Charity and Justice

Accordingly, peace is also the fruit of love, for love goes beyond what justice can achieve.

Gaudium et Spes Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Second Vatican Council, 1965

Let us not persuade ourselves that we have fully complied with the divine law in regard to our relations with our fellow men, when we have carefully discharged all the obligations of justice. For its safeguard and completion, the stern law of justice looks to the gentler but nonetheless obligatory law of charity. Justice presents our fellow man as an exacting creditor, who rightly demands the satisfaction of his rightful claims. Charity calls on us as children of the one universal family whose Father is God, to cherish for one another active brotherly love second only to the love which we owe to Him.
Pastoral Letter of 1919, U.S. Catholic Bishops, 1919 “Charity.”


Though different in kind from justice, the precept of charity imposes duties which we may not disregard. To love the neighbor is not simply a matter of option or a counsel which they may follow who aim at moral perfection: it is a divine command that is equally binding on all. It extends beyond kindred and friends to include all men, and it obligates us in thought and will no less than in outward action.

Pastoral Letter of 1919, U.S. Catholic Bishops, 1919 “Charity.”


After justice has rendered impartial decision, it is charity that brings men back to fellowship. And if at times it be fitting that mercy should season justice, the quality of mercy itself is but charity touched to compassion.

Pastoral Letter of 1919, U.S. Catholic Bishops, 1919 “Charity.”


[Divine commands] require that in their dealings with one another, nations shall observe both justice and charity. By the former, each nation is bound to respect the existence, integrity, and rights of all other nations; by the latter, it is obliged to assist other nations with those acts of beneficence and good will which can be performed without undue inconvenience to itself. From these obligations a nation is not dispensed by reason of its superior civilization, its industrial activity, or its commercial enterprise; least of all, by its military power. On the contrary, a State which possesses these advantages is under a greater responsibility to exert its influence for the maintenance of justice and the diffusion of good will among all peoples.

Pastoral Letter of 1919, U.S. Catholic Bishops, 1919 “International Relationships.”


But in effecting all this, the law of charity, “which is the bond of perfection,” must always take a leading role. How completely deceived, therefore, are those rash reformers who concern themselves with the enforcement of justice alone–and this, commutative justice–and in their pride reject the assistance of charity! Admittedly, no vicarious charity can substitute for justice which is due as an obligation and is wrongfully denied.

Quadragesimo Anno (“After Forty Years”), Pope Pius XI, 1931 #137.


Catholic Charities serves those most in need. We are a leader at solving poverty, creating opportunity, and advocating for justice in the community
The Church has always emphasized that this obligation of helping those who are in misery and want should be felt most strongly by Catholics, in view of the fact that they are members of the Mystical Body of Christ. “In this we have known the charity of God,” says St. John, “because he has laid down his life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. He that hath the substance of this world and shall see his brother in need and shall shut up his bowels from him; how doth the charity of God abide in him?”

Mater et Magistra (“Mother and Teacher”), Pope John XXIII, 1961 #159.


[H]uman society will be [well-ordered, beneficial and in keeping with human dignity] if the citizens, guided by justice, apply themselves seriously to respecting the rights of others and discharging their own duties; if they are moved by such fervor of charity as to make their own the needs of others and share with others their own goods: if finally, they work for a closer fellowship in the world of spiritual values.
Pacem in Terris (“Peace on Earth”), Pope John XXIII, 1963 #35.


The order which prevails in society is by nature moral. Grounded as it is in truth, it must function according to the norms of justice, it should be inspire and perfected by mutual love, and finally it should be brought to an ever more refined and human balance in freedom.

Pacem in Terris (“Peace on Earth”), Pope John XXIII, 1963 #37.


It is imperative that no one, out of indifference to the course of events or because of inertia, would indulge in a merely individualistic morality. The best way to fulfil one’s obligations of justice and love is to contribute to the common good according to one’s means and the needs of others, and also to promote and help public and private organizations devoted to bettering the conditions of life.

Gaudium et Spes (The Church in the Modern World), Vatican II, 1965 #30.


