JUSTICE is a virtue by which we render unto every man that which to him

is due. Among equals, it is called commutative justice, the which alone

is here in question. It protects us in the enjoyment of our own rights,

and imposes upon us the obligation of respecting the rights of our

fellow-men. This, of course, supposes that we have certain rights and

that we know what a right is. But what is a right?

ord itself may be clearer in the minds of many than its

definition; few ignore what a right is, and fewer still perhaps could

say clearly and correctly what they mean by the word. A right is not

something that you can see and feel and smell: it is a moral faculty,

that is, a recognized, inviolable power or liberty to do something, to

hold or obtain possession of something. Where the right of property is

concerned, it supposes a certain relation or connection between a

person and an object; this may be a relation of natural possession, as

in the case of life or reputation, a relation of lawful acquisition, as

that of the goods of life, etc. Out of this relation springs a title,

just and proper, by which I may call that object "mine," or you,

"yours;" ownership is thereby established of the object and conceded to

the party in question. This party is therefore said to have a right to

the object; and the right is good, whether he is in possession or not

thereof. Justice respects this right, respects the just claims and

titles of the owner, and forbids every act injurious thereto.

All this pre-supposes the idea of God, and without that idea, there can

be no justice and no rights, properly so-called. Justice is based on

the conformity of all things with the will of God. The will of God is

that we attain to everlasting happiness in the next world through the

means of an established order of things in this life. This world is so

ruled, and our nature is such, that certain means are either absolutely

or relatively necessary for the attaining of that end; for example,

life, reputation, liberty, the pursuit of happiness in the measure of

our lawful capacity. The obligation therefore to reach that end gives

us the right to use these means; and God places in every soul the

virtue of justice so that this right may be respected.

But it must be understood that the rights of God towards us transcend

all other rights that we may have towards our fellow-men; ours we enjoy

under the high dominion of Him who grants all rights. Consequently, in

the pursuit of justice for ourselves, our rights cease the moment they

come into antagonism with the superior rights of God as found in His

Law. No man has a right to do what is evil, not even to preserve that

most inalienable and sacred of all rights, his right to life. To deny

this is to destroy the very notion of justice; the restrictions of our

rights are more sacred than those rights themselves.

Violation of rights among equals is called injustice. This sin has a

triple malice; it attacks the liberty of fellow-men and destroys it; it

attacks the order of the world and the basis of society; it attacks the

decree and mandate of the Almighty who wills that this world shall be

run on the plan of justice. Injustice is therefore directly a sin

against man, and indirectly a crime against God.

So jealous is God of the rights of His creatures that He never remains

satisfied until full justice is done for every act of injustice.

Charity may be wounded, and the fault condoned; but only reparation in

kind will satisfy justice. Whatever is mine is mine, and mine it will

ever remain, wherever in this world another may have betaken himself

with it. As long as it exists it will appeal to me as to its master and

owner; if justice is not done in this world, then it will appeal to the

justice of Heaven for vengeance.

The six last commandments treat of the rights of man and condemn

injustice. We are told to respect the life, the virtue, the goods and

the reputation of our fellow-men; we are commanded to do so not only in

act, but also in thought and desire. Life is protected by the fifth,

virtue by the sixth and ninth, property by the seventh and tenth, and

reputation by the eighth. To sin against any of these commandments is

to sin against justice in one form or another.

The claims, however, of violated justice are not such as to exact the

impossible in order to repair an injury done. A dead man cannot be

brought back to life, a penniless thief cannot make restitution unless

he steals from somebody else, etc., etc. But he who finds himself thus

physically incapable of undoing the wrongs committed must have at least

the will and intention of so doing: to revoke such intention would be

to commit a fresh sin of injustice. The alternative is to do penance,

either willingly in this life, or forcibly in the purging flames of the

suffering Church in the next. In that way, some time or other, justice,

according to the plan of God, will be done; but He will never be

satisfied until it is done.