After considering justification, which
is the effect of operative A grace, we must treat of merit, which is the
effect of (sanctifying) cooperative grace.
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.
WHETHER MAN CAN MERIT
ANYTHING FROM GOD
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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. Salmanticenses
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.
WHETHER A PERSON
CAN MERIT ETERNAL
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
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.
REFUTATION OF OBJECTIONS
objection. But a sinner can
observe several commandments of the Decalogue and also hear Mass.
I distinguish: he can observe them in substance, granted; but as to
mode, that is, by charity, denied.
objection. An evil deed
merits punishment without the habit of malice; therefore a good deed
merits a reward without the habit of grace.
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
objection. Man in the state
of sin can satisfy by self-imposed penance; therefore he can also merit.
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.
objection. Then the naturally
good works which are per-formed before justification are useless.
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.
WHETHER A JUST MAN CAN MERIT ETERNAL
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
the objections raised by
Scotus; cf. Cajetan and Billuart.
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
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.
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.
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.
WHETHER GRACE IS THE
PRINCIPALLY BY CHARITY
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
Grace is the principle of merit more particularly by charity.
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.).
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.
But charity diminishes the difficulty, and the more difficult a work is
the more meritorious it is.
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
Reply to third
objection. An act of faith is
not meritorious unless faith acts through love.
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.
Whether at least the virtual influence of charity is necessary to merit
eternal life. It is a question of merit de condigno of eternal
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
WHAT IS INCLUDED UNDER
MERIT (A. 6-10)
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).
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).
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).
MAN CAN MERIT
THE FIRST GRACE FOR HIMSELF
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
proof with respect to merit
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.
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
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.
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.)
Not even de congruo properly can a man merit the first grace for
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.
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.)
WHETHER THE JUST MAN
MERIT THE FIRST
GRACE FOR ANOTHER
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.”
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.
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.
REFUTATION OF THE
Thus the living faith of one is availing for others, according to merit
de congruo even properly speaking.
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.
WHETHER THE JUST MAN
MERIT HIS OWN RESTORATION AFTER A FALL
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
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.
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
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.
WHETHER MAN CAN MERIT
INCREASE OF GRACE OR CHARITY
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
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.”
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.
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.
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.
WHETHER A MAN CAN
MERIT THE GIFT OF
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).
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)
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.
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.,
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Then the just man cannot merit de condigno eternal life either.
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.
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.)
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.
GOODS FALL UNDER MERIT
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.”
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.