Encyclical on the Mercy of
His Holiness Pope John Paul II
November 30, 1980
His Holiness John Paul II To the Bishops,
Priests, and Faithful of the entire Catholic Church concerning the
To the Venerable Brothers, Beloved Sons and
Daughters, Health and Apostolic Benediction.
IT IS "GOD, WHO IS RICH IN MERCY"  whom
Jesus Christ has revealed to us as Father: It is his very Son who, in
himself, has manifested him and made him known to us.  Memorable in
this regard is the moment when Philip, one of the twelve apostles,
turned to Christ and said: "Lord, show us the Father, and we shall be
satisfied"; and Jesus replied: "Have I been with you so long, and yet
you do not know me?. . . He who has seen me has seen the Father." 
These words were spoken during the farewell discourse at the end of :he
paschal supper, which was followed by the events of those holy days
during which confirmaion was to be given once and for all of the fact
that "God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he
loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive
together with Christ." 
2. Following the teaching of the Second Vatican
Council and paying close attention to the special needs of our times, I
devoted the encyclical Redemptor Hominis to the truth about man, a truth
that is revealed to us in its fullness and depth in Christ. A no less
important need in these critical and difficult times impels me to draw
attention once again in Christ to the countenance of the "Father of
mercies and God of all comfort."  We read in the constitution Gaudium
et Spes: "Christ the new Adam . . . fully reveals man to himself and
brings to light his lofty calling," and does it "in the very revelation
of the mystery of the Father and of his love."  The words I have
quoted are clear testimony to the fact that man cannot be manifested in
the full dignity of his nature without reference--not only on the level
of concepts but also in an integrally existential way--to God. Man and
man's lofty calling are revealed in Christ through the revelation of the
mystery of the Father and his love.
3. For this reason it is now fitting to reflect
on this mystery. It is called for by the varied experiences of the
Church and of contemporary man. It is also demanded by the pleas of many
human hearts, their sufferings and hopes, their anxieties and
expectations. While it is true that every individual human being is, as
I said in my encyclical Redemptor Hominis, the way for the Church, at
the same time the Gospel and the whole of tradition constantly show us
that we must travel this way with every individual just as Christ traced
it out by revealing in himself the Father and his love.  In Jesus
Christ, every path to man, as it has been assigned once and for all to
the Church in the changing context of the times, is simultaneously an
approach to the Father and his love. The Second Vatican Council has
confirmed this truth for our time.
4. The more the Church's mission is centered
upon man--the more it is, so to speak, anthropocentric--the more it must
be confirmed and actualized theocentrically, that is to say, be directed
in Jesus Christ to the Father. While the various currents of human
thought both in the past and at the present have tended and still tend
to separate theocentrism and anthropocentrism, and even to set them in
opposition to each other, the Church, following Christ, seeks to link
them up in human history in a deep and organic way. And this is also one
of the basic principles, perhaps the most important one, of the teaching
of the last council.
5. Since, therefore, in the present phase of
the Church's history we put before ourselves as our primary task the
implementation of the doctrine of the great council, we must act upon
this principle with faith, with an open mind and with all our heart. In
the encyclical already referred to, I have tried to show that the
deepening and the many-faceted enrichment of the Church's consciousness
resulting from the council must open our minds and our hearts more
widely to Christ. Today I wish to say that openness to Christ, who as
the redeemer of the world fully "reveals man to himself," can only be
achieved through an ever more mature reference to the Father and his
6. Although God "dwells in unapproachable
light"  he speaks to man by means of the whole of the universe: "ever
since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely his eternal
power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been
made."  This indirect and imperfect knowledge, achieved by the
intellect seeking God by means of creatures through the visible world,
falls short of "vision of the Father." "No one has ever seen God,"
writes St. John, in order to stress the truth that "the only Son, who is
in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known. 
7. This "making known" reveals God in the most
profound mystery of his being, one and three, surrounded by
"unapproachable light." 
Nevertheless, through this "making known" by
Christ we know God above all in his relationship of love for man: in his
"philanthropy."  It is precisely here that "his invisible nature"
becomes in a special way "visible," incomparably more visible than
through all the other "things that have been made": It becomes visible
in Christ and through Christ, through his actions and his words, and
finally through his death on the cross and his resurrection.
8. In this way, in Christ and through Christ,
God also becomes especially visible in his mercy; that is to say, there
is emphasized that attribute of the divinity which the Old Testament,
using various concepts and terms, already defined as "mercy." Christ
confers on the whole of the Old Testament tradition about God's mercy a
definitive meaning. Not only does he speak of it and explain it by the
use of comparisons and parables, but above all he himself makes it
incarnate and personifies it. He himself, in a certain sense, is mercy.
To the person who sees it in him--and finds it in him--God becomes
"visible" in a particular way as the Father "who is rich in mercy." 
9. The present-day mentality, more perhaps than
that of people in the past, seems opposed to a God of mercy and in fact
tends to exclude from life and to remove from the human heart the very
idea of mercy. The word and the concept of "mercy" seem to cause
uneasiness in man, who, thanks to the enormous development of science
and technology never before known in history, has become the master of
the earth and has subdued and dominated it.  This dominion over the
earth, sometimes understood in a one-sided and superficial way, seems to
leave no room for mercy.
10. However, in this regard we can profitably
refer to the picture of "man's situation in the world today" as
described at the beginning of the constitution Gaudium et Spes. Here we
read the following sentences: "In the light of the foregoing factors
there appears the dichotomy of a world that is at once powerful and
weak, capable of doing what is noble and what is base, disposed to
freedom and slavery, progress and decline, brotherhood and hatred. Man
is growing conscious that the forces he has unleashed are in his own
hands and that it is up to him to control them or be enslaved by them."
11. The situation of the world today not only
displays transformations that give grounds for hope in a better future
for man on earth, but also reveals a multitude of threats far surpassing
those known up till now. Without ceasing to point out these threats on
various occasions (as in addresses to the United Nations, to UNESCO, to
FAO and elsewhere), the Church must at the same time examine them in the
light of the truth received from God.
12. The truth revealed in Christ about God the
"Father of mercies,"  enables us to "see" him as particularly close
to man, especially when man is suffering, when he is under threat at the
very heart of his existence and dignity. And this is why, in the
situation of the Church and the world today, many individuals and groups
guided by a lively sense of faith are turning, I would say almost
spontaneously, to the mercy of God. They are certainly being moved to do
this by Christ himself, who through his Spirit works within human
hearts. For the mystery of God the "Father of mercies" revealed by
Christ becomes in the context of today's threats to man, as it were a
unique appeal addressed to the Church.
13. In the present encyclical I wish to accept
this appeal; I wish to draw from the eternal and at the same time--for
its simplicity and depth--incomparable language of revelation and faith,
in order through this same language to express once more before God and
before humanity the major anxieties of our time.
14. In fact, revelation and faith teach us not
only to meditate in the abstract upon the mystery of God as "Father of
mercies," but also to have recourse to that mercy in the name of Christ
and union with him. Did not Christ say that our Father, who "sees in
secret,"  is always waiting for us to have recourse to him in every
need and always waiting for us to study his mystery: the mystery of the
Father and his love? 
15. I therefore wish these considerations to
bring this mystery close to everyone. At the same time I wish them to be
a heartfelt appeal by the Church to mercy, which humanity and the modern
world need so much. And they need mercy even though they often do not
16. Before his own townspeople in Nazareth,
Christ refers to the words of the prophet Isaiah: "The Spirit of the
Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the
poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering
of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to
proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord"  These phrases, according
to Luke, are his first messianic declaration. They are followed by the
actions and words known through the Gospel.
17. By these actions and words Christ makes the
Father present among men. It is very significant that the people in
question are especially the poor, those without means of subsistence,
those deprived of their freedom, the blind who cannot see the beauty of
creation, those living with broken hearts or suffering from social
injustice, and finally sinners. It is especially for these last that the
Messiah becomes a particularly clear sign of God who is love, a sign of
the Father. In this visible sign the people of our own time, just like
the people then, can see the Father.
18. It is significant that when the messengers
sent by John the Baptist came to Jesus to ask him: "Are you he who is to
come, or shall we look for another?"  he answered by referring to
the same testimony with which he had begun his teaching at Nazareth: "Go
and tell John what it is that you have seen and heard: The blind receive
their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the
dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them." He then
ended with the words: "And blessed is he who takes no offense at me!"
19. Especially through his lifestyle and
through his actions, Jesus revealed that love is present in the world in
which we live--an effective love, a love that addresses itself to man
and embraces everything that makes up his humanity. This love makes
itself particularly noticed in contact with suffering, injustice and
poverty--in contact with the whole historical "human condition," which
in various ways manifests man's limitation and frailty, both physical
and moral. It is precisely the mode and sphere in which love manifests
itself that in biblical language is called "mercy."
20. Christ, then, reveals God who is Father,
who is "love," as St. John will express it in his first letter; 
Christ reveals God as "rich in mercy," as we read in St. Paul.  This
truth is not just the subject of a teaching; it is reality made present
to us by Christ. Making the Father present as love and mercy is, in
Christ's own consciousness, the fundamental touchstone of his mission as
the Messiah; this is confirmed by the words that he uttered first in the
synagogue at Nazareth and later in the presence of his disciples and
of.John the Baptist's messengers.
21. On the basis of this way of manifesting the
presence of God who is Father, love and mercy, .Jesus makes mercy one of
the principal themes of his preaching. As is his custom, he first
teaches "in parables," since these express better the very essence of
things. It is sufficient to recall the parable of the Prodigal Son 
or the parable of the Good Samaritan,  but also--by contrast--the
parable of the merciless servant.  There are many passages in the
teaching of Christ that manifest love-mercy under some every fresh
aspect. We need only consider the Good Shepherd who goes in search of
the lost sheep,  or the woman who sweeps the house in search of the
lost coin.  The gospel writer who particularly treats of these
themes in Christ's teaching is Luke, whose Gospel has earned the title
of"the Gospel of mercy."
22. When one speaks of preaching, one
encounters a problem of major importance with reference to the meaning
of terms and the content of concepts, especially the content of the
concept of "mercy" (in relationship to the concept of "love"). A grasp
of the content of these concepts is the key to understanding the very
reality of mercy. And this is what is most important for us.
23. However, before devoting a further part of
our considerations to this subject, that is to say, to establishing the
meaning of the vocabulary and the content proper to the concept of
"mercy," we must note that Christ, in revealing the love-mercy of God,
at the same time demanded from people that they also should be guided in
their lives by love and mercy. This requirement forms part of the very
essence of the messianic message and constitutes the heart of the gospel
ethos. The Teacher expressed this both through the medium of the
commandment which he describes as "the greatest,"  and also in the
form of a blessing, when in the Sermon on the Mount he proclaims:
"Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy." 
