The Personalist Project

My post on “unprincipled forgiveness” led to a lively exchange with Mike Healy that has further persuaded me of the confusion surrounding the mystery of forgiveness, and the great difficulty many Christians have not only in realizing it in practice, but understanding it in theory.  And since I believe that understanding it rightly is crucial to the task of achieving it and helping others achieve it, I’m going to keep pressing.

To be clearer and more complete about what I have in mind with the problem of "unprincipled forgiveness" let me say the following:

When it comes to the social act of reconciliation (which is the natural aim and consummation of forgiveness), to treat an unrepentant assailant the same way we treat someone who has 1) ceased offending, 2) sincerely repented, and 3) made amends, is not Christlike, but dysfunctional.

To equate a call for justice with a desire for revenge is not Christlike, but dysfunctional.

To disregard the objective reality of a serious wrong done, in the name of restoring peace between persons, is not Christlike, but dysfunctional.

For third parties in a given conflict to exert moral pressure to "forgive" on the one who has (objectively) been wronged without also (and even more fundamentally) calling on the offender to repent his wrong and make amends—in other words showing concern that justice be done—is not Christlike, but dysfunctional, even abusive.

Consider the timely example of Joe Paterno's role in the continuation of Sandusky's depredations. When Sandusky was caught for a second time sexually abusing a young boy, and higher ups wanted to report the matter to Child Welfare Services, Paterno allegedly urged "a more humane course", viz. that Sandusky not be reported. It appears that no one involved ever did anything to find the boy in question, never mind see to it that he received what justice can be received after such a hideous crime. Sandusky went on to commit more crimes against more innocents. Note that Paterno didn't condone or deny the evil Sandusky had done. What he did was show "mercy" and "forgiveness" to the wrongdoer, while showing no practical concern for the offended child, or for justice. This is an unambiguous instance of "unprincipled forgiveness." 

The same pattern can be seen in the clerical abuse scandals. Victims and their families were pressured to "forgive" and to drop efforts toward justice and redress lest they "cause scandal." Often the victims were accused of "bitterness", perversity, "attacking the Church", and irreligion for even making what had happened to them known. In Philadelphia, the Archdiocese under the late Cardinal Bevilaqua allegedly had a deliberate policy of not investigating accusations of clerical abuse. That way, unless the priest admitted to it, the charges could be officially deemed "not credible". 

Somehow many Christians seem to imagine that there is something especially admirable in leaving disputes unsettled and wrongs uninvestigated—as if uncertainty about the truth of what happened is part of remaining impartial and showing mercy to all concerned.  In fact, this is a manner of abetting wrong and “enabling” injustice.

I observed a similar pattern (involving much lesser evils) in the Covenant Communities in the '80s. Those who raised concerns and objections to certain practices were treated as persecutors who were "attacking a work of God."  Meanwhile, all manner of excuses and explanations and mitigating considerations were found for the abusive practices and for those who instituted them. Until the bishops finally intervened, calls for reform were rejected out of hand, while “whistleblowers” were dismissed as bitter, vindictive people with "issues”—defective in Christian mercy and charity.

I have experienced the phenomenon in large and small matters in my own life. I have had "unforgiveness", "hypocrisy", "bitterness", "fascism", “viciousness” and "sickness" imputed to me because I asked for justice and insisted on truth, by fellow Christians who know next to nothing of my objective case, never mind my interior disposition.  When I stood up for myself and defended what is mine, I was charged with “causing scandal,” of “attacking”, and even of “inviting Satan into the neighborhood.”  I have seen the same thing happen to friends whose Christian faith and personal virtue far outstrip my own, and who are “guilty” only of defending themselves and their children against far worse blows than I have ever received.  Their defense of themselves and their children is held against them as a grievance—a lamentable failure of Christian charity.

I come across it often in my reading. I have mentioned before a book on forgiveness by a priest I know (but prefer not to name, because I think he's generally a good priest, doing faithful service to the Body of Christ, for which I'm grateful.) He says right out that when it comes to forgiving, whether you have actually been offended makes no difference. All that matters is that you feel like you were offended. He has a chapter on the need to forgive God. While he clearly distinguishes between forgiveness (a Christian obligation) and reconciliation (which may be impossible), he practically identifies concern for justice as vindictiveness in disguise. We don't need to be concerned with justice, because Jesus took care of that on the cross, once and for all.

