He became obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross: for which cause God hath exalted him. -Phil. ii. 8.
Merit is a thing which implies a certain equality of justice. Thus St. Paul says, To him that worketh, the reward is reckoned according to debt (Rom. iv. 4).
Now since a man who commits an injustice takes for himself more than is due to himself, it is just that he suffer loss even in what is actually due to him. If a man steals one sheep, he shall give back four as it says in Holy Scripture (Exod. xxii. 1). And this is said to be merited inasmuch as in this way the man’s evil will is punished. In the same way the man who acts with such justice that he take less than what is due to him, merits that more shall be generously superadded to what he has, as a kind of reward for his just will. So, for instance, the gospel tells us, He that humbleth himself shall be exalted (Luke xiv. 11).
Now in His Passion Christ humbled himself below His dignity in four respects:
(i) In respect of His Passion and His death, things which He did not owe to undergo.
(ii) In respect to places, for His body was placed in a grave and his soul in hell.
(iii) In respect to the confusion and shame that He endured.
(iv) In respect to His being delivered over to human authority, as He said Himself to Pilate, Thou shouldst not have any power against me, unless it were given thee from above (John xix. 11).
Therefore, on account of His Passion, He merited a fourfold exaltation.
(i) A glorious resurrection. It is said in the Psalm (Ps. cxxxviii. 1), Thou hast known my sitting down, that is, the humiliation of my Passion, and my rising up.
(ii) An ascension into heaven. Whence it is said, He descended first into the lower parts of the earth: He that descended is the same also that ascended above all the heavens (Eph. iv. 9, 10).
(iii) To be seated at the right hand of the Father, with His divinity made manifest. Isaias says, He shall be exalted, and extolled, and shall be exceeding high. As many have been astonished at thee, so shall his visage be inglorious among men, and St. Paul says, He became obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross. For which cause God hath exalted him and hath given him a name which is above all names (Phil. ii. 8, 9), that is to say, He shall be named God by all, and all shall pay Him reverence as God. And this is why St. Paul adds, That in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those that are in heaven, on earth, and under the earth (ibid. x).
(iv) A power of judgment. For it is said, Thy cause hath been judged as that of the wicked. Cause and judgment thou shalt recover (Job xxxvi. 17). (3 49 6.)