A Theological Reformer for the Universal Church - An Excerpt from Luis de Molina
Luis de Molina is a name familiar to some, alien to others. Yet, little is commonly known about his life. Luis de Molina by Kirk R. MacGregor is the first full-length work written on the "Life and Theology" of the religious philosopher. Enjoy this excerpt from the beginning of the book that highlights Luis de Molina's doctrine of "middle knowledge".
Luis de Molina (1535 – 1600) has become well-known in evangelical circles and among philosophers of religion for his doctrine of middle knowledge (Lat., scientia media). Middle knowledge is God’s knowledge of all things that would happen in every possible set of circumstances, both things that are determined to occur by those circumstances and things that are not determined to occur by those circumstances. This knowledge was possessed by God logically or explanatorily prior to his decision to create the world or his making of any choices about what kind of world, if any, he would create. Significantly, middle knowledge includes God’s awareness of what every possible individual would freely do in any set of circumstances in which he or she finds himself or herself as well as how utterly random, chance events would turn out in every possible set of circumstances. Armed with this knowledge, God can create a world providentially planned to the last detail where his purposes are achieved through free creaturely decisions and random events.
Molina’s doctrine of middle knowledge is, in the judgment of many, one of the most fruitful theological concepts ever formulated. For, as we shall see in chapters 4 and 5, it appears to solve immediately the perennial dilemma between divine predestination and human freedom and to give a meticulous account of divine providence fully harmonious with human free choices. And as we shall see in chapter 10, its ability to solve other difficult problems is almost inexhaustible. Since the 1970s, philosophers of religion have successfully applied middle knowledge to such diverse topics as biblical inerrancy, creation and evolution, the relationship between Christianity and other world religions, the problem of evil, and quantum indeterminacy.
While Molina, like Desiderius Erasmus (1466 – 1536), chose to work for reform from within the ranks of the Roman Catholic Church, the issues with which he dealt — God’s sovereignty, grace, providence, and predestination and their relation to human free will and social justice — are ecumenical in character and stand at the forefront of contemporary evangelicalism. It should be emphasized that little in Molina’s thought is specifically Roman Catholic in its orientation; indeed, much of Molina’s thought stood in direct opposition to the Catholicism of his day (though not to modern Catholicism). For his defiance of the doctrines of grace and salvation articulated by the Council of Trent (1545 – 63), Catholic authorities unleashed the Spanish Inquisition upon Molina in 1591, from which he was forced to escape. In addition, a special papal commission levied against Molina in 1598 nearly resulted in his being declared a heretic and burned at the stake. Because of its universal orientation, Molina’s thought is quite relevant to Christians of all theological stripes, whether Protestant, Catholic, or Orthodox.
Today Molina’s theological system, denominated Molinism, occupies a significant place at the table of evangelicalism. From the late 1980s to the present, scores of articles on middle knowledge and/or Molinism have appeared in such prominent evangelical forums as the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, Philosophia Christi, the Westminster Theological Journal, and Faith and Philosophy, and several evangelicals have authored books devoted wholly or partially to Molinism. Papers on middle knowledge and/or Molinism have proven a staple in recent years at the annual meetings of the Evangelical Theological Society and the Evangelical Philosophical Society, leading to the organization of the Middle Knowledge/Molinism Consultation of the Evangelical Theological Society in 2012. Among evangelicals, Molinism is now considered one of the four principal views on divine providence and omniscience, alongside Calvinism, open theism, and simple foreknowledge. Even for proponents of other theological persuasions who do not accept the system of Molinism as a whole, several have embraced God’s possession of middle knowledge. Hailing the genius of Molina’s doctrine of middle knowledge, not a few prominent Calvinists and open theists have attempted to incorporate middle knowledge into their own theological systems. Indeed, the current literature demonstrates the compatibility of middle knowledge with Baptist, Anabaptist, Lutheran, Reformed, Wesleyan, Pentecostal, and Catholic theological traditions.
Yet little is known about Molina’s life. Beyond his doctrine of middle knowledge and the years of his life and death, all that most students of Molina know is that he was a Catholic reformer, a member of the Jesuit order, a professor of philosophy and theology, and a Spaniard. Such a bare-bones list of facts is clearly inadequate to describe someone of Molina’s influence. Moreover, these facts are misleading when taken in isolation, for they may give rise to various stereotypes that are not at all accurate in Molina’s case.
To illustrate, one might infer (wrongfully) from Molina’s membership in the Jesuit order that he held the same theological convictions as Ignatius of Loyola (1491 – 1556) and Francis Xavier (1506 – 52), the cofounders of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). In fact, Molina’s coreligionists Enrique Henriquez (1536 – 1608) and Juan de Mariana (1536 – 1624) vehemently opposed Molina’s 1588 magnum opus, the Concordia, due to its deviance from the theology of Loyola and Xavier. Hence Molina did not subscribe to Loyola’s famous maxim “That we may be altogether of the same mind and in conformity . . . if the [Roman] Church shall have defined anything to be black which to our eyes appears to be white, we ought in like manner to pronounce it black.” To the contrary, Molina was drawn to the specific Jesuit community at Alcalá because of its recognition that the Roman Church stood in dire need of reform and that such reform must begin with the conversion of an individual’s heart.
The reason for the general ignorance of the narrative of Molina’s life is not hard to find. Until the present volume, no modern critical biography of Molina has been composed in any language, and no Molina biography of any significant length has ever been written. (Pgs 11-14)
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