Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy
by Fr. Viktor Potapov
VIII. Supererogatory Works
From the Catholic teaching on the Fall, there issue some more erroneous teachings - the dogma on supererogatory works and the treasury of the saints. As we have already said, according to Roman Catholic teaching, the essence of the Fall lies not so much in the damage to man's spiritual and bodily powers, as in the fact that man offended God, incurred His righteous wrath and was deprived of the primordial righteousness. Thanks to the redemption accomplished by Jesus Christ, the primordial righteousness is returned to man, and, for justification and salvation, it only remains for men to assimilate the Saviour's merits and to make use of the grace given in the sacraments. And since man's natural powers have been preserved almost in an undamaged condition, he can himself, through faith and, in particular, through his good works, merit for himself from God and acquire for himself the right to receive a reward from God and eternal blessedness.
In this way, works in Catholicism are turned into something valuable in themselves, into merit in the sight of God; man expects to receive salvation not so much by God's mercy, but as the due of his labors. In this is expressed the legacy of ancient, pagan Rome, where all concepts and attitudes were based on the callous, soulless law. The Catholic looks on his attitudes toward God from an exclusively legal, external, judicial point of view as well. Good works for him are not the fruit of a certain disposition of soul, not an expression of love for Christ (John 14:15), not an indicator of a man's spiritual and moral growth, but simply a payment to God's justice; they are liable to an exact reckoning and measuring: the more good works a man performs, the greater the measure of blessedness he will receive in the future life, and the less he has of these works, the lesser his right to blessedness.
According to Catholic teaching, many of God's saints, especially the Most Holy Virgin Mary, in endeavoring to realize in their life not only God's law or the commandments (pręcepta), offered superabundant and supererogatory satisfaction to the divine justice and performed supererogatory good works (opera supererogationis). From them, a certain quantity still remains, as it were, of excess, supererogatory good works. This excess makes up the so called treasury of supererogatory merits (thesaurus meritorium), which is at the full and unconditional disposal of the pope. Whoever does not have as many of his own deeds as are needed to satisfy God's justice for his sins, can, by the mercy of the pope, make use of the supererogatory merits of the saints in the church's treasury. This teaching was confirmed in 1343 by Pope Clement VI.
This absurd and even blasphemous teaching is explained exclusively by the avarice of the popes and the Catholic clergy and entirely contradicts the clear teaching of Sacred Scripture on man's salvation. The ideal of Christian perfection is so high, so unattainable that not only can man never perform anything supererogatory, but he cannot even attain this ideal. The Lord said to His disciples: "When ye shall have done all these things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do" (Luke 17:10). The Apostle Paul says: "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:8-10).
© V. Potapov, 1996-98