Accordingly, peace is also the fruit of love, for love goes beyond what justice can achieve. Gaudium et Spes (The Church in the Modern World), Vatican II, 1965 #78.
Mindful of the words of the Lord: “By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another”(Jn. 13:35), Christians can yearn for nothing more ardently than to serve the people of this age successfully with increasing generosity. Holding loyally to the Gospel, enriched by its resources, and joining forces with all who love and practice justice, they have shouldered a weighty task here on earth and they must render an account of it to him who will judge all people on the last day.

Gaudium et Spes (The Church in the Modern World), Vatican II, 1965 #93.


This duty [to bring about communion between all nations] is the concern especially of better-off nations. Their obligations…take on a threefold aspect: the duty of human solidarity–the aid that the rich nations must give to developing countries; the duty of social justice–the rectification of inequitable trade relations between powerful nations and weak nations; the duty of universal charity–the effort to bring about a world that is more human towards all men, where all will be able to give and receive, without one group making progress at the expense of the other. The question is urgent, for on it depends the future of the civilization of the world.

Populorum Progressio (“On the Development of Peoples”), Pope Paul VI, 1967 #44.


Having become aware of such great misfortunes, the human race will apply itself with intelligence and steadfastness to abolish them. This prayer should be matched by the resolute commitment of each individual–according to the measure of his strength and possibilities–to the struggle against underdevelopment. May individuals, social groups, and nations join hands in brotherly fashion, the strong aiding the weak to grow, exerting all their competence, enthusiasm and disinterested love. More than any other, the individual who is animated by true charity labors skillfully to discover the causes of misery, to find the means to combat it, to overcome it resolutely.

Populorum Progressio (“On the Development of Peoples”), Pope Paul VI, 1967 #75.


Action on behalf of justice and participation in the transformation of the world fully appear to us as a constitutive dimension of the preaching of the Gospel, or, in other words, of the Church’s mission for the redemption of the human race and its liberation from every oppressive situation.

Justicia in Mundo (“Justice in the World”), World Synod of Catholic Bishops, 1971 #6.


Our relationship to our neighbor is bound up with our relationship to God; our response to the love of God, saving us through Christ, is shown to be effective in his love and service of people. Christian love of neighbor and justice cannot be separated. For love implies an absolute demand for justice, namely a recognition of the dignity and rights of one’s neighbor. Justice attains its inner fullness only in love. Because every person is truly a visible image of the invisible God and a sibling of Christ, the Christian finds in every person God himself and God’s absolute demand for justice and love.

Justicia in Mundo (“Justice in the World”), World Synod of Catholic Bishops, 1971 #34.


Legislation is necessary, but it is not sufficient for setting up true relationships of justice and equality…If, beyond legal rules, there is really no deeper feeling of respect for and service to others, then even equality before the law can serve as an alibi for flagrant discrimination, continued exploitation and actual contempt. Without a renewed education in solidarity, an over-emphasis on equality can give rise to an individualism in which each one claims his own rights without wishing to be answerable for the common good.

Octogesima Adveniens (“A Call to Action”), Pope Paul VI, 1971 #23.


The life and words of Jesus and the teaching of his Church call us to serve those in need and to work actively for social and economic justice. As a community of believers, we know that our faith is tested by the quality of justice among us, that we can best measure our life together by how the poor and the vulnerable are treated.

Economic Justice for All, U.S. Catholic Bishops, 1986 #8.


No one may claim the name of Christian and be comfortable in the face of hunger, homelessness, insecurity, and injustice found in this country and the world.

Economic Justice for AllU.S. Catholic Bishops, 1986 #27.


Biblical justice is more comprehensive than subsequent philosophical definitions. It is not concerned with a strict definition of rights and duties, but with the rightness of the human condition before God and within society. Nor is justice opposed to love; rather, it is both a manifestation of love and a condition for love to grow.

Economic Justice for All, U.S. Catholic Bishops, 1986 #39.


Biblical justice is the goal we strive for. … These norms state the minimum levels of mutual care and respect that all persons owe to each other in an imperfect world. Catholic social teaching, like much philosophical reflection, distinguishes three dimensions of basic justice: commutative justice, distributive justice, and social justice. Commutative justice calls for fundamental fairness in all agreements and exchanges between individuals or private social groups … Distributive justice requires that the allocation of income, wealth, and power in society be evaluated in light of its effects on persons whose basic material needs are unmet. … Social justice implies that persons have an obligation to be active and productive participants in the life of society and that society has a duty to enable them to participate in this way.

