|To put it as
simply as possible, Justice is the virtue of giving to others and to
ourselves what is
rightly owed. While Prudence moderates the intellect, Fortitude
moderates the irascible passions, and Temperance moderates the
concupiscible passions, Justice moderates the will.
Aquinas distinguishes two types of justice: commutative justice and
distributive justice. The former pertains to dealings between
individuals, who are treated equally in determining matters of
restitution; the latter pertains to dealings between individuals and
the state -- actors who are treated proportionally and without
or prejudice. But since we're undoubtedly all clear on the ideas that
if you take something from someone, you need to pay it back
(restitution), that murder and stealing are wrong, etc., this page will
focus on the potential parts of Justice and the virtues related to it,
specifically: religion, piety, observance, and epieikeia. It is these
virtues that are not
only not clearly understood, but which are under attack -- some to the
point that they no longer exist in the world at large.
Religion is the virtue of giving God what we owe Him. Of course, our
debt to Him is too large for us to ever pay, but we worship Him as best
we can. This worship -- latria
-- is both of the mind (intellectual assent to the Church's teachings,
mental adoration, prayer, etc.) and the body (e.g., we kneel when we
pray), and sometimes involves a particular place (e.g., we go to church
to adore Him).
I assume that the people reading this have already gotten past the
modern world's New Agey notions against organized religion -- ideas
that ignore Truth and belittle the importance of acknowledging the
body-soul unity, the importance of society, the good of tradition, etc.
And I imagine that you are already aware that you need to be catechized, receive the
sacraments as necessary, embrace the
Church's four creeds, obey the six
precepts of the Church, and have a prayer life. So I will warn
about deficiencies of the
virtue of religion.
Aquinas lists the following as deficiencies: idolatry, divination,
superstition, undue worship, and irreligion (perjury,
sacrilege, simony, and tempting God -- that is, putting
God and His attributes to some sort of test, whether by word or deed,
as Satan did to Christ, and as do those who say things like "If God
existed, He would _____" or "If God is good, He'd ________"). But it is
the problem of undue worship that I want to focus on here, as it's the
problem most pertinent to Catholics in these days.
First, if you haven't read the "Traditional
Catholicism 101" page, I encourage you to do so to get caught up on
the great problem of undue worship (and wrong belief) infecting the the
Church Militant in our times. It goes without saying that we have to
learn the Faith, practice it as it's always been practiced, and pass it
down to our children. Failure to do so is one danger of undue worship.
Another is -- well, I'll quote Aquinas directly. He writes, my
A thing is said
to be in excess in two ways. First, with regard to absolute quantity,
and in this way there cannot be excess in the worship of God, because
whatever man does is less than he owes God. Secondly, a thing is in
excess with regard to quantity of proportion, through not being
proportionate to its end. Now the end of divine worship is that man may
give glory to God, and submit to Him in mind and body. Consequently,
whatever a man may do conducing to God's glory, and subjecting his mind
to God, and his body, too, by a moderate curbing of the concupiscences,
is not excessive in the divine worship, provided it be in accordance
with the commandments of God and of the Church, and in keeping with the
customs of those among whom he lives.
On the other hand if that
which is done be, in itself, not
conducive to God's glory, nor raise
man's mind to God, nor curb inordinate concupiscence, or again
if it be not in accordance with the commandments of God and of the
Church, or if it be contrary to the general custom—which, according to
Augustine [Ad Casulan. Ep. xxxvi], "has the force of law"—all this must be reckoned excessive and
superstitious, because consisting, as it does, of mere externals, it
has no connection with the internal worship of God. Hence
Augustine (De Vera Relig. iii) quotes the words of Luke 17:21, "The
kingdom of God is within you," against the "superstitious," those, to
wit, who pay more attention to externals.
