Whether a Man can Merit His Restoration after a Lapse
We proceed to the seventh article thus:
1. It seems that a man can merit his restoration after a lapse. For a man can merit what he can justly ask of God, and nothing can be more justly asked of God than to be restored after a lapse, as Augustine says in his commentary on Ps.71:9: |forsake me not when my strength faileth.| A man can therefore merit his restoration after a lapse.
2. Again, a man's own works profit himself more than another. But he can merit restoration after a lapse for another, in the same manner in which he can merit the first grace for him. Much more, therefore, can he merit restoration after a lapse for himself.
3. Again, it was explained in Art.2, and also in Q.109, Art, 5, that a man who has once been in grace has merited eternal life for himself by his good works. But he cannot attain eternal life unless he is restored through grace. It seems, therefore, that he has merited his restoration through grace.
On the other hand: it is said in Ezek.18:24: |But when the righteous turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity . . . All his righteousness that he hath done shall not be mentioned.| His previous merits shall thus be of no avail for his restoration. Hence no man can merit restoration after a future lapse.
I answer: no man can merit his restoration after a future lapse, either by condign or by congruous merit. He cannot merit it condignly, because condign merit depends essentially on the gracious moving of God, and this is impeded by subsequent sin. Merit cannot then be the reason for any of the benefits which a man later receives from God for his restoration, since the previous gracious moving of God does not extend to them. On the other hand, congruous merit, by which one merits the first grace for another, is prevented from realizing its effect by an impediment of sin in him on whose behalf it is merited. Much more, then, is congruous merit made ineffective when the impediment is in him who merits, since the impediment then counts twice in the one person. Hence no man can in any wise merit his own restoration after a lapse.
On the first point: the desire by which one desires to be restored after a lapse is said to be just. So likewise a prayer for such restoration is called just, since it tends to justice. But it depends entirely on mercy, not on justice to merit.
On the second point: one can merit the first grace for another because there is no impediment, at least on the part of him who merits, such as there is in one who has lapsed from the state of justice after once possessing the merit of grace.
On the third point: some have said that no one merits eternal life absolutely, but only on condition that he perseveres, except when one merits it by an act of final grace. But this is unreasonable, since an act of final grace may sometimes be less meritorious than previous acts of grace, owing to the stricture of illness. We must therefore say that any act of charity merits eternal life absolutely. But subsequent sin puts an obstacle in the way, which prevents the effect of previous merit from being realized; just as natural causes fail to produce their effect because some obstacle intervenes.