views updated May 18 2018





At its most general level, merit is a value system that delineates qualities that are recognized and rewarded by societies. The most specific and significant reward under consideration in this system is the selection for public office on the basis of ability and character, rather than on the basis of class, caste, patronage, patrimony, ideology, or wealth. Such reward has profound implications for the structure of society and for the functioning of polities.


The essential meaning of merit is generally underdefined, raising continuing questions about its content. In most political and administrative literature, merit is frequently discussed primarily in terms of its implementing mechanisms. Principles of merit are reasonably well documented and understood to include competitive examinations, protection from political influence, equal opportunity to compete for appointment, and fairness and equity in the treatment of civil servants.

In some recent literature, the term meritocracy is used as a synonym for the broader merit concept in its instrumental social and political connotations. Meritocracy was originally a pejorative term coined by Michael Young (19152002) in 1958 as a satirical indictment of a utopian system of rule governed by test results and devoid of human political impulse. More recently, the term has entered common discourse to denote any public or private employment system that makes job-related decisions on some calculation of character, ability, and potential.

A universal definition of merit is complicated by its apparent dependence on the mores, values, and accepted ethical standards in differing temporal, social, political, and cultural settings (Riccucci 1991, p. 88). Despite the relativistic argument, an approach to a universal definition may be found in the literature of philosophy, where merit is dually associated with concepts of ethics, morality, and justice, as well as with judgments regarding competent performance.

In the moral and ethical aspects of merit, Immanuel Kant (17241804) emphasized the importance of moral goodness, as stated in his lectures on ethics in 1793 and 1794: [To] make myself worthy of honor the dutifulness of action must be supplemented by moral goodness. Toward men we realize more morality than is incumbent on us, and in this, therefore, lies at the same time the merit of our actions (quoted in Guyer 2000, p. 328). This formulation gives no hint as to how moral goodness is to be measured as a basis for societal reward. The answer, deriving from Platos Republic (c. 400 BCE) and practiced in many civil service systems throughout the world, has been through careful and comprehensive education and indoctrination in the regime values of the polity. This answer, however, raises questions regarding the eligibility of individuals from all strata of society. John Rawls (19212002) relates merit to justice only if every member of society has the opportunity and means to attain the requisite knowledge and abilities (1999, pp. 9193).

Gregory Vlastos (19071991) identifies merit as a grading concept with judgment based on the measurement of valued qualities and performances (1969). The introduction of measurement and grading sharpens the definition. Vlastos, however, offers no help in defining the qualities and performances. Nor does he speculate on how measurement could be achieved. The conventional answer to this last question is found in the development and implementation of testing and performance appraisal processes; however, these processes raise serious questions as to their validity and effects (Cronbach 1980; Lemann 1999; Riccucci 1991).

A significant differentiation between two forms of merit has been provided by Amartya Sen. He identifies an internal conflict within the concept of merit, described as the tension between: (1) the inclination to see merit in fixed and absolute terms, and (2) the ultimately instrumental character of meritits dependence on the concept of the good in the relevant society (2000, p. 5). This differentiation is echoed by Hugh Heclo in his analysis of substantive and instrumental merit (2000).

The instrumental good is defined within every society primarily by historical and intellectual influences as interpreted and reinforced by the elite opinion makers of the society. The fixed and absolute idea of merit can be a subversive influence on established patterns of social and political hierarchy and status. The substantive concept of merit logically leads to the advocacy of an open society and some degree of democratic governance; however, it must be recognized that merit is not in itself a democratic concept. Its base is aristocratic in the Jeffersonian sense of being grounded in virtue and talent. The connection to democracy applies by linkage to the substantive, moral aspect of merit. Conversely, instrumental merit is a useful tool for achieving competence in government regardless of type of regime.

Societal definitions of merit through much of recorded history have been restrictive in terms of class and status and thus inimical to social movement. Since the latter part of the twentieth century, this has led to an antagonistic relationship of equal opportunity to merit-based employment systems because such systems are frequently viewed as discriminating against less-advantaged segments of society. If such discrimination does occur, then the opportunity that is implicit in merit theory is in fact not equal (Roemer 2000).