24. In this way, the messianic message about
mercy preserves a particular divine-human dimension. Christ--the very
fulfillment of the messianic prophecy--by becoming the incarnation of
the love that is manifested with particular force with regard to the
suffering, the unfortunate and sinners, makes present and thus more
fully reveals the Father, who is God "rich in mercy." At the same time,
by becoming for people a model of merciful love for others, Christ
proclaims by his actions even more than by his words that call to mercy
which is one of the essential elements of the gospel ethos. In this
instance it is not just a case of fulfilling a commandment or an
obligation of an ethical nature; it is also a case of satisfying a
condition of major importance for God to reveal himself in his mercy to
man: "The merciful . . . shall obtain mercy."
25. (4) The concept of"mercy" in the Old
Testament has a long and rich history. We have to refer back to it in
order that the mercy revealed by Christ may shine forth more clearly. By
revealing that mercy both through his actions and through his teaching,
Christ addressed himself to people who not only knew the concept of
mercy, but who also, as the people of God of the Old Covenant, had drawn
from their agelong history a special experience of the mercy of God.
This experience was social and communal, as well as individual and
26. Israel was, in fact, the people of the
covenant with God, a covenant that it broke many times. Whenever it
became aware of its infidelity--and in the history of Israel there was
no lack of prophets and others who awakened this awareness--it appealed
to mercy. In this regard the books of the Old Testament give us very
many examples. Among the events and texts of greater importance one may
recall: the beginning of the history of the judges,  the prayer of
Solomon at the inauguration of the temple,  part of the prophetic
work of Micah,  the consoling assurances given by Isaiah,  the
cry of the Jews in exile,  and the renewal of the covenant after the
return from exile. 
27. It is significant that in their preaching
the prophets link mercy, which they often refer to because of the
people's sins, with the incisive image of love on God's part. The Lord
loves Israel with the love of a special choosing, much like the love of
a spouse,  and for this reason he pardons its sins and even its
infidelities and betrayals. When he finds repentance and true
conversion, he brings his people back to grace.  In the preaching of
the prophets mercy signifies a special power of love, which prevails
over the sin and infidelity of the chosen people.
28. In this broad "social" context, mercy
appears as a correlative to the interior experience of individuals
languishing in a state of guilt or enduring every kind of suffering and
misfortune. Both physical evil and moral evil, namely sin, cause the
sons and daughters of Israel to turn to the Lord and beseech his mercy.
In this way David turns to him, conscious of the seriousness of his
guilt;  .Job too, after his rebellion, turns to him in his
tremendous misfortune;  so also does Esther. knowing the mortal
threat to her own people.  And We find still other examples in the
books of the Old Testament. 
29. At the root of this many-sided conviction,
which is both communal and personal, and which is demonstrated by the
whole of the Old Testament down the centuries, is the basic experience
of the chosen people at the Exodus: The Lord saw the affliction of his
people reduced to slavery, heard their cry, knew their sufferings and
decided to deliver them.  In this act of salvation by the Lord, the
prophet perceived his love and compassion.  This is precisely the
grounds upon which the people and each of its members based their
certainty of the mercy of God, which can be invoked whenever tragedy
30. Added to this is the fact that sin too
constitutes man's misery. The people of the Old Covenant experienced
this misery from the time of the Exodus, when they set up the golden
calf. The Lord himself triumphed over this act of breaking the covenant
when he solemnly declared to Moses that he was a "God merciful and
gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and
faithfulness."  It is in this central revelation that the chosen
people and each of its members will find, every time that they have
sinned, the strength and the motive for turning to the Lord to remind
him of what he had exactly revealed about himself  and to beseech
31. Thus in deeds and in words the Lord
revealed his mercy from the very beginnings of the people which he chose
for himself; and, in the course of its history, this people continually
entrusted itself, both when stricken with misfortune and when it became
aware of its sin, to the God of mercies. All the subtleties of love
become manifest in the Lord's mercy toward those who are his own: He is
their Father,  for Israel is his firstborn son;  the Lord is
also the bridegroom of her whose new name the prophet proclaims:
Ruharmah, "beloved" or "she has obtained pity." 
32. Even when the Lord is exasperated by the
infidelity of his people and thinks of finishing with it, it is still
his tenderness and generous love for those who are his own which
overcomes his anger.  Thus it is easy to understand why the
psalmists, when they desire to sing the highest praises of the Lord,
break forth into hymns to the God of love, tenderness, mercy and
33. From all this it follows that mercy does
not pertain only to the notion of God, but it is something that
characterizes the life of the whole people of Israel and each of its
sons and daughters: Mercy is the content of intimacy with their Lord,
the content of their dialogue with him. Under precisely this aspect
mercy is presented in the individual books of the Old Testament with a
great richness of expression. It may be difficult to find in these books
a purely theoretical answer to the question of what mercy is in itself.
Nevertheless, the terminology that is used is in itself able to tell us
much about this subject. 
34. The Old Testament proclaims the mercy of
the Lord by the use of many terms with related meanings; they are
differentiated by their particular content, but it could be said
that.they all converge from different directions on one single
fundamental content, to express its surpassing richness and at the same
time to bring it close to man under different aspects. The Old Testament
encourages people suffering from misfortune, especially those weighed
down by sin--as also the whole of Israel, which had entered into the
covenant with God--to appeal for mercy and enables them to count upon
it: It reminds them of his mercy in times of failure and loss of trust.
Subsequently, the Old Testament gives thanks and glory for mercy every
time that mercy is made manifest in the life of the people or in the
lives of individuals.
35. In this way, mercy is in a certain sense
contrasted with God's justice and in many cases is shown to be not only
more powerful than that justice, but also more profound. Even the Old
Testament teaches that although justice is an authentic virtue in man,
and in God signifies transcendent perfection, nevertheless love is
"greater" than justice: greater in the sense that it is primary and
36. Love, so to speak, conditions justice and,
in the final analysis, justice serves love. The primacy and superiority
of love vis-a-vis justice--this is a mark of the whole of
revelation--are revealed precisely through mercy. This seemed so obvious
to the psalmists and prophets that the very term justice ended up by
meaning the salvation accomplished by the Lord and his mercy.  Mercy
differs from justice, but is not in opposition to it if we admit in the
history of man--as the Old Testament precisely does--the presence of
God, who already as Creator has linked himself to his creature with a
37. Love, by its very nature, excludes hatred
and ill will toward the one to whom he once gave the gift of himself:
"."Nihil odisti eorum quae fecisti" (You hold nothing of what you have
made in abhorrence). 
38. These words indicate the profound basis of
the relationship between justice and mercy in God, in his relations with
man and the world. They tell us that we must seek the life-giving roots
and intimate reasons for this relationship by going back to "the
beginning," in the very mystery of creation. They foreshadow in the
context of the Old Covenant the full revelation of God, who is "love. "
39. Connected with the mystery of creation is
the mystery of the election, which in a special way shaped the history
of the people whose spiritual father is Abraham by virtue of his faith.
Nevertheless, through this people which journeys forward through the
history both of the Old Covenant and of the New, that mystery of
election refers to every man and woman, to the whole great human family.
40. "I have loved you with an everlasting love,
therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you."  "For the
mountains may depart . . . my steadfast love shall not depart from you,
and my covenant of peace shall not be removed."  This truth, once
proclaimed to Israel, involves a perspective of the whole history of
man, a perspective both temporal and eschatological. 
Christ reveals the Father within the framework
of the same perspective and on ground already prepared, as many pages of
the Old Testament writings demonstrate. At the end of this revelation,
on the night before he dies, he says to the apostle Philip these
memorable words: "Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know
me? . . . He who has seen me has seen the Father." 
41. At the very beginning of the New Testament,
two voices resound in St. Luke's Gospel in unique harmony concerning the
mercy of God, a harmony which forcefully echoes the whole Old Testament
tradition. They express the semantic elements linked to the
differentiated terminology of the ancient books. Mary, entering the
house of Zechariah, magnifies the Lord with all her soul for "his
mercy," which "from generation to generation" is bestowed on those who
fear him. A little later, as she recalls the election of Israel, she
proclaims the mercy which he who has chosen her holds "in remembrance"
from all time.  Afterward, in the same house, when John the Baptist
is born, his father Zechariah blesses the God of Israel and glorifies
him for performing the mercy promised to our fathers and for remembering
his holy covenant.6l
42. In the teaching of Christ himself, this
image inherited from the Old Testament becomes at the same time simpler
and more profound. This is perhaps most evident in the parable of the
Prodigal Son.  Although the word "mercy" does not appear, it
nevertheless expresses the essence of the divine mercy in a particularly
clear way. This is due not so much to the terminology, as in the Old
Testament books, as to the analogy that enables us to understand more
fully the very mystery of mercy, as a profound drama played out between
the father's love and the prodigality and sin of the son.
43. That son, who receives from the father the
portion of the inheritance that is due to him and leaves home to
squander it in a far country "in loose living," in a certain sense is
the man of every period, beginning with the one who was the first to
lose the inheritance of grace and original justice. The analogy at this
point is very wide-ranging. The parable indirectly touches upon every
breach of the covenant of love, every loss of grace, every sin.
44. In this analogy there is less emphasis than
in the prophetic tradition on the unfaithfulness of the whole people of
Israel, although the analogy of the prodigal son may extend to this
also. "When he had spent everything," the son "began to be in need,"
especially as "a great famine arose in that country" to which he had
gone after leaving his father's house. And in this situation "he would
gladly have fed on" anything, even "the pods that the swine ate," the
swine that he herded for "one of the citizens of that country." But even
this was refused him.
45. The analogy turns clearly toward man's
interior. The inheritance that the son had received from his father was
a quantity of material goods, but more important than these goods was
his dignity as a son in his father's house. The situation in w hich he
found himself when he lost the material goods should have made him aware
of the loss of that dignity. He had not thought about it previously,
when he had asked his father to give him the part of the inheritance
that was due to him, in order to go away.
46. Hc seems not to he conscious of it even
now, w hen he says to himself: "How many of my father's hired servants
have bread enough and to spare, hut I perish here with hunger." He
measures himself by the standard of the goods that he has lost, that he
no longer "possesses," while the hired servants in his father's house
"possess" them. These words express above all his attitude to material
goods; nevertheless, under their surface is concealed the tragedy of
lost dignity, the awareness of squandered sonship.
47. It is at this point that he makes the
decision: "I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him,
'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer
worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.'
48. These are words that reveal more deeply the
essential problem. Through the complex material situation in which the
prodigal son found himself because of his folly, because of sin, the
sense of lost dignity had matured. When he decides to return to his
father's house, to ask his father to be received--no longer by virtue of
his right as a son, but as an employee--at first sight he seems to be
acting by reason of the hunger and poverty that he had fallen into; this
motive, however, is permeated by an awareness of a deeper loss: To be a
hired servant in his own father's house is certainly a great humiliation
and source of shame.
