Article. 1 - Whether evil
is properly the motive of mercy?
It would seem that, properly speaking, evil is not the
motive of mercy. For, as shown above (Q, A; FS,
Q, A, ad 4; FP, Q , A), fault is an evil
rather than punishment. Now fault provokes indignation
rather than mercy. Therefore evil does not excite mercy.
Objection 2: Further,
cruelty and harshness seem to excel other evils. Now the
Philosopher says (Rhet. ii, 8) that "harshness does not
call for pity but drives it away." Therefore evil, as
such, is not the motive of mercy.
Objection 3: Further, signs
of evils are not true evils. But signs of evils excite
one to mercy, as the Philosopher states (Rhet. ii, 8).
Therefore evil, properly speaking, is not an incentive
On the contrary, Damascene
says (De Fide Orth. ii, 2) that mercy is a kind of
sorrow. Now evil is the motive of sorrow. Therefore it
is the motive of mercy.
I answer that, As Augustine
says (De Civ. Dei ix, 5), mercy is heartfelt sympathy
for another's distress, impelling us to succor him if we
can. For mercy takes its name "misericordia" from
denoting a man's compassionate heart [miserum cor] for
another's unhappiness. Now unhappiness is opposed to
happiness: and it is essential to beatitude or happiness
that one should obtain what one wishes; for, according
to Augustine (De Trin. xiii, 5), "happy is he who has
whatever he desires, and desires nothing amiss." Hence,
on the other hand, it belongs to unhappiness that a man
should suffer what he wishes not.
Now a man wishes a thing in three
ways: first, by his natural appetite; thus all men
naturally wish to be and to live: secondly, a man wishes
a thing from deliberate choice: thirdly, a man wishes a
thing, not in itself, but in its cause, thus, if a man
wishes to eat what is bad for him, we say that, in a
way, he wishes to be ill.
Accordingly the motive of "mercy,"
being something pertaining to "misery," is, in the first
way, anything contrary to the will's natural appetite,
namely corruptive or distressing evils, the contrary of
which man desires naturally, wherefore the Philosopher
says (Rhet. ii, 8) that "pity is sorrow for a visible
evil, whether corruptive or distressing." Secondly, such
like evils are yet more provocative of pity if they are
contrary to deliberate choice, wherefore the Philosopher
says (Rhet. ii, 8) that evil excites our pity "when it
is the result of an accident, as when something turns
out ill, whereas we hoped well of it." Thirdly, they
cause yet greater pity, if they are entirely contrary to
the will, as when evil befalls a man who has always
striven to do well: wherefore the Philosopher says (Rhet.
ii, 8) that "we pity most the distress of one who
Reply to Objection 1: It is
essential to fault that it be voluntary; and in this
respect it deserves punishment rather than mercy. Since,
however, fault may be, in a way, a punishment, through
having something connected with it that is against the
sinner's will, it may, in this respect, call for mercy.
It is in this sense that we pity and commiserate
sinners. Thus Gregory says in a homily (Hom. in Evang.
xxxiv) that "true godliness is not disdainful but
compassionate," and again it is written (Mat.
9:36) that Jesus "seeing the multitudes, had
compassion on them: because they were distressed, and
lying like sheep that have no shepherd."
Reply to Objection 2: Since
pity is sympathy for another's distress, it is directed,
properly speaking, towards another, and not to oneself,
except figuratively, like justice, according as a man is
considered to have various parts (Ethic. v, 11). Thus it
is written (Ecclus.
30:24): "Have pity on thy own soul, pleasing God"
[*Cf. Q, A, ad 1].
Accordingly just as, properly
speaking, a man does not pity himself, but suffers in
himself, as when we suffer cruel treatment in ourselves,
so too, in the case of those who are so closely united
to us, as to be part of ourselves, such as our children
or our parents, we do not pity their distress, but
suffer as for our own sores; in which sense the
Philosopher says that "harshness drives pity away."
Reply to Objection 3: Just
as pleasure results from hope and memory of good things,
so does sorrow arise from the prospect or the
recollection of evil things; though not so keenly as
when they are present to the senses. Hence the signs of
evil move us to pity, in so far as they represent as
present, the evil that excites our pity.
Article 2. Whether the reason for taking
pity is a defect in the person who pities?
Objection 1: It would seem
that the reason for taking pity is not a defect in the
person who takes pity. For it is proper to God to be
merciful, wherefore it is written (Ps.
144:9): "His tender mercies are over all His works."
But there is no defect in God. Therefore a defect cannot
be the reason for taking pity.
Objection 2: Further, if a
defect is the reason for taking pity, those in whom
there is most defect, must needs take most pity. But
this is false: for the Philosopher says (Rhet. ii, 8)
that "those who are in a desperate state are pitiless."
Therefore it seems that the reason for taking pity is
not a defect in the person who pities.
