Scholastic Developments on Merit: A Downward Path into Pelagianism?

by Charles Raith II

“The Schools have always gone from worse to worse, until at length, in their downward path, they have degenerated into a kind of Pelagianism.”[1] This is John Calvin’s summary assessment of the theological trajectory of medieval scholastic theology, and nothing captured this downward descent into Pelagianism like the doctrine of merit. Certainly Calvin isn’t the first to level the charge of Pelagianism against strains of medieval theology. Especially after the 13th century, the label appears from the pen of many scholastic theologians, and it appears in the writing of other Reformers. And Calvin was also not alone in pinpointing the problem of merit. In Martin Bucer’s words, “the principal religious disagreements in the whole world have arisen and been sustained from the fact that very few indeed have yet paid attention to the status that should be accorded to our works and why it is they have the nature of merits and earn the wages of eternal life.”[i]

Yet what exactly did Calvin have in mind by calling the schools “Pelagian”? Furthermore, is there some validity to his assessment?

The first question—what did Calvin have in mind with the term “Pelagian”—is not readily apparent since the label “Pelagian” has not carried (nor does it carry today) a universally recognized delineation.[2] Within the dynamics of medieval doctrinal developments on issues relevant to “Pelagianism,” everyone wrestling with these issues worked in the shadow of earlier Pelagian controversies. No one wanted to be labeled a Pelagian, though no one knew exactly (nor does anyone really know today) where the threshold of Pelagianism lay. The theological development of merit within the schools of the Middle Ages reflects an ongoing struggle to properly relate a variety of distinctions: human inability and human ability, human activity and divine activity, human worth and divine generosity, human free will and divine sovereignty, and divine wisdom and divine will, to name a few.[ii]

The schoolmen had little to guide them in their deliberations. No council had officially pronounced on many of the issues surrounding merit that would fuel Reformation-era polemics. There is the Second Council of Orange (AD 529)—an impromptu provincial council consisting of a small group of bishops confirmed by Pope Boniface II in the papal bull Per Filium Nostrum (A.D. 531)[iii]—but not only did the council play no role in medieval disputes,[iv] the council addresses only a limited number of what would become debated topoi surrounding merit.[v] The Council of Carthage (AD 419) contains a few canons of somewhat limited relevance, but they were, in Alister McGrath’s words, “incapable of bearing the strain which came to be placed upon them.”[vi] The schoolmen were left largely to wrestle with the sources of Scripture and the church fathers—especially as weaved together by Peter Lombard after the creation of the Sentences[vii]—with Augustine as a featured theologian. But even Augustine’s corpus exhibits development and change on issues relevant to the topic of merit; citations from Augustine could be used to support seemingly contradictory conclusions.[viii] The medieval disputes surrounding merit, then, reflect the dynamics of this general ambiguity. They also illustrate the range of positions that were possible within a generally accepted understanding of salvation, works, and reward. Only when judged in retrospect from the clarifications that the sixteenth century would produce do some of these positions stand out as clear aberrations from what would become accepted Christian soteriologies. To accept Calvin’s claim above prima facie requires accepting his definition of Pelagianism. But it is far from self-evident one should do so.

So what did Calvin have in mind by using the term “Pelagian”? Let me highlight four main criteria comprising Calvin’s hermeneutic of Pelagianism.

Calvin’s Critique

1) The first and often overlooked component—yet the one that drives most everything else—is the way Calvin interprets his opponents as setting forth meritorious works within a competitive-causal schema of divine-human action. In this schema God and human beings are two agents on a similar causal plane with each doing their respective “parts” to bring about the meritorious act. When God grants “grace” to a person for the production of meritorious works, it is like God “priming the pump” within a human being, leaving the human actor to finish the job. This is how Calvin understands terms like “cooperation” and “mutual concurrence”: God’s causal activity is bracketed from the complete accomplishment of particular human meritorious acts.

2) The main of Calvin’s hostility is directed toward the idea that one can merit the grace of justification. Presupposing the competitive-causal schema, the opponents teach, according to Calvin, that we have the capacity in and of ourselves, that is, by nature and apart from grace to perform meritorious acts that God takes into consideration in his decision to grant the initial grace of justification. But even those denying the ability to merit the initial grace of justification articulate a version of post-initial justification that makes our final salvation depend on both the merits of Christ and the merit of our works as distinct meritorious grounds. Our merits form an additional basis to the merits of Christ for obtaining eternal life.

3) In connection with #2, Calvin believes those who incorporate merit into God’s decision to grant initial grace also make merit the basis for obtaining the gift of perseverance. Again with the underlying competitive-causal framework being supposed, Calvin paints his opponents as practical Pelagians: while they acknowledge the need of grace to make an evil will good, graced persons proceed as if “left to themselves.”

4) Calvin retains a deep dissatisfaction with the notion of merit corresponding to the worth of the work. For Calvin, human beings are never “due” anything from God even in grace; there is never a “right” to a reward. Calvin believes human works, even in the graced state, are “tainted,” which means that they must be “pardoned” before receiving a reward and thus can never be understood as receiving a reward as a “due.”

Yet how valid is Calvin’s assessment of the “schools”? This is the question I want to take up in this essay. I argue that, on the one hand, a number of these “schools” simply contain little if anything that is recognizably “Pelagian.” They may contain other problems in Calvin’s eyes, such as justification as transformation, moral conjecture, and penance. But their articulations of these teachings bears little if no resemblance to anything distinctly “Pelagian.” On the other hand, the lines delineating what is and what is not “Pelagian” was not (and still is not) well defined. To accept Calvin’s assertion necessitates that one accepts Calvin’s parameters of Pelagianism, but it is far from clear that one should do so, at least on a historical basis. Calvin’s wholesale claim about “the schools,” then, if anything other than a rhetorical embellishment, is more of an indictment of Calvin’s lack of knowledge of medieval theology than it is an accurate description of history.[ix] In the end, we shall find that Richard Muller’s observation holds true: Calvin’s attacks on the scholastici are often in actuality attacks aimed at his French contemporaries—the théologiens Sorboniques—who drink deeply from the well of scholastic nominalism, rather than such “luminaries” as, say, Thomas Aquinas.[x]

Merit’s Many Faces in Medieval Scholasticism 

At this point, I want to illustrate various positions “in the air,” if you will, throughout the Middle Ages—positions that form the backdrop to Calvin’s polemics against merit in his day as well as sources for his positive proposals. My hope is to highlight the unique contributions of various theologians to the general wrestling with the topic of merit that occurred in the Middle Ages. For this reason, Aquinas’s position on merit de congruo and de condigno receives particular attention, along with Aquinas’s situating merit within God’s ordinatio, which frames merit in terms of justice. Scotus, with his unique emphasis on God’s will and the role of God’s acceptatio in rewarding human works, has a different take on the condignocongruo distinction. The introduction, with Ockham, of the via moderna in combination with his causal parsimony leads to a greater emphasis on human autonomy in meritorious action, as well as the introduction of the notion of merit for works outside of grace. Biel follows Ockham in many respects through his interpretation of the facere quod in se est and the notion of merit outside of grace, though Biel employs God’s pactum in a way distinct from Scotus and Ockham by emphasizing the ongoing unworthiness of works even in grace.

1. Thomas Aquinas

According to Aquinas, every human act consists of God and human beings as simultaneous causal agents in the production of the very same act.[xi] Aquinas rejects the idea that an act is produced jointly by God and creatures as a conjunction of two independently produced per se effects:

It is not the case that the same effect is attributed to a natural cause and to the divine power in such a way that it is effected partly, as it were, by God and partly by the secondary cause. Rather, the whole is effected by both of them according to different modes—just as the same effect is attributed as a whole to the instrument and also as a whole to the principal agent.[xii]

Aquinas’s general view of human action feeds into his account of meritorious action. When it comes to acts of merit, Aquinas maintains that God’s grace is the “principal” cause and human willing the “subsequent cause” of the meritorious act.[xiii] The principal agent in the meritorious act is God’s grace, and this means for Aquinas that the action is attributed “more” to God than to human free will.[xiv] Aquinas acknowledges that although it is true that the act in a sense “depends on man’s will or exertion,” it is “offensive to pious ears” to speak of the act in this way. Rather, the act should be considered according to the words of the apostle at Rom 9:16: “It does not depend on the one who will or the one who runs, but on God who has mercy.”[xv] For Aquinas, the operative and cooperative dimensions of God’s habitual grace and auxilium must be present for the actual performance of the meritorious act.[xvi] Cooperative aspects of grace, such as “strengthening” our will in order to “attain” to the act and granting the “capability” to actually perform these acts,[xvii] do not leave behind operative grace but rather presuppose a movement of operative grace.[xviii] Joseph Wawrykow summarizes the operative and cooperative dimensions of habitual grace and actual grace as such:

As operans, habitual grace changes the orientation of the sinner, granting the justified the new being and virtues which raise the sinner to the spiritual sphere and re-direct the soul to God; as cooperans, habitual grace works with the will, inclining the will and strengthening its performance as it wills the acts appropriate to the new being in God. As operans, actual grace changes the will, replacing its former will of its sinful ends by moving it to the new will of its proper end, of God; as cooperans, actual grace works with the justified, strengthening the human person in the deeds which in fact bring the person to God.[xix]

Cooperation in Aquinas is not understood as the human agent acting in practically autonomous terms from the direct causal movement of the divine will; there is no sense of God contributing his part and then the human beings acting meritoriously. In the meritorious work, Aquinas considers the same act as having causal roots in both grace and human will.

