Can we do something to be happy? – on merit

This I find interesting. Thomas discusses ”Whether Any Good Works Are Necessary That Man May Receive Happiness from God?” (Q5, 7). Since Happiness is the ultimate goal of all human beings, this is more or less the reformation question of whether good works are required for salvation. But there are subtle but important differences. Specifically, it is perfectly clear for Thomas that humans cannot acquire perfect happiness by works alone. This would be nonsensical, since perfect happiness is in a sense God.

But according to Thomas divine wisdom has decided that what is needed for happiness must be aquired through works. Of course, God could create the ”rectitude of will”, the right ordering of our desires, that is necessary for happiness in humans directly, but that is not the way God wants it to be. He wants us to work on ordering our desires ourselves (of course not by ourselves, this is the work of the Church). This work is called merit, the work we do on ourselves in order to direct our desires towards God. Unless we want to see God, his granting that to us will not be what makes us happy.

Now, I am no expert on this, and I am sure Thomas will have more to say about this later on, but it seems to be a huge difference between this notion of merit, and the notion of merit that the reformers condemn, although I still think there is a basic difference between this understanding of Christian life and e.g. Luther’s. And of course, Luther is wrong.

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