You can pray from the Breviary six times a day, pray a full Rosary and
attend Mass daily, pray constant Novenas for this cause or that -- but
if you don't have charity, you have nothing. I Corinthians 13:1-2
spells this out as plainly as it could be put: "If I speak with the
tongues of men, and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as
sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And if I should have prophecy and
should know all mysteries, and all knowledge, and if I should have all
faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am
nothing." If you have a prayer routine that doesn't lead you to God, if
you are disciplining yourself in ways that make you angry, bitter, or
proud instead of more virtuous and loving, something is wrong, and
something must change. Talk to your priest.
Pages from this site that I hope Catholics read and think about while
keeping in mind the concept of undue worship:
Make a habit of making a Nightly
Examination of Conscience, Or if you're too tired at night, do it
in the mornings. Or at lunch. Or on your drive home from work. But do
it. And do
Piety is almost gone in the West, actively drummed out of us by
educators and the media. There's a snarky cynicism about family life
and feelings of patriotism, which are snidely mocked by those who
consider themselves superior to those with senses of loyalty and duty.
The "superior" ones like to think of themselves as "global citizens,"
owing allegiance to no one.
But piety calls us to know and act on the opposite idea: that we owe
more to our families, friends, and nations than we do to strangers and
those of other nations. Our loyalties start with God, then go to
family, then to friends and neighbors, then to nation, and only then to
"the world." Think of these loyalties as concentric circles, with God
at the center:
Man becomes a
debtor to other men in various ways, according to their various
excellence and the various benefits received from them. On both counts
God holds first place, for He is supremely excellent, and is for us the
first principle of being and government. On the second place, the
principles of our being and government are our parents and our country,
that have given us birth and nourishment. Consequently man is debtor
chiefly to his parents and his country, after God. Wherefore just as it
belongs to religion to give worship to God, so does it belong to piety,
in the second place, to give worship to one's parents and one's country.
The worship due to our parents includes the worship given to
all our kindred, since our kinsfolk are those who descend from the same
parents, according to the Philosopher (Ethic. viii, 12). The worship
given to our country includes homage to all our fellow-citizens and to
all the friends of our country. Therefore piety extends chiefly to
So many people today busy themselves with trying to "fix the world"
while hating their own people and nations, and most of what they do
causes more trouble than it cures. The busy-bodies tend to be people
who are unable to get their families and personal lives under control,
but feel entitled to "change the world" nonetheless. It's the height of
hubris. As Dr. Jordan Peterson would put it, they need to "clean their
rooms" -- and do so long before thinking they have what it takes to
take on cleaning the world.
If your house isn't in order, you have work to do. Finish it before
trying to order things outside of it. Work to have a healthy family life. Make your
home orderly, peaceful, and beautiful. Do things with each other. Talk
and really listen to each other. Apologize to and forgive each other.
Make great occasions of birthdays, name days,
and holy days. Know your family's history, and write it down for those
who come after you. Make a family tree (pdfs to help you: 6 generation family tree; 7 generation family tree; 8 generation family tree). Talk
to your children about
their ancestors. Take care of your aging
parents and grandparents; talk
to them, check in on them, tend to their needs, and do so routinely.1
Remember the sad tale of "The Old Grandfather and His Grandson":
Once upon a time
there was a very, very old man. His eyes had grown dim, his ears deaf,
and his knees shook. When he sat at the table, he could scarcely hold a
spoon. He spilled soup on the tablecloth, and, beside that,
some of his soup would run back out of his mouth.
His son and his son's wife were disgusted with this, so
finally they made the old grandfather sit in the
corner behind the stove, where they gave him his food in an
earthenware bowl, and not enough at that.
He sat there looking sadly at the table, and his eyes grew
moist. One day his shaking hands could not hold the bowl,
and it fell to the ground and broke. The young woman scolded, but he
said not a word. He only sobbed.
Then for a few hellers they bought him a wooden bowl and made him eat
Once when they were all sitting there, the little grandson of
four years pushed some pieces of wood
together on the floor.
"What are you making?" asked his father.
"Oh, I'm making a little trough for you and mother to eat
from when I'm big."
The man and the woman looked at one another and then began to
cry. They immediately brought the
old grandfather to the table, and always let him eat there
from then on. And if he spilled a little, they did not say a thing.
