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Grace Actual And Habitual by Joseph Pohle

Section 2. The Requisites Of Merit

As we are dealing with the |fruits of justification,| it becomes necessary to ascertain the requisites or conditions of true merit. There are seven such; four have reference to the meritorious work itself, two to the agent who performs it, and one to God who gives the reward.

1. REQUISITES OF MERIT ON THE PART OF THE MERITORIOUS WORK. -- A work, to be meritorious, must be morally good, free, performed with the assistance of actual grace, and inspired by a supernatural motive.

a) As every evil deed implies demerit and is deserving of punishment, so the notion of merit supposes a morally good work (opus honestum).

Cfr. Eph. VI, 8: |Knowing that whatsoever good thing any man shall do, the same shall he receive from the Lord.|(1276) 2 Cor. V, 10: |We must all be manifested before the judgment-seat of Christ, that every one may receive the proper things of the body, according as he hath done, whether it be good or evil.|(1277) There are no morally indifferent works in individuo, i.e. practically; and if there were, they could be neither meritorious nor demeritorious, but would become meritorious in proportion as they are made morally good by means of a |good intention.| It would be absolutely wrong to ascribe merit only to the more perfect works of supererogation (opera supererogatoria), such as the vow of perpetual chastity, excluding all works of mere obligation, such as the faithful observance of the commandments. Being morally good, the works of obligation are also meritorious, because goodness and meritoriousness are correlative terms.(1278) Whether the mere omission of an evil act is in itself meritorious, is doubtful.(1279) But most theologians are agreed in holding that the external work, as such, adds no merit to the internal act, except in so far as it reacts on the will and sustains and intensifies its operation. This and similar questions properly belong to moral theology.

b) The second requisite of merit is moral liberty (libertas indifferens ad actum), that is to say, freedom from both external and internal compulsion. This has been dogmatically defined against Jansenius.(1280)

That there can be no merit without liberty is clearly inculcated by Sacred Scripture. Cfr.1 Cor. IX, 17: |For if I do this willingly, I have a reward.|(1281) Matth. XIX, 17: |If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.|(1282) |Where there is compulsion,| says St. Jerome, |there is neither a crown nor damnation.|(1283) The morality of an act depends entirely on its being an actus humanus. Now no act is truly |human| unless it be freely performed. Consequently, freedom of choice is an indispensable condition of moral goodness and therefore also of merit.

What kind of liberty is necessary to enable the will to acquire merit? Theologians answer by saying that it is libertas contradictionis sive exercitii. If I do a good deed which I am free to do or not to do, I perform a morally good and therefore meritorious work. As regards the libertas specificationis, (that freedom by which a person may act thus or otherwise, e.g. give alms to one applicant in preference to another, or mortify himself in this or that particular manner), there can be no doubt that, whatever the choice made, the action is always good and meritorious. However, theologians have excogitated a hypothetical case in which an action may be physically free without being meritorious. It is when one is compelled to do a certain thing and is free only in so far as he is able to choose between two actions exactly equal in moral worth. This would be the case, for instance, if he had to pay a debt of ten dollars and were left free to pay it either in coin or in currency. The more common opinion is that in a case of this kind there would be a lack of that liberty which is necessary to render an act morally good and therefore meritorious.(1284)

c) The third requisite of merit is actual grace. Its necessity is evident from the fact that, to be meritorious, an act must be supernatural and consequently cannot be performed without the aid of prevenient and cooeperating grace.(1285)

d) Merit further requires a supernatural motive, for the reason that every good work must be supernatural, both as regards object and circumstances (ex obiecto et circumstantiis), and the end for which it is performed (ex fine). In determining the necessary qualities of this motive, however, theologians differ widely.

