Condign,congruent or pactum merit

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Peairtach

Puritan Board Doctor
The following is a quote from Rev. Lane Keister's review of Michael Williams's book, "Far as the Curse is Found" at his "Green Baggins" blog:A Book Review of Michael Williams’s Book “Far As the Curse Is Found” « Green Baggins

Secondly, he is firmly monocovenantal. Here are some quotations: “But the human story from creation to new creation does change, and that affects how God administers his creation covenant” (p. 46), “We may view covenant history not as a series of disconnected installments but as a single line. Each new covenant presupposes and renews what went before. Specifically, God’s redemptive acts to not oppose or deny his creative intent, but come as restorative promises in relation to creation,” (p. 51), “Yahweh enters a covenantal relationship with his creation and with his people. He sovereignly initiates that relationship, choosing and binding himself to the recipients of his steadfast love. The relationship in no way depends on the prior performance of the chosen; it is, from the outset, wholly gracious…The covenant of creation thus provides for newly constituted Israel what it affords God’s people in every age: a full-bodied way of life that we are called to live before God and in the midst of the world” (p. 62), “Both before and after the fall, man was related to God in virtue of God’s grace” (p. 73), “We have so far considered the climactic and defining moment of the marriage (the resurrection), the story of how the couple first met and became involved (creation), how the hero saved the heroine (the flood, the exodus), and what they promised to each other in their wedding vows (the covenant words)” (p. 170). I would especially draw people’s attention to the quotation from page 73, for on page 74, Williams goes on to deny the substance of the covenant of works. He says, “Thus before the Adamic fall the terms of the covenant were addressed to man as creature. After the fall the covenant (note: the same covenant! LK) addresses man not only as creature but also as sinner in need of redemption…As both grace and law (love and holiness) are essential to God’s character, so the two are inexorably bound together and interdependent within the covenant…Legal obligation is not the precondition for life and relationship.”

We must be careful here. The Westminster Confession of Faith clearly advocates some aspect of God’s favor to man before the Fall, as the precondition for any kind of relationship. However, the question that needs to be asked is this: on what basis would Adam have had eternal life? The question is not whether there were any aspects of non-legal relationship between God and man. Most of the Reformed world has agreed that there are. The question is much more narrow than this, and refers entirely to the basis upon which Adam would have obtained eternal life. Was it by grace or by works? Williams says that Adam already had life (p. 72): “What I am suggesting here is that life in covenant relationship with God was something that Adam enjoyed by God’s grace. He possessed it as a gift. He could lose that gift by the misapplication of his responsible freedom, his disobedience, but he could not earn or merit it.” In other words, life was not promised to Adam; rather, he already had it. This raises several serious questions: if Adam already had it, then we cannot call it eternal life, can we? If we cannot call it eternal life, then God put Adam in a catch 22 situation, for Adam could not have gotten out of a state that had the perpetual danger of losing what he had. There was no way for him to progress beyond this state. None whatever. Williams rejects any and all aspects of a “merit-based” covenantal arrangement: “it is dangerously misleading to describe Adam’s relationship as merit-based” (p. 72). Of course, this begs the question of what kind of merit we are talking about: Williams never defines it. But it would seem that any kind of works that would be the basis for obtaining eternal life is rejected by his formulation, whether it is condign, congruent, or pactum merit. Hence, the covenant of works is rejected by Williams in all its essential aspects: there is nothing beyond his current state for Adam to obtain, and there is no way for him to obtain anything beyond his current state.
Williams blurs the distinction between the CoW and the CoG.

Can someone "unpack" the meaning of the terms "condign, congruent and pactum merit" ?
 

greenbaggins

Administrator
Staff member
I'd be happy to do that, Richard. Condign merit is a situation where the action is in direct proportion to the reward, and where the action is of the kind necessary to obtain the reward. The example I use is very simple: when someone goes to purchase a car, and pays the full amount in cash, he has condignly merited the possession of the car by paying the money. In theology, there are two condign merit situations: Adam condignly merited Hell by his disobedience, and Jesus Christ condignly merited heaven for us by His obedience.

Congruent merit is similar to condign merit in that both condign and congruent merit have an action that matches in kind the reward. However, congruent merit is not sufficient in and of itself to merit the reward. Say a person has some money, but not enough money to purchase a car. Paying the money he has would not in and of itself merit possession of the car. However, if someone else chipped in and helped him, he would be able to own it. This is "merit with a little help." Romanists use this kind of merit in their system for good works meriting salvation (Christ providing the extra help), and Reformed folk never do.

The last kind of merit is pactum merit, merit according to agreement, according to covenant. In this situation, the action does not correspond either in quality or quantity to the reward. A father promises his son that if the son gets a perfect score on his SAT exam, the father will buy him a car. Obviously, a son could not possibly go to a car store and turn in an SAT exam result and expect to walk out with a car. However, the father had bound himself to this agreement, and so if the son got said score, that would produce the car by means of the agreement. Most Reformed scholars agree that had Adam obeyed in the Garden of Eden, he would have obtained eternal life on the basis of pactum merit. It does not correspond in quality to eternal life because Adam owed all his obedience already. It does not correspond in quantity either, since an infinite amount of righteousness would be required. However, God bound Himself, by agreement, to give Adam eternal life if Adam obeyed.

