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MERIT


207


MERIT


ward founds a claim of justice to have the good works rewarded in heaven. Both these views are extreme. The Scotists almost completely lose sight of the godlike dignity which belongs to the just as " adopted children of God", and which naturally impresses on their supernatural actions the character of meritoriousness ; Suarez, on the other hand, unnecessarily exaggerates the notion of Divine justice and the condignity of merit, for the abyss that lies between human service and Divine remuneration is ever so wide that there could be no obligation of bridging it over by a gratui- tous promise of reward and the subsequent acceptance on the part of God who has bound himself by His own fidelity. Hence we prefer with Lessius (De perfect, moribusque div., XIII, ii) and De Lugo (De incarnat. disp. 3, sect. 1 sq.) to follow a middle course. We therefore say that the condignity between merit and reward owes its origin to a twofold source: to the in- trinsic value of the good work and to the free accept^ ance and gratuitous promise of God (cf. James, i, 12). See Schiffini, " De gratia diviiia" (Freiburg, 1901), pp. 416 sqq.

IV. The Objects of Merit. — Merit in the strict sense {meritum de condigno) gives a right to a threefold reward: increase of sanctifying grace, heavenly glory, and the increase thereof; other graces can be acquired only in virtue of congruous merit {meritum de congruo).

(a) In its Sixth Session (can. xxxii), the Council of Trent declared : " If any one saith . . . that the justified man by good works . . . does not truly merit [vere mereri] increase of grace, eternal life, and the attainment of that eternal life — if so be, however, that he depart in grace — and also an increase in glory; let him be anathema." The expression " vere mereri" shows that the three objects mentioned above can be merited in the true and strict sense of the word, viz., de condigno. Increase of grace (aiigmenlum gratia;) is named in the first place to exclude the first grace of justification concerning which the council had already taught: "None of those things, which precede justifi- cation — whether faith or works — merit the grace itself of justification" (Sess. VI, cap. viii). This impossi- bility of meriting the first habitual grace is as much a dogma of our Faith as the absolute impossibility of meriting the first actual grace (see Grace). The growth in sanctifying grace, on the other hand, is per- fectly evident from both Scripture and Tradition (cf. Ecclus., xviii, 22; II Cor., ix, 10; Apoc, x.xii, 11 sq.). To the question whether the right to actual graces needed by the just be also an object of strict merit, theologians commonly answer that, together with the increase of habitual grace, merely sufficient graces may be merited de condigno, but not efljcacious graces. The reason is that the right to efficacious graces would necessarily include the strict right to final per- severance, which lies completely outside the sphere of condign merit although it may be obtained by prayer (see Grace). Not even heroic acts give a strict right to graces which are always efficacious or to final perseverance, for even the greatest saint is still obliged to watch, pray, and tremble lest he fall from the state of grace. This explains why the Council of Trent purposely omitted efficacious grace and the gift of perseverance, when it enumerated the objects of merit.

Life everlasting (inta aterna) is the second object of merit; the dogmatical proof for this assertion has been given above in treating of the existence of merit. It still remains to inquire whether the distinction made by the Council of Trent between vita ceterna and vitce oeternw consecutio is meant to signify a twofold reward: "life everlasting" and "the attainment of life everlasting", and hence a twofold object of merit. But theologians rightly deny that the council had this in view, because it is clear that the right to a reward coincides with the right to the payment of the same. Nevertheless, the distinction was not useless or super-


fluous because, notwithstanding the right to eternal glory, the actual possession of it must necessarily be put off until death, and even then depends upon the condition: " si tamen in gratia decesserit" (provided he depart in grace). With this last condition the council wished also to inculcate the salutary truth that sanctifying grace may be lost by mortal sin, and that the loss of the state of grace ipso facto entaUs the forfeiture of all merits however great. Even the greatest saint, should he die in tlie state of mortal sin, arrives in eternity as an enemy of God with empty hands, justasif duringlifehehad never done anything, meritorious. All his former rights to grace and glory are cancelled. To make them revive a new justifi- cation is necessary. On this "revival of merits" {reviviscentia meritormn) see Schiffini, "De gratia divina" (Freiburg, 1901), pp. 661 sqq.; this question is treated in detail by Pohle, "Dogmatik", III (4th ed., Paderborn, 1910), pp. 440 sqq.

As the third object of merit the coimcil mentions the "increase of glory" (glorice augmcntum) which evidently must correspond to the increase of grace, as this corresponds to the accumulation of good works. At the Last Day, when Christ will come with his angels to judge the world, "He will render to every man according to his works [secundum opera eius]" (Matt., xvi, 27; cf. Rom., ii, 6). And St. Paul repeats the same (I Cor., iii, 8): " Every man shall receive his own reward, according to his own labour [secundum suum laboi-em]". This explains the inequality that exists between the glory of the different saints.

(b) By his good works the just man may merit for himself many graces and favours, not, however, by right and justice (de condigno), but only congruously (de congruo). Most theologians incline to the opinion that the grace of final perseverance is among the ob- jects of congruous merit, which grace, as has been shown above, is not and cannot be merited condignly. It is better, however, and safer if, with a view to ob- taining this great grace on which our eternal happiness depends, we have recourse to fervent and unremitting prayer, for Christ held out to us that above all our spiritual needs he would infallibly hear our prayer for this great gift (cf . Matt., x.xi, 22 ; Mark, xi, 24 ; Luke, xi, 9; John, xiv, 13, etc.). For further explanation see Bellarmine, "De justif. ", V, xxii; Tepe, "Instit. theol.". Ill (Paris, 1896), 258 sqq.

It is impossible to answer with equal certainty the question whether the just man is able to merit in advance the grace of conversion, if perchance he should happen to fall mto mortal sin. St. Thomas denies this absolutely: "Nullus potest sibi mereri reparationem post lapsum futurum neque merito con- digni neque merito congrui" (Summa Theol., I-II, Q. c.\iv, a. 7). But because the Prophet Jehu declared to Josaphat, the wicked King of Juda (cf. II Par., xix, 2 sqq.), that God had regard for his formermerits, almost all other theologians consider it a "pious and probable opinion " that God, in granting the grace of conversion, does not entirely disregard the merits lost by mortal sin, especially if the merits previously acquired surpass in number and weight the sins, which, perhaps, were due to weakness, and if those merits are not crushed, as it were, by a burden of iniquity (cf. Suarez, " De gratia", XII, 38). Prayer for future conversion from sin is indeed morally good and useful (cf. Ps., Ixx, 9), because the disposition by which we sincerely wish to be freed as soon as possible from the state of enmity with God cannot but be pleasing to Him. Temporal blessings, such as health, freedom from extreme pov- erty, success in one's undertakings, seem to be objects of congruous merit only in so far as they are con- ducive to eternal salvation; for only on this hypothe- sis do they assume the character of actual graces (cf. Matt., vi, 33). But, for obtaining temporal favours, prayer is more effective than meritorious works, pro- videdthat the granting of the petition be not against