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Treasury of Merit

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Treasury of Merit

The treasury of merit or treasury of the Church consists, according to Catholic belief, of the merits of Jesus Christ and his faithful, a treasury that, because of the communion of saints benefits others too.[1] According to the Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms, the Catholic belief is a way of expressing the view that the good works done by Jesus and others can benefit other people, and "contemporary Roman Catholic theologians see it as a metaphor for ways in which the faith of Christ and the saints helps others". [2]

In Melanchton's doctrine of imputed righteousness also, it is on account of the alien merit of Christ that a believer is declared righteous by God.[3]


  • Treasures in heaven 1
  • Confessors and lapsi 2
  • Remission of penance 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5

Treasures in heaven

Catholics see as a basis for this belief the recommendation of Jesus to lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven:[4] "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust and where thieves do not break in and steal."[5]

The treasures that any individual Christian can lay up in heaven are nothing in comparison to those that Jesus himself has laid up, and it is for a portion of his merits that 4th-century Ephrem the Syrian appealed so as to wipe out his own indebtedness.[6]

Colossians is also seen as a basis for this belief: "Now I [the Apostle Paul] rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you". Of this, Michael J. Gorman has written: "Just as Paul constantly reminds his readers that Christ (suffered and) died for them, he now reminds them that he suffers for them, for Christ's body. His role of suffering servant is complemented by his preaching and teaching ministry (1:25) in which he participates in the full revelation of God's mystery to those who believe the message (God's "saints"), especially among the Gentiles (1:26–27). "[7] The Summa Theologica of Thomas Aquinas argued that the saints performed their good actions "for the whole Church in general, even as the Apostle declares that he fills up 'those things that are wanting of the sufferings of Christ … for His body, which is the Church' to whom he wrote. These merits then are the common property of the whole Church. Now those things that are the common property of a number are distributed to the various individuals according to the judgment of him who rules them all. Hence, just as one man would obtain the remission of his punishment if another were to satisfy for him, so would he too if another's satisfactions be applied to him by one who has the power to do so.[8]

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: "The ‘treasury of the Church’ is the infinite value, which can never be exhausted, which Christ’s merits have before God. They were offered so that the whole of mankind could be set free from sin and attain communion with the Father. In Christ, the Redeemer himself, the satisfactions and merits of his Redemption exist and find their efficacy. This treasury includes as well the prayers and good works of the Blessed Virgin Mary. They are truly immense, unfathomable, and even pristine in their value before God. In the treasury, too, are the prayers and good works of all the saints, all those who have followed in the footsteps of Christ the Lord and by his grace have made their lives holy and carried out the mission in the unity of the Mystical Body."[9]

Confessors and lapsi

In early Christianity, those who had committed serious sins were submitted to a more or less long period of penance before being reconciled with the Church. How to deal with the many apostates at the time of the persecution of Decius constituted a problem. They were known as the

  1. ^ Modern Catholic DictionaryJohn Hardon,
  2. ^ (Westminister John Knox Press 1996 ISBN 978-0-66425511-4), p. 287Westminster Dictionary of Theological TermsDonald K. McKim,
  3. ^ (Cambridge University Press 1998 ISBN 978-0-52162481-7), p. 212Iustitia DeiAlister E. McGrath,
  4. ^ Taylor Marshall, "Indulgences and the Treasure of Merit"
  5. ^ Matthew 6:19-20
  6. ^ 3 (2007), p. 41Letter & SpiritGary A. Anderson, "Redeem Your Sins by the Giving of Alms" in
  7. ^ Michael J. Gorman, Apostle of the Crucified Lord: A Theological Introduction to Paul and His Letters (Eerdmans 2004 ISBN 978-0-80283934-3), p. 474
  8. ^ Summa Theologica, Supplementum Tertiae Partis, Q. 25, Article 1
  9. ^ Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1476-1477
  10. ^ a b (Liturgical Press 1997 ISBN 978-0-81462433-3), p. 57History of the LiturgyMarcel Metzger,
  11. ^ (Routledged 2013 ISBN 978-1-13620205-6), p. 149The History and Literature of ChristianityPierre de Labriolle,
  12. ^ (Oxford University Press 2005 ISBN 978-0-19-280-290-3), entry "Indulgences"The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian ChurchFrank Leslie Cross, Elizabeth Livingstone (editors),
  13. ^ a b (Liturgical Press 1986 ISBN 978-0-81466076-8), p. 38-39The Reconciling CommunityJames Dallen,
  14. ^ Documents of the Council of Ancyra, A.D. 314
  15. ^ (Méquignon, 1823)Bibliothèque sacréeCharles Louis Richard, Jean Joseph Giraud (editors),
  16. ^ Pope Paul VI, Apostolic Constitution on Indulgences, norm 5
  17. ^ Enrico dal Covolo, "The Historical Origin of Indulgences"
  18. ^ Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1471-1479


See also

It became customary to commute penances to less demanding works, such as prayers, alms, fasts and even the payment of fixed sums of money depending on the various kinds of offences (tariff penances). By the 10th century some penances were not replaced by other penances but were simply reduced in connection with pious donations, pilgrimages and similar meritorious works. Then, in the 11th and 12th centuries, the recognition of the value of these works began to become associated not so much with canonical penance but with remission of the temporal punishment due to sin, thus giving rise to the idea of indulgence, which, although it continued to be spoken of in terms of remission of a certain number of days or years of canonical penance, is now expressed as the granting to someone who performs a pious action, "in addition to the remission of temporal punishment acquired by the action itself, an equal remission of punishment through the intervention of the Church".[16] As grounds for this remission of temporal (not eternal) punishment due to sin, theologians looked to God's mercy and the prayers of the Church. Some saw its basis in the good deeds of the living members of the Church, as those of the martyrs and confessors counted in favour of the lapsi. The view that finally prevailed was that of the treasury of merit, which was first put forward around 1230.[17][18]

The Council of Epaone in 517 shows the rise of the practice of replacing a severe older canonical penance with a new milder penance: its 29th canon reduced to two years the penance that apostates were to undergo on their return to the Church, but obliged them to fast one day in three during those two years, to come to church and take their place at the penitents' door, and to leave with the catechumens. Any who objected to the new arrangement were to observe the much longer ancient penance.[15]

The 314 Council of Ancyra witnessed in its canons 2, 5 and 16 to the power of the bishops to grant indulgence, by reducing the period of penance to be performed, to lapsi who showed they were sincerely repentant.[14]

Remission of penance

[13] "Officeholders, not charismatic individuals, were to have the final say on admission to the Church's assemblies."[10] but in general the intervention of the higher church authority, the bishop, was required.[13] A priest or deacon could reconcile lapsi in danger of death on the basis of a martyr's letter of indulgence,[12]

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