49. Nevertheless, the prodigal son is ready to
undergo that humiliation and shame. He realizes that he no longer has
any right except to be an employee in his father's house. His decision
is taken in full consciousness of what he has deserved and of what he
can still have a right to in accordance with the norms of justice.
Precisely this reasoning demonstrates that at the center of the prodigal
son's consciousness the sense of lost dignity is emerging, the sense of
that dignity that springs from the relationship of the son with the
father. And it is with this decision that he sets out.
50. In the parable of the prodigal son, the
term "justice" is not used even once; just as in the original text the
term "mercy" is not used either. Nevertheless, the relationship between
justice and love that is manifested as mercy is inscribed with great
exactness in the content of the gospel parable. It becomes more evident
that love is transformed into mercy when it is necessary to go beyond
the precise norm of justice--precise and often too narrow.
51. The prodigal son, having wasted the
property he received from his father, deserves--after his return--to
earn his living by working in his father's house as a hired servant and
possibly, little by little, to build up a certain provision of material
goods, though perhaps never as much as the amount he had squandered.
This would be demanded by the order of justice, especially as the son
had not only squandered the part of the inheritance belonging to him,
but had also hurt and offended his father by his whole conduct.
52. Since this conduct had in his own eyes
deprived him of his dignity as a son, it could not be a matter of
indifference to his father. It was bound to make him suffer. It was also
bound to implicate him in some way. And yet, after all, it was his own
son who was involved, and such a relationship could never be altered or
destroyed by any sort of behavior. The prodigal son is aware of this and
it is precisely this awareness that shows him clearly the dignity which
he has lost and which makes him honestly evaluate the position that he
could still expect in his father's house.
53. This exact picture of the prodigal son's
state of mind enables us to understand exactly what the mercy of God
consists in. There is no doubt that in this simple but penetrating
analogy the figure of the father reveals to us God as Father. The
conduct of the father in the parable and his whole behavior, which
manifests his internal attitude, enables us to rediscover the individual
threads of the Old Testament vision of mercy in a synthesis which is
totally new, full of simplicity and depth.
54. The father of the prodigal son is faithful
to his fatherhood, faithful to the love that he had always lavished on
his son. This fidelity is expressed in the parable not only by his
immediate readiness to welcome him home when he returns after having
squandered his inheritance; it is expressed even more fully by that joy,
that merrymaking for the squanderer after his return, merrymaking which
is so generous that it provokes the opposition and hatred of the elder
brother, who had never gone far away from his father and had never
abandoned the home.
55. The father's fidelity to himself--a trait
already known by the Old Testament term hesed--is at the same time
expressed in a manner particularly charged with affection. We read, in
fact, that when the father saw the prodigal son returning home "he had
compassion, ran to meet him, threw his arms around his neck and kissed
him.'  He certainly does this under the influence of a deep
affection, and this also explains his generosity toward his son, that
generosity which so angers the elder son.
56. Nevertheless, the causes of this emotion
are to be sought at a deeper level. Notice, the father is aware that a
fundamental good has been saved: the good of his son's humanity.
Although the son has squandered the inheritance, nevertheless his
humanity is saved. Indeed, it has been, in a way, found again. The
father's words to the elder son reveal this: "It was fitting to make
merry and be glad, for this your brother was dead and is alive; he was
lost and is found." 
57. In the same Chapter 15 of Luke's Gospel, we
read the parable of the sheep that was found  and then the parable
of the coin that was found.  Each time there is an emphasis on the
same joy that is present in the case of the prodigal son. The father's
fidelity to himself is totally concentrated upon the humanity of the
lost son, upon his dignity. This explains above all his joyous emotion
at the moment of the son's return home.
58. Going on, one can therefore say that the
love for the son, the love that springs from the very essence of
fatherhood, in a way obliges the father to be concerned about his son's
dignity. This concern is the measure of his love, the love of which St.
Paul was to write: "Love is patient and kind . . . Iove does not insist
on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful . . . but rejoices in
the right . . . hopes all things, endures all things" and "love never
59. Mercy--as Christ has presented it in the
parable of the prodigal son--has the interior form of the love that in
the New. Testament is called agape. This love is able to reach down to
every prodigal son, to every human misery, and above all to every form
of moral misery, to sin. When this happens, the person who is the object
of mercy does not feel humiliated, but rather found again and "restored
60. The father first and foremost expresses to
him his joy that he has been "found again" and that he has "returned to
life." This joy indicates a good that has remained intact: even if he is
a prodigal, a son does not cease to be truly his father's son; it also
indicates a good that has been found again, which in the case of the
prodigal son was his return to the truth about himself.
61. What took place in the relationship between
the father and the son in Christ's parable is not to be evaluated "from
the outside." Our prejudices about mercy are mostly the result of
appraising them only from the outside. At times it happens that by
following this method of evaluation we see in mercy above all a
relationship of inequality between the one offering it and the one
receiving it. And, in consequence, we are quick to deduce that mercy
belittles the receiver, that it offends the dignity of man.
62. The parable of the prodigal son shows that
the reality is different: The relationship of mercy is based on the
common experience of that good which is man, on the common experience of
the dignity that is proper to him. This common experience makes the
prodigal son begin to see himself and his actions in their full truth
(this vision in truth is a genuine form of humility); on the other hand,
for this very reason he becomes a parricular good for his father: The
father sees so clearly the good which has been achieved thanks to a
mysterious radiation of truth and love, that he seems to forget all the
evil which the son had committed.
63. The parable of the prodigal son expresses
in a simple but profound way the reality of conversion. Conversion is
the most concrete expression of the working of love and of the presence
of mercy in the human world. The true and proper meaning of mercy does
not consist only in looking, however penetratingly and compassionately,
at moral, physical or material evil: Mercy is manifested in its true and
proper aspect when it restores to value, promotes and draws good from
all the forms of evil existing in the world and in man.
64. Understood in this way, mercy constitutes
the fundamental content of the messianic message of Christ and the
constitutive power of his mission. His disciples and followers
understood and practiced mercy in the same way. Mercy never ceased to
reveal itself, in their hearts and in their actions, as an especially
creative proof of the love which does not allow itself to be "conquered
by evil," but overcomes "evil with good." 
65. The genuine face of mercy has to be ever
revealed anew. In spite of many prejudices, mercy seems particularly
necessary for our times.
66. The messianic message of Christ and his
activity among people end with the cross and resurrection. We have to
penetrate deeply into this final event--which especially in the language
of the council is defined as the mysterium paschale--if we wish to
express in depth the truth about mercy, as it has been revealed in depth
in the history of our salvation.
67. At this point of our considerations, we
shall have to draw closer still to the content of the encyclical
Redemptor Hominis. If, in fact, the reality of the redemption in its
human dimension reveals the unheard-of greatness of man, "qui talem ac
tantum meruit habere redemptorem" (which gained for us so great a
redeemer),  at the same time the divine dimension of the redemption
enables us, I would say, in the most empirical and "historical" way to
uncover the depth of that love which does not recoil before the
extraordinary sacrifice of the Son, in order to satisfy the hdelity of
the Creator and Father toward human beings, created in his image and
chosen from "the beginning," in this Son, for grace and glory.
68. The events of Good Friday and, even before
that, the prayer in Gethsemane, introduce a fundamental change into the
whole course of the revelation of love and mercy in the messianic
mission of Christ. The one who "went about doing good and healing" 
and "curing every sickness and disease"  now himself seems to merit
the greatest mercy and to appeal for mercy, when he is arrested, abused,
condemned, scourged, crowned with thorns, when he is nailed to the cross
and dies amidst agonizing torments. 
69. It is then that he particularly deserves
mercy from the people to whom he has done good, and he does not receive
it. Even those who are closest to him cannot protect him and snatch him
from the hands of his oppressors. At this final stage of his messianic
activity the words which the prophets, especially Isaiah, uttered
concerning the servant of Yahweh are fulfilled in Christ: "Through his
stripes we are healed." 
70. Christ, as the man who suffers really and
in a terrible way in the Garden of Olives and on Calvary, addresses
himself to the Father--that Father whose love he has preached to people,
to whose mercy he has borne witness through all of his activity. But he
is not spared--not even he--the terrible suffering of death on the
cross: "For our sake God made him to be sin who knew no sin,"  St.
Paul will write, summing up in a few words the whole depth of the cross
and at the same time the divine dimension of the reality of the
71. Indeed this redemption is the ultimate and
definitive revelation of the holiness of God, who is the absolute
fullness of perfection: fullness of justice and of love, since justice
is based on love, flows from it and tends toward it. In the passion and
death of Christ--in the fact that the Father did not spare his own Son,
but "for our sake made him sin"  --absolute justice is expressed,
for Christ undergoes the passion and cross because of the sins of
humanity. This constitutes even a "superabundance" of justice, for the
sins of man are "compensated for" by the sacrifice of the Man-God.
72. Nevertheless, this justice, which is
properly justice "to God's measure," springs completely from love: from
the love of the Father and of the Son, and completely bears fruit in
love. Precisely for this reason the divine justice revealed in the cross
of Christ is "to God's measure," because it springs from love and is
accomplished in love, producing fruits of salvation. The divine
dimension of redemption is put into effect not only by bringing justice
to bear upon sin, but also by restoring to love that creative power in
man thanks to which he once more has access to the fullness of life and
holiness that come from God. In this way, redemption involves the
revelation of mercy in its fullness.
73. The paschal mystery is the culmination of
this revealing and effecting of mercy, which is able to justify man, to
restore justice in the sense of that salvific order which God willed
from the beginning in man and, through man, in the world. The suffering
Christ speaks in a special way to man, and not only to the believer. The
non-believer also will be able to discover in him the eloquence of
solidarity with the human lot, as also the harmonious fullness of a
disinterested dedication to the cause of man, to truth and to love.
74. And yet the divine dimension of the paschal
mvsterv goes still deeper. The cross on Calvary, the cross upon which
Christ conducts his hnal dialogue with the Father emerges from the very
heart of the love that man, created in the image and likeness of God,
has been given as a gift, according to God's eternal plan. God, as
Christ has revealed him, does not merely remain closely linked with the
world as the creator and the ultimate source of existence. He is also
Father: He is linked to man, whom he called to existence in the visible
world, by a bond still more intimate than that of creation. It is love
which not only creates the good but also grants participation in the
very life of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. For he who loves desires
to give himself.
75. The cross of Christ on Calvary stands
beside the path of that admirabile commercium, of that wonderful
self-communication of God to man, which also includes the call to man to
share in the divine life by giving himself, and with himself the whole
visible world, to God, and like an adopted son to become a sharer in the
truth and love which is in God and proceeds from God. It is precisely
beside the path of man's eternal election to the dignity of being an
adopted child of God that there stands in history the cross of Christ,
the only begotten Son, who, as "light from light, true God from true
God,"  came to give the final witness to the wonderful covenant of
God with humanity, of God with man--every human being.
