Condign merit (meritum de condigno) is an aspect of Roman Catholic theology signifying a goodness that has bestowed because of the actions of that person. In opposition is congruent merit, a goodness bestowed on a person because of someone else, typically God. In some formulations of Calvinism, condign merit is not needed because Jesus' Atonement is a congruent merit where God gives merit. However, in Catholic theology, both are needed.

Condign merit supposes an equality between service and return; it is measured by commutative justice, and thus gives a real claim to a reward. Congruous merit, owing to its inadequacy and the lack of intrinsic proportion between the service and the recompense, claims a reward only on the ground of equity. This early-scholastic distinction and terminology, which is already recognized in concept and substance by the Fathers of the Church in their controversies with the Pelagians and Semipelagians, were again emphasized by Johann Eck, the adversary of Martin Luther [1].

The essential difference between condign merit and congruent merit is based on the fact that, besides those works which claim a remuneration under pain of violating strict justice (as in contracts between employer and employee, in buying and selling, etc.), there are also other meritorious works which at most are entitled to reward or honour for reasons of equity or mere distributive justice , as in the case of gratuities and military decorations. From an ethical point of view the difference practically amounts to this that, if the reward due to condign merit be withheld, there is a violation of right and justice and the consequent obligation in conscience to make restitution, while, in the case of congruous merit, to withhold the reward involves no violation of right and no obligation to restore, it being merely an offence against what is fitting or a matter of personal discrimination. Hence the reward of congruous merit always depends in great measure on the kindness and liberality of the giver, though not purely and simply on his good will.

See also


Merit Catholic Encyclopedia

  1. (cf. Greying, "Joh. Eck als junger Gelehrter," Münster, 1906, pp. 153 sqq.)

This article incorporates text from the Catholic Encyclopedia of 1913, a publication now in the public domain.

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