Pope Benedict XVI's Dream and the Natural Thirst for Justice
Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again
The Good News of Easter is that the puzzle which Plato and Cicero struggled to solve is resolved for us, in fact has been revealed to us. Not, however, by myth, and not by dream. But by a brute historical reality that happened once in history, but which Catholics repeat anew at every Mass, and which Christ's faithful announce at the Memorial Acclamation: Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.
Even in our daily lives we suffer, or perhaps are the cause of, more or less petty or more or less serious injustices that frequently go unfixed. Adultery, rape, murder, abortion, theft, fraud, and on and on. These present an insurmountable enough problem. But if we turn to the massive injustices within our historical memory, especially if we concretize them, the problem is infinitely insurmountable. We approach the threshold of despair.
Who shall give justice to Moses Roper, the mulatto slave who was traded from master to master seventeen times, was nearly flogged to death with 200 lashes of the whip, but eventually escaped to write his autobiography? And what about all the other victims of the African slave trade?
Who shall give justice to Sadako Sasaki, the two-year old who was blown out of the window of her home, exposed to radiation in Hiroshima, miraculously survived, only to die of leukemia ten years later? And what about the 50,000 or so of her fellow townspeople who suffered death moments after the "Little Boy" was dropped out of the hatch of the Enola Gay?
Who shall give justice to my great great uncle Ludwig Brügel, a historian known for his book Geschichte der österreichischen sozialdemokratie, who died in the Concentration Camp at Theresienstadt on August 30, 1942, for the mere reason-which is no reason-that he was a Jew? And what about all numerous millions of fellow victims of Hitler's inhuman Shoa, Jewish and non-Jewish?
Who shall give justice to-to pick a name at random-Brandon Buchanan, a young equities trader at Cantor Fitzgerald, who died at the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001, the victim of a few Muslim barbarians with Allahu Akbar on the brain?
Even if it were possible to give justice to these individuals and the hundreds of millions like them in the history of man, from whom would we exact it? Who could pay the debt? Upon whom could it rightly be imposed?
In the light of uncorrected and uncorrectable injustice, and man's intrinsic thirst for justice, many ask the question of whether the world is well-made. A world full of injustice would seem not well-made.
Some therefore accuse God of injustice in making the world. Or they deny God exists. In either event, the matter becomes an irresolvable surd. If the world is not well-made by God, if God is unjust, or if God does not exist, then we have no reason to complain of injustice, and the desire for justice is vain. Without a just God, all is vanity, which is to say all is absurd. Then shut yourself in your house and read Camus or Sartre, and end your miserable life by putting a bullet through your brain if you are man enough.
But if we resist the false lull of absurdity which leads to despair, we shall have to come to terms that there must be justice if the world is well-made by God, which means there must be just judgment. And we come to the quandary that in this world this just judgment is nowhere to be found.
Those who have believed in a benevolent God--Pagans included--have resisted absurdity and cannot believe the world was not well-made. In the face of injustice in this world, they have yearned for, dreamed of, guessed at, even hoped for a life beyond this one, and a just judgment in that life beyond this one as the most plausible answer.
Moved by this quandary--belief in a world-well-made with the fact of plenty of injustice--Plato ends his dialogue The Republic with the "Myth of Er." In explaining justice, the protagonist Socrates ultimately has recourse to myth. He tells his interlocutor Glaucon about the testimony of a soldier named Er, son of Armenios of Pamphyilia. Er, he relates, died in battle with a number of his fellows, and these bodies were gathered ten days later to be burned in a funeral pyre.
Er revives from his death, and tells the survivors of his journey to the afterlife. He tells them that there are judges in the afterlife who issue just judgment. The just carry their good deeds in front of them and take the rightward path to heaven. The unjust carry their wrongdoing like burdens on their back as they are made to walk the leftward path into the netherworld, to a sort of purgatory. The good done on earth is repaid ten-fold, and the evil punished ten-fold. And there are some evildoers--such as the tyrant Ardiaeus the Great--who are incurable, and for whom heaven is forever foreclosed. They are damned.