{GREEK SMALL LETTER ALPHA}) A considerable number, mostly of the Thomist persuasion, demand the motive of theological charity, and consequently regard the state of charity (caritas habitualis sive status caritatis et gratiae) as essential for the meritoriousness of all good works performed in the state of grace, even if they are performed from some other, truly supernatural though inferior motive, such as obedience, the fear of God, etc. This rigorous school is constrained to raise the question whether every single good work, to be supernaturally meritorious, must proceed from an act of divine charity (toties quoties), or whether the virtual influence of one act is sufficient to endow a series of subsequent acts with meritoriousness. Only a few Thomist theologians(1286) defend the first-mentioned theory. The majority(1287) hold that the influxus virtualis caritatis is sufficient. This view is vigorously defended by Cardinal Bellarmine, who says: |It is not enough to make a general good intention at the beginning of a year, or month, or day, by which all future actions are referred to God; but it is necessary to refer each particular act to God before it is performed.|(1288) The advocates of this theory base their opinion on certain Scriptural and Patristic texts, and especially on St. Thomas, whose teaching they misunderstand.(1289)

The dogmatic question whether good works can be meritorious without being inspired by supernatural charity, has nothing to do with the moral problem whether there is an obligation to make an act of charity from time to time, except in so far as habitual charity, -- i.e. the state of charity, which is always required for merit, nay even for the preservation of sanctifying grace, -- cannot be permanently sustained unless renewed from time to time and effectuated by a fresh act of that virtue.(1290) St. Alphonsus teaches that every man is obliged to make an act of charity at least once a month, but he is contradicted by other eminent moralists. In practice it is well to insist on frequent acts of charity because such acts not only confirm and preserve the state of grace, but render our good works incomparably more meritorious in the sight of God. Hence, too, the importance of making a |good intention| every morning before beginning the day's work.(1291)

{GREEK SMALL LETTER BETA}) There is a second group of very eminent theologians, including Suarez,(1292) Vasquez,(1293) De Lugo, and Ballerini, who hold that, to be meritorious, the good works of a just man, who has habitual charity, need only conform to the divine law, no special motive being required. These writers base their teaching on the Tridentine decree which says: |For this is that crown of justice which the Apostle declared was, after his fight and course, laid up for him, to be rendered to him by the Just Judge, and not only to him, but also to all that love His coming. For, whereas Jesus Christ Himself continually infuses His virtue into the said justified, -- as the head into the members and the vine into the branches, -- and this virtue always precedes, and accompanies, and follows their good works, which without it could not in any wise be pleasing and meritorious before God (can.2), we must believe that nothing further is wanting to the justified to prevent their being accounted to have, by those very works which have been done in God, fully satisfied the divine law according to the state of this life, and to have truly merited eternal life, to be obtained also in its [due] time, if so be, however, that they depart in grace.|(1294) This teaching is in harmony with Scripture. The Bible nowhere requires an act of charity to make good works meritorious for Heaven. In the |eight beatitudes|(1295) our Lord Himself promises eternal glory for works which are not all works of charity, nor even dictated by charity, either formal or virtual. When He was asked: |Master, what good shall I do that I may have life everlasting?|(1296) he did not answer with Bellarmine: |Steep all thy works in the motive of charity,| but declared: |If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.|(1297) And when requested to specify, He simply cited the ordinary precepts of the Decalogue.(1298) We also know that at the Last Judgment He will receive the elect into the |kingdom of His Father| solely in consideration of the works of mercy they have done.(1299)

Theological reasoning lends its support to this view. If good works performed without the motive of charity were not supernaturally meritorious, this would be attributable to one of three causes. Either the just would sin by doing good; or good works performed without charity would not be deserving of eternal beatitude; or, finally, there would be no strict equality between service and reward. All three of these suppositions are untenable. The first would lead to Bajanism or Jansenism.(1300) The second and third overlook the fact that the requisite proportion (condignitas) between service and reward is furnished by sanctifying grace or habitual charity, which, as deificatio, adoptive sonship, and union with the Holy Ghost, actually supplies that for which the motivum caritatis is demanded.

We might ask the advocates of the more rigorous opinion, whence the act of charity which they demand for every meritorious work, derives its peculiar proportionality or condignitas with the beatific vision. Surely not from itself, because as an act it is merely primus inter pares, without in any essential respect excelling other motives. There is no alternative but to attribute it to that quasi-divine dignity which is imparted to the just man and his works by sanctifying grace.

