Prejudices Against Mercy: Is Mercy a Relaxation of Justice?

An Inquiry Guided by St. Thomas Aquinas

Contemporary Concerns about Mercy

The fact that the Jubilee Year of Mercy called for by Pope Francis in 2016–17 coincided with mass encounters of Middle Eastern refugees in Europe, challenging immigration policy disputes in the United States, as well as the continued debates in the Western world over capital punishment, pardoning criminals, and dealings with the poor, generated many discussions which concluded, in one way or another, that mercy is a relaxation of justice, or, as some suspected, that it is plainly an abandonment of justice all together. Mercy has been frequently associated with leniency, soft-handedness, and weakness. According to this association, the person who is merciful is overtly emotional and does not possess the spine to administer justice when called to do so according to law. In the face of someone’s miseries, faults, and sins, he foolishly looks the other way by fabricating all kinds of excuses and allowances in the name of mercy. Rather than keeping people together in justice, mercy tears society asunder.

Such events had ramifications for Christian theology as well. Often in discussions of this past year several people applied this stereotype of mercy to God himself and the revelation contained in the Bible. They claimed that the revelation in the Old Testament concerns a God of justice who appears to be merciless, whereas the revelation in the New Testament regards a God of mercy who seems lax when it comes to matters of justice. What is concluded is that these different revelations are irreconcilably opposed as mercy is opposed to justice.

Is it correct that mercy is a relaxation of justice? In light of this apparent antagonism, is it right to say that God is either a god of mercy or a god of justice? To begin sketching an answer we need to investigate fundamental questions such as “What is justice?” “What is mercy?” and “What is the relationship between justice and mercy?” We will further form our answers by raising common objections that continue to be asked in contemporary discussions. Since human justice and mercy are conformed to divine justice and mercy, I will approach this question from a theological perspective with the hope that many will see numerous applications from our discoveries to relations between human persons. St. Thomas Aquinas will be our main guide along the way, helping us to reach in this brief account at least the doorstep of the truth of the matter.

What is Justice?

Before we begin our main goal to discover the nature of mercy, we must first ask ourselves, “what is justice?” We must do so because, as we will see later, in one sense mercy assumes justice, builds upon it, and ultimately perfects it.

Justice is traditionally distinguished between “commutative” and “distributive” justice. The former regards the reciprocal giving and receiving that occurs in businesses and other kinds of similar economic exchange. Distributive justice concerns the sharing and allocation of goods within a community, usually by its leader(s). For example, a father acts according to distributive justice when he circulates specific portions of goods within the family in proportion to the place each member holds within it. In a similar fashion, a president governs the nation with distributive justice through a dissemination of goods in accordance with each citizen’s status within the order of the nation. Implicit in both forms of justice is its classical definition: to give the goods to someone that are due to him. (See Summa Theologica II­–II, q. 58, a. 1, 11)

Concerning the justice of God, because no economical exchanges or business transactions with human persons occur with him, commutative justice does not belong to him. Rather, God’s justice chiefly pertains to the allotment of goods which distributive justice concerns since he is the giver of all things to every person; as St. Paul relates, “who has given a gift to him [that is, to God] that he might be repaid” (Romans 11:35 RSV; also Psalm 116:12). In fact, God is the fullness of distributive justice because he provides goods to all creatures in accordance with the dignity of each within the order of the universe.

Objection: However, there are many people who have troubles with God being the fullness of justice, especially when in many matters he does not seem to uphold justice at all but rather acts as he pleases through his almighty power and omnipotent will. Is it really true that God is the fullness of justice?

In other words, God’s justice seems to be determined by his power: it accords with the rule of his omnipotent will over his weaker creatures. Justice appears to be abrogated by apparently random acts of God’s all-powerful will which condemns a seemingly innocent, just person or nation.

