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MERIT


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MERIT


to do always what is right, does not of itself depend on retribution. But Kant undoubtedly went too far when he repudiated as immoral those actions which are performed with a view to our personal happiness or to that of others, and proclaimed the " categorical imperative," i. e., frigid duty clearly perceived, as the only motive of moral conduct, for, though this so-called "autonomy of the moral will" may at first sight appear highly ideal, still it is unnatural and cannot be carried out in practical life, because virtue and happiness, duty and merit (with the claim to reward), are not mutually exclusive, but, as correla- tives, they rather condition and complete each other. The peace of a good conscience that follows the faith- ful performance of duty is an unsought-for reward of our action and an interior happiness of which no calamity can deprive us, so that, as a matter of fact, duty and happiness are always linked together.

(c) But is not this continual acting "with one eye on heaven", with which Professor Jodl reproaches Catholic moral teaching, the meanest "mercenary spirit" and greed which necessarily vitiates to the core all moral action? Can there be any question of morality, if it is only the desire for eternal bliss or simply the fear of hell that determines one to do good and avoid evil? Such a disposition is certainly far from being the ideal of Catholic morality. On the contrary, the Church proclaims to all her children that pure love of Ciod is the first and supreme com- mandment (cf. Mark, xii, .30). It is our highest ideal to act out of love. For he who truly loves God would keep His commandments, even though there were no eternal reward in the next life. Nevertheless, the desire for heaven is a necessary and natural conse- quence of the perfect love of God; for heaven is only the perfect possession of God by love. As a true friend desires to see his friend without thereby sinking into egotism .so does the loving soul ardently desire the Beatific Vision, not from a craving for reward, but out of pure love. It is unfortunately too true that only the best type of Christians, and especially the great saints of the Church, reach this high standard of morality in everyday life. The great majority of or- dinary Christians must be deterred from sin princi- pally by the fear of hell and spurred on to good works by the thought of an eternal reward, before they attain perfect love. But, even for those souls who love God, there are times of grave temptation when only the thought of heaven and hell keeps them from falling. Such a disposition, be it habitual or only transitory, is morally less perfect, but it is not immoral. As, according to Christ's doctrine and that of St. Paul (see above), it is legitimate to hope for a heavenly reward, so, according to the same doctrine of Christ (cf. Matt., x, 28), the fear of hell is a motive of moral action, a "grace of God and an impulse of the Holy Cihost" (Council of Trent, Sess. XIV, cap. iv, in Denzinger, n. 898). Only that desire for remuneration (amor nierrrnarius) is reprehensible which would content itself with an eternal happiness without God, and that "doubly servile fear" (limor serviliter servilis) is alone immoral which proceeds from a mere dread of pimishment without at the same time fearing God. But the dogmatic as well as the moral teaching of the Church avoids both of these extremes (see Attrition).

Besides blaming the Church for fostering a " craving for reward," Protestants also accuse her of teaching "justification by works ' '. External works alone, they allege, such as fasting, almsgiving, pilgrimages, the recitation of the rosary etc., make the Catholic good and holy, the interior intention and dtsposition being held to no account. "The whole doctrine of merit, especially as explained by Catholics is based on the erroneous view which places the essence of morality in the individual action without any regard for the interior disposition as the habitual direction of the


personal will" (Realencyklopadie, loc. cit., p. 508). Only the grossest ignorance of Catholic doctrine can prompt such remarks. In accord with the Bible the Church teaches that the external work has a moral value only when and in so far as it proceeds from a right interior disposition and intention (cf. Matt., vi, 1 sqq.; Mark, xii, 41 sqq.; I Cor., x, 31, etc.). As the body receives its life from the soul, .so must exter- nal actions be penetrated and vi\'ifieil by holiness of intention. In a beautiful play on words St. Augus- tine says (Serm. iii, n. xi): Bonos mores fachint boni amores. Hence the Church urges her children to forming each morning the " good intention", that they may thereby sanctify the whole day and make even the indifferent actions of their e.xterior life serve for the glory of God; "all for the greater glory of God", is the constant prayer of the faithful Catholic. Not only docs the moral teaching of the Catholic Church attribute no moral value whatever to the mere exter- nal performance of good works without a correspond- ing good intention, but it detests such performance as hj-procrisy and pretence. On the other hand, our good intention, provided it be genuine and deep- rooted, naturally spurs us on to external works, and without these works it would be reduced to a mere semblance of life.

A third charge against the Catholic doctrine on merit is summed up in the word "self-righteousness", as if the just man utterly disregarded the merits of Christ and arrogated to himself the whole credit of his good works. If any Catholic has ever been so Phari- saical as to hold and practi.se this doctrine, he has certainly set himself in direct opposition to what the Church teaches. The Church has always proclaimed what St. Augustine expresses in the words: "Non Deus coronat merita tua tanquam merita tua, sed tanquam dona sua" (De grat. et lib. arbitrio, xv), i. e., God crowns thy merits, not as thine earnings, but as His gifts. Nothing was more strongly and frequently- inculcated by the Council of Trent than the proposi- tion that the faithful owe their entire capability of meriting and all their good works solely to the infinite merits of the Redeemer Jesus Christ. It is indeed clear that meritorious works, as "fruits of the justifi- cation", cannot be anything but merits due to grace, and not merits due to nature (cf. Council of Trent, Sess. VI, cap. xvi). The Catholic certainly must rely on the merits of Christ, and, far from boasting of his o%\'n self-righteousness, he must acknowledge in all humility that even his merits, acquired with the help of grace, are full of imperfections, and that his justifi- cation is uncertain (see Grace). Of the satisfactory works of penance the Council of Trent makes this ex- plicit declaration: "Thus, man has not wherein to glory, but all our glorying is in Christ, in whom we live, move, and make satisfaction, bringing forth fruits worthy of penance, which from Him have their efficacy, are by Him offered to the Father, and through Him find with the Father acceptance" (Sess. XIV, cap. viii, in Denzinger, n. 904). Does this read like self-righteousness?

III. Conditions of Merit. — For all true merit (rere mercri; Council of Trent, Sess. VI, can. xxxii), by which is to be understood only merilum de condigno fsee Pallavicini, "Hist. Concil. Trident.", VIII, iv), theologians have set down seven conditions, of which four regard the meritorious work, two the agent who merits, and one God who rewards.

(a) In order to be meritorious a work must be morally good, morally free, done with the assistance of actual grace, and inspired by a supernatural mo- tive. As every evil deed implies demerit and deserves punishment, so the very notion of merit supposes a morally good work. St. Paul teaches that "whatso- ever good thing [honinn] any.jnan shall do, the same shall he receive from the Lord, whether he be bond, or free" (Eph. vi, 8). Not only are more perfect works