For these reasons present-day theology regards the second theory as sufficiently well established and the faithful are largely guided by it in practice.(1301)

2. REQUISITES OF MERIT ON THE PART OF THE AGENT WHO MERITS. -- The agent who merits must be a wayfarer and in the state of sanctifying grace.

a) The wayfaring state (status viae) is merely another name for life on earth. Death as the natural, though not essentially necessary limit of life, closes the time of meriting. Nothing is more clearly taught in Holy Scripture than that we must sow in this world if we desire to reap in the next.(1302)

b) The second requisite is the state of sanctifying grace. Only the just can be |sons of God| and |heirs of heaven.|(1303) Cfr. John XV, 4: |As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abide in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in me.|(1304) Rom. VIII, 17: |And if sons, heirs also; heirs indeed of God, and joint heirs with Christ.|(1305)

Does the degree of sanctifying grace existing in the soul exert a decisive influence on the amount of merit due to the good works performed? This question can be easily solved on the theological principle that the supernatural dignity of the soul increases in proportion to its growth in sanctifying grace. Vasquez holds that, other things being equal, one who is holier gains no greater merit by performing a given work than one who is less holy.(1306) All other theologians(1307) hold with St. Thomas(1308) that the meritoriousness of a good deed is larger in proportion to the godlike dignity of the agent, which in turn is measured by the degree of sanctifying grace in the soul. This explains why God, in consideration of the greater holiness of some saints who are especially dear to Him, often deigns through their intercession to grant favors which He refuses to others.(1309)

3. THE REQUISITES OF MERIT ON THE PART OF GOD. -- Merit requires but one thing on the part of God, viz.: that He accept the good work in actu secundo as deserving of reward. Since, however, theologians are not agreed on this point, we are dealing merely with a more or less well-founded opinion.

Though the good works of the just derive a special intrinsic value from the godlike dignity of adoptive sonship, and, consequently, in actu primo, are truly meritorious prior to and apart from their acceptance by God, yet human service and divine remuneration are separated by such a wide gulf that, in order to make a good deed meritorious in actu secundo, the divine acceptance and promise of reward must be expressly superadded.

In regard to the relation between service and reward Catholic theologians are divided into three schools.

The Scotists(1310) hold that the condignitas of a good work rests entirely on God's gratuitous promise and free acceptance, without which even the most heroic act would be utterly devoid of merit, whereas with it even naturally good works may become meritorious. This rather shallow theory almost completely loses sight of the godlike dignity peculiar to the just in their capacity of |adopted children of God| and |temples of the Holy Ghost,| and is unable to account for such important Biblical terms as |crown of justice,| |prize of victory,| |just judge,| etc.

Suarez and his school contend that there is such a perfectly balanced equality between merit and reward that God is obliged in strict justice (ex obligatione iustitiae), prior to and apart from any formal act of acceptance or promise on His part, to reward good works by the beatific vision. This view is scarcely tenable because there is no common basis on which to construe a relation of strict justice between the Creator and His creatures,(1311) and moreover St. Paul expressly teaches that |The sufferings of this time are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come.|(1312)

Hence we prefer to hold with Lessius,(1313) Vasquez,(1314) and De Lugo(1315) that the condignitas or equality existing between merit and reward, owes its origin both to the intrinsic value of the good work itself and to the free acceptance and gratuitous promise of God. This solution duly respects the intrinsic value of merit in actu primo, without derogating from the sublime dignity of God, who rewards good works not because He is obliged to do so by the merits of a mere creature, but solely because He is bound by His own truthfulness and fidelity. Thus God's justice towards His creatures is placed upon a free basis, and there is no violation of justice (iniuria) on His part. |From the fact that our actions have no merit except on the supposition that God so ordained,| says St. Thomas, |it does not follow that God is simply our debtor; He is His own debtor, i.e. He owes it to Himself to see that His commands are obeyed.|(1316) This teaching can be proved from Sacred Scripture. Cfr. James I, 12: |He shall receive the crown of life, which God hath promised to them that love him.|(1317) It is reechoed by St. Augustine: |God is made our debtor, not by receiving anything from us, but because it pleased Him to promise us something. For it is in a different sense that we say to a man: You are indebted to me because I have given you something, and: You owe this to me because you have promised it. To God we never say: Give back to me because I have given to Thee. What have we given to God, since it is from Him that we have received whatever we are and whatever good we possess? We have therefore given Him nothing.... In this manner, therefore, may we demand of God, by saying: Give me what Thou hast promised, because we have done what Thou didst command, and it is Thyself that hast done it because Thou hast aided our labors.|(1318) The Tridentine Council seems to endorse this view when it says: |Life eternal is to be proposed to those ... hoping in God ... as a reward which is, according to the promise of God Himself, to be faithfully rendered to their good works and merits.|(1319)

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