Mercy & Truth are shown together in a 13th century representation of Psalms 85 (10)

Mercy (Middle English, from Anglo-French merci, from Medieval Latin merced-, merces, from Latin, "price paid, wages", from merc-, merxi "merchandise") is broad term that refers to benevolence, forgiveness and kindness in a variety of ethical, religious, social and legal contexts.[1][2][3][4]

The concept of a "Merciful God" appears in various religions from Christianity to Islam.[1][2] Performing acts of mercy as a component of religious beliefs is also emphasized through actions such as the giving of alms, and care for the sick and Works of Mercy.[5][6]

In the social and legal context, mercy may refer both to compassionate behavior on the part of those in power (e.g. mercy shown by a judge toward a convict), or on the part of a humanitarian third party, e.g., a mission of mercy aiming to treat war victims.[3][4]



One of the basic virtues of chivalry, Christian ethics, Islam, and Judaism, it is also related to concepts of justice and morality in behavior between people.


TIn the Old Testament God is considered "Merciful and Gracious" and is praised for it, e.g. as in Psalms 103 (8). The emphasis on mercy appears in numerous parts of the New Testament, e.g., as in the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:7: "Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy".[1] In the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) Jesus describes fatherly mercy as "a gratuitous, generous gift". In Ephesians 2:4 Apostle Paul refers to the mercy of God in terms of salvation: "God, being rich in mercy,... even when we were dead through our sins, made us alive together with Christ".

This devotional element of mercy as part of the Christian tradition was echoed by Saint Augustine who called mercy "ever ancient, ever new".[7][1] The Works of Mercy (seven corporal and seven spiritual works) are part of the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions.[5]

Roman Catholicism

The Divine Mercy image representing the devotion followed by over 100 million Catholics[8]

The Catechism of the Catholic Church emphasizes the importance of the Works of Mercy (item 2447) and in Roman Catholic teachings, the mercy of God flows through the work of the Holy Spirit.[5][9] Roman Catholic liturgy includes frequent references to mercy, e.g., as in Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison: Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy.[10]

In the 20th century, there was new focus on mercy in the Roman Catholic Church, partly due to the Divine Mercy devotion.[8][11][12] The primary focus of the Divine Mercy devotion is the merciful love of God and the desire to let that love and mercy flow through one's own heart towards those in need of it.[11]

Pope John Paul II was a follower of the Divine Mercy devotion, due to Saint Mary Faustina Kowalska (1905-1938), who is known as the Apostle of Mercy.[13][12] Pope John Paul II established Divine Mercy Sunday. In his long encyclical Dives in Misericordia (Latin for Rich in Mercy) he examined of the role of mercy — both God's mercy, and also the need for human mercy.[14]

A number of Roman Catholic shrines are specifically dedicated to Divine Mercy, e.g. the Basilica of Divine Mercy in Krakow Poland, and the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy (Stockbridge, Massachusetts).[15] During the dedication of the Basilica of Divine Mercy John Paul II quoted the Diary of Faustina and called mercy the "greatest attribute of God Almighty".[16]

The first World Apostolic Congress on Mercy was held in Rome in April 2008 and was inaugurated by Pope Benedict XVI.[1][17][18]


In Islam the title "Most Merciful" (al-Rahman) is one of the names of Allah and Compassionate (al-Rahim), is the most common name occurring in the Quran. Rahman and Rahim both derive from the root Rahmat, which refers to tenderness and benevolence.[2] As a form of mercy, the giving of alms (zakat) is the fourth of the Five Pillars of Islam and one of the requirements for the faithful.[6]


In the Jewish Bible mercy is one of the outstanding attributes of God. In the central revelation at Sinai is to recognize YAHWEH as "the Lord is a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness" (2 Exodus 34.6).[19] This is emphasized in the Babylonian exile, "The Lord has comforted his people and is kind to his arms. [...] Can a woman forget her infant, a mother of her womb? And even if they would forget him. I will never forget you "(Isaiah 49,13.15) why is the demand of mercy to the people". It is good to pray and fast, to be merciful and just "(Tobit 12:8).

Other religions and beliefs

Kwan Yin the goddess of mercy and compassion, is one of the best known and most venerated Bodhisattva in Asia.[20]

Karuṇā (often translated as "compassion") is part of the beliefs of both Buddhism and Jainism. Karuṇā is present in all schools of Buddhism and in Jainism it is viewed as one of the reflections of universal friendship.

Law and ethics

The Spirit of Compassion, commemorating World War I, South Australia, 1931

In a legal sense, a defendant having been found guilty of a capital crime may ask for clemency from being executed.

To be "mercy", the behavior generally can not be compelled by outside forces. A famous literary example that alludes to the impact of the ethical components of the mercy on the legal aspects is from The Merchant of Venice when Portia asks Shylock to show mercy. He asks, "On what compulsion, must I?" She responds:

The quality of mercy is not strained. It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest: It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.