Aquinas’s account of the simultaneity of divine and human choice in the singular meritorious act underlies his account of condign and congruous merit. In condign merit, on the one hand, God gives rewards out of justice; the worth of the meritorious act justly deserves (has a “right” to) a reward from God.[xx] Congruous merit, on the other hand, affirms that God rewards human activity but not out of justice; rather, God rewards individuals according to proportion, that is, according to how well they used their God-given powers as human beings.[xxi] Both condign and congruous merit only occur in the state of grace,[xxii] and condignity and congruity apply to the very same act.[xxiii] In order to understand Aquinas’s position, a good place to begin is his commentary on Rom 6:23, “The wages of sin is death. But the grace of God is life everlasting in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:23 appears prolifically in Aquinas’s corpus, particularly when refuting the possibility of a purely natural attainment of beatitude, that is, obtaining eternal life apart from supernatural grace.[xxiv] Romans 6:23 teaches that grace is needed to enable human beings to fulfill God’s commandments “in their due way,” which is the meritorious way of charity.[xxv]

But if Rom 6:23 teaches that eternal life is a “grace,” how can Aquinas affirm that it is an object of condign merit, that is, something received in justice as a due? Aquinas is fully aware of this challenge. In fact, Aquinas places Rom 6:23 in the “objection” section of various articles of his Summa Theologiae, and the objection at I-II, q. 114, a. 3, obj. 2, is particularly important for this study. The objection, taken from a glossa on Rom 6:23, is this: not only does Rom 6:23 seem to teach that eternal life is unattainable apart from God’s grace, but also, by the very fact that it is called a “gift” and not a “wage [stipendium],” it is not an object of merit. Rather, it is obtained on account of God’s mercy, and if it is by God’s mercy, it is not something condignly received from merit.[xxvi]

Aquinas responds by distinguishing two ways a single act can be considered in terms of its “source”: as proceeding from the human free will or as proceeding from God’s grace. By using this distinction within a noncompetitive causal schema, Aquinas can affirm that eternal life is both an object of condign merit and a gift from God. If a work is evaluated in terms of the human will as its causal source, the work is not condignly meritorious.[xxvii] Aquinas explains that the “substance” of our meritorious acts, as much as they proceed from our free will, are only able to merit congruously. The substance of the work is what is actually done, the work that flows from the principle of free will (e.g., the act itself of giving alms). Given that operations of free will are proper to human nature, no work when viewed in its substance is able to condignly merit eternal life; to perform a work whose substance condignly merits would require performing an act proper to the divine nature, such as creating ex nihilo. For this reason, Aquinas calls the meritorious works, when viewed in their substance, “slight” and “unworthy” when compared to the reward of eternal life.[xxviii] No human action bears a worth corresponding to the infinite value of beatitude.

Yet we can also view these works as occurring out of love for God. If viewed in this way, Aquinas claims that works “merit eternal life ex condigno through them.”[xxix] But how can the works be “slight” in comparison to future glory, lacking their own proper worth, and also be condignly meritorious if performed out of love for God? The answer hinges on the work of God, in that the Holy Spirit within the worker produces the act of love. Aquinas references John 4:14 and states, “For the Holy Spirit is a fountain whose waters, i.e. effects, well up to eternal life.”[xxx] Works have a value and worth as to render them condignly meritorious because of God, in that God gives the act “worth” by enabling human nature to participate in his divinity through grace and because he is the principal mover in the meritorious act, giving the act a “value” as a result of the Spirit’s activity. The condign “worth” of the work depends on dignity of grace and not dignity of human nature.[xxxi] Aquinas concludes, “The very fact that we do what is good and that our works are worthy of eternal life is the result of God’s grace: ‘He bestows grace and glory’ (Ps 84:11).”[xxxii] This means that for Aquinas all merit from God, whether condign or congruous, falls under the category of “gift” when viewed in its relation to human nature. In other words, God is never put in the creature’s “debt,” and the creature as creature can never demand eternal life as a “right” from God. Even if the law were perfectly kept, human action as human would never receive the reward as a due.[xxxiii] Rather, in condign merit God only owes himself.[xxxiv]

In ST I-II, q. 114, a. 1, Thomas acknowledges that human beings cannot merit from God simpliciter—there is no absolute equality between humans and God, and God has no needs. Merit only occurs secundum quid, which introduces the divina ordinatio. For Aquinas, merit is founded on God’s ordinatio for creation and is intimately connected with God’s providence and predestination.[xxxv] Wawrykow states,

God’s ordination of merit to reward and of people to merit eternal life is but a special instance of God’s plan to display the divine goodness outside of God in the creation of the world—the ordinatio of merit in Aquinas is intimately and directly related to the divine will, informed by wisdom, for creation.[xxxvi]

Aquinas’s ordinatio is not, however, as we shall see in the following sections, the equivalent of the Franciscan acceptatio. The principal reason for this is that the overarching structure of merit for Aquinas is justice. The divina ordinatio has structured the meritorious framework such that meritorious action is justly rewarded, with the work creating a form of debt.[xxxvii] But the “debt” is principally God’s indebtedness to himself. As Wawrykow notes, “The debt involved here is not that of God to the person who does good. … Rather, in rewarding merit, God is simply being faithful to the divine ordination which lies at the basis of merit. To the extent that we may speak of a debt in merit, then, the debt is only that of God to God.”[xxxviii]

This becomes even clearer when we realize that for Aquinas meritorious works do not cause increase in charity but only dispose an individual to receive more grace, with further (unmerited) grace needed for charity to actually increase. This is a unique characteristic to the theological virtues. In the normal course of events, the acquired virtues are obtained and increase through acts corresponding to those virtues; performing the act itself increases the participation in the virtue. This is not the case with theological virtues. Theological virtues are not only unacquired but also unmeritoriously imparted to an individual by God’s grace. Increase in one’s participation in these virtues does not come by the meritorious works themselves, but rather further gifts of grace are needed for an increased participation in the theological virtues. “Under the influence of God the possessor of the virtue simply disposes himself for more of the virtue. The actual increase of the virtue, the granting of a more intense possession of it, remains the work of God.”[xxxix] In God’s ordinatio, then, human beings never put God in their debt; God is always indebted only to himself. But because this ordinatio for Aquinas includes a noncompetitive framework of divine-human activity, human beings are “caught up,” if you will, in God’s activity of rewarding himself and are themselves rewarded for the meritorious activity in which they participate.[xl]

It is also the result of the ordinatio that all human merit should be understood as a drawing from and participation in the merits of Christ. Aquinas dismisses as heretical any notion that our merits add to Christ’s merits for redemption, such that Christ’s merits are insufficient for redemption. Rather, “God in his predestination has arranged how much merit will exist throughout the entire Church, both in the head and the members. … The merits of Christ as head are infinite, while the saints exhibit some merit according to their measure.”[xli] Aquinas uses the head-body distinction to affirm the gloss on this passage, which states, “Afflictions are still lacking, because the treasure house of the Church’s merits is not full, and it will not be full until the end of the world.” What this means within Thomas’s framework is that Christ’s infinite merits are displayed through the Church over time, such that the Church likewise displays the full measure of its ordained merit over time. It is not that the Church adds to Christ’s merits. Rather, the Church participates in and displays Christ’s merits according to a certain measure appropriate to the Church, and the full amount of merit displayed in the Church—an amount predetermined by God’s predestination—is completed only once the wayfarer state of the Church is finished.

2. John Duns Scotus

In order to understand Scotus’s account of merit, we must first understand his broader conception of the relationship between human and divine causality in the production of a human act. For Scotus, God and human beings are “joint co-causes” in the production of a human act.[xlii] Richard Cross describes this as “autonomous co-causality,”[xliii] and Gloria Frost explains it thus: “On this view, neither cause alone is sufficient to produce this joint effect, but rather, both are necessary and together they are sufficient.”[xliv] She continues, “God does not cause a righteous volition unless the creature also causes it. If the creature’s causality of a volition v is a necessary condition for God to cause it, then every case in which God concurs with v is also a case in which the creature concurs with v.”[xlv] For Scotus, if an actual righteous act is to occur, the human being must act sufficiently; they must concur with the sufficiency God has determined to grant. Only then, when human concurrence has occurred, does the actual act come about. To be sure, Scotus avoids the notion that if human beings do their part, then God does his part, as if God depends on his knowledge of a human being’s willingness or unwillingness to act before he decides to grant the sufficiency. For Scotus, God knows eternally a human being’s meritorious acts due to his knowledge of his own will—that is, he doesn’t receive information about contingents outside himself and make determinations based on that information.[xlvi] This is precisely why predestination for Scotus is not based on foreknowledge of human merits. God knows if a person will commit sin or act righteously based on the knowledge of his will to grant what is sufficient for a righteous deed or not to grant what is sufficient.[xlvii]

But in order to account for true human freedom in the production of a meritorious act, Scotus holds that human beings must themselves act sufficiently if a meritorious act is to actually occur, with this sufficiency cooperating with God’s provision for the act. When compared to Aquinas, Scotus appears to grant more autonomy to the human actor in relation to the divine actor, though Scotus (unlike later nominalists) does not want to imply God’s acts are dependent on knowledge of the particulars of a human being’s activity (although there is some uncertainty as to how Scotus avoids this).[xlviii] His main point is to affirm that in God’s ordering of creation, human beings have a contribution to make to a meritorious act—and are capable of making it according to God’s created order—that works in tandem with God’s sufficient provision, the “merit” of the meritorious act corresponding precisely to the human contribution to the act.

