Grace: Commentary on the Summa Theologica of St. Thomas, Chapter Eleven
Rev. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P.



After considering justification, which is the effect of operative A grace, we must treat of merit, which is the effect of (sanctifying) cooperative grace.1 Merit is related to sanctifying grace in the same way as operation follows being. (Cf. above Ia IIae, q. III, a. 2 c.)

There are two parts to this question.

What merit is, how divided, and what conditions it demands (a. 1-4); that is, whether man can merit anything from God, whether without grace he can merit eternal life, whether he can merit it de condigno, whether sanctifying grace is the principle of merit, principally by means of charity.

2. What is included under merit (a. 5-10); that is, whether man can merit the first grace for himself, or for another, whether he can merit reconversion for himself after a fall, whether he can merit an increase of grace for himself, final perseverance, and temporal goods.





State of the question. By merit is meant a good work to which a recompense is attached and constituting a right to a reward. It seems that man cannot merit anything from God: 1. because we can never repay Him adequately for what we already owe Him; “We are unprofitable servants,” hence we cannot merit further gifts or reward; 2. because a man who does good profits himself, not God, and therefore God owes us no reward; 3. because God is debtor to no man; “who hath first given to Him, and recompense shall be made him?” Therefore He does not owe us a reward; consequently no man can properly merit anything from God, but only in an inaccurate sense, for merit is a right to a reward.

It should be remarked that the Lutherans and Calvinists denied that man could merit anything from God, and denied in particular that he could merit eternal life. This conclusion follows from their principles, namely, that fallen man is not intrinsically justified but only extrinsically by denomination, through imputation of the justice of Christ, and thus all his works are evil; therefore he can merit nothing from God, and faith alone without the works of charity justifies. 

Against these heresies, it is of faith that a justified man can really and properly merit something from God, even eternal life itself, “and the attainment of eternal life itself provided he gives place to grace.” (Council of Trent, Denz., no. 842; cf. II Council of Orange, can. 18, Denz., no. 191; Council of Florence, Denz., no. 714; Council of Trent, Sess. VI, chap. 16, Denz., no. 809; can. 32, Denz., no. 842.)

From all these declarations of the Church can be drawn the following proposition which is of faith: “The good works of the just truly and properly merit eternal life as well as the increase of grace and glory.” Indeed the Council of Trent (Sess. XIV, chap. 8; Denz., no.  904) defined the value not only of merit, but of the satisfaction resulting from the good works of the just; that is, the just, by good works and by patiently enduring, at the same time, the sufferings inflicted by God, satisfy for their temporal punishment; and this meritorious, satisfactory power is derived from grace, whereby man is a son of God and a member of Christ, by the cooperation of faith; nevertheless, these merits and satisfactions are, to a certain extent, really ours. This last proposition is derived from the condemnation of Baius who declared (Denz., no. 1008): “In those redeemed by the grace of Christ, no good merit can be found which is not gratuitously conferred upon the undeserving”; and (Denz., no. 1010): “The release from temporal punishment, which often remains when the sin is forgiven, and the resurrection of the body are properly to be ascribed only to the merits of Christ.” Likewise Quesnel (Denz., no. 1419): “Faith, the practice, increase, and reward of faith, all is a gift of the sheer liberality of God.” The teaching of the Church on merit is based upon many scriptural texts which set before us even eternal life as the reward to be conferred upon the good works of the just.

The conclusion of St. Thomas is that man can merit something from God, not according to absolute equality, but according to the presupposition of a divine ordination.

The first, or negative, part of the proposition is thus proved by theological argument.

Since merit is a right to a reward, it cannot be in accordance with absolute equality of justice unless there is equality of justice between the parties. But between God and man there is great inequality, for they are infinitely removed from each other, and all the good in man comes from God: “Who hath first given to Him?” Therefore man cannot merit anything from God according to absolute equality of justice, that is, according to strictest justice. (This is found only in Christ for, by reason of the divine person, He was equal to the Father.) Such merit can exist only between equals. In fact, this merit according to absolute equality of justice does not exist among men between a son and his father, according as the son receives from his father that whence he merits.

This is the element of truth contained in the error of the Protestants, of Baius, and of the Jansenists; it had already been affirmed by Augustine when he declared that our merits are “the gift of God” inasmuch as they proceed from His grace.

The second, affirmative, part of St. Thomas’ conclusion is proved from theological argument, supposing revelation of the fact as follows:

God deputed the power to man to do supernaturally good works for something in the way of a reward, as Sacred Scripture avers. But man can freely use this power by doing good supernaturally. Therefore man can merit something from God in accordance with the presupposition of a divine ordination. There is thus a certain parallel between the natural order and the order of grace.

Reply to first objection. Liberty is necessary for merit; that is, a meritorious act must be free, in that man gives to God what is within the range of possibility for him.

Reply to second objection. God does not seek utility from our good works, but glory, that is, the manifestation of His goodness.  Rather, from our devotion to Him, the profit is ours and not His.  Hence it is necessary for merit that we act with the motive of God’s glory, which proceeds from our love for Him, in other words, from charity, as will be shown more explicitly below.

Reply to third objection, which should be consulted: “Since our action has no justification for merit except on the presupposition of a divine ordination, it does not follow that God is made our debtor absolutely, but His own, so far as it is due to Him that His ordination should be fulfilled.” Cf. Ia, q. 21, a. 4: “A work of divine justice always presupposes a work of mercy and is based upon it. . . . And thus in any work of God whatever, mercy appears as its primary root . . . , the power of which operates more forcibly.” Therefore, to avoid vainglory we should recognize that we are “unprofitable servants”; nor should we attribute our good works to ourselves or think that God is obligated to us on their account, when, as a matter of fact, He owes nothing to us but only to Himself, according to the gratuity of His ordination.

I insist. Even our action, inasmuch as it is free and prompt, comes from God and we owe it to Him; therefore neither can we merit by it. 

Reply. We cannot merit by it in strict justice, as will presently be explained, I grant; but by real, proper justice, presupposing, however, the divine ordination, I deny.


From this article it is already possible to draw a definition of merit in general and the basis of its subdivisions. Merit can be defined either in the concrete or in the abstract; cf. Salmanticenses, no. 53. In the concrete, it is an action to which recompense is due in justice (cf. body of the article), or a good work which confers a right to a reward.  In the abstract, it is a right to a reward (Cajetan). This is the formal reason of merit, to which is opposed the guilt demanding punishment, demerit in the abstract, or the reason on account of which sin is deserving of punishment. Thence is derived the basis for the division of merit according as this division is based on the definition of the whole to be divided according to its formal reason, so that the division may be essential rather than accidental, and through members contradictorily or contrarily opposed; cf. the laws of division in logic.

This division of merit is partly contained in our first article and partly in the sixth, which deals expressly with merit de congruo. But it might be well to anticipate the explanation so that the conclusion of article three may be more evident, treating as it does of merit de condigno. It will appear from this that merit is denominated (named), not univocally, but analogically, and first from the merits of Christ, just as demerit is denominated analogically, and first from mortal sin rather than from venial sin; cf. Ia IIae, q. 88, a. I ad Many writers do not consider this, but seem to apply the notion of merit as if it were univocal, whereupon many difficulties arise.

According to St. Thomas and his adherents merit is divided as follows:

This demands explanation, and subsequently we shall find its basis in the articles.

Merit de condigno is merit based on justice according to the definition of merit: the right to a reward.

1. Merit de condigno in strict justice carries within it a value absolutely equal to the reward. Such was the merit of Christ alone, inasmuch as its value proceeded from the divine person by reason of which Christ is equal to the Father. Thus any act of charity on the part of Christ while still a wayfarer was of a value absolutely equal to the eternal life of all the elect. It was worth more than all the merits of men and angels taken together. Therein appears the victory of Christ, according to His own words: “I have overcome the world.”

Hence Thomists commonly teach, contrary to Scotus, that the acts of Christ were of absolutely infinite intrinsic value both for merit and for satisfaction, and that His merit was de condigno in strictest justice, even commutative, at the very pinnacle of right, and even superabounding, cf. IIIa, 9.46, a.6 ad 6; q.48, a. 1 and 2; for the charity of Christ dying on the cross was more pleasing to God than all the sins of men taken together were displeasing.