Nonetheless, the basic philosophical premise of merit is recognition of ability wherever found in the society. This is potentially regime changing and socially revolutionary as demonstrated by the development of merit-based systems in the United States, Great Britain, and France in the nineteenth century, and in Japan in the early twentieth century. The socially restrictive aspects of merit-based systems are due not to the basic premise of merit but, rather, to the hierarchical structure of societies and the rigidity and exclusionary nature of the implementing mechanisms.


The origin of the concept of merit in both Eastern and Western culture has ancient roots, preceding its dynamic emergence in the nineteenth century as a significant political and social force. In Asia, the origin of the merit concept is found in the Analects of Confucius (c. 551479 BCE), and the subsequent interpretation of Confucian doctrine through centuries of dynastic change in China. Merit became institutionalized in traditional Chinese and Korean political cultures by the creation and implementation of rigorous examination processes for the selection of entrants into official positions; however, in practice, success in the examinations was almost entirely limited to upper-class candidates. Since 1950, the Peoples Republic of China has alternatively weakened and then strengthened the use of examinations for appointment to office. The turmoil has fostered a greater degree of political influence and greater inclusion of individuals with worker and peasant backgrounds in the appointment process (Klitgaard 1986, pp. 1032).

In Tokugawa, Japan (16031868), the Confucian merit concept was recognized, but access to official positions was confined to the samurai class. Within a few years after the Meiji restoration in 1868, the merit principle was instituted as the basis for office, and access to a competitive process was substantially broadened (Koh 1989). The erosion of social and economic barriers was a necessary component of Japans successful impulse to modernization and industrialization.

In Western culture, the origin of the merit concept is found in pre-Socratic Greece with the early identification of valued virtues and excellences (arete ) (Adkins 1960). The ideal of merit found expression in, among other texts, the funeral oration of the statesman Pericles (c. 495429 BCE) as related by Thucydides (d. c. 401 BCE), in Platos Republic and Gorgias, and in Aristotles (384322 BCE) Politics. The normative power of the concept was assumed by the Roman Republic and ultimately defined by Cicero (10643 BCE) in his De Officiis, ironically as the republic was dissolving in chaos.

After the fall of the Roman Republic, merit as a primary political value declined and virtually disappeared for seventeen centuries. The values that predominated for government service became those of servitude and obedience to the ruler, as outlined by Niccolò Machiavelli (14691527) in The Prince (1513, chap. 22) and Thomas Hobbes (15881679) in Leviathan (1651, chap. 23). To be sure, ability remained a factor, but subservient to obedience. For example, Oliver Cromwells (15991658) brief English Republic (16491660) did not change the royal practice of awarding office on the basis of the unholy three PsPatrimony, Patronage, and Purchase (Aylmer 1973, p. 61). This practice continued in Britain until the mid-nineteenth century.

Beginning in the late eighteenth century, the merit concept reemerged and developed both as a moral imperative and as a practical necessity. The philosophy of the Enlightenment and the new production systems of the Industrial Revolution demanded rationalism in the staffing of governmental enterprise by demonstrably competent people. No longer would nepotism and patronage suffice. The endorsement and application of merit as a primary value in staffing governmental positions became a necessary condition for national modernization and commercial and social progress. By the mid-twentieth century, the merit concept, with its implementing processes, was dominant in developed societies around the world.

In recent years, the definition of merit has changed to meet current societal and political trends. In a new time of postmodernism and postindustrialism, the established value and practices of merit have been altered as political leadership in democracies around the world has attempted to secure greater control over public bureaucracies through politicization of the appointment process (Peters and Pierre 2004). In many ways, this is a regression to earlier formulations of the primacy of political obedience over the rationality and morality that is inherent in the concept of merit-based civil service. Once again, responsiveness and obedience have become primary values. Merit practices have remained viable in their instrumental meaning as continuing emphasis is placed on performance measurement; however, substantive merit is in decline (Heclo 2000; Lane and Woodard 2001). In the long view, these developments are not unprecedented, nor do they alter the fact that the merit concept is an enduring value grounded in the very origins of both Eastern and Western civilization.

SEE ALSO Affirmative Action; Discrimination; Meritocracy; Stratification


Adkins, Arthur W. H. 1960. Merit and Responsibility: A Study in Greek Values. London: Clarendon.

Aylmer, G. E. 1973. The States Servants: The Civil Service of the English Republic 16491660 London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Cronbach, Lee J. 1980. Selection Theory for a Political World. Public Personnel Management 9: 3750.

