The Existence of Merit
1. HERETICAL ERRORS AND THE TEACHING OF THE CHURCH. -- a) The medieval Beguins and Beghards held that man is able to attain such a perfect state of holiness here below as no longer to require an increase of grace or good works.(1226) Luther, holding that justification consists in the covering up of sin and the external imputation of the justice of Christ, consistently though falsely asserted that "the just man sins in every good work,"(1227) that "a good work, no matter how well performed, is a venial sin,"(1228) and that "every work of the just deserves damnation and is mortally sinful, if it be considered as it really is in the judgment of God."(1229) Calvin rejected good works as "impurities and defilements,"(1230) which God covers with the cloak of the merits of Jesus Christ and which He sometimes rewards with temporal blessings but never with eternal life. Modern Protestantism has given up or at least attenuated these harsh doctrines.(1231)

b) The Church had defined her teaching on this point centuries before the time of the "Reformers." Thus the Second Council of Orange declared as early as 529: "Good works, when performed, deserve a reward; but grace, which is a free gift, precedes good works and is a necessary condition of them."(1232) The Fourth Lateran Council reiterated this doctrine: "Not only virgins and those who practice continence, but the married also, who please God by having the right faith and performing good works, deserve to obtain eternal happiness."(1233) The Tridentine Council goes into the matter at length in the sixteenth Chapter of its Sixth Session, where we read inter alia: "And for this reason life eternal is to be proposed to those working well unto the end and hoping in God, both as a grace mercifully promised to the sons of God through Jesus Christ, and as a reward which is according to the promise of God Himself to be faithfully rendered to their good works and merits."(1234)

The same Council formally condemned the Lutheran position as heretical: "If anyone saith that in every good work the just man sins at least venially, or, which is more intolerable still, mortally, and consequently deserves eternal punishments; and that for this cause only he is not damned that God does not impute those works unto salvation; let him be anathema."(1235) The positive teaching of the Church may be gathered from the following condemnation: "If anyone saith that the just ought not, for their good works done in God, to expect and hope for eternal recompense from God through His mercy and the merit of Jesus Christ, if so be that they persevere to the end in well-doing and in keeping the commandments; let him be anathema."(1236) The existence of merit in the true and proper sense of the term is specially emphasized as follows: "If anyone saith that ... the justified, by the good works which he performs through the grace of God and the merit of Jesus Christ, whose living member he is, does not truly merit increase of grace...; let him be anathema."(1237) The quietistic errors of Michael de Molinos were condemned by Pope Innocent XI, Nov.20, 1687.(1238)

2. THE MERITORIOUSNESS OF GOOD WORKS DEMONSTRATED FROM SCRIPTURE AND TRADITION. -- Both Holy Scripture and Tradition employ opus bonum and meritum as reciprocal or correlative terms.

a) In the Old Testament the good deeds of the just are often declared to be meritorious in the sight of God. Cfr. Wisd. V, 16: "But the just shall live for evermore, and their reward is with the Lord."(1239) Ecclus. XVIII, 22: "Be not afraid to be justified even to death, for the reward of God continueth for ever."(1240) The New Testament teaching culminates in the "eight beatitudes," each of which is accompanied by a special reward. After enumerating them all, with the promises attached to each, our Divine Saviour significantly adds: "Be glad and rejoice, for your reward is very great in heaven."(1241)

St. Paul, who so strongly insists on the absolute gratuitousness of Christian grace, nevertheless acknowledges the existence of merits to which a reward is due from God. Cfr. Rom. II, 6 sq.: "[God] will render to every man according to his works, to them indeed who according to patience in good work, seek glory and honor and incorruption, eternal life."(1242) 2 Tim. IV, 7 sq.: "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. As to the rest, there is laid up for me a crown of justice, which the Lord the just judge will render to me in that day, and not only to me, but to them also that love his coming."(1243) 1 Cor. III, 8: "Every man shall receive his own reward, according to his own labor."(1244) Col. III, 23 sq.: "Whatsoever you do, do it from the heart, as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that you shall receive of the Lord the reward of inheritance."(1245) The most eloquent exponent of the necessity of good works is St. James, who also insists on their meritoriousness: "Blessed is the man that endureth temptation; for when he hath been proved, he shall receive the crown of life, which God hath promised to them that love him."(1246) In the Apocalypse Jesus says: "Be thou faithful until death, and I will give thee the crown of life."(1247)

b) The teaching of the Fathers is an effective commentary on the Scriptural doctrine just expounded, as may be seen from their homilies reproduced in the Roman Breviary.

St. Ignatius of Antioch says: "Suffer me to be eaten by the beasts, through whom I can attain to God."(1248) St. Irenaeus: "Precious should be to us the crown which we gain in battle, ... and the more we obtain it by combat, the more precious it is."(1249) St. Ambrose: "Is it not evident that the reward and punishment of merits endure after death?"(1250) St. Augustine: "Eternal life contains the whole reward in the promise of which we rejoice; nor can the reward precede desert, nor be given to a man before he is worthy of it. What can be more unjust than this, and what is more just than God? We should not then demand the reward before we deserve to get it."(1251) And again: "As death is given, so to speak, to reward the merit of sin, so eternal life is given to reward the merit of justice, ... and hence it is also called reward in many Scriptural passages."(1252)

c) Theologically the meritoriousness of good works is based on the providence of God. There must be some sort of sanction to enforce the divine laws, -- not only the natural law (lex naturae), but, a fortiori, the "law of grace" (lex gratiae), as the supernatural order is so much more important than the natural.

