In the first place, I think that if any introduction will bring distortions, then there was never a time when the word merit could be used profitably; OR, if there was a time when it could be used profitably, then it is not inevitable that any (or every) introduction of the concept or term will bring distortions in theology.
In the second place, Fr Gregory helpfully leads us to ask the following question:
- When does a word become so helplessly distorted that the rehabilitation of its proper use must be abandoned?
- Is it intellectually or theologically honest to avoid a disputed or "distorting" theological term or concept either by ignoring it or by translating it in such a way that it is no longer recognizable (e.g., instead of "merits" employ "godliness" or "sanctity")?
- What is the difference between omitting a term or concept that is dicey or requires careful catechesis and the Protestant principle (begun by Luther) of eviscerating that canon (because, in this particular instance, as the argument goes, the word "sacrifice" could not be properly rehabilitated)?
- If St Peter Chrysologus (and other church fathers) can speak profitably about the merits of the saints, wouldn't the argument that such language is now distorting, confusing or problematic effectively indicate a little less than the "fullness of the faith"?