Objection 3: Further, to be
treated with contempt is to be defective. But the
Philosopher says (Rhet. ii, 8) that "those who are
disposed to contumely are pitiless." Therefore the
reason for taking pity, is not a defect in the person
On the contrary, Pity is a
kind of sorrow. But a defect is the reason of sorrow,
wherefore those who are in bad health give way to sorrow
more easily, as we shall say further on (Q, A, ad
2). Therefore the reason why one takes pity is a defect
I answer that, Since pity is
grief for another's distress, as stated above (A),
from the very fact that a person takes pity on anyone,
it follows that another's distress grieves him. And
since sorrow or grief is about one's own ills, one
grieves or sorrows for another's distress, in so far as
one looks upon another's distress as one's own.
Now this happens in two ways:
first, through union of the affections, which is the
effect of love. For, since he who loves another looks
upon his friend as another self, he counts his friend's
hurt as his own, so that he grieves for his friend's
hurt as though he were hurt himself. Hence the
Philosopher (Ethic. ix, 4) reckons "grieving with one's
friend" as being one of the signs of friendship, and the
Apostle says (Rom.
12:15): "Rejoice with them that rejoice, weep with
them that weep."
Secondly, it happens through real
union, for instance when another's evil comes near to
us, so as to pass to us from him. Hence the Philosopher
says (Rhet. ii, 8) that men pity such as are akin to
them, and the like, because it makes them realize that
the same may happen to themselves. This also explains
why the old and the wise who consider that they may fall
upon evil times, as also feeble and timorous persons,
are more inclined to pity: whereas those who deem
themselves happy, and so far powerful as to think
themselves in no danger of suffering any hurt, are not
so inclined to pity.
Accordingly a defect is always the
reason for taking pity, either because one looks upon
another's defect as one's own, through being united to
him by love, or on account of the possibility of
suffering in the same way.
Reply to Objection 1: God
takes pity on us through love alone, in as much as He
loves us as belonging to Him.
Reply to Objection 2: Those
who are already in infinite distress, do not fear to
suffer more, wherefore they are without pity. In like
manner this applies to those also who are in great fear,
for they are so intent on their own passion, that they
pay no attention to the suffering of others.
Reply to Objection 3: Those
who are disposed to contumely, whether through having
been contemned, or because they wish to contemn others,
are incited to anger and daring, which are manly
passions and arouse the human spirit to attempt
difficult things. Hence they make a man think that he is
going to suffer something in the future, so that while
they are disposed in that way they are pitiless,
Prov. 27:4: "Anger hath no mercy, nor fury when it
breaketh forth." For the same reason the proud are
without pity, because they despise others, and think
them wicked, so that they account them as suffering
deservedly whatever they suffer. Hence Gregory says (Hom.
in Evang. xxxiv) that "false godliness," i.e. of the
proud, "is not compassionate but disdainful."
Article 3. Whether mercy is a
Objection 1: It would seem
that mercy is not a virtue. For the chief part of virtue
is choice as the Philosopher states (Ethic. ii, 5). Now
choice is "the desire of what has been already
counselled" (Ethic. iii, 2). Therefore whatever hinders
counsel cannot be called a virtue. But mercy hinders
counsel, according to the saying of Sallust (Catilin.):
"All those that take counsel about matters of doubt,
should be free from . . . anger . . . and mercy, because
the mind does not easily see aright, when these things
stand in the way." Therefore mercy is not a virtue.
Objection 2: Further,
nothing contrary to virtue is praiseworthy. But nemesis
is contrary to mercy, as the Philosopher states (Rhet.
ii, 9), and yet it is a praiseworthy passion (Rhet. ii,
9). Therefore mercy is not a virtue.
Objection 3: Further, joy
and peace are not special virtues, because they result
from charity, as stated above (Q, A; Q,
A). Now mercy, also, results from charity; for it is
out of charity that we weep with them that weep, as we
rejoice with them that rejoice. Therefore mercy is not a
Objection 4: Further, since
mercy belongs to the appetitive power, it is not an
intellectual virtue, and, since it has not God for its
object, neither is it a theological virtue. Moreover it
is not a moral virtue, because neither is it about
operations, for this belongs to justice; nor is it about
passions, since it is not reduced to one of the twelve
means mentioned by the Philosopher (Ethic. ii, 7).
Therefore mercy is not a virtue.
On the contrary, Augustine
says (De Civ. Dei ix, 5): "Cicero in praising Caesar
expresses himself much better and in a fashion at once
more humane and more in accordance with religious
feeling, when he says: 'Of all thy virtues none is more
marvelous or more graceful than thy mercy.'" Therefore
mercy is a virtue.
I answer that, Mercy
signifies grief for another's distress. Now this grief
may denote, in one way, a movement of the sensitive
appetite, in which case mercy is not a virtue but a
passion; whereas, in another way, it may denote a
movement of the intellective appetite, in as much as one
person's evil is displeasing to another. This movement
may be ruled in accordance with reason, and in
accordance with this movement regulated by reason, the
movement of the lower appetite may be regulated. Hence
Augustine says (De Civ. Dei ix, 5) that "this movement
of the mind" (viz. mercy) "obeys the reason, when mercy
is vouchsafed in such a way that justice is safeguarded,
whether we give to the needy or forgive the repentant."