One will notice right away that there is a lack of symmetry between Adam's obedience and his disobedience. His disobedience condignly merits Hell. However, his obedience would only have merited Heaven by pact. However, the law of God requires condign merit of us now, a condition that only Christ can meet, since He did not owe obedience for Himself, and He offered up an infinitely efficacious merit on the cross.
 

Peairtach

Puritan Board Doctor
Thanks for that Lane. I don't think I've seen that clearly explained in the Systematic Theologies I have, e.g. Berkhof, Dabney, Grudem, although it may be in there somewhere.

So some Covenant Theologians have a tendency to make the CoW so gracious in character that the idea of merit is excluded - although it is true that it is gracious in a sense as you make clear, but Adam hadn't demerited God's goodness or even His condescension in the CoW, as all his offspring including the Israelites had.

And some have a tendency to call the Mosaic Covenant (or Sinai Covenant, as some of them like to call it) a Republication of the Covenant of Works "in some sense" in a way that seems less than clear or possibly muddies the waters. Or maybe they're just not explaining themselves very well. What they say is a RoCoW looks so unlike the CoW with Adam as to make the expression RoCoW - in any sense - misleading.

But the former is the greater danger/problem because it undermines the corresponding CoW fulfilment by Christ (?)
 
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Oecolampadius

Puritan Board Sophomore
Richard, I thought you might find the following to be of interest since it is relevant to the matter that you and Rev. Keister discussed:

A creature as such owes its very existence, all that it is and has, to God; it cannot make any claims before God, and it cannot boast of anything; it has no rights and can make no demands of any kind. There is no such thing as merit in the existence of a creature before God, nor can there be since the relation between the Creator and a creature radically and once-and-for-all eliminates any notion of merit. This is true after the fall but no less before the fall. Then too, human beings were creatures, without entitlements, without rights, without merit. When we have done everything we have been instructed to do, we are still unworthy servants (douloi achreioi, Luke 17:10). Now, however, the religion of Holy Scripture is such that in it human beings can nevertheless, as it were, assert certain rights before God. For they have the freedom to come to him with prayer and thanksgiving, to address him as "Father," to take refuge in him in all circumstances of distress and death, to desire all good things from him, even to expect salvation and eternal life from him. All this is possible solely because God in his condescending goodness gives rights to his creatures. Every creaturely right is a given benefit, a gift of grace, undeserved and nonobligatory. All reward from the side of God originates in grace; no merit, either of condignity or of congruity, is possible. True religion, accordingly, cannot be anything other than a covenant: it has its origin in the condescending goodness and grace of God. It has that character before as well as after the fall. - Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics Vol. II, p.570
[emphasis mine]

The preceding quote arose from his discussion of the Covenant of Works. Earlier he says,
"There was a merit ex pacto (arising from a covenant), not ex condigno. The good works of man never merit the glory of heaven; they are never of the same weight and worth (condignity)." p.544
 

CharlieJ

Puritan Board Junior
Some of these terms vary over time. The way Thomas uses them is not necessarily the same way late medieval nominalists used them. In Thomas, I believe that there are actually three forms of merit.

Strict merit - Giving an action what is its due, outside any consideration of grace or promise. Nothing in divine-human actually falls under this category.

Condign merit - Merit earned in response to deeds actually performed, but under the sphere of promise and with the help of grace. That is, once I promise to pay you $100 for your water bottle, even if the thing is only worth $5, I am under an obligation to fulfill my contract. Of course, the same would be true if I promised to pay $5 for the $5 water-bottle. According to Thomas, this is the type of merit that the saints accrue while in the state of grace. So, I think parts of Lane's definition of condign merit actually fit strict merit better. Adam strictly merits hell. Also, buying the car with money is condign merit, but only because there is a prior agreement that the car costs so much money, and that the bills (or check or whatever) serves as currency. An agreed-upon price does not, strictly speaking, merit the car.

Congruent merit - This is more like benevolence than what we generally think of merit. It is "congruent" or "fitting" that a good person shows his kindness to others. There is no obligation, however, to give congruent merit. I can throw a dollar in the sidewalk violinist's case, and that would be fitting, but I'm under no such obligation. This is the merit that God bestows when he converts people. (In late medieval nominalism, such as in Gabriel Biel, I believe this came to be more like the half-merit that Lane talked about.)

So, the Reformed doctrine of pactum merit is actually similar to Thomas' condign merit, but it's different because Thomas believes in 'habitual grace' that actually belongs to a person, whereas Protestants describe grace as God's action on a person. The switch from habitual grace to covenantal union makes a lot of shared Protestant-Catholic terms actually behave much differently.
 

Ask Mr. Religion

Flatly Unflappable
Sproul writes:

Merit is defined as that which is earned or deserved. Justice demands that
merit be given where it is deserved. Merit is something due a person for a
performance. If it is not received, an injustice is committed.

