Thursday after Septuagesima
February 13, 2020
Meditation from Meditations for Lent from St. Thomas Aquinas by St. Thomas Aquinas
Every man shall receive his own reward, according to his own labor. —1 Corinthians 3:8
1. This reward is at once common to all men and particular to each.
(i) It is common to all because that which all shall see and all enjoy is the same, that is to say God, Then shalt thou abound in delights in the almighty (Job 22:26). In that day the Lord of hosts shall be a crown of glory, and a garland of joy to the residue of his people (Isaiah 28:5). And therefore St. Matthew says (chapter 20, verse 9) that to every laborer in the vineyard there is given one penny.
(ii) The reward is yet special for each individual. One man shall see more clearly than another, and shall enjoy more fully, according to the measure allotted him. Hence the words in St. John (14:2), In my father’s house there are many mansions, for which reason too, it was said, “Everyone shall receive his own reward.
St. Paul shows how the extent of each one’s reward will be measured when he says, according to his own labour. Not that by this is meant an equality as between the amount of labour and the amount of the reward, for as it is said in 2 Cor. 4:17, That which is at present momentary and light of our tribulation, worketh for us above measure exceedingly an eternal weight of glory. The equality promised is the equality of proportion, an equality such that where there has been greater labour there will be greater reward.
2. The labour can be considered as greater in three ways:
(i) According to the degree of love that inspires it. It is to this indeed that the essence of the reward—the vision and enjoyment of God—makes a return. St. John (14:21) says, He that loveth me, shall be loved of my Father: and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him. Whence it follows that he who labours with greater love, even though the labour entailed is less, will receive more of the essential reward.
(ii) According to the kind of work it is. As in human enterprises the greater rewards go to those whose labour is itself of a more noble character (for example, the architect, though he labours less with his body, receives more than the manual worker), so it is in spiritual matters. He who is engaged in a work itself more noble, even though it be that he has laboured less with his body, will receive a greater reward—at any rate as far as some accidental privilege of glory. Thus there is a special splendour reserved for those who teach, for the virgins and for the martyrs.
(iii) According to the amount of work done, and this can be understood in two ways. Sometimes it is the actual larger amount of work which merits the larger reward. This is especially true in what concerns remission of punishment; the longer one fasts, for example, or the more distant the place of one’s pilgrimage, the greater the remission merited. So too, there is a greater joy from the greater amount of work done.
Sometimes however, the labour is greater from lack of will to do the work, for the things we do willingly are less laborious in the doing. And in such cases the amount of the labour does not increase the reward. Rather does it reduce the reward. As Isaiah says (Isaiah 40:31), They shall take wings as eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint, and in the preceding verse warning us, Youths shall faint, and labour, and young men shall fall by infirmity. (In 1 Corinthians 3)