from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Mercy ( loan translation from Latin misericordia ) is a property of the human character. A compassionate person opens their heart to strangers' needs and takes them kindly.

The colloquial formula “ pity and mercy” indicates that there are different things here, that is, that “mercy” is less about empathy than about generosity that is not in need of it. It is considered one of the main virtues and most important duties of the monotheistic religions Judaism , Christianity , Islam , Baha'i and other religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism . In Judaism, Christianity and Islam, divine mercy (mercy of God) is viewed as an outstanding quality of God .

Käte Hamburger (1985) defined mercy as active charity . The neighbor is always the one whom a person made his neighbor through merciful action . Compassion , on the other hand, is not a character trait, but belongs to the human emotional life. Mercy thus denotes an existential deeply affectedness and an action that is more than a mere feeling of pity.

Concept formation and word history

With regard to the origin of the word, there are two possible sources: According to one thesis, the underlying adjective merciful since the 8th century is due to the Old High German root word armherzi as a loan translation from the Gothic missionary language of misericors (Latin miser "poor, wretched" and cor or cordis "heart") ) meaning "who has a heart for the poor". It is not clear whether this should be part of the Old High German standard vocabulary. This form is to supporting documents as bibelgotisch arma-hairts and Old English EARM-heort to ask.

According to another thesis , the underlying adjective merciful can be derived from the morphemes barm ( Old High German ), barms ( Gothic ), bearm (Old English) translated as "lap, bosom" or the old Indian sk : भर्मन bhár-man translates as "maintenance, care" or the ancient Indian भर्मन् bhar translated as "carry, hold, preserve, cherish, care for, nourish" and the term hearty.

Karl Weigand , the spokesman for the “historical” spelling and co-continued of the German dictionary of the Brothers Grimm, therefore takes the view that the adjective merciful is composed of the old high German words barm und herzi .


In the Tanakh , mercy is one of the great qualities of God. The word רחמים rachamím is determined theocentrically: YHWH is and acts mercifully, shows mercy because he cares for his people Israel . In the central revelation at Sinai, YHWH reveals himself: “The LORD is a merciful and gracious God, long-suffering, rich in grace and faithfulness” ( Exodus 2 Mos 34,6  EU with many parallels). While the “gracious” indicates that God turns to his people, the “merciful” expresses that God sees sin but forgives and remains true to the covenant with his people. This is particularly emphasized by the prophets of the time of exile ( Babylonian exile ): “The Lord has comforted his people and had mercy on his poor. [...] Can a woman forget her child, a mother her biological son? And even if she were to forget him: I will not forget you. ”( Isaiah ) Isa 49:13:15  EU The Hebrew term for mercy is racham . Rächäm (plural) also means womb / womb. The use of the term rachám is often used to describe YHWH's relationship with his covenant people, the Israelites. As a show of compassion or mercy, rachám YHWH towards the members of his covenant people, Isaiah uses the metaphor of a woman who has mercy on her own children that she had carried in the womb ( Is 49.15  EU ).

The ancient Greek noun ἔλεος éleos focuses on the emotion of “pity”, “ being touched ” or “sympathy”. The ancient translation of the Old Testament into Greek ( Septuagint ) often gives the Hebrew word ( Hebrew "Rachamím" רחמים "mercy") again. On the other hand, the Greek noun ( ancient Greek σπλάχγνον splángchnon ) denotes the physical place that expresses this movement, the heart, the innermost, where generosity, cordiality and kindness are at home. The Greek word éleos partly has the same meaning and covers the same word field as the Hebrew word rachamím . In the book of Tobit, which belongs to the late Greek writings of the Old Testament, mercy is required of man in his actions: "It is good to pray and fast, to be merciful and just." Tob 12.8  EU .

