Today on my blog I have a post up about merit, from that post:
As I’ve written about before, I tend to dissent from or at least quibble with the Protestant rejection of merit. Traditionally, we tend to think of merit as something associated with the teachings of Jesus and the Epistle of James over against Pauline theology and his “justification by faith apart from works.”
But I think this is a misreading of Paul. The full text from Romans is 3.28 is this (emphasis added):
What are these “works of the Law”? If you read Paul and pay attention to the narrative in Acts you come to see that “works of the Law” mainly had to do with submitting to circumcision. This is most clearly seen in Acts 15 and Galatians. Basically, what Paul is saying is that Gentiles who want to be justified before God don’t have to become Jews. Protestants have tended to miss this, missed that Paul’s discussions about faith are about the Jew/Gentile issue rather than about daily moral performance.
Because when we do get to daily moral performance Paul seems to suggest, in a variety of places, that it creates merit. In these locations Paul sounds a lot like Jesus and James. Consider the ending of Galatians, a founding document (along with Romans) of the Reformation’s doctrine of sola fide:
“A man reaps what he sows.”
“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”
That sounds like merit to me. And it’s a teaching found not with Jesus or James…but in Galatians.
Because I view God’s punishment (the “destruction” mentioned in Gal. 6 above) as God’s refining and purifying fire (the destruction of sins rather than human beings), I tend to have positive views of the Catholic doctrine of merit. As Paul says, we reap what we sow. The love of God graciously gives us consequences–in this life or the next–that move us toward holiness, sanctification and union with God and others. When I describe this view to many Protestants I often get dinged for preaching a “works based righteousness.” But if you are working with Catholic ideas the notion of merit makes that aspect of UR make sense.
What’s also interesting to note is that, as I’ve written about in another thread here, I also find theological resources for UR in the Catholic tradition regarding purgatory.
All that to say, I find a lot of rich theological resources for UR in the Catholic tradition.