However, a closer look into the justice of God reveals that he acts always in a manner that is genuinely just. St. Thomas frequently and forcefully argues that one main reason why it is genuine is that it falls within the regulating bounds of his wisdom. Although his will is all-powerful, God does not will anything randomly or arbitrarily (and therefore potentially unjust), but rather he wills goods for all things only in accordance with what his wisdom approves. St. Thomas puts forth a remarkable claim that “God can do nothing that is not in accord with his wisdom and goodness.” (Summa Theologica I, q. 21, a. 4) In this way, God is a law onto himself — the good things that God wills for each thing are first perceived and approved as good by his intellect. (See Summa Theologica II­–II, q. 58, a. 4, r. 1–3) In and through this law, God acts towards all things with justice. What his wisdom approves is, as St. Thomas relates, God’s law of justice. (See Summa Theologica, I q. 21, a. 2) With God, then, it is not that might makes right, but rather wisdom makes right.

Objection: Even if a theoretical argument can be presented that God is always just, on the practical side we know that it must be a façade, a false reality, since which goods could the almighty Creator possibly owe his lowly creatures? How could he be in debt to anything or anyone?

Surprisingly, St. Thomas claims that God is in debt in two ways. First, God is just to himself by rendering what he “owes” himself. What does God owe himself? That which is his own, namely, that which is necessarily ordered to him. Since everything that exists is necessarily ordered to him because he created each thing, God’s own consists in all things. In other words, all things are related to him as parts directed to their whole are said to belong to the whole. He is the common good of all creatures. Therefore, he owes all things to himself. He is in debt to himself regarding the fulfillment of the requirements for each created thing that he has willed in accordance with what his wisdom has approved (which we called above God’s “law of justice”) and what makes known his goodness. (See Summa Theologica I q. 21, a. 1, r. 3)

God is in debt in a second way. He owes to each creature he creates the things that it ought to possess, namely, the things which are ordered to it in respect to its nature. For example, since hands are ordered to a human person, they are due to him according to God’s justice which is in accord with what his wisdom has approved. Or in another way, we can say that since God’s wisdom has ordained that animals are directed to human persons, as parts are ordered to the whole, so the services of the former are due to the latter according to the justice of God which upholds the internal common good of the whole created order. (See Summa Theologica I, q. 21, a. 4)

However, a vitally important qualification is needed at this point. Although God, who is incapable of any defect, renders what is due either to himself or to his creatures, he is never to be considered the debtor as such. The main reason for this is that God himself is not ordered to other things, but on the contrary, everything is directed toward him. Strictly speaking, God does not belong to his creatures, but rather his creatures belong to him. What is evident here is that there was no prior necessity for any exercise of justice on God’s behalf. Any debt conferred to a creature is not due to the creature himself, but rather is owed to it because God, out of his goodness and wisdom, created the creature, ordered all that belongs to its nature, and finally, respects the order in which he created it by imparting any debt it is owed precisely as a creature created by him.

St. Thomas explains, therefore, that God’s exercise of justice to creatures is deeply connected to his goodness toward them. It is out of his goodness that God created all things and, therefore, owes all things to himself; it is out of his goodness that he owes to each thing that which it ought to possess as belonging to its nature and status. The point being made is highly significant: God’s rendering of justice, therefore, appears as a gift freely given out of love for all things. St. Paul’s words are applicable here: “What have you that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if it were not a gift?” (1 Corinthians 4:7 RSV)

A profound example of this is recognizing how God’s justice is connected to the communication of his goodness at creation: the order and proportion established in created things is a gift that is linked to the prior gift of removing the primordial lack of non-existence and granted existence in its stead. At this point, we are very close to the operation of the mercy of God. Therefore, since all things are ordered to God as their origin and final end, any debt due a creature is first and foremost a debt owed to God whose goodness established such a creaturely just debt in the first place. (See Summa Theologica I, q. 21, a. 1, r. 3; a. 4, r. 4)

What is noteworthy is not only the link between God’s justice and his goodness, but between these two and his wisdom. Perceiving the good for all things, God willed the nature of all according to what his wisdom perceived. Desiring to communicate his goodness to all creatures, God exercises justice to them according to their nature in concurrence with what his wisdom orders for them. St. Thomas concludes that “what is due to each thing is due to it as ordered to it according to the divine wisdom.” (Summa Theologica I, q. 21, a. 1, r. 3)

What is Mercy?