{GREEK SMALL LETTER ALPHA}) By the good works which he performs in the state of sanctifying grace, and with the aid of actual graces (in gratia et ex gratia), man acquires a twofold merit, -- he helps to execute the divine plan of governance in regard to his fellow-creatures and assists in furthering the external glory of God, which is the ultimate purpose of creation. For this he is entitled to a double reward, just as the sinner is deserving of a double punishment for the injury he does to his fellowmen and the dishonor he reflects upon his Creator.(1253)

It is objected against this argument that our supernatural merits, being finite, are in no proportion to the possession and enjoyment of an Infinite Good. This objection vanishes in the light of the following considerations: (1) Sanctifying grace is a kind of deificatio, which raises man above himself to a quasi-divine dignity that colors all his actions.(1254) (2) The ability of the justified to perform supernaturally good works is based entirely upon the infinite merits of Jesus Christ.(1255) (3) The Infinite Good is possessed by the creature, not in an infinite but in a merely finite manner. Hence there is a due proportion between good works and merit.(1256)

One difficulty still remains, viz.: By what title do infants who die in the state of baptismal innocence attain to eternal beatitude, which they have been unable to merit? We answer: The just man has two distinct claims to Heaven, one as a child of God,(1257) and another as a laborer in His vineyard. Baptized infants who have not yet arrived at the use of reason, possess only the first claim, while adult Christians who lead a good life enjoy also the titulus mercedis and consequently are entitled to a richer reward. Both claims ultimately rest on the merits of Jesus Christ.(1258)

{GREEK SMALL LETTER BETA}) What we have said is sufficient to disprove the groundless assertion that the Catholic doctrine concerning the meritoriousness of good works derogates from the merits of Christ and fosters "self-righteousness." Would it not be far more derogatory to the honor of our Saviour to assume that He failed to obtain for those for whom He suffered and died, a limited capacity for gaining merits? Does it in any way impair the dignity of God as the causa prima to assume that He communicates to His creatures a limited causality, by which they are enabled to act as true causae secundae, instead of being mere causae occasionales, as the Occasionalists assert?(1259) As regards the other charge, no true Catholic is guilty of "self-righteousness" because he regards his good works as "fruits of justification," owing purely to grace. The "self-righteousness" of which Luther speaks is incompatible with the virtue of humility. The faithful Christian, according to St. Paul, may safely rejoice over his merits, because the uncertainty of justification and the consciousness that his good works are but limited at best, are a sufficient protection against self-righteousness and presumption.(1260)

3. EXPLANATION OF THE CATHOLIC DOCTRINE. -- Though the Tridentine Council merely defined in general terms that all good works performed in the state of sanctifying grace are meritorious,(1261) it is theologically certain that the merit due to good works is the merit of condignity.

a) According to Pallavicini(1262) the Fathers of Trent without exception were convinced that the merit inherent in good works is a meritum de condigno, based upon divine justice, and they purposely employed the term vere to exclude that quasi-merit which in the technical terminology of the Schools is called meritum de congruo.(1263) They refrained from expressly employing the term meritum de condigno, because meritum verum is a plain and adequate term, and for this additional reason that they wished to avoid certain theological controversies regarding the nature of the meritum de condigno and its requisites.(1264)

b) We need not enter into these controversies to understand that condign merit supposes an equality between service and reward. The proposition can be proved from Sacred Scripture by an indirect argument. The meritum de condigno is based on a strict claim of justice, not on mere equity. Now the Bible leaves no doubt that God meant to make himself a debtor to man in strict justice. Cfr. Heb. VI, 10: "For God is not unjust, that he should forget your work."(1265) 2 Tim. IV, 8: "... there is laid up for me a crown of justice, which the Lord the just judge will render to me in that day: and not only to me, but to them also that love his coming."(1266) James I, 12: "Blessed is the man that endureth temptation; for when he hath been proved, he shall receive the crown of life, which God hath promised to them that love him."(1267) That there must be a condignitas between service and reward is clearly apparent from such texts as these: -- Wis. III, 5: "... God hath tried them and found them worthy of himself."(1268) 2 Thess. I, 4 sq.: "... in all your persecutions and tribulations, which you endure, for an example [as a token] of the just judgment of God, that you may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which also you suffer."(1269) Apoc. III, 4: "... they shall walk with me in white, because they are worthy."(1270) Not merely as their benefactor but as the just judge, Christ will say to the elect on judgment day: "Come, ye blessed of my Father, possess you the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave me to eat...."(1271) Justly therefore is sanctifying grace, as the principium dignificativum operum, called the "seed of God,"(1272) because it contains a celestial reward even as an acorn contains the oak. True, St. Thomas, to whom we are indebted for this simile,(1273) in another part of the Summa(1274) defends the theological axiom: "Deus punit circa condignum et remunerat ultra condignum," but he does not mean to deny the equality between service and reward, but merely to exalt the generosity that prompts God to bestow upon creatures what is due to them more bountifully than they deserve. Cfr. Luke VI, 38: "Give, and it shall be given to you: good measure and pressed down and shaken together and running over shall they give into your bosom."(1275)

chapter iii the fruits of
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