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MERIT


203


MERIT


an ethical point of view the difference practically amounts to this that, if the reward due to condign merit lie withheld, there is a violation of right and justice uiid the consequent obligation in conscience to make restitution, while, in the case of congruous merit, to withhold the reward involves no violation of right and no obligation to restore, it being merely an offence against what is fitting or a matter of personal dis- crimination {acccptio personarum) . Hencethe reward of congruous merit always depends in great measure on the kindness and liberality of the giver, though not purely and simply on his good will.

In applying these notions of merit to man's rela- tion to God it is especially necessary to keep in mind the fundamental truth that the virtue of justice cannot be brought forward as the basis of a real title for a Divine reward either in the natural or in the super- natural order. The simple reason is that God, being self-existent, absolutely independent, and sovereign, can be in no respect boimd in justice with regard to his creatures. Properly speaking, man possesses nothing of his own; all that he has and all that he does is a gift of God, and, since God is infinitely self-sufficient, there is no advantage or benefit which man can by his ser- vices confer upon Him. Hence on the part of God there can only be question of a gratuitous promise of reward for certain good works. For such works He owes the promised reward, not in justice or equity, but solely because He has freely bound himself, i.e., because of His own attributes of veracity and fidelity. It is on this ground alone that we can speak of Divine justice at all, and apply the principle: Do ut des (cf . St. Augustine, Serm. clviii, c ii, in P. L., XXXVIII, 863).

(b) There remains the distinction between merit and satisfaction; for a meritorious work is not identi- cal, either in concept or in fact, with a satisfactory work. In the language of theology, satisfaction means: (1) atoning by some suitable service for an injury done to another's honour or for any other offence, in somewhat the same fashion as in modern duelling outraged honour is satisfied by recourse to swords or pistolsĀ ; (2) paying off the temporal punish- ment due to sin by salutary penitential works volun- tarily undertaken after one's sins have been forgiven. Sin, as an offence against God, demands satisfaction in the first sense; the temporal punishment due to sin calls for satisfaction in the second sense (see Pen- ance). Christian faith teaches us that the Incarnate Son of God by His death on the cross has in our stead fully satisfied God's anger at our sins, and thereby effected a reconciliation between the world and its Creator. Not, however, as though nothing were now left to be done by man, or as though he were now re- stored to the state of original innocence, whether he wills it or not; on the contrary, C!od and Christ de- mand of him that he make the fruits of the Sacrifice of the Cross his own by personal exertion and co-opera- tion with grace, by justifying faith and the reception of baptism. It is a defined article of the Catholic Faith that man before, in, and after justification de- rives his whole capability of meriting and satisfying, as well as his actual merits and satisfactions, solely from the infinite treasure of merits which Christ gained for us on the Cross (cf. Council of Trent, Sess. VI, cap. xvi; Sess. XIV, cap. viii).

The second kind of satisfaction, that namely by which temporal punishment is removed, consists in this, that the penitent after his justification gradually cancels the temporal punishinents due to his sins, either ex opere operato, by conscientiously performing the penance imposed on him by his confessor, or ex opere operantis, by self-imposed penances (such as prayer, fasting, almsgiving, etc.) and by bearing patiently the sufferings and trials sent by GodĀ ; if he neglects this, he will have to give full satisfaction {sa- tispassio) in the pains of purgatory (cf. Council of Trent, Sess. XIV, can. xiii, in Denzinger, n. 923).


Now, if the concept of satisfaction in its twofold meaning be compared with that of merit as developed above, the first general conclusion will be that merit constitutes a debtor who owes a reward, whilst satis- faction supposes a creditor whose demands must be met. In Christ's work of redemption merit and satis- faction materially coincide almost to their full ex- tent, since as a matter of fact the merits of Christ are also works of satisfaction for man. But, since by His Passion and Death He truly merited, not only graces for us, but also external glory for His own Person (His gloriotis Resurrection and Ascension, His sitting at the right hand of the Father, the glorification of His name of Jesus, etc.), it follows that His personal merit extends further than His satisfaction, as He had no need of satisfying for Himself. The substantial and conceptual distinction between merit and satis- faction holds good when applied to the justified Chris- tian, for every meritorious act has for its main object the increase of grace and of eternal glory, while satis- factory works have for their object the removal of the temporal pimishment still due to sin. In practice and generally speaking, however, merit and satis- faction are found in every salutary act, so that every meritorious work is also satisfactory and vice versa. It is indeed also essential to the concept of a satis- factory work of penance that it be penal and difficult, which qualities are not connoted by the concept of merit; but since, in the present state of fallen nature, there neither is nor can be a meritorious work which in one way or another has not connected with it difficulties and hardships, theologians unanimously teach that all our meritorious works without exception bear a penal character and thereby may become auto- matically works of satisfaction. Against how many difficulties and distractions have we not to contend even during our prayers, which by right should be the easiest of all good works! Thus, prayer also becomes a penance, and hence confessors may in most cases content themselves with imposing prayer as a penance. (Cf. De Lugo, "De pcenitentia," disp. xxiv, sect. 3.) (c) Owing to the peculiar relation between and material identity of merit and satisfaction in the present economy of salvation, a twofold value must in general be distinguished in every good work: the meritorious and the satisfactory value. But each preserves its distinctive character, theoretically by the difference in concepts, and practically in this, that the value of merit as such, consisting in the increase of grace and of heavenly glory, is purely personal and is not applicable to others, while the satisfactory value may be detached from the meriting agent and applied to "others. The possibility of this transfer rests on the fact that the residual punishments for sin are in the nature of a debt, which may be legitimately paid to the creditor and thereby cancelled not only by the debtor himself but also by a friend of the debtor. This consideration is important for the proper under- standing of the usefulness of suffrages for the souls in purgatory (cf. Council of Trent, Sess. XXV, Decret. de purgat., in Denzinger, n. 983). When one wishes to aid the suffering souls, one cannot apply to them the purely meritorious quality of his work, because the increase of grace and glory accrues only to the agent who merits. But it has pleased the Divine wisdom and mercy to accept the satisfactory quality of one's work imder certain circumstances as an equivalent of the temporal punishment still to be endured by the faithful departed, just as if the latter had themselves performed the work. This is one of the most beautiful and consoling aspects of that grand social organization which we call the "Communion of Saints" (q. v.), and moreover affords us an insight into the nature of the "heroic act of charity" ap- proved by Pius IX, whereby the faithful on earth, out of heroic charity for the soul&in Purgatory, voluntarily renotmce in their favour the satisfactory fruits of all