mer·cy / ˈmərsē/ • n. (pl. -cies) compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one's power to punish or harm: the boy was screaming and begging for mercy | the mercies of God. ∎ an event to be grateful for, esp. because its occurrence prevents something unpleasant or provides relief from suffering: his death was in a way a mercy. ∎ [as adj.] (esp. of a journey or mission) performed out of a desire to relieve suffering; motivated by compassion: mercy missions to refugees caught up in the fighting.• interj. archaic used in expressions of surprise or fear: “Mercy me!” uttered Mrs. Garfield.PHRASES: at the mercy of completely in the power or under the control of: consumers were at the mercy of every rogue in the marketplace.be thankful (or grateful) for small mercies be relieved that an unpleasant situation is alleviated by minor advantages.have mercy on (or upon) show compassion or forgiveness to: may the Lord have mercy on her soul.leave someone/something to the mercy of expose someone or something to a situation of probable danger or harm: the forest is left to the mercy of the loggers.throw oneself on someone's mercy intentionally place oneself in someone's hands in the expectation that they will behave mercifully toward one.ORIGIN: Middle English: from Old French merci ‘pity’ or ‘thanks,’ from Latin merces, merced- ‘reward,’ in Christian Latin ‘pity, favor, heavenly reward.’
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 essential characteristic of God who "pitieth like a father" (Ps. 103:13; Isa. 49:15; Ex. 20:6; 34:6; Micah 7:8), and of the descendants of Abraham, renowned for their compassion. As God is known as Raḥamanah ("the Merciful"), so are the people of Israel distinguished as "merciful sons of merciful fathers" (Yev. 79a). In accordance with the tradition of the *imitation of God – "as He is merciful so be you merciful" (Shab. 133b) – mercy transcends familial bounds to encompass the entire range of human relationships (Ecclus. 18:13; Gen. R. 33: 1). Just as God is bound by His covenant of mercy with His people (Deut. 13:17; 30:3; ii Kings 13:23), so is the Jew bound by specific commandments to act mercifully toward the oppressed, the alien, the orphan, the widow, indeed, every living creature (Deut. 22:6; 25:4; Prov. 19:17; Git. 61a; Moses Cordovero, Tomer Devorah, ch. 3). The exercise of mercy is the fulfillment of a covenantal obligation, and, in turn, enhances moral sensibility (Suk. 49b; bb 9b). The stress placed upon maintaining charitable institutions in Jewish communal life is an outgrowth of this view of mercy. Man's recognition of God as "the Merciful One" finds its verbal expression in his prayers (Num. 19:19; Ps. 106:1), wherein he implores God to deal compassionately even with the undeserving man (Ex. 34:7; Sot. 14a; Ber. 7a). Because of the imperfection of every mortal, even such righteous men as Abraham are dependent on God's mercy. Recognizing human frailty, God forgives transgressors, especially those who themselves are forgiving (Ecclus. 28:2; Shab. 151b; bm 85a; Ex. R. 12:1). The firm belief that "it is because of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not" (Lam. 3:22) has sustained the Jewish people through many periods of travail (Hos. 12:7). God's mercifulness does not negate the principle of divine justice, but rather complements it and reinforces its efficacy (see *God, Justice and Mercy of). In analyzing the 13 attributes by which God manifests Himself, the rabbis point to the positive interaction of mercy and justice in God's relation to the world (rh 17a, b; Lev. R. 29:3). This combination of justice and mercy in God is denoted in the two names of God, Elohim, and yhwh, the first of which designates justice, the second, mercy. God resolves the tension between strict judgment and mercy in favor of the latter (Ps. 89:3; Prov. 20:28). Philo expresses this in his statement: "God's pity is older than his justice" (Deus, 16). Judaism can thus demand of its judges the seemingly contradictory qualities of impartiality and compassion (Ex. 23:3; Ket. 9:2: Sanh. 6b). The principle of mercy assumes an overriding significance in the administration of Jewish law, where rules of equity qualify strict legalism: "… execute the judgment and show mercy and compassion every man to his brother" (Zech. 7:9).
G.F. Moore, Judaism, 2 (1946), 154 and 169; C.G. Montefiore and H. Loewe, A Rabbinic Anthology, index; Orḥot Ẓaddikim (Prague, 1581); I. Heinemann, Ta'amei ha-Mitzvot be-Sifrut Yisrael, 2 (1956), index s.v.ḥemlah.
[Zvi H. Szubin]
Compassionate sorrow at another's misfortune together with a will to alleviate it; it is genuine love in relation to an unhappy being. The encounter of love and misery gives birth to mercy, which is therefore one of the essential forms of charity, situated in the very heart of Christianity (St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae 2a, 2ae 30).
Another's distress becomes one's own because the other is united and in a sense identified with oneself, or because his misfortune is of concern to one, for example, by reason of his recollection of something similar in the past, or fear of something like it in the future. This likeness between another's misfortune and one's own can be experienced on the level of pure sensibility and is then simply an emotion. On the other hand, the comparison can exist on a more spiritual level, and charity becomes merciful, assuming and controlling the emotion. Compassion in itself is not the virtue of mercy. For the virtue, a genuine effort to relieve the misfortune of others in all its forms is demanded. The particular form of misery with which mercy is most concerned is spiritual misery, the abandonment of God. Mercy then unites and makes more intense the love of human beings and the hatred of vice. In this sense, mercy is found in its most perfect expression in God, since mercy is the efficacious hatred of another's evil.
God wills that we practice mercy as the most excellent way of accomplishing the second Commandment "like to the first." He expressly says so: "I desire mercy and not sacrifice" (Mt 9.13; cf. Hos 6.6). Mercy, to unite us with Him who is "merciful and gracious" (Ps 102.8; Ex 34.6) should tend to prompt imitation of Him. "Be merciful, therefore, even as your heavenly Father is merciful" (Lk 6.36). Mercy is intimately involved in our union with God Himself. "With what measure you measure, it shall be measured out to you" (Mt 7.2).
Christ is, in those who are His, the source of merciful love; He enlightens and inspires all forms of mercy. For example, almsdeeds take their inspiration from the Lord Jesus who, "being rich … became poor for your sakes" (2 Cor 8.9). The "great sadness and continuous sorrow" in the heart of St. Paul "for the sake of my brethren … who are Israelites" (Rom 9.2) is an extension of "the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus, our Lord" (Rom8.39). Mercy like the Lord's springs from a care for the human condition involved in many misfortunes. "Jesus saw a large crowd, and had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd" (Mk 6.34).
Mercy obtains pardon of sins in this life and the eternal possession of God in the life to come. "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy" (Mt 5.7).
See also: charity.
[j. m. perrin]
mercy seat the golden covering placed upon the Ark of the Covenant, regarded as the resting-place of God; the throne of God in Heaven. The term is found in Exodus 25:17.
throw oneself on someone's mercy intentionally place oneself in someone's power in the expectation that they will behave mercifully towards one.
See also seven corporal works of mercy, seven spiritual works of mercy.