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Supererogation, Works of


Virtuous acts surpassing what is required by duty or obligation. They are compared to other works not as good to evil, but as better works to good works. The termbased on the Latin term erogare, to pay out or to expendis found in the Vulgate version of the Bible. In the parable, the Good Samaritan tells the innkeeper, "Whatever thou dost spend besides ," quodcumque supererogaveris (Lk 10.35). The generosity of Zacchaeus in giving half his possessions to the poor and in quadrupling whatever he owed in restitution (Lk 19.8, 9) and the work of St. Paul in supporting himself as a tentmaker (Acts 20.34; 1 Thes 3.8, 9) are seen as examples of super-erogation (cf. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae 1a2ae, 108.2 ad 3; 2a2ae, 62.3 ad 2).

The counsels of Christian perfection, especially the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obe dience, have been commonly considered in Catholic theology as supererogatory works. The traditional basis for these counsels and their distinction from precepts or commands is seen in such scriptural passages as St. Paul's recommendation of virginity (1 Cor 7.7) and Christ's invitation to the rich young man to renounce his possessions (Mt 19.1622). Christian perfection, however, does not consist in these counsels, but in charity (see perfec tion, spiritual). Neither are they the chief means to attain it; but the counsels are concerned with things good in themselvesand therefore not opposed to charity or perfectionthat may provide obstacles to a greater development of charity (cf. St. Thomas, Summa Theologiae 1a2ae, 108.4; 2a2ae, 184.3).

Among medieval theologians, such as Alexander of Hales and St. Thomas Aquinas, the term "supererogatory" works had a precise, almost technical, meaning. Aquinas contrasted them with works of necessity (C. impug. 4 ad 5), or those that pertain to salvation (2a2ae, 88.2), and describes them as acts to which all are not held (2a2ae, 85.4). In fact, he notes that some may not have the necessary dispositions to follow the evangelical counsels (1a2ae, 108.4 ad 1). These counsels may be made a matter of obligation through vow (2a2ae, 185.6). In one place, St. Thomas distinguished two types of supererogatory works. One kind is simply such, and he listed the Pauline exhortation to virginity as an example. Other works, such as fasting, are not the matter of precept as such, but may be made so by competent ecclesiastical authority (In 4 Sent. ad 2).

Many of the reformers rejected this doctrine. Thus article XIV of the Anglican Thirty-Nine Articles states that "the works of supererogation cannot be taught without arrogancy and impiety." Calvin rejected the distinction between counsel and precept and insisted that anything commended by Christ is commanded by Him.

Some Catholic theologians, especially those with a personalist or existential outlook, have called for a reexamination of the question. They stress the individuality of God's gifts of grace and the universal application of the law of love.

Bibliography: antoninus of florence, Summa Theologica (Venice 1480), pt. 3, title 16, ch. 1. francis de sales, Treatise on the Love of God, tr. v. kerns (Westminster, MD 1963), bk. 8, ch. 6, j. schwane, De operibus supererogatoriis et consiliis evangelicis in genere (Münster 1868). e. dublanchy, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant, 15 v. (Paris 190350; Tables générales 1951) 3.1:117582. r. schnackenburg and b. hÄring, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, 10v. (2d, new ed. Freiburg 195765) 3:124550.

[j. hennessey]

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