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Article Three

Whether there is Mercy in God

We proceed to the third article thus:

1. It seems that mercy cannot be attributed to God. For mercy is a kind of misery, as the Damascene says (2 De Fid. Orth. 14), and there is no misery in God. Neither, then, is there mercy in God.

2. Again, mercy is the mitigation of justice. But God cannot rescind what his justice requires, for it is said in II Tim. 2:13: “If we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: for he cannot deny himself,” and God would deny himself if he were to deny his own words, as the gloss says. We cannot therefore attribute mercy to him.

On the other hand: it is said in Ps. 111:4: “the Lord is gracious, and full of compassion.”

I answer: mercy is pre-eminently attributable to God, albeit as an effect, not as the affection of a passion. In evidence of this we may reflect that one is said to be merciful1616The Latin word is misericors. when one has misery in one’s heart, grieving for the misery of another as if it were one’s own, and consequently striving to dispel it as if it were one’s own. This is the effect of mercy. God does not grieve 90over the misery of another, but he pre-eminently does dispel the misery of another, whatever be the defect for which this word may stand. Now defects are remedied only by the perfection of some goodness, and the first origin of goodness is God, as we said in Q. 6, Art. 4. But we must bear in mind that God bestows perfections on things not only through his goodness, but in a different sense also through his justice, generosity, and mercy. Considered absolutely, it is through his goodness that God bestows a perfection (Art. 2). Yet in so far as God bestows perfections on things in accordance with their status, he bestows them through justice. In so far as he bestows them purely by his goodness, and not because things are useful to him, he bestows them through liberality. In so far as the perfections which God bestows dispel every defect, he bestows them in mercy.

On the first point: this objection argues from the manner in which mercy affects a passion.

On the second point: when God acts mercifully he does not do what is contrary to his justice, but does more than his justice requires, as it were like one who gives two hundred denarii to a person to whom he owes one hundred. Such a one acts with liberality or with mercy, without denying justice. So also does one who forgives an offence against himself. He who forgives something in a sense gives it. Thus the apostle calls forgiveness a gift in Eph. 4:32: “forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”1717Migne: “Give without stint, as Christ hath given to you.” It is plain from this that mercy does not destroy justice, but is a fulfilment of it. As James says: “mercy rejoiceth against judgment.”1818Migne: “mercy riseth above judgment.”


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