This is not the gospel.

Its pastoral effect is that evil is not taken seriously.  Persons are not taken seriously.  Objective reality is not taken seriously.  Justice is neglected. Real forgiveness doesn’t happen.

The misleading and reductive, but depressingly commonplace assertion, "forgiveness is an act of the will," leads in practice to serious misjudgments and more dysfunction. If an offended person asking for justice resists the formulation and the illegitimate moral pressure of its implied demand, very quickly the sympathetic attention of the surrounding community shifts to the unrepentant offender, who comes to be seen as the victim of "unforgiveness", while the offended party is unjustly held responsible for the alienation between them. The question of the wrong done and how to repair it is ignored completely. Immaculée Ilibagiza will be referenced, with the implication: "If she can forgive the mass murderers of her family and people, surely you can forgive whatever comparatively insignificant wrong (may have) happened to you."  (Whether something actually happened to you is unimportant.  Whether it’s acknowledged is unimportant.  All Christian attention and concern is bent on the problem of your deplorable refusal to make this simple and straight forward “act of the will.”)

My point is not that Immaculée's story is not inspiring and exemplary. Of course it is. My point is rather that it is not apropos in every case. Unforgiveness is not the “theme” (to use a von Hildebrandian term) in all broken relationships. Sometimes, as Kevin pointed out in the earlier thread, the problem is vice, or denial, or illusion on the offender’s part. Haven’t we all read moving and admirable “tough love” stories? The parents of a young adult who repeatedly lies to them and steals from them to buy drugs are not being hardhearted or self-righteous or unloving (though he will accuse them of such) when they tell him he’s not welcome in their home until he gets himself straightened out.

When the Church refrains from offering the Eucharist to non-Catholics, or to Catholics who have committed a mortal sin, she isn’t motivated by self-righteousness or mercilessness.  She is—out of love and fidelity—establishing and defending the terms of authentic Communion.

That’s what seeking justice means.  It means establishing the terms and conditions in which real love and real communion can flourish.

In Ibsen’s play, A Doll’s House, Nora walks out on her husband not because he was brutal or unfaithful, but because a crisis had exposed his thoroughgoing egocentrism and his deep-seated, long-standing habit of treating her like a child and a plaything rather than a woman and a wife. He implicitly demands that she act his subordinate, his featherbrained inferior. Her walking away has nothing to do with revenge or vindictiveness. It isn’t a refusal to forgive. She isn’t punishing him. Rather, she is coming to the realization that their way of relating was destructive to them both.  She is taking responsibility for herself and her own “interior terrain” for the first time in her life.  She hopes he will do the same. 

Now, imagine third parties coming in on the scene and preaching to Nora that her Christian duty is to forgive her husband and stay with him.  Not only would they have been thoroughly ineffective; they (like Job's friends) would have been making the situation worse by their interfering misinterpretations of the situation and the characters involved.  Nora's newly awakened (and true) sense of having been profoundly wronged would have deepened, and her husband's illusions of irreproachable rectitude would have been exacerbated.  He would have been confirmed in his ingrained egotism—the very thing that had driven her away.  

Better friends would have encouraged him to face the truth about himself, as Nora did.

I do not for a moment dispute the fact that Nora ought to find a way eventually to forgive her husband for the damage he did to her, whether or not he ever owns up to it.  I don’t by any means suggest she was without fault in her own behavior and without any responsibility for the dependent condition she was in.  But to me it is plain that the best chance for her healing and for their eventual reconciliation, and the only real hope for her husband, lies in his coming to recognize the truth about himself.

Now, someone might say, “Well, she should stay with him and steadily model heroic Christian patience and mercy, like Blessed Elizabeth Leseur did with her atheist husband, eventually winning his conversion.”