76. This covenant, as old as man--it goes back
to the very mystery of creation--and afterward many times renewed with
one single chosen people, is equally the new and definitive covenant,
which was established there on Calvary and is not limited to a single
people, to Israel, but is open to each and every individual.
77. What else, then, does the cross of Christ
say to us, the cross that in a sense is the final word of his messianic
message and mission? And yet this is not yet the word of the God of the
covenant: That will be pronounced at the dawn when hrst the women and
then the apostles come to the tomb of the crucified Christ, see the tomb
empty and for the first time hear the message: "He is risen." Thev will
repeat this message to the others and will be witnesses to the risen
78. Yet even in this glorification of the Son
of God, the cross remains, that cross which--through all the messianic
testimony of the Man-the-Son, w ho suffered death upon it--speaks and
never ceases to speak of God-the Father, who is absolutely faithful to
his eternal love for man, since he "so loved the world"--therefore man
in the world--that "he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him
should not perish but have eternal life." 
79. Believing in the crucified Son means
"seeing the Father,"  means believing that love is present in the
world and that this love is more powerful than any kind of evil in which
individuals, humanity or the world are involved. Believing in this love
means believing in mercy. For mercy is an indispensable dimension of
love; it is as it were love's second name and, at the same time, the
specific manner in which love is revealed and effected vis-a-vis the
reality of the evil that is in the world, affecting and besieging man,
insinuating itself even into his heart and capable of causing him to
"perish in Gehenna." 
80. The cross of Christ on Calvary is also a
witness to the strength of evil against the very Son of God, against the
one who, alone among all the sons of men, was by his nature absolutely
innocent and free from sin, and whose coming into the world was
untainted by the disobedience of Adam and the inheritance of original
sin. And here, precisely in him, in Christ, justice is done to sin at
the price of his sacrifice, of his obedience "even to death,"  He
who was without sin, "God made him sin for our sake." 
81. Justice is also brought to bear upon death,
which from the beginning of man's history had been allied to sin. Death
has justice done to it at the price of the death of the one who was
without sin and who alone was able--by means of his own death--to
inflict death upon death.  In this way the cross of Christ, on which
the Son, consubstantial with the Father, renders full justice to God, is
also a radical revelation of mercy, or rather of the love that goes
against what constitutes the very root of evil in the history of man:
against sin and death.
82. The cross is the most profound
condescension of God to man and to what man-- especially in difficult
and painful moments--looks on as his unhappy destiny. The cross is like
a touch of eternal love upon the most painful wounds of man's earthly
existence; it is the total fulfillment of the messianic program that
Christ once formulated in the synagogue at Nazareth  and then
repeated to the messengers sent by John the Baptist. 
83. According to the words once written in the
prophecy of Isaiah,  this program consisted in the revelation of
merciful love for the poor, the suffering and prisoners, for the blind,
the oppressed and sinners. In the paschal mystery the limits of the
many-sided evil in which man becomes a sharer during his earthly
existence are surpassed. The cross of Christ, in fact, makes us
understand the deepest roots of evil, which are fixed in sin and death;
thus the cross becomes an eschatological sign. Only in the
eschatological fulfillment and definitive renewal of the world will love
conquer, in all the elect, the deepest sources of evil, bringing as its
fully mature fruit the kingdom of life and holiness and glorious
84. The foundation of this eschatological
fulfillment is already contained in the cross of Christ and in his
death. The fact that Christ "was raised the third day"  constitutes
the final sign of the messianic mission, a sign that perfects the entire
revelation of merciful love in a world that is subject to evil. At the
same time it constitutes the sign that foretells "a new heaven and a new
earth,"  when God "will wipe away every tear from their eyes, there
will be no more death, or mourning, no crying nor pain, for the former
things have passed away." 
85. In the eschatological fulfillment mercy
will be revealed as love, while in the temporal phase, in human history,
which is at the same time the history of sin and death, love must be
revealed above all as mercy and must also be actualized as mercy.
86. Christ's messianic program, the program of
mercy, becomes the program of his people, the program of the Church. At
its very center there is always the cross, for it is in the cross that
the revelation of merciful love attains its culmination. Until "the
former things pass away,"  the cross will remain the point of
reference for other words too of the revelation of John: "Behold, I
stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the
door, I will come in and eat with him and he with me."  In a special
way, God also reveals his mercy when he invites man to have "mercy" on
his only Son, the crucified one.
87. Christ, precisely as the crucified one, is
the word that does not pass away,  and he is the one who stands at
the door and knocks at the heart of every man,  without restricting
his freedom, but instead seeking to draw from this very freedom love,
which is not only an act of solidarity with the suffering Son of Man,
but also a kind of "mercy" shown by each one of us to the Son of the
eternal Father. In the whole of this messianic program of Christ, in the
whole revelation of mercy through the cross, could man's dignity be more
highly respected and ennobled, for in obtaining mercy he is in a sense
the one who at the same time "shows mercy?"
88. In a word, is not this the position of
Christ with regard to man when he says: "As you did it to one of the
least of these . . . you did it to me?"  Do not the words of the
Sermon on the Mount: "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain
mercy,"  constitute, in a certain sense, a synthesis of the whole of
the good news, of the whole of the "wonderful exchange" (admirabile
commercium) contained therein?
89. This exchange is a law of the very plan of
salvation, a law which is simple, strong and at the same time "easy."
Demonstrating from the very start what the "human heart" is capable of
("to be merciful"), do not these words from the Sermon on the Mount
reveal in the same perspective the deep mystery of God: that inscrutable
unity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, in which love, containing justice,
sets in motion mercy, which in its turn reveals the perfection of
90. The paschal mystery is Christ at the summit
of the revelation of the inscrutable mystery of God. It is precisely
then that the words pronounced in the Upper Room are completely
fulfilled: "He who has seen me has seen the Father." 
91. In fact, Christ, whom the Father "did not
spare"  for the sake of man and who in his passion and in the
torment of the cross did not obtain human mercy, has revealed in his
resurrection the fullness of the love that the Father has for him and,
in him, for all people. "He is not God of the dead, but of the living."
92. In his resutrection Christ has revealed the
God of merciful love, precisely because he accepted the cross as the way
to the resurrection. And it is for this reason that--when we recall the
cross of Christ, his passion and death--our faith and hope are centered
on the Risen One: on that Christ who "on the evening of that day, the
first day of the week, . . . stood among them" in the Upper Room, "where
the disciples were, . . . breathed on them and said to them: 'Receive
the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if
you retain the sins of any, they are retained.' " 
93. Here is the Son of God, who in his
resurrection experienced in a radical way mercy shown to himself, that
is to say the love of the Father which is more powerful than death. And
it is also the same Christ, the Son of God, who at the end of his
messianic mission--and, in a certain sense, even beyond the end--reveals
himself as the inexhaustible source of mercy, of the same love that, in
a subsequent perspective of the history of salvation in the Church, is
to be everlastingly confirmed as more powerful than sin. The paschal
Christ is the definitive incarnation of mercy, its living sign: in
salvation history and in eschatology. In the same spirit, the liturgy of
Eastertide places on our lips the words of the psalm: "Misericordias
Domini in aeternum cantabo" (The favors of the Lord I will sing
94. These words of the Church at Easter re-echo
in the fullness of their prophetic content the words that Mary uttered
during her visit to Elizabeth, the wife of Zechariah: "His mercy is . .
. from generation to generation."  At the very moment of the
incarnation, these words open up a new perspective of salvation history.
After the resurrection of Christ, this perspective is new on both the
historical and the eschatological level. From that time onward there is
a succession of new generations of individuals in the immense human
family, in ever-increasing dimensions; there is also a succession of new
generations of the People of God, marked with the sign of the cross and
of the resurrection and "sealed"  with the sign of the paschal
mystery of Christ, the absolute revelation of the mercy that Mary
proclaimed on the threshold of her kinswoman's house: "His mercy is . .
. from generation to generation." 
95. Mary is also the one who obtained mercy in
a particular and exceptional uay, as no other person has. At the same
time, still in an exceptional way, she made possible with the sacrifice
of her heart her own sharing in revealing God's mercy.
96. This sacrifice is intimately linked with
the cross of her Son, at the foot of which she was to stand on Calvary.
Her sacrifice is a unique sharing in the revelation of mercy, that is, a
sharing in the absolute fidelity of God to his own love, to the covenant
that he willed from eternity and that he entered into in time with man,
with the people, with humanity; it is a sharing in that revelation that
was definitively fulfilled through the cross.
97. No one has experienced, to the same degree
as the mother of the crucified one, the mystery of the cross, the
overwhelming encounter of divine transcendent justice with love: that
"kiss" given by mercy to justice.  No one has received into his
heart, as much as Mary did, that mystery, that truly divine dimension of
the redemption effected on Calvary by means of the death of the Son
together with the sacrifice of her maternal heart, together with her
98. Mary, then, is the one who has the deepest
knowledge of the mystery of God's mercy. She knows its price, she knows
how great it is. In this sense, we call her the Mother of Mercy: our
Lady of Mercy, or Mother of Divine Mercy; in each one of these titles
there is a deep theological meaning, for they express the special
preparation of her soul, of her whole personality, so that she was able
to perceive, through the complex events, first of Israel, then of every
individual and of the whole of humanity, that mercy of which "from
generation to generation"  people become sharers according to the
eternal design of the Most Holy Trinity.
99. The above titles which we attribute to the
mother of God speak of her principally, however, as the mother of the
crucified and risen one; as the one who, having obtained mercy in an
exceptional way, in an equally exceptional way "merits" that mercy
throughout her earthly life and, particularly, at the foot of the cross
of her Son; and finally as the one who, through her hidden and at the
same time incomparable sharing in the messianic mission of her Son, was
called in a special way to bring close to people that love which he had
come to reveal: the love that finds its most concrete expression
vis-a-vis the suffering, the poor, those deprived of their own freedom,
the blind, the oppressed and sinners, just as Christ spoke of them in
the words of the prophecy of Isaiah, first in the synagogue at Nazareth
 and then in response to the question of the messengers of John the
100. It was precisely this "merciful" love,
which is manifested above all in contact with moral and physical evil,
that the heart of her who was thc mother of the crucified and risen one
shared in singularly and exceptionally--that Mary shared in. In her and
through her, this love continues to be revealed in the history of the
Church and of humanity. This revelation is especially fruitful because
in the mother of God it is based upon the unique tact of her maternal
heart, on her particular sensitivity, on her particular fitness to reach
all those who most easily accept the merciful love of a mother. This is
one of the great life-giving mysteries of Christianity, a mystery
intimately connected with the mystery of the incarnation.
