Fish Eaters: The Whys and Hows of Traditional Catholicism

``Where the Bishop is, there let the multitude of believers be;
even as where Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church'' Ignatius of Antioch, 1st c. A.D

Becoming Virtuous:
How to Acquire the Virtue of Justice


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 favoritism 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 emphasis,

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 it well.


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:

Aquinas writes,

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 these.

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 from it.

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 country's 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: Respect and Affability

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,

[S]ee how 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 politician.

Aquinas then goes on to speak of the respect owed to people in general, which he characterizes with the word "affability" or "friendliness." He writes,

[I]t behooves 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 crucial has 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:

In General:

♦ 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 all.)

♦ 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 necessary.

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 please.

When someone does something nice for you, say "thank you" and look at the person you're thanking when you do it.

♦ 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.
♦ 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 get her, thank him. If Jane isn’t there, say something like “I’m sorry to have bothered you. Have a nice day. Bye.”

Don't put people on speakerphone when others are around without telling them they are on speakerphone. Phone calls are presumed to be private.

♦ 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, men 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 me."

♦ 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 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 cozy and 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 replacement.

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 charming.

When eating:

♦ 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 eating stops.

♦ 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 sounds.

♦ Don’t gesture with the cutlery. Unless you're Italian and at home.

♦ 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 after meals.

♦ 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 chair 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 Lying also 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 mind or 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 response.

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 you."...

...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 apply.

St. Thomas gives this example of epieikeia: 

Legislators in 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.


1 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?.

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