Justice Types

Catholic social teaching, like must philosophical reflection, distinguishes three dimensions of basic justice: commutative justice, distributive justice, and social justice.

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

As regards the State, the interests of all, whether high or low, are equal…and therefore the public administration must duly and solicitously provide for the welfare and the comfort of the working classes; otherwise, that law of justice will be violated which ordains that each man shall have his due…Among the many and grave duties of rulers who would do their best for the people, the first and chief is to act with strict justice – with that justice which is called distributive – toward each and every class alike.

Rerum Novarum (“On the Condition of Labor and the Working Classes”), Pope Leo XIII, 1891 #33.


 

The right of property is distinct from its use. That justice called commutative commands sacred respect for the division of possessions and forbids invasion of others’ rights through the exceeding of the limits of one’s own property; but the duty of owners to use their property only in a right way does not come under this type of justice, but under other virtues, obligations of which “cannot be enforced by legal action.” Therefore, they are in error who assert that ownership and its right use are limited by the same boundaries; and it is much farther still from the truth to hold that a right to property is destroyed or lost by reason of abuse or non-use.

Quadragesimo Anno (“After Forty Years”), Pope Pius XI, 1931 #47.


 

Therefore, the riches that economic-social developments constantly increase ought to be so distributed among individual persons and classes that the common advantage of all, which Leo XIII had praised, will be safeguarded; in other words, that the common good of all society will be kept inviolate. By this law of social justice, one class is forbidden to exclude the other from sharing in the benefits.

Quadragesimo Anno (“After Forty Years”), Pope Pius XI, 1931 #57.


 

[I]t is contrary to social justice when, for the sake of personal gain and without regard for the common good, wages and salaries are excessively lowered or raised; and this same social justice demands that wages and salaries be so managed, through agreement of plans and wills, in so far as can be done, as to offer to the greatest possible number the opportunity of getting work and obtaining suitable means of livelihood.

Quadragesimo Anno (“After Forty Years”), Pope Pius XI, 1931 #74.


 

[S]o as to avoid the reefs of individualism and collectivism, the twofold character, that is individual and social, both of capital or ownership and of work or labor must be given due and rightful weight. Relations of one to the other must be made to conform to the laws of strictest justice–commutative justice, as it is called–with the support, however, of Christian charity. Free competition, kept within definite and due limits…must be effectively brought under public authority in these matters which pertain to the latter’s function.

Quadragesimo Anno (“After Forty Years”), Pope Pius XI, 1931 #110.


 

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. Yet even supposing that everyone should finally receive all that is due him, the widest field for charity will always remain open. For justice alone can, if faithfully observed, remove the causes of social conflict but can never bring about union of minds and hearts.

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


 

Furthermore, while there are just differences between people, their equal dignity as persons demands that we strive for fairer and more humane conditions. Excessive economic and social disparity between individuals and peoples of the one human race is a source of scandal and militates against social justice, equity, human dignity, as well as social and international peace.

Gaudium et Spes (“The Church in the Modern World”), Vatican II, 1965 #29.


 

Their obligations stem from a brotherhood that is at once human and supernatural, and 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.

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


 

Without abolishing the competitive market, it should be kept within the limits which make it just and moral, and therefore human. In trade between developed and underdeveloped economies, conditions are too disparate and the degrees of genuine freedom available too unequal. In order that international trade be human and moral, social justice requires that it restore to the participants a certain equality of opportunity.

Populorum Progressio (“On the Development of Peoples”), Pope Paul VI, 1967 #61.


 

Catholic social teaching, like must philosophical reflection, distinguishes three dimensions of basic justice: commutative justice, distributive justice, and social justice.

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


 

Commutative justice calls for fundamental fairness in all agreements and exchanges between individuals or private social groups. It demands respect for the equal human dignity of all persons in economic transactions, contracts, or promises. For example, workers owe their employers diligent work in exchange for their wages. Employers are obligated to treat their employees as persons, paying them fair wages in exchange for the work done and establishing conditions and patterns of work that are truly human.