2. But merit de condigno which is merely condign is not defined in the same way by Thomists and by Scotus; cf. Billuart. Scotus says that the act of charity of a wayfarer is not properly and intrinsically meritorious de condigno for eternal life; but only so extrinsically, by divine ordination and acceptation. In fact, he accordingly holds that God can accept merely natural good works as meritorious for eternal life; in this the Nominalists agree. Herein appears the contingentism and libertism of Scotus, the root of whose theory is that, for him, habitual grace is not substantially supernatural but only extrinsically so, in the same way as the restoration of natural sight to a blind man by supernatural means.

Thomists maintain that the act of charity of a wayfarer is properly and intrinsically meritorious de condigno for eternal life from the very nature of charity and of grace, the seed of glory, presupposing, however, the divine ordination and promise, without which there would be no strict right to eternal life, but only a relation to it. This is a corollary of the definition of grace essentially supernatural as a physical and formal participation in the divine nature, which is opposed to Scotist and Nominalist theory. (Cf. Salmanticenses, De gratia, “de merito,” disp. II; John of St. Thomas; Billuart.)

Merit de congruo is that which is not founded on justice; it is twofold:

1. Merit de congruo, strictly speaking, is based on friendship or on a friendly right to a reward; it is found in works done out of charity, inasmuch as charity is analogically but properly a certain friendship between God and the just man. Thus a just man can merit the first grace for another man; a Christian mother can likewise merit de congruo even the very conversion of her son, as did St. Monica and as the blessed Virgin Mary merited for us de congruo what Christ merited for us de condigno, so Pius X declares in his encyclical Ad diem illum, February 2, 1904 (Denz., no. 3034). This merit de congruo and presupposes the state of grace. (Cf. below, art. 6 c and ad 1, 2, 3.)

2. However, merit de congruo, broadly speaking, does not presuppose the state of grace but only a certain disposition for sanctifying grace or prayer, just as prayer may be present in a sinner in the state of mortal sin. It is therefore not based on any friendly right but only on the bounty or mercy of God who rewards it. (Cf. St. Thomas, a. 3, body of the article; IV Sent., dist. 15, q. I, a. 3, qc. 4.) Thus, by good works done outside of charity we merit something de congruo, in a broad sense; cf. Salmanticenses2 and Billuart.3 We shall presently find the basis of this division in St. Thomas’ next article. 

N.B. From the foregoing can be deduced a conclusion which is of the greatest moment and to which insufficient attention is paid by some writers: the term “merit” is not applied univocally but analogically, and that not only as it refers either to human affairs (such as the merit of a soldier) or to divine, but it is even applied analogically with regard to the divine referring both to merit de condigno and to merit de congruo and also to their subdivisions. It is evident from this that analogous concepts share the same name in common but the reason signified by the name is not absolutely the same in both (as in univocal concepts), but different absolutely and the same under a certain aspect (that is, either comparatively or proportionally the same). Manifestly, with respect to dignity, merit is denominated in the first place from the merits of Christ, and with respect to application of the name, it is denominated in the first place from merit in the human order, for instance, the merit of a soldier.  Merit thus refers analogically (by an analogy of proportion) but nevertheless properly and intrinsically, that is, more than metaphorically, to merit de condigno and also to merit de congruo strictly speaking. But it does not refer properly but metaphorically, or according to an analogy of extrinsic attribution, to merit de congruo broadly speaking; cf. Salmanticenses.






The reply is that neither in the state of integral nature nor in the state of fallen nature can a man by purely natural powers, or without grace, merit eternal life. This is of faith.

Proof from authority. “The grace of God life everlasting” (Rom. 6:23); “If I . . . have not charity, I am nothing . . . it profiteth me nothing” (I Cor. 13:2-3). Furthermore this was defined against the Pelagians and Semi-Pelagians at the Council of Orange (Denz., no.  178), which afirmed that there can be no beginning of salvation without grace. Again, the Council of Trent (Sess. VI, chap. 8; Denz., no.  801) declared “none of those things which precede justification, whether faith or works, to merit the grace of justification itself”; therefore, much less glory which is eternal life. In the same way theologians commonly distinguish salutary but not meritorious works, which precede justification, from meritorious works which presuppose it. There are also the condemned propositions of Baius (Denz., 1013, 1015), who held that the works of the just are meritorious” not from the fact that they are accomplished through grace, but because they are conformed to the law.” There is a confusion of the two orders in Baius as well as in Pelagius, but by an inverse mode; for Pelagius, the optimist, the works of Christian life are not beyond the powers of nature; for Baius, the pessimist, they do not surpass the requirements of nature, hence they are not strictly supernatural; and grace, according to Baius, is reducible to integrity of nature. 

Theological proof. Although the answer is revealed elsewhere, it can also be proved from more universal principles of faith. Eternal life, as essentially supernatural, exceeds the proportion of created nature and of its natural operations. But merit is a work conferring a right to a proportionate reward, on account of divine preordination (preceding article). Therefore man cannot by purely natural powers merit eternal life.

In a word, it is out of proportion with either merit de condigno or merit de congruo, properly speaking. This is true of the state of integral nature and, with still greater reason, of the state of pure nature or of fallen nature.

Confirmation for the state of corrupt or fallen nature. No one living in the state of sin can merit eternal life, unless he is first reconciled to God by the forgiveness of sin, as will be made clearer below. But sin is not forgiven except by grace, as has been said. Therefore.4



First objection. But a sinner can observe several commandments of the Decalogue and also hear Mass.

Reply. I distinguish: he can observe them in substance, granted; but as to mode, that is, by charity, denied.

Second objection. An evil deed merits punishment without the habit of malice; therefore a good deed merits a reward without the habit of grace.

Reply. I deny the consequence, since proportionately more is required for good and meritorious action than for doing evil; for good proceeds from an integral cause, whereas evil arises from any defect and mortal sin from any grave defect. On the other hand, a mortal sin of itself leads to the status of eternal punishment, while a good work without grace does not possess any condignity to eternal life, since the dignity of the worker is lacking.

Third objection. Man in the state of sin can satisfy by self-imposed penance; therefore he can also merit.

Reply. Admitting the premise, which is disputed, there is still a disparity in that satisfaction is estimated according to an equality between the punishment and the guilt, but merit according to the condignity of the work as well as the worker compared with the reward.

Fourth objection. Then the naturally good works which are per-formed before justification are useless.

Reply. They are not meritorious (cf. above, q. 109, a. I and 6), but in a measure they prepare the way for grace if they are performed under actual grace by a will which has begun to be converted; cf. Billuart. But works that are merely natural although ethically good neither prepare the way for grace (q. 109, a. I and 6), nor for still greater reason do they merit it de congruo, nor, accordingly, de condigno. However, they are not utterly useless; for they serve the purpose of preventing further sins and oppose less obstacles to grace. 




State of the question. It seems not to be so for: 1. the Apostle says (Rom. 8:18): “The sufferings of this time are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come, that shall be revealed in us”; 2. no act of the present life can be equal to eternal life.

The reply, nevertheless, is that the works of the just according as they proceed from habitual grace are properly meritorious of eternal life de condigno. This is a theological certainty.

1. Proof from Scripture: “Be glad and rejoice, for your reward is very great in heaven” (Matt. 5:12); “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” (II Tim. 4:8); the terms “justice . . . just judge . . . render” express merit based on justice; “Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:10); in reply to Peter’s question as to what reward he shall have who leaves all to follow Christ, our Lord answers that he “shall receive a hundredfold, and shall possess life everlasting” (Matt. 19:29). Again St. Matthew (20:1-16) explains this by the example of the householder who renders the daily wage of a penny to those who worked but an hour. And St. Paul affirms: “That which is at present momentary and light of our tribulation, worketh for us above measure exceedingly an eternal weight of glory” (II Cor. 4:17); “God will render to every man according to his works. To them indeed, who according to patience in good work, seek . . . incorruption, eternal life” (Rom. 2:6f.); “For God is not unjust, that He should forget your work” (Heb. 6:10); “And do not forget to do good, and to impart; for by such sacrifices God’s favor is obtained” (ibid., 13:16); “all your . . . tribulations, which you endure, . . .  that you may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God” (I1 Thess. 1:4 f.). Finally the Book of Wisdom had declared of the just: “God hath tried them, and found them worthy of Himself” (Wisd. 3:5). 

2. Proof from the Council of Trent (Denz., no. 842). It is of faith that the just man can “truly merit eternal life and an increase of glory.” From this it can be deduced as a theological certainty (cf. argument Sed contra) that the just man can merit eternal life, not merely in the true sense but also de condigno. In fact all theologians judge by the words quoted from Sacred Scripture by the Council of Trent, that it is here referring to merit de condigno, although this term is not explicitly employed. Cf. also the Councils of Orange (Denz., no. 191) and of Trent (Denz., nos. 803, 809 f.). But if the just man sins mortally before his death and perseveres in sin, he forfeits his merit.

