Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Hilary of Poitiers on the Transfer of Merits

While reading the Apology  (i.e. Defence) of the Augsburg Confession last week I came across this : "Hilary says of the foolish virgins: And as the foolish virgins could not go forth with their lamps extinguished, they besought those who were prudent to lend them oil; to whom they replied that they could not give it because peradventure there might not be enough for all; i.e., no one can be aided by the works and merits of another, because it is necessary for every one to buy oil for his own lamp."

[Hilary of Poitiers (c 300-368), as cited in the Book of Concord, Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Art XXI (On the Invocation of Saints), 30, from Hilary's Commentary on the Gospel According to Matthew, 27:5 (on Matt 25:8.9).]

Cf. the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1994): "Since the initiative belongs to God in the order of grace, no one can merit the initial grace of forgiveness and justification, at the beginning of conversion. Moved by the Holy Spirit and by charity, we can then merit for ourselves and for others the graces needed for our sanctification, for the increase of grace and charity, and for the attainment of eternal life. Even temporal goods like health and friendship can be merited in accordance with God's wisdom. These graces and goods are the object of Christian prayer. Prayer attends to the grace we need for meritorious actions" (sect 2010) [italics mine].

Note - Because of the statement that forgiveness and justification can not be merited, the Lutheran may initially regard the above quote from the CCC as quite an evangelical statement. Note, however, the additional statement that the "graces" of sanctification, increase of grace and charity and even "the attainment of eternal life" can be merited for ourselves and others (!). This addition reveals the difference in the Roman doctrine of justification as compared to the scriptural and Lutheran doctrine - for Romans justification is only the beginning of a process in which God and man co-operate. For the Lutheran, in contrast, the accomplishment of our salvation is entirely a work of God in man through faith.

Interesting also that the doctrine of the transfer of merits is well known in Buddhism, the religion of good works par excellence. Roman Catholics protest that the phrase "transfer of merits" is not in their theological lexicon; maybe so, but the concept certainly is. It was, of course, central to the Reformation debate concerning Indulgences.

Pic: Teresa of Avila pleading her merits for the souls in purgatory.

[The 2nd post on Cardinal Pell is in the works - I've just been sidetracked during my reading!]

1 comment:

Lvka said...

Your Pastor is not Your Therapist

Maybe not... But your Orthodox confessor might! :-)