You teach your children and grandchildren how to treat you by how you
treat your parents and grandparents now. Teach your children well.
Then, when your family's made right, look to what you owe your nation.
Loving one's nation and people
doesn't have to entail loving its form of government, or thinking that
anything its leaders decide is good; it means putting its good and the
good of its people before the good of other nations and other people.
It doesn't mean putting other peoples and other nations down, or
thinking your country is better than theirs; it means buoying yours up,
knowing that it is the best for you because
it is your home. Salute your
nation's flag, revere its symbols, obey its just laws, and do what you
can to ensure those laws reflect Christian
social teaching. Know your
form of government and how its laws are made. Work to ensure the
welfare of your people, and teach your children to do so as well.
Observance concerns the respect owed to those not covered by the
virtues of religion and piety.
Aquinas first describes the respect due to those in positions of
dignity, such as judges, military leaders, kings and queens, governors,
teachers, priests, etc. The practice of kissing a priest's hands or a
Pope's ring, the respect given to a judge in a court of law, referring
to policeman as "sir" instead of "pig," calling teachers by their
titles and last names and showing them respect in their classrooms --
these practices are dying out. And it is sad.
Democracy leads to this sort of "leveling out" of distinctions between
people of different status. As Plato wrote, and as I quoted on the
introduction to this sub-section, in democracies,
the father grows
accustomed to descend to the level of his sons and to fear them, and
the son is on a level with his father, he having no respect or
reverence for either of his parents; and this is his freedom, and the
metic is equal with the citizen and the citizen with the metic, and the
stranger is quite as good as either...
... [T]he master fears and flatters his scholars, and the
scholars despise their masters and tutors; young and old are all alike;
and the young man is on a level with the old, and is ready to compete
with him in word or deed; and old men condescend to the young and are
full of pleasantry and gaiety; they are loth to be thought morose and
authoritative, and therefore they adopt the manners of the young.
He later says,
sensitive the citizens become; they chafe impatiently at the least
touch of authority and at length, as you know, they cease to care even
for the laws, written or unwritten; they will have no one over them...
Such, my friend, I said, is the fair and glorious beginning out of
which springs tyranny.
And this is where we are. In a world of sassy kids, disrespectful
students, and scofflaws who burn down police stations.
It's so that those in positions of special respect today too often
don't live up to the dignity of the positions they hold -- perhaps to
the point that the positions they hold can be seen to be generally
corrupt. But those positions
should still be respected nonetheless. Remind yourself of this when you
encounter yet another awful teacher, ideologue professor, or dirty
Aquinas then goes on to speak of the respect owed to people in general,
which he characterizes with the word "affability" or "friendliness." He
man to be maintained in a becoming order towards other men as regards
their mutual relations with one another, in point of both deeds and
words, so that they behave towards one another in a becoming manner.
Hence the need of a special virtue that maintains the becomingness of
this order: and this virtue is called friendliness.
Now, some people are extraverted, and some are introverted, and that's
all well and good. But good manners and a hospitable attitude are for
everyone. What's considered good etitquette changes throughout time,
and fun can be had looking at old books on the subject. From them one
can learn things like "a married lady who dances only a few quadrilles
may wear a decoletée silk dress with propriety" or that "In England, a
lady may accept the arm of a gentleman with whom she is walking, even
though he be only an acquaintance. This is not the case either in
America or on the Continent. There a lady can take the arm of no
gentleman who is not either her husband, lover, or near relative." 2
We may laugh at the specificity and seeming randomness of some aspects
of old-school etiquette, but we can't deny that something good and
been lost along with the very convoluted folderol. That etiquette
changes doesn't make the concept ridiculous or not worth thinking
about. Etiquette, whatever it is in one's time and place, makes social
interactions go smoothly. It signals to those present "I respect you."
And that is sorely needed today.
Below are some very basics that I include in "Nonna's
Book of Virtues," written for children, and tweaked here in a place
or two for adults:
♦ Look around you and see who might need or want something.
