St. Thomas Aquinas

The Summa Theologica

(Benziger Bros. edition, 1947)
Translated by
Fathers of the English Dominican Province


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OF MERCY (FOUR ARTICLES) [*The one Latin word "misericordia" signifies either pity or mercy. The distinction between these two is that pity may stand either for the act or for the virtue, whereas mercy stands only for the virtue.]

Deinde considerandum est de misericordia. Et circa hoc quaeruntur quatuor.    We must now go on to consider Mercy, under which head there are four points of inquiry:
Primo, utrum malum sit causa misericordiae ex parte eius cuius miseremur.     (1) Whether evil is the cause of mercy on the part of the person pitied?
Secundo, quorum sit misereri.     (2) To whom does it belong to pity?
Tertio, utrum misericordia sit virtus.     (3) Whether mercy is a virtue?
Quarto, utrum sit maxima virtutum.     (4) Whether it is the greatest of virtues?


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Whether evil is properly the motive of mercy?

Ad primum sic proceditur. Videtur quod malum non sit proprie motivum ad misericordiam. Ut enim supra ostensum est, culpa est magis malum quam poena. Sed culpa non est provocativum ad misericordiam, sed magis ad indignationem. Ergo malum non est misericordiae provocativum.   Objection 1: It would seem that, properly speaking, evil is not the motive of mercy. For, as shown above (Question [19], Article [1]; FS, Question [79], Article [1], ad 4; FP, Question [48], Article [6]), fault is an evil rather than punishment. Now fault provokes indignation rather than mercy. Therefore evil does not excite mercy.
Praeterea, ea quae sunt crudelia seu dira videntur quendam excessum mali habere. Sed philosophus dicit, in II Rhet., quod dirum est aliud a miserabili, et expulsivum miserationis. Ergo malum, inquantum huiusmodi, non est motivum ad misericordiam.   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.
Praeterea, signa malorum non vere sunt mala. Sed signa malorum provocant ad misericordiam; ut patet per philosophum, in II Rhet. Ergo malum non est proprie provocativum misericordiae.   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 to mercy.
Sed contra est quod Damascenus dicit, in II Lib., quod misericordia est species tristitiae. Sed motivum ad tristitiam est malum. Ergo motivum ad misericordiam est malum.   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.
Respondeo dicendum quod, sicut Augustinus dicit, IX de Civ. Dei, misericordia est alienae miseriae in nostro corde compassio, qua utique, si possumus, subvenire compellimur, dicitur enim misericordia ex eo quod aliquis habet miserum cor super miseria alterius. Miseria autem felicitati opponitur. Est autem de ratione beatitudinis sive felicitatis ut aliquis potiatur eo quod vult, nam sicut Augustinus dicit, XIII de Trin., beatus qui habet omnia quae vult, et nihil mali vult. Et ideo e contrario ad miseriam pertinet ut homo patiatur quae non vult.   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.
Tripliciter autem aliquis vult aliquid. Uno quidem modo, appetitu naturali, sicut omnes homines volunt esse et vivere. Alio modo homo vult aliquid per electionem ex aliqua praemeditatione. Tertio modo homo vult aliquid non secundum se, sed in causa sua, puta, qui vult comedere nociva, quodammodo dicimus eum velle infirmari.    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.
Sic igitur motivum misericordiae est, tanquam ad miseriam pertinens, primo quidem illud quod contrariatur appetitui naturali volentis, scilicet mala corruptiva et contristantia, quorum contraria homines naturaliter appetunt. Unde philosophus dicit, in II Rhet., quod misericordia est tristitia quaedam super apparenti malo corruptivo vel contristativo. Secundo, huiusmodi magis efficiuntur ad misericordiam provocantia si sint contra voluntatem electionis. Unde et philosophus ibidem dicit quod illa mala sunt miserabilia quorum fortuna est causa, puta cum aliquod malum eveniat unde sperabatur bonum. Tertio autem, sunt adhuc magis miserabilia si sunt contra totam voluntatem, puta si aliquis semper sectatus est bona et eveniunt ei mala. Et ideo philosophus dicit, in eodem libro, quod misericordia maxime est super malis eius qui indignus patitur.    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 suffers undeservedly."
Ad primum ergo dicendum quod de ratione culpae est quod sit voluntaria. Et quantum ad hoc non habet rationem miserabilis, sed magis rationem puniendi. Sed quia culpa potest esse aliquo modo poena, inquantum scilicet habet aliquid annexum quod est contra voluntatem peccantis, secundum hoc potest habere rationem miserabilis. Et secundum hoc miseremur et compatimur peccantibus, sicut Gregorius dicit, in quadam homilia, quod vera iustitia non habet dedignationem, scilicet ad peccatores, sed compassionem. Et Matth. IX dicitur, videns Iesus turbas misertus est eis, quia erant vexati, et iacentes sicut oves non habentes pastorem.   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 (Mt. 9:36) that Jesus "seeing the multitudes, had compassion on them: because they were distressed, and lying like sheep that have no shepherd."
Ad secundum dicendum quod quia misericordia est compassio miseriae alterius, proprie misericordia est ad alterum, non autem ad seipsum, nisi secundum quandam similitudinem, sicut et iustitia, secundum quod in homine considerantur diversae partes, ut dicitur in V Ethic. Et secundum hoc dicitur Eccli. XXX, miserere animae tuae placens Deo.   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. Question [106], Article [3], ad 1].
Sicut ergo misericordia non est proprie ad seipsum, sed dolor, puta cum patimur aliquid crudele in nobis; ita etiam, si sint aliquae personae ita nobis coniunctae ut sint quasi aliquid nostri, puta filii aut parentes, in eorum malis non miseremur, sed dolemus, sicut in vulneribus propriis. Et secundum hoc philosophus dicit quod dirum est expulsivum miserationis.    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."
Ad tertium dicendum quod sicut ex spe et memoria bonorum sequitur delectatio, ita ex spe et memoria malorum sequitur tristitia, non autem tam vehemens sicut ex sensu praesentium. Et ideo signa malorum, inquantum repraesentant nobis mala miserabilia sicut praesentia, commovent ad miserendum.   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.