Ethicist Jacob Appel has noted a decline of mercy, and a concomitant increase in retribution, in American public life. Appel wrote that:

'One of the glaring -- yet too often overlooked -- failings of contemporary America is that we have become a nation obsessed with justice and retribution. We claim to be The Land of the Free, yet we have lost sight of what it means to be imprisoned: denied liberty and access to one's family, subjected to isolation and violence and unspeakable boredom. We have come to believe, in the most pernicious way, that people should get what they deserve. What a sea change it might be in our public discourse and our civic life if we focused instead upon mercy and forgiveness. A merciful and forgiving culture might find itself with less anger, less social disruption, and even less crime.[21]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e Mercies Remembered by Matthew R Mauriello 2011 ISBN 1612150055 page 149-160
  2. ^ a b c World religions and Islam: a critical study, Part 1 by Hamid Naseem Rafiabadi, 2003 Sarup and Sons Publishers ISBN 8176254142 page 211
  3. ^ a b Forgiveness, mercy, and clemency by Austin Sarat, Nasser Hussain 2006 ISBN 0804753334 pages 1-5
  4. ^ a b Reflections of equality by Christoph Menke 2006 ISBN 0804744742 page 193
  5. ^ a b c We Believe in the Holy Spirit by Andrew Apostoli 2002 ISBN 1931709319 pages 105-107
  6. ^ a b Hooker, Richard (July 14, 1999). "arkan ad-din the five pillars of religion". Washington State University. [1]
  7. ^ Augustine, Confessions, Book X, 27
  8. ^ a b Am With You Always by Benedict Groeschel 2010 ISBN 9781586172572 page 548
  9. ^ Vatican website Catechism item 2447
  10. ^ Catholic encyclopedia: Kyrie Eleison
  11. ^ a b Ann Ball, 2003 Encyclopedia of Catholic Devotions and Practices ISBN 0-87973-910-X page 175
  12. ^ a b Butler's lives of the saints: the third millennium by Paul Burns, Alban Butler 2001 ISBN 9780860123835 page 252
  13. ^ Saints of the Jubilee by Tim Drake 2002 ISBN 9781403310095 pages 85-95
  14. ^ Vatican website: Dives in Misericordia
  15. ^ Vatican website: Shrine of Divine Mercy
  16. ^ Vatican website: Dedication of the Shrine of Divine Mercy
  17. ^ Zenit April 2, 2008
  18. ^ Catholic News Service, APril 3, 2008
  19. ^ After the exile by John Barton, David James Reimer 1997 ISBN 9780865545243 page 90
  20. ^ Guan Yin: goddess of compassion by Kok Kiang Koh 2004 ISBN 9812293795 pages 6-8
  21. ^ Appel, Jacob. What I Want For Christmas: Mass Clemency, Dec. 23, 2009.

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Mercy — (engl: Gnade, Mitleid, Barmherzigkeit) bezeichnet: Personen: Claudius Florimund Mercy (1666–1734), kaiserlicher Feldmarschall Dominique Mercy (* 1950), französischer Tänzer und Choreograf Eugéne Guillaume Alexis, Graf von Mercy Argenteau (1743… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • MERCY — (Heb. רַחֲמִים), a feeling of compassion tempered with love, which engenders forgiveness and forbearance in man and which stimulates him to deeds of charity and kindness. This quality, inherent in man s attitude toward his loved ones, is an… …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

  • mercy — [mʉr′sē] n. pl. mercies [OFr merci < L merces, hire, payment, reward (in LL, mercy, pity, favor) < merx, wares: see MARKET] 1. a refraining from harming or punishing offenders, enemies, persons in one s power, etc.; kindness in excess of… …   English World dictionary

  • Mercy — Mer cy (m[ e]r s[y^]), n.; pl. {Mercies}. [OE. merci, F. merci, L. merces, mercedis, hire, pay, reward, LL., equiv. to misericordia pity, mercy. L. merces is probably akin to merere to deserve, acquire. See {Merit}, and cf. {Amerce}.] 1.… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Mercy —   [mɛr si],    1) Anton Graf Mercy d Argenteau [ darʒã to], österreichischer Feldmarschall, * Lothringen 20. 11. 1692, ✝ Osijek 22. 1. 1767, Neffe und Adoptivsohn von 2); kämpfte im Türkenkrieg 1737 39 und im Österreichen Erbfolgekrieg (1740/1741 …   Universal-Lexikon

  • mercy — mercy, charity, grace, clemency, lenity are comparable when meaning the disposition to show compassion or kindness in one s treatment of others, especially of those who offend one and who are in one s power to punish or rebuke. Mercy implies… …   New Dictionary of Synonyms

  • mercy — ► NOUN (pl. mercies) 1) compassion or forgiveness shown towards an enemy or offender in one s power. 2) something to be grateful for. 3) (before another noun ) motivated by compassion: a mercy killing. ► EXCLAMATION archaic ▪ used to express… …   English terms dictionary

  • mercy — index benevolence (disposition to do good), clemency, condonation, consideration (sympathetic regard), humanity (humaneness), lenience, pity …   Law dictionary

  • Mercy — f English: 1 From the vocabulary word denoting the quality of magnanimity, and in particular God s forgiveness of sinners, a quality much prized in Christian tradition. The word is derived from Latin mercēs, which originally meant ‘wages’ or… …   First names dictionary

  • mercy — (n.) late 12c., God s forgiveness of his creatures offenses, from O.Fr. mercit, merci (9c.) reward, gift; kindness, grace, pity, from L. mercedem (nom. merces) reward, wages, pay hire (in V.L. favor, pity ), from merx (gen. mercis) wares,… …   Etymology dictionary

  • Mercy — Mercy, 1) Franz v. M., geb. in Longwy in Lothringen, trat in baierische Dienste u. stieg bald zum General; er befehligte 1640 u. 41 ein liguistisches Corps am Niederrhein, wurde bei Kempten 1642 geschlagen u. nebst Lamboi gefangen, aber bald… …   Pierer's Universal-Lexikon