Guyer, Paul. 2000. Kant on Freedom, Law, and Happiness. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.

Heclo, Hugh. 2000. The Future of Merit. In The Future of Merit: Twenty Years After the Civil Service Reform Act, eds. James P. Pfiffner and Douglas A Brook, 226237. Washington, DC: Woodrow Wilson Center Press.

Klitgaard, Robert. 1986. Elitism and Meritocracy in Developing Countries: Selection Policies for Higher Education. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Koh, B. C. 1989. Japans Administrative Elite. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Lane, Larry M., and Colleen Woodard. 2001. Merit without the System: An Emergent Model for Public Sector HRM. In Radical Reform of the Civil Service, eds. Stephen E. Condrey and Robert Maranto, 127149. Lanham, MD: Lexington.

Lemann, Nicholas. 1999. The Big Test: The Secret History of the American Meritocracy. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.

Peters, B. Guy, and Jon Pierre, eds. 2004. Politicization of the Civil Service in Comparative Perspective: The Quest for Control. London: Routledge.

Rawls, John. [1971] 1999. A Theory of Justice. Rev. ed. Cambridge, MA: Belknap.

Riccucci, Norma M. 1991. Merit, Equity, and Test Validity: A New Look at an Old Problem. Administration and Society 23 (1): 7493.

Roemer, John E. 2000. Equality of Opportunity. In Meritocracy and Economic Inequality, eds. Kenneth Arrow, Samuel Bowles, and Steven Durlauf, 1732. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Sen, Amartya. 2000. Merit and Justice. In Meritocracy and Economic Inequality, eds. Kenneth Arrow, Samuel Bowles, and Steven Durlauf, 516. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Vlastos, Gregory. 1969. Human Worth, Merit, and Equality. In Moral Concepts, ed. Joel Feinberg, 141152. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Young, Michael. 1958. The Rise of the Meritocracy, 18702033: An Essay on Education and Equality. London: Thames and Hudson.

Larry M. Lane


views updated Jun 27 2018


By the term "merit," the Catholic theologian understands that ordination of a man's good act whereby this act is rendered worthy of receiving a reward. In the abstract, merit may be considered as that property of the act which renders it fit for reward; in the concrete, merit is to be defined as a man's title to the reward that the action deserves. Theologians divide the notion of merit into two classes, condign and congruent. The distinction stems from the different bases on which the title to a reward rests. Condign merit has a title arising from a concept of justice; congruent merit is based on the liberality of the one who gives a reward. The expression "congruent merit" appeared for the first time in the writings of Alan of Lille (d. 1203?); William of Auvergne (d. 1249) shortly thereafter taught that condign and congruent are the proper divisions of merit. Theological consideration of the doctrine of merit is restricted to supernatural merit, that is, merit that arises from an action performed with the assistance of divine grace.

The present article will summarize (1) the scriptural basis and (2) patristic testimony on which the Catholic doctrine rests, (3) the teaching of the medieval theologians, (4) the Tridentine formulation of the doctrine as found in the decree on justification, and (5) the theological synthesis of the doctrine of merit as it has been made by theologians since Trent.

Sacred Scripture. The positive theologian who carries out the task of investigating the revelation as it is found in the sources will look in vain for the word "merit" in Scripture, and he will find relatively rare instances of the use of this word by early ecclesiastical writers. A biblical theologym of merit can be formulated only from the ideas of merit. On the one hand, the reader of the Bible will note the gratuity of God's gifts to man, and on the other, he will see the promise of a reward that will be given for man's good works. These are the elements that served at a later date as the basis for that synthesis which the theologians call the doctrine of merit. It must be noted that these elements are not found together in the Scripture.

Old Testament. A history of the relations between God and Israel, the people whom He gratuitously chose for His own, is contained in the Old Testament. This history is in great measure a recital of the blessings that God bestowed upon this people as a reward for their fidelity to Him; it also makes clear that the punishments He imposed were occasioned by infidelity. What is most significant is that these rewards and punishments were in some way dependent upon the actions of Israel.

New Testament. The principal teaching of the New Testament is the doctrine that salvation has come for mankind through Jesus Christ. New Testament salvation is that which each man can share by accepting Christ's gratuitous invitation to His kingdom, the church. Salvation has a personal and a social dimension because salvation is for the individual man but it is accomplished in the Church.

