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In moral and ecclesiastical law, force used by a free and external agent in order to compel someone to perform actions that are against his or her will. It is also called violence. The agent is free when it operates from voluntary choice and is not forced by some element of nature or other inanimate physical force. The agent is external when the pressure to compliance does not arise within the person as in the case of hunger, thirst, or bodily pain.
When absolute violence is used, the will resists as best it can; therefore, a person is not culpable for whatever is done under such influence. Relative violence is that which can be overcome by greater opposition, but the extra effort is not made or enough resistance is given only externally, while internal consent is actually given. As a result, relative violence diminishes free will and corresponding imputability. (Etym. Latin coercitio, restraint, coercion, chastisement.)
All items in this dictionary are from Fr. John Hardon's Modern Catholic Dictionary, © Eternal Life. Used with permission.