Aquinas on the Possibility of Merit – Religion Research Paper
Thomas Aquinas is known for having presented both a moral and spiritual view of the world he lived in, yet it is still very much applicable to the world that we live in today. Thomas believed above anything else that the final end of man lies entirely in God and no one else. And while Aquinas attempted
to reiterate and model his works after his predecessor
Augustine, his views differed, and mainly in one fundamental area. Unlike Augustine, Thomas’ view of man, nature, and the free will is much kinder, desiring for good despite the threat of sin and evil. With that said and done, Aquinas questions merit.
Why Can People Merit From God?
Thomas compares merit with a reward, saying that they are essentially the same thing. He goes on to explain that God is on a different level than that of man, and even if we attempted to compare ourselves, we could never do so. Furthermore, God does not want our merit, or our reward, he wishes only for fulfillment. This fulfillment meaning that we as his people do what we ought to do using the will given to us by God himself. We can only merit from God by doing this, because if we are successful and we even wish for this merit we must do our deeds and good works. God does not wish to gain anything from these good works he wishes only to be glorified by them. Still if we are unsuccessful in this endeavor it is impossible for us to gain merit from God.
Objections to God’s Merit?
To successfully go back and answer this question of merit, Thomas first had to raise some objections to this idea that had been brought up in the past. While there were many questions that were raised and still exist today, some are much more fundamentally important than others.
It is said that no one can possibly merit a reward by simply repaying what he owes another. In this fashion, how could it be that we could ever merit from God. We owe him so much that we could never get to the point to which we could repay him, let alone surpass this level and wish for a reward for our works. No matter how many good works we do, they can only be used in our vale attempt to repay God exactly what we owe. Thomas calls us “unprofitable servants,” that we only do what is our duty to do.
It is also said that if anyone profits from another that makes him his debtor. However there is no way that God could be our debtor. He is a much higher level than to ever be the debtor, as he started the cycle by giving and because of this we are forever in debt to him, no matter how hard we try or how much good we can do. We are in second place from the start and our lives are only lived in order to fulfill what he has destined for us. And while we will never be able to fully repay him, we still work hard each and everyday to do so, because this action appeases God and will eventually lead him to favor us.
Thomas’ Answer to These Objections:
Thomas answers these objections by stating that merit and reward are one in the same. We commonly call a reward something that is given to someone in return for his work or labor, as a price for it. To give this reward to someone that has in fact done something for you is justice. And Thomas believes that philosophically speaking, justice is synonymous with equality. Thomas believes that some justices are owed, or even deserved, like a son who deserves something from his father or even a slave that deserves from his master. And while it seems that man would argue that he deserves that justice, this can never be challenged. For man and God both suffer from a great inequality, in fact, the distance between the two is infinite. Therefore, and to end all arguments, the kind of justice that is obtained by and only through absolute equality could never and will never exist between man and God. This is where Thomas believes this argument and any objections have to end, for God and man are more like two separate being, meaning that they share no grounds for comparison and because of this the true equality lacks. And it is this equality needed to find if merit can be deserved. So it absence scratches the question and holds no weight for any other objections.
Thomas’ Idea of “Ordination”:
Thomas’s idea of a “divine ordination” is his key component of man ever being able to merit from God. It is this ordination, which is given to us by God that allows us to achieve anything, be it in our eyes, or in the eyes of God. Simply put, man can only receive from God what God has given man the power to work for and earn through his own efforts. God is responsible for creation in the beginning and it was at this time that God gave us all of the tools and abilities that we would need throughout our life. So by using these tools that God has given us, we will be able to achieve great things. These great things will then hopefully fulfill God and his intentions and only then may we receive merit from him.
From the beginning of time is has been this ordination that has molded us into what we our. It is because of this divine ordination that we are in debt to God in the first place. This ordination is the gift that was so great that no matter what we do and try to give back to God, nothing, especially no one single act, nor the sum of all of our works ever duplicate or surpass the importance of this ordination that God gave us so long ago.
Thus the difference in what God did when he created us all is that he only gave this ordination to man. No other being has been or ever will be blessed or bestowed the same honor. For unlike the other beasts that inhabit the earth, God’s giving us this gift supplied us with free will, something we have only for ourselves. It is with this free will that we can be rational and move ourselves toward actions that we know to be good and to also be pleasing to God. And it is this action alone that could ever be important enough to receive merit. Therefore we say that our free will is meritorious, and this is what separates us from all other creates that God created.
Does Thomas’ Ordination Differ From Other Views?
While we have studied other differing opinions and views on both the questions of grace and merit and the possibility of predestination, Aquinas’ view differs from all of them. As some believe that God has our futures predetermined and mapped out so that we merely live our lives but have no ultimate effect on its’ outcome, others believe in a two fold strategy. While God does have a plan in mind for us he is open to allow the human the chance to either prove God right or wrong according to his good works, perhaps even to the point in which God ultimate decision about our eternal future may be swayed.
Thomas’ ordination presents an altogether different spin on things. Unlike the idea of God having complete control and the final say or even man being able to work to save him self, Thomas believes in God’s belief in us. That is to say that God has already done his part, he has given us the tools that we need. It is up to us to take what he has given us and use it, or simply neglect God’s gift and squander it all away. It is almost like God has a partnership with us, with him being the investor, investing his ordination into us and we being his worker. He has laid us a good foundation and put us on the right track and our actions will ultimately tell if we profit from this investment or we lose it all. Aquinas is the first to say that we can save ourselves, as long as we fulfill God’s wishes for us, and win his favor. And while this may not always seem easy to do, it is not unattainable.
Thomas’ Link Between Predestination and Merit:
By clearly understanding Thomas’ teaching on predestination, his idea of the possibility of merit becomes more understandable. While he makes it clear that God has given us the abilities to be able to do what it is we do, we must understand that it is our place to work for God. Nothing we will ever do will reward God, for he cannot be rewarded. Our worship of God rewards us instead, for even if we gain his merit, he gains nothing from us, for we do not profit him, we only glorify his name. God therefore will never be a debtor to us; rather he will be a debtor to himself, because it is our right to fulfilled everything that he has ordained.
Therefore, although it has been said that we may never merit from God because we may never be able to fully repay God for what he has given us, this may not be the most important issue. Rather, it appears that God would be willing to grant merit to us if he does in fact see that we are working to fulfill the wishes that he ordained in us from the beginning. This fulfillment would bring him happiness and his happiness could bring us his favor and perhaps the gift of eternal life.
As long as we know that our role is to serve his name and be thankful for the gifts we have been given, we may be able to work in conjunction with God so that we can both receive just what it is we want. For God, the glory that our good works provide and for us the ultimate gift that only a select few will ever receive.