In William Edwy Vine (1940), An Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, ἔλεος denotes the outward manifestation of compassion and describes it as presupposing a need on the part of whoever is shown it and means possesses enough to satisfy this need on the part of whoever it is manifested. In the German Bible (especially Luther Bible ), mercy, merciful, mercy, mercy, be merciful and their negations mainly stand for the Hebrew words or roots häsäd (Hebrew חֶסֶד), then for rahamim or for rhm and derivatives, for hnn and derivatives, to a lesser extent also for hûs , hml and nhm .


Vincent van Gogh : The Good Samaritan (after Delacroix ), 1890
Pierre Montallier : The Works of Mercy, around 1680
Frans II Francken : The Seven Works of Mercy, 1605, German Historical Museum Berlin

In the Christian tradition, mercy is not a natural quality of man, but a quality of God, which man possesses on the one hand as a heavenly motive through the inherent love of God and on the other hand is bestowed upon him in a higher form and inexhaustible by God. Already in the Old Testament, God is primarily considered to be “the merciful and gracious” and is repeatedly praised for this (e.g. Ps 103.8  EU ).

Jesus describes God z. B. in the parable of the prodigal son ( Lk 15 : 11–32  EU ) as a generous father who is always ready to be forgiven and thus shows what mercy can mean: an undeserved, but generous care in unconditional love. The apostle Paul emphasizes the dependence of sinful man on the forgiveness of God in his infinite mercy. God out of mercy saves people from entanglement in their guilt, either because they have shown sincere repentance and repentance or because they have repented and done good. The letter to the Ephesians, which explains this idea, comes from the Pauline School: Eph 2 : 4–5  EU .

The mercy experienced by God then also becomes the motivation for action of the believer. In this sense, “mercy” is closely related to e.g. B. charity , philanthropy or humanity (see also diakonia ); the Latin name is caritas (hence the Catholic organization Caritas ).

Jesus Christ illustrated mercy in many parables , such as: B. in the parable of the good Samaritan ( Lk 10,25–37  EU ). His healings were acts of mercy ( Mk 1,16–20  EU ; Lk 8,1–3  EU ; Mk 7,31–37  EU ). The Sermon on the Mount also speaks of mercy:

"Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy."

- Matthew 5,7 LUT

In Jesus' speeches, human mercy is not the prerequisite for God's mercy, nor is it behavior that can be demanded by contract, but rather the consequence of God's experienced mercy, as it becomes concrete in love for one's enemies ( Lk 6: 27-34  EU ).

"Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful!"

- Lk 6.36  EU

Since the Middle Ages, the seven works of mercy have been enumerated as a distinction to God's mercy , which are contrasted with the seven deadly sins (pride, envy, anger, avarice, intemperance, unchastity and indolence of the heart ).

Roman Catholic Church

According to the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church , believers receive the works of mercy through the Holy Spirit . The infinite, unconditional love of God encompasses mercy, both terms are used alternately in tradition.

According to Thomas Aquinas , mercy is the greatest of all virtues on the outside:

“In itself, mercy is the greatest of the virtues. Because it is part of mercy that it pours on others and - what is more - helps others' weaknesses; and that is just a matter of the superior. That is why mercy is given to God as an essential characteristic; and it is said that this is where his omnipotence is most evident ”(Summa Theologiae II-II, q. 30, a. 4).

In his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium of November 26, 2013, Pope Francis quotes this passage to emphasize the primacy of mercy in ecclesiastical action. He has made mercy his program: "Mercy is the true power that can save man and the world from 'cancer': the moral evil, the spiritual evil."

Works of mercy

Seven bodily works of mercy
Caravaggio: The Seven Works of Mercy. 1606/07 (Naples)
  • Food for hungry people
  • Give drink to the thirsty
  • Host strangers
  • Dress naked
  • to nurse
  • Visiting prisoners
  • To bury the dead

The seven bodily works of mercy have been a popular subject in Christian art since the 12th century. Against the background of the humanistic reception of rhetoric , the images of mercy have been scenic and narrative since the 16th century in order to convince the viewer of the value of giving alms .

