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  • 163. The Quality of Mercy Explained

The Quality of Mercy Explained

  • Category(s): Moral Essays
  • Created on : 16 February 2015
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  • Author: Richard Michael Lamb


This quality is at the heart of our understanding and drives us all to attaining our objectives.


What is this qualite so misunderstood in the modern West? Does it mean we should spare those who take bribes against the innocent? There is no firmness in that stance.

“Mercy is not strained.”

Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice – the Judge to Shylock

That Judge goes on to say Shylock “may have his pound of flesh” as had been agreed if the debtor defaulted, but the snag: “not one drop of blood.” Shylock had not shown one drop of mercy which Shakespeare writes in this play “droppeth like rain from Heaven.” Where are we? Don’t force the Judge’s hand or you will lose like Shylock. This wording regarding mercy related to a civil action in a disunited Italy of pre-Shakespearean times. A criminal trial pivots on the axis of innocence and guilt of the accused, the nature of the crime and the designated penalty with the Trial Judge at the centre.

2. The Criminal Trial Judge.

This Judge is exhorted to show mercy in his sentencing by the words of Lord Denning MR in his autobiography;

“Be merciful”.

The Bible teaches us:

“Blessed are the merciful for they shall be shown mercy.”

Clearly a High Court Judge in England & Wales in a serious criminal case must have mercy uppermost in his mind. Mercy is not born of weakness, but strength and farsightedness. This Judge should not be trammelled or constrained in any way, but reinforced in his judgement, if he is in touch with justice and the will of the English and Welsh people. Even if trained observers have doubts about his judgement the might of the Judicial Bench should not be sapped by churlish comments. A Judge is not infallible, yet he will have bountiful confidence.

3. Still I ask – where is mercy?

We ask for mercy from the “Lamb of God” in Mass just before Holy Communion. The same cry goes up in the Introit sequence but in Greek “Kyrie eleison” and “Christe eleison”. The true meaning of mercy is to bring the other man to an understanding of his precarious position. By that understanding the merciful truly help those in need of mercy – they show mercy to those who are in a dire situation. This can mean a lesser sentence passed by the Judge, but not invariably. False mercy will never achieve the aim of true mercy. That thinking is moribund. Denning MR speaks of the Judge being on trial himself when presiding in a murder trial by Jury. Thus, the tables are turned and the Judge not only must be merciful, but he is at the mercy of the Court, the media and the public. A Judge who comprehends this dynamic will create the aims of true mercy in his Court.

4. Mercy and the death penalty now abolished in England & Wales since 1968.

The accepted thinking in the legal profession, the media and the Christian Churches is that Capital Punishment runs diametrically against humane sentencing policy and Christian moral thinking. What can I say? I have written extensively on this subject since 2nd July 2013 in my brief essays. I remain convinced it is for God the Father to show the ultimate quality of mercy to each one of us without exception. I believe in the one and only Almighty God – who has created us in His image. He will not let us down. If we conduct ourselves within the law we have nothing to fear. For those who take matters into their own hands, irrespective of the law, they should face the full force of the Courts of Law as they stand, and as the law will evolve and become more effective. We don’t come between our fellow man and God. He is always listening to us whether we be the sentenced, the Judge or an interested observer.

The process of criminal justice is constantly developing and the concept of mercy thereby becomes better appreciated. The same applies to the drama of each case. Don’t set your face against the death penalty – believe it or not it may return to the jurisdiction of England & Wales, and thereby other jurisdictions in the wider world. There also may be a surprise result in a criminal trial. It is no fundamental contradiction between a judicially decreed execution for a convicted premeditated murderer and this Christian virtue of mercy. The gift of self control supports and directs mercy within this pro-death sentence policy. Do not fret or jump up and down at the prospect of this restoration of the death penalty, or you will jam up the proper workings of the reforms of criminal justice and these powerful mechanics of mercy, the murder convict and the correct disposal: Hanging if re-instated or life imprisonment. Justice can only be done when the process is unimpeded by the clamour of the nosiest; once the shouting begins Justice and self restraint vanish into thin air. Everyone in criminal justice should be open-minded and accept the death penalty remains at least morally permissible if currently out of favour. Don’t shut your mind to this ancient principle of criminal jurisprudence in our Country

5. Conclusion

I come to bring conciliation on these vexed issues which turn many intransigent: the negation of Christianity. If we ask ourselves the question what is implacable; it is the essence of unmerciful and merciless. Mercy leads the way for true justice and justice pioneers, “the puissance” of this sentencing Judge who is never recalcitrant, but has to sentence such persons. You should not mollify the intransigent, recalcitrant and implacable – they must be met with real mercy and firmness in the Criminal Court and only that Tribunal on Earth. That mercy is didactic and cuts to the very soul – it is the sword of justice which embodies mercy. Yes, not one drop of our mere mortals’ blood will be shed, but Christ bled freely and profusely His own truly human and truly divine blood on the cross, so that we may understand this quality of mercy is not strained. Let us not strain the patience of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit and instead follow the steps of the leading Man: Christ Himself. For me, at least, the way is clear and my readers will follow my tenor and argument. For those readers who are not persuaded may they seek out the best way forward for themselves, always remembering only the merciful will be shown mercy, as Christ taught his disciples.