My response would be that that is hopelessly unreal.  Nora is in no condition to model Christian perfection, and she knows it.  All she can do, and what she must not fail to do in this particular moral moment, is defend her own dignity and put a stop to the abuse.  Since she clearly sees that her husband is incapable, at least for now, of admiting and amending his habit of demeaning her, she is right to walk away. 

One of the great, personalistic lessons that stays with me from Liechtenstein came in (I think) an ethics class with John Crosby.  It was about the way the saints are and are not models for us.  He read a long passage from chapter 2 of Jacques Maritain’s Essence and the Existent, the gist of which was that because each person and “ethical situation” is unique, the particular acts of the saints are “admirable, but not imitable.”  A Catholic mother may admire the radical generosity of St. Jane Frances de Chantal’s entering a convent over the cries and pleas of her children without taking it as "God's plan" that she do the same thing herself.  It would be altogether wrong for me to press Catholic widows I know to “imitate the example of St. Jane Frances” and enter a convent, regardless of what their children want or claim to need. 

Likewise, St. Francis’ renunciation of his father and embrace of Lady Poverty challenges all of us to a greater and more generous life of faith, but it doesn’t impose on us an obligation to give away everything we possess and become beggars.  Much less does it justify others in taking what isn’t theirs on the grounds that “the saints didn’t cling to their possessions.”

There is a way of looking to the example of the saints, or of holding them up to others, that is not inspirational, but dysfunctional, just as there is a way of studying and “learning from” Aquinas that is not philosophical but anti-intellectual, or of quoting Scripture that isn’t a religious, but heretical.

We don’t become philosophers by memorizing Aquinas and slavishly adhering to whatever he said.  We don’t become saints by copying Saints’ acts.  We become philosophers by pursuit of truth, wherever we find it.  We become saints by living (under grace) according to our own “best lights” and the mysterious promptings of the Holy Spirit in the unique situations we find ourselves in.  Sometimes that will mean generous acts of self-denial; sometimes it may call for courageous acts of self-assertion.  One moment the verse, “better to gouge out your eye than be cast in gehenna” smites our conscience; at another we are intimately consoled by the promise of vindication.  Some moral circumstances call for us to give way; some for us to hold firm.  “There is a time for sowing and a time for reaping what we sow.  There is a time for war, and a time for peace…”

All of us, always, are called to "forgive trespasses against us".  All of us, always, are called to love justice and seek what is right.

None of us, ever, should presume to know what another should do in questions that are addressed to his or her unique subjectivity. 

In his encyclical, Spe Salvi, Pope Benedict, reminds the faithful that the grace of redemption is inseparable from justice:

Grace does not cancel out justice. It does not make wrong into right. It is not a sponge which wipes everything away, so that whatever someone has done on earth ends up being of equal value…Evildoers, in the end, do not sit at table at the eternal banquet beside their victims without distinction, as though nothing had happened.

“Unprincipled forgiveness” calls for reconciliation between persons to take place exactly “as though nothing had happened.”  Those who have been wronged are pressured to drop their call for justice.  Those who do wrong are encouraged to think themselves aggrieved unless the case against them is dropped. The question of the truth of the matter is disregarded as unknown, unknowable, and unimportant. 

This is not Christian forgiveness.  It is, at best, appeasement and détente, at worst abuse and dysfunction.  It is the master/slave hermeneutic of the Fall masquerading as an angel of peace.

True Christian forgiveness is something much higher, much holier, and much harder to attain.  It is not only compatible with a commitment to justice; it depends on it, as our Redemption depends on the cross of Christ, and our reception of grace depends on our repenting our sins.

Comments (25)

Teresa Manidis

#1, Jul 8, 2012 11:31pm

There is so much here, and so much (well, actually everything) I agree with.  Katie, I cannot support you and your position enough; your points are solid, sound, unique and need to be repeated until (finally) heard and understood.  With that in mind, could I encourage you to, perhaps, consider writing a book on the topic?  Misunderstanding in this area is ubiquitous; you have a gift and an insight, and persuasion, to boot.  I think what I like best about your argument is that it not only 'works' on paper, but that it is true to real life, true to my own experience and the experiences of those around me.  Too often a pet theory is expounded and supported that, really, has no bearing or parallel in reality; you are a true philosopher in that, regardless of where it leads you (or what discomfort you may encounter) you doggedly follow the trail of truth and (thank God) you have the tenacity to run it down it to its ultimate Source.  Keep going on this one, Katie, for all those less eloquent, or less convicted, or even less foolhardy as yourself, who risk ridicule in your brilliant race towards the Truth.

