By merit (meritum) in general is understood that property of a good work which
                     entitles the doer to receive a reward (prœmium, merces) from him in whose
                     service the work is done. By antonomasia, the word has come to designate also
                     the good work itself, in so far as it deserves a reward from the person in whose
                     service it was performed.

                     In the theological sense, a supernatural merit can only be a salutary act (actus
                     salutaris), to which God in consequence of his infallible promise owes a
                     supernatural reward, consisting ultimately in eternal life, which is the beatific
                     vision in heaven. As the main purpose of this article is to vindicate the Catholic
                     doctrine of the meritoriousness of good works, the subject is treated under the
                     four following heads:

                          I. Nature of Merit;
                          II. Existence of Merit;
                          III. Conditions of Merit, and
                          IV. Objects of Merit.

                                          I. NATURE OF MERIT

                     (a) If we analyse the definition given above, it becomes evident that the property
                     of merit can be found only in works that are positively good, whilst bad works,
                     whether they benefit or injure a third party, contain nothing but demerit
                     (demeritum) and consequently deserve punishment. Thus the good workman
                     certainly deserves the reward of his labour, and the thief deserves the
                     punishment of his crime. From this it naturally follows that merit and reward,
                     demerit and punishment, bear to each other the relation of deed and return; they
                     are correlative terms of which one postulates the other. Reward is due to merit,
                     and the reward is in proportion to the merit. This leads to the third condition, viz.,
                     that merit supposes two distinct persons, the one who acquires the merit and the
                     other who rewards it; for the idea of self-reward is just as contradictory as that of
                     self-punishment. Lastly, the relation between merit and reward furnishes the
                     intrinsic reason why in the matter of service and its remuneration the guiding
                     norm can be only the virtue of justice, and not disinterested kindness or pure
                     mercy; for it would destroy the very notion of reward to conceive of it as a free gift
                     of bounty (cf. Rom., xi, 6). If, however, salutary acts can in virtue of the Divine
                     justice give the right to an eternal reward, this is possible only because they
                     themselves have their root in gratuitous grace, and consequently are of their very
                     nature dependent ultimately on grace, as the Council of Trent emphatically
                     declares (Sess. VI, cap. xvi, in Denzinger, 10th ed., Freiburg, 1908, n. 810): "the
                     Lord . . . whose bounty towards all men is so great, that He will have the things,
                     which are His own gifts, be their merits."

                     Ethics and theology clearly distinguish two kinds of merit:

                          Condign merit or merit in the strict sense of the word (meritum
                          adœquatum sive de condigno), and
                          congruous or quasi-merit (meritum inadœquatum sive de congruo).

                     Condign merit supposes an equality between service and return; it is measured
                     by commutative justice (justitia commutativa), and thus gives a real claim to a
                     reward. Congruous merit, owing to its inadequacy and the lack of intrinsic
                     proportion between the service and the recompense, claims a reward only on the
                     ground of equity. This early-scholastic distinction and terminology, which is
                     already recognized in concept and substance by the Fathers of the Church in
                     their controversies with the Pelagians and Semipelagians, were again
                     emphasized by Johann Eck, the famous adversary of Martin Luther (cf. Greying,
                     "Joh. Eck als junger Gelehrter," Münster, 1906, pp. 153 sqq.). The essential
                     difference between meritum de condigno and meritum de congruo is based on
                     the fact that, besides those works which claim a remuneration under pain of
                     violating strict justice (as in contracts between employer and employee, in
                     buying and selling, etc.), there are also other meritorious works which at most
                     are entitled to reward or honour for reasons of equity (ex œquitate) or mere
                     distributive justice (ex iustitia distributiva), as in the case of gratuities and
                     military decorations. From an ethical point of view the difference practically
                     amounts to this that, if the reward due to condign merit be withheld, there is a
                     violation of right and justice and the consequent obligation in conscience to make
                     restitution, while, in the case of congruous merit, to withhold the reward involves
                     no violation of right and no obligation to restore, it being merely an offence
                     against what is fitting or a matter of personal discrimination (acceptio
                     personarum). Hence the reward of congruous merit always depends in great
                     measure on the kindness and liberality of the giver, though not purely and simply
                     on his good will.