101. "The motherhood of Mary in the order of
grace," as the Second Vatican Council explains, "lasts without
interruption from the consent which she faithfully gave at the
annunciation and which she sustained without hesitation under the cross,
until the eternal fulfillment of all the elect In fact, being assumed
into heaven she has not laid aside this office of salvation but by her
manifold intercession she continues to obtain for us the graces of
eternal salvation. By her maternal charity, she takes care of the
brethren of her Son who still journey on earth surrounded by dangers and
difficulties, until they are led into their blessed home." 
102. We have every right to believe that our
generation too was included in the words of the mother of God when she
glorified that mercy shared in "from generation to generation" by those
who allow themselves to be guided by the fear of God. The words of
Mary's Magnificat have a prophetic content that concerns not only the
past of Israel but also the whole future of the people of God on earth.
In fact, all of us now living on earth are the generation that is aware
of the approach of the third millenium and that profoundly feels the
change that is occurring in history.
103. The present generation knows that it is in
a privileged position: Progress provides it with countless possibilities
that only a few decades ago were undreamed of. Man's creative activity,
his intelligence and his work, have brought about profound changes both
in the held of science and technology and in that of social and cultural
life. Man has extended his power over nature and has acquired deeper
knouledge of the laws of social behavior. He has seen the obstacles and
distances between individuals and nations dissolve or shrink through an
increased sense of what is universal, through a clearer awareness of the
unity of the human race, through the acceptance of mutual dependence in
authentic solidarity, and through the desire and possibility of making
contact with one's brothers and sisters beyond artificial geographical
divisions and national or racial limits.
104. Today's young people, especially, know
that the progress of science and technology can produce not only new
material goods but also a wider sharing in knowledge. The extraordinary
progress made in the field of information and data processing, for
instance, will increase man's creative capacity and provide access to
the intellectual and cultural riches of other peoples. New
communications techniques will encourage greater participation in events
and a wider exchange of ideas. The achievements of biological,
psychological and social science will help man to understand better the
riches of his own being. It is true that too often this progress is
still the privilege of the industrialized countries, but it cannot be
denied that the prospect of enabling every people and every country to
benefit from it has long ceased to be a mere utopia when there is a real
political desire for it.
105. But side by side with all this, or rather
as part of it, there are also the difficulties that appear whenever
there is growth. There is unease and a sense of powerlessness regarding
the profound response that man knows that he must give. The picture of
the world today also contains shadows and imbalances that are not always
106. The pastoral constitution Gaudium et Spes
of the Second Vatican Council is certainly not the only document that
deals with the life of this generation, but it is a document of
particular importance. "The dichotomy affecting the modern world," we
read in it, "is, in fact, a symptom of a deeper dichotomy that is in man
himself. He is the meeting point of many conflicting forces. In his
condition as a created being he is subject to a thousand shortcomings,
but feels untrammeled in his inclinations and destined for a higher form
of life. Torn by a welter of anxieties he is compelled to choose between
them and repudiate some among them. Worse still, feeble and sinful as he
is, he often does the very things he hates and does not do what he
wants. And so he feels himself divided, and the result is a host of
discords in social life." 
107 Toward the end of the introductory
exposition we read: "In the face of modern developments there is a
growing body of men who are asking the most fundamental of all questions
or are glimpsing them with a keener insight: What is man? What is the
meaning of suffering, evil, death, which has not been eliminated by all
this progress? What is the purpose of these achievements, purchased at
so high a price?" 
108. In the span of the 15 years since the end
of the Second Vatican Council has this picture of tensions and threats
that mark our epoch become less disquieting? It seems not. On the
contrary, the tensions and threats that in the council document seem
only to be outlined and not to manifest in depth all the dangers hidden
within them have revealed themselves more clearly in the space of these
years; they have in a different way confirmed that danger, and do not
permit us to cherish the illusions of the past.
109. Thus, in our world the feeling of being
under threat is increasing. There is an increase of that existential
fear connected especially, as I said in the encyclical Redemptor
Hominis, with the prospect of a conflict that in view of today's atomic
stockpiles could mean the partial self-destruction of humanity. But the
threat does not merely concern what human beings can do to human beings
through the means provided by military technology; it also concerns many
other dangers produced by a materialistic society which--in spite
of"humanistic" declarations--accepts the primacy of things over persons.
110. Contemporary man, therefore, fears that by
the use of the means invented by this type of society, individuals and
the environment, communities, societies and nations can fall victim to
the abuse of pow er by other individuals, environments and societies.
The history of our century offers many examples of this. In spite of all
the declarations on the rights of man in his integral dimension, that is
to say in his bodily and spiritual existence, ue cannot say that these
examples belong only to the past.
111. Man rightly fears falling victim to an
oppression that will deprive him of his interior freedom, of the
possibility of expressing the truth of which he is convinced, of the
faith that he professes, of the abilitv to obey the voice of conscience
that tells him the right path to follow. The technical means at the
disposal of modern society conceal within themselves not only the
possibility of self-destruction through military conflict, but also the
possibility of a "peaceful" subjugation of individuals, of environments,
of entire societies and of nations, that for one reason or another might
prove inconvenient for those who possess the necessary means and are
ready to use them without scruple. An instance is the continued
existence of torture, systematically used by authority as a means of
domination and political oppression and practiced by subordinates with
112. Together with awareness of the biological
threat, therefore, there is a growing awareness of yet another threat,
even more destructive of what is essentially human, what is intimately
bound up with the dignity of the person and his or her right to truth
113. All this is happening against the
background of the gigantic remorse caused by the fact that, side by side
with wealthy and surfeited people and societies, living in plenty and
ruled by consumerism and pleasure, the same human family contains
individuals and groups that are suffering from hunger. There are babies
dying of hunger under their mothers' eyes. In various parts of the
world, in various socio-economic systems, there exist entire areas of
poverty, shortage and underdevelopment. This fact is universally known.
114. The state of inequality between
individuals and between nations not only still exists; it is increasing.
It still happens that side by side uith those who are wealthy and living
in plenty there exist those who are living in want, suffering misery and
often actually dying of hunger; and their number reaches tens, even
hundreds of millions. This is why moral uneasiness is destined to become
even more acute. It is obvious that a fundamental defect, or rather a
series of defects, indeed a defective machinery is at the root of
contemporary economics and materialistic civilization, which does not
allow the human family to break free from such radically unjust
115. This picture of today's world in uhich
there is so much evil, both physical and moral, so as to make it a world
entangled in contradictions and tensions, and at the same time full of
threats to human freedom, conscience and religion--this picture explains
the uneasiness felt by contemporary man. This uneasiness is experienced
not only by those who are disadvantaged or oppressed, but also by those
who possess the privileges of wealth, progress and power.
116. And, although there is no lack of people
trving to understand the causes of this uneasiness, or trying to react
against it with the temporary means offered by technology, wealth or
power, still in the very depth of the human spirit this uneasiness is
stronger than all temporary means. This uneasiness concerns--as the
analyses of the Second Vatican Council rightly pointed out--the
fundamental problems of all human existence. It is linked with the very
sense of man's existence in the world, and is an uneasiness for the
future of man and all humanity; it demands decisive solutions, which now
seem to be forcing themselves upon the human race.
117. It is not difficult to see that in the
modern world the sense of justice has been awakening on a vast scale;
and without doubt this emphasizes that which goes against justice in
relationships between individuals, social groups and "classes," between
individual peoples and states, and finally between whole political
systems, indeed between what are called "worlds." This deep and varied
trend, at the basis of which the contemporary human conscience has
placed justice, gives proof of the ethical character of the tensions and
struggles pervading the world.
118. The Church shares with the people of our
time this profound and ardent desire for a life which is just in every
aspect, nor does she fail to examine the various aspects of the sort of
justice that the life of people and society demands. This is confirmed
by the field of Catholic social doctrine, greatly developed in the
course of the last century. On the lines of this teaching proceed the
education and formation of human consciences in the spirit of justice,
and also individual undertakings, especially in the sphere of the
apostolate of the laity, which are developing in precisel this spirit.
119. And yet it would be difficult not to
notice that very often programs which start from the idea of justice and
which ought to assist its fulfillment among individuals, groups and
human societies, in practice suffer from distortions. Although they
continue to appeal to the idea of justice, nevertheless experience shows
that other negative forces have gained the upper hands over justice,
such as spite, hatred and even cruelty.
120. In such cases, the desire to annihilate
the enemy, limit his freedom or even force him into total dependence,
becomes the fundamental motive for action; and this contrasts with the
essence for justice, which by its nature tends to establish equality and
harmony between the parties in conflict. This kind of abuse of the idea
of justice and the practical distortion of it show how far human action
can deviate from justice itself, even when it is being undertaken in the
name of justice.
121. Not in vain did Christ challenge his
listeners, faithful to the doctrine of the Old Testament, for their
attitude which was manifested in the words: "An eye for an eye and a
tooth for a tooth."  This was the form of distortion of justice at
that time; and today's forms continue to be modeled on it. It is
obvious, in fact, that in the name of an alleged justice (for example,
historical justice or class justice) the neighbor is sometimes
destroyed, killed, deprived of liberty or stripped of fundamental human
rights. The experience of the past and of our own time demonstrates that
justice alone is not enough, that it can even lead to the negation and
destruction of itself, if that deeper power, which is love, is not
allowed to shape human life in its various dimensions.
122. It has been precisely historical
experience that, among other things, has led to the formulation of the
saying: "Summum ius, summa iniuria" (The greatest justice, the greatest
harm). This statement does not detract from the value of justice and
does not minimize the significance of the order that is based upon it;
it only indicates, under another aspect, the need to draw from the
powers of the spirit w hich condition the very order of justice, powers
which are still more profound.
123. The Church, having before her eyes the
picture of the generation to which we belong, shares the uneasiness of
so many of the people of our time. Moreover, one cannot fail to be
worried by the decline of many fundamental values, which constitute an
unquestionable good not only for Christian morality but simply for human
morality, for moral culture: These values include respect for human life
from the moment of conception, respect for marriage in its indissoluble
unity and respect for the stability of the family. Moral permissiveness
strikes especially at this most sensitive sphere of life and society.
Hand in hand with this go the crisis of truth in human relationships,
lack of responsibility for what one says, the purely utilitarian
relationship between individual and individual, the loss of a sense of
the authentic common good and the ease with which this good is
alienated. Finally, there is the "desacralization" that often turns into
"dehumanization": The individual and the society for whom nothing is
"sacred" suffer moral decay, in spite of appearances.
124. In connection with this picture of our
generation, a picture which cannot fail to cause profound anxiety, there
comes to mind once more those words which, by reason of the incar nation
of the Son of God, resounded in Mary's Magnificat and which sing of
"mercy from generation to generation." The Church of our time,
constantly pondering the eloquence of these inspired words and applying
them to the sufferings of the great human family, must become more
particularly and profoundly conscious of the need to bear witness in her
whole mission to God's mercy, following the footsteps of the tradition
of the Old and the New Covenant, and above all of Jesus Christ himself
and his apostles.
