CHAPTER XV. THE CAPACITY OF THE SOUL TO MERIT OR DEMERIT. PART 6.
IV. Against this doctrine, some have reclaimed. continued
The objections we have been heretofore considering, are those of the heretic—of all who give ear to the teaching of Luther, and the other reformers. But the objection with which we are now going to deal, has been put forward even by some Catholics.
These say that in Purgatory souls have all the conditions required to merit. These are grace, liberty, faith, hope, and charity. What, then, they ask, is there to prevent the souls in Purgatory from meriting ? especially since, as is found in the case of Christ, the blessed can merit; since the rich man who was buried in hell (Luke, xvi.) entreated mercy for him self and his five brethren, from which we infer that the souls in purgatory can likewise pray—and their prayer as performed by those in the state of grace, merits to be heard by God; and since St. Thomas openly propounds the doctrine, that the souls in Purgatory do merit. The Angelic Doctor (In 4, dist. 21, q. i, art. 3, t. 10. ) says: "It must be said that after this life there cannot be merit with regard to the essential reward ; but with regard to some accidental one, there can be as long as a man remains in the state of via (or journey or voyage) in some way ; and therefore in Purgatory there can be merit as far as the remission of venial sin." In fine, they say that he would seem to defend the same doctrine elsewhere.(Do., art. I.)
This objection is answered, in the first place, by denying that the souls in Purgatory have all the conditions required for merit. There is one necessary condition which they have not. That is, they are not in the state of what is called a homo viator. In other words, they are not in this world, or in the state of a man travelling through the stormy sea of this life. God does not accept those works, as deserving of merit or demerit, which are not performed while in this life, or before the soul has crossed the threshold of eternity. As they, who are in purgatory, are not now sojourning in this life, whose temptations and storms they have weathered, God does not accept their works as meritorious or the reverse.
Again, we deny that portion of the objection, which affirms the capacity of the blessed to merit. The blessed cannot acquire merit, though they can impetrate many things by their intercession. The example of Christ, who while on earth merited, is not to the point. Whilst He was on earth, it is needless to remark, He was in the state of a man travelling through this life ; and in so far as He was such, could merit. But after His death, He did not merit. Hence, Bellarmine observes: "After His death, because He ceased to be a traveller, He merited nothing more."
When it is said in the objection that, because the rich man in hell entreated for himself and his brethren, the souls in Purgatory can pray, and that their prayer, as proceeding from those who are in the state of grace, merits to be heard by God, we may allow that some few have thought those souls can obtain some advantage for themselves, in virtue of their past merits. But if the question be : Can they impetrate or obtain any advantage for us, we can with more freedom afford an affirmative answer to this; for it is a probable opinion, held by many, that they can so impetrate for us. Still they do not merit, in the true and proper sense of the word. They intercede and impetrate for us, like the saints ; but like them too, they do not merit.
To the opinion of St. Thomas, which they quote and claim in their favour, it will be a sufficient reply, to observe what Cardinal Bellarmine says, " that St. Thomas changed his opinion; for q. 7 de Malo, art. II, he expressly teaches that in Purgatory there can be no merit, either of an essential or accidental reward ; which same thing Bonaventure, Scotus, Durandus, and others teach. Perhaps St. Thomas in 4, wished to use the name of merit, not properly, but improperly. For he called the act of love in Purgatory meritorious of the remission of venial fault, because it is calculated to remit it; though not by mode of merit properly so called, but by mode of a contrary taking away its contrary." Elsewhere (Tit. 4, art. II, de Malo, n. 6.) St. Thomas, speaking on the same question, raises this objection; "Moreover, the same reason seems to hold, that some one may merit an essential or accidental reward, and that sin may be remitted to him. Because by the same reason by which any one approaches'^ one opposite, he retires from the other. But man after death cannot merit either an essential or accidental reward. Therefore, for a like reason, he cannot receive the remission of sin, either venial or mortal." After having proposed this objection to himself, St. Thomas proceeds to answer it thus : "To 6, it must be said that the merit of essential or accidental glory belongs of itself to spiritual progress, which takes place through an increase of spiritual good; from whence the reason is not similar" It was this objection and the answer given to it that made Bellarmine conclude that St. Thomas had changed his opinion. The holy doctor evidently concedes the antecedent portion of the objection, which denies that an essential or accidental reward can be acquired after death; but he dissents from the consequent portion, which would have us believe that no sin is remitted in the other world. Thus in the mind of St. Thomas, while a person, after death, cannot merit a reward, he can, by suffering, obtain the remission of some sins.
We may further observe that some, while teaching, with the general opinion of theologians, that the souls in Purgatory can acquire no new merits for themselves, have held that they can, by their frequent acts of patience and charity, and their ardent prayers, obtain three things. They say, first, that these souls can impetrate benefits for the living. Secondly, that they can obtain for themselves the remission of the temporal punishment due to mortal sins, and of the guilt and punishment due to venial sins. Thirdly, that they can obtain their own translation to the glory which they had deserved by their good works whilst alive.
Other theologians, while denying that the soul can merit anything in Purgatory, admit that it can obtain some advantages for itself. Thus Sylvius (In Suppl. g. 71, art. 2, p. 275.) says: "They seem to speak most probably, who affirm that the faithful departed, by praying, assist themselves by mode of impetration. For in the office of the dead they are introduced praying for their own liberation; and it is very consonant to piety, that every faithful soul in its tribulation should cry out to God: which cry, there is no reason to doubt, is usefully made." Thus Sylvius holds it to be the more probable opinion that the faithful departed can, by impetration, obtain some advantages for themselves. He is positive, however, in holding that they cannot merit. He says on this point: "The dead, by the prayers which they pour forth for them selves, are not assisted by way of merit t or satisfaction, because they are beyond the state not only of merit, but even of that satisfaction which is made as a punishment, and which means a redemption, or compensation of punishment." Such is the opinion of Sylvius. There is no obstacle to our admitting it, as far as it excludes the souls in Purgatory from the power of merit, and includes them in that of impetration.