In presenting the individual's role in attaining salvation, the Gospel writers make clear that Christ's kingdom is a free gift to men, but they also point out that in taking it from Israel of old, Christ intended to extend His kingdom to those who would yield the fruits of it. Numerous instances in the Gospel insist that a reward has been promised to man's works. For example, the Gospels attach the promise of a reward to love of enemies (Mt5.46), almsgiving (Mt 6.1), forgiveness (Mt 6.15), fasting (Mt 6.18), faith (Lk 12.8), perseverance in face of persecution (Mt 13.18), and following Christ (Mt 11.29). This correlation between works and a reward is highlighted especially in the parable of the talents (Lk 19.11). There the gratuity of God's gifts and the notion that a reward is given for willingly using these gifts are placed side by side; and the parable suggests that God, in bestowing rewards, takes human efforts into account. It is valid to conclude that man's efforts to serve God have a value. The Gospel writers by their general reiteration that a man's work can deserve a reward thus provide the basic notion of the concept of merit.

In several Epistles St. Paul expresses the idea that God renders a reward for man's work and that the reason He does so is that He is just. The more significant of these passages are: "God will render to every man according to his works" (Rom 2.6). "For the rest, there is laid up for me a crown of justice, which the Lord, the just Judge, will give to me in that day" (2 Tm 4.8). "Now he who plants and he who waters are one, yet each will receive his own reward according to his labor" (1 Cor3.8). In each of these passages St. Paul indicates that the reward is given for the personal work of man. Objections have been raised against this position because of St. Paul's statement in Rom 6.2223: "the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is life everlasting in Christ Jesus our Lord." The context of the passage indicates that just as the Romans have experienced the disorder arising from sin, so now, since they have enrolled in the service of God, they will be able to realize the fruits of that service, life everlasting. The passage is not incompatible with the notion that life everlasting can be a reward as well as a gift.

Patristic Teaching. The writings of the Apostolic Fathers contain testimony to their belief that the works of the Christian are worthy of a reward. Yet this belief is not considered formally in any treatise on merit. In later patristic writings (Tertullian, Apology 1.28; Migne, Patrologia Latina, 1:435) one can find the term "merit" used in the precise sense in which it came to be used at a later date in theology. The concept of a reward given for man's work for which he has a title in some sort of justice can also be discerned throughout the patristic period (J. Rivière, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, 10:612661).

The classical writer on grace and its effects was St. augustine. Much of his writing on grace was occasioned by Pelagianism, which was being successfully proposed during that period (see pelagius and pelagianism). Augustine's viewpoint, therefore, stressed man's need for grace; his interest in merit was quite secondary. Since Pelagianism distorted man's capacities within the economy of salvation and unduly emphasized the value of his efforts, it is quite significant that Augustine did speak about man's works as being meritorious. Augustine always insisted that the first grace that a man receives is completely a gift (see faith, beginning of).

In support of this Augustine repeats with remarkable frequency St. Paul's question: "Or what hast thou that thou hast not received?" (1 Cor 4.7). He constantly reminded his readers and hearers that man is reborn not by his own efforts but by mercy, "otherwise grace is no longer grace" (Rom 11.6). Yet Augustine realized that when a man is justified, that is, when he has come to the position in which he can act from charity, then these works have a value, precisely because they are moved by charity. He stated very clearly that a man's works have a distinct value in the working out of salvation. Commenting on Phil 3.10, Augustine states that after death a man receives what his merits deserve and that when God then crowns a man's works, He is, in fact, crowning His own gifts (Sermones 170.10.10; Patrologia Latina 38:932).

The same two ideas are found also in Augustine's letter to Sixtus (Epist. 194.5.19; Patrologia Latina 33:8801). In these instances Augustine is recognizing the reality of a reward attached to man's works and that the possibility of meriting is bestowed by God's gift. Augustine's repetition of the idea that the just Judge in crowning man's works, is crowning His own gifts is significant, because the expression not only insists that the works of man are rewarded but also shows that the fact that they can deserve a reward is due to God. By His Grace God has set up the economy within which meriting becomes possible. Since Augustine was a favored source for the reformers, his testimony regarding the existence of merit has a special value for those in the reformers' tradition.

