Tagged: “Thomas Aquinas”

Suppose someone makes a mistake without deliberately trying to be unfair. Can I forgive this person or does there have to be deliberate intention on that person’s part to act with malice?

You can discern an unjust action, according to the Medieval philosopher Thomas Aquinas, by examining three things: the act itself, the intention, and the circumstance.  If a person, for example, disrespects you (the action), decided to disrespect you (the intention), and did so in front of others, which embarrassed you (the circumstance), then it is obvious that this person tried to hurt you and you can forgive this person.  Now suppose that someone had no intention of hurting you, such as failing to show up for an important meeting (the action).  Suppose further that the circumstance was such that this person became quite ill right before the meeting.  Only the action was challenging for you, but the intention was to attend the meeting and the circumstance was sudden illness.  This seems to me to be a case of accepting what happened, not a case of forgiveness for most people.  Now suppose as another example that a driver was texting on a cell phone (the act), did not at all mean to hit your car (the intention), but indeed did hit your car (the circumstance).  Even though there was no intention to harm you, the action itself of inattentive driving can sometimes have a bad outcome, as happened in this case.  The action is so serious that even without intent to harm, this is an unjust offense and so your going ahead with forgiving is appropriate.  In other words, you can forgive a person who had no intention of harming you.

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When you say that agape is our highest form of humanity, isn’t that too high a goal? The Medieval philosopher, Thomas Aquinas, referred to agape as “charity” and said we cannot fully appropriate this moral virtue without divine grace.

Yes, Thomas Aquinas did distinguish certain virtues, which he called theological virtues, which are so high, so difficult, that we need divine grace in order to appropriate them correctly.  People can try agape even if they do not reach it more fully, but grace helps us go higher in this virtue according to Aquinas.

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