"[. . .]mercy is a relaxation of justice" (The Summa Theologica, St. Thomas Aquinas). A debatable point introduced in the professional yet intricately spiritual work of the Catholic master of God's pen, this statement poses as the blunt instigator for an easily overheated disagreement; one would have to be wary so as not to burn oneself. Does clemency truly incapacitate the impartial authorities of justice? So disputable is this concise phrase that it has achieved an admirable level of conversational incursions: one party arguing for deserved balance, rightful justice: however dark the cloth over the eyes may be, the hand may still feel the scale, while the other strongly shouts otherwise: however correct, however technically vindicated it may be, justice is toppled by the light of mercy, a compassion so paramount that it may only shine from Heaven.
A superb representation of this timeless conflict lies at the heart of the singsong tale of Antonio, a young, pitiable businessman, an often watery-eyed chap living in an equally aquatic metropolis: The Merchant of Venice, by none other than the King's Bard, William Shakespeare. The quarrel in this particular case is that of life or death, of flesh or coin: at the time of the argument, Antonio, being the foolhardy (yet strangely successful) individual that he is, has somehow managed to squirm his way into quite the hefty dilemma, as Mr. Shakespeare's characters often do. Earlier in the story, he, wallowing in a hopeless pit of steadfast adoration for his closest comrade, Bassanio, rashly takes out a loan of three thousand ducats (a worthy sum) for the flamboyant young man, a rather mindless move on his part, as his lurid companion is, when given but the tiniest morsel of shiny substances, instantly transformed into an inebriated child illegally admitted into a casino where all the prizes are sweets. To further curdle the deal, not only is the lender a Jew (by the name of Shylock), notorious for his cruelty, but an allotment of Antonio's flesh is selected to be the compensation if repayment is impossible. Once again confirming his naiveté with a fierce pound on the table, Antonio accepts for his darling chum, so that the irresponsible Bassanio may claim the woman of his dreams, Portia, and leave poor Antonio weeping in the dust, as he is wont to do. All seems smooth at first, as not only is the clever Portia blessed with a beauty fairer than perhaps Aphrodite, she also happens to be the sole successor to her affluent father's opulent surfeit in wealth. So, naturally, the loss of Antonio's ships, the source of his dollar, is nearly disregarded when Bassanio succeeds. But alas, the Bard may never sing a canto of naught but joy, for was not tragedy the trend in his time, was not he a lover of Meldomene, however sporadically faithful he was? Between Antonio's silly idea of providing loans free of interest, cheating Shylock out of his 'justly' earned money, and the notion of Jessica, the Jew's pretty daughter, to pilfer every last penny from her home and elope with a Christian, also an associate of Antonio, Shylock is incomprehensibly inflamed. For, is not he a Jew, thus nothing short of a devil in dragging a submissive Antonio to a Venetian courthouse, a court hence obsessively neutral? A bit of trite bickering trickles back and forth, until a Portia in man's garb appears to salvage the day, disproving the so-called righteousness that Shylock demands in his requirement for Antonio's flesh, regardless of numerous offerings of higher sums presented to him. This is the moment when the stage is set for a poignant passage to make its entrance.
Portia, in all probability still a splendor in boy's clothing, resiliently supports the form of mercy, the "gentle rain of heaven," the tears of God in melting the sorrow of His people, as it "[. . .]belongs to Him to dispel that misery" (The Summa Theologica), it belongs to man to nurture his world with that exoneration, to do as He; to be "likest God." Agreeing with the scholarly saint, she calmly explains as to "what compulsion" Shylock must be lenient, setting compassion on an acanthine-littered column, above the dignity of worldly power, above the slice of the richest ruler's staff, for it is the very element of the Lord: "forgive one another, as Christ has forgiven you" (The Summa Theologica, (quoted within it from Eph. 4.32). Being an innateness of God, it is within all, and, as humanity implores Him for a fragment of His mercy, in reception of it they are blessed as He already is; it is twice so, as both the benefactor and beneficiary are exalted: it is perfect, and "[. . .]perfections given to things by God expel all defect" (The Summa Theologica). In absolution one not only gives but also receives, being in the nature of God. Man is worthy of that which he deserves. Therefore, Shylock is perhaps deserving of what he requests, but "[. . .]the work of divine justice always presupposes the work of mercy, [and] [. . .] nothing is due to creatures except for something pre-existing in them[. . .] (The Summa Theologica). Being of God's creation, does not man possess mercy within himself; does he not deserve to make use of it justly? Consequently, Shylock's avarice for a curtained Libra is his undoing: justice is the brilliance of a midsummer night's silver stream, mercy a portion of its completion, the hunter keeping Nix constrained. Simply said, one is not an entirety without the other, and the Jew is left without a throne to stand on, the lily-gilded seat of his truth torn from beneath his toes.
This transcendental quality of benevolence most certainly is not confined to the walls of Shakespeare's world; it is universal, hence found abundantly speckled throughout history. "Love never ends, [. . .] when the perfect comes the imperfect will pass away" (I Corinthians 13: 8-13). Mercy is the manifestation of pathos, of a love permeated by sympathy, and love is the base of all life, as is stated by the Bible and innumerable followers of it; God is the highest form of love existing in the universe. As stated earlier, mercy, love, is perfect. Therefore, by following His Word, one is blessed by His Grace, His Divine Love, which may never fade, even in the most sinful man. To accept His devotion one must become a "king of light in the world of sight" (Allegory of the Cave, Plato), the virtual philosopher: one must learn to love all of His creatures as well, to spread the Word and bathe one's siblings in the totality of comprehension, the perpetual love, the greatest of the three that abide. In doing so, man may be complete, in both justice and in mercy, in logic and in love, the pardoned and the pardoner: when he has finally ascended above those selfish chains of sensation, the petty quibbles he used to prompt, he may cradle his child in the palm of his hand.
In the words of the poor little man of Assisi, the modestly illustrious Saint Francis:
[. . .]Oh Divine Master, grant that I may not
so much seek to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand; to be loved
as to love; for it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life (The Prayer of Saint Francis)
Author's Note: Yes, I am fully aware that closing a piece of work with another's words is highly improper and not demonstrative of a professional, but oh well. I'm struggling with this piece.