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The Good Old Christian Virtue Of Vengeance!

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. Paolo and Francesca.
"Give me a kiss, honey, your husband isn't here!
Moreover, he has never seen IIa-IIae, q. 108, a. 1!"
(Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. Paolo and Francesca. Source)

1) Introduction

When I was young, one day my father, Stanley Louis Jetchick, said during a conversation: "Ah, the Good Old Christian Virtue Of Vengeance!" I remember laughing really hard. "Dear Daddy, what a sense of humor he has!", I said to myself. So I was quite surprised when, many decades later, I realized he wasn't joking!

2) Summa Theologica, IIa-IIae, question 108, article 1

Here is Saint Thomas Aquinas' text, with the Toronto-ese translation on the opposite side:

Utrum vindicatio sit licita?

Is Vengeance Lawful?

Ad primum sic proceditur. Videtur quod vindicatio non sit licita. Quicumque enim usurpat sibi quod Dei est, peccat. Sed vindicta pertinet ad Deum, dicitur enim Deut. XXXII, secundum aliam litteram, mihi vindictam, et ego retribuam. Ergo omnis vindicatio est illicita.

"Yo man! Vengeance belongs only to God."

Praeterea, ille de quo vindicta sumitur, non toleratur. Sed mali sunt tolerandi, quia super illud Cant. II, sicut lilium inter spinas, dicit Glossa, non fuit bonus qui malos tolerare non potuit. Ergo vindicta non est sumenda de malis.

"On top of that, y'a know, like, Jesus said to leave the thorns grow with the good seed. [Taking a long draw from his joint] Jesus was tolerant, man!"

Praeterea, vindicta per poenas fit, ex quibus causatur timor servilis. Sed lex nova non est lex timoris, sed amoris, ut Augustinus dicit, contra Adamantum. Ergo, ad minus in novo testamento, vindicta fieri non debet.

"'Cause man, even Saint Augustine says that the New Law is not a law of fear, but a law of love!"

Praeterea, ille dicitur se vindicare qui iniurias suas ulciscitur. Sed, ut videtur, non licet etiam iudici in se delinquentes punire, dicit enim Chrysostomus, super Matth., discamus exemplo Christi nostras iniurias magnanimiter sustinere, Dei autem iniurias nec usque ad auditum sufferre. Ergo vindicatio videtur esse illicita.

"C'mon man, look at Jesus who turns the other cheek, without seeking revenge!"

Praeterea, peccatum multitudinis magis est nocivum quam peccatum unius tantum, dicitur enim Eccli. XXVI, a tribus timuit cor meum, zelaturam civitatis, et collectionem populi. Sed de peccato multitudinis non est vindicta sumenda, quia super illud Matth. XIII, sinite utraque crescere, ne forte eradicetis triticum, dicit Glossa quod multitudo non est excommunicanda, nec princeps. Ergo nec alia vindicatio est licita.

"Chill out, man, you can't excommunicate all Quebecers!"

Sed contra,

On the contrary,

nihil est expectandum a Deo nisi quod est bonum et licitum. Sed vindicta de hostibus est expectanda a Deo, dicitur enim Luc. XVIII, Deus non faciet vindictam electorum suorum clamantium ad se die ac nocte? Quasi diceret, immo faciet. Ergo vindicatio non est per se mala et illicita.

"Will not God revenge His elect who cry to Him day and night?" [Lk 18:7]

Respondeo dicendum

Hang on to your teeth, son, because now Big Tom is going to start swinging

quod vindicatio fit per aliquod poenale malum inflictum peccanti. Est ergo in vindicatione considerandus vindicantis animus. Si enim eius intentio feratur principaliter in malum illius de quo vindictam sumit, et ibi quiescat, est omnino illicitum, quia delectari in malo alterius pertinet ad odium, quod caritati repugnat, qua omnes homines debemus diligere. Nec aliquis excusatur si malum intendat illius qui sibi iniuste intulit malum, sicut non excusatur aliquis per hoc quod odit se odientem. Non enim debet homo in alium peccare, propter hoc quod ille peccavit prius in ipsum, hoc enim est vinci a malo, quod apostolus prohibet, Rom. XII, dicens, noli vinci a malo, sed vince in bono malum.

Si vero intentio vindicantis feratur principaliter ad aliquod bonum, ad quod pervenitur per poenam peccantis, puta ad emendationem peccantis, vel saltem ad cohibitionem eius et quietem aliorum, et ad iustitiae conservationem et Dei honorem, potest esse vindicatio licita, aliis debitis circumstantiis servatis.

I answer that, Vengeance consists in the infliction of a penal evil on one who has sinned. Accordingly, in the matter of vengeance, we must consider the mind of the avenger. For if his intention is directed chiefly to the evil of the person on whom he takes vengeance and rests there, then his vengeance is altogether unlawful: because to take pleasure in another's evil belongs to hatred, which is contrary to the charity whereby we are bound to love all men. Nor is it an excuse that he intends the evil of one who has unjustly inflicted evil on him, as neither is a man excused for hating one that hates him: for a man may not sin against another just because the latter has already sinned against him, since this is to be overcome by evil, which was forbidden by the Apostle, who says (Romans 12:21): "Be not overcome by evil, but overcome evil by good."

If, however, the avenger's intention be directed chiefly to some good, to be obtained by means of the punishment of the person who has sinned (for instance that the sinner may amend, or at least that he may be restrained and others be not disturbed, that justice may be upheld, and God honored), then vengeance may be lawful, provided other due circumstances be observed.