Scotus’s account of merit itself is framed by three judgments important to our study. The first two carve out the proper context for situating the role of human merit within God’s economy of salvation, while the third addresses the nature of merit itself. First, and as already noted above, Scotus denies any role to merit in God’s act of predestinating persons to eternal life; that is, predestination is ante praevisa merita.[xlix] Second, and following the first, Scotus denies that human beings can merit the first grace (i.e., justification). This grace is given solely due to the merits of Christ.[l] God willed to assign to us a reward due to Christ’s submission to God’s will in the passion, and that reward is threefold: (1) remission of sins, (2) the gift of first grace, and (3) the opening of the gates of heaven.[li] In terms of the first reward, remission of sins consists solely of God’s act of pardoning sin; it occurs due to God’s willing nonpunishment for sins committed.[lii] It is a completely forensic act; it does not (contra Aquinas) denote a change or transformation in the one forgiven.[liii] One implication of this nontransforming concept of forgiveness is that there is no real change in the kind or quality of the substance of moral actions possible due to receiving forgiveness. That is, people are able to perform the same kind of acts before and after forgiveness, even though they are able to perform these acts with greater intensity through the gift of charity.[liv] Indeed, Scotus affirms that morally good acts can be performed, and even performed out of love for God above all, by the person who has not received forgiveness.[lv]

Acts performed by those without remission are not, however, meritorious, and the reason brings us to the second reward: the gift of first grace. For Scotus, God has willed only to consider works performed in grace through the supernaturally infused virtue of charity as meritorious, both condignly and congruously.[lvi] This is the requisite “circumstance” of the act that renders it meritorious.

The last reward, “opening the gates of heaven,” should not be thought to detract from the affirmation that eternal life is also a reward for (condignly) meritorious works. Scotus holds to both, so that the initial reward of opening the gates can be thought of as the making possible of obtaining eternal life, while the actual obtainment occurs through acts of merit. How Scotus reconciles this position with his broader teaching on God’s act of predestination ante praevisa merita is a matter of unresolved tension—a tension I note that is found in Calvin’s account of works, reward, and eternal life.

The third central judgment that shapes Scotus’s account of merit pertains to the nature of merit itself. As already indicated above, Scotus wants to uphold God’s freedom in granting rewards and the centrality of his will in establishing the meritorious framework. The conceptual mechanism Scotus employs to account for the relationship between human acts and God’s reward is God’s acceptatio.[lvii] In principle, Scotus maintains that “nothing created is formally accepted by God.” That is, God is under no obligation to accept a thing on the basis of some intrinsic value it possesses as a created thing.[lviii] There can therefore be no human work of such intrinsic value, even in grace, that God is in justice “obliged” to reward it. His act of rewarding a work is always a “free” act.[lix] Yet God has willed to make a “pact” with human beings that he would accept human works and reward them with various rewards.[lx]

For Aquinas, we recall, while God’s will is the cause of the wise ordering of things that frames the works-reward dynamic, the framework itself for accounting for merit includes the concepts of justice and mercy used analogically in the context of the divine-human interaction. For Scotus, however, God’s will is not only the cause of the framework in which merit occurs; God’s will is also the framework itself for accounting for merit. In other words, while Aquinas claims that human beings merit due to the justice that exists between the work and the reward—a justice existing due to God’s wise ordering of things—Scotus claims that human beings merit due to God’s will to reward a work as meritorious: insofar as God wills to reward the work, the work is reward-worthy. And indeed, while God has willed to accept all humans acts according to their goodness and orders them to himself as their last end,[lxi] works are only meritorious if, as noted above, they are performed under the proper circumstance of grace. Scotus states,

The meritorious work is one acceptable to God in a special way, viz., as worthy of a reward. I say “in a special way” because God accepts all acts with a general acceptation. He loves them according to their goodness and orders them to himself as their last end. A meritorious act, however, he accepts with reference to some good which ought to be justly awarded it. “Meritorious,” then, implies two additional relations in the act, one to the accepting will, the other to the award that the will has assigned to the act.[lxii]

For Scotus, the idea of being “justly awarded” is precisely that God wills to accept a work performed in grace with the corresponding ordained rewards, such that there is a certain ordained “proportion” between a meritorious work and the corresponding reward without in any way placing God under obligation to reward the work.[lxiii]

It is worth noting how, on the surface, Scotus’s claim that nihil creatum est a deo acceptandum would allow for God’s mercy (rather than human effort) to receive greater emphasis in human merit than we find in Aquinas’s account. Scotus claims that human works are only meritorious because of God’s gracious “pact” with human beings to reward works as meritorious, and thus unlike Aquinas there is nothing about the works themselves that deserve reward. Yet the mechanism of God’s “pact” with human beings in accounting for merit can have the effect of shifting the focus to the human actor since the pact stipulates that a human being is able to merit by doing what is within him to do. In other words, while God’s grace creates the meritorious situation in the first place through the merits of Christ, infusion of charity, and the pactum with human beings, and while God may “stimulate” good works in human beings through grace, it is human effort that takes center stage in the meriting process: human beings are required to do what they can do in order to fulfill the pact that God has established. Thus while in Aquinas’s account there is a greater dependence on God’s ongoing activity and healing and elevating grace in the production of the work itself, for Scotus there is greater dependence on God’s pact, with the work itself being primarily the responsibility of the human actor.

To say it another way, both Aquinas and Scotus presuppose that human beings by nature cannot perform works that God should reward in justice, and this is due to the inequality of human and divine natures. Aquinas and Scotus agree (as do most medieval theologians) that every effect must have a corresponding action that is proportioned to that effect and hence is sufficient to produce it.[lxiv] But no human being by nature can produce an action whose effect deserves to be rewarded in divine justice. Aquinas resolves this by claiming that God’s grace is revealed in that God’s healing and elevating grace, as well as his being principal cause of a human act, enables works to have a worth that they otherwise would not have apart from participation in grace, and thus grace enables then to be rewarded in justice.

Scotus, however, claims that God’s grace is revealed in God’s pactum to reward human works that are otherwise not actually reward-worthy in divine justice; they are rewarded instead according to the standard set in the pactum.[lxv] Thus while Aquinas affirms a change in the nature of the work so as to make it meritorious, Scotus affirms a change in the standard by which a work is judged to be meritorious. In Aquinas’s account there is a greater dependence on God’s ongoing activity and healing and elevating grace in the production of the work itself, while for Scotus there is greater dependence on God’s pact, with the work itself being primarily the responsibility of the human actor.

3. Ockham

While the designation “nominalism” extends well beyond the thought of Ockham,[lxvi] many both past and present consider him to be an inceptor of the via moderna.[lxvii] His positions were not without controversy in his own day, as evidenced, for example, by the 1324 papal censures against his teaching,[lxviii] and he establishes a line of theological reflection that would become a key target of the Reformers’ criticisms on the topic of merit. Two important characteristics underlie much of nominalist theology; these have important ramifications for the topic of merit: (1) an ontology that resulted in granting greater human autonomy in moral action, and (2) a stress on God’s potentia absoluta, which moved theological reflection away from a theological methodology centered on the wisdom of God and instead focused attention strictly on the will of God.

Regarding the first, Ockham’s shift from understanding universals as “things” (res) inhering in objects—with these universals having their origin in the divine ideas and participating in the divine perfections—to understanding universals as merely “names” (nomina) constructed in the mind of the knower[lxix] results in a this-worldly and human-centered emphasis on ontology: things are still understood as being created by God but are granted a greater autonomous existence in distinction from their participation in some transcendent reality and the ongoing immediate divine activity.[lxx] Ockham’s rejection of universals works in tandem with his principle of causal parsimony—later popularized by the term “Ockham’s razor”—in which “plurality is not to be posited without necessity” and “what can happen through fewer [principles] happens in vain through more.”[lxxi] For Ockham, if an act can be adequately explained by a limited number of causal principles without necessitating positing further causal principles, the limited number suffices for an explanation.

This principle is immediately applicable to the relation between divine and human activity in the production of a moral act. Ockham affirms that God is indeed present to all things in a “general” way—a form of “general concursus”—though such presence renders God’s activity practically indistinguishable from a thing’s simple natural ability. There is no need to posit further causal principles of an act other than God’s general concursus and human causal ability. Part of that natural ability includes a will that is free, that is, a will of indifference in which the will has the power to will for, to will against, or to do nothing with respect to any particular object.[lxxii] Along with the general concursus, God can act on the soul in punctiliar ways, such as to heal part of the soul or strengthen another part. In this way, God “cooperates” with human beings in order for a meritorious act to occur. But once the effect of God’s action is complete, the human actor is left to act in a practically autonomous manner to freely “use” the gifts God had given him or her: “the will can by its liberty—apart from any other determination by act of habit—elicit or not elicit that act or its opposite.”[lxxiii] Merit is the human being’s “use” of grace. This is how the human being “cooperates” with God.

In terms of the emphasis on God’s potentia absoluta, while Scotus heavily emphasizes God’s will, as noted above, the nominalist school felt even Scotus had overstepped the boundaries of theology by a speculative penetration into the inner being of God.[lxxiv] Care must be taken not to caricature the nominalist distinction between God’s potentia absoluta and potentia ordinata as the creation of a lawless, arbitrary God who could at any moment in the future contradict the very things he has done in the past. Yet the emphasis on God’s absolute freedom and the radical contingency of everything that has been done indeed pushed theological methodology and emphases in a different direction. With Aquinas, for example, it was permissible to ask in theological reflection whether a certain explanation of a doctrine “made sense” or showed God’s actions to be “fitting” or “reasonable” or “wise.” This is because for Aquinas, “It is impossible for God to will anything but what his wisdom approves,”[lxxv] and, moreover, the same perfections that exist in creation exist in God in a “preeminent” way; that is, creatures “participate” in the divine perfections.[lxxvi] With the nominalists, however, theological reflection addressed God’s “decisions,” “actions,” and “promises” without needing to harmonize the account with any “fittingness,” “rationality,” or “wisdom” natural to human intellection. This is because “the nature of creatures, which are by definition finite and contingent, can tell us nothing positive about the nature of One who is both infinite and necessary.”[lxxvii] The result is that while with Aquinas you get a sense of “why” God has done what he has done, with the nominalist you get an thorough explanation of “what” he has done, with the “why” being simply because he has decided to do it this way. When this framework is applied to the topic of merit, a number of theological claims arise regarding works and reward that are justified by a simple appeal to God’s will without necessitating any underlying ratio corresponding more or less to human natural conceptions of works and reward or any broader notion of fittingness or reasonableness.

