Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,
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Augustine of Hippo
Not to exceed due measure in inflicting punishment, lest the requital be greater than the injury—that is the lesser justice of the Pharisees. And it is a high degree of justice, for it would not be easy to find a man who, on receiving a fisticuff, would be content to give only one in return and who, on hearing one word from a reviler, would be content to return one word exactly equivalent. On the contrary, either he exceeds moderation because he is angry, or he thinks that, with regard to one who has inflicted an injury on another, justice demands a penalty greater than the injury suffered by the innocent person. To a great extent, such a spirit is restrained by the law, in which is written the directive, “An eye for an eye” and “A tooth for a tooth.” Moderation is signified by these words, so that the penalty may not be greater than the injury. And this is the beginning of peace. But to have absolutely no wish for any such retribution—that is perfect peace. On the Lord’s Sermon on the...
Such an enactment required a man not to injure others. Supposing him to have sustained an injury, his anger at the wrongdoer must not go beyond an equal retribution. But the general bearing of the legal mode of life was by no means pleasing to God. It was even given to those of old time as a schoolmaster, accustoming them little by little to a fitting righteousness and leading them on gently toward the possession of the perfect good. For it is written, “To do what is just is the beginning of the good way”; but finally all perfection is in Christ and his precepts. “For to him that strikes you on the cheek,” he says, “offer also the other.”
Eye. "This law tended to restrain, not to encourage, fury and revenge. "(St. Augustine, contra Faust. xix. 25.) Some explain it, as if a sum of money could only be required, equivalent to the ransom of an eye, in case a person should be under a necessity of losing or of redeeming it. (Muis; Jonathan)
Retaliation was not left to the injured party's discretion. The judge was to decide. Christ enjoins what is more perfect, ordering us to turn the left cheek, when we have received a blow on the right. The canon law inflicts the punishment of retaliation upon the calumniator. (Calmet)
The law does not forbid the retaliation of wrongs and revenge for injustices when it says, “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” Grace wants our patience to be proven by a redoubling of the mistreatment and the blows that come upon us, and it commands us to be ready to endure double hurt when it says, “Whoever strikes you on your right cheek, offer him the other. And to him who wants to contend with you at law and to take away your coat, give him your cloak as well.” The former says that enemies must be hated, but the latter decrees that they are to be loved to such an extent that we must even pray to God continually on their behalf. .
But what parts of the law can I defend as good with a greater confidence than those which heresy has shown such a longing for—as the statute of retaliation, requiring eye for eye, tooth for tooth and stripe for stripe? Now there is not here any smack of permission to mutual injury. There is rather, on the whole, a provision for restraining violence. To a people which was very obdurate and wanting in faith toward God, it might seem tedious and even incredible to expect from God that vengeance which was subsequently to be declared by the prophet: “Vengeance is mine; I will repay, says the Lord.” Therefore, in the meanwhile, the commission of wrong was to be checked by the fear of retribution immediately to happen. So the permission of this retribution was to be the prohibition of provocation. In this way a stop might thus be put to all hotblooded injury. By the permission of the second the first is prevented by fear. By this deterring of the first the second act of wrong fails to be comm...