125. The Church must bear witness to the mercy
of God revealed in Christ, in the whole of his mission as Messiah,
professing it in the hrst place as a salvific truth of faith and as
necessary for a life in harmony with faith, and then seeking to
introduce it and to make it incarnate in the lives of both her faithful
and as far as possible in the lives of all people of good will. Finally,
the Church--professing mercy and remaining always faithful to it--has
the right and the duty to call upon the mercy of God, imploring it in
the face of all the manifestations of physical and moral evil, before
all the threats that cloud the whole horizon of the life of humanity
126. The Church must profess and proclaim God's
mercy in all its truth, as it has been handed down to us by revelation.
We have sought, in the foregoing pages of the present document, to give
at least an outline of this truth, which finds such rich expression in
the whole of sacred scripture and in sacred tradition. In the daily life
of the Church the truth about the mercy of God, expressed in the Bible,
resounds as a perennial echo through the many readings of the sacred
liturgy. The authentic sense of faith of the people of God perceives
this truth, as is shown by various expressions of personal and community
piety. It would of course be difficult to give a list or summary of them
all, since most of them are vividly inscribed in the depths of people's
hearts and minds.
127. Some theologians affirm that mercy is the
greatest of the attributes and perfections of God, and the Bible,
tradition and the whole faith life of the people of God provide
particular proofs of this. It is not a question here of the perfection
of the inscrutable essence of God in the mystery of the divinity itself,
but of the perfection and attribute whereby man, in the intimate truth
of his existence, encounters the living God particularly closely and
particularly often. In harmony with Christ's words to Philip,  the
"vision of the Father"--a vision of God through faith--finds precisely
in the encounter with his mercy a unique moment of interior simplicity
and truth, similar to that which we discover in the parable of the
128. "He who has seen me has seen the Father.
 The Church professes the mercy of God, the Church lives by it in
her wide experience of faith and also in her teaching, constantly
contemplating Christ, concentrating on him, on his life and on his
Gospel, on his cross and resurrection, on his whole mystery. Everything
that forms the "vision" of Christ in the Church's living faith and
teaching brings us nearer to the "vision of the Father" in the holiness
of his mercy.
129. The Church seems in a particular way to
profess the mercy of God and to venerate it when she directs herself to
the heart of Christ. In fact, it is precisely this drawing close to
Christ in the mystery of his heart which enables us to dwell on this
point--a point in a sense central and also most accessible on the human
level--of the revelation of the merciful love of the Father, a
revelation which constituted the central content of the messianic
mission of the Son of Man.
130. The Church lives an authentic life when
she professes and proclaims mercy--the most stupendous attribute of the
Creator and of the Redeemer--and when she brings people close to the
sources of the Savior's mercy, of which she is the trustee and
dispenser. Of great significance in this area is constant meditation on
the word of God, and above all conscious and mature participation in the
eucharist and in the sacrament of penance or reconciliation.
131. The eucharist brings us ever nearer to
that love which is more powerful than death: "For as often as we eat
this bread and drink this cup," we proclaim not only the death of the
Redeemer but also his resurrection, "until he comes" in glory.  The
same eucharistic rite, celebrated in memory of him who in his messianic
mission revealed the Father to us by means of his words and his cross,
attests to the inexhaustible love by virtue of which he desires always
to be united with us and present in our midst, coming to meet every
132. It is the sacrament of penance or
reconciliation that prepares the way for each individual, even those
weighed down with great faults. In this sacrament each person can
experience mercy in a unique way, that is, the love which is more
powerful than sin. This has already been spoken of in the encyclical
Redemptor Hominis, but it will be fitting to return once more to this
133. It is precisely because sin exists in the
world, which "God so loves . . . that he gave his only Son,  that
God who "is love"  cannot reveal himself otherwise than as mercy.
This corresponds not only to the most profound truth of that love which
God is, but also to the whole interior truth of man and of the world
which is man's temporary homeland.
134. Mercy in itself, as a perfection of the
infinite God, is also infinite. Also infinite therefore and
inexhaustible is the Father's readiness to receive the prodigal children
who return to his home. Infinite are the readiness and power of
forgiveness which flow continually from the marvelous value of the
sacrifice of the Son. No human sin can prevail over this power or even
limit it. On the part of man only a lack of good will can limit it, a
lack of readiness to be converted and to repent, in other words
persistence in obstinacy, opposing grace and truth, especially in the
face of the witness of the cross and resurrection of Christ.
135. Therefore, the Church professes and
proclaims conversion. Conversion to God always consists in discovering
his mercy, that is, in discovering that love which is patient and kind
 as only the Creator and Father can be; the love to which the "God
and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ"  is faithful to the uttermost
consequences in the history of his covenant with man: even to the cross
and to the death and resurrection of the Son. Conversion to God is
always the fruit of the "rediscovery" of this Father, who is rich in
136. Authentic knowledge of the God of mercy,
the God of tender love, is a constant and inexhaustible source of
conversion, not only as a momentary interior act but also as a permanent
attitude, as a state of mind. Those who come to know God in this way,
who "see" him in this way, can live only in a state of being continually
converted to him. They live, therefore, in statu conversionis; and it is
this state of conversion which marks out the most profound element of
the pilgrimage of every man and woman on earth in statu viatoris.
137. It is obvious that the Church professes
the mercy of God, revealed in the crucified and risen Christ, not only
bv the word of her teaching but above all through the deepest pulsation
of the life of the w hole people of God. By means of this testimony of
life, the Church fulfills the mission proper to the people of God, the
mission w hich is a sharing in and, in a sense, a continuation of the
messianic mission of Christ himself.
138. The contemporary Church is profoundly
conscious that only on the basis of the mercy of God will she be able to
carry out the tasks that derive from the teaching of the Second Vatican
Council and, in the first place, the ecumenical task which aims at
uniting all those who confess Christ. As she makes many efforts in this
direc tion, the Church confesses with humility that only that love which
is more powerful than the weakness of human divisions can definitely
bring about that unity which Christ implored from the Father and which
the Spirit never ceases to beseech for us "with sighs too deep for
139. Jesus Christ taught that man not only
receives and experiences the mercy of God, but that he is also called
"to practice mercy" toward others: "Blessed are the merciful, for they
shall obtain mercy."  The Church sees in these words a call to
action, and she tries to practice mercy. All the beatitudes of the
Sermon on the Mount indicate the way of conversion and of reform of
life, but the one referring to those who are merciful is particularly
eloquent in this regard. Man attains to the merciful love of God, his
mercy, to the extent that he himself is interiorly transformed in the
spirit of that love toward his neighbor.
140. This authentically evangelical process is
not just a spiritual transformation realized once and for all: It is a
whole lifestyle, an essential and continuous characteristic of the
Christian voca tion. It consists in the constant discovery and
persevering practice of love as a unifying and also elevating power
despite all difficulties of a pyschological or social nature: it is a
question, in fact, of a merciful love which, by its essence, is a
141. In reciprocal relationships between
persons merciful love is never a unilateral act or process. Even in the
cases in which everything would seem to indicate that only one party is
giving and offering, and the other only receiving and taking (for
example, in the case of a physician giving treatment, a teacher
teaching, parents supporting and bringing up their children, a
benefactor helping the needy), in reality the one who gives is always
also a beneficiary. In any case, he too can easily find himself in the
position of the one who receives, who obtains a benefit, who experiences
merciful love; he too can find himself the object of mercy .
142. In this sense Christ crucified is for us
the loftiest model, inspiration and encouragement. When we base
ourselves on this disquieting model, we are able with all humility to
show mercy to others, knowing that Christ accepts it as if it were shown
to himself.  On the basis of this model, we must also continually
purify all our actions and all our intentions in which mercy is
understood and practiced in a unilatcral way, as a good done to others.
143. An act of merciful love is only really
such when we are deeply convinced at the moment that we perform it that
we are at the same time receiving mercy from the people who are
accepting it from us. If this bilateral and reciprocal quality is
absent, our actions are not yet true acts of mercy, nor has there yet
been fully completed in us that conversion to which Christ has shown us
the way by his words and example, even to the cross, nor are we yet
sharing fully in the magnificent source of merciful love that has been
revealed to us by him.
144. Thus, the way which Christ showed to us in
the Sermon on the Mount with the beatitude regarding those who are
merciful is much richer than what we sometimes find in ordinary human
opinions about mercy. These opinions see mercy as a unilateral act or
process, presupposing and maintaining a certain distance between the one
practicing mercy and the one benefiting from it, between the one who
does good and the one who receives it. Hence the attempt to free
interpersonal and social relationships from mercy and to base them
solely on justice.
145. However, such opinions about mercy fail to
see the fundamental link between mercy and justice spoken of by the
whole biblical tradition, and above all by the messianic mission of
Jesus Christ. True mercy is, so to speak, the most profound source of
justice. If justice is in itself suitable for "arbitration" between
people concerning the reciprocal distribution of objective goods in an
equitable manner, love and only love (including that kindly love that we
call "mercy") is capable of restoring man to himself.
146. Mercy that is truly Christian is also, in
a certain sense, the most perfect incarnation of "equality" between
people, and therefore also the most perfect incarnation of justice as
well, insofar as justice aims at the same result in its own sphere.
However, the equality brought by justice is limited to the realm of
objective and extrinsic goods, w hile love and mercy bring it about that
people meet one another in that value which is man himself, with the
dignity that is proper to him.
147. At the same time, "equality" of people
through "patient and kind" love  does not take away differences:
the person who gives becomes more generous when he feels at the same
time benefited by the person who accepting his gift; and vice versa, the
person who accepts the gift with awareness that in accepting it, he too
is doing good in his own way serving the great cause of the dignity of
the person; and this contributes to uniting people in a more profound
148. Thus, mercy becomes an indispensable
element for shaping mutual relationships between people in a spirit of
deepest respect for what is human and in a spirit of mutual brotherhood.
It is impossible to establish this bond between people if they wish to
regulate their mutual relationships solely according to the measure of
justice. In every sphere of interpersonal relationships justice must, so
to speak, be "corrected" to a considerable extent by that love which, as
St. Paul proclaims, "Is patient and kind" or, in other words, possesses
the characteristics of that merciful love which is so much of the
essence of the Gospel and Christianity.
149. Let us remember, furthermore, that
merciful love also means the cordial tenderness and sensitivity so
eloquently spoken of in the parable of the Prodigal Son  and also
in the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin.  Consequently,
merciful love is supremely indispensable between husbands and wives,
between parents and children, between friends; and it is indispensable
in education and in pastoral work.
