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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.
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. 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. (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. 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.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. Only the grossest ignorance of Catholic doctrine can prompt such remarks. 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. Augustine expresses in the words: "Non Dens coronat merita tua tanquam merita tua, sed tanquam dona sua" (De grat. arbitrio, xv), i.e., God crowns thy merits, not as thine earnings, but as His gifts. 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). As every evil deed implies demerit and deserves punishment, so the very notion of merit supposes a morally good work. 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. 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."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. 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. 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. 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. 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" ( Matthew ). 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.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 " ( Matthew ) In His description of the Last Judgment, He makes the possession of eternal bliss depend on the practice of the corporal works of mercy ( Matthew sqq. Matthew ; 1 Corinthians 3:8 ; 2 Corinthians 9:6 ). 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. 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.Thus the Bible itself refutes the assertion that "the idea of merit is originally foreign to the Gospel" (" Realencyklopädie für protest. 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.