The two principles above converge on a teaching that resulted in a monumental shift in the concept of merit. This shift proved to have lasting soteriological ramifications: extending the notion of merit, contra Scotus and the majority of Augustinian and Thomistic Christian reflection beforehand, to acts performed outside of the infusion of grace (i.e., ex puris naturalibus). This is what Ockham terms merit de congruo.[lxxviii] Like many before Ockham who spoke of merit de congruo, these are not meritorious works in the fullest sense, that is, merit de condigno. This means for Ockham these condign merits are unable to acquire rewards that are part of the path that leads to obtaining eternal life. They only prepare one for the reception of grace, which then allows for truly meritorious works (i.e., merit de condigno) to be performed.[lxxix] Nevertheless, God has willed to grant the infusion of first grace for performing these preparatory works, and this preparation is within the powers of human ability. This, of course, brings us to the infamous concept of facere quod in se est.[lxxx] Human beings have within them the ability to prepare themselves for grace; and if they do indeed “do what they are able,” God will grant them salvific grace—not, to be sure, because God is required to do so potentia absoluta but due to God’s ordinatio.

Like Scotus, God’s pactum takes center stage in Ockham’s account of merit.[lxxxi] Ockham roots all reward for merit in God’s ordination to grant it: “No act [elicited] by natural [causes] or by any created cause whatever can be meritorious. Rather [merit results] from the grace of God voluntarily and free accepting [the meritorious act].”[lxxxii] The laws by which God has ordained that we might be saved, named through grace, are freely and contingently ordained. Ockham sees this ordination as an expression of God’s love and thus uses the phrases “by sheer love” and “by sheer divine ordination” interchangeably.[lxxxiii] Yet grace is necessary for merit simply because God has willed it necessary for merit. That is, Ockham does not posit the necessity of grace either in the context of healing for sin—Ockham is quite optimistic about human ability even after the fall, affirming the ability of nongraced humans to do good and acquire virtue and even love God above all things—nor in the context of the needed elevation of nature to reach a supernatural end.[lxxxiv] Rather, the necessity of grace is posited in the context of God’s will: God has willed that he will not act in certain ways toward a human being unless grace be present.[lxxxv] Ockham thus wants to uphold both God’s nonobligation to reward human works—“God will give [eternal life] freely and purely from his own grace to whomever he will give it”[lxxxvi]—and the fact that, due to God’s ordinata, “he cannot do otherwise [than bestow eternal life to those in charity] because of laws voluntarily and contingently ordained by God.”[lxxxvii] Osborne has described Ockham’s position as being a “purely forensic view” of merit, since there is no correspondence between the worth of the work and merit; instead everything rests simply on God’s will. This, Osborne notes, is a “completely new” concept of merit and contributes to a shift in ethics being more concerned with will than with reason.[lxxxviii]

The result of Ockham’s position on merit de congruo and de condigno is that he denies the ability of human beings to merit eternal life apart from the infused gift of charity, and thus he claims to have escaped the Pelagian heresy, which in Ockham’s mind consists of affirming human natural ability to remit all sin and merit eternal life.[lxxxix] But he also affirms that the very act of detesting sin in the ungraced, natural state suffices for the removal of guilt and infusion of grace. In fact, due to God’s potentia ordinata God cannot but grant a person such grace.[xc] Moreover, Ockham believed that these meritorious works, both out of grace (meritum de congruo) and in grace (meritum de condigno), must be considered in accounting for the ratio of God’s act of predestination. Unlike Aquinas, who considered merit the result of God’s act of predestination—merit is God’s ordained means of bringing a person to the end God has already chosen for that person—Ockham locates God’s foreknowledge of merit prior to his act of predestination.

To be sure, Ockham’s position has been much disputed. One of the more anti-Pelagian readings of Ockham comes from Rega Wood, who claims that Ockham considered God’s foreknowledge of merit only an “explanatory cause” rather than a material, formal, efficient, or final cause. Merit explains the underlying ratio for God’s act of predestination, though merit does not “cause” God to predestine in any of the causes listed above. As Wood states, “Foreseen merit explains or makes intelligible most cases of predestination without causing predestination efficiently, finally, formally, or materially.”[xci] Ockham would only enter troubled waters, reasons Wood, if he were to have upheld merit as an “efficient” cause of predestination, which he did not. Therefore, Wood concludes, Ockham is perfectly in line with Aquinas and Scotus on predestination.[xcii] Interestingly, though, Ockham certainly thought his own position differed from Aquinas by including God’s foreknowledge of merit in his act of predestination, as evidenced by his criticisms of Aquinas on predestination,[xciii] and it is hard to see how Ockham is reconcilable with Aquinas and Scotus given that the latter two explicitly reject (and feel the need to explicitly reject) altogether God’s foreknowledge of merit in his act of predestination. Whatever term may be given to the “cause”—in this case the “explanatory cause”—Ockham appeals to foreknowledge of merit to explain God’s act of predestinating a person, while Aquinas and Scotus appeal solely to God’s hidden will. It is hard to see the family resemblance at this point.

4. Gabriel Biel

With Gabriel Biel we continue down the nominalist path set by Ockham and the voluntarist path set by Scotus, but with some revisions—and with some unique claims regarding merit. While Biel’s “Pelagian” tendencies have been a matter of debate,[xciv] he clearly makes the facere quod in se est a key element in his soteriology and described this meritorious activity as meritum de congruo:

the soul is able to merit the first grace de congruo by the removal of obstacles and by a good movement unto God produced by the free will. It is proved because God accepts the act of doing what is in oneself toward the granting of the first grace, not out of the debt of justice, but out of His liberality. But the soul by removing obstacles, by the ceasing from the act and consent to sin, and by producing a good movement unto God, just as in its beginning so in its end, does what is in itself. Therefore, God accepts the act of the removal of obstacles and the good movement unto God of His liberality toward the infusing of grace.[xcv]

Biel thus affirms the ability of a sinner to merit the first grace de congruo as well as merit the grace of restoration de congruo if the graced person falls into sin.[xcvi] Like the issue of fulfilling the first commandment, though, the issue here is not whether Biel affirms the ability of the sinner to merit eternal life; Biel, like Ockham, denies such a possibility since meriting eternal life falls under the category of meriting de condignum, and this is possible only for a person in grace. Nevertheless, a sinner by his own natural powers is able to merit grace de congruo “by doing what is in him.” It is worth asking: Why is it the case that a sinner cannot merit eternal life? For Biel it is simply a matter of God’s will. God has determined according to his ordination that human works cannot merit eternal life unless that work is performed in grace. It has little, if anything, to do with the nature of the work in and out of grace (as is the case with Aquinas); rather, it has everything to do with God’s will that it be this way.[xcvii]

Classic studies on Biel that focus on the infamous facere quod in se est, such as those from Heinrich Denifle and Otto Scheel, situate it within the broader context of Biel’s thought on the relationship between divine and human activity, in which God’s auxilium—his “help” or “assistance”—is equated with God’s generalis influentia—the general “movement” or “influence” that all creatures naturally require to exist as they do.[xcviii] In this paradigm of thought—and in contrast to Aquinas—all movement toward God in preparation for the grace of justification stems from the natural capacities of human willing; it requires no added gift or added movement on the part of God.[xcix] Only subsequent to the natural movement of human turning to God does God impart the added gift of grace for justification. The emphasis on human natural ability in the act of turning to God becomes all the more accentuated when one considers that for Biel God’s general presence in nature does not undermine the independence of human beings, so that human beings are free to enter (or not enter) into covenant with God by the natural use of free will.[c]

Explaining Biel’s understanding of the relationship between human activity and divine response has been a matter of debate. Alister McGrath draws a distinction between a relationship established “by the nature of the entities themselves,” and one established “as a consequence of divine ordination” (i.e., God’s pactum). While this distinction is misleading—Aquinas, for example, who falls closer to the “nature of the entities” position, nevertheless roots this relationship in God’s ordination—McGrath intends the distinction to highlight the non-Pelagian (or semi-Pelagian) aspects of Biel’s theology. While it is true, McGrath acknowledges, that Biel believes God gives the first grace to the person who does what they are able to do—facienti quod in se est—Biel roots this relationship in the pactum God has established with human beings, such that “the link between doing quod in se est and the remission of sin is provided by the covenant, rather than the entities in themselves.” That is, God has graciously ordained that he would remit a person’s sins on the condition that the person turns to him. The implication McGrath draws is that for Biel God alone forgives sin. Human beings do not remit their own sin by their activity of turning. Therefore, McGrath concludes, contra Heiko Oberman in particular, Biel is not Pelagian or even semi-Pelagian.

