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Nature And Grace by Aquinas

Article Ten Whether Temporal Goods can be Merited

Whether Temporal Goods can be Merited

We proceed to the tenth article thus:

1. It seems that temporal goods can be merited. For what is promised as a reward for righteousness is merited, and it appears from Deut., ch.28, that temporal goods were promised as a reward for righteousness under the old Law. Thus it seems that temporal goods can be merited.

2. Again, it seems that what God gives to a man in return for a service is merited. Now God sometimes rewards men for their services to him with temporal goods. For it is said in Ex.1:21: |And it came to pass, because the mid wives feared God, that he made them houses,| and the gloss by Gregory says: |their good will might have earned the reward of eternal life, but the guilt of their deceit earned a reward that was temporal.| Further, it is said in Ezek.29:18: |the king of Babylon caused his army to serve a great service against Tyrus: . . . yet he had no wages,| to which is added |and it shall be the wages for his army. I have given him the land of Egypt . . . because they wrought for me.| Thus temporal goods can be merited.

3. Again, evil is to demerit as good is to merit. Now some are punished by God for the demerit of sin by temporal punishments, as were the Sodomites (Gen., ch.19). Temporal goods, accordingly, may be merited.

4. On the other hand: things which are merited do not come alike to all. But temporal good and evil come alike to the righteous and to the unrighteous, according to Eccl.9:2: |All things come alike to all; there is one event to the righteous, and to the wicked; to the good and to the clean, and to the unclean; to him that sacrificeth and to him that sacrificeth not.| Thus temporal goods are not merited.

I answer: what is merited is a recompense or reward, and a recompense or reward has the nature of a good. Now the good of man is of two kinds, absolute and relative. The good of man which is absolute is his final end, according to Ps.73:28: |it is good for me to draw near to God,| together with all that is ordained to lead him to it. This good is merited absolutely. The good of man which is relative, and not absolute, is what is good for him at the present time, or what is good for him in certain circumstances. Accordingly, if it is their usefulness for the virtuous works through which we are brought to eternal life that we have in mind, we must say that temporal goods are merited; just as increase of grace is merited, and indeed everything else that follows the grace first received and helps a man on his way to blessedness. For God gives to just men as much of temporal goods, and of temporal evils also, as will help them to attain to eternal life, and such temporal things are so far good absolutely. Hence it is said in Ps.34:10: |they that seek the Lord shall not want any good thing,| and also in Ps.37:25: |yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken.| Considered in themselves, however, such temporal goods are not the good of man absolutely, but only relatively. They are therefore merited not absolutely, but only relatively. That is, they are merited in so far as men are moved by God to do certain temporal things, wherein they achieve what God sets before them, and through God's favour. We have already explained that eternal life is in an absolute sense the reward of works of justice, since it is related to the divine moving in a certain way (Arts.6 and 8). So also may temporal goods, considered in themselves, derive the character of reward from their relation to the divine moving by which the wills of men are moved to seek them. But men do not always seek them with the right motive.

On the first point: as Augustine says: |these promised temporal things contained the symbols of spiritual things to be fulfilled in us in time to come. But this carnal people held fast to what was promised for this present life, and not only their speech but their very life was prophetic.| (4 Contra Faustum 2.)

On the second point: these retributions are said to have been divinely wrought because they were the result of the divine moving, not because of their connection with wilful deceit. This is especially the case with regard to the king of Babylon, who besieged Tyre with the intention of usurping the throne, rather than of serving God. Neither had the midwives any integrity of will, since they fabricated falsehoods, even though their will did happen to be good when they liberated the children.

On the third point: temporal evils are inflicted on the ungodly as punishments, in so far as they do not help them to attain to eternal life. But they are not punishments to the just, who are helped by them. Rather are they as medicines, as we said in Q.87, Art.8.

On the fourth point: all things come alike to the good and to the wicked as regards the substance of temporal goods and evils, but not as regards the end. For the good are guided to blessedness by them, whereas the wicked are not.

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