That property of a human act in virtue of which it is deserving of reward. In general, a man is said to merit when he does something for another and is thereby entitled to some return from the one so served. In the concrete, merit may be defined as a good work freely performed in favor of another and of its nature deserving of reward. In all merit there is established a relation between tne service rendered and the return due, whence is derived a twofold notion of merit: merit strictly so called (de condigno); and merit less strictly so called (de congruo). Strict merit (de condigno) is had when the relation between service and return is one of equality inasmuch as the service freely rendered to another is, according to the common estimate, equal to the return which is then due in justice. Lesser merit (de congruo) is had when the relation of equality is lacking and a return is due not in justice but because of a certain becomingness appealing to the liberality of the one served. This twofold notion is found exemplified in the soldier who has distinguishes himself in battle. He strictly merits (de condigno) his wages as a soldier, but he also merits, though less strictly (de congruo), decorations and advancement in the service.

Merit in Catholic theology includes the above notions along with the doctrine of supernatural grace, which is the principle of supernatural life and of all supernatural merit. Christ strictly merited eternal life for all men in the sense that He merited all the supernatural helps (graces) which man needs to work out for himself his supernatural destiny. Because of the infinite satisfaction and merits of Christ’s works we are now enabled to perform acts wholly pleasing to God; acts to which God has attached supernatural life in the possession of God in heaven as a reward. Hence, man can now, in virtue of the merits of Christ and with the help of His graces, strictly merit before God a supernatural reward in the form of the beatific vision. Supernatural merit before God may be defined as a free act elevated by grace, performed in the service of God and deserving of a supernatural reward. Two principles cooperate in every meritorious act; the free will of man, and supernatural grace.

To merit strictly (de condigno) a man must be in the state of pilgrimage, here on earth. He must also be in a state of friendship with God (sanctifying grace). Besides, his act must be a positive act elicited by the free will and supernatural grace and wholly pleasing to God and based on a motive founded on faith. In other words, the whole act must be a morally good supernatural act as it is posited as a service to God in view of a supernatural reward. To merit less strictly (de congruo), the same conditions are required except that a man need not necessarily be in the state of friendship with God (sanctifying grace). The just man can then merit strictly eternal life, an increase of sanctifying grace and of glory in heaven. The man in sin can less strictly merit, through works of penance assisted by grace, actual graces and justification through sanctifying grace.

MLA Citation

  • “merit”. New Catholic Dictionary. CatholicSaints.Info. 11 August 2013. Web. 21 September 2017. <>