"Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ." - Jerome

Monday, April 06, 2009

Augustine on Merits

"Now there was, no doubt, a decided merit in the Apostle Paul, but it was an evil one...For his call, however, from heaven and his conversion by that great and most effectual call, God's grace was alone, because his merits, though great, were yet evil...God's grace is not given according to our merits...wherefore no man ought, even when he begins to possess good merits, to attribute them to himself, but to God."

-Augustine. On Grace and Free Will. ch 12-13

4 comments:

Andrew said...

"What then is the merit of man before grace by which merit he should receive grace? Since only grace makes every good merit of ours, and when God crowns our merits, He crowns nothing else but His own gifts." - St. Augustine of Hippo

Which goes with Phil 2:13...and the Council of Trent, etc.

Jared Nelson said...

"Christ, by his obedience, truly purchased and merited grace for us with the Father. I take it for granted, that if Christ satisfied for our sins, if he paid the penalty due by us, if he appeased God by his obedience; in fine, if he suffered the just for the unjust, salvation was obtained for us by his righteousness; which is just equivalent to meriting." -John Calvin. Not that you care about him, just like the way he puts it.

Andrew said...

Ya, I don't know what to believe anymore.

But that certainly sounds nice.

stewart said...

Catholic and Protestant Merits:

"If anyone says that the good deeds of a justified person are the gifts of God, in the sense that they are not also the good merits of the one justified; or that the justified person, by the good deeds done by him through the grace of God and the merits of Jesus Christ (of whom he is a living member), does not truly merit an increase in grace, eternal life, and (so long as he dies in grace) the obtaining of his own eternal life, and even an increase of glory: let him be anathema." (Council of Trent)

In Catholicism, Justification is only on the basis of God's grace purely merited by Jesus Christ (after all, one cannot merit anything while being baptized...especially as an infant). But retaining salvation is (also by God's grace merited by Jesus Christ) is within that merited by us. In other words, just as by grace one is saved initially, so all the good works the justified person does are through the grace of God and merits of Jesus Christ, and done merit him "increase in grace" (a concept that Luther and Calvin also held to, at least through the sacrament of the Lord's Supper), glory, and eternal life "if he dies in grace" (i.e. endures to the end).

It is undeniable that Protestantism holds to merits, else we would not hold to heavenly (and sometimes even earthly) rewards for good works. The concept is biblically clear. The justified (Christians), through the grace of the God who justifies us in Jesus Christ, through good works obtain reward. And Christ is quite clear that it is okay to seek reward from God. In fact, we should be careful not to do works to be seen by men SO THAT we may receive reward from God.

The distinction really comes in this: Catholics believe a true believer can choose to leave the faith via giving oneself to "mortal" sins, or through heresy/apostasy. Calvin and Luther hold that the true believer WILL endure to the end by virtue of being in the Covenant. And so, justification is seen as also encompassing the entire journey from the start (not forgetting that even in Protestantism one merits rewards based upon how one lived via God's grace through Jesus Christ). Thus, Protestantism does not extend the idea of such merited reward to the reward of eternal life (at the end of earthly life), whereas Catholics do. [It should be noted that in Catholic doctrine, only those predestined to this final salvation shall endure to the end. The rest shall be those who either fail to endure till the end, or never come to grace through faith.]

It may also be notable that Covenant theologians also seem to place themselves closer to a concept of eternal life as a reward by holding to the phrase “perseverance of the saints,” while rejecting the phrase “eternal security.” The former acknowledges our participation (and thus one could say “work”) in the process, whereas the latter has a flat declarative nature that sounds like passivity, and says nothing of the believers life of faithfulness.

The real difficulty comes in that a strong case can be built from scripture for both loss of salvation, and eternal security. [A very good Pastor/teacher I once had even hypothesized that God included the "loss of salvation" verses just to keep us on the straight and narrow at times when fear is all that will work on a hardening heart.] The answer to the question of what is the extent of (i.e. what is included in) the area of meritable rewards we may receive as justified children of God really depends on how each one answers that question. That debatable question alone ends up determining the extent of rewards.

Either way, one must admit that at times the scriptures sure make salvation (the final salvation of going to heaven) is made to sound like a reward for "finishing the fight."

"Where then is boasting" in either the Catholic or the Protestant view? The boasting is in the grace of Christ. [Any Protestant that is confused about that does not understand Catholicism, and has never met a serious Catholic who is persuing God, hoping to endure until the end. - Humility regarding God saving them pervades their life.] Both Catholic and Protestant see their end as "casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea."

Beyond that info., you are on your own. Theology is, indeed, a confusing world.

[Just to be clear, Luther and Calvin both did some twisting and ignoring of Augustine where it suited them. Their claims of going back to Augustine must be taken with a few pounds of salt. Augustine was thoroughly Catholic: salvific baptism, confession, penance, transubstantiation (w/o the term itself), purgatory, submission to the Pope, etc.. Calvin also did some rather creative twisting of the Apostles' Creed to try to make it sound as if the ancients agreed with his theology.]