"The good of the grace of one soul is greater than the good of the nature of the whole universe"
- St Thomas Aquinas Ia IIa, q.24, a. 3, ad 2

CHRIST THE SAVIOUR
— A Commentary on the Third Part of St Thomas' Theological Summa

by Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O. P.


CHAPTER IV: QUESTION 2 —THE MODE OF THE UNION OF THE WORD INCARNATE (cont)

Eleventh Article: Whether Any Merits Preceded The Union Of The Incarnation

State of the question. In a certain sense it seems the Incarnation was merited, for the just of the Old Testament merited eternal life, to which they could attain only through the Incarnation. Therefore it seems that they likewise merited the Incarnation. Also the Church chants of the Blessed Virgin that "she merited to bear the Lord of all "[625]

On the contrary, St. Augustine teaches that no merits preceded our regeneration,[626] and he gives St. Paul as his authority.[627] Therefore no merits preceded the generation of Christ. Moreover, in the above-mentioned work, St. Augustine shows in his own beautiful way that the predestination of Christ as man to divine natural sonship, could not have been because of Christ's foreseen merits, for these merits presuppose His person already constituted. From this St. Augustine concludes that likewise our predestination, of which Christ's predestination is the exemplar, is not because of our foreseen merits, which are the effects of our predestination, as explained by St. Thomas.[628]

Reply. There are three conclusions in the body of the article.

First conclusion. Christ could not merit His incarnation, because every operation of Christ followed the hypostatic union; for Christ was not first a mere man, and afterward united to the Word, but at the very moment His human nature was created, it was personally united to the Word. This conclusion is de fide against Photinus.[629]

Second conclusion. The patriarchs of the Old Testament and the Blessed Virgin Mary did not merit and could not merit de condigno the Incarnation, and this for three reasons.

1) Because the Incarnation transcends the beatitude of eternal life, to which the merits of the just are ordained as their ultimate reward. The Incarnation establishes the hypostatic order above the order of grace and glory.

2) Because the principle of grace cannot fall under merit, for it would be its own cause. Thus the state of grace does not fall under merit, and a fortiori this applies to the Incarnation, which is the principle of grace, for the Gospel says: "Grace and truth came by Jesus Christ."[630]

3) Because the incarnation of Christ is for the reformation of the entire human nature, and therefore it is not on account of the merit of any particular man. St. John says: "Of His fullness we have all received."[631]

Third conclusion. Yet the patriarchs of the Old Testament merited the Incarnation congruously or in a broad sense by desiring and beseeching, for it was becoming that God should hearken to those who obeyed Him. "The Blessed Virgin," says St. Thomas, "is said to have merited to bear the Lord of all; not that she merited His incarnation, but because by the grace bestowed upon her she merited that grade of purity and holiness which fitted her to be the Mother of God."[632] These are golden words, and in the strictest sense express what the Blessed Virgin Mary truly merited, for she did not merit the Incarnation, which is the principle of that plenitude of grace which she received so as to merit, but she merited an increase of grace by which she became worthy to be the Mother of God.[633]

There are some doubts that arise concerning this article.

For the solution of these doubts we must recall the division of merit as set forth in the treatise on grace. Merit is a work performed that is deserving of a reward, or, more correctly, there is a right to a reward in this work performed. Hence the foundation for this division is according to the excellence of the work performed, inasmuch as there is or is not equality of proportion between the work performed and the reward. There is this proportion in condign merit, but not in congruous merit.

MERIT [diagram page 190]:

condign

  • which has its foundation at least in distributive justice, inasmuch as there is condignity or equality of proportion between the work and the reward

congruous

  • in the strict sense:
    • is founded on friendship, or a friendly right between persons, inasmuch as friendship is a potential part of justice
  • in the broad sense:
    • is founded on God's pure mercy, without implying any right or obligation to reward because of the work performed

 

First doubt. Could Christ have merited His incarnation by works that followed from it?[634]

Some theologians, such as Suarez, Ruiz, Coninck, are of this opinion, inasmuch as God had decreed the execution and continuance of the Incarnation in future times because of the foreseen future merits of Christ.