Roman Catholic theology speaks of merit in three distinct ways. It speaks
of condign merit, which is so meritorious as to impose an obligation for
reward. It also speaks of congruous merit, which, though it is not as high
as condign merit, nevertheless is “fitting or congruous” for God to reward
it. Congruous merit is achieved by performing good works in conjunction
with the sacrament of penance. A third type of merit is supererogatory
merit, which is merit above and beyond the call of duty. It is the excess
merit achieved by saints. This merit is deposited into the treasury of merit
from which the church can draw to apply to the account of those lacking
sufficient merit to progress from purgatory to heaven.

Protestant theology denies and “protests” against all three forms of merit,
declaring that the only merit we have at our disposal is the merit of Christ.

The merit of Christ comes to us by grace through faith. Grace is the
unmerited favor of God. It is an action or disposition of God toward us.
Grace is not a substance that can inhabit our souls. We grow in grace, not
by a quantative measure of some substance in us, but by the merciful
assistance of the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, acting graciously
toward us and upon us. The means of grace God gives to assist us in the
Christian life include Scripture, the sacraments, prayer, fellowship, and the
nurture of the church.

Src: Essential Truths of the Christian Faith, Question 69

Did he miss something here?

AMR
 

Peairtach

Puritan Board Doctor
Richard, I thought you might find the following to be of interest since it is relevant to the matter that you and Rev. Keister discussed:

A creature as such owes its very existence, all that it is and has, to God; it cannot make any claims before God, and it cannot boast of anything; it has no rights and can make no demands of any kind. There is no such thing as merit in the existence of a creature before God, nor can there be since the relation between the Creator and a creature radically and once-and-for-all eliminates any notion of merit. This is true after the fall but no less before the fall. Then too, human beings were creatures, without entitlements, without rights, without merit. When we have done everything we have been instructed to do, we are still unworthy servants (douloi achreioi, Luke 17:10). Now, however, the religion of Holy Scripture is such that in it human beings can nevertheless, as it were, assert certain rights before God. For they have the freedom to come to him with prayer and thanksgiving, to address him as "Father," to take refuge in him in all circumstances of distress and death, to desire all good things from him, even to expect salvation and eternal life from him. All this is possible solely because God in his condescending goodness gives rights to his creatures. Every creaturely right is a given benefit, a gift of grace, undeserved and nonobligatory. All reward from the side of God originates in grace; no merit, either of condignity or of congruity, is possible. True religion, accordingly, cannot be anything other than a covenant: it has its origin in the condescending goodness and grace of God. It has that character before as well as after the fall. - Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics Vol. II, p.570
[emphasis mine]

The preceding quote arose from his discussion of the Covenant of Works. Earlier he says,
"There was a merit ex pacto (arising from a covenant), not ex condigno. The good works of man never merit the glory of heaven; they are never of the same weight and worth (condignity)." p.544
This is all very true.

But God having created an innocent Man would be "obliged" by His own righteousness to treat him in a certain way e.g. not to cast him into Hell unless he had sinned.
 
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CharlieJ

Puritan Board Junior
Roman Catholic theology speaks of merit in three distinct ways. It speaks
of condign merit, which is so meritorious as to impose an obligation for
reward.
This is what Roman Catholics would deny, or at least significantly qualify. The condign merit does impose an obligation for reward, but only because of promise or grace. Thomas adamantly denies that, strictly speaking, God can ever be under obligation to man. Rather, God obligates himself through promises, which he then must honor. The reason this takes a Pelagianizing turn, from a Protestant perspective, is that "grace" for Thomas is a created habit possessed by man. So, it really is man earning the merit, though by using the grace that God has infused into him.

So, well-informed Catholics can rebut the accusation that condign merit is simply works salvation by pointing to the context of promise and grace, but then Protestants can counter that created grace in man isn't the grace by which God justifies.
 

Peairtach

Puritan Board Doctor
Quote from Lane
One will notice right away that there is a lack of symmetry between Adam's obedience and his disobedience. His disobedience condignly merits Hell. However, his obedience would only have merited Heaven by pact. However, the law of God requires condign merit of us now, a condition that only Christ can meet, since He did not owe obedience for Himself, and He offered up an infinitely efficacious merit on the cross.
So the difference with respect to the important subject of merit, before a righteous God, between the CoW with Adam and the CoG with us in Christ is that

(a) Adam would have merited eternal life for himself and his children by pactum merit in fulfilling the CoW for them.

(b) Christ merited etenal life for the elect by condign merit in fulfilling the CoW for them.

In turn the imperfect good works produced by sanctification in the regenerate merit "additional" rewards to Heaven itself by a form of pactum merit graciously ordained by God as part of the CoG.

The typological rewards of the Old Covenant CoG period, of prosperity and secure tenure in the Land, in the context of the gracious redemption and adoption of the Passover, the Exodus and the Giving of the Land, correspond typologically to the "additional" rewards which the regenerate receive in Heaven.

(?)
 
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