                     In applying these notions of merit to man's relation to God it is especially
                     necessary to keep in mind the fundamental truth that the virtue of justice cannot
                     be brought forward as the basis of a real title for a Divine reward either in the
                     natural or in the supernatural order. The simple reason is that God, being
                     self-existent, absolutely independent, and sovereign, can be in no respect bound
                     in justice with regard to his creatures. Properly speaking, man possesses
                     nothing of his own; all that he has and all that he does is a gift of God, and, since
                     God is infinitely self-sufficient, there is no advantage or benefit which man can by
                     his services confer upon Him. Hence on the part of God there can only be
                     question of a gratuitous promise of reward for certain good works. For such
                     works He owes the promised reward, not in justice or equity, but solely because
                     He has freely bound himself, i.e., because of His own attributes of veracity and
                     fidelity. It is on this ground alone that we can speak of Divine justice at all, and
                     apply the principle: Do ut des (cf. St. Augustine, Serm. clviii, c. ii, in P. L.,
                     XXXVIII, 863).

                     (b) There remains the distinction between merit and satisfaction; for a meritorious
                     work is not identical, either in concept or in fact, with a satisfactory work. In the
                     language of theology, satisfaction means:

                          atoning by some suitable service for an injury done to another's honour or
                          for any other offence, in somewhat the same fashion as in modern duelling
                          outraged honour is satisfied by recourse to swords or pistols;
                          paying off the temporal punishment due to sin by salutary penitential
                          works voluntarily undertaken after one's sins have been forgiven. Sin, as
                          an offence against God, demands satisfaction in the first sense; the
                          temporal punishment due to sin calls for satisfaction in the second sense
                          (see PENANCE).

                     Christian faith teaches us that the Incarnate Son of God by His death on the
                     cross has in our stead fully satisfied God's anger at our sins, and thereby
                     effected a reconciliation between the world and its Creator. Not, however, as
                     though nothing were now left to be done by man, or as though he were now
                     restored to the state of original innocence, whether he wills it or not; on the
                     contrary, God and Christ demand of him that he make the fruits of the Sacrifice
                     of the Cross his own by personal exertion and co-operation with grace, by
                     justifying faith and the reception of baptism. It is a defined article of the Catholic
                     Faith that man before, in, and after justification derives his whole capability of
                     meriting and satisfying, as well as his actual merits and satisfactions, solely
                     from the infinite treasure of merits which Christ gained for us on the Cross (cf.
                     Council of Trent, Sess. VI, cap. xvi; Sess. XIV, cap. viii).

                     The second kind of satisfaction, that namely by which temporal punishment is
                     removed, consists in this, that the penitent after his justification gradually
                     cancels the temporal punishments due to his sins, either ex opere operato, by
                     conscientiously performing the penance imposed on him by his confessor, or ex
                     opere operantis, by self-imposed penances (such as prayer, fasting, almsgiving,
                     etc.) and by bearing patiently the sufferings and trials sent by God; if he neglects
                     this, he will have to give full satisfaction (satispassio) in the pains of purgatory
                     (cf. Council of Trent, Sess. XIV, can. xiii, in Denzinger, n. 923). Now, if the
                     concept of satisfaction in its twofold meaning be compared with that of merit as
                     developed above, the first general conclusion will be that merit constitutes a
                     debtor who owes a reward, whilst satisfaction supposes a creditor whose
                     demands must be met. In Christ's work of redemption merit and satisfaction
                     materially coincide almost to their full extent, since as a matter of fact the merits
                     of Christ are also works of satisfaction for man. But, since by His Passion and
                     Death He truly merited, not only graces for us, but also external glory for His own
                     Person (His glorious Resurrection and Ascension, His sitting at the right hand of
                     the Father, the glorification of His name of Jesus, etc.), it follows that His
                     personal merit extends further than His satisfaction, as He had no need of
                     satisfying for Himself. The substantial and conceptual distinction between merit
                     and satisfaction holds good when applied to the justified Christian, for every
                     meritorious act has for its main object the increase of grace and of eternal glory,
                     while satisfactory works have for their object the removal of the temporal
                     punishment still due to sin. In practice and generally speaking, however, merit
                     and satisfaction are found in every salutary act, so that every meritorious work is
                     also satisfactory and vice versa. It is indeed also essential to the concept of a
                     satisfactory work of penance that it be penal and difficult, which qualities are not
                     connoted by the concept of merit; but since, in the present state of fallen nature,
                     there neither is nor can be a meritorious work which in one way or another has
                     not connected with it difficulties and hardships, theologians unanimously teach
                     that all our meritorious works without exception bear a penal character and
                     thereby may become automatically works of satisfaction. Against how many
                     difficulties and distractions have we not to contend even during our prayers,
                     which by right should be the easiest of all good works! Thus, prayer also
                     becomes a penance, and hence confessors may in most cases content
                     themselves with imposing prayer as a penance. (Cf. De Lugo, "De pœnitentia,"
                     disp. xxiv, sect. 3.)