Medieval Theologians. During the Middle Ages the theologians formulated a synthesis concerning merit. Peter Lombard was the first who treated of the doctrine at length; St. Bonaventure and Alexander of Hales, among others in the Franciscan tradition, did also. Although the varied schools agreed on the basic concept, that man's works, accomplished with divine assistance, are worthy of a reward, two medieval trends can be distinguished regarding the doctrine: the Thomist and the Scotist. St. Thomas taught that merit is a title based on justice. This title is rooted in the intrinsic justification effected in a man by the coming of grace. If the justified man by a true exercise of secondary causality performs a good act, he deserves a reward. This is the economy that has been set up by God. According to Duns Scotus, justification gives to man's actions the motions of charity by which these actions can become acceptable to God. Because these actions are accepted by God they are meritorious. It should be noted that the operation of charity is not the cause of God's accepting these worksbut the movement of charity is the condition on which He accepts them. In keeping with his general approach, Duns Scotus attempted in his teaching on merit to emphasize the freedom of God's will.

Council of Trent. It was during the period of the rise of Protestantism that the doctrine of merit was definitively formulated at the Council of Trent (see trent, council of). This council did not set out to define the Catholic teaching on merit precisely, but the sixth session of the council (H. Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum, 152083) was devoted to the doctrine on justification, and the logic of the situation brought the Fathers of the council to consider merit.

Luther's Position. The doctrinal point from which Lutheran Protestantism started was Martin luther's insistence that grace alone effected man's justification. When Luther was forced by the constant theological polemics of the period to define his position more exactly he came to link this assertion with the statement that grace can justify a man without effecting an intrinsic change in him. Thus, Lutheran justification became an extrinsic justification that is brought about by faith alone. It followed logically that Luther came to exclude the value of any works. Justification by grace alone already excludes value being attached to works done before justification; Luther's concept that faith alone is the source of continuing justification rendered all works after justification completely useless. In the face of this total rejection of man's works the council's examination of the value of man's work was unavoidable. Although the inner logic of Luther's concept of justification implied the total rejection of merit, there is surprising confusion among early Protestant divines about merit. Their opinions range from Philipp melanchthon's refusal to reject the notion outright to John calvin's bitter attacks on those who use the term. This confusion was an added reason why Trent came to focus its attention on merit.

Ratisbon. The final reason why the members of the council were quite conscious of the doctrine of merit grew out of the ill-fated Conference of Ratisbon held in 1541. The conference was intended to make an attempt at religious unity. Cardinal Gasparo contarini, the delegate of the pope to the conference, accepted a compromise that included an incomplete statement regarding the nature of justification and that deliberately omitted any reference to the concept of merit. This incident served to make some theologians conscious that the doctrine of justification must include teaching on the nature of merit.

Seripando and Laínez. The most significant section of the discussions on justification at Trent was directly concerned with the theory of double justice (see justice, double). This theory was proposed by some theologians as the true doctrine of justification. In fact, it was a compromise position and one that destroyed the Catholic notion of justification. The principal proponent of this theory was Cardinal Girolamo seripando, and the theory was most effectively opposed by Diego Laínez, a Jesuit theologian. In a treatise that examined the whole question of justification, Laínez thoroughly criticized this theory of double justice and showed that in its ultimate dimensions it was incompatible with the traditional concept of merit. Thus, his speech contained an exposé of merit and included the following ideas: strict merit is based on a concept of justice; the source of the title to a reward arises from justice because meritorious actions come from the grace that truly transforms a man in justification; man's justification is intrinsic to him and makes him a new creature who becomes able to cooperate truly with divine assistance in performing meritorious acts.

Conciliar Doctrine. Chapter 16 of the Tridentine decree on justification deals specifically with merit, the fruit of justification. In the opening sentence of this chapter the Fathers of the council teach that merit is a valid concept that is based on the Scriptural teaching. They insist that the reward for the meritorious action is certain because God in His justice (see justice of god) will not forget the promise He made to reward. Even though a man may sin after being justified and thereby lose his title to a reward, while he still lives there remains the possibility of the restoration of this title along with the grace he has lost by sin. The conciliar decree next states that merit must be proposed first as a grace, or a gift, and then as a reward given for good works. Herein the council implies two conditions for meriting: (1) God's willingness to accept man's works as worthy of a reward (implicit in the fact that God ordained the economy of meriting) and (2) the goodness of the meritorious act. The decree next specifies that the reward given will be truly a crown of justice. The man who is justified has all that he needs in order to be regarded as having fully satisfied the divine law and as having truly merited eternal life by his works.