John Farthing disagrees, and for good reason. Farthing’s concern is not whether to label Biel Pelagian or semi-Pelagian. Rather, the concern is Biel’s conception of “the conditions under which remission takes place and the extent of the sinner’s ability—and responsibility—to do certain things on his own (ex puris naturalibus) in order to the meet those conditions.”[ci] Through his extensive analysis of Biel’s use of Thomas Aquinas, Farthing demonstrates that while for Aquinas the disposition for grace is itself the result of a special gift of God’s grace (auxilium gratiae), Biel roots the disposition in God’s general movement (concursus generalis) of all things as first mover.[cii] This means that for Biel human beings can prepare themselves to receive grace using their natural powers unaided by an added gift of grace. That is, every human being by virtue of being human, even in sin, has the capacity to turn to God and receive forgiveness. Farthing makes clear that the question is not whether human beings can fulfill the first commandment apart from God’s grace; Biel denies such a possibility.[ciii] Rather, the issue is that for Biel human beings can prepare themselves by their natural powers to receive the grace that makes it possible to fulfill the first commandment.[civ]

One must acknowledge that Biel’s affirmation of the sinner’s ability to merit God’s grace de congruo flowed out of a desire not so much to glorify human ability as to emphasize divine liberality.[cv] In continuity with Ockham, Biel understood the facere quod in se est to be an expression of God’s sovereignty and mercy.[cvi] God has graciously willed to accept the movement of the sinner to God not because that movement deserves in justice (as we understand justice) to be accepted as meritorious of forgiveness but rather because of God’s pactum to accept such movement as meritorious de congruo.[cvii] The consequences of positing this pactum, however, were the reverse. Biel’s claim that a sinner could turn to God and merit the first grace immediately implies a should, and at this point the emphasis naturally slips from highlighting God’s graciousness to emphasizing human responsibility.[cviii]

There is a point of difference, however, between Scotus’s and Biel’s use of the pactum. For Scotus, who emphasizes God’s pactum in accounting for merit, the moral standard that needs to be met in order to merit corresponds not to God’s strict justice but rather to the justice embodied in the requirements of the pact. If one meets the requirements of the pact, which a person is able to do, then the person merits de condigno, that is, in justice, with a certain proportionality between the work and reward. Biel, however, goes further than Scotus in emphasizing God’s acceptatio by viewing meritum de condigno as works accepted only due to divine liberality. For Biel, no temporal act could be considered truly meritorious of eternal reward according to strict justice:

It is not required for a reward of worthiness that an act of merit according to its intrinsic goodness be worthy or proportionate to such a reward … rather, that worthiness is attended to in the design of the divine acceptance by which from eternity He willed an act produced by grace to be worthy of such a reward. The thoroughly considered goodness of an act according to itself without divine acceptance is exceedingly incomparable. … God always rewards beyond worthiness … by the divine ordination which is by a certain promise, or compact and covenant.[cix]

But at this point, one might well ask: What is the difference between congruous and condign merit other than the sheer fact of one being done “outside” of grace and the other “in” grace? Since both are accepted solely due to the sheer will of God, the only real difference is that God has simply promised certain rewards to congruous merit and other rewards to condign merit, without these rewards corresponding in any way to the worth of the work.[cx]

5. Conclusion

If space allowed for a thorough account of merit in the Middle Ages, we could catalog a variety of ways the above positions are discussed, debated, transformed, and extended by theologians working within different schools of thought. There is certainly no clear general trajectory of scholastic denigration leading to rampant Pelagianism; yet neither does anyone dismiss altogether a meritorious framework for salvation. Undeniably a strain of Franciscan reflection flowing from a voluntaristic and later “mainstream nominalistic” framework lends itself to emphasizing human effort and responsibility in a way the Thomist and Augustinian strain would find problematic.[cxi] This is the strain that will become by and large the target of Calvin’s polemics. A key issue in the development of the doctrine of merit is the conceptualization of the relationship between divine and human causality. Within certain strains of thought there is an increased emphasis on human “free choice” even in relation to divine causality.[cxii] By the sixteenth century, and due to the polemics of the time, Wawrykow observes that Catholic interlocutors often approached the topic of merit primarily as a way of asserting the contribution of human beings to their own salvation, whereas for someone like Thomas Aquinas it had been a theocentric doctrine that served the proclamation of the salvific work of the Christian God.[cxiii] Once again when Calvin’s general critique is assessed, we find the scope of his target quite narrow when considering the variety of views bequeathed to the sixteenth century from earlier scholastic debates. Not only does this contextualize Calvin’s thought, but it also opens ecumenical possibilities for the future.


[1] Inst. 3.11.15.

[2] The slippery meaning for the term “Pelagian” has generated much debate over whether one can properly label certain medieval theologians “Pelagian” or “semi-Pelagian.” See the back-and-forth between Heiko Oberman and Alister McGrath; Heiko A. Oberman, The Harvest of Medieval Theology: Gabriel Biel and Late Medieval Nominalism (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001); Alister McGrath, “The Anti-Pelagian Structure of ‘Nominalist’ Doctrines of Justification” Ephemerides Theologicae Lovanensis 57 (1981): 107-19. James L. Halverson affirms difficulty in using the label “Pelagian” and “semi-Pelagian,” and thus in his project he attempts to bypass the issue by naming a theologian “Pelagian” based solely upon whether the author elicited such a critique from others, whether the critique is justified or not; James L. Halverson, Peter Aureol on Predestination: A Challenge to Medieval Thought (Leiden: Brill, 1998), 6n9.

[i] Cited in Brian Lugioyo, Martin Bucer’s Doctrine of Justification: Reformation Theology and Early Modern Irenicism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 39.

[ii] Thomas Osborne points to the importance of the distinction between God’s ordained and absolute power for medieval debates about merit: “In the context of merit and goodness, the discussion of God’s power is about the nature of the connections between merit, certain kinds of acts, charity, and created grace. The issue of whether these connections are necessary or contingent is the same as the issue of whether these connections are the result of God’s free decision to establish one set of relations rather than another”; Thomas M. Osborne, Jr., Human Action in Thomas Aquinas, John Duns Scotus, & William of Ockham (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 2014), 201; abbreviated Human Action throughout.

[iii] The council was confirmed by Pope Boniface II in the papal bull Per Filium Nostrum (January 25, 531); DS 398–400.

[iv] Henri Bouillard, Conversion et grâce chez S. Thomas d’Aquin (Paris: Aubier, 1944), 97–102.

[v] For the council, see DS 370–97; for the background circumstances surrounding the Second Council of Orange, see Alexander Y. Hwang et al, eds., Grace for Grace: The Debates After Augustine and Pelagius (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2014), esp. chap. 11; for an analysis of the Council of Orange, see Thomas P. Scheck, “Pelagius’s Interpretation of Romans,” in A Companion to St. Paul in the Middle Ages, ed. Steve Cartwright (Leiden: Brill, 2013), 86–90.

[vi] Alister E. McGrath, Luther’s Theology of the Cross (Oxford: Blackwell, 1985), 11–12.

[vii] For a discussion of the role of Lombard in theological education, see James A. Weisheipl, Friar Thomas d’Aquino: His Life, Thought and Work (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1974), 67–77; Philipp W. Rosemann, The Story of a Great Medieval Book: Peter Lombard’s Sentences (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2013).

[viii] See Timo Nisula, Augustine and the Functions of Concupiscence (Leiden: Brill, 2012); Nisula, “Continuities and Discontinuities in Augustine’s View of Concupiscence,” Studia Patristica 49 (2010): 410–30; Lenka Karfíková, Grace and the Will According to Augustine, trans. Markéta Janebová (Leiden: Brill, 2012). Moreover, as Wawrykow rightly observes, Augustine does not address all the issues and distinctions that would become important in later medieval debates on merit (God’s Grace and Human Action: “Merit” in the Theology of Thomas Aquinas [Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1995], 266–76).

[ix] Alexandre Ganoczy argued long ago, still persuasively, that the young Calvin shows little firsthand familiarity with major scholastic theologians. The bits of Lombard and Gratian that appear in Calvin’s writings can be traced to his study of Luther, and in particular his Babylonian Captivity of the Church (The Young Calvin, trans. David Foxgrover and Wade Provo [Philadelphia: Westminster, 1987], 174–77). LaVallee claims that after Calvin converted to Protestantism, he began studying medieval theology in private, though (once again) not the works firsthand but rather via contemporary Roman Catholic commentaries on the Sentences, which the major scholastic theologians summarized (Armand Aime LaVallee, “Calvin’s Criticism of Scholastic Theology” [PhD diss., Harvard University, 1967]). Muller claims that Calvin “most certainly” began reading medieval theology after 1536, though he focused more on biblical commentators such as Nicholas of Lyra and Denis the Carthusian than on the dogmatic writings of the period. For Muller, scholasticism is more a method than a set of particular theological conclusions, and thus he assesses Calvin’s “scholasticism” according to Calvin’s interest in scholastic distinctions in his scriptural commentaries and the presence of the loci communes and disputationes dogmaticae as part of establishing the ordo recte docendi of the Institutes. Muller admits, though, that Calvin’s adaptation to the scholastic method brought with it an absorption of elements of the older theology and philosophy. In general, Muller emphasizes the “obscurity” of the background scholastic sources influencing Calvin’s theology and the fact that “the theological polemics of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries served to obscure the positive relationships that obtained between the thought of the Reformers and their genuine ‘forerunners’ in the Middle Ages” (Richard A. Muller, The Unaccommodated Calvin: Studies in the Foundation of a Theological Tradition, Oxford Studies in Historical Theology [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000], 41).

[x] Richard A. Muller, “Scholasticism in Calvin: Relation and Disjunction,” in Calvinus Sincerioris Religionis Vindex: Calvin as Protector of the Purer Religion, ed. Wilhelm H. Neuser and Brian G. Armstrong (Kirksville, MO: Sixteenth Century Journal Publishers, 1997), 264. For this reason, the Franciscan line of theological development is given the most space in this chapter.