One of the main works of this pictorial tradition is the altar painting (1606/07) by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio , which was commissioned by the Confraternità del Pio Monte della Misericordia for their church in Naples . In this painting, the artist's strong light-dark contrasts also have semantic significance, as Ralf van Bühren showed. The bright light in the Chiaroscuro Caravaggios can be interpreted as a metaphor of mercy, which helps the audience in their own life to discover forgiveness and mercy as divine grace and at the same time to perform as virtue itself.

Seven Spiritual Works of Mercy
  • Teach the ignorant
  • Advising doubters
  • Comfort those who mourn
  • Sinners rebuke
  • Insults like to forgive
  • Patiently endure troublesome
  • Pray for the living and the dead

In 2016, Pope Francis proposed that the physical and spiritual works of mercy be expanded to include concern for creation.

ZdK declaration

A declaration of the Central Committee of German Catholics in 1995 takes the position: Despite the solid anchoring of the welfare state in the political system of modern states, society today cannot do without mercy. Without mercy, “the motivational basis for social legislation is lost. Without them, new emergencies will not be discovered at all ”. Even if the “social network” catches the greatest need, there are many who fall through its mesh. Only the "officially recorded cases" are included in state and communal social assistance. Therefore, mercy must stimulate and experience a new dimension of perception. "Mercy is the source of social justice."

Worship of Divine Mercy and Holy Year of Mercy

On April 30, 2000, Pope John Paul II stipulated for the Catholic Church that the Feast of Divine Mercy (also Mercy Sunday, Sunday for Divine Mercy) should be celebrated annually on the Sunday after Easter . He was referring to a vision of the Polish sister Maria Faustyna Kowalska (1905–1938), whom he canonized that day . According to the testimony of the religious, Jesus Christ appeared to her repeatedly and instructed her to be the herald of God's mercy. In addition, she should have a picture of the merciful Jesus painted and campaign for the introduction of a “Sunday of divine mercy” into the church year . The creation of the Rosary of Mercy is also based on their visions . In addition, she was instructed to found a new religious community that arose after her death as the community of the Sisters of the Merciful Jesus . These forms of piety should promote an attitude of trust in God and mercy towards one's neighbor.

With his Bull Misericordiae vultus on April 11, 2015, Pope Francis proclaimed a Holy Year of Mercy as an extraordinary Holy Year on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the end of the Second Vatican Council on December 8, 1965 , which runs from December 8, 2015 to December 20 , 1965 November 2016.


In Islam, mercy appears to be an essential, if not the most outstanding, quality of God. In the Koran and especially in the Meccan suras, mercy is seen as a fundamental quality of God. In the suras from the middle period of Muhammad's ministry in Mecca (approx. 615–620 AD), the name of God "the Merciful" is more common than the address "Allah". On the other hand, in the suras that came about later in Medina , the Medic suras, God hardly appears in this way, however, denoted. The Koran contains 114 suras. With the exception of sura 9 , every sura begins with the so-called basmala , that is, the text formula “In the name of God, the most compassionate, the most compassionate”, which incidentally reminds of a great importance in the everyday prayers of Muslims.

Divine mercy is described in two terms in Arabic , ( ar-Raḥmān) and can be translated as "the most merciful" as well as (ar-Raḥīm) which can be represented as “the merciful”. Both descriptions differ qualitatively:

  • ar-Raḥmān"Merciful" in this shows God his readiness and will for unconditional, caring love for people.
  • ar-Raḥīm, "The Most Merciful" shows himself to God in connection with grace and forgiveness, it expresses God's merciful love for man.

While "mercy" is absolute and is seen as a characteristic of God - it belongs to the being of God and is independent of human action - "mercy" is based on a relational relationship between God and man. In this way, mercy is more comprehensive than God's mercy. "Merciful" (ar-Raḥmān) is one of the names of Allah and together with "Merciful" (ar-Raḥīm) the most common name of God found in the Koran . Both names come from the same root word and describe the everlasting love of God, which can be bestowed on man when he accepts it. An expression of mercy, the giving of alms , is the fourth of the five pillars of Islam and therefore one of the main requirements of the faithful . One hadith says:

"Those who are not merciful will not get mercy."