The Fathers of the council explain that it is the activity of Christ on His members that supplies the basis for holding that the just man has all that he needs in order to be considered as having fully satisfied the divine law and truly merited eternal life. (It is interesting to note that the verb for merit employed here is promereri, by which theologians had ordinarily referred to condign merit.) This influence of Christ is necessary and is such that it makes man's work pleasing and meritorious. Christ's influence precedes, accompanies, and follows the good act.

Many theologians after Trent believe that this description envisions the need for an actual grace to make an act meritorious, that there must be a special assistance given to a man to perform each meritorious act. The determination of the kind of special help was not detailed by the council. The Fathers describe the motivation that is to be found in the meriting subject by a general expression that they culled from Scripture. They are content to say that meritorious works must be those that are "performed in God" (Jn 3.21). Thus the council does not settle the question of the role of charity in the performing of meritorious acts.

The decree goes on to explain that meriting does not usurp the rights of God and does not excessively dignify man's actions. The Fathers insist that their understanding of justification makes clear the role of God, Christ, and man. When justice is given to a man it is truly in him and he can operate by it; this same justice is God's who has given it to men through Christ. This explanation shows that the Tridentine bishops conceive of merit as rooted in an intrinsic justification of which the meritorious act is the fruit. Although the justified man can merit, he must do so without overconfidence or a complete self-reliance, since he must recall that he merits only because God's goodness has so ordered things for him. In a note of warning the council teaches that man must look to final judgment with confidence in his merits since God will be faithful to His promise to reward; yet man must ever recall the severity of judgment and therefore not act presumptuously in living his life.

The last canon appended to the decree on justification also deals with merit. Here is found the Church's declaration that merit is a valid concept. The canon teaches that the meritorious action must be good, done through grace, and accomplished by a man who has been justified. Finally this canon states that a man can merit an increase of grace in this life, eternal life, the attaining of eternal life, and the increase of glory. The canon distinguishes between eternal life and the attaining of eternal life and thereby shows that a man's right to eternal life is always conditional while he is still alive. If he dies in the state of grace, however, man has an infallible right to come to eternal life. By mentioning the increase of glory as an object of merit, the canon implies the belief that there are degrees of heavenly beatitude. The degrees correspond to the degrees of merit attained in this life. Since glory is the full flowering of grace, it follows that where there is a greater degree of grace, there will be also a greater degree of glory.

After Trent. From the time of the Council of Trent, and in keeping with its teaching on merit, theologians have described the condignly meritorious act as a morally good act accomplished by a man in this life who is in the state of grace. This act is directed to God in some way. Since such an act must be moved somehow by love, theologians have discussed the influx of charity that would seem to be needed for a meritorious act. All agree that a more intense or a more perfect charity can achieve a greater reward. Since Trent deliberately avoided this question regarding the necessary influx of charity, however, the question has remained an open theological one.

Theologians have discussed also the question of how justice can be involved in meriting. Generally they hold to the Thomistic position that sees the presence of sanctifying grace as the foundation for the proportion existing between the meritorious act and the reward that man attains. Grace makes a man's acts proportionate to the reward, and thus it is the basis in justice for the concept of condign merit. The objects of merit have been studied in greater detail, and theologians generally have made explicit reference to the fact that a man cannot merit justification for himself, final perseverance, or repentance after a fall. Post-Tridentine theology has discussed also the question of the revival of merit after repentance for a fall. There is agreement that merit does revive but there are varying opinions regarding the degree of revival.

Moreover, theology recognizes congruent merit. This, too, is a title for reward but one that arises from the divine liberality. Since God's merciful providence has placed man in an order that looks to a supernatural end and He has made the attaining of this end possible through the redemptive action of Christ, it is fitting that God's mercy should continue to operate in favor of the justified man who willingly serves God. Since the justified man is truly the adopted son of God, it is fitting that God's love continue to reward man's efforts to do good.