Belief in this myth, Socrates says, allows us to "hold fast ever to the heavenly way and follow after justice and virtue always, considering that the soul is immortal." (Republic 621d) Eternal life and judgment must be created--even if it be in myth--for the world to have been well-made and our thirst for justice quenched.
In his version of Plato's Republic, Cicero concludes with his own "Myth of Er," the so-called "Dream of Scipio." Here, Cicero describes the dream of the Roman general Scipio Aemilianus. He is visited by his dead adoptive grandfather, Scipio Africanus, who comes to him from heaven as in a vision or dream. The younger Scipio is enjoined to do justice. It is the life of justice that leads to heaven, the heaven from whence the elder Scipio comes, a heaven as resplendent as the beauty of the Milky Way. Life on earth is fleeting, the elder Scipio reminds the younger, but we are promised a life hereafter. Before he wakes up, the younger Scipio is admonished to contemplate the heavens and eternal life so that he may act rightly on earth.
Again, eternal life and judgment must be dreamed--even if it be in specters and visions--for the world to have been well-made and for our yearning for justice to be met.
The Good News of Easter is that the puzzle which Plato and Cicero struggled to solve is resolved for us, in fact has been revealed to us.
Not, however, by myth, and not by dream. But by a brute historical reality that happened once in history, but which Catholics repeat anew at every Mass, and which the Christ's faithful announce at the Memorial Acclamation: Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.
"The justice of God," St. Paul tells the Romans, "has been manifested through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe." (Rom. 3:21-22). Christ is God's justice. This Christ, who is God's justice, we say will come again. When Christ comes again, it will be to judge the living and the dead, scriptural words which we repeat in our Creed. (cf. 2 Tim. 4:1) It is also our belief that when Our Lord returns to judge in the Last Judgment, our bodies shall rise again, like Christ the firsfruits, rose from the grave. (1 Cor. 15:23)
This means that Moses Roper, Sadako Sasaki, Ludwig Brügel, Brandon Buchanan, and all those who did them wrong will rise again. And all will be judged in the Judgment, a judgment required so "that the providence of God, which, on earth often permits the good to suffer and the wicked to prosper, may in the end appear just before all men," as the Baltimore Catechism succinctly explains.
Here we get to Benedict XVI's "dream." In Jesus we learn that "there is a God, and God can create justice in a way that we cannot conceive, yet we can begin to grasp it through faith," writes Pope Benedict XVI in his encyclical Spe salvi. "Yes," he continues, "there is a resurrection of the flesh. There is justice. There is an 'undoing' of past suffering, a reparation that sets things aright." (Spe salvi, 43)
Injustice does not have the last word. Justice has the last word. "God is justice and creates justice. This is our consolation and our hope. And in his justice there is also grace. This we know by turning our gaze to the crucified and risen Christ." (Spe salvi, 43, 44)
The reality of the revelation--proof that it is not a myth and not a dream--is confirmed for us in the historical fact of Christ's Resurrection: Christ's empty tomb.
"He is not here; he has risen, just as he said." (Matt. 28:6)
That is why in his encyclical Spe salvi Benedict XVI tells those who yearn for justice but see it unfulfilled in this world, and who do not know Christ the following personal words. He speaks not here not so much as Pope, but as a man to men without faith, without hope, but who yearn for justice. "I am convinced," Pope Benedict XVI says, "that the question of justice constitutes the essential argument, or in any case the strongest argument, in favor of faith in eternal life."
Here is Pope Benedict XVI's "Dream." There is, the Pope says, a "purely individual need for a fulfillment," a need for justice "that is denied to us in this life." It was denied to Moses Roper, to Sadako Sasaki, to Ludwig Brügel, to Brandon Buchanan, to hundreds of millions more. Nothing they could do, nothing we can do, can give them justice. But it is impossible "that the injustice of history should be the final word." The natural desire for justice is not put in us in vain, and "to protest against God in the name of justice is not helpful," since it brings us to absurdity. (Spe salvi, 44.) Given that we must regard it impossible that the world is not well-made by God, it is both necessary and convincing, in light of Christ's historical Resurrection, therefore, that Christ must return and that we will rise again "for a new life," and that there be a Final Judgment. (Spe salvi, 43.)
