When we look to the world around us it is hard to believe that there once was a world without sin. In Question 95 of Thomas Aquinas’s masterpiece, the Summa Theologica, he describes the relationship between grace and merit in pre-lapsarian man. Was man initially created in a state of grace, and if so how does that relate to merit? In answering this question Aquinas first looks to sacred scripture. He quotes a section of Ecclesiastes 7:30 which states, “God made man right” (Douay-Rheims).
Aquinas concludes that man was created in a state of grace. The reason of man was subject to God and the lower powers of man to reason, and the body to soul (ST1, Q95, A1). After the fall the lower parts, of man that were once captive to reason, were not longer captive to reason. If this were the case, then Adam and Eve would not have been ashamed when they noticed they were naked. Their reason was subject to God and the loss of grace “dissolved the obedience of the flesh to the soul” (ST1, Q95, A1).
So, if in a pre-lapsarian state was created in a state of grace, then how does merit relate to grace? Regarding merit Aquinas writes, “the degree of merit is measured by the degree of the action itself” (ST1, Q95, A4). When one thinks of merit one thinks of a reward. Man was made in a state of innocence and God said that man was good (GN 1:31). For a period, man lived in a state of innocence. During this period of innocence, the work of man is more meritorious than when man is in a sinful state (ST1, Q95, A4). This brings us to the two kinds of merit: absolute and proportional. When in a state of innocence man, the absolute work done would made greater virtue in man because of the work. In proportion a greater need for merit exists after sin, and this can only be done through grace. Pre-lapsarian man, though created in grace, still used grace in an absolute manner to do meritorious works.
Aquinas, Thomas. Summa Theologia. Trans. Thomas Gornall. Blackfriars, St. Joseph, IN: Ave Maria Press, 1981. Accessed July 17, 2018.