Economic Justice for All, U.S. Catholic Bishops, 1986 #69


 

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. The Second Vatican Council stated: “The right to have a share of earthly goods sufficient for oneself and one’s family belongs to everyone. The fathers and doctors of the Church held this view, teaching that we are obliged to come to the relief of the poor and to do so not merely out of our superfluous goods”. Minimum material resources are an absolute necessity for human life. If persons are to be recognized as members of the human community, then the community has an obligation to help fulfill these basic needs unless an absolute scarcity of resources makes this strictly impossible. No such scarcity exists in the United States today.

Economic Justice for All, U.S. Catholic Bishops, 1986 #70


 

Justice also has implications for the way the larger social, economic, and political institutions of society are organized. 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 #71


 

Unfortunately, even today one finds instances of contracts between employers and employees which lack reference to the most elementary justice regarding the employment of children or women, working hours, the hygienic condition of the workplace and fair pay; and this is the case despite the international declarations and conventions on the subject and the internal laws of states. The Pope [Leo XIII] attributed to the “public authority” the “strict duty” of providing properly for the welfare of the workers, because a failure to do so violates justice; indeed, he did not hesitate to speak of “distributive justice.”

Centesimus Annus (“The Hundredth Year,” Donders translation), Pope John Paul II, 1991 #8.


 

The Church teaches that social justice is an integral part of evangelization, a constitutive dimension of preaching the gospel, and an essential part of the Church’s mission. The links between justice and evangelization are strong and vital. We cannot proclaim a gospel we do not live, and we cannot carry out a real social ministry without knowing the Lord and hearing his call to justice and peace.

Communities of Salt and Light, National Conference of Catholic Bishops, 1993 “The Roots of Parish Social Mission.


 

Social justice and the common good are built up or torn down day by day in the countless decisions and choices we make. This vocation to pursue justice is not simply an individual task — it is a call to work with others to humanize and shape the institutions that touch so many people. The lay vocation for justice cannot be carried forward alone, but only as members of a community called to be the “leaven” of the Gospel.

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


 

[T]he market is the economic institution that permits encounter between persons, inasmuch as they are economic subjects who make use of contracts to regulate their relations as they exchange goods and services of equivalent value between them…The market is subject to the principles of so-called commutative justice, which regulates the relations of giving and receiving between parties to a transaction. But the social doctrine of the Church has unceasingly highlighted the importance of distributive justice and social justice for the market economy, not only because it belongs within a broader social and political context, but also because of the wider network of relations within which it operates. In fact, if the market is governed solely by the principle of the equivalence in value of exchanged goods, it cannot produce the social cohesion that it requires.

Caritas in Veritate (“In Charity and Truth”), Pope Benedict XVI, 2009 #35.


 

In the global era, the economy is influenced by competitive models tied to cultures that differ greatly among themselves. The different forms of economic enterprise to which they give rise find their main point of encounter in commutative justice. Economic life undoubtedly requires contracts, in order to regulate relations of exchange between goods of equivalent value. But it also needs just laws and forms of redistribution governed by politics, and what is more, it needs works redolent of the spirit of gift. The economy in the global era seems to privilege the former logic, that of contractual exchange, but directly or indirectly it also demonstrates its need for the other two: political logic, and the logic of the unconditional gift.

Caritas in Veritate (“In Charity and Truth”), Pope Benedict XVI, 2009 #37.


 

While it is quite true that the essential vocation and mission of the lay faithful is to strive that earthly realities and all human activity may be transformed by the Gospel, none of us can think we are exempt from concern for the poor and for social justice: “Spiritual conversion, the intensity of the love of God and neighbour, zeal for justice and peace, the Gospel meaning of the poor and of poverty, are required of everyone.”

Evangelii Gaudium (“The Joy of the Gospel”), Pope Francis, 2013 #201.


 

Underlying the principle of the common good is respect for the human person as such, endowed with basic and inalienable rights ordered to his or her integral development. It has also to do with the overall welfare of society…[T]he common good calls for social peace, the stability and security provided by a certain order which cannot be achieved without particular concern for distributive justice; whenever this is violated, violence always ensues. Society as a whole, and the state in particular, are obliged to defend and promote the common good.

Laudato Si’ (“Praise Be”), Pope Francis, 2015 #157.