150. Its sphere of action, however, is not
limited to this. If Paul Vl more than once indicated the "civilization
of love"  as the goal toward which all efforts in the cultural and
social fields as well as in the economic and political fields should
tend, it must be added that this good will never be reached if in our
thinking and acting concerning the vast and complex spheres of human
society we stop at the criterion of"an eye for an eye, a tooth for a
tooth"  and do not try to transform it in its essence by
complementing it with another spirit.
151. Certainly, the Second Vatican Council also
leads us in this direction when it speaks repeatedly of the need to make
the world more human  and says that the realization of this task is
precisely the mission of the Church in the modern world. Society can
become ever more human only if we introduce into the many-sided setting
of interpersonal and social relationships, not merely justice, but also
that "merciful love" which constitutes the messianic message of the
152. Society can become "ever more human" only
when we introduce into all the mutual relationships which form its moral
aspect the moment of forgiveness, which is so much of the essence of the
Gospel. Forgiveness demonstrates the presence in the world of the love
which is more powerful than sin. Forgiveness is also the fundamental
condition for reconciliation, not only in the relationship of God with
man, but also in relationships between people.
153. A world from which forgiveness was
eliminated would be nothing but a world of cold and unfeeling justice,
in the name of which each person would claim his or her own rights
vis-a-vis others; the various kinds of selfishness latent in man would
transform life and human society into a system of oppression of the weak
by the strong, or into an arena of permanent strife between one group
154. For this reason, the Church must consider
it one of her principal duties--at every stage of history and especially
in our modern age--to proclaim and to introduce into life the mystery of
mercy, supremely revealed in Jesus Christ. Not only for the Church
herself as the community of believers but also in a certain sense for
all humanity, this mystery is the source of a life different from the
life which can be built by man, who is exposed to the oppressive forces
of the threefold concupiscence active within him. 
155. It is precisely in the name of this
mystery that Christ teaches us to forgive always. How often we repeat
the words of the prayer which he himself taught us, asking "forgive us
our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us," w hich
means those who are guilty of something in our regard.  It is
indeed difficult to express the profound value of the attitude which
these words describe and inculcate. How many things these words say to
every individual about others and also about himself. The consciousness
of being trespassers against each other goes hand in hand with the call
to fraternal solidarity, w hich St. Paul expressed in his concise
exhortation to "forbear one another in love." 
156. What a lesson of humility is to be found
here with regard to man, with regard both to one's neighbor and to
oneself. What a school of good will for daily living, in the various
conditions of our existence. If we were to ignore this lesson, what
would remain of any "humanist" program of life and education?
157. Christ emphasizes so insistently the need
to forgive others that when Peter asked him how many times he should
forgive his neighbor he answered with the symbolic number of"seventy
times seven,"  meaning that he must be able to forgive everyone
every time. It is obvious that such a generous requirement of
forgiveness does not cancel out the objective requirements of justice.
Properly understood, justice constitutes, so to speak, the goal of
forgiveness. In no passage of the gospel message does forgiveness, or
mercy as its source, mean indulgence toward evil, toward scandals,
toward injury or insult. In any case reparation for evil and scandal,
compensation for injury, and satisfaction for insult are conditions for
158. Thus the fundamental structure of justice
always enters into the sphere of mercy. Mercy, however, has the power to
confer on justice a new content, which is expressed most simply and
fully in forgiveness. Forgiveness, in fact, shows that, over and above
the process of "compensation" and "truce" which is specific to justice,
love is necessary so that man may affirm himself as man. Fulfillment of
the conditions of justice is especially indispensable in order that love
may reveal its own nature. In analyzing the parable of the Prodigal Son,
we have already called attention to the fact that he who forgives and he
who is forgiven encounter one another at an essential point, namely the
dignity or essential value of the person, a point u hich cannot be lost
and the affirmation of w hich, or its rediscovery, is a source of the
greatest joy. 
159. The Church rightly considers it her duty
and the purpose of her mission to guard the authenticity of forgiveness,
both in life and behavior and in educational and pastoral work. She
protects it simply by guarding its source, which is the mystery of the
mercy of God himself as revealed in Jesus Christ.
160. The basis of the Church's mission, in all
the spheres spokcn of in the numerous pronouncements of the most recent
council and in the centuries-old experience of the apostolate, is none
other than "drawing from the wells of the Savior."  This is what
provides many guidelines for the mission of the Church in the lives of
individual Christians, of individual communities, and also the whole
people of God.
161. This "drawing from the wells of the
Savior" can be done only in the spirit of that poverty to which we are
called by the words and example of the Lord: "You received without pay,
give without pay."  Thus in all the ways of the Church's life and
ministry--through the evangelical poverty of her ministers and stewards
and of the whole people which bears witness to "the mighty works" of its
Lord--the God who is "rich in mercy" has been made still more clearly
162. The Church proclaims the truth of God's
mercy revealed in the crucified and risen Christ, and she professes it
in various ways. Furthermore, she seeks to practice mercy toward people
through people, and she sees in this an indispensable condition for
solicitude for a better and "more human" world, today and tomorrow.
163. However, at no time and in no historical
period--especially at a moment as critical as our own--can the Church
forget the prayer that is a cry for the mercy of God amid the many forms
of evil which weigh upon humanity and threaten it. Precisely this is the
fundamental right and duty of the Church in Christ ]esus, her right and
duty toward God and toward humanity. The more the human conscience
succumbs to secularization, loses its sense of the very meaning of the
word "mercy," moves away from God and distances itself from the mystery
of mercy, the more the Church has the right and the duty to appeal to
the God of mercy, "with loud cries." 
164. These "loud cries" should be the mark of
the Church of our rimes, cries uttered to God to implore his mercy, the
certain manifestation of w hich she professes and proclaims as having
already come in ]esus crucified and risen, that is, in the paschal
mystery. It is this mystery which bears within itself the most complete
revelation of mercy, that is, of that love which is more powerful than
death, more powerful than sin and every evil, the love which lifts man
up when he falls into the abyss and frees him from the greatest threats.
165. Modern man feels these threats. What has
been said above in this regard is only a rough outline. Modern man often
anxiously wonders about the solution to the terrible tensions which have
built up in the world and which entangle humanity. And if at times he
lacks the courage to utter the word "mercy," or if in his conscience
empty of religious content he does not find the equivalent, so much
greater is the need for the Church to utter this word, not only in her
own name but also in the name of all the men and women of our time.
166. Everything that I have said in the present
document on mercy should therefore be continually transformed into an
ardent prayer: into a cry that implores mercy according to the needs of
man in the modern world. May this cry be full of that truth about mercy
which has found such rich expression in sacred scripture and in
tradition, as also in the authentic life of faith of countless
generations of the people of God.
167. With this cry let us, like the sacred
writers, call upon the God who cannot despise anything that he has made,
 the God who is faithful to himself, to his Fatherhood and his
love. And, like the prophets, let us appeal to that love which has
maternal characteristics and which, like a mother, follows each of her
children, each lost sheep, even if they should number millions, even if
in the world evil should prevail over goodness, even if contemporary
humanity should deserve a new "flood" on account of its sins, as once
the generation of Noah did.
168. Let us have recourse to that fatherly love
revealed to us by Christ in his messianic mission, a love which reached
its culmination in his cross, in his death and resurrection. Let us have
recourse to God through Christ, mindful of the words of Mary's
Magnificat, which proclaim mercy "from generation to generation." Let us
implore God's mercy for the present generation. May the Church which,
following the example of Mary, also seeks to be the spiritual mother of
mankind, express in this prayer her maternal solicitude and at the same
time her confident love, that love from which is born the most burning
need for prayer.
169. Let us offer up our petitions, directed by
the faith, by the hope and by the chairty which Christ has planted in
our hearts. This attitude is likewise love of God, whom modern man has
sometimes separated far from himself, made extraneous to himself,
proclaiming in various ways that God is "superfluous." This is,
therefore, love of God, the insulting rejection of whom by modern man we
feel profoundly, and we are ready to cry out with Christ on the cross:
"Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." 
170. At the same time it is love of people, of
all men and women without any exception or division: without difference
of race, culture, language or world outlook, without distinction between
friends and enemies. This is love for people--it desires every true good
for each individual and for every human community, every family, every
nation, every social group, for young people, adults, parents, the
elderly--a love for everyone without exception. This is love, or rather
an anxious solicitude to ensure for each individual every true good and
to remove and drive away every sort of evil.
171. And, if any of our contemporaries do not
share the faith and hope which lead me, as a servant of Christ and
steward of the mysteries of God,  to implore God's mercy for
humanity in this hour of history, let them at least try to understand
the reason for my concern. It is dictated by love for man, for all that
is human and which, according to the intuitions of many of our
contemporaries, is threatened by an immense danger. The mystery of
Christ, which reveals to us the great vocation of man and which led me
to emphasize in the encyclical Redemptor Hominis his incomparable
dignity, also obliges me to proclaim mercy as God's merciful love,
revealed in that same mystery of Christ. It likewise obliges me to have
recourse to that mercy and to beg for it at this difficult, critical
phase of the history of the Church and of the world, as we approach the
end of the second millennium.
172. In the name of ]esus Christ crucified and
risen, in the spirit of his messianic mission, enduring in the history
of humanity, we raise our voices and pray that the love which is in the
Father may once again be revealed at this stage of history, and that,
through the work of the Son and Holy Spirit, it may be shown to be
present in our modern world and to be more powerful than evil: more
powerful than sin and death. We pray for this through the intercession
of her who does not cease to proclaim "mercy . . . from generation to
generation," and also through the intercession of those for whom there
have been completely fulfilled the words of the Sermon on the Mount:
"Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy." 
173. In continuing the great task of
implementing the Second Vatican Council, in which we can rightly see a
new phase of the self-realization of the Church--in keeping with the
epoch in which it has been our destiny to live--the Church herself must
be constantly guided by the full consciousness that in this work it is
not permissible for her, for any reason, to withdraw into herself. The
reason for her existence is, in fact, to reveal God, that Father who
allows us to "see" him in Christ.  No matter how strong the
resistance of human history may be, no matter how marked the diversity
of contemporary civilization, no matter how great the denial of God in
the human world, so much the greater must be the Church's closeness to
that mystery which, hidden for centuries in God, was then truly shared
with man, in time, through ]esus Christ.
With my apostolic blessing.
Given in Rome, at St. Peter's, November 30 the
First Sunday of Advent, in the year 1980, the third of the pontificate.
Joannes Paulus pp. II
1. Eph. 2:4.
2. Cf. Jn. 1:18; Heb. I:lf.
3. Jn. 14:8-9.
4. Eph. 2:4-5
5. 2 Cor 1:3.
6. Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern Word, Guadium et
Spes 22:AAS 58 (1966), p. 1042.
