations as friendship and liberality.”

Next, Father Pegues discusses religion, the first and foremost of the nine virtues associated with justice. Religion is “a perfection of the will inclining man to acknowledge as it behooves his absolute dependence upon God, who is the first beginning and last end of all. Every act which, of itself, makes man recognize his dependence upon God is the proper object of the virtue of religion. But this virtue also may ordain to this same end all the acts of the other virtues; and in this case it makes the whole of man’s life an act of the worship of God.” This latter case is called sanctity, for “the saint is precisely he whose whole life is transformed into an act of religion.”

After the theological virtues, religion is the most excellent of virtues. It derives its excellence from this: “that among all the moral virtues whose object is to perfect man in every order of conscious activity in his striving after heaven, such as faith, hope, and charity, there is no other virtue whose object approaches so nigh to this end. The other virtues direct man, either in regard to his own conduct or in regard to other creatures, whilst religion directs him towards God.”

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

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