The justified man has an acquired intrinsic dignity, and God continues to act in a manner truly consonant with His nature when His liberality rewards the good acts of such a man. For this reason theologians hold that a man in grace can congruently merit special graces for himself. They also maintain that such a man can congruently merit a grace (even the grace of justification itself) for another man. This doctrine is basic to the understanding Catholics hold regarding the propriety of praying for another. Finally, a man who is in the state of sin cannot congruently merit the grace of repentance for himselfnor can he merit in behalf of another. The reason for maintaining this position is the fact that the loss of grace deprives a man of any basis for a title to God's liberality.

See Also: imputation of justice and merit; justice of men; reviviscence of merit; salutary acts; supernatural order.

Bibliography: t. aquinas, Summa theologiae 1a2ae, 21.34;114.110. p. de letter, De ratione meriti secundum sanctum Thomam (Analecta Gregoriana 19; 1939). f. suÁrez, In 1a2ae Summae theologiae S. Thomae, De gratia 12:138 (Vivès ed. v. 10). j. riviÈre, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al., 15v. (Paris 190350) 10.1:574785. h. quilliet, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al., 15 v. (Paris 190350) 3.1:113852. l. billot, De gratia Christi (Rome 1954). "Verdienst," Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, 10 v. (2d, new ed. Freiburg 195765) v. 10. n. j. hein et al., Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart, 7 v. (3d ed. Tübingen 195765) 6:126170. c. s. sullivan, Formulation of the Tridentine Doctrine on Merit (Catholic University of America, Studies in Sacred Theology 2d ser. 116; Washington 1959). Sacrae theologiae summa, ed. fathers of the society of jesus, professors of the theological faculties in spain, 4 v. (4th ed. Madrid 1961) 3.3:329352.

[c. s. sullivan]


views updated May 21 2018

mer·it / ˈmerit/ • n. the quality of being particularly good or worthy, esp. so as to deserve praise or reward: composers of outstanding merit. ∎  a feature or fact that deserves praise or reward: the relative merits of both approaches have to be considered. ∎ Brit. a pass grade in an examination denoting above-average performance: if you expect to pass, why not go for a merit or a distinction? Compare with distinction. ∎  (merits) chiefly Law the intrinsic rights and wrongs of a case, outside of any other considerations: a plaintiff who has a good arguable case on the merits. ∎  (merits) Theol. good deeds regarded as entitling someone to a future reward from God.• v. (mer·it·ed, mer·it·ing) [tr.] deserve or be worthy of (something, esp. reward, punishment, or attention): the results have been encouraging enough to merit further investigation.PHRASES: judge (or consider) something on its merits assess something solely with regard to its intrinsic quality rather than other external factors.


views updated Jun 08 2018

Merit. In Christian thought, the recognition by God that certain works are worthy of reward. In Catholic teaching—deriving ultimately from statements about reward in the New Testament (e.g. Matthew 5. 46; Romans 2. 6; 1 Corinthians 3. 8)—merit has a central place, although it is emphasized that merit de condigno (‘of worthiness’) must be acquired in a state of grace and with the assistance of actual grace. Protestant theology denies or limits merit as efficacious in salvation: created beings can never establish any claim upon God or earn any reward from him; otherwise salvation is a matter of works and not God's grace. Merit de congruo is merit based on equity.

In Buddhism, merit and its transfer form one of the most important parts of the dynamic of society. The acquiring of merit and its transfer to others is an important way in which monks and laypeople interact. For details, see DĀNA; PUṆYA (Pāli, puñña); KUŚALA (kusala).

Among Jains, there are seven types of activity which are conducive to progress in rebirth (puṇyakṣetra): donating an image, or a building to house an image, paying for the copying of holy texts, giving alms to monks, or to nuns, assisting laymen, or laywomen, in their religious activities or other needs.


views updated May 14 2018

merit fact or condition of deserving XIII; † what is deserved; something that entitles one to recompense XIV. — (O)F. mérite — L. meritum price, value, service rendered, sb. use of n. pp. of merēre, -ērī earn, deserve, rel. to Gr. meíresthai obtain as a share, moîa share, fate, méros part.
So merit vb. † reward XV; deserve XVI. — F. mériter. meritorious XV. f. L. meritōrius.


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This entry consists of the following articles:

an overview
buddhist concepts
christian concepts


views updated May 23 2018