Then help them get what they want or need. Is someone carrying
something heavy? Help him! Does someone look hot? Turn a fan on for
him! Does someone look thirsty? Get him a drink. Is Grandma having a
hard time getting out of the chair? Help her up! Use your eyes! And pay
special attention to the elderly, the pregnant, people carrying babies,
the sick, the blind, etc.
♦ If you’re in a place that doesn’t have enough seating, give
up your seat to someone in more need to rest -- the elderly,
pregnant, or sick, etc. Boys are especially to give up their seats for
girls and women. Why? Because boys are stronger!
♦ If someone does something embarrasing, help him to “save
face” – to feel less embarrassed. If no one but you saw or heard him do
the embarrassing thing, you can pretend you didn’t even see or hear it.
If it’s clear to both of you that you did see or hear it, and something
embarrassing has ever happened to you, you can say something like, “Oh,
something like that happened to me once – it was kind of funny.” Smile,
then very quickly change the subject and act as if nothing’s happened.
♦ When dealing with others, pay attention to their moods. If
someone is sad, cheer him up. If he just wants to talk, listen. If he’s
really happy, don’t rain on his parade by talking about sad things.
♦ Don’t gossip. And follow the “Thumper rule”: If you
can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. (What's meant by
that is "don't speak hurtful truths that are unnecessary or imprudent
to speak." It doesn't mean "niceness" is a greater value than truth. At
♦ If someone is being bullied, stand up for him. Don’t ever
approve of bullying, and don’t engage in it yourself. Ever.
♦ Be on time.
♦ Keep your word.
♦ Apologize when
♦ Know how to say
"I don't know" and "I was wrong" when needed.
♦ Don’t ever litter. And that includes cigarette butts: put
spent cigarettes in your cigarette pack if no ashtray is available.
♦ Refer to grown men as “Sir” and grown women as “Ma’am”
or "Madam" unless you’re given permission to call them something else.
If you know
the person’s last name, you can also call him “Mr. Trumblethwaite” – or
call her “Miss Throttlebottom,” or “Mrs. Glickyschtall.” You use
“Miss” for women who are single, and “Mrs.” for women who are married.
If you’re not sure, use “Miss.” (Sadly, some women prefer to be called
“Ms," thereby depriving men of important information pertaining to
their availability when it comes to dating).
♦ Call priests “Father,” followed by their last names (or
just “Father.”). Doctors are called “Doctor.” Professors are called
“Professor.” Use people’s titles.
♦ Don’t interrupt people when they’re talking or busy unless
it’s an emergency or really, truly important. If you must interrupt,
say “Excuse me.”
♦ If you bump into someone, say “Excuse me!”
♦ When someone asks, “How are you?” answer with something
like “Fine, thank you. And how are you?”-- where the "fine" means, at
least, "fine enough for this pleasantry." If it’s a friend or family
member asking, then you can tell him how you really feel.
♦ If you want something, use the words “may I” followed by a
♦ When someone
does something nice for you, say "thank you" and look at the person
you're thanking when you
♦ Don’t talk on the phone or stare into screens while talking
or eating with others. It’s very rude. Turn phones and screens off and
put them away when you’re with others.
♦ Be a gracious winner: don’t gloat (unless it’s the pretend,
just-for-fun kind of gloating). A “Good game!” or “You played hard”
would go far.
♦ Be a cheerful loser; don’t whine and cry if you lose. “Good
game!” works here, too.
♦ Learn how to introduce people. When you’re with two or more
people who’ve never met, introduce them to each other – the younger to
the elder, the one with less social prominence to the one with more,
to women. And let them know something about each other so they’ll have
something to talk about. It might go something like this if your’re
with your friend Lisa, and another friend named Mark walks up, but the
two don’t know each other: "Oh hi, Mark. I’d like you to meet Lisa.
She’s in my class at school. Lisa, this is Mark; he lives next door to
♦ If you don’t know what to talk about with people, ask them
questions about themselves and really listen to what they say. If all
else fails, there’s always the weather to talk about.
