Book Notes: Is Mercy Unfair? Peter Kreeft Explains


Book-Notes-720-x-340-dark-gold-outline-and-medium-blue-pen-_-Notes-light-blue-702x336In just about a month the Year of Mercy will begin, and it begs the question: what is mercy?

Peter Kreeft in Back to Virtue: Traditional Moral Wisdom for Modern Moral Confusion offers a simple yet insightful explanation of mercy in his chapter on the Beatitude, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” He writes:

51sn7mndFiL._SX303_BO1,204,203,200_For mercy goes beyond justice, but does not undercut it. If I forgive you the one hundred dollar debt you owe me, that means that I must use one hundred dollars more of my own money to pay my creditors. I cannot make you really one hundred dollars richer without making myself one hundred dollars poorer. If the debt is objectively real, it must be paid; and if it is my mercy that dismisses your debt, I must pay it (p. 113).

At first look mercy seems unfair, feels unfair: where is the justice in this? It makes us bristle at the proposition of further suffering on behalf of someone who has already made us suffer. Kreeft simply says that mercy at first glance “is a minus.”

The tension we feel, however, must be a sign that this isn’t the end of the story. Jesus in the Beatitudes declares that “mercy is a plus, that the merciful are blessed.” Kreeft explains that the merciful are blessed in four ways: by God in this life, by men in this life, by God in the next, and by men in the next.

In this life, we are blessed by God who, by design, made mercy a blessed way of life. He rewards those who show mercy with far greater grace than what they gave. He shows the merciful mercy. Also in this life, other people will tend to be merciful to those whom they view as merciful.

In the next life, our heavenly reward will be the “capstone” of the benefits that began on earth when we were merciful. Also in heaven, those to whom we showed mercy will be able to even better demonstrate their gratitude to us for our mercy to them by praying for us (114-116).

Now, mercy starts to sound pretty good. Kreeft concludes that “those who go beyond justice to mercy, get something beyond justice: mercy. And that is supremely just” (118).

This Year of Mercy the Church challenges us to look at how we are living a life of mercy. Peter Kreeft makes a compelling case for why we should take this harder path.

Be sure to check out our Book Notes archive.
If you’re interested in purchasing this book, consider stopping in at your local Catholic bookstore first. It’s also available online, and if you use our Amazon link, gets a small percentage of the sales.

Copyright 2015 Meg Matenaer



About Author

We welcome guest contributors who graciously volunteer their writing for our readers. Please support our guest writers by visiting their sites, purchasing their work, and leaving comments to thank them for sharing their gifts here on To inquire about serving as a guest contributor, contact

Leave A Reply

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.