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The Life of Virtue - Vindication

Tuesday, July 28, 2009
When we hear the word Vindication, or Vengeance, virtue is probably not the first thing we would think of to describe it. We tend to think of vindication as something undesirable at best and sinful at worst, the desire to see oneself triumph over another, to demonstrate that we are right and to show the world that they are wrong. Most of the connotations that the word vindication has in popular usage we would not normally regard as particularly Christian.

Nevertheless, Scripture and Tradition are both clear that there is a place for a virtue of vindication within our faith, when the term is properly understood. St. Thomas understands vindication to be when someone seeks to punish the sin of his brother by imposing some penalty on him. In judging whether this is a good act or not, the crucial thing to keep in mind is the intention of the person who imposes the penalty. If the intention of the one who seeks to punish is focused on the evil committed by his brother and does not move beyond this then it must be understood to be completely unlawful. This kind of vengeance is in danger of itself becoming sinful, since to take pleasure in or get some kind of satisfaction out of the sin of another does great harm to the charity that should exist between brothers and sisters in Christ, who should seek to encourage one another in the life of virtue. If, however, the intention of the one who seeks to punish is to bring out a greater good, if he hopes that the sinner might turn from his evil deeds when punished, for instance, then it a lawful and righteous thing to do. Of course, care should be taken that the punishment itself is not unlawful and that it is not disproportionate to the severity of the crime committed.

Furthermore, only those who are in a position of legitimate authority, whether that is the authority of parents, religious superiors, or lawful governments, for example, can righteously undertake to punish another for their misdemeanours. Thomas, following Aristotle, regards just vindication as a virtue because it can lead a miscreant away from harm and back onto the path that leads to life eternal with Christ our Lord, the exemplar of all virtue and the one who has won vindication over all the sin of the world.

Daniel Mary Jeffries OP


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