Scientia Media and Molinism

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The scientia media is a key term in the theology of Luis de Molina (15351600) and in the variants of his teaching introduced by the later Jesuits, especially Robert Bellarmine, Leonard Lessius, Francisco Suárez, and Gabriel Vasquez, in the attempt to resolve the apparent contradiction between the doctrines of grace and of free will.

Molina, a Spanish Jesuit who taught at Coimbra and Evora in Portugal, published his famous Liberi Arbitrii cum Gratiae Donis, Divina Praescientia, Providentia, Praedestinatione et Reprobatione Concordia at Lisbon in 1588. The publication of the Concordia, as it came to be called, soon led to a controversy that divided the theologians and philosophers of Spain. Generally, the position of Molina was enthusiastically supported by members of his own order and just as vigorously denounced by the Thomists.

For Molina the essential problem was to maintain both human freedom and the efficacy of grace. Given the fact of God's foreknowledge, Molina wished to preserve such a foreknowledge without lapsing into determinism, to show that although God knows infallibly what an individual will freely do, such an infallible knowledge in no way determines the will of the individual. Molina argued that there is a cooperation or concursus of human free will with the divine grace, in contrast to the Thomist view that man's will was physically predetermined to act freely by God. Molina held that this was only a disguised form of determinism. The Thomists maintained that Molina denied the universal divine causality.

The central point in Molina's solution of this problem is based upon the scientia media. This, according to Molina, is a form of the divine knowledge that lies between the two forms of God's knowledge that Thomas Aquinas had described in the Summa. Thomas maintained that God's knowledge may be one of "vision," a knowledge of that which exists, has existed, or will exist. Alternatively, God's knowledge may consist of the purely possible, a knowledge of "simple understanding," of things and events that have not existed, do not exist, and will not exist. The scientia media for Molina is a mean between these two forms of knowledge and is the knowledge that God has of conditional future contingent events; thus, God foreknows from all eternity what an individual would do under certain circumstances if offered his grace. Thomas held that nothing lies outside the divine causality and that God's knowledge, or vision, of the future free acts of the individual entails an act of will by God that predetermines that our acts are free. Molina insisted that God's knowledge is prior to the decree of his will and that his foreknowledge does not predetermine our free acts. God, knowing infallibly what an individual will do under certain circumstances if offered his grace, decrees the circumstances and the grace necessary to effect the cooperative action of the individual. Hence, the infallibility and efficacy of grace is due to the infallibility of God's knowledge, the scientia media, not to anything in the grace itself.

The distinction between sufficient and efficacious grace throws further light on these contrasting positions. Like the Thomists, Molina accepted the necessity of grace for salvation, the absolute gratuity of grace, and that sufficient grace is given to all people. However, Molina denied the need for any distinction between sufficient and efficacious grace. He claimed that sufficient grace becomes efficacious if the will of the individual accepts it. Thus, God foreknew St. Paul's consent before he decreed the grace necessary for conversion. The concurrence of the simultaneous act of the individual and the grace of God replaced the notion that the decree of God is prior to the act of the individual and predetermines it. Thomists objected that this made the efficacy of the divine grace dependent on man rather than on God. Molina declared that the efficacy of grace was unimpaired, for its efficacy or infallibility was extrinsic to the act of the individual and intrinsic in God's foreknowledge. In effect, Molina endeavored to preserve more fully the freedom of the individual without destroying the power of grace; the Thomists were more concerned with preserving the power of grace without destroying the freedom of the individual.

Later Molinism

Later Molinism is identified largely with what is termed congruism, a theological doctrine reflecting especially the views of Bellarmine and Suárez. Congruism retains the principal features of Molina's theology but modifies it in certain respects. Efficacious grace is equated with gratia congrua and sufficient grace with gratia incongrua. This distinction emphasized more strongly that grace was efficacious when it was congruous with those circumstances and the disposition of the individual that would enable him to will a certain act freely but infallibly. Grace was inefficacious when it was not congruous with the circumstances and disposition of the individual. The efficacy of the gratia congrua is intrinsic to the scientia media and extrinsic to the will of the individual. Gratia incongrua is grace that is sufficient for a salutary act but which the individual will reject.

On predestination the Molinists agreed with the Thomists that God wishes all people to be saved and that he extends sufficient grace to all, that contrary to Pelagianism predestination is wholly gratuitous, and that some individuals are elected in preference to others solely as God wills. However, they tended to modify the Thomist view of an absolute predestination to glory irrespective of foreseen merits. Many of the Molinists argued that predestination is conditional upon the future actions of the individual and becomes absolute only with the foreseen merits of the individual. In contrast to the Thomists, who argued for the priority of predestination to glory to the predestination of efficacious grace, the Molinists held that God foresees in the scientia media that some will cooperate with his grace and predestined them to glory by offering them his grace.

The differences between Molina and his successors are more often subtle than essential. Although the debate on Molinism has continued for more than three centuries, Molinism is clearly compatible with faith and continues to have many supporters. Like Thomism it has its difficulties and its critics. The difference between the two schools remains essentially one of the relative emphasis to be placed upon grace or freedom.

See also Bellarmine, St. Robert; Molina, Luis de; Suárez, Francisco; Vasquez, Gabriel.


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Scientia Media and Molinism

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