3. Theological proof. Article 3 should first be read.

Merit de condigno is merit of which the value in justice is proportionate to the excellence of the reward, according to divine preordination. But the works of the just, inasmuch as they proceed from sanctifying grace and the movement of the Holy Ghost, are proportionate in justice to the excellence of eternal life. Therefore. 

Thus the words of St. Paul cited by the Council of Trent assume a more explicit meaning: “God will render to every man according to his works” (Rom. 2:6) and “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” (II Tim. 4:8).

The major is explained above.

The minor is proved by the fact that these works are supernatural, that is, of the same order as glory; and an equality of worth is observable both from the dignity of habitual grace whereby man is made a participator in the divine nature, and accordingly can perform works worthy of God as His son and heir, and from the power of the Holy Ghost moving him, which is termed “a fountain of water, springing up into life everlasting” (John 4:14). In opposition to Scotus, it should be added that the proportion is intrinsic, based on the very essence of sanctifying grace which is essentially supernatural, intrinsically ordained toward glory, as the seed of the tree is to the tree.

Reply to first objection. Pain is not meritorious of eternal life un-less it is borne from charity.

Reply to second objection. Every work of justice presupposes a work of mercy.

Reply to third objection. Habitual grace is equal to glory, not actually but virtually, as the seed of the tree, wherein is contained the whole tree in potency. Likewise dwells in man by grace the Holy Ghost, who is the sufficient cause of eternal life, wherefore He is called the pledge of our inheritance. Thus condignity remains, not according to absolute equality with the reward, but according to intrinsic proportion.

Doubt. The body of the article presents a difficulty, for St. Thomas says that the works of the just according to their substance and so far as they derive from free will (not from grace) merit glory as it were de congruo. This is a problem because above in q. 109, a. I and 6, he teaches expressly that man cannot prepare himself for grace by his merely natural powers, and therefore, with still greater reason, he cannot merit it de congruo. There are two interpretations (cf.  Billuart).

1. According to Sylvius, by the works of the just according to substance St. Thomas does not mean works of the merely natural powers (since many surpass the powers of nature entirely as, for example, the acts of informed faith and hope); but he is referring to works proceeding from free will moved by actual grace without the infusion of sanctifying grace and charity. But these can merit glory de congruo

2. The solution of John of St. Thomas is better since it distinguishes between the two kinds of merit de congruo, that is, merit de congruo strictly speaking, based on the right of friendship, and merit de congruo broadly speaking, based on the liberality or magnanimity of God. He affirms that merely natural works, which do not proceed from either sanctifying or actual grace, are not meritorious of eternal life by merit de congruo in the strict sense but only in the broad sense; not strictly because they are of an inferior order and have no proportion to glory, but broadly, that is, out of the bounty of God. Hence St. Thomas does not say “these works merit de congruo,” but, “There is congruity because of a certain equality of proportion. For it seems congruous that if man works according to his power, God will reward him according to the excellence of His power,” or according to His magnanimity. There is here a proportion of workers, not of works.  This is the opinion of John of St. Thomas; cf. a. 5 below for additional explanation.

Refutation of the objections raised by Scotus; cf. Cajetan and Billuart.

First objection. God rewards the just beyond their just deserts, as is commonly said. Therefore the works of the just are not intrinsically meritorious of eternal life de condigno.

Reply. I grant the premise but deny the conclusion. From the fact that God rewards the works of the just beyond their due, it does not follow that the just do not merit eternal life de condigno, but rather that God in His liberality and mercy, which is always united to justice, adds a further degree in the perfection of vision. Thus it is also said that the punishment of the damned is short of what is due because even in their case mercy tempers somewhat the rigor of justice. 

Second objection. If the works of the just were intrinsically meritorious of eternal life de condigno, God could not refuse them glory by His absolute power without injustice.

Reply. 1. This proves too much, for merely by His absolute power God could even annihilate the humanity of Christ and all the blessed, since there is nothing intrinsically contradictory in this. Absolute power is thus distinguished from power ordered by wisdom, whether ordinary or extraordinary. 2. As Cajetan writes: “God, who is debtor to Himself, Himself ordained [to glory] not by an additional ordination, as Scotus thought, but by grace itself, the act being meritorious from the mere fact that it proceeds from grace, . . . as He cannot act against Himself, so neither can He withdraw His reward.” Cf.  below, the conditions of merit. Cajetan possibly exaggerates here in the opposite direction. For a divine promise would be necessary in order that the just man should have not only an intrinsic relationship to eternal life but a strict right to it. Thomists generally hold that beyond the intrinsic worth which meritorious acts possess by reason of sanctifying grace, a promise of rendering recompense is necessary for the existence of a strict right to a reward and for God to be obliged to make a return; but it still remains true that an act proceeding from habitual grace is intrinsically worthy of eternal life.






State of the question. It seems that some power especially infused should be the principle of any merit and labor; but charity rather diminishes the labor. Acts of faith because of their obscurity and of patience because of their difficulty seem to be far more meritorious. 

Reply. Grace is the principle of merit more particularly by charity. 

Proof from Scripture from the argument Sed contra. “He that loveth Me shall be loved of My Father: and I will love him, and will manifest Myself to him” (John 14:21); “Whosoever shall give to drink to one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple (out of fraternal charity), amen I say to you, he shall not lose his reward” (Matt. 10:42); “In Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision: but faith that worketh by charity” (Gal. 5:6); “And if I should have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing . . . and if I should deliver my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing” (I Cor. 13:2 f.).

Theological proof.

1. An act is meritorious by divine ordination according as it tends toward a final supernatural end. But all acts of the other virtues tend toward a final supernatural end, that is, to God loved for His own sake efficaciously above all things, through charity; for God loved for His own sake is the proper object of charity. Therefore. Cf. the answers to objections 1 and 3.

Even if charity imperates the natural act of an acquired virtue, this act is meritorious of eternal life and supernatural as to mode. 

2. What we do out of love, we do with the greatest willingness. But man merits inasmuch as he acts willingly and freely. Therefore.  If a person in the state of mortal sin elicits an act of theological hope, the final end of this act is God loved above all things ineficaciously by a love of concupiscence, and by charity alone is He loved efficaciously above all things with a love of friendship. 

Objection. But charity diminishes the difficulty, and the more difficult a work is the more meritorious it is.

Reply to second objection. Charity diminishes the subjective difficulty which arises from a defect in the worker, but not the objective difficulty which proceeds from the magnitude of the work. On the contrary, charity impels us to undertake arduous labors. But the objective difficulty on account of the magnitude of the work pertains to the increase of merit; on the other hand, the subjective difficulty proceeding from a defect in the worker diminishes merit.

Reply to third objection. An act of faith is not meritorious unless faith acts through love.

Corollary. The Blessed Virgin Mary merited more by even the easiest acts of charity than all the martyrs together in their sufferings, because of the greater intensity of her charity.

Doubt. Whether at least the virtual influence of charity is necessary to merit eternal life. It is a question of merit de condigno of eternal life.

The generality of Thomists and many other theologians answer in the affirmative, against Vasquez, who holds that this virtual influence is not necessary for acts of the other virtues, even acquired, and against Suarez who maintains that this virtual influence is not necessary for acts of the infused virtues.

Proof of the general opinion.

1. From St. Thomas in the present article, 4 c ad I and 3; Ia, q. 95, 4; De malo, q. 6, a. 5 ad 7. In fact, he affirms in II, d. 40, q. I, a. 5 ad 6: “Habitual ordination of an act toward God does not suffice, since it merits nothing by being a habit but by performing an act.” It is the case of a candidate who knows his subject but is mute or unable to speak.

2. The opinion is based on many texts from Sacred Scripture where, with reference to the principle of merit, this is not assigned to habitual charity alone but to its act. For example: “He that shall receive one such little child in My name, receiveth Me” (Matt. 18:5); “And every one that hath left house . . . or father or mother . . . for My name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and shall possess life everlasting” (ibid., 19:29).

3. The principal theological argument is the one already given in the present article, 4 c and ad I. “Charity, so far as it has the final end for its object, moves the other virtues to act, for the habit to which the end belongs always imperates the habits to which belong the means to the end.” In other words, we merit to attain the final end by that whereby we tend toward it, that is, by charity at least virtually influencing us.

