Saturday, June 20, 2009

St. Thomas on Justification - Merit and Increase of Grace

This is related to our present subject because it touches upon the question of merit; some misinformed Protestants have completely mixed-up ideas about what the Catholic Church teaches on this topic, and it's worth taking the time to clear the fog.

Having received grace from God, can we merit the gift of more grace?
Augustine says (super Ep. Joan.; cf. Ep. clxxxvi) that "charity merits increase, and being increased merits to be perfected." Hence the increase of grace or charity falls under merit. [ST I-II, Q114, A8]

As always, though, Aquinas is careful as to what exactly he means.
As stated above (6,7), whatever the motion of grace reaches to, falls under condign merit. Now the motion of a mover extends not merely to the last term of the movement, but to the whole progress of the movement. But the term of the movement of grace is eternal life; and progress in this movement is by the increase of charity or grace according to Proverbs 4:18: "But the path of the just as a shining light, goeth forward and increaseth even to perfect day," which is the day of glory. And thus the increase of grace falls under condign merit.

Now as we saw, condign merit comes from grace; indeed, all merit flows from God's grace, which is why (as we've seen) Augustine says that God rewards that which he has given. Consequently we see that the Catholic gospel isn't works-based, contrary to the errors spread by some; rather, the Gospel is based upon grace.


Martin T. said...

Nice post though I think most who hold the "catholic works" idea do so out of ignorance or spite.

Nice update to the blog too.

Reginald de Piperno said...

Hi Martin,

I agree that the vast, vast majority of those who do so are ignorant of the facts. It would take a terrible kind of wickedness to know the truth of the matter and then to deliberately lie about it.

With some of the ignorant, however, there is (joined with their lack of knowledge) also an obstinate refusal even to listen to us on the subject. It is one thing to be mistaken; it's another thing entirely to stop one's ears when someone attempts to explain matters. The one is innocent; the other...may not be. The same thing crops up with veneration of the saints with those who willfully refuse to believe what we say when we insist that we aren't making idols of them.

In any case, my hope is that this series of posts will be helpful in clarifying what we believe for those who are willing to listen to what we have to say; I can't do anything about those who refuse to hear. :-)