Allah is merciful towards those who repent , as in sura 3:31 where it says: “If you love God, then follow me so that God may love you and forgive you your trespasses! God is merciful and ready to forgive. ”In a similar way it is formulated in sura 19 , 96:“ Those who believe and do what is right, the merciful will give love (one day). "

Nevertheless, according to the statements of the Koran, God's grace is ultimately unclear in relation to his justice and, moreover, the grace of the Almighty towards his creatures is not fixed. So even for pious Muslims there is no assurance of grace and eternal salvation. It really only remains as an encouragement: “Do not lose hope in God's mercy. Indeed, God forgives all sins. He is the Most Forgiving and Merciful. ”( Sura 39 , 53)

Sura 55 , which is entitled “The Merciful” (as a description of God), shows the mercy of God in his constant caring work for creation, which he has given to man, but also in his judicial act in which he punishes the wrongdoers and rewarding believers who keep God's commandments. Thus, all believers are obliged to show mercy.


In Buddhism , mercy is usually referred to as compassion ( Sanskrit : करुण karuṇa as adjective pathetic , sad, compassionate ). Karuna is one of the four Brahmaviharas , in which various forms of interpersonal connection ( metta loving kindness, mudita compassionate joy and upekkhā equanimity) are described, which are to be cultivated. Karuna is essentially the result of meditative insight and experience and thus does not follow an imperative “you should”.

Especially after a disaster , many lay people and ordained people get involved in Buddhist peace and aid organizations .

Confucianism and Daoism

For Confucius , the manners (left) , the goodness of the superior to the lower as well as the philanthropy were important components of the family and state order.

Also Laotse demanded in his book Tao Te Ching in addition to the non-intervention of the natural and unsolicited kindness with each of the people.

Falun Gong

Falun Gong requires the three basic principles of "Compassion," " Truthfulness " and " Forbearance " to be followed as a prerequisite for spiritual success and optimal effectiveness of the exercises .

See also


  • Ralf van Bühren , Caravaggio's 'Seven Works of Mercy' in Naples. The relevance of art history to cultural journalism , in Church, Communication and Culture 2 (2017), pp. 63-87.
  • Ralf van Bühren : The works of mercy in art from the 12th to 18th centuries Century. On the change of a picture motif against the background of modern rhetoric reception . Georg Olms, Hildesheim / Zurich / New York 1998, ISBN 3-487-10319-2 (Studies on Art History, 115). English abstract, German abstract.
  • Karl Bopp : Mercy in the pastoral action of the church. A symbolic-critical theory of action for the reorientation of church practice . Don Bosco, Munich 1998.
  • Stefan Dybowski: Mercy in the New Testament - a basic motive for charitable action . Hochschul Verlag, Freiburg 1992, ISBN 3-8107-2243-X (University Collection Theologie. Exegese Volume 2).
  • His scepter is mercy! Owlfish . Limburg magazine for religion and education 7th year. Issue 13 (2/2014). Limburg 2014 ISSN  1866-0851 - content, some articles available online
  • Matthias Franz: The merciful and gracious God. The speech of grace from Sinai (Exodus 34: 6-7) and its parallels in the Old Testament and its environment . Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 2003, ISBN 3-17-017896-2 .
  • Pope Francis : The name of God is mercy. A conversation with Andrea Tornielli . From the Italian by Elisabeth Liebl. Kösel, Munich 2016, ISBN 978-3-466-37173-0 .
  • Daniil Granin : The Lost Mercy. A Russian experience. Herder, Freiburg / Basel / Vienna 1993, ISBN 3-451-04043-3 .
  • Manfred Hermanns , Angela Stempin: Mercy - out of fashion? A request to society about the dwindling dimension in the welfare state. In: Karl Hugo Breuer (ed.): Yearbook for youth social work. Vol. XVII., Die Heimstatt, Cologne 1996, ISSN  0721-6084 , pp. 161-179.
  • Walter Kasper : Mercy: Basic Concept of the Gospel - Key to Christian Life. Herder, Freiburg im Breisgau / Basel / Vienna 2012, ISBN 978-3-451-30642-6 .
  • Priddat, BP: 'poor' and 'rich': from caritas to employment through wage labor. Economic paradigm shift on the way to the modern age, 72 - 98 in: Habisch, A. / Küsters, HJ (Ed.): Tradition and renewal of Christian social ethics in the times of modernization. Freiburg et al .: Herder 2012
  • Martin W. Ramb, Holger Zabarowski (eds.): Beyond the irony. Dialogues of Mercy. Wallstein, Göttingen 2016, ISBN 978-3-8353-1907-3 .
  • Fulbert Steffensky : Places of Faith. The seven works of mercy. Radius, Stuttgart 2017, ISBN 978-3-87173-177-8 .
  • Andreas Thelen-Eiselen: Mercy. Secondary school workbook and catechesis. Lahn, Kevelaer 2016, ISBN 978-3-7840-3542-0 .
  • Markus Zehetbauer: Mercy as a loan translation. The etymology of the term in Hebrew, Greek, Latin and German - a little history of theology . In: Biblical Notes . tape 90 , 1997, ISSN  0178-2967 , pp. 67-83 .

