CHAPTER XV. THE CAPACITY OF THE SOUL TO MERIT OR DEMERIT. PART 3.
III. It is proved also from the Fathers that there is no merit or demerit after the present life.
St. Jerome, (In cap. 9 Eccles.) whose opinion we have had occasion before to pen down, is clear and concise as to the inability of the soul for merit or demerit. He says : " The dead can neither act justly nor sin" They who cannot act justly or virtuously .cannot merit; and they who cannot sin, cannot demerit or deserve punishment.
The other Fathers agree in opinion with St. Jerome. For example, St. Chrysostom (Homil. 37 in Matth.) says : " The present life affords thee the power of living as well justly as the contrary ; but after thou hast died, judgment shall be followed by punishment.” In the first member of the sentence, this holy Father tells us that only while we are in the present life have we the power of living justly or unjustly, of meriting or demeriting; but in the second member he assures us that if we live unjustly, after we are judged nothing shall await us for ever but punishment.
St. Augustine (Lib. de Praedest. ss. cap.14,n 28.) gives us at the same time a compendium of the teaching of the Fathers and of the belief of the Church, when he says : " By these and the like sentiments in the brightest light of the Catholic faith, that Doctor (St. Cyprian) abundantly and openly testifies that we ought to fear the dangers and temptations of sinning until the deposition of this body ; then a person shall suffer no such thing." St. Augustine would thus have us believe that ac cording to the light of the Catholic faith, as he eloquently puts it, we can commit sin while we are in this life, what we ourselves feel and know; but that after death there is no fear, for there is no power of committing sin.
St. John Damascen (Lib. 2, de Orthodoxa Fide, cap. 4.) gives us his opinion—I should say his faith and doctrine—with great con ciseness in this sentence : " What their fall was to the angels, that their death is to men." We know that after their fall, there was no time of mercy for the angels, but of punishment. They could then no longer merit or repair the loss they had caused. They could only suffer the eternal penalty due to their rebellion. It is just the same with man after his death, according to St. Damascen : "What their fall was to the angels, that their death is to men." Once death has snapped the thread of life with its sickle, there remains for the sinner a time not of mercy, but of punishment. Man can no longer acquire merit, or repent of the injury he has done, or deserve punishment.