According to St. Augustine, mercy is “heartfelt sympathy for another’s distress, impelling us to succor him if we can.” (De Civ. Dei ix, 5). The first thing to note is that mercy, properly speaking, is a sorrow, grief, or displeasure deep in one’s heart concerning the misery that brings unhappiness to another human person experienced as though it were one’s own or on account of the possibility of suffering in the same way. (See Summa Theologica II–II, q. 30, a. 2; I, q. 21, a. 4)

The second aspect of a person who is merciful is that he seeks to dispel the distress of the other, again, as if he were attempting to cast out his own misfortune. Here mercy implies a positive giving of a good to another who is in need of it. Righting the wrong, supplying the deficiency, forgiving the fault, perfecting the imperfection, and most precisely, taking away unhappiness, are all an effect of being sorrowful at heart at another’s misery. Therefore, a person is merciful not only when he possesses the power to assist the person pitied, but moreover when he is actually granting him what he lacks and, therefore, needs. (See Summa Theologica II–II, q. 30, a. 4)

Mercy can be better understood by grasping its direct opposite, namely, envy. St. Thomas explains that similar to mercy, envy is also a kind of sorrow pertaining to another person. However, unlike the merciful person, the envious person sorrows not over another’s unhappiness, but rather over another’s good fortune insofar as it surpasses his own. Rather than rejoicing in the good of another, envy finds grief and misery in it. Furthermore, dissimilar to the merciful person who seeks to relieve the distress of the other in concrete ways, the envious person desires misfortune for the other and attempts to bring it about. In this way, of course, the envious have no mercy and, likewise, the merciful no envy. (See Summa Theologica, II–II, q. 36 a. 1–3 and especially a. 3, r. 3)

In relation to the second dimension of mercy, namely the removal of another person’s miserable deficiency, St. Thomas says, “mercy is especially [maxime] to be attributed to God.” (Summa Theologica I, q. 21, a. 3; emphasis mine.) Above all, God endeavors to dispel the miserable imperfections of human persons and to gift them with perfections because of love alone, for God loves us as belonging to him. (See Summa Theologica II–II, q. 30, a. 2, r. 1). God is goodness itself and the primary source of goodness which leads to perfection. Out of love, he communicates his goodness in an exemplary fashion. Therefore, God is maximally merciful.

Objection: But is not granting mercy to someone a sign of weakness rather than power and therefore it should not be especially attributed to God?

It would seem so, since often enough in the Bible God does not appear to uphold the justice related to the laws and instructions he established. Does not the exercise of his mercy very often suggest that he is giving in to the pressures and insistent demands of his people? Instead of manifesting his all-mighty power in judgment of those who go against his laws, God appears to shrink in front of lawlessness by making all kinds of allowances for those who are at fault under the auspices of mercy. Is mercy, therefore, a sign of weakness that is not befitting to God?

By no means is mercy a form of weakness! A key component of mercy is to dispel the misery of another person, which reveals that the one expelling stands, as it were, in a higher, more powerful position than the one suffering misfortune, St. Thomas argues (see Summa Theologica II–II, q. 30, a. 4). The person removing misery has the privilege of being more sufficient, perfect, and potent compared to the one in distress. If he was not in the first place in a more powerful, privileged position, he would not be able to remove such miseries.