                     (c) Owing to the peculiar relation between and material identity of merit and
                     satisfaction in the present economy of salvation, a twofold value must in general
                     be distinguished in every good work: the meritorious and the satisfactory value.
                     But each preserves its distinctive character, theoretically by the difference in
                     concepts, and practically in this, that the value of merit as such, consisting in
                     the increase of grace and of heavenly glory, is purely personal and is not
                     applicable to others, while the satisfactory value may be detached from the
                     meriting agent and applied to others. The possibility of this transfer rests on the
                     fact that the residual punishments for sin are in the nature of a debt, which may
                     be legitimately paid to the creditor and thereby cancelled not only by the debtor
                     himself but also by a friend of the debtor. This consideration is important for the
                     proper understanding of the usefulness of suffrages for the souls in purgatory (cf.
                     Council of Trent, Sess. XXV, Decret. de purgat., in Denzinger, n. 983). When one
                     wishes to aid the suffering souls, one cannot apply to them the purely
                     meritorious quality of his work, because the increase of grace and glory accrues
                     only to the agent who merits. But it has pleased the Divine wisdom and mercy to
                     accept the satisfactory quality of one's work under certain circumstances as an
                     equivalent of the temporal punishment still to be endured by the faithful departed,
                     just as if the latter had themselves performed the work. This is one of the most
                     beautiful and consoling aspects of that grand social organization which we call
                     the "Communion of Saints" (q. v.), and moreover affords us an insight into the
                     nature of the "heroic act of charity" approved by Pius IX, whereby the faithful on
                     earth, out of heroic charity for the souls in Purgatory, voluntarily renounce in their
                     favour the satisfactory fruits of all their good works, even all the suffrages which
                     shall be offered for them after their death, in order that they may thus benefit and
                     assist the souls in purgatory more quickly and more efficaciously.

                     The efficacy of the prayer of the just be it for the living or for the dead, calls for
                     special consideration. In the first place it is evident that prayer as a pre-eminently
                     good work has in common with other similar good works, such as fasting and
                     almsgiving, the twofold value of merit and satisfaction. Because of its satisfactory
                     character, prayer will also obtain for the souls in purgatory by way of suffrage (per
                     modum suffragii) either a diminution or a total cancelling of the penalty that
                     remains to be paid. Prayer has, moreover, the characteristic effect of impetration
                     (effectus impetratorius), for he who prays appeals solely to the goodness, love,
                     and liberality of God for the fulfilment of his desires, without throwing the weight
                     of his own merits into the scale. He who prays fervently and unceasingly gains a
                     hearing with God because he prays, even should he pray with empty hands (cf.
                     John, xiv 13 sq.; xvi, 23). Thus the special efficacy of prayer for the dead is easily
                     explained, since it combines efficacy of satisfaction and impetration, and this
                     twofold efficacy is enhanced by the personal worthiness of the one who, as a
                     friend of God, offers the prayer. Since the meritoriousness of good works
                     supposes the state of justification, or, what amounts to the same, the
                     possession of sanctifying grace, supernatural merit is only an effect or fruit of the
                     state of grace (cf. Council of Trent, Sess. VI, cap. xvi). Hence, it is plain that this
                     whole article is really only a continuation and a completion of the doctrine of
                     sanctifying grace (see GRACE).