First confirmation. For an act to be meritorious of eternal life it must be rendered in obedience to God the rewarder. But this is done by charity virtually influencing it and not by the other virtues. Therefore there must be the love of God at least virtually influencing the act. 

Second confirmation. The essential reward in heaven corresponds to the essential perfection of the way. But the Christian perfection of a wayfarer consists essentially and especially in charity, according to the words of St. Paul: “Above all these things have charity, which is the bond of perfection” (Col. 3:14). (Cf. IIa IIae, q. 184, a. I.) Therefore the essential reward in heaven corresponds to the charity of the wayfarer. Thus the degree of merit is the degree of charity. 

Objection. St. Thomas says, De malo, q. 2, a. 5 ad 7: “To those who possess charity, every act is either meritorious or demeritorious,” since there are no indifferent acts in the individual. But according to the preceding opinion there may exist in the just man an act which is neither meritorious nor demeritorious, since there may be an act good in itself, for instance, ethically good, but without the virtual influence of charity—such as paying a debt.

Reply. In a just man all acts of virtue are under the virtual influence of charity according as the just man, not merely at the instant of justification, but often, elicits and is bound to elicit acts of charity by virtue of which all things are referred to God, as St. Thomas teaches, De virtutibus, q. 2, a. II ad 2. Therefore all the good works of the just are meritorious but not without the virtual influence of charity.  charity is not required. Therefore neither is it required for merit. 

Reply. Let the premise pass (cf. treatise on penance); I deny the consequence, since more is required for merit than for satisfaction, which depends upon an equality between the punishment and the guilt, not upon an equality or proportion between the good work and the excellence of the reward.

Third objection. For prayer to possess impetratory force the influence of charity is not required, for a sinner is able to pray; therefore neither is it required for merit.

Reply. There is a disparity, for impetration of itself refers only to the order of divine mercy, but merit refers to justice. Thus a sinner in the state of mortal sin can pray and does so at times, which is a salutary act, but he cannot merit, except de congruo in the broad sense.  (Cf. IIa IIae, q. 83, a. 15 and 16.) Therefore the conclusion stands: without the virtual influence of charity, no act of virtue, either acquired or infused, in the just man, is meritorious de condigno of eternal life, since charity imperates all the virtues as the will does all the faculties.

First corollary. Merit is greater or less according to whether charity influences the act more or less, proximately or remotely. Cf. treatise on charity under acts remiss in charity.

Second corollary. Subjectively at least, an easy act proceeding from greater charity is more meritorious than a very difficult act proceeding from less charity. Thus, as has been said, the Blessed Virgin Mary merited more by easy acts than all the martyrs together by their tortures.

Third corollary. All the meritorious works of Christ were of the same infinite personal value (inasmuch as they proceeded from the same divine person and from the plenitude of His charity, which did not increase) but not all were of the same objective value. Thus, objectively, His passion was of greater value than, for example, His preaching, on account of the magnitude of the work. In the same way, teaching theology for God’s sake is more meritorious, objectively, than cooking for God’s sake, but if the cook does his work with greater charity than the master in theology, subjectively the cook merits more than the theologian.

From the preceding four articles of St. Thomas can now be drawn the conditions necessary for merit. There are six here enumerated proceeding in order from the more general to the more particular.  Thus we may construct a very clear and complete definition of a meritorious work according to remote and proximate genus and specific difference. But it is attained only at the end of the hunt or inquisition which was pursued through the foregoing articles.

A meritorious work must be: 1. free; 2. good; 3. in submission or obedience to the rewarder (this is true even for merit in the human order, such as a soldier’s merit) ; 4. the work of a wayfarer, 5. proceeding from sanctifying grace and charity; 6. ordained by God to a promised reward. We shall explain each of these conditions briefly. They are all necessary for merit de condigno; in the course of the explanation it will be indicated which are not absolutely necessary for merit de congruo.

1. The work must be free. This is of faith against Jansenius (Denz., no. 1094), whose third proposition is condemned: “For meriting and demeriting in the state of fallen nature, freedom from necessity is not required in man; freedom from coercion suffices.” The reason for this condition is that a person merits or is deserving of reward so far as he injects something of his own, and is the author of his act. But man has dominion only over free acts, which are within his power; cf. the present a. 4 and De malo, q. 6, a. I, also the Salmanticenses. However, free consent to the inspiration of the Holy Ghost moving one to acts of the gifts suffices without any deliberation strictly speaking; for example, the gift of piety over and above discursive reasoning. Hence Christ would not have merited for us had He not been free in fulfilling the command of His Father; as impec-cable He could not disobey privatively and yet He freely obeyed with a liberty confirmed in good.5

2. It must be a good work, for an evil work is deserving of punishment and an indifferent work would not sufice; it would be without relation to a reward. Moreover, there is no such thing with regard to the individual. In fact, a meritorious work must possess supernatural goodness proportioned to the supernatural reward; a work which is only ethically good does not suffice, as will be shown more explicitly in the fifth condition.

3. It must be a work done under submission or obedience to the rewarder, that is, in subordination and obedience to God; cf. Ia IIae, q. 21, a. 3; IIa IIae, q. 104, a. 3. Otherwise there would be no reason for expecting a reward from God; moreover, if our works are not referred to God they are not of the supernatural order. But an act of real charity cannot be performed except for the sake of God and, accordingly, except in subjection and reverence toward God.

4. It must be the act of a wayfarer; cf. Ia, q. 62, a.9 ad 3. This is manifest from revelation: “In what place soever it [the tree] shall fall, there shall it be” (Eccles. 11:13) ; “The night cometh [that is, death] when no man can work,” not meritoriously, of course (John 9:4); “Whilst we have time, let us work good” (Gal. 6:10); “For we must all be manifested before the judgment seat of Christ, that every one may receive the proper things of the body, according as he hath done, whether it be good or evil” (II Cor. 5:10); “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, and after this the judgment” (Heb. 9:27).

 A reason of suitability is put forth; that is, merit is a motion and a way to a reward; therefore once the reward is obtained, the merit ceases. But this argument proves only that the blessed cannot merit the essential reward which they already possess; it does not really prove that they cannot merit an accidental reward or increase of glory; nor does it prove that the souls detained in purgatory can no longer merit.

It is admitted, however, that the term of man’s pathway is death for, as St. Thomas explains (Contra Gentes, Bk. IV, chaps. 92-95), since man is naturally composed of soul and body, the body by its nature is united to the soul for the benefit of the soul; because matter exists for the sake of form, that is, so that the soul may tend toward and attain to its perfection. Therefore, after the separation from the body, the soul is no longer strictly wayfaring. But this is only an argument from suitability. There would be no certainty on the subject without a revelation manifesting God’s will.

The difficulty regards the term of our way. Cajetan, with reference to Ia, q. 64, a. I, no. 18, declares: “The soul is rendered inflexible by the first act which it elicits in the state of separation from the body and then demerits, not as in life, but as arrived at its term.” But this opinion is generally not accepted, as the Salmanticenses remark, De gratia, “de merito,” disp. I, dub. IV, no. 36; for, according to the testimony of Holy Scripture, men can merit and demerit before death, but not in death; and it would not be a man who merited but a separated soul. Therefore the state of wayfarer ceases with the state of union between soul and body, and before the first instant of separation between the soul and the body the time was divisible to an infinite degree, but at that instant there is no longer either wayfaring or merit. For as in matters which are measured by time, the first nonexistence of the way coincides with the first instant of the new state, that is, with the first existence of separation from the body. Otherwise, moreover, a person dying in the state of mortal sin might be saved and one dying in the state of grace might be damned; furthermore, an infant dying without baptism could be saved by an act elicited at the first instant of separation from the body. Baptism would then not be necessary for the salvation of infants nor would a limbo exist for such souls.

Vasquez teaches that the blessed can merit accidental reward, and the souls in purgatory as well; but he brings forward a text of St. Thomas in support unwarrantedly, as the Salmanticenses demonstrate. These latter hold that Elias and Enoch are in the state for meriting since they are still wayfarers.