As Pope Benedict XVI explained to the parish priests and clergy of Rome on February 7, 2008, in his encyclical Spe salvi he tied the Last Judgment to mankind's thirst for justice. "We all want a just world. Yet we cannot atone for all the destruction of the past, all the people unjustly tortured and killed. God alone can create justice, which must be justice for all, even for the dead, and . . . only the resurrection of the body . . . would be able to create justice."
The resurrection of the body is required so that the acts of injustice done to Moses Roper, to Sadako Sasaki, to Ludwig Brügel, and to Brandon Buchanan in the flesh be recompensed in the flesh, and so that those who in the flesh perpetrated the acts of injustice on Moses Roper, on Sadako Sasaki, on Ludwig Brügel, and on Brandon Buchanan get their just punishments in the flesh.
We must not deprecate the reality of injustice, of sin, of punishment since "both justice and true guilt exist." "Those who have destroyed man and the earth," the Pope continues "cannot suddenly sit down at God's table together with their victims."
Moses Roper cannot be seen to sit down with John Gooch who nearly flogged him to death, Sadako Sasaki cannot be seen to sit down with Giv 'em Hell Harry who ordered the bombing of Hiroshima, my great great uncle Ludwig Brügel cannot be seen to sit down with Adolf Hitler, Brandon Buchanan cannot be seen to sit down with Mohamed Atta, as if nothing happened.
That is not how it works. Yet we must remember that "God creates justice," as Benedict XVI told his priests.
Benedict XVI observed that there are that have been among us, the numbers of which we do not know--though we may hope they are not numerous, and yet we may fear that they are many--that "have destroyed themselves," and who therefore "are forever unredeemable, who no longer possess any elements on which God's love can rest, who longer have a minimal capacity for loving." These died outside of God's grace. "This," the Pope explains, "is Hell." Whether John Gooch, Harry Truman, Adolf Hitler, or Mohamed Atta is there we do not know, though we may have our hunches.
There are a few that "are so pure that they can enter immediately into God's communion." These include the canonized saints--the Blessed Virgin Mary at the apex--with all the "all saints" we celebrate on All Saints' Day.
Most of us mortals who die in God's grace, however, lie between the two extremes--between the holy and the forlorn, between the fully saved and the fully unsaved, between the immaculate Mary and Judas Iscariot, for whom it would have been better had he not been born. (Matt. 26:23) For those between the extremes, "there are so very many wounds" that have to heal. There is "so much filth" that needs to be cleaned. Most of us "need to be prepared, to be purified."
All these wounds must heal, the filth cleaned, the purification done before the lamb lies down with the wolf, and the leopard lies down with the kid. (Cf. Isaiah 11:6) Justice requires it.
"This is our hope: even with so much dirt in our souls, in the end the Lord will give us the possibility, he will wash us at last with his goodness that comes from his Cross." This is Purgatory. "In this way" Benedict XVI states, God "makes us capable of being for him in eternity. And thus Heaven is hope, it is justice brought about at last."
Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again in the Last Judgment, and there will be Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory. This formula solves the puzzle of apparent injustice in a world we regard as well-made.
The God-Man Jesus is the "Myth of Er," the "Dream of Scipio" become flesh. The Lord Jesus, who was crucified, died, and rose again is Pope Benedict XVI's "dream," yet it is not a dream; it is reality. Among the many witnesses, ask the Apostle Thomas.
Still in doubt? Force the belief and pray: "I believe, help Thou my unbelief!" (Mark 9:24)
The belief will satisfy the natural thirst you have for justice.
Andrew M. Greenwell is an attorney licensed to practice law in Texas, practicing in Corpus Christi, Texas. He is married with three children. He maintains a blog entirely devoted to the natural law called Lex Christianorum. You can contact Andrew at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for December 2013
General Intention: Victimized Children. That children who are victims of abandonment or violence may find the love and protection they need.
Missionary Intention: Prepare the Savior's Coming. That Christians, enlightened by the Word incarnate, may prepare humanity for the Savior's coming.
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