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Whether the reason for taking pity is a defect in the person who pities?

Ad secundum sic proceditur. Videtur quod defectus non sit ratio miserendi ex parte miserentis. Proprium enim Dei est misereri, unde dicitur in Psalm., miserationes eius super omnia opera eius. Sed in Deo nullus est defectus. Ergo defectus non potest esse ratio miserendi.   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.
Praeterea, si defectus est ratio miserendi, oportet quod illi qui maxime sunt cum defectu maxime miserentur. Sed hoc est falsum, dicit enim philosophus, in II Rhet., quod qui ex toto perierunt non miserentur. Ergo videtur quod defectus non sit ratio miserendi ex parte miserentis.   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.
Praeterea, sustinere aliquam contumeliam ad defectum pertinet. Sed philosophus dicit ibidem quod illi qui sunt in contumeliativa dispositione non miserentur. Ergo defectus ex parte miserentis non est ratio miserendi.   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 who pities.
Sed contra est quod misericordia est quaedam tristitia. Sed defectus est ratio tristitiae, unde infirmi facilius contristantur, ut supra dictum est. Ergo ratio miserendi est defectus miserentis.   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 (Question [35], Article [1], ad 2). Therefore the reason why one takes pity is a defect in oneself.
Respondeo dicendum quod, cum misericordia sit compassio super miseria aliena, ut dictum est, ex hoc contingit quod aliquis misereatur ex quo contingit quod de miseria aliena doleat. Quia autem tristitia seu dolor est de proprio malo, intantum aliquis de miseria aliena tristatur aut dolet inquantum miseriam alienam apprehendit ut suam.   I answer that, Since pity is grief for another's distress, as stated above (Article [1]), 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.
Hoc autem contingit dupliciter. Uno modo, secundum unionem affectus, quod fit per amorem. Quia enim amans reputat amicum tanquam seipsum, malum ipsius reputat tanquam suum malum, et ideo dolet de malo amici sicut de suo. Et inde est quod philosophus, in IX Ethic., inter alia amicabilia ponit hoc quod est condolere amico. Et apostolus dicit, ad Rom. XII, gaudere cum gaudentibus, flere cum flentibus.    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 (Rm. 12:15): "Rejoice with them that rejoice, weep with them that weep."
Alio modo contingit secundum unionem realem, utpote cum malum aliquorum propinquum est ut ab eis ad nos transeat. Et ideo philosophus dicit, in II Rhet., homines miserentur super illos qui sunt eis coniuncti et similes, quia per hoc fit eis aestimatio quod ipsi etiam possint similia pati. Et inde est etiam quod senes et sapientes, qui considerant se posse in mala incidere, et debiles et formidolosi magis sunt misericordes. E contrario autem alii, qui reputant se esse felices et intantum potentes quod nihil mali putant se posse pati, non ita miserentur.    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.
Sic igitur semper defectus est ratio miserendi, vel inquantum aliquis defectum alicuius reputat suum, propter unionem amoris; vel propter possibilitatem similia patiendi.    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.
Ad primum ergo dicendum quod Deus non miseretur nisi propter amorem, inquantum amat nos tanquam aliquid sui.   Reply to Objection 1: God takes pity on us through love alone, in as much as He loves us as belonging to Him.
Ad secundum dicendum quod illi qui iam sunt in infimis malis non timent se ulterius pati aliquid, et ideo non miserentur. Similiter etiam nec illi qui valde timent, quia tantum intendunt propriae passioni quod non intendunt miseriae alienae..   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.
Ad tertium dicendum quod illi qui sunt in contumeliativa dispositione, sive quia sint contumeliam passi, sive quia velint contumeliam inferre, provocantur ad iram et audaciam, quae sunt quaedam passiones virilitatis extollentes animum hominis ad arduum. Unde auferunt homini aestimationem quod sit aliquid in futurum passurus. Unde tales, dum sunt in hac dispositione, non miserentur, secundum illud Prov. XXVII, ira non habet misericordiam, neque erumpens furor. Et ex simili ratione superbi non miserentur, qui contemnunt alios et reputant eos malos. Unde reputant quod digne patiantur quidquid patiuntur. Unde et Gregorius dicit quod falsa iustitia, scilicet superborum, non habet compassionem, sed dedignationem.   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, according to 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."