Economic Justice for All, U.S. Catholic Bishops, 1986 #68-71.


Every citizen also has the responsibility to work to secure justice and human rights through an organized social response. In the words of Pius XI, “Charity will never be true charity unless it takes justice into account … Let no one attempt with small gifts of charity to exempt himself from the great duties imposed by justice.” The guaranteeing of basic justice for all is not an optional expression of largesse but an inescapable duty for the whole of society.

Economic Justice for All, U.S. Catholic Bishops, 1986 #120.


To overcome today’s individualistic mentality, a concrete commitment to solidarity and charity is needed, beginning in the family.

Centesimus Annus (“The Hundredth Year”), Pope John Paul II, 1991 #49.


Love for others, and especially for the poor, is made concrete by promoting justice.

Centesimus Annus (“The Hundredth Year”), Pope John Paul II, 1991 #58.


The biblical call to charity, justice, and peace claims not only each believer, but also each community where believers gather for worship, formation, and pastoral care…[O]ur faith is profoundly social. We cannot be called truly “Catholic” unless we hear and heed the Church’s call to serve those in need and work for justice and peace. We cannot call ourselves followers of Jesus unless we take up his mission of bringing “good news to the poor, liberty to captives, and new sight to the blind” (cf. Lk 4:18).
Communities of Salt and Light, National Conference of Catholic Bishops, 1993 “The Roots of Parish Social Mission.”


Our social ministry must be anchored in prayer, where we uncover the depths of God’s call to seek justice and pursue peace. In personal prayer, the reading of the Scriptures, and quiet reflection on the Christian vocation, we discover the social mission of every believer. In serving those in need, we serve the Lord. In seeking justice and peace, we witness to the reign of God in our midst. In prayer, we find the reasons, the strength, and the call to follow Jesus in the ways of charity, justice, and peace.
Communities of Salt and Light, National Conference of Catholic Bishops, 1993 “Anchoring Social Ministry.”


Catholic teaching calls us to serve those in need and to change the structures that deny people their dignity and rights as children of God. Service and action, charity and justice are complementary components of parish social ministry. Neither alone is sufficient; both are essential signs of the gospel at work. A parish serious about social ministry will offer opportunities to serve those in need and to advocate for justice and peace. These are not competing priorities, but two dimensions of the same fundamental mission to protect the life and dignity of the human person.
Communities of Salt and Light, National Conference of Catholic Bishops, 1993 “Charity and Outreach.”


If charity is to be realistic and effective, it demands that the Gospel of life be implemented also by means of certain forms of social activity and commitment in the political field, as a way of defending and promoting the value of life in our ever more complex and pluralistic societies. Individuals, families, groups and associations, albeit for different reasons and in different ways, all have a responsibility for shaping society and developing cultural, economic, political and legislative projects which, with respect for all and in keeping with democratic principles, will contribute to the building of a society in which the dignity of each person is recognized and protected and the lives of all are defended and enhanced.
Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life), Pope John Paul II, 1995 #90.


We demonstrate our commitment to the Gospel by how we spend our time and money, and whether our family life includes an ethic of charity, service and action for justice. The lessons we teach our children through what we do as well as what we say determines whether they care for the “least among us” and are committed to work for justice.

Everyday Christianity: To Hunger and Thirst for Justice, U.S. Catholic Bishops, 1998 “Called to Justice in Everyday Life.”


In the Catholic tradition, concern for the poor is advanced by individual and common action, works of charity, efforts to achieve a more just social order, the practice of virtue, and the pursuit of justice in our own lives. It requires action to confront structures of injustice that leave people poor. Individual believers are called to be generous in sharing what we have with those in need and to promote justice through the choices we make in our families, schools, and workplaces, and through our participation in social and economic life.
A Place at the Table: A Catholic Recommitment to Overcome Poverty and Respect the Dignity of All God’s Children, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), 2002 “Catholic Social Teaching.”


