What is “false forgiveness.” I have seen that expression a few times, but I am not sure what it is.

This is the second time the issue of “false forgiveness” has emerged.?? We have given an answer on February 8, 2012, but we will expand on that answer here.

All virtues such as courage, justice, and forgiveness have what Thomas Aquinas called corresponding vices into which we can slip if we have too little or too much of this virtue, without it being in balance with the other virtues. Take courage as an example. In its proper place, alongside moderation or temperance, it is a way to stand against fear and to move forward for good even when fear is present. Yet, if there is too little courage (the vice of cowardice) when one should act, then the person might hide under the bed rather than act courageously. If there is too much courage (reckless bravado), without it being balanced with moderation, a “courageous” non-swimmer might jump in the ocean to save a drowning dog, and the non-swimmer ends up losing his life. Too much or too little of any virtue constitutes a “false” expression of the virtue.

In the case of forgiveness, what might “too little” of this virtue be? It seems to me that the person would have a distorted view of justice and conclude, “What the person did to me was not so bad. I think I will go back into this situation for more of the same.” The vice is acquiescence. The person, in other words, excuses the wrong itself and then too hastily reconciles without asking anything of the other person.

What might “too much” of forgiveness be? There really is no such thing as “too much” of the actual virtue of forgiveness because it is centered in agape love and one cannot have too much of that. The false variety (dominance) enters, again, as a distortion of justice, but this time, rather than caving in to the other person’s demands or requests, the “forgiver” uses the situation to dominate the other person. In other words, the “forgiver” does not see the other and the self as equal in their personhood and in their rights and obligations. The “forgiver” now takes every opportunity to remind the “forgiven” about how fortunate he is to be forgiven. It is a power play in which the “forgiver” uses forgiveness for self-interest rather than gives love away to the other person.