♦ When you talk to people, look at them and give them your
full attention. This includes clerks, waitresses, and others who
perform services for you.
♦ Boys, don’t wear your hats indoors (there are a few
exceptions to this when it comes to special sorts of hats).
♦ Don’t talk about gross things in public (bathroom
stuff, guts, vomit, etc.), and don’t do gross things in public (like
picking your nose or passing gas). Remember the virtue of prudence:
there’s a time and place for everything, and there’s a big difference
between the private life of home, and the public life outside of home.
♦ If you cough, cover your mouth. If you sneeze, use a hankie
to cover your nose and mouth, or sneeze into your sleeve or shirt. If
someone else sneezes, say “God bless you!”
♦ This goes beyond
manners to hygiene -- but involves good manners as well (think about
it): wash your hands after using the restroom, blowing your nose,
touching anything dirty, etc.
♦ Hold doors open for people behind you.
♦ If you make a phone call, identify yourself to the person
you’ve called. When someone answers, say, “Hi, this is Joseph. I’m
calling for Jane. May I speak to her, please?” If the person goes to
thank him. If Jane isn’t there, say something like “I’m sorry to have
bothered you. Have a nice day. Bye.”
♦ If you put
someone on speakerphone and others are present, let the person on the
other end of the phone know.
♦ If you’re invited to a party, thank the host or hostess
when you leave, and say something nice.
♦ When someone is in your house, make him comfortable. Offer
him a drink and, at least, a snack. Bring him a pillow for his back,
let him take his shoes off, turn on a fan if she's going through
menopause, bring him an ashtray if he's a smoker (unless someone in
your home is allergic or ill), etc. The spirit of hospitality is
illustrated by the Italian tradition of making guests feel less uptight
at meals by purposefully spilling a few drops of wine onto the
tablecloth to lessen any worries they have about making a mess. In that
same light, consider having a wooden box out in your bathroom, clearly
marked "For Guests: Take What You Need" and include in it antacids,
aspirin, things women might need monthly, matches, a few safety pins,
toothpicks, dental floss, a few still-in-their-packaging toothbrushes,
toothpaste, etc. Have the fan on in the bathroom and a radio playing in
it to make bathroom-shy guests feel at ease. Just generally imagine
being your guest, and think of what it would take for him to feel truly
unawkward in your home.
♦ If you borrow something, return it as quickly as you can,
and in at least as good a shape as it was when you borrowed it. If it
gets lost or stolen, replace it with at least an equally good
♦ Don't make
others' jobs more difficult than they need to be. Return your grocery
carts instead of leaving them for someone else to deal with (or run
into). Have your order ready when the waiter comes. Don't yell at
waiters for bad food (they didn't prepare it) or otherwise blame the
wrong people for something that ticks you off.
♦ When walking with old, sick, or pregnant people, slow down.
♦ Boys, learn how to tip your hat to a lady. It’s very
♦ Make sure your hands are clean at the table.
♦ Don’t blow your nose at the table.
♦ Elbows off the table when the eating begins and until the
♦ Put your napkin on your lap.
♦ Don’t start to eat until everyone’s sitting, everyone’s
been served, and the person with the highest authority begins (at home,
that’s Dad; at parties, it’s the host or hostess).
♦ Eat with your mouth closed, don’t talk with your mouth
full, don’t drink with your mouth full, and don’t make loud chewing
♦ Don’t gesture with the cutlery. Unless you're Italian and
♦ Don’t reach over people to get things from the table. Ask
the person closest to what you want to please pass it to you.
♦ Offer to help whoever is cooking, serving, or cleaning up
♦ Thank whoever made and served the food. If you enjoyed it,
tell them you did, and what you especially loved. If you didn’t enjoy
it, you can still show gratitude and likely think of something nice to
say – maybe “the food was so beautifully colorful!” or “The table was
set so nicely. I love your centerpiece!”
♦ When you’re done eating and leave the table, push your
back in toward the table.
