Front Page Titles (by Subject) QUESTION CVIII.: OF VENGEANCE. 1 - Aquinas Ethicus: or, the Moral Teaching of St. Thomas, vol. 2 (Summa Theologica - Secunda Secundae Pt.2)
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QUESTION CVIII.: OF VENGEANCE. 1 - St. Thomas Aquinas, Aquinas Ethicus: or, the Moral Teaching of St. Thomas, vol. 2 (Summa Theologica - Secunda Secundae Pt.2) 
Aquinas Ethicus: or, the Moral Teaching of St. Thomas. A Translation of the Principal Portions of the Second part of the Summa Theologica, with Notes by Joseph Rickaby, S.J. (London: Burns and Oates, 1892).
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Article I.—Is vengeance lawful?
R. Vengeance is taken by some penal evil inflicted on the offender. In judging of vengeance then we are to consider the mind and purpose of him who takes it. For if his intention makes principally for the evil of him on whom he takes vengeance, and rests there, it will be altogether unlawful; because to take delight in the evil of another belongs to hatred, which is repugnant to the charity with which we are bound to love all men. Nor is it an excuse for any one to say that he intends the evil of him who has unjustly inflicted evil on him, as it is no excuse for a man that he hates another who hates him; for a man ought not to sin against another, simply because that other has first sinned against him; for this is being overcome by evil, which the Apostle tells us not to be, saying, “Be not overcome by evil, but overcome evil by good.”1 But if the intention of him who takes vengeance makes principally for some good that is reached by the punishment of the offender, say his amendment, or the restraint of that party and the quiet of others, and the maintenance of justice, and the honour of God, then vengeance may be lawful, other due circumstances being observed.
§ 1. To the text, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,”2 it is to be said that he who according to his rank and order exercises vengeance upon evildoers, does not usurp to himself what is God’s, but uses the power divinely bestowed on him; for it is said of the earthly prince: “He is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath upon him that doth evil.”3 But if any one exercises vengeance contrary to the order of divine institution, he usurps to himself what is God’s, and therefore sins.4
§ 2. The good bear with the wicked to this extent, that, so far as it is proper to do so, they patiently endure at their hands the injuries done to themselves; but they do not bear with them to the extent of enduring the injuries done to God and their neighbours. For [pseudo-] Chrysostom says: “It is praiseworthy to be patient under one’s own wrongs, but the height of impiety to dissemble injuries done to God.”
§ 3. The Gospel law is a law of love; and therefore into them who do good works on a motive of love, who alone properly belong to the Gospel, fear is not to be inspired by punishments, but only into such as are not moved by love to good, who though they are of the Church in number, are not so in merit.
§ 4. The wrong that is done to an individual, sometimes redounds to God and to the Church, and then the person ought to avenge his own wrong: as is clear of Elias, who made fire to descend upon them who had come to arrest him;1 and in like manner Eliseus cursed the boys that mocked him;2 and Pope Silverius excommunicated those that sent him into exile. But inasmuch as the wrong done you concerns your own individual person, you ought to put up with it patiently, if so it be expedient: for these precepts of patience3 are to be understood as obligatory “in readiness of heart,” as Augustine says.4
§ 5. When a whole people sins, vengeance is to be taken upon them either to the extent of the whole people, as the Egyptians were drowned in the Red Sea, and as the Sodomites all perished together, or to the extent of a great portion of the people, as in the punishment of those who adored the golden calf.1 But sometimes, if there is hope of the amendment of the many, the severity of vengeance should be exercised only upon a few ringleaders, whose punishment may serve to terrify the rest, as the Lord2 ordered the princes of the people to be hung for the sin of the multitude. But if it is not the whole community that has sinned, but only a part, then if the wicked can be got at apart from the good, vengeance should be exercised on them alone, provided it can be done without scandal to others; otherwise the community must be spared, and abatement of severity made. And the same holds good for the prince whom the people follow. For his sin must be borne with, if it cannot be punished without scandal of the people, unless it happens to be such a sin on his part as would do more harm to the people in spirituals or temporals than the scandal to be apprehended from his punishment.
Article II.—Is vengeance a special virtue?
R. As the Philosopher says, fitness for virtue is in us by nature, but the fulness of virtue comes by practice, or by some other cause.3 Hence it appears that the virtues perfect us, duly to carry out those natural inclinations which are part of the ordinance of nature. And therefore to every definite natural inclination there is attached some special virtue. Now there is one special inclination of nature to remove causes of hurt: hence to animals there is given an irascible faculty distinct from the concupiscible faculty. Now a man repels causes of hurt by defending himself against wrongs, to prevent their being done him; or in case of wrongs already done, revenging them, not with any intention of hurting, but with the intention of removing causes of hurt.
