A Chalcedonian conceptual grammar for love and justice

What if we thought of “love” and “justice” like the hypostatic union?

Assumed audience: ‘Little-o’ orthodox Christians interested in political theology, or others curious about what a healthier (because more robustly!) Christian political theology might look like.

A Christian understanding of love and justice takes its inspiration from a vision of God in Christ — a God of both love and justice. Reconciling God’s love and God’s justice, of course, is one of the most difficult exercises in systematic theology. It stands with the problem of reconciling the humanity and divinity of Jesus Christ as one of the great issues in theology. Both efforts typically generate massive debate, lead to schisms in the church, and can trade upon pernicious caricatures of Christianity’s relation to Judaism. Learning how to say both claims at the same time without denying the other — God is just and God is love — God is human and God is divine — is part of what Christian theology is all about. Theologians craft grammatical rules to regulate how to affirm these claims. Building on this claim, I think a helpful analogy for thinking about love and justice might borrow from the conceptual grammar of Chalcedonian Christology.

The migration of doctrinal formulations to ethical or metaphysical categories is not unproblematic. I suggest these analogies only tentatively especially given that my interests will move more in political than in metaethical, ontological, or dogmatic directions. At a general level, I propose that Augustinians say that love and justice are without confusion, without change, without division, without separation, the difference of the natures being by no means removed because of the union.” This proposal resists a dualistic approach to love and justice by insisting on a hypostatic” union that denies substantial identity but inextricably allows love and justice to communicate their attributes.” There is a hypostatic union between love and justice such that a duality is afirmed that-does not sacrifice unity. Unity, nevertheless, still admits an asymmetry between love and justice. The integrity of each should not be put at risk in some form of subordinationism. Nevertheless, love could be seen as the condition for the possibility of justice, like a center to periphery even as both witness to Christ. This logical condition of dependency, a differentiation-in-unity and unity-in-differentiation, does not break the indissoluble link between love and justice. Or, to borrow from Trinitarian formulations, Augustinians might also say that justice is a work sent of love but not less than love. On this view, love is never love without justice, just as the Father is never the Father without the Son. We might even speak of the work of justice returning to the love from which it is sent. Love and justice, like the Persons of the Trinity, are eternal in their mutual and dynamic relational coinherence. Justice, then, is not accidental” to love. Like most classical authors, Augustine believes in the reciprocity of the virtues, although they each mean something different from the others, they can in now [sic] way be separated from each other” (DT 6.1.6).

 — Eric Gregory, Politics & The Order of Love: An Augustinian Ethic of Democratic Citizenship, pp. 177 – 179

There are a few things that stand out here to me:

  • This framing is entirely novel to me, and at first blush I like it — a lot. Love and justice (in a political context) as inextricable, with love the necessary ground for justice but not truly love without justice, seems to me to thread the needle rather nicely. Love without justice does devolve into either mere sentimentality or an overbearing paternalism; justice without love is but a nasty sword that can punish evil but never actually do good.

  • I like it the more because of the caveats Gregory offers. This is analogical use of the language of Chalcedon. The Chalcedonian formulation itself was an exercise in stretching human language to its very limits in order to express an ultimately-inexpressible mystery. Gregory here similarly tries to hold together two concepts which are each difficult to get just right, and the relationship between them even more so.

  • I might be worried about the relative abstrusity of applying the Chalcedonian Formula to these particular concepts, but, well, I’ve already read the rest of the book. Approachable it is not (though profitable, at least so far, it very much is.)