                                       II. THE EXISTENCE OF MERIT

                     (a) According to Luther justification consists essentially in the mere covering of
                     man's sins, which remain in the soul, and in the external imputation of Christ's
                     justice; hence his assertion that even "the just sin in every good work" (see
                     Denzinger, n. 771), as also that "every work of the just is worthy of damnation
                     [damnabile] and a mortal sin [peccatum mortale], if it be considered as it really
                     is in the judgment of God" (see Möhler, "Symbolik", 22). According to the
                     doctrine of Calvin (Instit., III, ii, 4) good works are "impurities and defilement"
                     (inquinamenta et sordes), but God covers their innate hideousness with the cloak
                     of the merits of Christ, and imputes them to the predestined as good works in
                     order that He may requite them not with life eternal, but at most with a temporal
                     reward. In consequence of Luther's proclamation of "evangelical liberty", John
                     Agricola (died 1566) asserted that in the New Testament it was not allowed to
                     preach the "Law", and Nicholas Amsdorf (died 1565) maintained that good works
                     were positively harmful. Such exaggerations gave rise in 1527 to the fierce
                     Antinomian controversy, which, after various efforts on Luther's part, was finally
                     settled in 1540 by the recantation forced from Agricola by Joachim II of
                     Brandenburg. Although the doctrine of modem Protestantism continues obscure
                     and indefinite, it teaches generally speaking that good works are a spontaneous
                     consequence of justifying faith, without being of any avail for life eternal. Apart
                     from earlier dogmatic declarations given in the Second Synod of Orange of 529
                     and in the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215 (see Denzinger, 191, 430), the Council
                     of Trent upheld the traditional doctrine of merit by insisting that life everlasting is
                     both a grace and a reward (Sess. VI, cap. xvi, in Denzinger, n. 809). It
                     condemned as heretical Luther's doctrine of the sinfulness of good works (Sess.
                     VI, can. xxv), and declared as a dogma that the just, in return for their good
                     works done in God through the merits of Jesus Christ, should expect an eternal
                     reward (loc. cit., can. xxvi).

                     This doctrine of the Church simply echoes Scripture and Tradition. The Old
                     Testament already declares the meritoriousness of good works before God. "But
                     the just shall live for evermore: and their reward is with the Lord" (Wis., v, 16).
                     "Be not afraid to be justified even to death: for the reward of God continueth for
                     ever" (Ecclus., xviii, 22). Christ Himself adds a special reward to each of the
                     Eight Beatitudes and he ends with this fundamental thought: "Be glad and
                     rejoice, for your reward is very great in heaven" (Matt. v, 12) In His description of
                     the Last Judgment, He makes the possession of eternal bliss depend on the
                     practice of the corporal works of mercy (Matt. xxv, 34 sqq.). Although St. Paul
                     insists on nothing more strongly than the absolute gratuitousness of Christian
                     grace, still he acknowledges merits founded on grace and also the reward due to
                     them on the part of God, which he variously calls "prize" (Phil., iii, 14; I Cor., ix
                     24) "reward" (Col., iii, 24; I Cor., iii, 8), "crown of justice" (II Tim., iv, 7 sq.; cf.
                     James, i, 12). It is worthy of note that, in these and many others good works are
                     not represented as mere adjuncts of justifying faith, but as real fruits of
                     justification and part causes of our eternal happiness. And the greater the merit,
                     the greater will be the reward in heaven (cf. Matt., xvi, 27; I Cor., iii, 8; II Cor., ix,
                     6). Thus the Bible itself refutes the assertion that "the idea of merit is originally
                     foreign to the Gospel" (" Realencyklopädie für protest. Theologie," XX, 3rd ed.
                     Leipzig, 1908, p. 501). That Christian grace can be merited either by the
                     observance of the Jewish law or by mere natural works (see GRACE) this alone
                     is foreign to the Bible. On the other hand, eternal reward is promised in the Bible
                     to those supernatural works which are performed in the state of grace, and that
                     because they are meritorious (cf. Matt., xxv, 34 sqq.; Rom., ii, 6 sqq.; II Cor., v,