[xi] For a more exhaustive treatment of merit in Aquinas with direct comparisons to John Calvin, see Charles Raith II, “Calvin’s Critique of Merit, and Why Aquinas (Mostly) Agrees,” PE 20 (2011): 135–166; Raith, “Calvin and Aquinas on Merit, Part II: Condignity and Participation,” PE 21 (2012): 195–210.

[xii] ScG 3.70n7.

[xiii] Aquinas’s ability to view the same act under its two distinct causal principles—divine and human—will become important in the next section for understanding the “worth” of the act. The issue of causality, whether competitive or noncompetitive, is intimately related to the issue of worth.

[xiv] S. ep. Rom. §778.

[xv] S. ep. Rom. §778.

[xvi] There has been some debate surrounding the notion of a distinct “actual” grace (i.e., the auxilium Dei) in Aquinas’s thought. I largely follow Wawrykow’s analysis, who follows Bernard Lonergan and affirms a distinct actual grace in Aquinas. In ST I-II, q. 111, a. 2, Aquinas posits a habitual grace that is both operans and cooperans, and a different kind of sanctifying grace, which later theologians designate as “actual” that is also operans and cooperans (Wawrykow, God’s Grace and Human Freedom, 51).

[xvii] ST I-II, q. 111, a. 2.

[xviii] ST I-II, q. 111, a. 2, ad. 3.

[xix] Wawrykow, God’s Grace and Human Action, 51; see also 176. Partee does not seem to grasp this point regarding the omnipresence of God’s movement when he concludes for Aquinas, “Thomas’ doctrine [of predestination] places God directly before and after the life of man but only vaguely with the events of earthly life, thus endangering the concept of the constant care of God,” leading Partee to conclude, “The major problem with Aquinas’s view [of predestination] is the limitation of God’s action” (Charles Partee, “Predestination in Aquinas and Calvin,” Reformed Review 32 [1978]: 19–20).

[xx] Wawrykow affirms the observations of William Lynn (Christ’s Redemptive Merit: The Nature of Its Causality According to St. Thomas [Rome: Gregorian University Press, 1962], 6ff.) that merit is not merely the “disposing of a person for a reward” but rather “creating a right to a reward” (God’s Grace and Human Action, 178). He notes that merit refers primarily to two things: the right to a reward, and the disposition to perfection. For the “most part,” Wawrykow notes, these two “coincide” (ibid., 226). Sometimes these two realities don’t exactly parallel, as when an act of charity that is not rigorous still merits eternal life but does not instantly dispose a person to receiving an increase in grace and charity (ibid.; see ST II-II, q. 24, a. 6).

[xxi] ST I-II, q. 114, a. 3. Aquinas’s affirmation that the same act merits both condignly and congruously illuminates his participatory vision for human merit. Aquinas’s claim that the substance of our acts as they proceed from our free will are unable to merit condignly but rather congruously is a way of affirming that when one receives grace, they are still human beings; their acts do not become “superhuman.” Yet Aquinas’s affirmation that these same acts are condignly meritorious when viewed as having their principal cause from the Spirit demonstrates how deeply caught up the individual is in the work of the Spirit, drawing the individual to his or her supernatural end.

[xxii] “No one existing in a state of mortal sin can merit eternal life unless first reconciled to God, through his sin being forgiven, which is brought about by grace” (ST I-II, q. 114, a. 2). There has been some debate surrounding Aquinas’s possible development from his Sentences commentary (Sent. II, d. 28, q. 1, a. 40) to his Summa theologiae (ST I-II, q. 114, a. 3) on the role of human activity preceding grace and its relation to obtaining grace. Heiko Oberman draws a sharp contrast between the “Pelagian” Sentences with its affirmation of the facere quod in se est and the Summa with its denial of the facere and emphasis on God’s auxilium. According to Oberman, this conflict is important for Aquinas’s reception in the sixteenth century: “The Sentences Commentary of the young Thomas with its pelagianizing emphasis on the ‘facere quod in se est’ is regarded in the later middle ages as the authoritative version of his thought. This view had not gone unopposed: Capreolus (1444) and after him Caietanus (1534) had pointed out that the two Summas should be regarded as the definitive expression of the teaching of Thomas Aquinas. But in the theological tradition it had already become customary to view Thomas through the glasses of his Sentences Commentary and to quote him therefore, together with such authorities, as Scotus and Biel, as a supporter of the thesis that man can in a state of sin produce good works without the aid of grace” (Dawn of the Reformation: Essays in Late Medieval and Early Reformation Thought [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992], 108). Wawrykow is more accurate, however, along with Bouillard in drawing greater continuity (though with development surrounding the auxilium) between the Sentences and Summa (God’s Grace and Human Action, 34–42, 60; Bouillard, Conversion et grâce, 34). Aquinas never accepted that a person could merit the first grace congruously, and whatever preparation for grace occurs is always understood as participating in God’s activity in preparing a person for grace.

[xxiii] ST I-II, q. 114, a. 3.

[xxiv] See ST I, q. 12, a. 4; I-II, q. 109, a. 5; q. 114, a. 2.

[xxv] ST I-II, q. 109, a. 5, ad. 2. For Aquinas, the law is fulfilled through charity, but this charity does not arise from human origins, nor can the law impart it; rather, charity is only obtainable by God’s grace (ST I-II, q. 98, a. 1; II-II, q. 24, a. 2).

[xxvi] Aquinas, rather than the scriptural gloss from which the objection is taken, invokes the notion of “condign” merit, thereby taking the objection in a more focused direction than reflected in the gloss, which merely states, “God leads us to life everlasting of His own mercy and not by our merits.”

[xxvii] Before the entrance of sin, human nature only needed the elevating work of grace to merit eternal life. On account of sin, human beings need both reconciliation and elevation; see ST I-II, q. 51, a. 4.

[xxviii] S. ep. Rom. §652.

[xxix] S. ep. Rom. §655.

[xxx] S. ep. Rom. §655.

[xxxi] ST I-II, q. 114, a. 3.

[xxxii] S. ep. Rom. §517. Wawrykow notes that due to Reformation polemics, we are prone to think of Thomas’s use of Rom 6:23 in the context of merit as “unfortunate and indeed as ultimately destructive of a teaching on merit” (God’s Grace and Human Action, 203). But “the use of Romans 6:23 has the value of recalling to us that while merit and reward are governed by justice, this justice is itself located in the broader context of God’s gracious action toward people” (ibid.). It is Augustine’s claim that when God rewards our merits, God is in fact crowning God’s own gracious gifts (see ST I-II, q. 114, a. 3, ad. 2). In 6:23, if “grace” is taken as the cause of grace, it demonstrates that one comes to eternal life “only because God freely decides to ordain that person to this end”; if “grace” refers to predestination and preordination, it shows “one reaches eternal life, one merits it, only as moved to these meritorious acts by grace” (Wawrykow, God’s Grace and Human Action, 203).

[xxxiii] Aquinas is able to depict human obedience to God, as with Calvin, through the Lukan parable in which those who do all that is commanded say, “We are unprofitable servants; we have done that which we ought to do.” In ST II-II, q. 58, a. 3, ad. 1, Aquinas explains that when one does what one ought to do, no “gain” accrues to whom he does what he ought. But it does accrue gain to the one who does it, “insofar as he does what he ought, spontaneously and readily, and this is to act virtuously.” Similarly, God does not “gain” anything from meritorious human obedience, but the ones who are obedient advance in virtue and thus ultimately advance in partaking in the true reward that is God himself.

[xxxiv] ST I-II, q. 114, a. 2, ad. 3.

[xxxv] ST I-II, q. 114, a. 1; I, q. 23, a. 1, 4.

[xxxvi] Wawrykow, God’s Grace and Human Action, 28, 182.

[xxxvii] Human actions are meritorious due to divine ordination, that is, human beings obtain as a reward for their operation what God gave them the power of operation for (ST I-II, q. 114, a.1). Wawrykow situates divine ordination within God’s wisdom; the notion of God setting the “mode and measure” of things (ST I-II, q. 114, a. 1) reflects God’s creative wisdom (cf. III, q. 7, a. 12, on God’s measure in relation to his wisdom) (Wawrykow, God’s Grace and Human Action, 28, 182). This leads to seeing the interconnectedness of merit with Aquinas’s discussion on providence and predestination.

[xxxviii] Wawrykow, God’s Grace and Human Action, 181.

[xxxix] Wawrykow, God’s Grace and Human Action, 225. Elsewhere, Wawrykow states, “The good acts that merit the increase of habitual grace [ST I-II, q. 114, a. 8] are themselves due to God’s free, unmerited intervention moving the will to act and sustaining the person in the return to God [ST I-II, q. 114, a. 9]” (55).

[xl] Many later medieval theologians will find Aquinas’s account unsatisfactory, as we shall see, when it comes to upholding human free choice in relation to divine causality. This becomes especially poignant regarding the notion of physical premotion.

[xli] S. ep. Col. §61.

[xlii] Ord. 2.34–37.1–5, §§142–54 (Vatican 8:428–35).

[xliii] Richard Cross, Duns Scotus on God (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2005), 58–59.

[xliv] Gloria Frost, “John Duns Scotus on God’s Knowledge of Sins: A Test-Case for God’s Knowledge of Contingents,” Journal of the History of Philosophy 48 (2010): 15–34, at 25.

[xlv] Ibid., 27.

[xlvi] Ord. 1.38-39.1–5 §10, ̦̦§§23–24 (Vatican 6:411, 428–29); see Antonie Vos, The Philosophy of John Duns Scotus (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2006); Stephen Dumont, “The Origin of Scotus’s Theory of Synchronic Contingency,” Modern Schoolman 72 (1994): 149–67.