As the one who stands above all his creatures as the omnipotent One, God possesses in an exemplary fashion the power to aid those he pities. When he does so he is exercising mercy which, subsequently then, chiefly expresses his omnipotence as the Scriptures reveal: “Let us fall in the hands of the Lord . . . for as his greatness (megalwsu,nh) is, so too is his mercy (e;leoj)” (Sirach 2:18 RSV), and “you are merciful to all, because you are almighty” (evleei/j de. pa,ntaj o[ti pa,nta du,nasai, Wisdom 11:23, NJB). Therefore, mercy is in no manner a sign of weakness, rather the opposite is true: mercy manifests power.

It is also worth noting that gift of mercy in no way manifests the weakness of the recipient insofar at it belittles him, offending his dignity. On the contrary, the dignity and goodness of the one who receives mercy is confirmed and valued by the merciful. It is an act that is considered to be humane by acknowledging a kind of natural friendship that exists between all human persons. For from friendship, which makes friends grieve (and rejoice) for the same things, the merciful are pained by a neighbor’s evil and seeks to relieve it as one looks upon it as affecting oneself. (See Summa Theologica II–II, q. 157, a. 4, r. 3) Likewise, the one in need affirms his dignity by humbly acknowledging his finite, imperfect condition as a human being. Mercy, therefore, lifts him up, strengthens him as a dignified human person, and perfects him through the acceptance, in humility and truth of his created person, of the goods gifted to him. (See St. John Paul II, Dives in Misericordia, IV.6.)

Objection: Then if God’s mercy does not accept excuses and make exceptions for lawlessness because of weakness, it must then be out of an imprudence incomprehensible to the human mind, for it still appears to effect a relaxation of justice or, at times, to abandon it.

Especially regarding justice concerning merit, God’s mercy appears to thoughtlessly pardon those who have sinned against him and his law. It suggests a foolish concession has been made whereby a person who is at fault is irresponsibly freed from blame and guilt altogether.

This cannot be the case. To understand that mercy is not a relaxation (or abandonment) of justice, we must realize that the good gifts God mercifully gives to dispel miserable defects and sins, St. Thomas goes on to say, are bestowed in proportion to what a thing ought to possess in light of its nature or in light of what a person has merited. Such an ordered proportion of good gifts given out of mercy pertains to justice which, as we have said above, corresponds to God’s wisdom, which is his law of justice. Therefore, God’s merciful communication of needed gifts and perfections is in accordance with his justice insofar as they are granted in due proportion as approved by his wisdom.

Otherwise, if mercy was a relaxation of justice, or opposed to justice, then God would act contrary to his wisdom and would fail to render to himself what is due to himself. However, it is impossible for God to deny himself, as St. Paul clearly attests: “if we are faithless, he [God] remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself” (2 Timothy 2:13 RSV). In being merciful, God upholds his wisdom that he has revealed in his law and is faithful to it in justice!

One last point regarding the relationship between mercy and merit is helpful here: we must remember the difference between granting mercy and accepting excuses. (See C. S. Lewis, “On Forgiveness”) Acting mercifully does not mean excusing or making allowances for the unjust. Mercy refers to granting the need of forgiveness to the inexcusable in due proportion and good order. If a person is truly at fault, then excuses will not help him; mercy alone is his aid. On the other hand, if a person is not to blame, then there would be no need of mercy.

Therefore, rather than being a foolish, excessive, disproportionate, disordered act randomly performed by God which, in effect, spoils, disfigures, and ruins its recipients, mercy, as St. Thomas holds, is God’s magnificent coordination of his goodness, power, and justice by his fatherly wisdom. His mercy is remarkable indeed! (See Summa Theologica, I, q. 21, a. 4).

The vital relationship between mercy and wisdom is also experienced in human relationships. Some who claim that mercy causes a relaxation of justice, and is therefore foolish to grant, place an overemphasis on the fact that mercy is an affection of passion, arguing that it is simply a working up of emotions. They hold that since mercy is a heartfelt sentiment of grief over the misery of another person, being afflicted with such profound emotional sorrow would hinder one in making vital rational distinctions, deliberate choices, and prudent judgments. In simple terms, it leads to thoughtlessness and foolishness. For justice to be accurately rendered, it would be best to be free from all emotions, since they can cloud the mind and stand in the way of right judgment, making it wander from justice.