The Thomists deny this view. They defend this first conclusion of St. Thomas by saying that Christ neither merited nor could have absolutely merited His incarnation either de condigno or de congruo, not even by works that followed from it.

The reason for this is that the principle of merit neither falls nor can fall under merit, for it would be its own cause, as explained in the treatise on grace.[635]

More briefly, Christ did not merit His own self. Merit is the morally efficient cause of reward, inasmuch as it is a right to a reward; if, therefore, the principle of merit were to fall under merit as a reward, then merit would be its moral cause; and thus it would be its own cause; it would be both cause and effect in the same genus and in the same aspect, which is absurd.

But the Incarnation is the principle of the whole of Christ's merit because it is impossible to conceive of any of Christ's operations that does not proceed from His person as the efficient principle that operates, since actions belong to the supposita, and operation follows being, and the person of the Word gives an infinite value to Christ's merits, which will be more clearly explained farther on.

Hence not even Christ's good works following from the Incarnation could have merited it either de condigno or de congruo, for these works would have been the cause of Christ Himself. Similarly the Incarnation would have been both cause and effect in the same aspect; it would have been both principle and principled, prior and posterior to itself, all of which are contrary to the principle of contradiction, that must be preserved in these mysteries, otherwise mysteries would be nothing but absurdities, not above reason, but contrary to reason.

Confirmation. The Incarnation was decreed even as regards its execution before the merits of Christ were foreseen. For just as being precedes operation, so the being of Christ was decreed before His operation.[636] Hence Christ could not have merited His incarnation at least in its essentials.

Second doubt. Did Christ merit the circumstances of His incarnation?

The Thomists answer by distinguishing between circumstances either preceding or accompanying the Incarnation, and others that follow from it. They also subdistinguish the preceding circumstances so far as they either are or are not necessarily connected with the Incarnation.[637] They say:

1) Christ did not merit the preceding or concomitant circumstances of the Incarnation that essentially belong to His being or were its necessary accompaniments.[638]

The reason is that Christ's merits presuppose His incarnation as their principle, and likewise the aforesaid circumstances that belong to His essence and individuation in the Incarnation.

Moreover, God cannot infallibly foresee Christ's future merits, unless He previously foresees that Christ will exist in some moment of time.

Hence Christ did not merit to be conceived of the Holy Ghost, to be born of the Blessed Virgin Mary, of the Jewish race, in a certain place, at a certain time, and in a certain manner.

2) Christ merited those circumstances of His incarnation that neither essentially belong to His being nor were its necessary accompaniments, or those that did not pertain to His essence and individuation in the Incarnation.

These circumstances are not the cause or principle of merit, nor does Christ's merit depend on them. Christ merited all that fittingly can be called merit. Thus He merited what the prophets foretold about Him, what the angel announced,[639] and more probably the virginity of Mary, for Mary's virginity does not essentially belong to the Incarnation, any more than that a mother be of the white race; nor does it seem necessarily connected with the Incarnation. Likewise Christ merited the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

3) Christ merited the circumstances that followed from the Incarnation; because these are not connected with the principle of merit, but follow from it. Thus He merited the multitude of angels singing after His birth, the adoration of the Magi, the appearance of the star, the care given to Him by the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Joseph, to be the judge of the world, the institutor of the sacraments, His resurrection.[640]

More briefly, as the Salmanticenses say: "Concerning all the circumstances of the Incarnation, it may be said that Christ did not merit those that belong to the essence and individuation of the Incarnation, such as to be conceived of the Holy Ghost, to be born of the Virgin, and so He did not merit the maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary; but He merited all the circumstances that do not belong to the essence of the mystery.

"The reason is, as regards the first conditions, that the principle of merit, the Incarnation, does not fall under merit; concerning the other circumstances, the reason is that these are not connected with the principle of merit."[641] Briefly, Christ did not merit His own self.

