Open main menu

Page:Catholic Encyclopedia, volume 10.djvu/240

This page needs to be proofread.




of supererogation, such us the vow of perpetual chastity, good and meritorious, but also works of obligation, such as the faithful observance of the commandments. Christ Himself actually made the attainment of Heaven depend on the mere observance of the ten commandments when he answered the youth who was anxious about his salvation: "If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments" (Matt., xix, 17). According to the authentic declaration of the Fourth Lateran Council (1215), the married state is also meritorious for heaven: "Not only those who live in virginity and continence, but also those who are married, please God by their faith and good works and merit eternal happiness" (cap. Firmiter, in Denzinger, n. 430). As to morally indifferent actions (e. g., exercise and play, recreation derived from reading and music), some moralists hold with the Scotists that such works may be indifferent not only in the abstract, but also practically; this opinion, however, is rejected by the majority of theologians. Those who hold this view must hold that such morally indifferent actions are neither meritorious nor de- meritorious, but become meritorious in proportion as they are made morally good by means of the " good intention". Although the voluntary omission of a work of obligation, such as the hearing of Mass on Sundays, is sinful and thereby demeritorious, still, according to the opinion of Suarez (De gratia, X, ii, 5 sqq.), it is more than doubtful whether conversely the mere omission of a bad action is in itself meri- torious. But the overcoming of a temptation would be meritorious, since this struggle is a positive act and not a mere omission. Since the external work as such derives its entire moral value from the interior disposition, it adds no increase of merit except in so far as it reacts on the will and has the effect of inten- sifj-ing and sustaining its action (cf. De Lugo, "De pcenit.", disp. xxiv, sect. 6).

»\s to the second requisite, i. e., moral liberty, it is clear from ethics that actions, due to external force or internal compulsion, can deserve neither reward nor punishment. It is an axiom of criminal jurisprudence that no one .shall be punished for a misdeed done without free will ; similarly, a good work can only then be meritorious and deser\ing of reward when it pro- ceeds from a free determination of the will. This is the teaching of Christ (Matt., xix, 21): "If thou wilt be perfect, go sell what thou hast, and give it to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven."

The necessity of the third condition, i. e., of the influence of actual grace, is clear from the fact that every act meriting heaven must evidently be super- natural just as heaven itself is supernatural, and that consequently it cannot be performed without the help of prevenient and assisting grace, which is neces- sary even for the just. The strictly supernatural destiny of the Beatific Vision, for which the Christian must strive, necessitates ways and means which lie altogether beyond what is purely natural (see Gr.^ce).

Finally, a supernatural motive is required because good works must be supernatural, not only as regards their object and circiunstances, but also as regards the end for which they are performed (ex fine). But, in assigning the necessarj' qualities of this motive, the- ologians differ widely. While some require the motive of faith (motivum fidei) in order to have merit, others demand in addition the motive of charity (mntimim caritatis), and thus, by rendering the con- ditions more difficult, considerably restrict the e.xt«nt of meritorious works (as distinguished from merely good works). Others again set down as the only condition of merit that the good work of the just man, who already has habitual faith and charity, be in con- formity with the Divine law, and require no other special motive. Tliis last opinion, which is in ac- cordance with the practice of the majority of the faithful, is tenable, provided faith and charity exert

at least an habitual (not necessarily virtual or actual) influence upon the good work, which influence essen- tially consists in this, that man at the time of his conversion makes an act of faith and of love of God, thereby knowingly and willingly beginning his super- natural journey towards God in heaven; this intention habitually retains its influence as long as it has not been revoked by mortal sin. And, since there is a grave obligation to make acts of faith, hope, and charity from time to time, these two motives will thereby beoc- casionally renewed and revived. For the controversy regarding the motive of faith see Chr. Pesch, "Praelect. dogmat.", V, 3rd ed. (1908), 225 sqq.; on the motive of charity, see Pohle, "Dogmatik" II 4th ed. (1909), 565 sqq.

(b) The agent who merits must fulfil two conditions ; he must be in the state of pilgrimage (slalus vice) and in the state of grace (sliitus gratice). By the state of pilgrimage is to be understood our earthly life ; death, as a natural (although not an essentially necessary) limit, closes the time of meriting. The time of sowing is confined to this life; the reaping is reserved for the next, when no man will be able to sow either wheat or cockle. Comparing the earthly life with day and the time after death with night, Christ says: "The night Cometh, when no man can W'Ork [operari]" (John, ix, 4; cf. Eccl., xi, 3; Ecclus., xiv, 17). The opinion proposed by a few theologians (Hirscher, Schell), that for certain classes of men there may still be a possibility of conversion after death, is contrary to the revealed truth that the particular judgment (judicium particulare) determines instantly and definitively whether the future is to be one of eternal happiness or of eternal misery (cf. Kleutgen, "Theologie der Vorzeit", II, 2nd ed., Miinster, 1872, pp. 427 sqq.). Baptized children, who die before attaining the age of reason, are admitted to heaven without merits on the sole title of inheritance (titulus horreditatis); in the case of adults, however, there is the additional title of reward {titulus mercedis), and for that reason they will enjoy a greater measure of eternal happiness.

In addition to the state of pilgrimage, the state of grace (i. e., the possession of sanetifj-ing grace) is required for meriting, because only the just can be "sons of God" and "heirs of heaven" (cf. Rom., viii, 17). In the parable of the vine Christ expressly declares the "abiding in him" a necessary condition for " bearing fruit ": " He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same beareth much fruit" (John, xv, 5); and this constant union with Christ is effected only by sanctifying grace. In opposition to Va.squez, most theologians are of opinion that one who is holier will gain greater merit for a given work than one who is less holy, although the latter perform the same work under exactly the same circumstances and in the same way. The reason is that a higher degree of grace enhances the godlike dignity of the agent, and this dignity increases the value of the merit. This ex- plains why God, in consideration of the greater holi- ness of some saints specially dear to Him, has deigned to grant favours which otherwise He w'ould have refused (Job, xlii, 8; Dan., iii, 35).

(c) Merit requires on the part of God that He accept (in actu secumJo) the good work as meritorious, even though the work in itself {in actu prima) and pre- vious to its acceptance by God, be already truly meritorious. Theologians, however, are not agreed as to the necessity of this condition. The Scotists hold that the entire condignity of the good work rests exclusively on the gratuitous promise of Clod and His free acceptance, without which even the most heroic act is devoid of merit, and with which even mere naturally good works may become meritorious. Other theologians with Suarez (De gratia, XIII, 30) maintain that, before and without Divine acceptance, the strict equality that exists between merit and re-