Joan Drennen

#2, Jul 9, 2012 8:30am

I’m grateful to Katie and Mike for the time, energy, and searching they’ve invested in this debate. Thank you.

I have to agree with Teresa that Katie’s emphasis is much needed in our world today.

I believe the issue about forgiveness that she is clarifying and is at stake is truth in relationships.  Three quotes come to mind. In Matthew 10:34  Jesus says, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”  In Hebrews 4:12 Paul explains, “The word of God is living and active and sharper than any two edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

And Dietrich von Hildebrand (The Dethronement of Truth?) states, “As soon as man no longer refers to truth as the ultimate judge in all spheres of life, brutal force necessarily replaces right; oppression and mechanical suggestive influence supercedes conviction; fear supplants trust.”


Joan Drennen

#3, Jul 9, 2012 8:33am

My whole life has been saved by Jesus providing an example and a means to forgive. Jesus way doesn’t shortcut dealing with the truth in relationships. He enables us to go to the root and call out the pus so the wound can heal.

In order for broken relationships to heal, a will to forgive must be present in the offended, but no less (and the de-emphasis of this is a huge and common error) the truth of the wrongdoer must be exposed and pierced.  Where there is dexterity in relationships, this can occur quickly. In relationships where manipulative control and oppression are exerted, healing is halted. There is confusion. The soul of the person offended detects “the intentions of the heart” of the wrongdoer if he is apologizing in lip service and then shifting the focus prematurely to reconciliation.

Broken relationships are uncomfortable, painful, inconvenient.  As there must be a sincere will to forgive on both parts, there must be a sincere will to see and expose the truth, the offense, the sin. A block in healing will occur if there is a lack of awareness or a lack of willingness to expose truth.

Joan Drennen

#4, Jul 9, 2012 8:34am

( In the case of lack of awareness, the broken relationship has the power to bring about awareness in the unaware person if he has a desire to become aware and informed.) Both parties involved are sinners, yet there are situations where clear offenses are done that cannot be disputed. Shifting the focus on the victim’s duty to forgive deflects the responsibility of the wrongdoer. And expecting the offended not to be angry is also deflecting the offender’s responsibility.  If a child breaks a window, the parent rightfully assists the child in notifying the neighbor, the next step being paying for or fixing the damage. If the man next door impatiently responds, “ You troublesome boy,” he has an unkindness that he needs to make up for. But wouldn’t it be wrong for the parent to suddenly say to the child, “Oh, he’s a cranky old geiser. You don’t have to pay for it.”

One last thought. I’ve been thinking that putting pressure on our fellows to forgive is a contraceptive mentality.

Joan Drennen

#5, Jul 9, 2012 8:35am

Putting pressure on another to be used for pleasure without going the distance of responsibility in the physical sphere is more easily recognized (at least in Catholic circles, and even there, this mystery is often misunderstood.) 

How is it different to exert pressure on a soul struggling to uphold the truth in the emotional/ relational sphere?

Forgiveness cannot be insisted on, but requested. The offender must request, “make up” for his crime in any way as an expression of justice and contrition, wait for, if need be, and receive forgiveness as a great gift. So much healing is done in this type of exchange. Both parties are put on the same level, respect is restored. When a person appears to be withholding forgiveness, he may be exercising great courage and patience in waiting for the truth to be expressed. It mustn’t be assumed that he is acting out of pride, rather a desire to have his respect within the relationship, and the truth that he is worthy of respect, restored.

Joan Drennen

#6, Jul 9, 2012 8:54am

Thanks again for writing on this topic, Katie. Your words seem to me to bring out the personalist details of forgiveness, truths in service of forgiveness and reconciliation.