                     Even Protestants concede that, in the oldest literature of the Apostolic Fathers
                     and Christian Apologists, "the idea of merit was read into the Gospel," and that
                     Tertullian by defending "merit in the strict sense gave the key-note to Western
                     Catholicism" (Realencykl., pp. 501, 502). He was followed by St. Cyprian with
                     the declaration: "You can attain to the vision of God, if you deserve it by your life
                     and works" ("De op. et elemos.", xiv, ed. Hartel, I, 384). With St. Ambrose (De
                     offic., I, xv, 57) and St. Augustine (De morib. eccl., I, xxv), the other Fathers of
                     the Church took the Catholic doctrine on merit as a guide in their teaching,
                     especially in their homilies to the faithful, so that uninterrupted agreement is
                     secured between Bible and Tradition, between patristic and scholastic teaching,
                     between the past and the present. If therefore "the reformation was mainly a
                     struggle against the doctrine of merit" (Realencyklopädie, loc. cit., p. 506) this
                     only proves that the Council of Trent defended against unjustified innovations the
                     old doctrine of the meritoriousness of good works, founded alike on Scripture and

                     (b) This doctrine of the Church, moreover, fully accords with natural ethics. Divine
                     Providence, as the supreme lawgiver, owes it to itself to give efficacious sanction
                     to both the natural and the supernatural law with their many commandments and
                     prohibitions, and to secure their observance by holding out rewards and
                     punishments. Even human laws are provided with sanctions, which are often very
                     severe. He who denies the meritoriousness of good works performed by the just
                     must necessarily also deny the culpability and demerit of the sinner's misdeeds;
                     must hold that sins remain without punishment, and that the fear of hell is both
                     groundless and useless. If there be no eternal reward for an upright life and no
                     eternal chastisement for sin, it will matter little to the majority of people whether
                     they lead a good or a bad life. It is true that, even if there were neither reward nor
                     punishment, it would be contrary to rational nature to lead an immoral life; for the
                     moral obligation to do always what is right, does not of itself depend on
                     retribution. But Kant undoubtedly went too far when he repudiated as immoral
                     those actions which are performed with a view to our personal happiness or to
                     that of others, and proclaimed the "categorical imperative," i. e., frigid duty
                     clearly perceived, as the only motive of moral conduct. For, though this so-called
                     "autonomy of the moral will" may at first sight appear highly ideal, still it is
                     unnatural and cannot be carried out in practical life, because virtue and
                     happiness, duty and merit (with the claim to reward), are not mutually exclusive,
                     but, as correlatives, they rather condition and complete each other. The peace of
                     a good conscience that follows the faithful performance of duty is an unsought-for
                     reward of our action and an interior happiness of which no calamity can deprive
                     us, so that, as a matter of fact, duty and happiness are always linked together.

                     (c) But is not this continual acting "with one eye on heaven", with which
                     Professor Jodl reproaches Catholic moral teaching, the meanest "mercenary
                     spirit" and greed which necessarily vitiates to the core all moral action? Can
                     there be any question of morality, if it is only the desire for eternal bliss or simply
                     the fear of hell that determines one to do good and avoid evil? Such a disposition
                     is certainly far from being the ideal of Catholic morality. On the Contrary, the
                     Church proclaims to all her children that pure love of God is the first and supreme
                     commandment (cf. Mark, xii, 30). It is our highest ideal to act out of love. For he
                     who truly loves God would keep His commandments, even though there were no
                     eternal reward in the next life. Nevertheless, the desire for heaven is a necessary
                     and natural consequence of the perfect love of God; for heaven is only the perfect
                     possession of God by love. As a true friend desires to see his friend without
                     thereby sinking into egotism so does the loving soul ardently desire the Beatific
                     Vision, not from a craving for reward, but out of pure love. It is unfortunately too
                     true that only the best type of Christians, and especially the great saints of the
                     Church, reach this high standard of morality in everyday life. The great majority of
                     ordinary Christians must be deterred from sin principally by the fear of hell and
                     spurred on to good works by the thought of an eternal reward, before they attain
                     perfect love. But, even for those souls who love God, there are times of grave
                     temptation when only the thought of heaven and hell keeps them from falling.
                     Such a disposition, be it habitual or only transitory, is morally less perfect, but it
                     is not immoral. As, according to Christ's doctrine and that of St. Paul (see
                     above), it is legitimate to hope for a heavenly reward, so, according to the same
                     doctrine of Christ (cf. Matt., x, 28), the fear of hell is a motive of moral action, a
                     "grace of God and an impulse of the Holy Ghost" (Council of Trent, Sess. XIV,
                     cap. iv, in Denzinger, n. 898). Only that desire for remuneration (amor
                     mercenarius) is reprehensible which would content itself with an eternal
                     happiness without God, and that "doubly servile fear" (timor serviliter servilis) is
                     alone immoral which proceeds from a mere dread of punishment without at the
                     same time fearing God. But the dogmatic as well as the moral teaching of the
                     Church avoids both of these extremes (see ATTRITION).