5. It must proceed from sanctifying grace under the virtual influence of charity; cf, q. 114, a. 2. As we have said, it is of faith that the act must proceed from sanctifying grace and charity. (Council of Trent, Sess. VI, chap. 8.) “If I . . . have not charity, I am nothing . . . it profiteth me nothing” (I Cor. 13:2 f.), in the order of eternal life. This is because otherwise there would be no intrinsic proportion between a meritorious work and a supernatural reward and hence no right to the reward; in fact, man would remain in the state of mortal sin, deserving of punishment, not reward. However, merit de congruo broadly speaking, based on the mercy of God, may exist without this condition, in the same way as the impetrative value of the prayer of a sinner; cf. a. 3.

6. It must be a work ordained by God toward a promised reward; cf. q. 114, a. I ad 3: “Our action has no reason for merit except on the presupposition of a divine ordination; [wherefore] it does not follow that God becomes our debtor absolutely [who hath first given to Him?], but rather His own, so far as it is due to Him that His ordination should be fulfilled.” Again in article 2 c: “The merit of man depends on divine preordination” since “all the good in man comes from God” and man has no right before God unless he receives such a right from God. Hence without this divine ordination and promise, our good works would give us no right to a reward, since they are already due to God by several other titles, such as creation, supreme dominion, final end. Therefore, even if God had not promised us a reward, man ought to love God above all things.6

This doctrine is based on Holy Scripture: “The man that endureth temptation . . . when he hath been proved, . . . shall receive the crown of life, which God hath promised to them that love Him” (Jas. 1:12); “He that cometh to God, must believe that He is, and is a rewarder to them that seek Him” (Heb. 11:6). The Council of Trent (Sess. VI, chap. 16; Denz., no. 809) defines: “To those who work well unto the end, hoping in God, eternal life is offered both as the grace mercifully promised to the sons of God through Christ Jesus and as the reward faithfully rendered to their good works by the promise of the same God.”’

Confirmation. The good works of the blessed and of the souls in purgatory are not meritorious, because God has not ordained them to a reward. For God does not order good works to a reward outside of the state of wayfarer, although He could do so if He so willed. 

This sixth condition which is required for merit de condigno but not really for merit de congruo was misinterpreted by Scotus and the Nominalists. They understood that a meritorious act possesses its condignity extrinsically and solely on account of this promise; therefore they held that God could accept a merely natural good act as meri-torious de condigno of eternal life.

The true sense of this sixth condition, as we have already observed in agreement with the majority of Thomists, is that, beyond the intrinsic worth which every meritorious act possesses on account of sanctifying grace and charity, the promise of a reward to be rendered is necessary that there may be a strict right to the reward obliging God to render it. Thus, in the souls detained in purgatory, acts of charity are no longer meritorious, although free, good, supernatural, and performed in obedience to God.

Cajetan, in refuting Scotus on article 4, did not perhaps advert to the possibility of the error contrary to Scotism in this matter which would be the negation of the sixth condition. Billuart examines the objections denying this condition.

Objection. Just as an evil work is of itself deserving of punishment independently of the ordination of the judge, so a work of charity possesses of itself something of worth commensurate to a reward, and that not by any divine ordination or promise. But merit is nothing other than a work of worth equal to a reward. Therefore this sixth condition is not necessary.

Reply. I deny the major: there is no comparison between a good work and an evil work; for the latter, in offending, injures the right of another by its very offense, wherefore, without any ordination of the judge, there arises an obligation to repair the injured right. On the contrary, the good work of charity is already due to God the Creator and Lord; and, for man to possess the right of exacting a recompense requires a special ordination of God; because God has no obligation except to Himself, and this by reason of His promise. Hence, if God had commanded us to do good without promise of a reward, He would not be bound to grant it to us.

Doubt. Whether God grants a reward to merits only in faithfulness to His promise, or in justice.

Reply. Not only out of faithfulness but in distributive justice, which however has something of the mode of commutative justice. For St. Paul declares: “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” (II Tim. 4:8). This is because, although a simple promise produces only the obligation of faithfulness, a promise to be fulfilled by the promiser on condition of some laborious work, carries an obligation of justice. Thus “to pay the reward of labor is an act of justice” (Ia IIae, q. 21, a. 3). This is not the commutative justice which exists between equals, for man can give nothing to God which is not already His and under His dominion. But it is distributive justice whereby a superior gives to his inferiors, not equally but proportionately, each according to his worth and merit. Nevertheless it is a certain kind of commutative justice, according as God gives commensurately, and so also in imposing punishment for demerit.



Beside eternal life, which is the essential object of merit (cf. a. 2), the question is raised in articles 5-10, which of several other objects fall under merit. The two principles that elucidate this second part of the question may be formulated thus: The just man can merit that to which his merit is ordained by God; but the principle of merit itself does not fall under merit. 

By virtue of the first principle, the just man can merit for himself de condigno: eternal life, increase of grace and charity, and the degree of glory proportionate to this increase. This is of faith. It is explained theologically according as the merits of the just man are ordained by God to eternal life and to the spiritual progress which leads to it (a. 8). The just man can likewise merit de congruo, in the strict sense, the grace of conversion for another, as St. Monica did for St. Augustine (a. 6) The just man can also merit temporal goods, not for their own sake, but so far as they are useful for salvation (a. 10).

However, since the principle of merit itself does not fall under merit, man cannot merit for himself, either de condigno or de congruo in the strict sense, the first grace, whether actual or habitual. This is a truth of faith which can be explained theologically by the foregoing principle (a. 5). Moreover, the just man cannot, before he falls, merit for himself the grace of conversion, should he subsequently fall into sin; for his merits are taken away by mortal sin which follows them.  In other words, the restoration of the principle of merit does not fall under merit (a. 7). 

Nor can the just man merit for himself de condigno nor strictly de congruo the grace of final perseverance. This is almost of faith; it is explained theologically according as the grace of final perseverance is no other than the state of grace (or principle of merit) preserved by God at the very moment of death (a. 9).




A difficulty arises: 1. because Augustine says: “Faith merits justification,” commenting on psalm 31; 2. because God does not bestow grace except on the deserving; and 3. because the first grace may perhaps be merited by subsequent works.

Reply. It is evident that no one can merit the first grace for himself, that is, neither de coildigno nor de congruo properly, but only improperly speaking. This applies to the first grace, whether actual or habitual.

Proof from the definitions of the Church. This truth is of faith; cf. against the Pelagians, the Council of Orange (Denz., no. 176), can. 3-7, 9, 14-25; the definition is renewed by the Council of Trent, Sess. VI, chap. 6 (Denz., no. 798): “Therefore are we said to be justified gratuitously, since none of those things which precede justification, whether faith or works, deserves the grace of justification itself.” It also appears clearly enough from these declarations that man cannot merit even the first grace for himself de congruo properly speaking ; for it is defined against the Pelagians and Semi-Pelagians that no one can by merely natural powers dispose himself for grace. (Cf. Council of Orange, can. 3-7, 14-25.)

This doctrine of the Church is manifestly based upon many scriptural texts; especially are cited: “Being justified freely by His grace” (Rom. 3:24; 4:4); “And if by grace, it is not now by works” (ibid., 11:6); in fact, almost the entire dogmatic portion of this Epistle; also I Cor. 12:13; II Cor. 3:5; Eph. 25-10; Phil. 2:13; II Tim. 1:9; John 15:16; I John 4:10-19.

Theological proof with respect to merit de condigno

Grace of itself exceeds the proportion of nature. But merit de condigno is a good work proportionate to a reward and conferring a right to the reward in justice. Therefore natural good works cannot merit de condigno the first grace, either actual or habitual.

Confirmation. Before justification man is in the state of mortal sin, which is an impediment to meriting grace. And after justification he cannot merit the first grace which is the principle of merit, whereas the recompense is the term of the work. The principle of merit cannot fall under merit.

This reason would also be valid for the angels since the whole argument is based on the distinction between the orders of nature and grace. This distinction is eminently clear for St. Thomas. In fact, he himself declares, Contra Gentes, Bk. I, chap. 3: “That there are some divine ideas which completely exceed the capacities of human reason, appears most evident”; that is, because neither the human nor the angelic mind can know naturally the divine essence according to its reason of Deity, or in its intimate life, nor, accordingly, love it. Hence we have demonstrated 7 that the existence in God of the order of truth and supernatural life can be firmly established; indeed St. Thomas says that it appears most evident. Therefore this supernatural order surpasses not only the powers but the requirements of both our nature and that of angels, and, consequently, natural merits as well. In a word, the formal object of the divine intelligence cannot be attained naturally by any intellect created or capable of creation. But supernatural mysteries pertain by their nature primarily to this formal object. Therefore they are something in God naturally inaccessible to us and to the angels.



