Saturday, April 14, 2012

Which is greater in God: Mercy or Justice?


“Eternal God, in whom mercy is endless and the treasury of compassion inexhaustible, look kindly upon us and increase Your mercy in us, that in difficult moments we might not despair nor become despondent, but with great confidence submit ourselves to Your holy will, which is Love and Mercy itself.” (concluding prayer of the Divine Mercy Chaplet)
We know that in God there is both mercy and justice; rather, that God is both mercy and justice. However, we also pray that, upon our death, we might meet in Christ not the just Judge, but the merciful Savior. Knowing that mercy and justice can never truly contradict one another, we might still ask which is greater in God, and which comes first and which is greater.
Is justice the foundation from which mercy builds? Or, is mercy the fundamental disposition of God toward his creatures?

Justice in God
Justice is to render another his due.
There are two kinds of justice: Commutative justice and distributive justice. Commutative justice is when a man is in another’s debt as having received something from him. This type of justice clearly cannot be in God – for all good things come from him, and he is debtor to none.
On the other hand, distributive justice is that by which a man gives good things to all according to their proper condition. This is in God, because he gives all blessings according to his wisdom and in a manner which befits each creature. But, the creatures cannot claim to have any true authority over God in this respect, for he is a “debtor” only to his own wisdom – he need only distribute blessings according to his providential will.
To be very clear: God owes no absolute debt of justice to any creature. He doesn’t owe it to us to give us grace or to save us. Rather, he owes it to himself to give us grace and save us – insofar as he has promised this and has willed it.
Mercy in God
Mercy is a passion of sorrow at the misery of another which leads a man to desire to allay the other’s suffering as though it were his own.
In this sense, there is not mercy in God – since he suffers from no passions whatsoever. However, the divine mercy is true and real, not as a passion but in relation to the effect. Namely, God is said to have mercy insofar as he does indeed act to dispel the misery of us poor creatures.
Further, Christ became man in order to suffer with us and so experience our sufferings in his humanity.
The absolute priority of Divine Mercy
St. Thomas Aquinas offers a brilliant explanation of the fact that, although mercy and justice are in every act of God, mercy always precedes justice:
“Whatever is done by God in created things, is done according to proper order and proportion wherein consists the idea of justice. Thus justice must exist in all God’s works, Now the work of divine justice always presupposes the work of mercy; and is founded thereupon. For nothing is due to creatures, except for something pre-existing in them, or foreknown. Again, if this is due to a creature, it must be due on account of something that precedes. And since we cannot go on to infinity, we must come to something that depends only on the goodness of the divine will—which is the ultimate end. So in every work of God, viewed at its primary source, there appears mercy.” (ST I, q.21, a.4)
Because God does not have to create anything at all, everything he does in the world is an expression first and foremost of his Divine Mercy.
Even the souls condemned to eternal punishments in hell first experience mercy before justice: For they have no claim to existence, and it is a great act of mercy that God continues to preserve them in existence (especially since they hate him).
Now, if the soul in mortal sin and even the soul in hell is supported by the Divine Mercy, how much more are we who live (and especially those in the state of grace) encompassed in Mercy?! What have we to fear?

O Blood and Water, which gushed forth from the Heart of Jesus as a fountain of Mercy for us, I trust in You!

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

In God, justice and mercy are the same, since God is truly and absolutely simple.

John

Ioannes Patricius said...

"Even the souls condemned to eternal punishments in hell first experience mercy before justice: For they have no claim to existence, and it is a great act of mercy that God continues to preserve them in existence (especially since they hate him)."

Would they not prefer to be annihilated though?

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@John,
please consider the following line of the article (from the opening) -- "We know that in God there is both mercy and justice; rather, that God IS both mercy and justice."

Now, since you surely know that I know that God is one, you also know (I am sure) that I know that Divine Mercy and Divine Justice are one.

And yet, the effects in creatures are multiple ... and first the effects are of mercy, only then of justice.

Peace! +

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Ioannes P,
Yes, the damned would rather not exist ... but, that is because they hate themselves. They do not even recognize the good which God is giving them in allowing them to continue to exist.

Thus, the Divine Mercy is shown in a wonderful way -- the damned are ungrateful, and yet God is so merciful. +

Anonymous said...