♦ If you’re eating in a restaurant: Don’t put the waiter in
the position of having to make unnecessary trips back and forth. Figure
out what you want and what you’ll need, and ask for it all at once as
best as you can. Be polite and respectful to those who wait on you; say
“thank you” every time a waiter brings you something. Don’t make
waiters’ jobs more difficult; in fact, make their jobs easier if you
can. If you’re in a fancy place, your cloth napkin goes to the left of
your plate when you leave the table. Don’t forget to tip your waiter
well if you live in a place where waiters rely on tips to survive.
If you want something more comprehensive, there's "Modern Manners: Etiquette for All
Occasions" (pdf) published in 1958. But whatever you read, consider
the importance of manners and hospitality, and teach these things to
your children. Teach them to express gratitude
and to practice what
Aquinas calls "liberality" (generosity, a sharing spirit), two
important parts of etiquette and of Justice itself.
Another aspect of observance is truth-telling (noticing a trend with
these cardinal virtues?). As has been said numerous times in these
pages, do not lie. Honesty is rooted in Justice because we owe others
the truth. We owe it to them to not distort their perceptions of
reality, which is precisely what lying does.
You also owe it to yourself not to lie; it leads to more lies, which
leads to other forms of cover-up, which can lead to greater and greater
evil. You've heard the line from Sir Walter Scott's poem "Marmion": "Oh
what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive." Now
think about it. Say you try to deceive someone about something as
simple as what you were up to one Saturday night. "I was at the movies"
you say. Now the person you lied to asks what movie you saw. You tell
another lie in response. "Who'd you see it with?" "Rick," you answer.
Then you realize Rick's coming over tonight to see you and the person
you're deceiving, so you call him and try to get him to lie as well in
order to cover for you. And on and on it goes. That "one little lie"
led to two more, and to provocation of sin in another person.
Studies have shown the more and more one lies, the less and less
reaction is seen in the amygdala -- a part of the brain that plays a
primary role in emotional response. In other words, that lies lead to
more lies by making lying easier is even reflected in brain imaging.3
has a negative effect on health, reflected in "elevated heart rate,
increased blood pressure, vasoconstriction, elevated cortisol, and a
significant depletion of the brain regions needed for appropriate
emotional and physiological regulation." 4 Those who lie
and aren't sociopaths can
feel it in their very bodies; it weakens them. There is shame in it, a
loss of integrity.
Lying can become habitual, and bad habits are exactly what the virtues
are not ("bad habit" is the very definition of "vice"). Don't start the
bad habit of telling lies.
"But what about 'white lies'"? Lies are lies. But dissimulation (cloaking the truth, not distorting
it), evasion, and mental reservation or equivocation (concealing one's
real intention) can come to the rescue in touchy situations in which
true charity isn't served by the naked truth, others' secrets must be
guarded, and hurt feelings are an issue. Grandma knitted you a hideous
sweater? "Oh, Grandma! You worked so hard on this, and I love it. Thank
you!" could be a response -- where the "it" refers to Grandma's
generous labor of love, not to the sweater itself. "Does this make my
butt look big?" "Baby, I love you no matter what you wear. Come here,
woman, I need a kiss!" or "Hmm, I think that other outfit better shows
off your beauty; you look so gorgeous in that red dress" could work in
About mental reservation, the Catholic Encyclopedia says,
The doctrine was
broached tentatively and with great diffidence by St. Raymund of
Pennafort, the first writer on casuistry. In his "Summa" (1235) St.
Raymund quotes the saying of St. Augustine that a man must not slay his
own soul by lying in order to preserve the life of another, and that it
would be a most perilous doctrine to admit that we may do a less evil
to prevent another doing a greater. And most doctors teach this, he
says, though he allows that others teach that a lie should be told when
a man's life is at stake. Then he adds:
I believe, as at
present advised, that when one is asked by murderers bent on taking the
life of someone hiding in the house whether he is in, no answer should
be given; and if this betrays him, his death will be imputable to the
murderers, not to the other's silence. Or he may use an equivocal
expression, and say 'He is not at home,' or something like that. And
this can be defended by a great number of instances found in the Old
Testament. Or he may say simply that he is not there, and if his
conscience tells him that he ought to say that, then he will not speak
against his conscience, nor will he sin. Nor is St. Augustine really
opposed to any of these methods.