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Answers to the objections

Ad primum ergo dicendum quod ille qui secundum gradum sui ordinis vindictam exercet in malos, non usurpat sibi quod Dei est, sed utitur potestate sibi divinitus concessa, dicitur enim Rom. XIII, de principe terreno, quod Dei minister est, vindex in iram ei qui male agit. Si autem praeter ordinem divinae institutionis aliquis vindictam exerceat, usurpat sibi quod Dei est, et ideo peccat.

He who takes vengeance on the wicked in keeping with his rank and position does not usurp what belongs to God but makes use of the power granted him by God. For it is written (Romans 13:4) of the earthly prince that "he is God's minister, an avenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil." If, however, a man takes vengeance outside the order of divine appointment, he usurps what is God's and therefore sins.

Ad secundum dicendum quod mali tolerantur a bonis in hoc quod ab eis proprias iniurias patienter sustinent, secundum quod oportet, non autem tolerant eos ut sustineant iniurias Dei et proximorum. Dicit enim Chrysostomus, super Matth., in propriis iniuriis esse quempiam patientem, laudabile est, iniurias autem Dei dissimulare nimis est impium.

The good bear with the wicked by enduring patiently, and in due manner, the wrongs they themselves receive from them: but they do not bear with them as to endure the wrongs they inflict on God and their neighbor. For Chrysostom [Cf. Opus Imperfectum, Hom. v in Matth., falsely ascribed to St. Chrysostom] says: "It is praiseworthy to be patient under our own wrongs, but to overlook God's wrongs is most wicked."

Ad tertium dicendum quod lex Evangelii est lex amoris. Ideo illis qui ex amore bonum operantur, qui soli proprie ad Evangelium pertinent, non est timor incutiendus per poenas, sed solum illis qui ex amore non moventur ad bonum, qui, etsi numero sint de Ecclesia, non tamen merito.

The law of the Gospel is the law of love, and therefore those who do good out of love, and who alone properly belong to the Gospel, ought not to be terrorized by means of punishment, but only those who are not moved by love to do good, and who, though they belong to the Church outwardly, do not belong to it in merit.

Ad quartum dicendum quod iniuria quae infertur personae alicui quandoque redundat in Deum et in Ecclesiam, et tunc debet aliquis propriam iniuriam ulcisci. Sicut patet de Elia, qui fecit ignem descendere super eos qui venerant ad ipsum capiendum, ut legitur IV Reg. I. Et similiter Elisaeus maledixit pueris eum irridentibus, ut habetur IV Reg. II. Et Silvester Papa excommunicavit eos qui eum in exilium miserunt, ut habetur XXIII, qu. IV. Inquantum vero iniuria in aliquem illata ad eius personam pertinet, debet eam tolerare patienter, si expediat. Huiusmodi enim praecepta patientiae intelligenda sunt secundum praeparationem animi, ut Augustinus dicit, in libro de Serm. Dom. in monte.

Sometimes a wrong done to a person reflects on God and the Church: and then it is the duty of that person to avenge the wrong. For example, Elias made fire descend on those who were come to seize him (4 Kgs. 1); likewise Eliseus cursed the boys that mocked him (4 Kgs. 2); and Pope Sylverius excommunicated those who sent him into exile (XXIII, Q. iv, Cap. Guilisarius). But in so far as the wrong inflicted on a man affects his person, he should bear it patiently if this be expedient. For these precepts of patience are to be understood as referring to preparedness of the mind, as Augustine states (De Serm. Dom. in Monte i).

Ad quintum dicendum quod quando tota multitudo peccat, est de ea vindicta sumenda vel quantum ad totam multitudinem, sicut Aegyptii submersi sunt in mari rubro persequentes filios Israel, ut habetur Exod. XIV, et sicut Sodomitae universaliter perierunt, vel quantum ad magnam multitudinis partem, sicut patet Exod. XXXII, in poena eorum qui vitulum adoraverunt. Quandoque vero, si speretur multorum correctio, debet severitas vindictae exerceri in aliquos paucos principaliores, quibus punitis ceteri terreantur, sicut dominus, Num. XXV, mandavit suspendi principes populi pro peccato multitudinis.

Si autem non tota multitudo peccavit, sed pro parte, tunc, si possunt mali secerni a bonis, debet in eos vindicta exerceri, si tamen hoc fieri possit sine scandalo aliorum. Alioquin, parcendum est multitudini, et detrahendum severitati.

Et eadem ratio est de principe, quem sequitur multitudo. Tolerandum enim est peccatum eius, si sine scandalo multitudinis puniri non posset, nisi forte esset tale peccatum principis quod magis noceret multitudini, vel spiritualiter vel temporaliter, quam scandalum quod exinde timeretur.

When the whole multitude sins, vengeance must be taken on them, either in respect of the whole multitude--thus the Egyptians were drowned in the Red Sea while they were pursuing the children of Israel (Ex. 14), and the people of Sodom were entirely destroyed (Genesis 19)--or as regards part of the multitude, as may be seen in the punishment of those who worshipped the calf. Sometimes, however, if there is hope of many making amends, the severity of vengeance should be brought to bear on a few of the principals, whose punishment fills the rest with fear; thus the Lord (Num 25) commanded the princes of the people to be hanged for the sin of the multitude.

On the other hand, if it is not the whole but only a part of the multitude that has sinned, then if the guilty can be separated from the innocent, vengeance should be wrought on them: provided, however, that this can be done without scandal to others; else the multitude should be spared and severity foregone.

The same applies to the sovereign, whom the multitude follow. For his sin should be borne with, if it cannot be punished without scandal to the multitude: unless indeed his sin were such, that it would do more harm to the multitude, either spiritually or temporally, than would the scandal that was feared to arise from his punishment.

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