Dear Fr. Ryan,

I'm afraid I am vague about this statement and I hope you can help me understand it:

"In this sense, there is not mercy in God – since he suffers from no passions whatsoever."

Are mercy and passion associated with feelings, and God does not have them?

Thank you so much...

Angela

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Angela,
I know that this can be a bit confusing!
In God (considered as God, not considering the Humanity of Jesus) there is no passion at all ... anything in the Bible which speaks of God's passions, is to be understood as a metaphor describing how we relate to God.

God cannot have passions for two (main) reasons:
1) He is the unmoved Mover -- meaning that he is not moved himself and he does not change, but rather he moves all things.
But, if he had passions, then he would be moved; and he would change.
2) He is wholly simple -- but passions are a result of complexity. Even the angels do not have passions -- but are purely rational spirits.
We humans have passions because we are not pure spirits, and are not so purely rational.

So, God does not suffer from passions or feelings ... but is pure reason.
However, this pure reason is not hard or unloving ... rather, in God reason and love are one.
And this is why we speak of Divine Mercy -- because his actions toward us are wholly merciful and most generous!

Ok, hope that helps a bit! +

Augustine said...

Father,

I am glad that you have mentioned that God does not owe it to anyone to create or save them. Too often we foget this essential point, which should not cause us to become despondent but to marvel even more that He has chosen freely to bestow such wonderful graces on infinately less creatures.

Anonymous said...

Rene:
That is absolute Father! St Thomas knew that very well.

Liam Ronan said...

I recall being told long ago that Mercy is the synthesis, i.e. the middle point on the pendulum if you will, between Justice and Charity, Charity being the total and absolute waiver of any and every claim Justice might have a right to make.
Mercy permits mitigation of Justice but not entirely.
This may sound like an odd question, but are Mercy and Charity necessarily the same attribute?

Anonymous said...

Fr. Erlenbush, I have often said that Hell is an act of God's Mercy--but I arrived at that conclusion from a different presupposition. I have contemplated on times in my life (when my charity was lacking) and I would be in the presence of somewhat that I couldn't stand--even if many of my friends told me how great this person was--to be in the presence of, it was like absolute torture for me.
In the same way, it seems to me, that a soul who is not in the state of grace would be in far worse torture in the presence of God, than separated from Him.

Bob

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Fr. Ryan. I realize that it will take more to really explain this but the short answer you gave greatly helped me. I got the essence of what you are saying.

Passerby said...

Well, as I read this, I have to ask the same question again - what does the goodness of existence mean to the souls in hell? Namely, this sequence just doesn't seem to fit. At least to me. First we have definition of mercy that goes like this:

Namely, God is said to have mercy insofar as he does indeed act to dispel the misery of us poor creatures.

Then, mercy suddenly turns out to be this:

Because God does not have to create anything at all, everything he does in the world is an expression first and foremost of his Divine Mercy.

It seems to me that 'to dispel the misery' and 'to do something you don't have to' are two different things. So, which is it? And finally we come to this:

Even the souls condemned to eternal punishments in hell first experience mercy before justice: For they have no claim to existence, and it is a great act of mercy that God continues to preserve them in existence (especially since they hate him).

So, we have arrived from the mercy being dispelling the misery of poor creatures, to mercy being preserving poor creatures in being so that they can suffer??

Theophilus said...

It seems that allowing the damned and the fallen angels to exist is rather an act of justice than mercy, since it would be better for them to not exist and hence experience no horror or agony. Even Christ said that it would be better for Judas to never have been born. I am aware that St. Thomas says that God punishes short of what is deserved, but it seems that that must apply to the actual punishment the damned are receiving rather than indicate that their existence is an act of God's mercy because they are suffering so much. Thoughts?

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Passerby and Theophilus,
God shows mercy to the souls of the damned in relieving their misery insofar as the worst misery of all (even worse than the pains of hell) is to fall out of existence -- and God prevents this from happening to them.

Thus, it is a great act of mercy that he allows them to exist.

Regarding that it would be better had they never been born:
1) That is to say that they think that they would rather not exist -- because they hate themselves almost as much as they hate God.
2) And, further, if they had never been born, then they would at least have gotten into limbo (which is the edge of hell) -- and not suffer the pains of hell. [or, if you don't believe in limbo, then they would have gotten to heaven]
So, it clearly would have been better if they were conceived, but died before birth.

Hope that helps. +

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