                     Besides blaming the Church for fostering a "craving for reward," Protestants also
                     accuse her of teaching "justification by works". External works alone, they
                     allege, such as fasting, almsgiving, pilgrimages, the recitation of the rosary etc.,
                     make the Catholic good and holy, the intenor intention and disposition being held
                     to no account. "The whole doctrine of merit, especially as explained by Catholics
                     is based on the erroneous view which places the essence of morality in the
                     individual action without any regard for the interior disposition as the habitual
                     direction of the personal will" (Realencyklopädie, loc. cit., p. 508). Only the
                     grossest ignorance of Catholic doctrine can prompt such remarks. In accord with
                     the Bible the Church teaches that the external work has a moral value only when
                     and in so far as it proceeds from a right interior disposition and intention (cf.
                     Matt., vi, 1 sqq.; Mark, xii, 41 sqq.; I Cor., x, 31, etc.). As the body receives its
                     life from the soul, so must external actions be penetrated and vivified by holiness
                     of intention. In a beautiful play on words St. Augustine says (Serm. iii, n. xi):
                     Bonos mores faciunt boni amores. Hence the Church urges her children to
                     forming each morning the "good intention", that they may thereby sanctify the
                     whole day and make even the indifferent actions of their exterior life serve for the
                     glory of God; "all for the greater glory of God", is the constant prayer of the
                     faithful Catholic. Not only does the moral teaching of the Catholic Church
                     attribute no moral value whatever to the mere external performance of good works
                     without a corresponding good intention, but it detests such performance as
                     hyprocrisy and pretence. On the other hand, our good Intention, provided it be
                     genuine and deep-rooted, naturally spurs us on to external works, and without
                     these works it would be reduced to a mere semblance of life.

                     A third charge against the Catholic doctrine on merit is summed up in the word
                     "self-righteousness", as if the just man utterly disregarded the merits of Christ
                     and arrogated to himself the whole credit of his good works. If any Catholic has
                     ever been so pharisaical as to hold and practise this doctrine, he has certainly
                     set himself in direct opposition to what the Church teaches. The Church has
                     always proclaimed what St. Augustine expresses in the words: "Non Dens
                     coronat merita tua tanquam merita tua, sed tanquam dona sua" (De grat. et lib.
                     arbitrio, xv), i. e., God crowns thy merits, not as thine earnings, but as His gifts.
                     Nothing was more strong and frequently inculcated by the Council of Trent than
                     the proposition that the faithful owe their entire capability of meriting and all their
                     good works solely to the infinite merits of the Redeemer Jesus Christ. It is indeed
                     clear that meritorious works, as "fruits of the justification", cannot be anything
                     but merits due to grace, and not merits due to nature (cf. Council of Trent, Sess.
                     VI, cap. xvi). The Catholic certainly must rely on the merits of Christ, and, far
                     from boasting of his own self-righteousness, he must acknowledge in all humility
                     that even his merits, acquired with the help of grace, are full of imperfections, and
                     that his justification is uncertain (see GRACE). Of the satisfactory works of
                     penance the Council of Trent makes this explicit declaration: "Thus, man has not
                     wherein to glory, but all our glorying is in Christ, in whom we live, move, and
                     make satisfaction, bringing forth fruits worthy of penance, which from Him have
                     their efficacy, are by Him offered to the Father, and through Him find with the
                     Father acceptance" (Sess. XIV, cap. viii, in Denzinger, n. 904). Does this read
                     like self-righteousness?

