Social justice: The order of Eden and its loss.

Starting last summer, I began writing about the truth of creation and the limitations of modern science. My consideration of creation finished with the sabbath and the Lord’s Day. This led me to affirm that the Lord’s day is actually the most important institution of true social justice.

I wrote: “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.”

Before beginning to look at this order of social justice, starting from the Lord’s Day, I turned first to some foundational principles of the Church’s social teaching, as enunciated by Pope Leo XIII in Rerum Novarum. There we saw how in dealing with the issues of private property and the relation between employer and worker, he taught that these issues do not revolve around just the well-being of individuals, but the well-being of the family, which is the first and foundational human society. We also saw that he was insistent on the necessary role of the religion and the Church for the right order of human society.

Pope Leo XIII, as well as his successors, have approached the matter addressing particular problems agitating the society of their times. Pope Leo XIII was particularly concerned to defend the right of private property over against socialism and communism. Later, in the 20th century, after World War II, complicated issues involving global economic disparity between developed and undeveloped nations, which were further exacerbated by the conflicts Cold War, entered into the picture. More recently, environmental issues have been given a great deal of attention. In the end, the pressure of immediate practical concerns in a highly secularized world, have tended to obscure the very foundations of social order, foundations that have been so eroded as to seem no longer relevant to actual life.

My argument is that it is necessary to renew our understanding of the foundations, even if they have been practically destroyed, because we will never get it right unless those foundations are restored. Such a goal might seem remote and impractical, but the vision of the goal reveals the depth of corruption of our actual social, economic, and political order. Without the vision of how things should be we will only be swept along further by the tide of corruption. Further, the vision of right order is needed so that individuals, families, and smaller communities can begin coalescing around such sound principles, providing the seeds and foundation for future renewal. Compromises and half-measures will get us nowhere. If nothing else, we must at least keep the vision alive.

That is what the Jewish people, in captivity in Babylon did, when they sang, If I forget you, Jerusalem, let my right-hand wither. (Ps 137:5)

So let’s begin with the original order, the order of Eden.

When Adam and Eve were first created they enjoyed the grace and friendship of God, their Creator. They possessed such perfect innocence, interior order in their souls, and dominion over their bodies, that they could live in each other’s presence, in the complete transparency of their nakedness, without any shame or need for shame. Finally, they lived in perfect harmony with the created world, over which they had been given dominion under God.

In sum, in Eden, there was perfection and peace in four hierarchical orders, 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.

St. Augustine defined peace as ‘the tranquility of order’; in Eden, before sin, there was perfect peace because there was perfect order.

Notice what happens next. First, Adam and Eve disobey the divine commandment, thereby breaking their right relation to God, disrupting the first and most fundamental order, losing thereby the grace and friendship of God.

Next, everything else falls into disorder.

They see that they are naked. In other words, they have been stripped of the clothing of divine grace, have lost their own personal innocence, the right order of their soul, and dominion of soul over body. Hence, they have become weak, vulnerable, and ashamed.

From this comes the disruption of their mutual relation as they cover their shame, hide from each other, and enter into the bitterness of mutual recrimination that has haunted human life ever since.

Finally, their relation with the created world over which they were meant to exercise a benevolent dominion, was lost as they were cast out of the garden and had to toil and sweat to gain their bread from the midst of thorns and thistles.

In all this disorder resulting from sin, the relation to God and the interior order of the human soul is key.

This means that unless the right relationship with God is restored, every other order within the created world, is doomed to failure.

The word ‘religion’ means, by its etymology, ‘binding back’. The practice of religion is what is meant to ‘bind us back’ to God, and so restore that first and most fundamental order.

In this, however, not all religions are equal, but only that religion that is willed by God will do.



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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