[xlvii] There is some question as to the consistency of Scotus’s position throughout his life on God’s role in human volition, namely, whether God concurs with the will to produce an act or whether God merely sustains the will in being in its act but does not also immediately produce its volition; see Stephen Dumont, “Did Duns Scotus Change His Mind on the Will?,” in After the Condemnations of 1277: The University of Paris in the Last Quarter of the Thirteenth Century, Miscellanea Mediaevalia 28 (Berlin: de Gruyter, 2000), 719–94; Frost, “John Duns Scotus on God’s Knowledge of Sins,” 30–32.

[xlviii] Cf. Eef Dekker, “Does Scotus Need Molina? On Divine Foreknowledge and Co-Causality,” in John Duns Scotus Renewal of Philosophy, ed. E. P. Bos (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1998), 101–11; John Duns Scotus, Contingency and Freedom. Lectura I 39, trans. A. Vos Jaczn, H. Veldhuis, A.H. Looman-Graaskamp, E. Dekker, and N.W. Den Bok (Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1994), 19–20; Allan Wolter, “Alnwick on Scotus and Divine Concurrence,” in Greek and Medieval Studies in Honor of Leo Sweeney S.J., ed. William J. Carroll and John J. Furlong (New York: Peter Lang, 1994), 283; Frost, “John Duns Scotus on God’s Knowledge of Sins,” 28-29.

[xlix] Ord. 1.41.un., nn. 11 and 12; for Scotus on predestination, see the often cited Wolfhart Pannenberg, Die Prädestinationslehre des Duns Scotus in Zussammenhang der scholastichen Lehrentwicklung (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1954); see also David Steinmetz, Misericordia Dei: The Theology of Johannes Von Staupitz in Its Late Medieval Setting (Leiden: Brill, 1968), 77–78.

[l] Ord. 3.19.un., n. 5 (Wadding 7:414).

[li] Ord. 3.18.un., n. 5 (Wadding 7:386–87); Ord. 3.19.un., n 8–13 (Wadding 7:418–22); Cross, Duns Scotus, 130.

[lii] Ord. 4.16.2, nn. 6, 9–12 (Wadding 9:277–79).

[liii] Ord. 4.14.1, n. 6 (Wadding 9:9); Cross, Duns Scotus, 109.

[liv] Scotus speaks of the infused habit of charity granting an act a greater “intensity” in mathematical terms of arithmetic proportion; Ord. 1.17.n. 181 (Vatican 5:225); 3. suppl. dist. 27 (Wolter 443); see also Osborne, Human Action, 212.

[lv] Allan B. Wolter, introduction to Duns Scotus on the Will and Morality, trans. Allan B. Wolter (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1986), 53. For an opposite position that denies any good work is possible apart from grace—not just meritorious works—see Thomas Bradwardine, De causa Dei contra Pelagium, ed. Henry Saville (London, 1618; repr., Frankfurt, 1964), 1.40 (p. 364b): “Post haec autem gratia Dei mecum ostendet, vt spero, quod ipsa est causa efficiens proprie cuiuslibet actus boni; gratia scilicet gratis data, quae est habitus animae a Deo gratis infusus”; cited in Ian Levy, “Grace and Freedom in the Soteriology of John Wyclif,” Traditio 60 (2005): 279–337, at 306.

[lvi] For a good discussion of Scotus’s complicated use of “condign” and “congruous” merit, see Cross, Duns Scotus, 105.

[lvii] Among other places, see Ord. 3.7.3 (Wadding 14:353).

[lviii] Steven Ozment, The Age of Reform 1250–1550: An Intellectual and Religious History of Late Medieval and Reformation Europe (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1980), 33.

[lix] Cross, Duns Scotus, 111.

[lx] For strong reactions against Scotus’s covenantal theology, stressing instead the intrinsic nature of things (in re) as the reason for divine acceptance, see Paul Vignaux, Justification et predestination au 14e siecle: Duns Scot, Plerre d’Auriole Guillaume d’Occam, Gregoire de Rimini (Paris, 1934), 43–57; and Ozment, Age of Reform, 36–37).

[lxi] Oberman, Dawn of the Reformation, 106.

[lxii] Quod. 17, n. 3 (Wadding 12:461); cited in Cross, Duns Scotus, 103.

[lxiii] Cross, Duns Scotus, 105. Like Aquinas, Scotus does not think human beings even in grace are able to perfectly fulfill the commandment to love God “with your whole heart, your whole soul, etc.” For Scotus, human beings cannot meet the all the “conditions” embedded in the commandment, particularly when it comes to the “intensity” prescribed by this law. This is because “in this life there cannot be that recollection of our faculties with all impediments removed, so that the will could exert the sort of efforts it could if our powers were all united and recollected and all impediments were removed” (Ord. 3.27; Wolter 441).

[lxiv] See Alfred J. Freddoso, “God’s General Concurrence with Secondary Causes: Pitfalls and Prospects,” American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly 68 (1994): 131–56, at 138.

[lxv] Osborne, Human Action, 208.

[lxvi] Oberman notes how the “nominalist” movement encompasses such “varied men and minds” as Holcot, Rimini, and d’Ailly (Dawn of the Reformation, 54). There has also been some debate as to what extent Ockham can be considered a pure nominalist rather than a “conceptualist” or “terminist”; see William Turner, “William of Ockham,” in The Catholic Encyclopedia (New York: Robert Appleton, 1913), 15:636; Paul Vincent Spade, “Ockham’s Nominalist Metaphysics: Some Main Themes,” in CCO 100–117.

[lxvii] Luther can use the terms “Occamistae” and “moderni” interchangeably (WA 6:194.37—195.5). Elsewhere he uses the categories “Scotistas, Thomistas, Occamistas” (WA 5:371.36–37). Scholars present a more complex picture of Ockham’s influence, affirming a more substantial and long-lasting impact in Paris than Oxford; see William J. Courtney, “The Academic and Intellectual Worlds of Ockham,” in CCO 27–29. This point corresponds to Muller’s observation that Calvin’s attacks against the scholastici targeted principally the nominalists of the Parisian school of theology; Richard A. Muller, “Scholasticism in Calvin: Relation and Disjunction,” in Calvinus Sincerioris Religionis Vindex: Calvin as Protector of the Purer Religion, ed. Wilhelm H. Neuser and Brian G. Armstrong (Kirksville, MO: Sixteenth Century Journal Publishers, 1997), 264.

[lxviii] See Auguste Pelzer, “Les 51 articles de Guillaume Occam censurés, en Avignon, en 1326,’’ Revue d’ histoire ecclesiastique 18 (1922): 240–70; Courtney, “Academic and Intellectual Worlds of Ockham,” 22–24, for Ockham’s conflicts with John of Readings, Walter Chatton, and Thomas Bradwardine, to name a few.

[lxix] See, e.g., Ordinatio I, d. 2, qq. 4–8; Summa Logicae 1.xv–xvii; for further analysis, see Claude Panaccio, “Semantics and Mental Language,” in CCO 53–75.

[lxx] See Adam Smith, Assembling Sovereignty in the Bronze Age Caucasus (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2015), 36; Matthew Levering, Participatory Biblical Exegesis (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2008), chap. 1, which contains an abundance of secondary source material. Scotus laid the groundwork for strengthening the notion of human autonomy through his rejection of the Anselmian-Thomistic participatory-teleological framework in which created natures are constituted by imitability relations. For Scotus, however, the relata (e.g., rationality) are prior to the relations, so that whatever being creatures owe to God, the possibilities of the relata pertain to them of themselves; for this, see Marilyn McCord Adams, “Ockham on Will, Nature and Morality,” in CCO 246–48.

[lxxi] Sent. (O) 1.prol.1; 17.3; 26.1; 26.2; 30.2; Quodl. 6.10; see Spade, “Ockham’s Nominalist Metaphysics,” 101.

[lxxii] E.g., Sent. (O) 4.16. While there has been debate surrounding the extent of the innovation contained in Ockham’s doctrine of the will, no one denies at least some level of innovation when compared to his medieval predecessors. For those emphasizing innovation, see, e.g., Armand A. Maurer, Medieval Philosophy (New York: Random House, 1962); Vernon J. Bourke, History of Ethics (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1968); for those downplaying innovation, see Marilyn McCord Adams, William Ockham, 2 vols. (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1987).

[lxxiii] Sent. (O) 4.16. It is here that Adams pinpoints Ockham’s semi-Pelagianism, in that Ockham’s position on human free will leads to his affirmation that human will is able to restrict the scope of God’s power. Thus meriting eternal life is the result of human free will acting on God’s grace or allowing God’s activity to be effective; see Adams, William Ockham, 1295. For a trenchant defense of Ockham’s anti-Pelagianism, even semi-Pelagianism, see Rega Wood, “Ockham’s Repudiation of Pelagianism,” in CCO, 355–58. A weakness of Wood’s account is her failure to appreciate the way Ockham relates divine and human activity in merit. Wood thinks that by just noting that both human will and divine activity are involved in merit, Ockham cannot be labeled semi-Pelagian. This is why Wood lumps Ockham’s account in with Scotus, Bonaventure, and even Aquinas (!), since all four require both divine and human activity in meriting. But the issue is how these activities relate.

[lxxiv] Oberman, Dawn of the Reformation, 7.

[lxxv] ST I, q. 21, a. 1, ad. 2.

[lxxvi] ST I, q. 4, a. 2.

[lxxvii] John Farthing, Thomas Aquinas and Gabriel Biel (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1988), 10.