Reply to first objection. In the instant of justification the very act of living faith follows the infusion of grace. This act of living faith is thus meritorious of eternal life, in the same way as an act of contrition; but it does not merit the first grace from which it proceeds. Furthermore, an act of dead faith is salutary but not meritorious. 

Reply to second objection. “God does not confer grace except upon the deserving, not however that they were deserving beforehand, but because He Himself makes them worthy by grace”; and this supernatural disposition cannot be meritorious with respect to the first grace. 

Reply to third objection. Grace itself imparts its own good use; hence the principle of merit is such that it cannot fall under subsequent merit; whereas, on the contrary, a soldier can merit his arms before they are given to him, in view of subsequent merits, for arms do not confer but rather await their own good use by the activity of the soldier. (Cf. Ia, q. 23, a. 5.)

Corollary. Not even de congruo properly can a man merit the first grace for himself.

Proof. Before justification man in the state of sin is not a friend of God but His enemy. But merit de congruo properly is based upon a right of friendship, that is, the worker must be pleasing to the rewarder and just; in other words, there is required a fitness in the worker, not merely in the work. Therefore.

This statement seems more conformable to Sacred Scripture and the Council of Trent according to which the sinner is justified gratuitously. However, man can merit de congruo the first grace broadly speaking, by good works preceding justification and by prayers. Thus, says Augustine, the publican was heard after his humble prayer. For merit de congruo in the broad sense does not demand fitness in the worker, but only in the work; it is founded on God’s liberality or, like the impetratory power of prayer, upon the divine mercy. (Cf. Salmanticenses, De merito, disp. II, no. 9.)






It seems so, for St. James writes in his Epistle (5:16): “Pray for one another, that you may be saved. For the continual prayer of a just man availeth much.”

The precise answer of St. Thomas is: not de condigno; but he can well do so de congruo even properly speaking.

The first part of his reply is based on the scriptural text: “If Moses and Samuel shall stand before Me, my soul is not toward this people” (Jer. 15:1); and yet Moses and Samuel were of the greatest merit before God.

The theological argument is the following. Grace conferred on a mere man is especially ordained to his own sanctification, but not to the sanctification of others. It differs in this respect from the capital grace which existed in Christ, the Redeemer of all (IIIa, q. 8, a. 2). But our work has the reason of merit de condigno on account of the moving force of divine grace, according to the ordination and extention of this grace in justice. Therefore no one but Christ, not even the Blessed Virgin Mary, can merit de condigno the first grace for another. The text should be consulted.

The second part of St. Thomas’ answer, that is, regarding merit de congruo properly speaking is in the affirmative. It is based on several scriptural texts: “The continual prayer of a just man availeth much” (Jas. 5:16); and the reference to prayer for the brethren which obtains their conversion (I John 5:16). Thus the prayer of St. Stephen, the first martyr, obtained the conversion of Paul. Likewise St. Monica procured the conversion of Augustine by her prayers and good works. In these texts it is not a question of the prayer of the sinner, but of the prayer of the just man which is at once impetratory and meritorious, meritorious of itself de condigno and for others de congruo, inasmuch as the just man is a friend of God. Similarly, the Blessed Virgin Mary merited for us de congruo what Christ merited de condigno; cf. Denz., no. 3034, encycl. of Pius X.

The argument is formulated as follows: Merit de congruo properly speaking is based on the right of friendship. But between the just man and God there exists the friendship of charity. Therefore it is properly fitting that God should fulfill the desire and prayer of the just man for the salvation of another, as long as there is no impediment of excessive obstinacy on the part of that other; and this merit de congruo is higher in proportion to the degree of charity which the just man possesses. It reaches its climax in the Blessed Virgin Mary. The text of St. Thomas should be read.



First objection. Thus the living faith of one is availing for others, according to merit de congruo even properly speaking.

Second objection. “The impetration of prayer rests on mercy; but merit de condigno rests on justice. Wherefore by praying much man impetrates from the divine mercy what he does not in fact merit according to justice.” These words are deserving of particular attention. Cf. Daniel here quoted. (On the other hand, whatever Christ obtains He also merits de condigno.)

Cf. reply to the third objection which applies this to alms given to the poor. St. Thomas’ beautiful interpretation deserves to be read: “The poor receiving alms are said to receive others into eternal dwellings.” Thereby is also explained the true devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary as advocated by St. Grignon de Montfort, according to which we offer to her whatever of our works is communicable to others. Thus we also offer to Mary our incommunicable merits de condigno for the purpose of having them safeguarded by her and augmented by her prayers, and also, in the case of mortal sin, that she may obtain the grace for us, not of any sort of attrition whatever, but of fervent contrition, so as to recover these merits in the same degree and proportionately to the fervor of our contrition; cf. IIIa, q. 89, a. 2. 

Moreover, we offer to the Blessed Virgin whatever is communicable to other souls, on earth or in purgatory, of our good works, such as merit de congruo, prayers and satisfactions, so that she may distribute these communicable goods to the souls who need them most and especially to those for whom we ought to pray on account of a relationship of blood or vocation or in gratitude, and of whose present necessities we are often ignorant at the moment. Thus do we enter more profoundly into the mystery of the Communion of Saints.




State of the question. The problem is not whether a man who has already fallen can merit his own restoration; it is already established by article 5 that he cannot, since fallen man cannot merit the first grace or justification. The meaning of the present article is: whether, at the time when a man is just, he can merit from God that, should he happen to fall into mortal sin, the grace of contrition would be given to him.

The question is disputed among theologians. Some, including Bellarmine, De justificatione, Bk. V, answer affirmatively, according to Ps. 70:9: “When my strength shall fail, do not Thou forsake me.” Many others, St. Thomas among them, deny it; cf. Gonet. The three objections in the statement of the question show that the Angelic Doctor was not unaware of what could be said in favor of the contrary opinion.

The arguments in behalf of the affirmative are as follows:

1. The just man seems to be able to merit what can be justly asked of God, namely, to be restored after a fall.

2. The just man can merit for others de congruo properly speaking restoration after a fall; with still greater reason can he do so for himself.

3. A man who was once in grace merits eternal life for himself by perhaps heroic good works which he has done; but he cannot attain to it unless he is restored after a fall.

These arguments do not distinguish adequately between merit properly speaking, whether de condigno or de congruo, and merit improperly or broadly speaking.

The reply is in the negative, neither de condigno nor de congruo properly.

Proof from Scripture: “If the just man turn himself away from his justice, and do iniquity . . . all his justices which he hath done, shall nor be remembered” (Ezech. 18:24).

Theological proof with respect to merit de condigno. Merit de condigno depends on the motion of divine grace. But this motion is interrupted by mortal sin. Therefore merit de condigno does not extend to benefits following sin, for the mortal sin would take away the merit.

Confirmation. Since all the merits of the just are suspended by subsequent mortal sin, the just man could not merit a reward to be conferred upon one who was unworthy; but a fallen man is unworthy. Accordingly, if the just man merited this restoration for himself de condigno, after sinning he would obtain it infallibly, and so all the just would be predestined, as it were, finally to be restored to grace.

Proof of the second part, that is, of merit de congruo properly speaking. Merit de congruo properly speaking is based on a right of friendship and demands fitness not only in the work but in the worker. But the just man has no right in friendship to restoration after a fall, since by mortal sin the friendship of God is withdrawn and so also are merits de congruo in the proper sense. Therefore.

Reply to first objection. Nevertheless he may well merit to obtain this by prayer, or by merit de congruo in the broad sense, founded not on justice but on mercy. A man may thus very profitably pray that, should he fall, he may rise again. So does the Psalmist pray (70:9): “When my strength shall fail, do not Thou forsake me.”


Reply to second objection. The just man remaining in grace can merit properly de congruo the restoration of another, since he himself remains in grace. Cf. the last part of the body of the article. But if he falls into mortal sin, he deprives himself of his merits de condigno and de congruo.

Reply to third objection. “By an act of charity the just man merits absolutely eternal life, but by a subsequent mortal sin he sets up an impediment against the preceding merit so that he does not receive its effect.” This answer should be read. St. Thomas’ opinion was sustained by the Council of Trent (Denz., no. 842), which declared that the just man “merits eternal life and the attainment of eternal life itself, provided, however, that he dies in grace,” that is, if he does not lose his merits by mortal sin.





State of the question. There are three difficulties: If the just man merits an increase of grace, after receiving it he can expect no other reward. Nothing acts beyond its species; hence grace and charity, which are the principle of merit, cannot merit greater grace. In consequence, an increase of charity would be obtained by any act of charity, even remiss, which would be remarkable.

