by Fr. James V. Schall, SJ | Catholic World Report
A world of automatic salvation would not be worth creating or worthy of God
“God, who is justice and truth, does not judge by appearances.”
— Antiphon #3, Daytime Prayer, Wednesday, Week III, Roman Breviary.
“But you, God of mercy and compassion, / slow to anger, O Lord, / abounding in love and truth, / turn and take pity on me.”
— Psalm 86.
“Clemency, though she is invoked by those who deserve punishment, is respected by innocent people as well. Next, she can exist in the person of the innocent, because sometimes misfortune takes the place of crime; indeed, clemency not only succors the innocent, but often the virtuous, since in the course of time it happens that men are punished for acts that deserve pardon. Besides this, there is a large part of mankind which might return to virtue, if the hope of pardon were not denied them.”
— Seneca, “On Clemency,” I, 2.
The philosopher Plato was worried about whether or not the world was created in justice, since it did not seem to be. For in it, the innocent were often punished but many of the guilty went away untouched. While tyrants died in their beds, heroes languished in prison. Pope Benedict XVI held that the best chance of our seeing the good and necessity of the resurrection was through the logic of the virtue of justice. The actual persons who committed the crimes or who did the virtuous act had to be judged and properly punished or rewarded. Otherwise, no real and ultimate justice could take place. Without the immortality of the soul and the resurrection of the body, the world is created in injustice.
Aquinas too asked whether the world was created in justice. He said that it was created in mercy, not justice. Machiavelli, however, held that if we were merely just, we would be destroyed by the unjust. Thus, it was necessary also to be wicked at times, lest we perish. In C. S. Lewis’ novel, Till We Have Face, the Greek philosopher is asked, “Then the world is not created in justice?” He replies, “Thank God that it is not.” Finally, one of the first and most celebrated remarks of Pope Francis was: “The truth is that I am a sinner whom the mercy of God has loved in a special way.” If there are sinners in the world, they have no hope without there also being mercy, not merely justice.
Christianity professes to be a revelation of God’s love, the full dimensions of which are incomprehensible to us because of the limited nature of our being. We are finite beings who are created good but are not gods. However, Christianity affirms that things can be figured out by human reason since we depend on them and acknowledge them as true. We can know what is true. We know it when we affirm in our minds what is actually there in reality. Through our minds, we have a real connection with what is. The truths about the inner life of God and our relation to it are beyond the power of our reason, though not contradictory to it. We can think on them when we come to know them. In thinking of them, we learn to think better than when we only think of natural and human things.
Christianity purports to be grounded in the truth, the whole truth, not just that part of truth naturally open to human reason. It acknowledges that all truth fits together in a consistent order. It conceives that the purpose of the mind is to know this order. But can a society without justice or mercy be a society of truth?