The Gospel and Catholic teaching require us to serve those in need and to work for a more just society and world. Both charity and justice are required by our faith. As citizens in the most powerful democracy on earth, we have unique opportunities to use our voices and votes to shape a more caring community, a more just nation, and a more peaceful world.

A Place at the Table: A Catholic Recommitment to Overcome Poverty and Respect the Dignity of All God’s Children, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), 2002 “A Call.”

Since the nineteenth century, an objection has been raised to the Church’s charitable activity…: the poor, it is claimed, do not need charity but justice. Works of charity—almsgiving—are in effect a way for the rich to shirk their obligation to work for justice and a means of soothing their consciences, while preserving their own status and robbing the poor of their rights. Instead of contributing through individual works of charity to maintaining the status quo, we need to build a just social order in which all receive their share of the world’s goods and no longer have to depend on charity. There is admittedly some truth to this argument, but also much that is mistaken. It is true that the pursuit of justice must be a fundamental norm of the State and that the aim of a just social order is to guarantee to each person, according to the principle of subsidiarity, his share of the community’s goods…[but] Love—caritas—will always prove necessary, even in the most just society. There is no ordering of the State so just that it can eliminate the need for a service of love. Whoever wants to eliminate love is preparing to eliminate man as such.

Deus Caritas Est (“God is Love”), Pope Benedict XVI, 2005 #26-28.


The Church can never be exempted from practising charity as an organized activity of believers, and on the other hand, there will never be a situation where the charity of each individual Christian is unnecessary, because in addition to justice man needs, and will always need, love.

Deus Caritas Est (“God is Love”), Pope Benedict XVI, 2005 #29.


Charity goes beyond justice, because to love is to give, to offer what is “mine” to the other; but it never lacks justice, which prompts us to give the other what is “his”, what is due to him by reason of his being or his acting. I cannot “give” what is mine to the other, without first giving him what pertains to him in justice. If we love others with charity, then first of all we are just towards them. Not only is justice not extraneous to charity, not only is it not an alternative or parallel path to charity: justice is inseparable from charity, and intrinsic to it.

Caritas in Veritate (“In Charity and Truth”), Pope Benedict XVI, 2009 #6.


On the one hand, charity demands justice: recognition and respect for the legitimate rights of individuals and peoples. It strives to build the earthly city according to law and justice. On the other hand, charity transcends justice and completes it in the logic of giving and forgiving. The earthly city is promoted not merely by relationships of rights and duties, but to an even greater and more fundamental extent by relationships of gratuitousness, mercy and communion. Charity always manifests God’s love in human relationships as well, it gives theological and salvific value to all commitment for justice in the world.

Caritas in Veritate (“In Charity and Truth”), Pope Benedict XVI, 2009 #6.


Reading the Scriptures also makes it clear that the Gospel is not merely about our personal relationship with God. Nor should our loving response to God be seen simply as an accumulation of small personal gestures to individuals in need, a kind of “charity à la carte”, or a series of acts aimed solely at easing our conscience. The Gospel is about the kingdom of God (cf. Lk 4:43); it is about loving God who reigns in our world. To the extent that he reigns within us, the life of society will be a setting for universal fraternity, justice, peace and dignity. Both Christian preaching and life, then, are meant to have an impact on society.
Evangelii Gaudium (“The Joy of the Gospel”), Pope Francis, 2013 #180.


Politics, though often denigrated, remains a lofty vocation and one of the highest forms of charity, inasmuch as it seeks the common good. We need to be convinced that charity “is the principle not only of micro-relationships (with friends, with family members or within small groups) but also of macro-relationships (social, economic and political ones)”.

Evangelii Gaudium (“The Joy of the Gospel”), Pope Francis, 2013 #205.


Love, overflowing with small gestures of mutual care, is also civic and political, and it makes itself felt in every action that seeks to build a better world. Love for society and commitment to the common good are outstanding expressions of a charity which affects not only relationships between individuals but also “macro-relationships, social, economic and political ones”…When we feel that God is calling us to intervene with others in…social dynamics, we should realize that this too is part of our spirituality, which is an exercise of charity and, as such, matures and sanctifies us.

Laudato Si’ (“Praise Be”), Pope Francis, 2015 #231.


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