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Chapter XI.

It is proved by the witness of Scripture that all duty is either “ordinary” or “perfect.” To which is added a word in praise of mercy, and an exhortation to practise it.

36. Every duty is either “ordinary” or “perfect,”7171    Cic. de Off. I. 3, § 8. a fact which we can also confirm by the authority of the Scriptures. For we read in the Gospel that the Lord said: “If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. He saith: Which? Jesus said to him: Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”7272    S. Matt. xix. 17, 18, 19. These are ordinary duties, to which something is wanting.

37. Upon this the young man says to Him: “All these things have I kept from my youth up, what lack I yet? Jesus said unto him: If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell all thy goods and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven; and come and follow Me.”7373    S. Matt. xix. 20, 21. And earlier the same is written, where the Lord says that we must love our enemies, and pray for those that falsely accuse and persecute us, and bless those that curse us.7474    S. Matt. v. 44. This we are bound to do, if we would be perfect as our Father Who is in heaven; Who bids the sun to shed his rays over the evil and the good, and makes the lands of the whole universe fertile with rain and dew without any distinction.7575    S. Matt. v. 45. This, then, is a perfect duty (the Greeks call it κατόρθωμα), whereby all things are put right which could have any failings in them.

38. Mercy, also, is a good thing, for it makes men perfect, in that it imitates the perfect Father. Nothing graces the Christian soul so much as mercy; mercy as shown chiefly towards the poor, that thou mayest treat them as sharers in common with thee in the produce of nature, which brings forth the fruits of the earth for use to all. Thus thou mayest freely give to a poor man what thou hast, and in this way help him who is thy brother and companion. Thou bestowest silver; he receives life. Thou givest money; he considers it his fortune. Thy coin makes up all his property.

39. Further, he bestows more on thee than thou on him, since he is thy debtor in regard to thy salvation. If thou clothe the naked, thou clothest thyself with righteousness; if thou bring the stranger under thy roof, if thou support the needy, he procures for thee the friendship of the saints and eternal habitations. That is no small recompense. Thou sowest earthly things and receivest heavenly. Dost thou wonder at the judgment of God in the case of holy Job? Wonder rather at his virtue, in that he could say: “I was an eye to the blind, and a foot to the lame. I was a father to the poor. Their shoulders were made warm with the skins of my lambs. The stranger dwelt not at my gates, but my door was open to every one that came.”7676    Job xxix. 15, 16. Clearly blessed is he from whose house a poor man has never gone with empty hand. Nor again is any one more blessed than he who is sensible of the needs of the poor, and the hardships of the weak and helpless. In the day of judgment he will receive salvation from the Lord, Whom he will have as his debtor for the mercy he has shown.


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