However, genuine mercy, although it is certainly an affection of passion (i.e., a movement of the sensitive appetite), denotes a movement of the intellective appetite inasmuch as one finds the misery of another displeasing and seeks ways to reasonably will its removal. This movement is ruled and regulated by reason. When this occurs, the movement of the affection of passion (or lower appetite) itself is directed by reason. St. Thomas states that such rational regulations pertain to justice, for mercy, as a movement of the mind, is reasonable when justice is safeguarded in a given circumstance (e.g., whether we give to the needy or forgive the repentant sinner). Far from making a person wander from justice, mercy in its full, authentic reality upholds and safeguards it. This reveals that mercy is not merely an emotion or affection of passion, but it is also a virtue. (See Summa Theologica II–II, q. 30, a. 3 and r. 1)

For both God and man, then, mercy is guided by wisdom and reason which function as a rule or law promoting justice and never relaxing, abandoning, or opposing it. In fact, it is noteworthy to point out here that God’s merciful actions are not only not contrary to his justice, but moreover they are the fullness of justice in the sense that justice is rendered and gifts are given beyond the measure of justice.

For example, justice is rendered when, on the one hand, a person who has sinned against another has declared his guilt, put forth an act of contrition, and has made the necessary retributions according to what is due to the person sinned against (i.e., according to justice), and, on the other hand, when the confession and retributions are accepted by the violated person. However, when the injured person grants acceptance of the just acts of contrition and retribution, but, in addition, forgives the person of his sin, he is meting out the fullness of justice. Forgiveness here, as the name indicates, is a giving of a gift to a person who lacks such a good thing.

St. Thomas argues that this act of forgiveness, which goes beyond granting acceptance of sorrow and settlement, therefore, is an act of mercy which in no way relaxes or destroys justice, but by conducing to greater rectitude, it enlarges and widens it. It is similar to when a person who owes one thousand dollars to another person not only satisfies justice by paying it back in full, but puts forth what can be considered an ample expansion of justice by giving two thousand dollars in addition to the one. In this fullness, he is communicating a good where there is a lack. This is mercy. Here we see that justice and mercy are not only intimately connected, but mercy is more glorious than justice (see James 2:13 RSV, “mercy triumphs over judgment”). (See Summa Theologica I, q. 21, a. 3, r. 2; also II-II q. 58, a. 11, r. 1; q. 80, a. 1)

Is God a god only of justice or only of mercy?

Objection: It is clear now that mercy is not a relaxation of justice but rather that there is an intimate connection and ordering between justice and mercy. However, a significant problem still remains, namely, God appears to be unjust insofar as some of his actions are arbitrarily merciful to some sinners, while other actions are merely (and randomly) a harsh rendering of his justice to other sinners. Is God merciful to all sinners or only to some? Is God’s wise mercy partial and preferential, and therefore, unjust?

To answer this question St. Thomas reminds us to return again to the foundation of God’s justice, namely, that every work of God, either in ordering all created things to himself or ordering things themselves proportionately in relation to their natures, is in accord with his goodness and his wisdom, which is his law of justice. To be just, therefore, is not accidental to God, but an attribute of his very Being. Therefore, since all of God’s works are accomplished via his wisdom and goodness, it follows that God executes justice in all of his works as well.

