Is it Thursday already? A few weeks of Mondays ago, we were asked to prepare a briefing sheet on areas of potential differences with a potential new member of CESJ’s advisory board, the Board of Counselors, with whom we met shortly after. (Happy ending: the potential new member became a member, so any differences were straightened out.)
The bottom line was that there were no differences, just some areas that needed clarification and tightening up — such as “distributive justice.” The position taken by the new member of the advisory board explained the virtue of distributive justice as it pertained to politics . . . but not to economics.
Fortunately, this was very easy to address. The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church (the new member is a Catholic priest, so it’s appropriate to cite Catholic sources) mentions distributive justice only once, but that’s all that’s needed. It states, “The Church’s social Magisterium constantly calls for the most classical forms of justice to be respected: commutative, distributive and legal justice [Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2411.].”
The fact that the Compendium cites the Catechism of the Catholic Church and specifically states that it is “the classical forms of justice” that are to be respected is significant. The Catechism is unclear on this point, bringing in need as relating to distributive justice, which is only the case (and then very loosely) in extreme cases under the principle of double effect (Rerum Novarum, § 22).
The “classical form” of distributive justice, as Aquinas made clear in his commentary on the Nicomachean Ethics of Aristotle, has nothing to do with distribution on the basis of need. That was an invention of Msgr. John A. Ryan in A Living Wage (1906) and Distributive Justice (1916), both of which reinterpreted traditional Catholic social teaching and Aristotelian philosophy in a way that, to all intents and purposes, constituted the invention of a new religion under the name of Christianity. As G.K. Chesterton explained in Saint Francis of Assisi (1923):
“St. Francis was so great and original a man that he had something in him of what makes the founder of a religion. Many of his followers were more or less ready, in their hearts, to treat him as the founder of a religion. They were willing to let the Franciscan spirit escape from Christendom as the Christian spirit had escaped from Israel. They were willing to let it eclipse Christendom as the Christian spirit had eclipsed Israel. Francis, the fire that ran through the roads of Italy, was to be the beginning of a conflagration in which the old Christian civilization was to be consumed.” (G.K. Chesterton, Saint Francis of Assisi. New York: Image Books, 1957, 175.)
And what is the “classical form” of distributive justice? It’s a very simple concept: distributive justice operates when a participant in a common endeavor receives the results (outputs) of that endeavor in strict proportion to the relative objective value of his or her contribution to the endeavor (inputs). This conforms to the principles of Aristotelian-Thomist philosophy.