Justice and human need: An investigation of scriptural and Roman Catholic sources

Patrick D Sheedy, Marquette University


This study investigates the biblical and Roman Catholic sources of justice and seeks to discern what role essential human need plays in securing justice. Chapter one presents an analysis of an American notion of justice. It points out that its notion of justice, based on individualism and contract is limited. It fails to recognize that justice is based on human dignity; that persons are inherently social; that persons have rights because of their needs. Chapter two looks at a communitarian notion of justice based on the natural law. Within the natural law tradition the notion of justice which emerges focuses on the common good while simultaneously protecting human dignity. Medieval Christendom adopted an eternal, essential, hierarchical and static worldview. Consequently, Medieval political and social structures became fixed; neither individual freedom nor the existence of inequalities were adequately addressed. Chapter three analyzes biblical justice. The Jewish scriptures, based upon a communitarian justice, have their origins in the covenant. Biblical justice defines itself by its bias for the poor, weak, impoverished, and oppressed and its criterion is human need. The Christian scriptures, while not possessing the same emphasis for justice clearly maintain a special concern for the poor. As in the Jewish scriptures, its criterion is essential human need. Chapters four, five, six and seven investigate modern Catholic social teaching from Pope Leo XIII to Pope John Paul II. Modern Catholic social teaching has sought to foster a communitarian justice which secures a place within the community for the vulnerable. Human need has functionally become the fundamental criterion for justice in Catholic social teaching. However, the natural law tradition has tended to limit the insights of a communitarian justice because of the adoption of an ahistorical, static and hierarchical view of society. Even with the reappropriation of the biblical vision of justice at Vatican II social teaching still favors harmony, solidarity and unity. The biblical and Roman Catholic sources emphasize the social dimension of the human person. Their focus is a communitarian ethic. They thus acknowledge human vulnerability; essential human need emerges as the fundamental criterion in securing justice.

Recommended Citation

Sheedy, Patrick D, "Justice and human need: An investigation of scriptural and Roman Catholic sources" (1989). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI9014063.