 

CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE INCARNATION [diagram page 193]

preceding and accompanying it

  • those pertaining to essence and individuation of Incarnation -
    • e.g., conceived of the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary; i.e., Christ did not merit her virginal maternity (so the Salmanticenses
  • what does not pertain to the essence of the Incarnation
    • what the prophets foretold about Him, what the angel announced, and other such things

following from it

  • adoration of Magi, care given to Him by Blessed Virgin and St. Joseph, to institute sacraments, to rise from dead

Legend:
BLUE = Christ did not merit these
RED = Christ merited these

 

Third doubt. Did Christ merit the continuation of His incarnation? Suarez and certain other theologians affirm that He did.

The majority of the theologians, especially among the Thomists, say that He did not. They give as their reason, that the continuation does not differ from the Incarnation itself, which cannot be the object of merit. The Incarnation is not a continuation after the manner of successive and divisible things by some addition, namely, by way of part, degree or help, but it is simultaneously whole and is measured by an absolutely indivisible duration, which transcends the continuity of solar time, and also the discrete time in the succession of thoughts of angels. This duration, that measures the Incarnation, is participated eternity, participated indeed inasmuch as the Incarnation had a beginning. The reason is that the hypostatic union is unchangeable, and more permanent than the beatific vision, which is really measured by participated eternity on the part of the object, inasmuch as there is neither change nor succession in it.

Confirmation. Now the continuation of the state of grace until death no more falls under merit than the beginning of this state, which is the principle of merit; a fortiori, therefore, the continuation of the Incarnation, which is the radical principle of all merits of both Christ and baptized persons, does not fall under merit.

Fourth doubt. This concerns the merits of the patriarchs of the Old Testament and of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

St. Thomas clearly shows indeed that they could not have merited de condigno the Incarnation, which is the radical principle of the merits of all men after the Fall and their regeneration, and which transcends our beatitude or the ultimate end of our merit. This is the commonly accepted and certain opinion among theologians, which is expressed in passages of Holy Scripture where it is stated that the Incarnation is a work of mercy. The canticle that is called the Benedictus, says: "Through the bowels of the mercy of our God, in which the Orient from on high hath visited us."[642] St. Paul says: "But when the goodness and kindness of God our Savior appeared; not by the works of justice which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us."[643]

Hence neither the Blessed Virgin Mary could merit de condigno the Incarnation; but it was the radical principle of all the merits of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who received the grace of the Immaculate Conception because of the future merits of Christ, as Pius IX declared.[644]

Therefore the only difficulty that remains is that which concerns congruous merit. In other words, what does St. Thomas mean by saying toward the end of the body of this eleventh article: "Yet the holy fathers of the Old Testament merited the Incarnation congruously by desiring and beseeching; for it was becoming that God should hearken to those who obeyed Him"?

Is it here a case of congruous merit in the strict sense, a merit that is founded on friendship, or on an amicable right; or is it merely congruous merit in the broad sense, which has its foundation in God's pure mercy who hears our prayers even without their being meritorious either de condigno or de congruo, as when He hears the prayers of sinners who cannot merit to be heard, since they are in a state of sin?

Several theologians, even some Thomists, say that congruous merit is here meant. But they are incapable of solving the objection that immediately presents itself, namely, that the incarnation of Christ is the principle of the whole merit acquired by the Blessed Virgin Mary, and by the fathers of both the Old Testament and of the New.[645] The principle of merit does not fall under merit, not even under congruous merit in the strict sense, for this merit has its foundation in friendship or in charity that comes from Christ. St. Thomas says: "Christ is the Savior of the whole human race,"[646] as the angel said: "He shall save His people from their sins."[647]

Some theologians reply that in the intentional order the Incarnation is the principle of merit concerning the fathers of the Old Testament, and in the order of execution the merits of the fathers prepare for the Incarnation. In other words, the Incarnation and these merits are mutually causes, though in a different order; the Incarnation is the final cause, but merits constitute the moral efficient cause.