Web links

Wiktionary: Mercy  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wikiquote: Mercy  - Quotes
Commons : Mercy  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Kate Hamburger : The pity. Klett-Cotta, Stuttgart 1985, ISBN 978-3-60891-392-7 , p. 119
  2. Isidore in Old High German : armhaerzin . Sankt Galler Winithar manuscript, Paulus glosses (2nd Corinthians): armiherzi-dono i. e. misericordiarum
  3. Elmar Seebold : Chronological dictionary of German vocabulary: the vocabulary of the 8th century (and earlier sources). De Gruyter, Berlin / New York 2001, p. 81.
  4. Heinrich Tischner: Cross thinkers etymology: "mercy, mercy". Retrieved July 25, 2017 .
  5. ^ Friedrich Ludwig Karl Weigand: German dictionary: First volume: AL . BoD - Books on Demand, 2016, ISBN 978-3-8460-6116-9 ( [accessed July 25, 2017]).
  6. ^ William Edwy Vine : Vine's Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words. Thomas Nelson Publ, Nashville 1996, ISBN 978-0-78526-020-2
  7. Thomas Söding : Mercy - how far does grace extend? New Testament orientations in a central field of terms. PDF; 96.1 KB, 5 pages accessed from Ruhr University Bochum
  8. a b quoted from Pope Francis: Evangelii Gaudium , also available as a PDF file , No. 37
  9. ( Memento from February 22, 2014 in the Internet Archive )
  10. Seven bodily works
  11. cf. Ralf van Bühren: The works of mercy in art from the 12th to 18th centuries Century. 1998, pp. 55-224.
  12. cf. Ralf van Bühren: Caravaggio's 'Seven Works of Mercy' in Naples . 2017, pp. 79–80.
  13. Seven intellectual works
  14. CNA German: Franziskus: Care for creation is a new "work of mercy" , September 1, 2016.
  15. ZdK declaration “Mercy - A New View on a Forgotten Aspect of Diakonia” (1995)
  16. ^ Canonization of Maria Faustyna Kowalska - Sermon by John Paul II (On the meaning of the Sunday of Mercy) . Libreria Editrice Vaticana. April 30, 2000. Retrieved March 8, 2011.
  17. This is how to pray the Rosary of Mercy! - Jesus to Sister Faustina , accessed April 9, 2015.
  18. Divine Mercy - The Holy Sister Faustina - The Diary - Jesus, I trust in You - The Congregation. Retrieved May 27, 2019 .
  19. Mouhanad Khorchide : Islam is mercy. Basic features of a modern religion. Herder, Freiburg / Basel / Vienna, ISBN 978-3-451-06764-8 , p. 37