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Molina, Luis de (1535–1600)


Luis de Molina, S.J., was a central figure in the sixteenth-century renaissance of scholasticism on the Iberian peninsula. He was born in Cuenca, Spain, in 1535. At eighteen he entered the Jesuit order. He studied and later taught at Coimbra and Évora in Portugal. In 1583, he left his academic post to devote himself to writing. He spent the next fifteen years in Cuenca, Lisbon, and Évora. He died on October 12, 1600, shortly after being called to take a chair in moral theology at the newly established Jesuit University in Madrid.

Molina's best known work, Liberi arbitrii cum gratiae donis, divina praescientia, providentia, praedestinatione et reprobatione concordia (The compatibility of free will with the gift of grace, divine foreknowledge, providence, predestination, and reprobation) was first published at Lisbon in 1588; a second, expanded edition was published at Antwerp in 1595. He also authored a three volume commentary on Part One of St. Thomas's Summa Theologiae, titled Commentaria in primam divi Thomae partem, published at Cuenca in 1592. Although these works, especially the Commentaria, range broadly over theological and philosophical topics, critical attention focused on Molina's theory of middle knowledge (scientia media ), which was formulated to reconcile God's comprehensive foreknowledge and providence with a strongly indeterministic conception of human free will.

According to the tradition shared by Molina and his rivals, at the moment of creation, God has perfect and infallible foreknowledge of everything that will happen in the created world. The tradition also maintains that God's knowledge is not like that of a passive observer. Rather, he specifically intends or knowingly permits everything that takes place, and he arranges created causes and exercises causal influence sufficient to bring about his creative plan to the last detail. God's foreknowledge, consequently, is to be explained in terms of his providence. He knows what will happen in the created world by his knowledge of his own decrees, together with his knowledge of what follows from those decrees, either directly or through the mediation of created causes. The fundamental difference between the positions of Molina and his adversaries lies in where they locate the main resources for God's providential foreknowledge. The Molinists emphasize the role of God's practical knowledge, his adversaries emphasize the role of his voluntary decrees.

The tradition distinguishes God's prevolitional knowledge, which he has independently of his will from his postvolitional knowledge, which depends on his free decrees. A majority of traditional philosophers and theologians maintain that God's knowledge of metaphysically necessary truths exhausts his prevolitional knowledge. On this view, God's knowledge of necessary truths (which Molina calls natural knowledge ) is identified with his prevolitional knowledge, and his knowledge of contingent truths is identified with his postvolitional knowledge (which Molina calls free knowledge ). Call this the standard view. It is also commonly held that propositions concerning what is metaphysically possible are themselves metaphysically necessary.

Consequently, God's knowledge of these propositions is part of his natural knowledge. According to the standard view, God is able to bring about any metaphysically possible state of affairs. God's creative activity can thus be described as (1) deciding which metaphysically possible states of affairs will be actual, and (2) making a causal contribution sufficient to actualize those states of affairs. It must be emphasized that, on the standard view, God's causal activity completely determines what is going to take place in the created world.

According to Molina, however, the free choices of a rational creature are not causally or logically necessitated either by God's causal activity or by the operation of created causes, including the beliefs, desires, character, and dispositions of the agent. For any free choice a rational creature makes in a fully specified set of circumstances, it is metaphysically possible that that creature makes a different choice in those very same circumstances. So, on Molina's view, God's natural knowledge of metaphysical possibilities, together with his knowledge of his own causal activity, cannot provide him with foreknowledge of the free choices that his creatures will make. Therefore he holds that an essential component of the theory of divine foreknowledge and providence is God's knowledge of a special class of propositions called conditional future contingents. These propositions concern what choices rational creatures would freely make in any of possible circumstances in which they may find themselves. Molina contends that God must have knowledge of these propositions prior to his creative decrees to exercise providence over the world, otherwise he would be unable to guarantee that his creation conforms to his providential design in all its detail.

Molina calls God's knowledge of conditional future contingents middle knowledge, because it stands between his natural knowledge of what is merely possible and his free knowledge of what is actually, though contingently, the case. Like his natural knowledge, but unlike his free knowledge, God's middle knowledge is prevolitional. Like his free knowledge, but unlike his natural knowledge, the objects of God's middle knowledge are contingent truths. According to Molina, then, God's providence and foreknowledge is a function of (1) his prevolitional natural knowledge of the possible arrangement of created causes, (2) his prevolitional middle knowledge of the contingent choices free creatures would make in each of these possible arrangements, and (3) his postvolitional free knowledge of the way in which he has decided to arrange created causes. This is how Molina reconciles God's providence and foreknowledge with his strongly indeterministic conception of freedom. In addition, Molina and his followers maintain that the theory of middle knowledge has fruitful applications in explaining a broad range of philosophical and theological issues such as the efficacy of grace, predestination and reprobation, petitionary prayer and prophecy.