Such expressions as "He is not at home" were called
equivocations, or amphibologies, and when there was good reason for
using them their lawfulness was admitted by all. If the person inquired
for was really at home, but did not wish to see the visitor, the
meaning of the phrase "He is not at home" was restricted by the mind of
the speaker to this sense, "He is not at home for you, or to see
...All Catholic writers were, and are, agreed that when there
is good reason, such expressions as the above may be made use of, and
that they are not lies. Those who hear them may understand them in a
sense which is not true, but their self-deception may be permitted by
the speaker for a good reason. If there is no good reason to the
contrary, veracity requires all to speak frankly and openly in such a
way as to be understood by those who are addressed. A sin is committed
if mental reservations are used without just cause, or in cases when
the questioner has a right to the naked truth.
In other words, with mental reservations, we know in our minds what is
true, and we speak it to ourselves and to God while allowing a human
listener to jump to conclusions or deceive himself by a wrong understanding.
But this can only be done for just cause or when the person we're
interacting with has no right to the answers he's seeking.
Truth matters. Truth is Christ Himself (John 14:6), and the "Spirit of
Truth" is another Name for the Holy Ghost (John 14:17). Love truth,
seek Truth, and speak truth. In charity!
Also spelled "epikeia," this Greek word means "reasonableness" or
"equity" and refers to using prudence in honoring the spirit of a law
when following the letter of the law leads to an evil.
When laws are written, they're necessarily universal, meant to govern
in general. But sometimes there are situations in which breaking a law
brings about a greater good than obeying it would. For ex., say the law
says that the speed limit is 45 mph. But it's reasonable that a man
whose wife is bleeding to death would drive 60 mph while trying to get
her to the hospital. Acknowledging that such exceptions exist doesn't
make the law a bad law that doesn't serve the common good in most
cases, most of the time; epieikeia is simply an honoring of the fact
that no lawgiver can foresee every condition to which the law might
St. Thomas gives this example of epieikeia:
framing laws attend to what commonly happens: although if the law be
applied to certain cases it will frustrate the equality of justice and
be injurious to the common good, which the law has in view. Thus the
law requires deposits to be restored, because in the majority of cases
this is just. Yet it happens sometimes to be injurious—for instance, if
a madman were to put his sword in deposit, and demand its delivery
while in a state of madness, or if a man were to seek the return of his
deposit in order to fight against his country. On these and like cases
it is bad to follow the law, and it is good to set aside the letter of
the law and to follow the dictates of justice and the common good. This
is the object of "epikeia" which we call equity.
You get the point, which can be summed up with "use your head, and
serve the cause of charity above all." Remember this concept if you're
ever in a position to enforce rules.
If you'd like to read more -- a lot more -- about epieikeia, see "The History, Nature, and Use of Epikeia in
Moral Theology," (pdf) by Rev. Lawrence Joseph Riley, S.T.J.
There are some parents who are truly abusive, narcissistic,
sociopathic, etc., and sometimes it becomes necessary for a person to
maintain a great distance between himself and those who raised him.
This is an extremely serious, even if sometimes necessary, reality. If
real abuse characterizes your relationship with your parents, talk to a
priest or otherwise seek counsel. Forgive abusers if they repent, and
pray for them always.
2 From "Routledge's Manual of Etiquette,"
late 19th c.
3 Garrett N, Lazzaro SC, Ariely D, Sharot
T. The brain adapts to dishonesty. Nat Neurosci. 2016
Dec;19(12):1727-1732. doi: 10.1038/nn.4426. Epub 2016 Oct 24. PMID:
27775721; PMCID: PMC5238933. URL:
4 Leanne ten Brinke, Jooa Julia, Lee Dana
R. Carney. The Physiology of (Dis)Honesty: Does it Impact Health?.