                                        III. CONDITIONS OF MERIT

                     For all true merit (vere mereri; Council of Trent, Sess. VI, can. xxxii), by which is
                     to be understood only meritum de condigno (see Pallavicini, "Hist. Concil.
                     Trident.", VIII, iv), theologians have set down seven conditions, of which four
                     regard the meritorious work, two the agent who merits, and one God who

                     (a) In order to be meritorious a work must be morally good, morally free, done
                     with the assistance of actual grace, and inspired by a supernatural motive. As
                     every evil deed implies demerit and deserves punishment, so the very notion of
                     merit supposes a morally good work. St. Paul teaches that "whatsoever good
                     thing [bonum] any man shall do, the same shall he receive from the Lord,
                     whether he be bond, or free" (Eph. vi, 8). Not only are more perfect works of
                     supererogation, such as 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 demeritorious, 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 meritorious. 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 intensifying and sustaining its action (cf.
                     De Lugo, "De pœnit.", disp. xxiv, sect. 6).

                     As 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 deserving of reward when it proceeds 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 supernatural just
                     as heaven itself is supernatural, and that consequently it cannot be performed
                     without the help of prevenient and assisting grace, which is necessary 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 GRACE).

                     Finally, a supernatural motive is required because good works must be
                     supernatural, not only as regards their object and circumstances, but also as
                     regards the end for which they are performed (ex fine). But, in assigning the
                     necessary qualities of this motive, theologians differ widely. While some require
                     the motive of faith (motivum fidei) in order to have merit, others demand in
                     addition the motive of charity (motivum caritatis), and thus, by rendering the
                     conditions more difficult, considerably restrict the extent 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 conformity with the Divine law, and require no other
                     special motive. This last opinion, which is in accordance 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 essentially 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 supernatural 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 be occasionally renewed and
                     revived. For the controversy regarding the motive of faith see Chr. Pesch,
                     "Prælect. 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 (status viœ) and in the state of grace (status gratiœ). 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 work
                     [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., Münster, 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 hœreditatis); 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
                     sanctifying 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 Vasquez, 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 explains why
                     God, in consideration of the greater holiness of some saints specially dear to
                     Him, has deigned to grant favours which otherwise He would have refused (Job,
                     xlii, 8; Dan., iii, 35).

                     (c) Merit requires on the part of God that He accept (in actu secundo) the good
                     work as meritorious, even though the work in itself (in actu primo) and previous 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 God
                     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
                     reward 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 gratuitous 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 intrinsic value of the good work and to the free acceptance and
                     gratuitous promise of God (cf. James, i, 12). See Schiffini, "De gratia divina"
                     (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 conqruo).

