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American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly

Volume 81, Issue 3, Summer 2007

James M. Jacobs
Pages 419-438

On the Difference Between Social Justice and Christian Charity

The notion of justice implies that what is given is owed to the recipient; charity, on the other hand, acknowledges the reality of a free gift that is not owed to the recipient. This difference is obscured in contemporary liberal societies where, because of the absence of transcendent metaphysical commitments, the demands of social justice replace charity. A Thomistic analysis, however, recognizes a metaphysical order as the basis for justice. This order limits the sphere of justice and so allows for acts of charity motivated by love for God. If we do not recognize this distinction, we reduce all charitable acts to acts of justice and therefore ignore the most important debt of all: the debt humans owe to God that can only be repaid by loving Him and our neighbor.

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