From Social justice to the justified soul
April 30, 2021
Last Sunday I wrapped up my lengthy series of essays on social justice, the right order of human social life, with my final reflections on the common good, ‘living well together’. In sum I sought to show how the ten commandments trace for us a view of the common good in terms of a shared life of virtue, rooted in a shared life of worship and contemplation of God, the highest truth, the origin of all reality, and also the supreme common good. We all have in common our dependence upon him as our Creator and our Redeemer. If this consideration of the common good is correct, then the role of just government is first of all to promote a common life in accordance with the commandments of God, if not on the supernatural level, ordered to eternal life, at least on the natural level, ordered towards an upright common life upon earth.
The conclusion of my considerations on social justice fittingly returns to my starting point the worship of God. When I started this series in November 2019 I wrote: “Sunday observance is not just a religious issue, but a social justice issue, indeed the key issue for true social justice. Social justice means nothing if it does not involve the right order of society; if social justice is reduced to merely economic issues (or environmental issues) it completely misses the larger question of the right order of society. A rightly ordered society would put the observance of Sunday first and the good of the family second, while all work, production, and economic matters would be subordinated to these two human goods.”
Consequently, I structured my entire treatment of social justice around the four hierarchical orders of human life revealed in Eden: the order of man to God, the interior order of the individual human person, the social order that begins in the relation of male and female, and finally the order of man over the whole creation.
I did not write anything directly about the interior order of the individual human person, since this did not pertain directly to the realm of social justice. Nevertheless, the interior order is actually indispensable. One of the greatest errors of contemporary movements for justice is the attempt to establish justice between persons and groups, without providing for persons who will themselves actually possess the virtue of justice, without providing for persons with rightly ordered souls, without providing for the life of virtue.
Law is the middle between human social life and the life of virtue. The point of my last two essays was that the commandments teach the path of virtue, as common path, a path of living well together. Human law should be measured by the commandments. Good law serves and harmonizes with the commandments. Bad law undermines the commandments of God. Bad law, especially when it is actually unjust, is law in name only.
In any case, having written about social justice, the right order of human social life and the commandments, which connect human social life to the interior order of the human soul, it is time to write something about the interior order of the soul, without which social justice would be impossible.
Before I enter into the order of the soul, let me mention something about the classic ‘enemies’ of the soul, and so also of social justice: the devil, the world, and the flesh.
The devil is the first rebel against the order of God, the original instigator of sin, which leads to the ruin of the soul and the ruin of human social life. In the measure allowed by God, the demonic legions attack the soul directly through ‘the flesh’ and indirectly through ‘the world’.
Once Adam followed the lead of the devil and rebelled against God, he left his descendants an inheritance of disorder in both the world and the soul. The biblical expression ‘the flesh’ refers to the disorder of the human soul, an effect of original sin. Original sin is nothing other than the loss of God’s grace, which became the inheritance we received when we were conceived in our mother’s womb. That loss of grace comes with disorder in the soul that remains in some measure even after the soul is restored to grace. The disorder of ‘the flesh’ consists in the darkening of the mind, the insubordination of the will, and the turbulence of the emotions, all of which conspire together in such a fashion that a man finds within himself a continual source of temptation to sin that the devil can easily exploit. The ‘flesh’ is our enemy within that we must each deal with.
The ‘world’ is simply human society ordered without God and against God, which then becomes for its part an incitement to sin. People sometimes refer to ‘structures of sin’. St. John Paul II spoke of the ‘culture of death’. The connections between the abortion industry, politics, medicine, and education give us powerful examples of how the ‘world’ functions as a structure of sin, a culture of death.
Unfortunately, in recent decades it has been common, within the Church, which is set in opposition to the ‘world’, to enter into dialog with the ‘world’ for the sake of ‘peace’, while the reality of the devil is denied, the ‘flesh’ is treated as ‘mental illness’, and sin disappears from the horizon.
Christ came to deliver us from all this and establish the order of his kingdom in our soul.
Fr. Joseph Levine graduated from Thomas Aquinas College and after a long journey was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Baker, Oregon. He currently serves as pastor of St. Peter Catholic Church in The Dalles on the Columbia River.
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