Katie van Schaijik

#7, Jul 9, 2012 10:32am

Joan Drennen, Jul. 9 at 7:30am

“As soon as man no longer refers to truth as the ultimate judge in all spheres of life, brutal force necessarily replaces right; oppression and mechanical suggestive influence supercedes conviction; fear supplants trust.”

 Thank you for reminding me of this great quote, Joan!  This is exactly what I meant to express when I said that "unprincipled forgiveness" is the master/slave hermenutic of the fall masquering as an angel of peace.

It wants the question of truth--the only possible medium of genuine interpersonal communion--to be dropped.  It wants the one wronged and calling for justice not vindicated, but subdued.  In place of true reconciliation, it puts submission.

Katie van Schaijik

#8, Jul 9, 2012 11:02am

I also like the analogy with contraception a lot.

There is a way of trying to get peace while avoiding the personal responsibility that true peace entails.  

Tim Cronin

#9, Jul 9, 2012 4:00pm

I agree. Forgiveness and justice is personal.

Katie van Schaijik

#10, Jul 9, 2012 4:17pm

Teresa Manidis, Jul. 8 at 10:31pm

There is so much here, and so much (well, actually everything) I agree with.  Katie, I cannot support you and your position enough; your points are solid, sound, unique and need to be repeated until (finally) heard and understood.  With that in mind, could I encourage you to, perhaps, consider writing a book on the topic?  

I feel highly honored by the compliment, Teresa, but just writing this post was so draining, I can't even think about a book.  

Devra Torres

#11, Jul 9, 2012 10:11pm

So much to say--where to begin!  These insights have implications for everything from capital punishment to the .  lives of my recently divorced friends--and certainly the scandals in the Church.  What could have been worse than the scandals being covered up even longer than they were, out of a misguided idea about forgiveness?  I think maybe the Bishops standing up as strongly as they have been lately comes of the Church having opened the wound and painfully "disinfected" it.  I don't think they could have stood up for justice as wholeheartedly as they're now doing otherwise.

It reminds me, too, of something my husband teaches his business students: to beware of "negative learning"--the ancient idea that there could be nothing worse for the perpetrator of injustice than to get away with it.  

Katie van Schaijik

#12, Jul 9, 2012 11:07pm

I'm so glad you mentioned that last insight, Devra, which I regret having left out.

If we believe that unrepented wrongdoing injures the offender even more than the one he wrongs; if we believe that it creates "a metaphysical disharmony" in his soul, as well as in the world, how can a concern for truth and justice (real truth and justice, not their caricatures) be incompatible with charity?  On the contrary: a theory of forgiveness that wants the truth set aside and wrongs swept under the rug must impso facto be less intent on the real good of the other than one that insists on those things.  Less loving, in other words.


#13, Jul 10, 2012 12:21am

I appreciate what you say and agree with most of it -- the rest I will chew on and  probably come around to.

I think one application of forgiving the unrepentant that differs from the examples you offer is this: Sometimes forgiveness isn't aimed at restoring a relationship or releasing someone from the penalty for their actions. It is done by someone who is bound up in bitterness and needs to let go of it, regardless of whether their abuser (or other wrongdoer) is repentant or not. 

We're handicapped by the language -- there isn't a good word for these different applications of forgiveness. But I think, however you deal with the semantics, becoming able to put down the resentment, bitterness and anger that so reasonably can result from an injustice is not the same as coming to believe that one wasn't really harmed or that the act wasn't sinful or even evil. It's not the same as deciding not to take rightous steps within the court system or not ensuring your or others' future safety. It's allowing God to heal what's going on in you and trusting God's justice and mercy.

Katie van Schaijik

#14, Jul 10, 2012 2:01am

Roz, yes, I agree with you.  There's certainly a sense in which we can forgive even an unreprentant wrong-doer.  As you say, we can let go of all desire for revenge, and all bitterness.  It may take time and grace, but we can recover a sincere desire for good for him.  We can abandon claims for recompense from him.  We may even come to think of him as a kind of benefactor--inasmuch as we experience God's working good in our lives in and through the injuries we received at his hands.  We can look forward with lively hope to eventual reconciliation with him--even if we can't see how it could happen in this life...