7. Cf. ibid.
8. I Tm. 6:16.
9. Rom. 1:20.
10. Jn. 1:18.
11. I Tm. 6:16.
12. Ti. 3:4.
14. Cf. Gn. 1:28.
15. GS 9:AAS 58 (1966), p. 1032.
16. 2 Cor. 1:3.
17. Mt. 6:4, 6, 18.
18. Cf. Eph. 3:18; also Lk 11:5-13.
19. Lk. 4:18-19.
20. Lk. 7:19.
21. Lk., :22-23.
22. I Jn. 4:16.
23. Eph. 2:4.
24. Lk. 15:11-32.
25. Lk. 10:30-37.
27. Mt. 18:12-14; Lk. 15:3-7.
28. Lk. 15:8-10.
29. Mt. 22:38.
30. Mt. 5:7.
31. Cf. Jgs. 3:7-9.
32. Cf. 1 Kgs. 8:22-53.
33. Cf. Mi.7:18-20.
34. Cf. Is. 1:18; 51:4-16.
35. Cf. Bar. 2:11-3, 8.
36. Cf. Neh. 9.
37. Cf. e.g., Hos. 2:21-25 and 15; Is.54:6-8.
38. Cf. Jer. 31:20; Ez. 39:25-29.
39. Cf. 2 Sm. 11; 12; 24:10.
40. Jb. passim.
41. Est. 4:17(k) ff.
42. Cf. e.g. Neh. 9:30-32; Tb. 3:2-3; 11-12; 8:16-17; 1 Mc. 4:24.
43. Cf. Ex. 3:7f.
44. Cf. Is. 63:9. 
46. Cf. Nm. 14:18; 2 Chr. 30:9; Neh. 9:17; P . 86 (85); Wis.
47. Cf. Is. 63 16.
48. Cf. Ex.4:22.
49. Cf. Hos.2:3.
50. Cf. Hos 11:7-9; Jer. 31:20; Is. 54:7f.
51. Cf. Ps 103 (102) and 145 (144).
52. In describing mercy, the books of the Old Testament use two
expressions in particular, each having a different semantic nuance.
First there is the term hesed, which indicates a profound attitude of
goodness. When this is established between two individuals, they do not
just wish each other well; they are also faithful to each other by
virtue of an interior commitment, and therefore also by virtue of a
faithfulness to themselves. Since hesed also means grace or love, this
occurs precisely on the basis of this fidelity. The fact that the
commitment in question has not only a moral character but almost a
juridical one makes no difference. When in the Old Testament the word
hesed is used of the Lord, this always occurs in connection with the
covenant that God established with Israel. This covenant was, on God's
part, a gift and a grace for Israel. Nevertheless, since, in harmony
with the covenant entered into, God had made a commitment to respect it,
hesed also acquired in a certain sense a legal content. The juridical
commitment on God's part ceased to oblige whenever Israel broke the
covenant and did not respect its conditions. But precisely at this
point, hesed, in ceasing to be a juridical obligation, revealed its
deeper aspect: it showed itself as what it was at the beginning, that
is, as love that gives, love more powerful than betrayal, grace stronger
This fidelity vis-a-vis the unfaithful "daughter of my people" (cf. Lam.
4:3, 6) is, in brief, on God's part, fidelity to himself. This becomes
obvious in the frequent recurrence together of the two terms hesed we'e
met (grace and fidelity), which could be considered a case of hendiadys
(cf. e.g., Ex. 34:6; 2 Sm. 2:6; 15:20; Ps. 25(24):10; (39):11-12;
 (84):11; (137):2; Mi.7:20). "It is not for your sake, O house
of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name"
(Ez. 36:22). Therefore Israel, although burdened with guilt for having
broken the covenant, cannot lay claim to God's hesed on the basis of
(legal) justice; yet it can and must go on hoping and trusting to obtain
it, since the God of the covenant is really "responsible for his love."
The fruits of this love are forgiveness and restoration to grace, the
reestablishment of the interior covenant.
The second word which in the terminology of the Old Testament serves to
define mercy is rahamim. This has a different nuance from that of hesed.
While hesed highlights the marks of fidelity to self and of
"responsibility for one's own love" (which are in a certain sense
masculine characteristics), rahamim, in its very root, denotes the love
of a mother (rehem, mother's womb). From the deep and original
bond--indeed the unity--that links a mother to her child there springs a
particular relationship to the child, a particular love. Of this love
one can say that it is completely gratuitous, not merited, and that in
this aspect it constitutes an interior necessity: an exigency of the
heart. It is, as it were, a "feminine" variation of the masculine
fidelity to self expressed by hesed. Against this psychological
background, rahamin generates a whole range of feelings, including
goodness and tenderness, patience and understanding, that is, readiness
The Old Testament attributes to the Lord precisely these
characteristics, when it uses the term rahamim in speaking of him. We
read in Isaiah: "Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should
have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I
will not forget you" (Is. 49:15). This love, faithful and invincible
thanks to the mysterious power of motherhood, is expressed in the Old
Testament texts in various ways: as salvation from dangers, especially
from enemies; also as forgiveness of sins--of individuals and also of
the whole of Israel; and finally in readiness to fulfill the
(eschatological) promise and hope, in spite of human infidelity, as we
read in Hosea: "I will heal their faithlessness, I will love them
freely" (Hos. 14:5).
In the terminology of the Old Testament we also find other expressions,
referring in different ways to the same basic content. But the two terms
mentioned above deserve special attention. They clearly show their
original anthropomorphic aspect: In describing God's mercy, the biblical
authors use terms that correspond tO the consciousness and experience of
their contemporaries. The Greek terminology in the Septuagint
translation does not show as great a wealth as the Hebrew: Therefore it
does not offer all the semantic nuances proper to the original text. At
any rate the New Testament builds upon the wealth and depth that already
marked the Old.
In this way, we have inherited from the Old Testament--as it were in a
special synthesis--not only the wealth of expressions used by those
books in order to define God's mercy, but also a specific and obviously
anthropomorphic "psychology" of God: the image of his anxious love,
which in contact with evil, and in particular with the sin of the
individual and of the people, is manifested as mercy. This image is made
up not only of the rather general content of the verb hanan but also of
the content of hesed and rahamim. The term hanan expresses a wider
concept: It means in fact the manifestation of grace, which involves, so
to speak, a constant predisposition to be generous, benevolent and
In addition to these basic semantic elements, the Old Testament concept
of mercy is also made up of what is included in the very hamal, which
literally means to spare (a defeated enemy) but also to show mercy and
compassion, and in consequence forgiveness and remission of guilt. There
is also the term hus. which expresses pity and compassion, but
especially in the affective sense. These terms appear more rarely in the
biblical texts to denote mercy. In addition, one must note the word
emet, already mentioned: It means primarily solidity, security (in the
Greek of the Septuagint: truth) and then fidelity, and in this way it
seems to link up with the semantic content proper to the term hesed.
53. Ps. 40(39):11; 98(97):2f; Is. 45:21; 51:5, 8; 56:1.
54. Wis. 11:24.
55. I Jn. 4:16.
56. Jer. 31:3.
57. Is. 54:10.
58. Jon. 4:2, 11; Ps. 145(144):9; Sir. 18:8-14; Wis. 11:23-12:1.
59. Jn. 14:9.
60. In both places it is a case of hesed, i.e., the fidelity that God
manifests to his own love for the people, fidelity to the promises that
will find their definitive fulfillment precisely in the motherhood of
the mother of God (cf. Lk. 1:49-54).
61. Cf. Lk. 1:72. Here too it is a case of mercy in the meaning of
hesed, insofar as in the following sentences, in which Zechariah speaks
of the "tender mercy of our God," there is clearly expressed the second
meaning, namely rahamim (Latin translation: visera misencordiae), which
rather identifies God's mercy with a mother's love.
62. Cf. Lk. 15:14-32.
63. Lk. 15:18-19.
64. Lk. 15:20.
65. Lk. 15:32.
66. Cf. Lk. 15:3-6.
67. Cf. Lk. 15:8-9.
68. I Cor. 13:4-8.
69. Cf. Rom. 12:21.
70. Cf. the liturgy of the Easter Vigil: the Exsultet.
71. Acts 10:38.
72. Mt. 9:35.
73. Cf. Mk. 15:37; Jn. 19:30.
74. Is. 53:5.
75. 2 Cor. 5:21.
77. The Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed.
78. Jn. 3:16.
79. Cf. Jn. 14:9.
80. Mt. 10:28.
81. Phil. 2:8.
82. 2 Cor. 5:21.
83. Cf. I Cor. 15:54-55.
84. Cf. Lk. 4:18-21.
85. Cf. Lk. 7:20-23.
86. Cf. Is. 35:5; 61:1-3.
87. I Cor. 15:4.
88. Rv. 21:1.
89. Rv. 2 1 :4.
90. Cf. Rv. 21:4.
91. Rv. 3:20.
92. Cf. Mt. 24:35.
93. Cf. Rv. 3:20.
94. Mt. 25:40.
95. Mt. 5:7.
96. Jn. 14:9.
97. Rom. 8:32.
98. Mk. 12:27.
99. Jn. 20:19-23.
101. Lk, 1:50.
102. Cf. 2 Cor. 1:21-22.
103. Lk, 1:50.
104. Cf. Ps. 85(84):11.
105. Lk. 1:50.
106. Cf. Lk. 4:18.
107. Cf. Lk, 7:22
108. Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 62:AAS
109. GS, 10:AAS 58 (1966), p. 1032.
111. Mt. 5:38.
112. Cf. Jn. 14:9-10.
113. Jn. 14:9.
114. Cf. I Cor. 11:26; acclamation in the Roman Missal.
115. Jn. 3:16.
116. I Jn. 4:8.
117. Cf. I Cor. 13:4
118. 2 Cor. 1:3.
119. Rom. 8:26.
120. Mt. 5:7.
121. Cf. Mt. 25:34-40.
122. Cf. I Cor. 13:4.
123. Cf. Lk. 15:11-32.
124. Cf. Lk. 15:1-10.
125. Cf. Insegnamenti di Paolo VI, XIII (1975), p. 1568 (close of Holy
Year, Dec. 25, 1975).
126. Mt 5:38.
127. Cf. GS. 40 AAS 58 (1966), pp. 1057-1059; Pope Paul Vl: apostolic
exhortation Patema cum Benevolentia, in particular nos. 1-6:AAS 67
(1975), pp. 7-9, 17-23.
128. Cf. I Jn. 2:16.
129. Mt. 6:12.
130. Eph. 4:2, cf. Gal. 6:2.
131. Mt. 18:22.
132. Cf. Lk. 15:32.
133. Cf. Is. 12:3.
134. Mt. 10:8.
135. Cf. Heb. 5:7.
136. Cf. Wis. 11:24; Ps. 145(144):9, Gn. 1:31.
137. Lk. 23:34.
138. Cf. I Cor. 4:1.
139. Mt. 5:7.
140. Cf. Jn. 14:9.