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Whether mercy is a virtue?

Ad tertium sic proceditur. Videtur quod misericordia non sit virtus. Principale enim in virtute est electio, ut patet per philosophum, in libro Ethic. Electio autem est appetitus praeconsiliati, ut in eodem libro dicitur. Illud ergo quod impedit consilium non potest dici virtus. Sed misericordia impedit consilium, secundum illud Sallustii, omnes homines qui de rebus dubiis consultant ab ira et misericordia vacuos esse decet, non enim animus facile verum providet ubi ista officiunt. Ergo misericordia non est virtus.   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.
Praeterea, nihil quod est contrarium virtuti est laudabile. Sed Nemesis contrariatur misericordiae, ut philosophus dicit, in II Rhet. Nemesis autem est passio laudabilis, ut dicitur in II Ethic. Ergo misericordia non est virtus.   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.
Praeterea, gaudium et pax non sunt speciales virtutes quia consequuntur ex caritate, ut supra dictum est. Sed etiam misericordia consequitur ex caritate, sic enim ex caritate flemus cum flentibus sicut gaudemus cum gaudentibus. Ergo misericordia non est specialis virtus.   Objection 3: Further, joy and peace are not special virtues, because they result from charity, as stated above (Question [28], Article [4]; Question [29], Article [4]). 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 special virtue.
Praeterea, cum misericordia ad vim appetitivam pertineat, non est virtus intellectualis. Nec est virtus theologica, cum non habeat Deum pro obiecto. Similiter etiam non est virtus moralis, quia nec est circa operationes, hoc enim pertinet ad iustitiam; nec est circa passiones, non enim reducitur ad aliquam duodecim medietatum quas philosophus ponit, in II Ethic. Ergo misericordia non est virtus.   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.
Sed contra est quod Augustinus dicit, in IX de Civ. Dei, longe melius et humanius et piorum sensibus accommodatius Cicero in Caesaris laude locutus est, ubi ait, nulla de virtutibus tuis nec admirabilior nec gratior misericordia est. Ergo misericordia est virtus.   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.
Respondeo dicendum quod misericordia importat dolorem de miseria aliena. Iste autem dolor potest nominare, uno quidem modo, motum appetitus sensitivi. Et secundum hoc misericordia passio est, et non virtus. Alio vero modo potest nominare motum appetitus intellectivi, secundum quod alicui displicet malum alterius. Hic autem motus potest esse secundum rationem regulatus, et potest secundum hunc motum ratione regulatum regulari motus inferioris appetitus. Unde Augustinus dicit, in IX de Civ. Dei, quod iste motus animi, scilicet misericordia, servit rationi quando ita praebetur misericordia ut iustitia conservetur, sive cum indigenti tribuitur, sive cum ignoscitur poenitenti. Et quia ratio virtutis humanae consistit in hoc quod motus animi ratione reguletur, ut ex superioribus patet, consequens est misericordiam esse virtutem.   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, Question [59], Articles [4],5), it follows that mercy is a virtue.
Ad primum ergo dicendum quod auctoritas illa Sallustii intelligitur de misericordia secundum quod est passio ratione non regulata. Sic enim impedit consilium rationis, dum facit a iustitia discedere.   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.
Ad secundum dicendum quod philosophus loquitur ibi de misericordia et Nemesi secundum quod utrumque est passio. Et habent quidem contrarietatem ex parte aestimationis quam habent de malis alienis, de quibus misericors dolet, inquantum aestimat aliquem indigna pati; Nemeseticus autem gaudet, inquantum aestimat aliquos digne pati, et tristatur si indignis bene accidat. Et utrumque est laudabile, et ab eodem more descendens, ut ibidem dicitur. Sed proprie misericordiae opponitur invidia, ut infra dicetur.   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 (Question [36], Article [3]).
Ad tertium dicendum quod gaudium et pax nihil adiiciunt super rationem boni quod est obiectum caritatis, et ideo non requirunt alias virtutes quam caritatem. Sed misericordia respicit quandam specialem rationem, scilicet miseriam eius cuius miseretur.   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 pitied.
Ad quartum dicendum quod misericordia, secundum quod est virtus, est moralis virtus circa passiones existens, et reducitur ad illam medietatem quae dicitur Nemesis, quia ab eodem more procedunt, ut in II Rhet. dicitur. Has autem medietates philosophus non ponit virtutes, sed passiones, quia etiam secundum quod sunt passiones, laudabiles sunt. Nihil tamen prohibet quin ab aliquo habitu electivo proveniant. Et secundum hoc assumunt rationem virtutis.   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.


