01 February 2015
01 Feb 2015

Reflecting on the motto of the General Chapter: Mercy and Pardon

Towards the General Chapter 2015: ontributions of  the European Dehonian Theological Commission

by  John van den Hengel, scj

email email whatsapp whatsapp facebook twitter Printable version


Download the text (English) (italiano) (español)

Mercy and Pardon

“Miséricorde” is a frequently used word in the writings of Léon Dehon.[1] Although Dehon uses the word often in a social of political context – mercy for France – or as attached to the name of God (God of mercy), the Sacred Heart (the abyss or symbol of mercy), or Mary (mother of mercy), he has three meanings for mercy that are significant for our topic.

The first is the use of the word in conjunction with forgiveness or pardon for sin. It is probably the most frequent connotation. Mercy is what annihilates sin, overcomes sin. Understood is here the power of God’s mercy to change the condition of the sinner from being “lost”, “condemned” or “excluded” to being “saved.” In other words, mercy changes a person from being a sinner to being “in grace.” Dehon gives no reflection on how mercy accomplishes this, nor does he indicate what it means ontologically for the person to be the recipient of mercy. It is mostly found within the discourse of meditation.

Secondly, Dehon calls mercy the “attribut divin le plus glorifié dans la sainte Écriture. » (RSC,72) In this context, mercy is frequently accompanied by words that speak of “excess.” It is said to be “inexhaustible,” “inexplicable.” Mercy connotes the excess in God, the surplus beyond justice. It is the ultimate face of God in whom Dehon trusts. Mercy is the overriding attribute which refigures the other attributes such as God’s justice. God’s justice is a merciful justice. But it is clear that Dehon is not writing as a theologian. He remains a spiritual writer. In some texts he presents “mercy” not as an attribute, that is, God in his being, but as an exercise. God “chooses” mercy. How? By humiliating self, making sacrifices, by suffering. Through self-denial God chooses to suffer to show mercy. (see RSC 75) Mercy as superabundant and excessive is not God’s selfhood. It remains a choice, made visible in the incarnation and the passion. And so it seems at times that God’s mercy is in fact subject to the law of justice that demands that sin can only be overcome by sacrifice and suffering, due to sin, not by the self-gift of agape. The anéantisme of the French School remained overriding. It is dominated by the incarnation and passion, not by creation and resurrection.

A third use of the word mercy touches on the effect that mercy has upon those who receive it. It makes possible the distribution of God’s mercy to others – “je veux aider votre miséricorde” (RSC 315). The effusion of God’s mercy allows us to show mercy to others –“taking on all the sufferings of our brothers.” (Ext 8035185, 3) It is the foundation for our “compassion for the infirmities of our brothers.” (CAM 253) In line with the theme of the chapter, it makes us merciful to others.


[1] DehonDocs indicates 731 uses of the word miséricorde (plus 65 times the Latin, misericordia) in the writings of Dehon. It compares with charité (1563), amour (3627) and réparation (1063). The main texts in which Dehon speaks of mercy are Couronnes d’Amour, Rétraite du Sacré-Coeur, Mois du Sacré-Coeur, Directoire spirituel, and Études sur le Sacré-Cœur de Jésus.

Article available in:

to our newsletter


Follow us
on our official channels


to our newsletter

Read the Privacy Policy and write to