The reply is in the affirmative even for merit de condigno; and this is of faith.

Proof from the Council of Trent (Sess. VI, can. 32; Denz., no. 842): “If anyone should say . . . he who is justified by good works, which are done by him through the grace of God and the merit of Jesus Christ (of whom he is a living member), does not really merit an increase of grace, eternal life, and the attainment of eternal life itself (provided, however, that he dies in grace), and also an increase of glory: let him be anathema.” This definition is based upon many scriptural texts, for example: “By doing the truth in charity, we may in all things grow up in Him who is the head, even Christ” (Eph.  4:15); also Phil. 1:9 and Rom. 6:19; Augustine, commenting on chapter 5 of St. John’s Gospel, writes: “Charity merits increase, that being increased, it may also merit to be perfected.”

Theological proof. Whatever the motion of grace extends to falls under merit de condigno. But the motion of grace extends, not only to the term, which is eternal life, but to the entire progress by means of increasing grace and charity. Therefore. Thus is explained the text of Prov. 4:18: “The path of the just, as a shining light, goeth forward and increaseth even to perfect day,” that is, to glory. 

Reply to first and second objections. This increase does not exceed the power of the pre-existing grace.

Reply to third objection. “By any act of charity, even remiss, a man merits an increase of grace and eternal life; but just as eternal life is not bestowed immediately, so the increase of grace is not given forth-with (if the meritorious act was remiss) but when man becomes sufficiently disposed for this increase of grace.” Suarez holds that even remiss acts obtain an increase of grace at once, and this for the reason that he does not give adequate consideration to the necessity for the prerequisite disposition; cf. supra, q. 112, a. 2; also Billuart, ibid., and the treatise on charity (its increase), IIa IIae, q. 24, a. 6. 

Just as a certain disposition (without merit, however) is prerequisite in an adult for justification, such that sanctifying grace is bestowed in greater or less degree according to the fervor of this disposition, so likewise is a disposition required for an increase of sanctifying grace.  Should the meritorious act not be remiss, but more intense than the habit from which it proceeds, then, at the same time, there is moral merit and, as it were, a physical disposition for an increase to be obtained at once. For instance, if a person who possesses the virtue of charity in the measure of three talents should, under actual grace, elicit a fervent, meritorious act at the level of four talents, he would immediately obtain an increase of the virtue of charity in that measure. But if, possessing the virtue of charity in the measure of three talents, he performs a remiss, meritorious act at the level of two, there is, thus far, moral merit de condigno, but not the physical disposition, so to speak, for immediately obtaining an increase of charity. It will be forthcoming when he performs a more fervent act, or even perhaps, as Cajetan somewhere indicates, at the time of Eucharistic Communion, according as it is the disposition for receiving the proper effect of the Sacrament, according to the disposition, whether final or prior, of even remiss acts of charity.

Suarez disagrees with St. Thomas, inasmuch as he holds that every act of charity, even remiss, immediately obtains an increase which is the object of merit. St. Thomas’ doctrine seems to be true, however, since a disposition is required for the increase of grace in the same way as for its infusion in an adult. But at the moment of infusion the disposition was without merit, whereas at the moment of the increase there must be a disposition with merit or with the Sacrament. By a similar analogy in the order of nature, an acquired friendship is increased only by more intense acts; remiss acts maintain but do not increase it.

Corollary. In the path of virtue, not to progress is to retrogress, as is commonly said; but on the other hand, not to retrogress is to progress. If a man does not commit a mortal sin in the course of a year, he has assuredly made progress thereby during that year. However, there is not much encouragement in remarking that “not to reuogress is to progress,” so that the saints spoke quite otherwise.






State of the question. Final perseverance, as has been said (q. 109, a. 10), signifies continuance in grace until death, or the conjunction of the state of grace with death. It is the grace of a happy death. The Pelagians attributed it to the powers of nature alone. The Semi-Pelagians held that it could fall under merit.

In the three objections which are presented at the beginning of the article, St. Thomas brings out the difficulty of the question: 1. We can obtain this gift by prayer; why not by merit? 2. We can merit eternal life, the reason of which is impeccability; why cannot the just man merit for himself not sinning before death? 3. We can merit an increase of grace; why not simple perseverance in grace, which is less than an increase?

The reply, nevertheless, is in the negative. St. Thomas’ conclusion is: The perseverance of glory falls under merit but not perseverance during life. This is at least theologically quite certain, according to all theologians, with respect to merit de condigno, as Hervt rightly declares in his Manuale, p. 217 This is proved from Sacred Scripture, which indicates clearly enough that none of the just has a right in justice to final perseverance, but that anyone is capable of falling. “Then shall many be scandalized . . . and many false prophets shall rise, and shall seduce many.  And because iniquity hath abounded, the charity of many shall grow cold. But he that shall persevere to the end, he shall be saved (Matt.  24:10-13); “There shall arise false Christs . . . and shall show great signs and wonders, insomuch as to deceive (if possible) even the elect” (ibid., 24:24); the gift of final perseverance is, then, the special gift of the elect. Again, “many are called, but few chosen” (ibid., 20:16; 22:14); “Wherefore he that thinketh himself to stand, let him take heed lest he fall” (I Cor. 10:12); “Wherefore, my dearly beloved, . . . with fear and trembling work out your salvation. For it is God who worketh in you, both to will and to accomplish, according to His good will” (Phil. 2:12); it is not written: “according to our merits,” but, “according to His good will.” These last two texts are quoted by the Council of Trent in relation to the gift of final perseverance (Denz., no. 806).

Furthermore, texts can be cited to prove the gratuity of predestination to glory. And conversely, from the fact that the grace of final perseverance conferred only upon the elect does not proceed from foreseen merits, it follows that predestination to glory does not proceed from foreseen merits, any more than the first grace, the beginning of salvation. “Whom He predestinated, them He also called. And whom He called, them He also justified. And whom He justified, them He also glorified” (Rom. 8:30); in this text vocation, justification, and glorification are effects of predestination. “In whom [Christ] we also are called by lot, being predestinated according to the purpose of Him who worketh all things according to the counsel of His will” (Eph. 1:11); “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy; and I will show mercy to whom I will show mercy” (Rom. 9x5; cf. Exod. 33:19); “So then it [divine election] is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy” (Rom. 9:16); “Who hath first given to Him, and recompense shall be made him?” (ibid., 11:35); “What hast thou that thou hast not received?” (I Cor. 4:7)

The Councils likewise affirm the gratuity of the gift of final perseverance. Several of the preceding scriptural texts are quoted by the Second Council of Orange, which declared against the Semi-Pelagian contention that this gift fell under merit (can. 10; Denz., no. 183): “Even those reborn and restored to health must always implore the help of God that they may attain to a good end and may persevere in good works.” If this must always be implored, it is not a thing the attainment of which is assured by previous merits.

Again, the Council of Trent (Sess. VI, chap. 13; Denz., no. 806) declares with reference to perseverance, “that a certain gift cannot be had from anyone, unless it be from Him who is able to make him who stands stand, that he may stand perseveringly, and to raise him who falls”; cf. Rom. 14:4 ff. Nevertheless the fact that a man merits, although it derives principally from God, is not said to proceed from God alone, but also from man by his merits. It is likewise defined by the Council of Trent (Denz., no. 826): “If anyone should say with absolute and infallible certainty that he will receive that great gift of perseverance to the end, unless he learns this by special revelation, let him be anathema.” (Also Denz., no. 832.)

Among the Fathers, Augustine in his De dono perseverantiae sums up the patristic tradition and shows by many arguments that final perseverance is not bestowed on merits as a reward in justice, but may only “be obtained by supplicating prayers.”8

St. Thomas presents two arguments. The first is indirect, in the argument Sed contra, which should be read. If the gift of final perseverance fell under merit, every just adult, according as he has meritorious works, would obtain it infallibly; that is, he would obtain preservation from sin. But not all the just obtain this gift; “the charity of many grows cold.” Hence the supposition is false. As Billuart explains, this indirect argument is based on the truth that whatever a person merits, especially de condigno, he obtains from God infallibly, unless the merit itself is taken away by sin. Wherefore if anyone were to merit perseverance de condigno, he would obtain it infallibly, since he would thus merit not to have his merits taken away, and God would not permit him to fall into sin.