[lxxviii] William of Ockham, Quaestiones Variae 6.11 (Opera Theologica, ed. G. Etzkorn, F. Kelley, and J. Wey [St. Bonaventure NY: Franciscan Institute, 1984], 8:320); see Osborne, Human Action, 214.

[lxxix] Sent. (O) 1.41.1.

[lxxx] On the facientibus principle as an important concept early in Franciscan theology, see Artur Michael Landgraf, Dogmengeschichte der Fruhscholastik (Regensburg: Friedrich Pustet, 1952), 1:249–64.

[lxxxi] Following along the same lines of argumentation, Robert Holcot cites an objection to his position on preparation for grace: “Man is related to God as clay to the potter: ‘Like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel.’ But no matter how well the clay might be prepared, there is no necessity that it be given form at all by the potter. Likewise, there is no necessity that man receive grace from God, regardless of how much he prepares himself” (Lectures on the Wisdom of Solomon, in Oberman, Forerunners of the Reformation, 148–50). The key to Holcot’s response is the pactum between God and man, which is unlike that of the potter and clay. Holcot believes that if man does what is within him, facit quod in se est, he can acquire sufficient information about the articles of faith necessary for salvation (ibid.; see also Oberman, Dawn of the Reformation, 88). Lillback notes the differences between Holcot and Bradwardine, who both utilize the concept of covenant: “He is bound by covenant and promise to save the doer (Holcot) or the believer (Bradwardine). … Holcot says that it is made with all men if they do their best in their condition of nature without grace. Bradwardine says that it is made with only the elect who will surely believe as a result of prevenient grace. Thus the differing views of the divine covenant is universality and works of merit (Holcot) versus particularity and faith by grace (Bradwardine)” (Peter A. Lillback, The Binding of God: Calvin’s Role in the Development of Covenant Theology, Texts and Studies in Reformation and Post-Reformation Thought [Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001], 52). A similar contrast can be found between the mystical theology of Tauler and Staupitz.

[lxxxii] Sent. (O) 1.17.2.

[lxxxiii] Wood, “Ockham’s Repudiation of Pelagianism,” 356. Adams stresses that Ockham’s account of God’s freedom in salvation served not to “scare people” by showing what God does not have to do for salvation, but rather he is “trying to offer a measure of His generosity” (Marilyn McCord Adams, “William Ockham: Voluntarist or Naturalist?,” in Studies in Medieval Philosophy, ed. John F. Wippel (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1987), 219–47, at 246. While Ockham might have believed that God’s commitment to give his grace to all who do what is in them expressed his sovereignty and mercy, others, however, would see it as emphasizing human responsibility over and against God’s mercy and grace.

[lxxxiv] To be sure, Ockham’s speaks of infused grace as the infusion of a supernaturally produced form (e.g., Sent. (O) 3.9). In other words, the supernatural aspect of grace refers to its origins and not to its effects on human nature.

[lxxxv] See Wood, “Ockham’s Repudiation of Pelagianism,” 357.

[lxxxvi] Sent. (O) 1.17.1.

[lxxxvii] Sent. (O) 1.17.1.

[lxxxviii] Osborne, Human Action, 216; 220.

[lxxxix] Quaestio 6.11 (p. 320): “Ad errorem Pelagii dico quod ipse posuit quod aliquis ex puris naturalibus potest vitare omne peccatum, et actuale et originale, mereri vitam aeternam de condigno, et in hoc erravit.” The biggest lacuna in Wood’s defense of Ockham (“Ockham’s Repudiation of Pelagianism,” 355–58) is a failure to even mention, much less analyze, the distinction between congruous and condign merit. Wood’s account proceeds as if the only merit is condign merit, which indeed Ockham’s denies to anyone outside grace.

[xc] Reportatio 4.101, cited in Ian Christopher Levy, “Grace and Freedom in the Soteriology of John Wycliff,” Traditio 60 (2005): 302.

[xci] Wood, “Ockham’s Repudiation of Pelagianism,” 363.

[xcii] Ibid., 365.

[xciii] Sent. (O) 1.41.1 (605–6).

[xciv] See Heiko A. Oberman, The Harvest of Medieval Theology: Gabriel Biel and Late Medieval Nominalism (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1963); Alister McGrath, “The Anti-Pelagian Structure of ‘Nominalistic’ Doctrines of Justification,” Ephemerides Theologicae Lovanienses 57 (1981): 107–19; Farthing, Thomas Aquinas and Gabriel Biel.

[xcv] Sent. (B) II, d. 27, q. 1, art. 2, concl. 4K.

[xcvi] For Farthing’s rebuttal of Oberman’s attempt to defend Biel’s misrepresentation of Aquinas on the issue of one’s natural ability to prepare oneself for grace, see Farthing, Thomas Aquinas and Gabriel Biel, 158–59, in which Farthing concludes, “Biel is clearly guilty of reducing Thomas’s auxilium dei to nothing more than the concursus Dei generalis.”

[xcvii] Ibid., 160–61.

[xcviii] Heinrich Denifle, Die abendländischen Schriftausleger bis Luther über Justitia Dei (Rom 1, 17) und Justificatio (Quellenbelege zu Denfile’s Luther und Luthertum (Mainz, 1905), 1:2 Abt., pp. 56–65; Otto Scheel, Die Entwicklung Luthers bis zum Abschluß der Vorlesung über den Rømerbrief (Leipzig, 1910).

[xcix] And thus Biel’s optimism regarding human free will; L. Grane, Contra Gabrielem. Luthers Auseinandersetzung mit Gabriel Biel in der Disputatio Contra Schlasticam Theologiam 1517 (Kobenhavn: Aarhus, 1962), 152, 219.

[c] A. Gossens, Alliance et grâce. Le sacrament de l’eucharistie selon Gabriel Biel (1410–1495) (Paris: Institute Catholique de Paris, 1971), 2:202, 494–96.

[ci] Farthing, Thomas Aquinas and Gabriel Biel, 177. Paul van Geest has some reservations with Farthing’s methodology, though he agrees with his conclusions; see “Influence of Aquinas in the Via Moderna and Devotio Moderna? Gabriel Biel’s Debt to Thomas Aquinas,” in Aquinas as Authority, ed. Paul van Geest, Harm Goris, and Carlo Leget (Leuven: Peeters, 2000), 46–47.

[cii] Farthing, Thomas Aquinas and Gabriel Biel, 154: “Biel consistently exaggerates his claim for the competence of the unaided free will, and he consistently minimizes (or omits) Thomas’s sense of the sinner’s utter dependence on God’s gracious initiative as a precondition for even the most minimal human movement toward God.”

[ciii] Farthing is quick to point out, however, Biel’s reversal of Thomas’s logical prioritizing of grace over human activity. While for Thomas one loves God only when God has provided the person with the grace needed to love him, “Biel teaches that the viator may receive grace—no longer healing so much as decorative or, at most, invigorating—only on the condition that he love God above all things ex puris naturalibus” (ibid., 175). In the end, the act of loving God is initiated ex puris naturalibus, though “grace is infused at precisely the moment in which he loves God above all things” (ibid.).

[civ] Ibid., 159. Farthing comments, “Biel makes clear that Thomas sees a certain motion of the human will as a requisite predisposition for the infusion of grace. What he fails to note is Thomas’s conception of the will itself as being disposed or prepared by the prior operation of grace” (ibid., 151).

[cv] Oberman argues that the synergistic approach to salvation arose due to pastors’ concerns, particularly to assure troubled souls of their inclusion in the elect of God (Die Reformation: von Wittenberg nach Genf [Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1986], 243).

[cvi] Sent. (B) I, d. 41, q. 1, art. 3, dub 3.

[cvii] While Aquinas denies all possibility that a sinner can merit due to the intrinsic nature of such things as justice, grace, merit, and nature/supernatural, Biel sees God’s will as determining such natures such that if God wills to accept a sinner’s work as meritorious, it is just by virtue of God willing it.

[cviii] Farthing notes, “The semi-Pelagian optimism that finds expression in Biel’s understanding of man’s moral and religious powers contrasts sharply with St. Thomas’s Augustinian realism” (Thomas Aquinas and Gabriel Biel, 49). This rings true as long as we keep in mind that such optimism is the by-product of a prior emphasis on God’s liberality, not the cause for emphasizing God’s liberality.

[cix] Sent. (B) II, d.27, q. 1, art. 1, n. 3; see Lillback, Binding of God, 48–50.

[cx] Calvin will pick up this emphasis on God’s sheer will to reward works without the reward having any correspondence to the nature or worth of the work; see chap. 6.

[cxi] Discussing the via moderna, Burrows highlights the emphases of “a positive anthropology based upon the doctrine of merit” and “above all, an approach to soteriology which underscored human cooperation in the process of salvation” (Mark Stephens Burrows, Jean Gerson and De Consolatione Theologiae (1418): The Consolation of a Biblical and Reforming Theology for a Disordered Age [Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck), 1991], 150).

[cxii] For all his radical Augustinianism, Thomas Bradwardine’s comments are telling: “In the philosophical faculty I seldom heard a reference to grace. … What I heard day in and day out was that we are masters of our own free acts, that ours is the choice to act well or badly” (in Oberman, Forerunners of the Reformation, 1967), 135. See Steve Long, Natura Pura: On the Recovery of Nature in the Doctrine of Grace (New York: Fordham University Press, 2010), 37–41, who notes that by the sixteenth century, as seen in the work of Louis de Molina, an acceptable view of human action maintained that human free action stood outside divine governance and causality.

[cxiii] Joseph Wawrykow, “John Calvin and Condign Merit,” ARG 83 (1992): 73–90, at 83–85.

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Dr. Charles Raith II is Assistant Professor of Religion & Philosophy at John Brown University, and director of the Paradosis Center for Theology and Scripture.

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