Treasury of Merit
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The Treasury of Merit is the term used in the Roman Catholic Church describing the indulgences or exchange of God's grace among the faithful. The Treasury of Merit was one of the core complaints of Martin Luther at the start of the Reformation in his The Ninety-Five Theses; Luther denied that the "Treasury of Merit" existed at all, instead favouring justification by faith.
According to Roman Catholic theology, in the early days of the Church, the great saints accumulated merit, which is earned by all Catholics while doing good work on Earth. The Church had possession of these extra merits and could, in the Church's teaching, grant these in the form of indulgences. In the early church ecclesiastic authorities allowed a confessor or a Christian awaiting martyrdom to intercede for another Christian in order to shorten the time of the other's canonical penance.
The sixth-century Council of Epaon witnesses to the rise of the practice of replacing severe canonical penances with something new and milder. 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).
Theologians looked to God's mercy, the value of the Church's prayers, and the merits of the saints as the basis on which indulgences could be granted. Around 1230, the Dominican Hugh of St-Cher proposed the idea of a Treasure House of Merit (thesaurum satisfactionum Christi et Sanctorum) at the Church's disposal, consisting of the infinite merits of Christ and the immeasurable abundance of the saints' merits, a thesis that was demonstrated by scholastics such as Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas and remains the basis for a theological explanation of indulgences.
- Green. Luther and the reformation. Taylor & Francis. p. 71. ISBN 978-0450021893.
- Cross, F. L., ed. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. New York: Oxford University Press. 2005, article plenary indulgence
- Enrico dal Covolo: The Historical Origin of Indulgences
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