Someone might raise the further objection against this: perhaps this great gift of final perseverance cannot be merited de condigno by ordinary merits, but only by very excellent merits or by an accumulation of a great number of merits, and so it is not obtained by all the just.

Reply. If man merited eternal life and increase of grace by any meritorious work, there would be no reason why he should not likewise merit perseverance if it fell under merit.

The second argument is direct and specific, in the body of the article, which should be read. The principle of merit does not fall under merit; it would be its own effect. But the gift of final perseverance, according as it is the continuous production of the state of grace, is the principle of merit; in other words, the gift of final perseverance is nothing but the state of grace (that is, the principle of merit) preserved by God at the moment of death. Therefore it cannot fall under merit, especially de condigno.

The major is self-evident. The minor is proved as follows: the gift of final perseverance consists in a divine motion preserving the state of grace first bestowed. But this preservative motion is the principle of merit, since it is the same entitatively as the first production of grace. Cf. Ia, q. 104, a. I ad 4: “The preservation of a thing by God is not effected by any new action, but by a continuation of the action which confers being . . . in the same way, the preservation of light in the atmosphere is by the continuous influence of the sun.” Therefore, just as no one can merit his own preservation, for preservation is not an act distinct from creation, which does not fall under merit; so neither can anyone merit perseverance in the state of grace, since it is nothing but the preservation of grace, not distinguished from its first production, which does not fall under merit. Hence Augustine demonstrates, against the Semi-Pelagians, that like the beginning of salvation, so final perseverance cannot fall under merit, since it is the principle of merit.

Confirmation. For merit de condigno, which is a strict right, the promise of God to render a reward for a work is required. But no where does God promise perseverance to those who do good works; on the contrary, the Scriptures often declare that even the just must work out their salvation in fear and trembling and that he who stands should take heed lest he fall. Therefore.

God often raises certain sinners after repeated falls; often, but not always; and this is the mystery of predestination.



The twofold objection involved in the second and third is reducible to the following. He who can merit what is greater, can also merit what is less. But the just man can merit de condigno eternal life and the increase of grace, which are greater than final perseverance.  Therefore the just man can merit de condigno final perseverance. 

Reply. I distinguish the major; he who can merit what is greater, can also merit what is less, other things being equal: granted; other things not being equal, denied. But there is a disparity since, whereas both eternal life and perseverance in it and increase of grace are the terms of meritorious acts, the gift of perseverance is not; it is the continuation of the production of the state of grace. The principle of merit does not fall under merit.

I insist. He who can merit the end can merit the means necessary to attain it. But final perseverance is the necessary means for attaining to eternal life. Therefore.

Reply. I deny the major in its universal application; it suffices that the means are obtainable in another way than by merit. Or else, I distinguish the major as before: the just man can merit the means which are the term of merit: granted; those which are the principle of merit: denied.

I insist. Then the just man cannot merit de condigno eternal life either.

Reply. The just man merits eternal life absolutely, but before the end of life he can deprive himself of merit by mortal sin. Thus he merits “the attainment of eternal life, provided that he dies in grace,” as the Council of Trent declares (Sess. VI, chap. 16, and can. 32; Denz., no. 842); but he cannot merit perseverance in the state of grace. 

Three problems remain.

1.Whether efficacious grace can be merited de condigno. Thomists answer in the negative, at least according as efficacious grace preserves us in the state of grace and prevents us from sinning mortally, for the principle of merit does not fall under merit. (Cf. Salmanticenses and John of St. Thomas.)

Confirmation. If anyone were to merit efficacious grace de condigno or infallibly, he would likewise thereby merit further efficacious graces and so on to the grace of final perseverance, which would thus fall under merit de condigno, contrary to what has been proved. Billuart writes: “Even if [that is, assuming, not granting] the just man should merit by the present good work efficacious help for the next work, he will still not obtain it infallibly except so far as he perseveres in grace; but he cannot merit persevering in grace, since this gift derives from the principle of merit, as has been said. . . . Moreover, nowhere is it established or revealed that efficacious help is presented as the reward of merit; it is to this help that St. Augustine refers when he says: ‘to whom it is given, it is given in mercy; to whom it is not given, it is withheld in justice.’”

2. Whether final perseverance falls under merit de congruo properly speaking. This is a disputed question; cf. Hugon, De gratia, pp. 423 ff., and Billuart. It is answered negatively as being the more probable opinion, contrary to that of St. Robert Bellarmine, Suarez, and Ripalda; cf. Zubizarreta, Syn., no. 1052. Final perseverance does not fall under merit de congruo properly speaking: 1. for this merit is based upon the right of friendship, that is, the friendship of charity, and thus the principle of merit de congruo, in the proper sense, (namely, perseverance in the state of grace, or charity) would fall under merit, which is impossible; 2. since merit de congruo strictly speaking infallibly obtains a reward for the man himself, according as God does not refuse a man what is due to him according to the laws of friendship, and thus it would follow that nearly all the just would persevere, as stated in the argument Sed contra.

3. Whether the gift of perseverance falls under merit de congruo broadly speaking, as based on the liberality of mercy of God. 

Reply to first objection, which should be read: in the affirmative; thus it can be obtained by humble, devout, confident, persevering prayer. Hence Benedict XV used to say that the celebration of Mass for the intention of obtaining this supreme gift was eminently proper, inasmuch as the celebration of Mass is the most sublime prayer of Christ Himself ever living to make intercession for us. True devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary is likewise a sign of predestination since it inclines us to say frequently: “Holy Mary . . . pray for us . . . now and at the hour of our death. Amen”; and thus, many times a day we ask for the grace of a happy death.9




The reply is in the affrmative, to the extent that they are useful to salvation. If, however, they are considered in themselves, they do not fall absolutely under merit, which aims only at eternal life and those things which are conducive to it. But they do fall under a sort of merit from a particular aspect, according to a certain fitness based on the benignity of God. Thus, in the City of God, Bk. V, chap. 15, St. Augustine remarks that a temporal reward was rendered to the Romans on account of certain good customs which they observed. So terminates the treatise on grace, intimately bound up with St.  Thomas’ principle (Ia, q. 20, a. 3) that “the love of God is the cause of goodness in things; nor does it presuppose, but rather imposes goodness in us.” Therefore grace is a living manifestation of this uncreated love which demands a return of love and of gratitude, according to the words of St. John’s First Epistle (4:19): “Let us therefore love God, because God first loved us.”

1 Cooperative actual grace is not required for all merit; for example, meritorious acts of the gifts of the Holy Ghost do not demand it. They proceed from operative actual grace, for the soul does not strictly move itself to them, but is moved by the Holy Ghost, but with free consent. (Cf. Ia IIae, q.68, a.1, 2, and 3; also St. Thomas on the Epistle to the Romans, 8:14.)

2 De gratia, tr. 16, de merito, disp. II, no. 9

3 De gratia, de merito.

4 The Nominalists hold that God can accept merely natural works as meritorious for eternal life; for example, dying on the battlefield in defense of one’s country, a heroic, ethically good act.

 Reply. This would not be merit de condigno, nor strictly de congruo, but at most de congruo in the broad sense; so that it would no longer be merit properly speaking. Hence this would be overturning even generally accepted nominal definitions, confusing all the divisions of merit; it would especially mean confusing merit de condigno with merit de congruo in the broad sense. But the definitions generally accepted are based upon the principle that it is opposed to the nature of things for those which are of an inferior order to be ordained to supernatural goods, as if they were merits of commensurate worth. In the same way, it is incompatible with merit de congruo in the strict sense, for such merit is based on the laws of friendship, and the sinner is not yet a friend of God.

5 It is certainly true that from all eternity God predetermined the act of charity of Christ dying on the cross and the hour of Judas’ betrayal, and yet both Christ’s act of charity and Judas’ act of treachery were free; cf. St. Thomas on John 13:1; cf. above, pp. 159ff.

6 Thus St. Thomas says at the beginning of article 4 of the present question: “A human act has the nature of meriting . . . by divine ordination whereby an act is said to be meritorious of that good toward which man is divinely ordained.”

7 Cf. De revelatione, Vol. I, chap. II.

8 Cf. Rouet de Journel, Enchir. patrist., Theological Index, nos. 320 f., for the testimony of the Fathers on this subject. 

9 Since final perseverance can be obtained by prayer made in the proper way, that great promise made by the Sacred Heart to St. Margaret Mary seems to refer to this manner of impetration; that is, final perseverance will be given to those who receive Holy Communion on the first Fridays of nine consecutive months.

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