Perhaps the weakest point in the Molinist theory is his explanation of how God can know what free creatures would do in various possible circumstances, given his strongly indeterministic conception of freedom. Critics maintain that there can be no basis for God's perfect and infallible knowledge of the choices that free creatures would make, given that these choices are not logically or causally determined by the activity of God or the operation of secondary causes. Unlike other defenders of middle knowledge (such as Suarez), Molina refuses to appeal to the determinate truth of conditional future contingents to explain God's knowledge of them. In fact, Molina follows Aristotle in maintaining that contingent propositions concerning the choice a free creature would make in specified circumstances do not have determinate truth prior to the creature making that choice in those circumstances.

Molina's explanation of God's knowledge of conditional future contingents involves what later came to be called supercomprehension. Given the indeterminacy of future contingent propositions, Molina believes that God's certain and infallible knowledge of them is due to the cognitive perfection of the knower. For Molina and his contemporaries, all of God's knowledge is ultimately grounded in his self-knowledge, either knowledge of his own essence or knowledge of his decrees. God's middle knowledge is grounded in his knowledge of his own essence, in which all possible creatures are eminently contained.

By perfectly comprehending his own essence, according to Molina, God is able to infallibly cognize the choices each possible creature would make in any possible circumstance in which they may find themselves, even though these choices are metaphysically indeterminate. Supercomprehension, on Molina's view, is a mode of cognition possible only for an infinite intellect with respect to finite creatures. Molina's readers, including those who defend middle knowledge (e.g., Suarez), are nearly unanimous in their rejection of the theory of supercomprehension. However, for Molina, the theory has the advantage over its competitors in explaining why God cannot have prevolitional knowledge of the choice he himself would make in various possible circumstances. Such knowledge, Molina believes, would destroy divine freedom.

The publication of Molina's Concordia aroused bitter controversy between the Molinists and the defenders of the standard view, primarily Domingo Bañez, Diego Alvarez, and other members of the influential Dominican order. The Dominicans accused the Molinists of undermining God's sovereignty over the created world by maintaining that God has no direct control over the choices of free creatures. The Molinists accused the Dominicans of destroying human freedom and making God morally responsible for sinful actions. The Vatican, anxious to avoid another divisive clash over the issues of grace and free will, called the factions to Rome to examine the matter. In 1597, Pope Clement VIII convened the Congregatio de auxiliis, and over the next ten years the Molinist position was scrutinized in eighty-five hearings and forty-seven debates. Initially things did not go well for the Molinists, and Molina died fearing that the censure of his views was imminent. However, the theory of middle knowledge ultimately escaped condemnation. In 1607, Pope Paul V closed the proceedings. He allowed both parties to continue teaching their doctrines and ordered the sides to refrain from accusing each other of contradicting the faith.

Though Molina's best known contributions are to speculative theology, he also authored a seven-volume treatise in moral and political philosophy entitled De Justitia et jure (published posthumously at Venice in 1614). This work discusses the source of legitimate political authority, the permissibility of slavery, and the justification of war, as well as economic issues such as taxation, free markets and monetary policy.

See also Báñez, Dominic; Foreknowledge and Freedom, Theological Problem of; Philosophy of Religion, History of; Scientia Media and Molinism; Suárez, Francisco; Thomas Aquinas, St.


works by molina

Liberi Arbitrii cum Gratiae Donis, Divina Praescientia, Providentia, Praedestinatione et Reprobatione Concordia, edited by J. Rabeneck. Oña and Madrid: 1953.

On Divine Foreknowledge: Part IV of the Concordia. Translated by Alfred J. Freddoso. Ithaca, NY: Cornell, 1988.

Neue Molinaschriften, edited by Friedrich Stegmüller, in Beiträge zur Geschichte der Philosophie und Theologie des Mittelalters, Band 32. Münster, Germany: 1935.

works about molina

Adams, Robert M. "Middle Knowledge and the Problem of Evil." In The Virtue of Faith and Other Essays in Philosophical Theology, edited by Robert M. Adams. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987.

Bañez, Domingo, et al. Apologia en defensa de la doctrina antigua y catholica por los maestros dominicos de la Provincia de España contra las afirmaciones contenidas en la Concordia de Luis de Molina sobre la gracia, praesciencia divina, providencia, predestinacion y reprobacion. In Domingo Bañez y las controversias sobre la gracia, edited by Vincente Beltran de Heredia. Salamanca, Spain: 1968.

Flint, Thomas. "Two Accounts of Providence." In Divine and Human Action, edited by Thomas V. Morris. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1988.

Freddoso, Alfred J. "Introduction." In On Divine Foreknowledge: Part IV of the Concordia, 181. Translated by Alfred J. Freddoso. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1988.

Opera Omnia, Tomus XI, edited by Carol Berton. Paris: Vivès, 1858.

Pegis, Anton. "Molina and Human Liberty." In Jesuit Thinkers of the Renaissance, edited by G. Smith. Milwaukee, WI: Marquette, 1939.

Michael V. Griffin (2005)

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