Tim Cronin

#15, Jul 10, 2012 9:43am

It is merciful for the victim to offer the wrong-doer justice for his healing. (Those whom I love, I reprove and chastise. Be earnest, therefore, and repent Rev 3:19). It is also just for the victim to offer forgiveness (forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us).

Kate Whittaker Cousino

#16, Jul 11, 2012 12:00am

Katie, can I ask you to give your understanding of a definition of 'justice'?

I fail to see a contradiction between justice and forgiveness, as both (in my understanding) should be oriented towards the same end.

But then, I'm also having trouble elucidating an actual substantial difference between your position and Micheal's, only a difference in emphasis (which I perceive as being based almost entirely in your seperate and subjective experiences and histories, understandably. The worst arguments I've ever had within my family were debates over differences of emphasis for this reason - because they invariably hit on past injuries and experiences!)

I am mulling a thought about the roles of forgiveness and human justice when reconciliation is impossible and thus divine justice is out of reach - an observation about the fruitlessness of attempts to 'force' repentence - but I would like to know your definition of justice first and reread these posts to be sure I know what terms might be being used differently than I understand them!

Katie van Schaijik

#17, Jul 11, 2012 8:39am

Kate, I agree with you that there is, objectively, no contradiction between justice and forgiveness.  There's only a contradiction between false justice and true forgiveness, and between true justice and "unprincipled forgiveness."

The most signficant difference between Mike and me that I find in the current debate is that while he agrees in theory that there is such a thing as what I am opposing, in the concrete, he is leary of calls for justice.  He suggests the saints would drop them.  He so stresses the priority of mercy that he tends to interpret a call for justice and/or a non-reconciliation due to a standing injustice as hard-heartednes, refusal to forgive, etc.

His claim that the interior act of forgiveness (in a case where there is no repentance), says about the wrong done, "It shall not stand between us,"   indicates to me a practical neglect of justice.  In fact, a serious, unrepented wrong does, objectively, stand between persons.  No interior act of forgiveness can abolish it.  Right-relations can't be restored without its being recognized and addressed by the wrong-doer.   This is why, if we commit a serious sin, we have to go to confession before we receive Communion.

Katie van Schaijik

#18, Jul 11, 2012 9:13am

Having been trained in phenomenology, I tend to shy away from definitions, but I will venture here that by justice I mean right relations.

Wrong-doing skews relations.  It skews the relation between persons; it skews our relation to objective reality.

We might say that there is a "trinitarian structure" to the moral life: self, other[s], reality (with God as the ground of my "self", the ultimate "Other", and the ultimate Reality.)

Whenever a person commits a serious wrong against another, it's as he says to that other: "We are not peers. You are not someone to whom I owe love and respect.  I am above you and may do what I want to you."

This creates, in von Hildebrand's phrase, "a metaphysical disharmony" in the world.  Justice sets it right again. 

When we repent of wrong, we are aiming to re-establish right relations.  We, as it were, get on our knees.  We "lower" ourselves in front of the one we had "raised ourselves over."  

"Unprincipled forgiveness" wants us not to attend to that metaphysical disharmony.

Katie van Schaijik

#19, Jul 11, 2012 10:20am

"Unprincipled forgiveness" wants the offended one to say to his abuser, "Never mind. Let it be."

It tolerates the disharmony.

I agree with you that it's fruitless to try to force repentance.  It's also fruitless to force forgiveness.

We are responsible only for ourselves.  If someone wrongs us in a serious way, we are responsible for our response.  We know we can't wish him ill.  We can't return injury for injury.  We can't hate him for it.  But neither (if we respect ourselves and reality rightly) can we pretend he didn't do what he did and that the relations between us haven't been changed by it.  If we care about him, we will want him to repent so that our relations can be restored. 

If he denies he wronged us, the situation worsens.

If we injure someone else, we can beg his forgiveness.  We can't demand it as a right.  Above all, we can take responsibility for the rupture in our relations.  "It is my fault; I did wrong. I am sorry." We can try to make amends. 

