Miguel de Molinos

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Theologian, whose life and writings greatly influenced seventeenth-century mysticism; b. Muniesa, Spain, June 29, 1628; d. Rome, Dec. 28, 1696. His early years were undistinguished; he studied at Valencia where he was ordained and received a doctorate in theology. In 1663, he was sent to Rome as procurator in the cause of a local venerable. He was afterward relieved of his commission, but he elected to remain in Rome where he had gained a reputation as director of souls. In 1675 he published A Spiritual Guide, which set forth his mystical doctrine and purported to offer an "easy way to contemplation." The book achieved immediate popularity and was quickly translated into several languages. According to this work, it is through contemplation that the perfect Christian is ultimately distinguished from the imperfect Christian whose life is active and who uses the prayer of meditation. This distinguishing contemplation is acquired only by a total abandonment of self to the will and operation of God in the soul, to the extent that this soul of "pure faith" has rid itself of all effort to act virtuously, or to form thoughts or desires, or even actively to repel temptations.

The seventeenth century had a decided bent toward mysticism, and Rome, still perturbed from the Jansenist crisis, could not be indifferent to this novel teaching. Opposition to Molinos soon formed, with Jesuit theologians and preachers leading the defense of meditative prayer. Gottardo Belluomo and Paolo Segneri wrote treatises against the new doctrine. Molinos countered with two long letters to the Jesuit general in a conciliatory but unyielding spirit. For five years the dispute grew ever more acute, and soon the political machinery of Rome was called into play. Molinos was not without powerful friends, among them the archbishop of Palermo, the cardinal secretary of state, and especially the Oratorian Pier Matteo Petruccio, a convinced adherent and propagandist of the new mysticism and soon to be created a curial cardinal. In 1681 the books of Belluomo and Segneri were placed on the Index, and Molinos seemed to have triumphed.

Then suddenly on July 18, 1685, Molinos was arrested and subjected to a searching investigation by the Holy Office. The immediate reason for his arrest is not altogether clear. It is true that Cardinal Caracciolo of Naples, who seems first to have mentioned the term "quietist," complained of the doctrine in 1682. Yet the Guide had been under scrutiny for three years before the arrest. Although the teaching of the Guide was susceptible to dangerous and even heretical interpretation, yet it seems improbable that this alone could have precipitated the sudden and drastic measures used against such a wellknown and respected figure as Molinos. Non-Catholic sources adopted the current gossip that the affair was engineered by Cardinal D'Estrée, Louis XIV's ambassador to Rome, but there is little historically or logically to substantiate the claim. It seems more probable that it was accusations of a moral rather than a doctrinal nature that brought about Molinos's sudden downfall.

For two years Molinos was examined on the Spiritual Guide, the more than 12,000 letters found in his possession, and the depositions of the many called in to give testimony concerning his spiritual advice and moral conduct. Finally in the spring of 1687, Molinos admitted his guilt. A list of errors charged to him, numbering 68 in all, (see H. Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum, [Freiburg 1963]:22012268) was read to the defendant before a large assembly in the Minerva on Sept. 3, 1687. Molinos read his retraction and pleaded guilty as charged to moral misconduct, the extent of which cannot be certified as the report lies buried in the secret files of the Holy Office. He was sentenced to a life of penitential imprisonment and led to jail as the crowd looking on the fallen idol cried: "To the flames." He lived nine more years of pious and exemplary behavior, perhaps practicing his teaching that elevated souls seek only the humiliations and scorn that it might please God to send.

Bibliography: m. de molinos, Guida Spirituale (Rome 1675). p. dudon, Le Quiétiste espagnol: Michel Molinos (Paris 1921). r. a. knox, Enthusiasm (New York 1961). j. paquier, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, 15 v. (Paris 190350) 10.2:21872192.

[t. k. connolly]

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Miguel de Molinos

The writings of the Spanish priest Miguel de Molinos (1628-1696) formed the basis of the Quietist movement in the Roman Catholic Church. Both his works and the movement were condemned by Rome.

Born in Muniesa near Saragossa on June 29, 1628, Miguel de Molinos received a doctorate in theology from the University of Valencia. In 1663 he was sent to Rome as promoter for the canonization of a Valencia citizen. The case fell through, but Molinos stayed in Rome and became widely known as a spiritual director.

Molinos's major work, Spiritual Guide, appeared in 1675 and immediately created a sensation. Only the contemplative attitude (that is, the one of passive prayer), it argues, leads to the perfection of spiritual life. The attitude is opposed to all strenuous ascetic efforts, even the need to fight one's evil nature. The emphasis is entirely on inner quiet, resignation, and abandonment to the will of God. His doctrine had, to some extent, been anticipated by the Alumbrados, the Enlightened Ones, a spiritual movement in 16th-and 17th-century Spain which he must have known.

Although Molinos's book displayed all the customary signs of ecclesiastical approval, it was immediately denounced by the Jesuits, whose method of "spiritual exercises" was diametrically opposed to his pure passivity. Yet several powerful dignitaries came to his rescue, and his adversaries saw their own attacks placed on the Index. Just when victory seemed complete, the powerful archbishop of Naples, Caracciolo, warned the Pope against the dangers of "those quietists" (the first time the term was used). In 1685 Molinos was arrested, and his writings, including 12,000 letters, were thoroughly examined by the Holy Office. Persistent rumors have it that the French cardinal D'Estrée, representative of Louis XIV, was behind the entire scheme. At any rate, Molinos was declared guilty not only of doctrinal errors but also of immoral conduct. The latter accusation has continued to intrigue students of Church history, since the man had always been known for his exemplary life. Chances are that the charges were trumped up on the basis of a malevolent interpretation of certain passages in the letters.

A public session was organized in Rome on Sept. 3, 1687, and Molinos admitted the 68 errors with which he was charged. In front of a hostile crowd the tribunal condemned him to life imprisonment. He died in prison on Dec. 28, 1696. However, Quietism did not die with him. While Molinos was in prison, it even entered the very court of France that may have been responsible for his condemnation. One of his disciples, Madame Guyon, ardently publicized Quietist spirituality in France and through the King's favorite, Madame de Maintenon, enjoyed all the marks of royal approval. When Madame Guyon in turn came under fire, Bishop François Fénelon rose to her defense and expanded the Quietist doctrine.

Further Reading

The standard study of Molinos is in French. An older English study is John Bigelow, Molinos the Quietist (1882). Molinos is discussed in Ronald Arbuthnott Knox, Enthusiasm: A Chapter in the History of Religion, with Special Reference to the XVII and XVIII Centuries (1950). The influence of Quietism and Molinos is analyzed in Katharine Day Little, François de Fénelon: Study of a Personality (1951), and Michael de la Bedoyere, The Archbishop and the Lady: The Story of Fénelon and Madame Guyon (1956). □

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Quietism (in the Christian faith) devotional contemplation and abandonment of the will as a form of religious mysticism. Recorded from the late 17th century, the term originally denoted the religious mysticism based on the teachings of the Spanish priest Miguel de Molinos (c.1640–97); also called Molinism.

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Molinos, Miguel de (Christian quietist): see QUIETISM.