Kathryn Tanner on Condign and Congruent Merit

In this section, Tanner is explicating the theology of Gabriel Biel, and pointing out ways in which he diverged from previous scholastic positions in subtle ways. This whole section is interesting, and I highly recommend you take a look at it for yourself. But, here is a not insignificant portion to whet your appetite a bit more concerning this rather esoteric theological discussion. I find the development that Tanner lays out here to be very important to Reformation history as, if my memory serves me, Luther was trained in Biel's tradition. If Biel is an aberration of a more basic scholastic position, Luther is (perhaps) a corrective rather than an aberration in his own right. Just a thought. :-)

Kathryn Tanner, God and Creation in Christian Theology: Tyranny or Empowerment? (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2005): 140-1.

“In traditional use (e.g., Thomas), the distinction between congruous and condign merit was a way of considering the same human action performed on the basis of created grace and under two different aspects – from the side of human agency on the one hand and divine agency on the other. Human works performed on the basis of created grace may be said to merit salvation de condigno to the extent that such works are considered to proceed from the grace of the Holy Spirit and to the extent, therefore, that eternal life appears as the fitting completion of the gift of created grace from the side of the divine agency which works both. When the same human action performed on the basis of created grace is considered on its human side, it is said to merit salvation merely de congruo. One can assert this, moreover, only because God is operating as well tom complete ‘his’ own work de condigno. Human acts have no claim in themselves to an eternal ‘supernatural’ life; nevertheless, they may be said to merit salvation de congruo to the extent that God out of free mercy rewards ‘his’ own gifts.

“On Biel’s use, on the contrary, congruous merit is reified as a form of merit really distinct from condign merit, having its ground in human achievement alone apart from any direct operation of divine agency effective of grace. Congruous merit becomes a naturalistically interpreted preparation for the reception of the habit of grace, proceeding apart from any direct establishment of the relevant human operations by divine saving agency. In technical scholastic language, preparation for the reception of created grace is, according to Biel, essentially performed by human power without being itself established either by the very ‘form’ of created grace as its appropriate material condition (Thomas) or by gratia gratis data or auxilium Dei speciale. The traditional scholastic formula facere quod in se est, according to which God does not deny grace to those who do what is in them under the influence of grace, takes on the character of a self-originating human activity conditioning the divine ordination of grace.

“…Condign merit was traditionally based on the free mercy of God who ordains that unmerited created grace should be completed by eternal life; now it comes instead to be attributed at least partially – perhaps even in the main – to the independent efforts of human persons to perform good works. Condign merit no longer expresses the loving largesse of a God who rewards what itself arises only as a free divine gift; it is instead taken to represent the result of the joint co-agency of God and independently operative human beings.”

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