If God renders justice in all of this works, then what about mercy — does he exercise mercy in all of them? First, although God grants what is due to himself and to all creatures according to what by nature they deserve, such debt would not have existed at all if God, in his mercy, did not, in the first place, bring his creation into existence from nothingness. The principle operative here is a fundamental one: nothing is due to creatures as such. Created things exist only because of God’s goodness. Considering mercy in a general manner as that which removes any kind of defect or lack, St. Thomas remarks that God, out of his goodness, was merciful toward his creation by moving them from non-being (= the lack or defect) to being (= perfection). (See Summa Theologica I, q. 21, a. 4, r. 4)

From this, it is clear that the justice of God presupposes the mercy of God and is rooted in it. Therefore, not only does God exercise justice in all of his works, but mercy, too, appears in all of his works viewed at its primary source. Similar to how a primary cause exhibits greater influence on something than a secondary cause, God’s mercy not only remains foundationally operative in his works but intensifies throughout them. Mercy being first and intensively most bountiful explains why God gives more abundantly out of his goodness to his creatures than is proportionate to what they deserve according to justice (since the order of justice would still be upheld if God had given less to his creatures). St. Thomas articulates the root principle that is operative here: “between creatures and God’s goodness there can be no proportion.” (Summa Theologica I, q. 21, a. 4)

Objection: So if God’s mercy and justice are in all of his works, then, where is his mercy when he renders justice to those who have sinned against him? And where is it when justice is conferred to sinners who have condemned themselves to death?

One thing to keep in mind here is that some of God’s works make manifest to a greater degree his justice and others disclose more forcefully his mercy, although both are functioning in each work. Now when punishing a guilty sinner, justice is more manifest than mercy, although, St. Thomas claims, mercy is present. Here is one way mercy is at work. According to justice, when a person is at fault by willfully and voluntarily injuring another, that person deserves sufficient punishment and not mercy. However, when there is something miserable connected to the fault that is not voluntarily willed by the person but rather is against the person’s will which distresses and grieves him, then the fault coupled with the unintended misery may not only be a sufficient, just punishment but may also be, in light of the misery and suffering connected to the fault, a call for mercy. (See Summa Theologica, II–II, q. 30, a. 1, r. 1)

For example, a man driving a Porsche willfully runs a red light and crashes into a Mercedes. As it turns out, the driver of the Mercedes died in the crash. The driver of the Porsche who voluntarily ran the red light is certainly at fault and deserves a just punishment. However, the other driver’s death was not voluntarily willed by the driver of the Porsche but rather occurred against his will. This chance occurrence is utterly miserable for him, imbuing him with sorrow and regret, causing acute suffering. His voluntary fault plus this unplanned misery may both function as a sufficient, just punishment, and in addition may make him fit for mercy.

Furthermore, St. Thomas argues that mercy is surprisingly present when justice is rendered to sinners who have made themselves utterly unworthy of his gifts (and therefore of his mercy) and have condemned themselves to death. He holds that God still grants his mercy to them by punishing them less than what they deserve. Such mercy does not totally remit their punishment or deliver from it, but it does alleviate and relax it while it continues. This helps us understand the Scriptures which reveal that God “is merciful to all” (see Wisdom 11:23 RSV and Romans 11:32 RSV), and that “all the ways of the Lord are mercy” (Psalm 25:10 LXX). (See Summa Theologica, I, q. 21, a. 4, r. 1; also Supplement, q. 99, a. 2, r. 1; a. 3, r. 4; a. 5, r. 1; q. 94, a. 2, r. 2)

Objection: If God’s mercy and justice are in all of his works, then, where is his justice when God exercises mercy to those who have sinned against him?

St. Thomas explains that God’s justice is operative when a sinner is mercifully granted the gift of remission of his sin when it is remitted on account of the repentance performed by the sinner that is motivated by love (which is in the first place mercifully infused into the repentant by God). Jesus himself emphasized the importance of love in repentance when he said to the sinful woman who came to him, “Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much” (Luke 7:47 RSV; also Summa Theologica I, q. 21, a. 4, r. 1).

