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The meaning and origin of the expression: To err is human

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To err is human; to forgive, divine

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Meaning

A proverb expressing the idea that forgiveness is a worthy response to human failings.

Origin

The proverbial phrase 'To err is human' is often heard in its fuller form 'To err is human; to forgive, divine.'. This makes sense of the notion that the originator, the English poet Alexander Pope, was trying to convey. In the poem An Essay on Criticism, Part II , 1711. Pope explains that, while anyone can make a mistake, we should aspire to do as God does, that is, show mercy and forgive sinners:

Alexander Pope - to err is humanAh ne'er so dire a Thirst of Glory boast,
Nor in the Critick let the Man be lost!
Good-Nature and Good-Sense must ever join;
To err is Humane; to Forgive, Divine.

Note that Pope's original wording uses the word 'humane' rather than, as it is now usually spelled, 'human'. This wasn't a spelling mistake, nor have we misunderstood the poet's meaning, just that 'humane' was the accepted spelling of 'human' in the early 18th century.

See also: A little knowledge is a dangerous thing and Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.