Perhaps the most fundamental "demand" of justice is truth.  This happened.  It was wrong.  It did damage.  A free agent is responsible for it.  

Kate Whittaker Cousino

#20, Jul 11, 2012 10:27am

Thank you, that helps considerably! I hope to return to this tonight when I have a chance to clarify my thoughts and write more. Your understanding of justice concurs well with mine, and I think the distinction between forgiveness and reconciliation is an important one.

If you are quoting Michael accurately, I do think that there is an error in conflating forgiveness (which we are obliged to, and which may be one-sided and interior) with reconciliation (which requires repentance and recompense to serve both justice and love) - that if we were to unilaterally say with our forgiveness "This shall not stand between us" we would be doing an injustice of a sort to the unrepentant other. We would be infringing on their autonomy which allows them to freely will to behave within a right relationship or not. We cannot force reconciliation unilaterally because it touches on someone else's will. In a sense, your 'false forgiveness' is false precisely because it desires the appearance of reconciliation without the reality. 

I share Michael's discomfort with putting the stress on human justice though, because I my interior experience is one of being greatly dependant on mercy. 

Katie van Schaijik

#21, Jul 11, 2012 10:53am

I agree with every word, Kate.

I only clarify that I have never put the stress on "human justice," though I think Michael may have been reading that stress into my comments.  

I, too, depend completely on mercy—from God and from others I have wronged through my own free agency.

Katie van Schaijik

#22, Jul 11, 2012 11:09am

A point of qualification on "we are responsibile only for ourselves."  

I do not mean this is an individualistic sense.  I am with Dostoyevsky and John Crosby in recognizing that there is such a thing as "co-responsibility."  We are bound up with each other, morally, and we dwell in a common moral atmosphere.  Our good moral acts and dispositions help others; our bad moral acts and dispositions burden others.

If I harbor anger and resentment in my heart toward one who has offended me, I am, as it were, making his task of repentance that much harder to achieve.  If I make a free and generous interior act of forgiveness toward him, even before he repents, I make it easier for him to find his way toward repentance.

Similarly, a sincere repentance coupled with generous acts of recompense can soften a heart that has been wounded and hardened by wrong.

Kevin Schemenauer

#23, Jul 12, 2012 10:20am

Aristotle’s tri-partite way of thinking about virtue is helpful because it prevents black and white thinking. Often times, one extreme is more likely to be contrasted with virtue and this leads us to neglect the other vice. The typical (or maybe I am just giving a personal confession here) extreme related to forgiveness and justice is to be more focused on self than others and to allow personal wounds to distort both forgiveness and justice. Katie’s insight seems to be that there is another often neglected extreme, an “unprincipled forgiveness” that distorts forgiveness and neglects justice. As Katie points out, this neglected vice has led to some horrible abuses. The examples Katie gives seem to be straight forward cases of injustices. What do I do in cases that are less clear? Related to the clear cases of injustice, what goals of justice are being missed in “unprincipled forgiveness”? It seems that we are failing to protect future victims and we are failing to prevent the criminal from repeating actions harmful to his soul. What else? Is a further goal to help the sinner come to repentance? How do I do that? What if repentance seems out of the picture?

Katie van Schaijik

#24, Jul 12, 2012 11:34am

Kevin, I have so much to say in reply that it will probably need a separate post.  I'm sorry about this!  It's as if a friend asks for a sip of water and I dump a bucket on his head.  But, as I said, I've been mulling the issue for years, and feel almost as if now a dam has been opened and a flood released.  Those who don't want to get swept up in the torrent will have to stand well back. :)

A quick preliminary point:

We don't seek justice to achieve goals.  It's not a means to ends outside itself.  It's not something we "use"; it's something we need to flourish, and something we owe to each other.

More soon.

Kevin Schemenauer

#25, Jul 12, 2012 11:44am

I agree that justice should not be merely a means. Maybe a better way of asking my question is: what other aspects of justice are missing in the unprincipled forgiveness? I can see how one might neglect the need to protect future victims and neglect protecting the sinner from committing further sins. Yet, I sense there is more to what you are saying and I don't want to miss the further insights.

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