The key to understanding the relationship between the forgiveness of sins and love is that the repentant sinner’s grief, distress, and anguish over his fault, and perhaps the misery that occurred against his will, is ultimately rooted in his love for whom he sinned against. Motivated by love, his suffering of remorse and compunction not only may function as a just punishment but also manifests his desire to reestablish peace and friendship with the one he violated and is an entreaty for the merciful gift of reconciliation to be granted. As Jesus indicated in the encounter with the sinful woman, not only does much love makes a sinful person worthy of receiving the gift of mercy but it also upholds justice. In this manner, we can grasp how “love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8 RSV; also Proverbs 10:12; 17:9; James 5:20).

It is clear, then, that the gift of mercy is different from excusing someone. Mercy is not an excuse or an allowance for sinners to avoid blame and just punishment. Rather, mercy presupposes guilt, just punishment, and loving repentance while excusing a person does not. (See Summa Theologica II–II, q. 30, a. 2 and r. 1)

Objection: If God’s mercy and justice are in all of his works, then how are they present when a just person is unjustly afflicted with all kinds of sufferings, for here it appears that both justice and mercy are lacking?

It must be recalled that a just person is only considered just in relation to other unjust persons. However, before God he stands as an unjust sinner. Therefore, afflictions may be—in a mysterious and sometimes inexplicable manner — suffered as a just punishment. Mercy, too, is present in such just sufferings. For in undergoing afflictions honorably one may be purified of various faults and imperfections and, subsequently, cling to God with a more intensified love. Moreover, bearing such hardships may be redemptive in the sense that they can be offered up out of loving imitation of Christ who suffered lovingly for us (see Colossians 1:24). This is, indeed, a severe and bewildering form of mercy, but mercy all the same. In the punishment of the just, therefore, God’s justice and mercy are both operative. (See Summa Theologica I, q. 21, a. 4, r. 3)

Conclusion

Although during the past two years several people would have preferred a “Jubilee Year of Justice” rather than of mercy, we have discovered that the Church’s Jubilee Year of Mercy involved at its heart the deeply intertwined, complementary relationship between justice and mercy. We understand now that the questions of refugee and immigration policy, as well as dealings with the poor and with criminals, involve both justice and mercy, which are virtues performed in accordance with reason (and law), rooted in wisdom. Rather than a weakness, mercy is a great power engaging the privilege of being in a better position than others so to remove their miseries, all the while affirming the personal value of those who receive it. Rather than relaxing justice, or opposing it, justice itself presupposes mercy as its primary source and that in a secondary sense mercy presupposes justice, builds upon it, and is the fullness thereof. In sum, we discovered that there is no justice without mercy and there is no mercy without justice, as St. Thomas teaches:

“Therefore I say that we have received your mercy, and this was not without justice; rather, your right hand is full of justice. God’s ‘hand’ signifies his operative power. And God has two hands, his right, with which he rewards good persons, and his left, with which he punishes the wicked. He shall set the sheep on his right hand (Matt 25:33). Justice is in both hands, but the left is not entirely just, since he punishes less than is deserved, but in his right hand is complete justice, since he rewards abundantly. Good measure and pressed down and shaken together and running over (Luke 6:38). I reckon that the sufferings of this time are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come (Rom 8:18). ” (St Thomas, Commentary on the Psalms, §478 commenting on Psalm 47:9)

Dr. Vincent DeMeo About Dr. Vincent DeMeo

Dr. Vincent P. DeMeo is an associate professor of New Testament and Theology at the International Theological Institute in Trumau, Austria. He teaches and publishes in the fields of Scripture, Patristics, and biblical foundations to marriage and family theology. His published doctoral dissertation is titled Covenantal Kinship in John 13-17: A Historical-Narrative Approach (Vo1. 22; Rome: Ateneo Pontificio Regina Apostolorum Publishers, 2012). Among giving lectures and writing several forthcoming articles, he is currently writing a book titled The Common Good in New Testament and Patristic Thought. He has also taught for Ave Maria University, Florida (Austrian program), Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio (Austrian program), Center for the Thought of John Paul II, Poland, Thomas Aquinas College, California, and most recently at The Aquinas Institute. Dr. Vincent P. DeMeo is married and the father of four children.

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