                     (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 (augmentum gratiœ) 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 justification — whether faith or
                     works — merit the grace itself of justification" (Sess. VI, cap. viii). This
                     impossibility 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 perfectly evident from both
                     Scripture and Tradition (cf. Ecclus., xviii, 22; II Cor., ix, 10; Apoc., xxii, 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 efficacious graces. The reason is that the right to efficacious graces
                     would necessarily include the strict right to final perseverance, 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 (vita œterna) 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 œterna and vitœ œternœ 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
                     superfluous 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 gratin 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 entails the forfeiture of all merits however great. Even the
                     greatest saint, should he die in the state of mortal sin, arrives in eternity as an
                     enemy of God with empty hands, just as if during life he had never done
                     anything, meritorious. All his former rights to grace and glory are cancelled. To
                     make them revive a new justification is necessary. On this "revival of merits"
                     (reviviscentia meritorum) 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 council mentions the "increase of glory" (gloriœ
                     augmentum) 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 laborem]". 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 objects 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 obtaining 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., xxi, 22; Mark, xi, 24; Luke, xi, 9; John, xiv, 13, etc.). For
                     further explanation see Bellarmine, "De justif.", V, xxii; Tepe, "Instit. theol.", III
                     (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 into mortal sin. St. Thomas denies this absolutely: "Nullus potest
                     sibi mereri reparationem post lapsum futurum neque merito condigni neque
                     merito congrui" (Summa Theol., I-II, Q. cxiv, 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 former merits, 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., lxx, 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 poverty, success in one's undertakings, seem to be objects of
                     congruous merit only in so far as they are conducive to eternal salvation; for only
                     on this hypothesis do they assume the character of actual graces (cf. Matt., vi,
                     33). But, for obtaining temporal favours, prayer is more effective than meritorious
                     works, provided that the granting of the petition be not against the designs of God
                     or the true welfare of him who prays . The just man may merit de congruo for
                     others (e. g., parents, relatives, and friends) whatever he is able to merit for
                     himself: the grace of conversion, final perseverance, temporal blessings, nay
                     even the very first prevenient grace (gratia prima prœveniens), (Summa Theol.,
                     I-II, Q. cxiv, a. 6) which he can in no wise merit for himself. St. Thomas gives as
                     reason for this the intimate bond of friendship which sanctifying grace establishes
                     between the just man and God. These effects are immeasurably strengthened by
                     prayer for others; as it is beyond doubt that prayer plays an important part in the
                     present economy of salvation. For further explanation see Suarez, "De gratia",
                     XII, 38. Contrary to the opinion of a few theologians (e. g., Billuart), we hold that
                     even a man in mortal sin, provided he co-operate with the first grace of
                     conversion, is able to merit de congruo by his supernatural acts not only a series
                     of graces which will lead to conversion, but finally justification itself; at all events
                     it is certain that he may obtain these graces by prayer, made with the
                     assistance of grace (cf. Ps., l, 9; Tob., xii, 9; Dan., iv, 24; Matt., vi, 14).

                     For the concept of merit see TAPARELLI, Saggio teoretico del diritto naturale (Palermo, 1842);
                     Summa theol., I-II, Q. xxi, aa. 3-4; WIRTH, Der Begriff des Meritum bei Tertullian (Leipzig, 1892);
                     IDEM, Der Verdienstbegriff in der christl. Kirche nach seiner geschichtl. Entwickelung. II: Der
                     Verdienstbegriff bei Cyprian (Leipzig, 1901). For the Jewish conception of merit see
                     WEBER-SCHNEDEMANN, Jüdische Theol. (2nd ed., Leipzig, 1897). For merit itself cf. Summa
                     Theol., I-II, Q. cix, a. 5; Q. cxiv, aa. 1 sqq.; BELLARMINE, De justific., V, i-xxii; SUAREZ, De gratia,
                     XII, i sqq.; RIPALDA, De ente supernaturali, disp. lxxi-xcvi; BILLUART, De gratia, dissert. viii, aa.
                     1-5; SCHIFFINI, De gratia divina (Freiburg, 1901), pp. 594 sqq.; PESCH, Prœl. dogmat., V (3rd ed.,
                     Freiburg , 1908), 215 sqq.; HEINRICH-GUTBERLET, Dogmat. Theologie, VIII (Mainz, 1897);
                     POHLE, Dogmatik (4th ed., Paderborn, 1909); ATZBERGER, Gesch. der christl. Eschatologie
                     (Freiburg, 1896); KNEIB, Die Heteronomie der christl. Moral (Vienna, 1903); IDEM, Die "Lohnsucht"
                     der christl. Moral (Vienna, 1904); IDEM, Die Jenseitsmoral im Kampfe um ihre Grundlagen (Freiburg,
                     1906); ERNST, Die Notwendigkeit der guten Meinung. Untersuchungen über die Gottesliebe als
                     Prinzip der Sittlichkeit und Verdienstlichkeit (Freiburg, 1905); STREHLER, Das Ideal der kathol.
                     Sittlichkeit (Breslau, 1907); CATHREIN, Die kathol. Weltanschauung in ihren Grundlinien mit
                     besonderer Berücksichtigung der Moral (2nd ed., Freiburg, 1910).

                     J.  Pohle
                     Transcribed by Douglas J. Potter
                     Dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ

                                       The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume X
                                    Copyright © 1911 by Robert Appleton Company
                                    Online Edition Copyright © 1999 by Kevin Knight
                                 Nihil Obstat, October 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor
                                 Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York

The Catholic Encyclopedia: