Treasury of Merit?

The Catholic Encylopedia states that:

Since the satisfaction of Christ is infinite, it constitutes an inexhaustible fund which is more than sufficient to cover the indebtedness contracted by sin, Besides, there are the satisfactory works of the Blessed Virgin Mary undiminished by any penalty due to sin, and the virtues, penances, and sufferings of the saints vastly exceeding any temporal punishment which these servants of God might have incurred.” On Indulgences

I’m wondering, what biblical or basis in Apostolic Tradition is there in believing that the excess merit (or grace) of the saints that is left after their earthly lives are over, are stored in a treasury along with Christ’s infinite merit to be applied as an indulgence?

Hello, reccanboy, and welcome to CAF.

This is a link to the Catechism, on the Vatican website,
#’ 1471 through 1479.

I’m hoping that other posters may reply, as well.

Kindest regards,


The following link provides a discussion of indulgences,
and the Treasury of Merit - from the point of view of
another Christian group.

reen12 :tiphat:

Paul VI answers that in his letter Indulgentiarum Doctrina of 1968:

*][/LIST]Parts of the CathEnc are badly out of date - that article is one such.

I’ve read the document, but what I’m wondering is: Why do the excess merits of the Saints become part of the Treasury?

It would’ve made sense to me if they were solely the merits of Christ, but what basis is there to believe that the excess merits of Mary and the Saints can be applied to us, especially centuries after their deaths?

f the word ‘merit’ as it seemed to imply we ‘earned’ our way to heaven. Indeed, one of the works I read on the ‘merits of the saints’ (I actually think it was a Protestant work comparing the differences between them and Catholic belief; though I believe they were quoting a Catholic document) gave me the impression that “You need X number of heavenly brownie points to enter Heaven, and that the saints have so many brownie points left over that they will let you have some of theirs if you need them.”

However, as I grew in my Catholic faith, I realized that the “merits of the saints” actually conveys a beautiful truth, albeit clumsily, First off, as the CCC says in 2007: “With regard to God, there is no strict right to any merit on the part of man. Between God and us there is an immeasurable inequality, for we have received everything from him, our Creator.” (Emphasis mine) In other words, we can do nothing on our own. The CCC continues to say "The merit of man before God in the Christian life arises from the fact that God has freely chosen to associate man with the work of his grace (CCC 2008). In short, we can earn merit not through any goodness in our part, but because God adopted us and chose to work through us (see CCC 2009-2011).

The Bible tells us we are all members of the body of Christ (Romans 12:4-5; 1 Corinthians 10:17). In the Catholic teaching of the Communion of Saints, this membership applies not only to Christians on earth but to those who have gone before us.

Now, it is important to realize that what we do as a member of this body affects everyone. As St Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 6:15-16, if we sleep with a prostitute, we are joining the whole Body of Christ to that prostitute. Our sins not only impact us, but the entire Body of Christ! This is something to ponder when we consider a particular sin a “victimless crime.” The good news is, our attempts to grow in holiness positively impact the Body of Christ, just as we are positively influenced by those around us who are growing in holiness. As St. Paul writes in Colossians 1:24, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church.”

In other words, as we grow in holiness, we also help those around us to grow in holiness. Many people have probably known some holy priest or layperson at some point in their lives, someone who evidenced so much of the love of God that it inspired people around them. Anglican C. S. Lewis probably said it best in his essay The Weight of Glory:

                It may be too much for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbor. The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbor’s glory should be laid on my back, a load so heavy only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud shall be broken. It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting you can talk to may one day be a creature, which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of those destinations.            

What then, does the “merits of the saints” mean? A saint is someone who led a life extraordinarily surrendered to God, and allowed Him to work through him in a mighty way. And if we want to, since we are One Body, I can allow the holiness of that saint to influence my life.

What Apostolic Tradition is there for believing the supererogatory merits of the saints are kept in a treasury with Christ’s merits to be applied to shorten temporal punishment?


Paul did say that his sufferings completed that which was lacking in the sufferings of Christ for the Church.

Also consider that supererogatory works/treasury of merit indicates saints can actually do “more” than is required, which really makes no sense given the standard the law sets in both the OT (and to an even greater degree) the NT. You can’t perform “above and beyond” God’s commandments.

“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.”

“to him who knows to do good, and does not do it, to him it is sin.”

Hey Reccanboy, you said:

It would’ve made sense to me if they were solely the merits of Christ, but what basis is there to believe that the excess merits of Mary and the Saints can be applied to us, especially centuries after their deaths?

Well, for starters, the few passages below (there are more) - remind us that those who have passed on are not dead; just their mortal bodies; their eternal soul lives on…

Just as nothing is lacking regarding Jesus’ afflictions, (His atoning sacrifice) - also nothing is lacking regarding Jesus’ infinite merit; nothing (no “excess merits”) - from mere mortals is required, but nonetheless, Jesus still asks us to pray and intercede for others, as per scripture. If all that is required is Jesus’ infinite merit, drawn from His death, on the cross, for the Christians redemption/salvation, which of course is true, then why the need for prayer, on our part? The answer can be found in sacred scripture; it’s because we are co-heirs. Scripture tells us that if we are God’s children, then “we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” Just as we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, by sharing in His sufferings, we are also co-heirs with Christ by virtue of our prayers; it’s a participatory action. Is it necessary? no. Is it part of Jesus’ plan, as per scripture? yes! In essence, Jesus expects us, as His followers, to bear a sense of the burden and responsibility, which is why Jesus tells us to “pick up our cross” and urges us, via scripture, “that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people.” Again, why, if the infinite merit of the cross is all that is necessary, which of course is true? Logically, it is because meritorious prayer and intercession on the part of the Christian, “made for all people,” draw said people closer to the infinite merits of Christ, who is the way and the truth and the life, and the only way to the Father. All earthly or heavenly prayers, ultimately, coalesce and converge on Jesus, where salvation is found.

Our meritorious prayers, be it from earth or heaven, do not devalue or add to the infinite merits of Christ, nor are they necessary, just as Paul’s sufferings did not devalue or add anything to Jesus’ infinite sacrifice of atonement, nor were his sufferings necessary, but, according to scripture, both are part of Jesus’ grand plan for the salvation of lost souls. As Christians, conformed to Christ, (imperfectly here on earth, and perfectly, in Heaven) - our prayers and intercession are required petitions, (as per scripture) - to God and therefore are a required participation, joined to the One and only infinite sacrifice that merits eternal life for souls that were cut off from God’s glory. They are absolutely not an addition to the infinite merits of Christ.

Just as we are suppose to participate in redemptive suffering, by picking up our crosses and following Jesus, we are also to participate in Jesus’ salvific plan for souls, with our prayers and intercessions, which of course, includes those prayers and intercessions of the saints, in heaven, as per the passages below. Our prayers absolutely matter, according to scripture, and how much more efficacious our prayers and intercession must be once we are, in fact, perfectly united to God, before the heavenly throne? And it’s those heavenly prayers and intercession of the saints in heaven, offered up before the throne of God, that comprise the treasury of merit, that in no way add to the infinite merits of Christ.

For example, scripture tells us that worship and the prayers of the saints in heaven, (along with the voice of the many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand) - are offered up before the Throne of God and the Lamb. The heavenly saints *(“cloud of witnesses” - the spiritual aggregation of Old Testament saints as well, who hoped for their reward in Christ encircling the throne) *- are forever before the throne of God offering of their prayers. How cool would that be? The golden vials full of incense, which are the prayers of saints in heaven, represent the intercessions of the glorified souls in heaven. The souls/saints in Heaven still continue to pray just as they did here on earth, only their prayers are far more efficacious for they are now perfectly united to God. These saints have finally passed into the inner circle and have drawn near to the Throne of God, forever gazing upon the golden vials full of incense, which represent the prayers of the saints, again, which comprise the treasury of merit, which is just a term, like the Trinity, the Catholic church used to define the doctrine:

Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. The Lamb had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits[a] of God sent out into all the earth. He went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne. And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people. Rev. 5

Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all the saints, on the golden altar before the throne. Rev. 8

The questions remain:

Why are the saints in heaven praying?

For whom are these prayers offered?

How do we draw from this heavenly treasury of prayer of the saints in heaven?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church has the answer:

IMO it is a slightly lame metaphor that someone took altogether too seriously and started imagining it was actually real. Like someone said “love is a clash of lightnings” and then concluded it would be a good idea to stand out on a hill in a lightning storm to be well loved.

It is really just an attempt to talk about the way that the prayers offered to God on behalf of others are somehow made effectual to people through God’s own love and mercy. It tells us that it may be that the prayers of the most holy who have aligned their wills closely to God, may be most effectual in this regard.

It is unfortunately tied to the idea of indulgences, which says the church can unlock this effect under some circumstances if one performs a number of actions such as visiting a particular place at a particular time, or praying a certain prayer, or whatever.:shrug:

Matthew 6: [19] Lay not up to yourselves treasures on earth: where the rust, and moth consume, and where thieves break through and steal. [20] But lay up to yourselves treasures in heaven: where neither the rust nor moth doth consume, and where thieves do not break through, nor steal.

The best quote from the Gospels that I could come up with, to explain where the idea of a ‘treasury of merit’ would come from, is this one. Jesus referred to there being a ‘treasury’ of some kind, where we should store all of the spiritual benefits of our lives, just like we put money that we’ve earned in a bank, here on earth. God would be the ‘executor’ of that eternal ‘trust fund’. So, He’s the one Who actually dispenses all those merits to all of the members of the Body of Christ, as they’re needed.

It might not be the best analogy, but it’s the best I could come up with to try to explain it.

Matthew 6 is a beautiful expression of merit and heavenly treasure. Notice, in the context of the whole chapter -

  • when you pray - do it in private and your Father in heaven will REWARD you
  • when you give - do it in private and your Father in heaven will REWARD you
  • when you fast - do it secretly and your Father in heaven will REWARD you

Immediately following these admonitions - is the passage quoted “lay up for yourselves treasure in heaven”

I know from a Protestant view, this passage is often segmented as a stand alone verse to ward off the mentality that you should work for earthly gain. However, isn’t it interesting that the entire chapter is dealing with rewards for the spiritual disciplines of your life? Giving to the poor, fasting, praying ?

Thanks for this discussion today! My wife and I just finished talking about the “treasury of merit” and this helps me point to a scriptural passage of the principle.

I’m on my way home…please pray for me that my wife and children will join me.

Matthew 6:21 For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.

Prayers for your journey.


The concept of indulgences goes back to the earliest Church. It originated with the martyrs who were considered martyrs before they were killed for the faith while they were condemned to death.

Before that we hear Jesus tell all of His followers to take up their crosses and follow Him. He says if they do not do this they can have no part in Him.

He tells us to take up an instrument of torture, suffering and death, or we are unworthy of Him.

Why would He say this? Is it just to prove how committed we are to Him, how tough we are, or is there a greater purpose? Do we accomplish something more than proving we are willing to suffer for our faith? If all human suffering is simply a test to see if we are tough enough to take it then God is cruel.

When Paul says in Colossians he makes up in his flesh for what is lacking in the suffering of Christ, what does that mean? Further, what is the meaning, or value, or purpose, of human suffering in general? Is it just part of life, a meaningless evil, or does something good come from it?

Catholicsm holds that Jesus gathers up all the pain, tears, anquish, all the suffering of His holy followers, their crosses, and He unites it all to His own sufferring and offers it to the Father as sacrifice.

In Genesis the concept of sacrifice first appears with Cain and Abel. We see acceptable and unacceptable sacrifice. The sacrifice of Christ, His suffering and death on the cross, is wholly acceptable to the Father. He is the eternal high priest who offers Himself as sacrifice, the unblemished lamb.

His priesthood is eternal. A priest is someone who offers sacrifice. That means He offers eternal sacrifice. He is designated the high priest, because He is not the sole priest. That means, just as in the Old Testament, there are other (lower) priests.

In the Old Testament God says through prophets, that He will raise up for Himself a nation of priests. In another place He calls it a royal priesthood. In another place He calls it a priestly people. Has this happened? Has He done what He promised to do?

The early fathers said this priestly people is all the baptized. If we all are baptized then there is some kind of priesthood of the people, which means we must offer some sacrifice. What is the sacrifice we offer? It is all of our suffering, our crosses. Jesus unites it all to His sacrifice, as our eternal high priest.

The question is if our sacrifice will be acceptable. We are sinners. If our sacrifice is joined to that of Christ we become acceptable sacrifice, as He is.

But to what end, for what purpose? It is the same purpose as His, the salvation of souls, the redemption of the world.

At Pentecost tonques of fire came down above the heads of those present. What did that mean? The Jews offered sacrifice in their temple. The sacrifice was burned. The fire that consumed the temple sacrifice was preserved from the miracle of Elijah where fire came down from heaven to consume His sacrifice. That is hown the Jews knew their sacrifice was acceptable. It was burned by heavenly fire. This is why the miracle of Hanukah was so important. If the holy fire in the Temple went out they would not know if their animal sacrifice was acceptable to God.

The tongues of fire over the saints in the upper room signified that THEY were acceptable sacrifice, joined to their Christ.

He paid our debt. By your sacrificial suffering being joined to His, as part of the priestly people of God, you participate with Him in His redemptive work, contibuting to His treasure of merit. Your suffering is a gift to you, which you offer to Him, to be joined to His, as He offers His life back to His Father.

Christians desire to participate in God’s work. They want to contribute, time, talent and money. They pray for the salvation of souls. They want to be part of the Kingdom of God in this way, part of building it. The most crucial way they are part of it is by taking up their crosses and following the Savior.

Jesus allows you to participate with Him in His work of salvation by participating in His meritorius act on His Cross when you take up your cross. You add to His merit in this way.

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