This reply is of no value. It would perhaps apply to the merits of Adam in the state of innocence, but here it is valueless; for the merits of the fathers are dependent on the future merits of Christ, not only as final cause, but as moral efficient cause. These causes are mutually causes, though in a different order. Hence St. Thomas says: "The mystery of the Incarnation is the principle of merit, because of His fullness we all have received,"[648] even all the just of the Old Testament. The same must be said of the merits of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In the present state of man after the Fall, there is no merit, nor is it possible to conceive of any, which does not derive its value and power of meriting from the merits of Christ. Merits in Christ are not conceived as morally efficient cause of our merits, except so far as Christ is considered as existing, or absolutely will exist in some moment of time, and consequently actually existing and not merely intending to exist; for actions belong to supposita that exist, and operation follows being. Hence the principle "causes mutually interact" does not apply here, for they would be causes in the same genus of causality, which constitutes a vicious circle.[649]

Hence neither the fathers of the Old Testament nor the Blessed Virgin could merit strictly de congruo the accomplishment of the Incarnation as foreseen and decreed by God, nor therefore as taking place in time. If we merit the attainment of glory in the order of execution, it is because God so willed this by His eternal and effective decree. This means, as it is commonly said, that in the intentional order God freely wills to give glory to His elect, but He does not will to give it freely to the adult elect in the order of execution. This means that the adult must merit glory to which they have been freely predestined.[650]

Solution of the doubt. Several Thomists, such as Sylvius and Gotti, say that the problem concerns congruous merit in the broad sense of the term, which has its foundation in God's pure mercy hearing our prayers even though they are not strictly meritorious, such as the prayers of sinners.[651] And this seems to be the meaning of the following text of St. Thomas: "It was becoming that God should hear the prayers of those who obey Him."[652] Therefore congruous merit in the broad sense is the same as impetration.

Otherwise 1. the Fathers would have merited something better than Christ Himself merited; 2. Christ would be indebted to the fathers for His incarnation; 3. The Incarnation would not be a work of pure mercy.

Thus the principle enunciated by St. Thomas in the body of this eleventh article, namely, "the principle of merit does not fall under merit," remains intact. This principle applies equally to strictly congruous merit, which is the result of God's love obtained for us by Christ, as to condign merit. Sacrosanct also is the principle that Christ is the source of the merits of the regenerated both in the Old Testament and in the New, even of the merits of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

This interpretation is confirmed by the fact that St. Thomas denies that the Blessed Virgin Mary merited the Incarnation, for he writes: "The Blessed Virgin is said to have merited to bear the Lord of all, not that she merited His incarnation, but because by the grace bestowed upon her she merited that grade of purity and holiness which fitted her to be the Mother of God."[653]

St. Thomas said practically the same in another of His works, in which he wrote: "The Blessed Virgin did not merit the Incarnation, but after its accomplishments she merited to be instrumental in bringing it about, not by condign merit, but by congruous merit, inasmuch as it was becoming that the Mother of God should be most pure and most perfect."[654]

Objection. Strictly congruous merit has its foundation in the mutual friendship prevailing between the one who merits and the one who rewards. But the holy fathers who desired the Incarnation were God's friends, and a fortiori the Blessed Virgin was. Therefore the Blessed Virgin and the holy fathers de congruo merited the Incarnation.

Reply. I distinguish the major; when nothing militates against the notion of merit, I concede the major; otherwise I deny it. But the obstacle here is that the Incarnation is the principle of merit for the fathers, and cannot be merited. Moreover, as already stated, the Incarnation constitutes a special hypostatic order, which is beyond the scope of merit; for the only purpose of merit is for the attainment of eternal happiness, and "the union of the Incarnation transcends the union of the beatified mind with God, and therefore it cannot fall under merit,"[655] as St. Thomas says.

Index Top

Footnotes

12-169-181

 

"As the flesh is nourished by food, so is man supported by prayers"

St Augustine

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"If, devout soul, it is your will to please God and live a life of serenity in this world, unite yourself always and in all things to the divine will. Reflect that all the sins of your past wicked life happened because you wandered from the path of God's will. For the future, embrace God's good pleasure and say to him in every happening: "Yea, Father, for so it hath seemed good in thy sight." "

St Alphonsus de Liguori

* * *

"Whoever wants to stand alone without the support of a master and guide will be like the tree that stands alone in a field without a proprietor. No matter how much the tree bears, passers-by will pick the fruit before it ripens. "

St John of the Cross, OCD - Doctor of the Church

* * *

 

 

 
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