Article III.—Ought vengeance to be taken by means of the punishments customary amongst men?
R. Vengeance is so far lawful and virtuous, as it makes for the restraint of evil. Now they who have no love of virtue, are restrained from offending by fear of losing something that they love more than what they gain by offending. And therefore vengeance is to be taken for offences by the withdrawal of all that the offender most loves—life, limb, liberty, property, country, and glory.
§ 2. All who sin mortally are worthy of eternal death in the retribution of the world to come, which is according to the truth of divine judgment. But the punishments of the present life are rather medicinal; and therefore the punishment of death is inflicted on those sins alone which tend to do serious mischief to others.
§ 3. When along with the fault the punishment also becomes known, be it death or any other of those things that man has a dread of, his will is thereby weaned from sin; because the punishment terrifies him more than the example of the fault allures him.1
Article IV.—Is vengeance to be exercised on those who have sinned involuntarily?1
R. Punishment may be considered in two ways, in one way precisely as punishment, and in this way punishment is not due except to sin, because by punishment the equilibrium of justice is restored, inasmuch as he who by sinning has had too much of his own will, suffers something now against his will. In another way punishment may be considered as a medicine, inasmuch as medicine is not only remedial of past sin, but is also preservative against future sin, or promotive of some good; and in this way one is sometimes punished without fault, but not without cause. It is to be observed however that medical treatment never withdraws a greater good to promote a less; it never blinds the eye to cure the heel; but it does sometimes inflict hurt in lesser matters to afford remedy in greater things. And because spiritual goods are the greatest goods, and temporal goods the least, therefore a man is sometimes punished in temporal goods without his fault; this is the case in many of the punishments of the present life, divinely inflicted to prove a man or to humble him; but never is a man punished in spiritual goods without his own fault, neither in the present life nor in the life to come: because there in the world to come punishments are not medicines, but follow upon spiritual condemnation.
§ 1. One man is never punished with a spiritual punishment for the sin of another, because spiritual punishment reaches to the soul, in which every man is free and independent. But sometimes one is punished with temporal punishment for the sin of another, for three reasons. First, because one man is temporally the chattel of another; and so he is punished to punish that other: thus children are in the body the chattels of their father, and slaves in a certain sense the chattels of their owners. In another way, inasmuch as the sin of one spreads to another, either by imitation, as children imitate their parents’ sins, and slaves their masters’, to sin more boldly; or by way of merit, as the sins of subjects merit a sinner to be set over them, according to the text, “Who maketh a man that is a hypocrite to reign for the sins of the people;”1 or by way of some consent or dissembling, as sometimes the good are temporally punished with the wicked because they have not rebuked their sins, as Augustine says. Thirdly, to commend the unity of human society, in consequence of which unity one man ought to be solicitous for another that he sin not; and to excite a detestation of sin, when it is found that the punishment of one redounds to all, as though all made one body, as Augustine says of the sin of Achan.2 But as for the saying of the Lord, “Visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation,”3 that seems rather to point to mercy than to severity, in that He does not wreak His vengeance at once, but waits for the time to come, that posterity at least may mend their ways; but as the malice of posterity increases, it becomes in a manner necessary for vengeance to fall.
§ 2. The secret judgments of God, whereby He temporally punishes some persons without fault of theirs, are not within the competence of human judgment to imitate; because man cannot comprehend the reasons of these judgments so as to know what is expedient for each individual soul. And therefore never by human judgment ought a man to be punished with the pain of the lash, so as to be put to death, or maimed, or beaten with stripes, without his own fault.1 But with the pain of loss one is punished even in human judgment without fault, but not without cause.
[1 ]Ethics and Natural Law, pp. 169—176. (Trl.)
[1 ]Romans xii 21.
[2 ]Deut. xxxii. 35; Romans xii. 19.
[3 ]Romans xiii. 4.
[4 ]Lawful vengeance is in fact the vengeance of the law (Trl.)
[1 ]4 Kings i 10.
[2 ]4 Kings ii. 24.
[3 ]St. Matt. v. 39, 40.
[4 ]Cf. II-II. q. 72. art. 3. (Trl.)
[1 ]Exodus xxxii. 28.
[2 ]Numbers xxv. 4.
[3 ]i.e., by infusion, in the case of the supernatural virtues. Cf. II-II. q. 47. art. 14. § 3. (Trl.)
[1 ]See Ethics and Natural Law, p. 348. (Trl.)
[1 ]Cf. I-II. q. 87. arts. 7. 8. (Trl.)
[1 ]Job xxxiv. 30.
[2 ]Josue vii.
[3 ]Exodus xx. 5.
[1 ]Cf. II-II. q 64. art. 2. § 3.; Ethics and Natural Law, pp. 349, 350, n. 8. (Trl.)