The Virtue of Justice
As we celebrate the 900th year of our Order, I am thinking about the state of the world of its founding members. At least one such knight, Godfrey de Saint-Omer, was at the Council of Troyes in 1129 when the Latin, or Primitive, Rule, was developed. In the Prologue of the Primitive Rule it talks about the role Templars will play in revitalizing knighthood. The Rule points out that knighthood had devolved, despising “the love of justice that constitutes its duties and did not do what it should.”1 Rather than defending the poor, widows, orphans, and churches, the Rule claims knights strove to plunder, despoil and kill. For the founding brothers, their vision of being knights to Christ the King meant they participated in the mission of God through Christ’s healing and reconciliation. This vision included an understanding of justice rooted in God’s mercy and love.
Godfrey and the other Poor Knights were called to take to heart the scriptures, such as “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness?” (Micah 6:8), (“Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; justice and peace will kiss each other. Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and justice will look down from the sky.” (Psalm 85:10-11), and (“Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before you.” (Psalm 89:14) With these holy words and wisdom are also the teachings of Jesus, who understood himself to fulfill the justice-laced message of Torah. He makes central to those who follow him the call to love neighbors, to bring healing into broken contexts, and to offer forgiveness and restoration in face of transgressions. Thus, justice is defined as the formative means of restoration, and not retribution.
For Jesus genuine justice involves welcome, hospitality, and healing. As noted in the Gospel of Matthew, justice is grounded in acts of generosity and compassion: “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and your welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me” (25:35-36). Such acts embody genuine justice and echo the words of Jesus about his own vocation in the Gospel of St. Luke, chapter 4: freedom for the oppressed, sight to the blind, good news to the poor.
For the Knights Templar, from the day of Godfrey to today, the virtue of justice forms and informs all we do, and the greater mission we share with all Christians. All who follow Christ are called to be emissaries of peace and seek the good of all humanity in cooperation with powers and authorities in politics, culture, and economics. But they also must fight against pretensions and injustices when these same powers endanger human welfare. Their strength is in their confidence that God's purpose, justice, and merciful love, rather than human's schemes, will finally prevail, and all things will be reconciled to God.
You alone, O God, are holy and righteous,
and we praise you for protecting us in times of trial.
Keep us safe from all evil
and lead us in paths of justice
that we may know the joy of trusting Jesus Christ
our shield and defender. Amen.
The Virtue of Justice