Strict v. Condign v. Congruent v. Pactum Merit

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Justified

Puritan Board Sophomore
I am having a difficult time distinguishing the above terms. I thought I understood I knew what they meant, but after reading several earlier posts on the board, greenbaggins, Muller, and Heppe, I am thoroughly confused.

These are the varying interpretations I have heard:

Strict Merit: Merit earned that is commensurate with action/obedience performed (such merit humans cannot possess).

Condign Merit: (1) Same as strict merit; or (2) Merit given according to a promise, i.e., God gives this merit because he has promised to reward such actions.

Congruent Merit: Wholly gratuitous: neither owed because of some action of intrinsic worth nor because of a promise of reward. "To those who do what is within them, God does not deny grace."

Pactum Merit: Same as Condign Merit (2).

I am not sure why the sources seem so confused on this topic. Based on what I read, I am inclined to think that pactum merit is really no different than condign merit; Calvin insinuates this in his Commentaries on Galatians: "All that I am now affirming is granted by the scholastic theologians: for they maintain that works are meritorious of salvation, not by their intrinsic worth, but by the acceptance of God, (to use their own phrase,) and on the ground of a covenant" (emphasis added, pg. 97). Thomas only distinguished between three types of merit: strict, condign, and congruent. He defined condign as definition (2) above, which is why I think that pactum merit is the same as condign.

If any of you are more well-read in the area, please correct me. I have read all of the threads on the PB relating to it, so no need to post them.
 

ZackF

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
I know Thomas wouldn't approve of my characterization but the Catholic system(s) of grace and merit are confusing and elaborate but ultimately demoralizing and destructive. Study them with caution. Though I never was an expert in my Catholic days I think this serves as a plumb line introduction to the subjects.

Hip Hip Horrah for the Five Solas,
 

Justified

Puritan Board Sophomore
I know Thomas wouldn't approve of my characterization but the Catholic system(s) of grace and merit are confusing and elaborate but ultimately demoralizing and destructive. Study them with caution. Though I never was an expert in my Catholic days I think this serves as a plumb line introduction to the subjects.

Hip Hip Horrah for the Five Solas,

Thanks for your concern. It seems to me that the problem with the Catholic system is not the systematic categorization of different types of merit, but their application of it. My main concern with this is that these categories bleed over into Reformed covenantal theology, and the distinctions are important for understanding it.

Edit: And thanks for the link!
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Strict merit is condign, as it looks to the "worthiness" of the one doing the work. The only alternative to condign merit is congruent merit, which supposes some "suitability" or "fitness" in the recipient of the reward. The schoolmen made this inherent in man. Those who speak of pactum merit are attempting to make it external to man by regulating it according to covenant promise, but it is "congruent" nonetheless. Reformed divines in general deny the possibility of mere man meriting anything at the hands of God and affirm that even the covenant of works was gracious in its condescension while being conditional on works. If there were such a thing as pactum merit it would entail numerous alterations to the reformed system.
 
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Justified

Puritan Board Sophomore
Strict merit is condign, as it looks to the "worthiness" of the one doing the work. The only alternative to condign merit is congruent merit, which supposes some "suitability" or "fitness" in the recipient of the reward. The schoolmen made this inherent in man. Those who speak of pactum merit are attempting to make it external to man by regulating it according to covenant promise, but it is "congruent" nonetheless. Reformed divines in general deny the possibility of mere man meriting anything at the hands of God and affirm that even the covenant of works was gracious in its condescension while being conditional on works. If there were such a thing as pactum merit it would entail numerous alterations to the reformed system.
Would the following be a correct summary:

Strict merit = condign merit

Congruent merit-- though the work is not commensurate with the reward, God, nevertheless, rewards their obedience because of some measure of worthiness in the person.

Reformed view-- God owes man nothing at all. Man never merits anything from God. All that man has is from God and his grace, although in the covenant of works this grace is conditioned on obedience.

Two questions: doesn't Romans 4:16 imply that grace is such that it depends on faith rather than works? Also, why do many modern Reformed writers insist on this term pactum merit and the like when talking about covenant theology?
 

ZackF

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
Strict merit is condign, as it looks to the "worthiness" of the one doing the work. The only alternative to condign merit is congruent merit, which supposes some "suitability" or "fitness" in the recipient of the reward. The schoolmen made this inherent in man. Those who speak of pactum merit are attempting to make it external to man by regulating it according to covenant promise, but it is "congruent" nonetheless. Reformed divines in general deny the possibility of mere man meriting anything at the hands of God and affirm that even the covenant of works was gracious in its condescension while being conditional on works. If there were such a thing as pactum merit it would entail numerous alterations to the reformed system.

Very helpful. I was hoping you would chime in.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Congruent merit-- though the work is not commensurate with the reward, God, nevertheless, rewards their obedience because of some measure of worthiness in the person.

"Worthiness" is condign, not congruent. "Suitability" is congruent. A man gives two dollars to a boy for shining his shoes. That is condign. A man gives two dollars to a boy for holding his hand out to receive it. That is congruent.

Reformed view-- God owes man nothing at all. Man never merits anything from God. All that man has is from God and his grace, although in the covenant of works this grace is conditioned on obedience.

Yes; now the advocates of pactum merit might say this is what they mean, but at that point it becomes confusing to call it "merit." It also creates problems to associate merit with pact when (1) Christ merits for us on the basis of His divine worth and efficacy, and (2) the conditions of the covenant of grace are fulfilled in the elect by grace, but we would not say they have merited the things promised. Such conflicts suggest it is better to drop the idea of mere human merit altogether.

Two questions: doesn't Romans 4:16 imply that grace is such that it depends on faith rather than works? Also, why do many modern Reformed writers insist on this term pactum merit and the like when talking about covenant theology?

I suppose they would deny faith and works are meritorious and would maintain faith is merely the empty hand which receives the gift. Why they insist on it, I don't know. It seems to serve the purpose of buttressing the covenant of works as the antithesis to the covenant of grace.
 
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