Necessary Justice by Thomas S. Buchanan

Necessary Justice

To do justice and judgment is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.
—Proverbs 21:3

Justice is often listed as the first of the four cardinal virtues. It has been called the mother of all virtues by Lactantius and Leo XIII, but that title is also claimed for gratitude (Cicero), humility (Augustine and Cassian), charity (Jerome), prayer (Isaac the Syrian), discretion (Abba Moses and Benedict), obedience (Augustine—yes, again), sobriety (Origen), good will in the soul (Albert the Great), reverence (von Hildebrand), courage (Winston Churchill), patience (Hindu tradition), appreciation (Chinese tradition), jihad-patience-sacrifice (Islamic tradition), and frugality (inscription on the State National Bank Building in Houston, Texas).

Despite this disagreement over which is the greatest of the virtues, it is clear that justice holds civilized societies together. As Augustine said in City of God, “A republic cannot be administered without justice.” Nevertheless, justice is a very elusive thing. Justice is, in every country, more difficult to obtain if one is very poor and weak than if one is very rich and powerful. Presidents, kings, and rich young rulers can get away with scandalous things that peasants and paupers cannot. Hence, although it is our duty to live justly, we recognize that true justice for us will only be obtained in the Kingdom of Heaven.

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Thomas S. Buchanan is the George W. Laird Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Biomedical Engineering at the University of Delaware. He has studied at UCSD, Northwestern University, and MIT, and has held visiting professorships at the University of Western Australia and the University of Aix-Marseille. He has served as department chairman, deputy dean, and institute director, president of the American Society of Biomechanics, and editor-in-chief of the Journal of Applied Biomechanics. He is on the Board of Trustees of Saint Katherine College, the editorial board of Touchstone, and the board of The Fellowship of St. James.

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