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MERIT


204


MERIT


their good works, even all the suffrages which shall lie offeroil for them after their death, in oriler that tliey may thus benefit anil assist the souls in purgatory mure quickly and more ellicaeiously.

Tlic ethoacy of the prayer of the just, be it for the living or for the dead, calls for special consideration. In the first place it is evident that prayer as a pre- eminently good work has in common with other similar good works, such as fasting and almsgiving, the twofold value of merit and satisfaction. Because of its satisfactory eharaeter, prayer will also obtain for the souls in ]iurgatory by way of suffrage (per modum sufjrtigii) either a diminution or a total cancelling of the penalty that remains to be paid. Prayer has, more- over, the characteristic effect of impet ration (effectus im/iilraloriufi), for he who prays appeals solely to the goodness, love, and liberality of Goil for the fulfilment of his desires, without throwing the weight of his own merits into the scale. He who prays fervently and unceasingly gains a hearing with God because he prays, even should he pray with empty hands (cf. John, xiv, 13 sq.; xvi, 23). Thus the special efficacy of prayer for the dead is easily explained, since it combines efficacy of satisfaction and impetration, and this twofold efficacy is enhanced by the personal worthiness of the one who, as a friend of God, offers the prayer. (See Dead, Prayers for the.) Since the mcritoriousness of good works supposes the state of justification, or, what amounts to the same, the possession of sanctifjing grace, supernatural merit is only an effect or fruit of the state of grace (cf. Council of Trent, Sess. VI, cap. xvi). Hence, it is plain that this whole article is really only a continuation and a completion of the doctrine of sanctifying grace (see Grace).

II. The Existence of Merit. — (a) According to Luther justification consists essentially in the mere covering of man's sins, which remain in the soul, and in the external imputation of Christ's justice; hence his assertion that even "the just sin in every good work" (see Denzinger, n. 771), as also that "every work of the just is worthy of damnation [damnabile] and a mortal sin [peccatum inoHide], if it be considered as it really is in the judgment of God" (seeMohler, "Symbolik", 22). According to the doctrine of Cal- vin (Instit., Ill, ii, 4) good works are "impurities and defilement" (inqmnamenta et sordes), but God covers their innate hideousness with the cloak of the merits of Christ, and imputes them to the predestined as good works in order that He may requite them not with life eternal, but at most with a temporal re- ward. In consequence of Luther's proclamation of "evangelical liberty", John Agricola (d. 156G) as- serted that in the New Testament it was not allowed to preach the "Law", and Nicholas Amsdorf (d. 1505) maintained that good works were positively harmful. .Such exaggerations gave rise in 1527 to the fierce Antinomian controversy, which, after various efforts on Luther's part, was finally settled in 1540 by the recantation forced from Agricola by Joachim II of Brandenburg. Although the doctrine of modern Protestantism continues obscure and indefinite, it teaches generally speaking that good works are a spontaneous consecpience of justifying faith, without being of any avail for life eternal. Apart from earlier dogmatic declarations given in the Second Synod of Orange of 529 and in the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215 fsee Denzinger, 191, 430), the Council of Trent upheld the traditional doctrine of merit by insisting that life everlasting is both a grace and a reward (Sess. VI, cap. xvi, in Denzinger, n. 809). It condemned as heretical Luther's doctrine of the sinful- ness of good works (Sess. VI, can. xxv), and declared as a dogma that the just, in return for their good works done in Cifid through the merits of Jesus Christ, should expect an eternal reward (loc. cit., can. xxvi).

This doctrine of the Church simply echoes Scripture


and Tradition. The Old Testament already declares the meritoriousne.ss of good works before God. "But the ju.st shall live for evermore: and their reward is with the Lord" (Wis., v, Ki). "Be not afraid to be justified e\en to death: for the reward of God con- tinucth for ever" (Ecclus., xviii, 22). Christ Him.self adds a special reward to each of the Eight Beatitudes, and he ends with this fundamental thoiiglit: "Be glad and rejoice, for your reward is very great in heaven" (Matt., V, 12). In His description of the Last Judg- ment, He makes the possession of eternal bliss depend on the practice of the corporal works of mercy (Matt., xxv, 34 sqq.). Although St. Paul insists on nothing more strongly than the absolute gratuitousness of Christian grace, still he acknowledges merits fmuided on grace and also the reward due to them on tlie part of God, which he variously calls "prize" (Phil., iii, 14; I Cor., ix, 24), "rewarf" (Col., iii, 24; I Cor., iii, 8), "crown of justice" (II Tim., iv, 7sq.; cf. James, i, 12). It is worthy of note that, in these and many others, gooil works are not represented as mere adjuncts of justifying faith, but as real fruits of justification and part causes of our eternal happiness. And the greater the merit, the greater will be the reward in heaven (cf. Matt., xvi, 27; I Cor., iii, 8; II Cor., ix, 6). Thus the Bible itself refutes the assertion that " the idea of merit is originally foreign to the Gospel " (" Realen- cyklopiidie fijr protest. Theologie," XX, 3rd ed. Leipzig, 1908, p. 501). That Christian grace can be merited either by the observance of the Jewish law or by mere natural works (see Grace), this alone is foreign to the Bible. On the other hand, eternal reward is promised in the Bifjle to those supernatural works which are performed in the state of grace, and that because they are meritorious (cf. Matt., xxv, 34 sqq.; Rom., ii, 6 sqq.; II Cor., v, 10).

Even Protestants concede that, in the oldest liter- ature of the Apostolic Fathers and Christian Apolo- gists, "the idea of merit was read into the Gospel," and that Tertullian by defending "merit in the strict sense gave the key-note to Western Catholicism" (Realencykl., pp. 501, 502). He was followed by St. Cyprian with the declaration: " You can attain to the vision of God, if you deserve it by your life and works" ("De op. et elemos.", xiv, ed. Hartel, I, 384). With vSt. Ambrose (De offic, I, xv, 57) and St. Augustine (De niorib. eeel., I, xxv), the other Fathers of the Church took the Catholic doctrine on merit as a guide in their teaching, especially in their homilies to the faithful, so that uninterrupted agreement is secured between Bible and Tradition, between patristic and scholastic teaching, between the past and the present. If therefore "the reformation was mainly a struggle again-st the doctrine of merit" (Realencyklopa<lie, loc. eit., p. 506) this only proves that the Council cjf Trent defended against unjustified innovations the old doctrine of the mcritoriousness of good works, founded alike on Scrijjturc and Tradition.

(b) This doctrine of the Church, moreover, fully accords with natural ethics. Divine Providence, as the supreme lawgiver, owes it to itself to give effica- cious sanction to both the natural and the super- natural law with their many commandments and pro- hibitions, and to secure their observance by holding out rewards and punishments. Even human laws are provided with sanctions, which are often very severe. He who denies the mcritoriousness of good works performed by the just must necessarily also deny the culpability and demerit of the sinner's misdeeds ; must hold that sins remain without punishment, and that the fear of hell is both groundless and useless. If there be no eternal reward for an upright life and no eternal chastisement for sin, it will matter little to the majority of people whether they lead a good or a bad life. It is true that, even if there were neither reward nor punishment, it would be contrary to rational nature to lead an immoral life ; for the moral obligation