More from Aquinas on Justice, Holiness and Compassion

Aquinas tells us that the prophet Isaiah talks about two things—

Justice, which he possesses, and a vision of God.  And they follow one upon another.  For the vision of God is arrived at through justice.  Consider Psalm 15: ‘Who will dwell in your tabernacle.  One who walks without blemish and exercises justice.’ 

“Psalm 15: Who May Abide With You” sung by Emily Heilman. The Psalms Project

Moreover, “The gates of life are the gates of justice.” 

Aquinas teaches that justice, truth and compassion “are the same in essence” and offers this image taken from the psalms:  

The psalmist compares justice to mountains, truth to clouds, which are higher, and compassion to the skies, which are higher than all things. 

In doing justice we “imitate God”:

We imitate God by being compassionate because compassion is bound to accompany love.  ‘Be you compassionate as your Creator in heaven is compassionate;’  (Luke 6:36).  And this must be in deed.”   

“Lady Justice” by visual artist Kim Vanderheiden, removing the traditional blindfold and sword to offer a more compassionate icon. Published in the PISLAP Quarterly newsletter.

Compassion is not just a pious work or an object of meditation—it requires deeds. Notice how he links compassion and justice preparing the way for Meister Eckhart’s teaching, “compassion means justice.” (Eckhart was 15 years old when Aquinas died.) Says Aquinas:

We find these two things, compassion and justice, in all the works of God…. Compassion without justice is the mother of weakness.  And therefore it is necessary that they be joined together according to Proverbs 3:3: ‘Compassion and truth will not forsake you.’ 

Notice how Aquinas is equating justice and truth in this passage.  There is no justice sans truth.  As bell hooks says, “the heart of justice is truth telling.”

Aquinas defines compassion this way: 

Silver Tzedakah box, from tzedek, meaning justice; charity is seen as a form of justice and ethical obligation in Judaism. Money is set aside to be donated to a just cause according to Maimonides’ eight levels of giving. Wikiwand. Public Domain.

To be compassionate is to have a heart that suffers from the misfortune of others because we think of it as our own…You are truly compassionate when you are eager to repel the misfortune of others.  

Injustices so often reign but “God is not the originator of injustice.”  

The “roots of just desire” begin with “delight in God through love”—the Via Positiva therefore forms the foundation for a life of justice-making.  He cites Philippians 4: “Always take joy in God.” 

Justice is the “greatest” of the moral virtues for it holds society together  and concerns our relationship with others–“justice is in a way the good of another person….By it one is directed in one’s relations toward another.” 

He urges those fighting for justice, “to take pleasure in doing just deeds” which flow readily from those who love justice. 

Adapted from Matthew Fox, The Tao of Thomas Aquinas: Fierce Wisdom for Hard Times, pp. 101, 109-115. 

And Fox, Sheer Joy: Conversations with Thomas Aquinas on Creation Spirituality, pp. 505, 101, 391f., 401

To read the transcript of Matthew Fox’s video teaching, click HERE.

Banner Image: Justice, Truth, Compassion: A First Nations woman stands in witness before shoes left on the steps of the Saskatchewan Legislative Building in memorial protest for children who died at the residential schools of Canada. Photo by Tandem X Visuals on Unsplash

Queries for Contemplation

Do you take pleasure in fighting for justice? And agree with Aquinas and Isaiah that justice and a vision of God go together?

Recommended Reading

The Tao of Thomas Aquinas: Fierce Wisdom for Hard Times

A stunning spiritual handbook drawn from the substantive teachings of Aquinas’ mystical/prophetic genius, offering a sublime roadmap for spirituality and action.
Foreword by Ilia Delio.
“What a wonderful book!  Only Matt Fox could bring to life the wisdom and brilliance of Aquinas with so much creativity. The Tao of Thomas Aquinas is a masterpiece.”
–Caroline Myss, author of Anatomy of the Spirit

Sheer Joy: Conversations with Thomas Aquinas on Creation Spirituality

Matthew Fox renders Thomas Aquinas accessible by interviewing him and thus descholasticizing him.  He also translated many of his works such as Biblical commentaries never before in English (or Italian or German of French).  He  gives Aquinas a forum so that he can be heard in our own time. He presents Thomas Aquinas entirely in his own words, but in a form designed to allow late 20th-century minds and hearts to hear him in a fresh way. 
“The teaching of Aquinas comes through will a fullness and an insight that has never been present in English before and [with] a vital message for the world today.” ~ Fr. Bede Griffiths (Afterword).
Foreword by Rupert Sheldrake

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4 thoughts on “More from Aquinas on Justice, Holiness and Compassion”

  1. Avatar

    Yes! Yes!

    The Spirit of DIVINE LOVE includes Wisdom~Truth~Peace~Justice~Healing~Forgiveness ~
    Transformation~Freedom~Creativity~Beauty~Joy~Compassion~Service~Oneness… PRESENT within (our Hearts/Souls) and among Us in our daily lives, with beautiful Sacred Mother Nature/Earth, and with our Sacred multidimensional-multiverse Cosmos within our co-Creator~Source’s Evolving Loving Diverse ONENESS….

  2. Avatar
    Jeanette Metler

    One way of taking pleasure in fighting for justice, is through the arts; whether this be in the form of writing, painting, photography, theater performance, and music. Others are through ritual, ceremony and the power of collective prayer. Another is joining with and supporting organizations that collaborate with conservationists, scientists and the Indigenious people in working with the government to address the issues of the preservation of nature and climate change; such as Nature United.

    Uniting in solidarity with others, whom share similar core values within the many diverse spiritual, religious, and cultural pathways can also be a way of taking pleasure in fighting for justice… for love, compassion and mercy knows no bounds… other than the limits we humans might self-impose on the transformative power of the gifts of imagination and creativity given each one of us all.

  3. Avatar
    Tanya Zabinski

    When I see the phrase “fight for justice,” it doesn’t resonate with me. How about “work for justice?”
    If you love justice and just deeds flow readily from you, it’s not a fight, it’s a pleasure, it’s a natural out-picturing. I’m reminded of the words to a Sacred Harp song, entitled Africa:

    Now shall my inward joys arise
    and burst into a song.
    Almighty love inspires my heart
    and pleasure tunes my tongue.

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