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Whether mercy is the greatest of the virtues?

Ad quartum sic proceditur. Videtur quod misericordia sit maxima virtutum. Maxime enim ad virtutem pertinere videtur cultus divinus. Sed misericordia cultui divino praefertur, secundum illud Osee VI et Matth. XII, misericordiam volo, et non sacrificium. Ergo misericordia est maxima virtus.   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 Mt. 12:7: "I have desired mercy and not sacrifice." Therefore mercy is the greatest virtue.
Praeterea, super illud I ad Tim. IV, pietas ad omnia utilis est, dicit Glossa Ambrosii, omnis summa disciplinae Christianae in misericordia et pietate est. Sed disciplina Christiana continet omnem virtutem. Ergo summa totius virtutis in misericordia consistit.   Objection 2: Further, on the words of 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.
Praeterea, virtus est quae bonum facit habentem. Ergo tanto aliqua virtus est melior quanto facit hominem Deo similiorem, quia per hoc melior est homo quod Deo est similior. Sed hoc maxime facit misericordia, quia de Deo dicitur in Psalm. quod miserationes eius sunt super omnia opera eius. Unde et Luc. VI dominus dicit, estote misericordes, sicut et pater vester misericors est. Misericordia igitur est maxima virtutum.   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.
Sed contra est quod apostolus, ad Coloss. III, cum dixisset, induite vos, sicut dilecti Dei, viscera misericordiae etc., postea subdit, super omnia, caritatem habete. Ergo misericordia non est maxima virtutum.   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.
Respondeo dicendum quod aliqua virtus potest esse maxima dupliciter, uno modo, secundum se; alio modo, per comparationem ad habentem. Secundum se quidem misericordia maxima est. Pertinet enim ad misericordiam quod alii effundat; et, quod plus est, quod defectus aliorum sublevet; et hoc est maxime superioris. Unde et misereri ponitur proprium Deo, et in hoc maxime dicitur eius omnipotentia manifestari.   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].
Sed quoad habentem, misericordia non est maxima, nisi ille qui habet sit maximus, qui nullum supra se habeat, sed omnes sub se. Ei enim qui supra se aliquem habet maius est et melius coniungi superiori quam supplere defectum inferioris. Et ideo quantum ad hominem, qui habet Deum superiorem, caritas, per quam Deo unitur, est potior quam misericordia, per quam defectus proximorum supplet. Sed inter omnes virtutes quae ad proximum pertinent potissima est misericordia, sicut etiam est potioris actus, nam supplere defectum alterius, inquantum huiusmodi, est superioris et melioris.    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 is deficient.
Ad primum ergo dicendum quod Deum non colimus per exteriora sacrificia aut munera propter ipsum, sed propter nos et propter proximos, non enim indiget sacrificiis nostris, sed vult ea sibi offerri propter nostram devotionem et proximorum utilitatem. Et ideo misericordia, qua subvenitur defectibus aliorum, est sacrificium ei magis acceptum, utpote propinquius utilitatem proximorum inducens, secundum illud Heb. ult., beneficentiae et communionis nolite oblivisci, talibus enim hostiis promeretur Deus.   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."
Ad secundum dicendum quod summa religionis Christianae in misericordia consistit quantum ad exteriora opera. Interior tamen affectio caritatis, qua coniungimur Deo, praeponderat et dilectioni et misericordiae in proximos.   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.
Ad tertium dicendum quod per caritatem assimilamur Deo tanquam ei per affectum uniti. Et ideo potior est quam misericordia, per quam assimilamur Deo secundum similitudinem operationis.   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.

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