Justice redeems; it does not enforce a strict accounting of what is due. Accordingly, “what is due” is determined in accord with what, under the guidance of the Spirit, is discerned best to foster the communion of humanity in the divine love. Thus, at time justice may entail mercy and forgiveness, forgoing a strict accounting of what is due. For this reason, Augustine, Anselm and Aquinas insist that there is no conflict or opposition between divine justice and mercy. Justice and mercy are not opposing logics: rather they share a single end: the return of all love – the sociality of all desire – in God. Justice attains its end by enacting mercy to overcome sin. Mercy overcomes sin to attain its true end, which is justice. In this way, mercy implements perfect justice (Aquinas) and the rule of God’s justice is mercy (Anselm). At this point the classical conception of justice as a strict rendering of “what is due” explodes, for the classical world had little or no place for forgiveness. Yet it is precisely at this moment, when justice and mercy join hands, that humanity is liberated and is provided a path beyond the agony and conflict of sin.
How do contemporary rites of reconciliation seek to maintain and celebrate the unity of the divine justice with the divine mercy, over against the secular dichotomy of the two which is regularly proclaimed in our public life?
Justice for All: Confession and Sin, Liturgy, 20:1, 31-36.
The Rev. Dr. Daniel M. Bell Jr. is Professor of Theological Ethics at Lutheran Southern Theological Seminary. He is the author of many books, most recently Just War as Christian Discipleship: Recentering the Tradition in the Church rather than the State.