And since it is essential to human virtue that the
movements of the soul should be regulated by reason, as
was shown above (FS, Q, AA,5), it follows that
mercy is a virtue.
Reply to Objection 1: The
words of Sallust are to be understood as applying to the
mercy which is a passion unregulated by reason: for thus
it impedes the counselling of reason, by making it
wander from justice.
Reply to Objection 2: The
Philosopher is speaking there of pity and nemesis,
considered, both of them, as passions. They are contrary
to one another on the part of their respective
estimation of another's evils, for which pity grieves,
in so far as it esteems someone to suffer undeservedly,
whereas nemesis rejoices, in so far as it esteems
someone to suffer deservedly, and grieves, if things go
well with the undeserving: "both of these are
praiseworthy and come from the same disposition of
character" (Rhet. ii, 9). Properly speaking, however, it
is envy which is opposed to pity, as we shall state
further on (Q, A).
Reply to Objection 3: Joy
and peace add nothing to the aspect of good which is the
object of charity, wherefore they do not require any
other virtue besides charity. But mercy regards a
certain special aspect, namely the misery of the person
Reply to Objection 4:
Mercy, considered as a virtue, is a moral virtue having
relation to the passions, and it is reduced to the mean
called nemesis, because "they both proceed from the same
character" (Rhet. ii, 9). Now the Philosopher proposes
these means not as virtues, but as passions, because,
even as passions, they are praiseworthy. Yet nothing
prevents them from proceeding from some elective habit,
in which case they assume the character of a virtue.
Article 4. Whether mercy is the greatest of the
Objection 1: It would seem
that mercy is the greatest of the virtues. For the
worship of God seems a most virtuous act. But mercy is
preferred before the worship of God, according to
Osee 6:6 and
Mat. 12:7: "I have desired mercy and not sacrifice."
Therefore mercy is the greatest virtue.
Objection 2: Further, on the
1 Tim. 4:8: "Godliness is profitable to all things,"
a gloss says: "The sum total of a Christian's rule of
life consists in mercy and godliness." Now the Christian
rule of life embraces every virtue. Therefore the sum
total of all virtues is contained in mercy.
Objection 3: Further,
"Virtue is that which makes its subject good," according
to the Philosopher. Therefore the more a virtue makes a
man like God, the better is that virtue: since man is
the better for being more like God. Now this is chiefly
the result of mercy, since of God is it said (Ps.
144:9) that "His tender mercies are over all His
works," and (Lk.
6:36) Our Lord said: "Be ye . . . merciful, as your
Father also is merciful." Therefore mercy is the
greatest of virtues.
On the contrary, The Apostle
after saying (Col.
3:12): "Put ye on . . . as the elect of God . . .
the bowels of mercy," etc., adds (Col.
3:14): "Above all things have charity." Therefore
mercy is not the greatest of virtues.
I answer that, A virtue may
take precedence of others in two ways: first, in itself;
secondly, in comparison with its subject. In itself,
mercy takes precedence of other virtues, for it belongs
to mercy to be bountiful to others, and, what is more,
to succor others in their wants, which pertains chiefly
to one who stands above. Hence mercy is accounted as
being proper to God: and therein His omnipotence is
declared to be chiefly manifested [*Collect, Tenth
Sunday after Pentecost].
On the other hand, with regard to
its subject, mercy is not the greatest virtue, unless
that subject be greater than all others, surpassed by
none and excelling all: since for him that has anyone
above him it is better to be united to that which is
above than to supply the defect of that which is
beneath. [*"The quality of mercy is not strained. / 'Tis
mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes / The throned
monarch better than his crown." Merchant of Venice, Act
IV, Scene i.]. Hence, as regards man, who has God above
him, charity which unites him to God, is greater than
mercy, whereby he supplies the defects of his neighbor.
But of all the virtues which relate to our neighbor,
mercy is the greatest, even as its act surpasses all
others, since it belongs to one who is higher and better
to supply the defect of another, in so far as the latter
Reply to Objection 1: We
worship God by external sacrifices and gifts, not for
His own profit, but for that of ourselves and our
neighbor. For He needs not our sacrifices, but wishes
them to be offered to Him, in order to arouse our
devotion and to profit our neighbor. Hence mercy,
whereby we supply others' defects is a sacrifice more
acceptable to Him, as conducing more directly to our
neighbor's well-being, according to
Heb. 13:16: "Do not forget to do good and to impart,
for by such sacrifices God's favor is obtained."
Reply to Objection 2: The
sum total of the Christian religion consists in mercy,
as regards external works: but the inward love of
charity, whereby we are united to God preponderates over
both love and mercy for our neighbor.
Reply to Objection 3:
Charity likens us to God by uniting us to Him in the
bond of love: wherefore it surpasses mercy, which likens
us to God as regards similarity of works.