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Molinism and Varieties of Freedom II: Libertarian Freedom

30 June 2011

This second installment of the series “Molinism and Varieties of Freedom” will explore the implications of Molinism for libertarian constructions of creaturely free will. Libertarian freedom was the conception within which Molina himself was operating when writing the Concordia. It is also the ‘most free’ (for lack of a better term) variety of freedom, since it is completely self-determined, unconstrained by outside forces. For both of these reasons it is the most appropriate place to start this exploration of Molinism.

Libertarian freedom is the theory that creatures (or human beings) possess a completely free will which is not constrained by any outside agent(s) or factor(s), either through necessity or compulsion.[1] The libertarian free will thus possesses complete agency and is generally held to bear total moral responsibility for its choices and actions. Because the libertarian will is self-determining, meaning that the movements of a libertarian free will are caused by the will itself, it was and is often seen as being incompatible with perfect divine foreknowledge. The standard assertion is that if God foreknows the movements of the will then the will cannot be completely free. What is being asserted is not so much that God’s foreknowledge itself necessarily places any actual restrictions upon the will but that the will is logically restricted since its movements are foreknown. Thus, so goes this argument, a will whose movements are perfectly foreknown is not perfectly free.[2]

Francisco Suarez, Molina's student and interpreter of his theories.

When Molina posited his theory of scientia media he was operating within a libertarian conception of creaturely freedom. Molina’s intent was to reconcile libertarian creaturely free will, necessary in order to reconcile the belief in a just God,[3] with the perfect divine foreknowledge necessary not only for an omniscient God but for a doctrine of effective grace. The category is grace is, of course, a Christian theological necessity for which any theology relating to the relationship between creatures and creator must account. Molina’s successors, particularly his student Francisco Suárez and his great (though clandestine) Reformed disciple Jacobus Arminius, would become famous for appropriating Molina’s theory and applying it to their own doctrines of grace, respectively giving birth to Congruism, the closest to an official position on the issue of free will vs predestination in the Roman Catholic Church, and Arminianism, a Reformed theology found today within Methodism, the Remonstrant Brotherhood, and amongst many Anglicans. Molina himself argued for a form of synergism, a theology in which human beings are saved through a combination of their own and divine actions, which will be discussed below.

Molina posited scientia media specifically to reconcile libertarian free will with perfect divine foreknowledge. Thus, within the classical Molinist conception, God, before the act(s) of creation, possessed two categories of foreknowledge, scientia naturalis and scientia media.[4] Through scientia naturalis God knew all necessary truths, truths which were true without any action on God’s part (thus their classification as logically pre-volitional, since their truth is necessary ‘prior’ to and not contingent upon any act on God’s part). Through scientia media God possessed knowledge of all possible avenues of creation open to him. This knowledge, called knowledge of counterfactuals, was made up of an infinite or very large sets of proposition of the form “If agent A were in situation P then agent A would freely perform action S,” thus it consisted of a knowledge of what all possible creatures would freely do in all possible situations were they created. This set of propositions could in theory be infinite, but it may also be finite, since the fact that these creatures possess free will may preclude certain theoretically possible creations from being actually possible. There may be no situation under which agent A would (or could) freely perform action S, therefore any theoretically possible creation contingent upon agent A performing action S is not actually possible.

Thomas Aquinas, to whose thought Molina was responding.

Molina’s theology of grace was firmly rooted in his theory of scientia media. Though his own student Francisco Suárez would adapt Molina’s view to a form of monergism Molina held that God did not choose in advance whom to save and dispense his grace accordingly. Rather God foreknows those who will be saved by his freely given grace within each of his possible creations. It is thus that God’s justice can be reconciled with his perfect foreknowledge. Though God knows who will be saved he does not choose who will be saved. This was posited in contradistinction to the theology of grace of Thomas Aquinas, who held that God’s original justice, the grace which God offers to human beings which allows them to overcome the effects of sin, must be bestowed effectually only upon certain people in order to explain why some are able to act virtuously and some are not. Molina’s position was also appropriated by Jacobus Arminius, who posited it in what is today thought of as prevenient grace. In contrast Suárez asserted that God did choose whom he would save and whom he would condemn, basing this choice on his knowledge of counterfactuals. According to Suárez, God, knowing what graces would be necessary to save those whom he elected to save chose to create from amongst the creative options open to him in order to accomplish that pre-determined end. Though this is a valid philosophical application of the theory of scientia media Molina (and Arminius) rejected it on the theological grounds that choosing whether or not to save a creature before that creature is created and has had a chance to have faith impugns God’s justice. To Molina and Arminius God’s knowledge is not determinant, merely prescient.

An interesting implication of scientia media within a libertarian construct of creaturely free will is that it places certain limitations on God’s creative powers. So long as God chooses to create creatures with free will there are theoretically forms of creation which are not available to him. Because, as mentioned above, certain theoretically possible creations may not be actually possible if contingent upon certain free wills making choices they will never make there may be creations which God cannot bring about because no act of creation will be bring upon the creatures and circumstances upon which those creations would be contingent. God would still be aware of these possible creations in his scientia naturalis but his scientia media would show them to be unavailable to him. The implications of this reality to theodicy are profound. If one accepts the category of scientia media and the theoretical limits self-imposed (by the choice to create free creaturely will) upon God’s creative power then once must accept the possibility that despite the negative realities of the created order God could perhaps not have created anything better: it is entirely possible that God has created the best possible world available to him.

The implications of Molinism for libertarian free will are thus theologically and philosophically profound. The category of scientia media opens up the possibility for the libertarian free will to coexist with perfect divine foreknowledge, thus removing any conflicts between divine foreknowledge and divine justice, which is often understood to necessitate a perfectly free creaturely will, two important tenets of classical theism. Molinism also addresses theodicy, bringing an interesting answer to the perennial question of evil: that evil exist because creaturely free will necessitates it. The implications for the theology of grace are also great: scientia media means that God knows who will be saved but does not choose who will be saved, and does not (necessarily, as shown by Suárez) gift effectual grace only to the elect and deny it to those whom he knows will not, in this chosen creation, be saved. To establish these points was precisely Molina’s intent when he formulated scientia media and it seems that he succeeded.

Notes and Bibliography

[1] The precise natures of and differences between necessity and compulsion will be examined further over the course of the series but because they are excluded by libertarian freedom a cursory explanation will suffice for the moment. Necessity is a constraint upon free will which does not violate agency but still conditions the will: a will bound by necessity is theoretically free to choose other than it in fact will but is conditioned by its circumstances not to do so (a will bound by necessity is therefore theoretically perfectly predictable). Compulsion is when the will is apparently free but in reality bound completely (but unknowingly) to the will of an outside agent or force (such as God, fate, or wyrd); it is not the same as duress, when an otherwise free will is forced against its inclinations into choices it would not freely make.

[2] Open Theism is another response to this problem. Open Theism holds that God has willingly suspended his foreknowledge out of love for creation. It also holds that knowledge of contingent futures is logically impossible and thus even a perfectly omniscient God could not posses it.

[3] The necessity of a libertarian free will and the assertion that anything less than such impugns God’s justice, a central tenet of classical theism, was also amongst the grounds upon which Jacobus Armininius rejected Calvinist double predestination and its then-popular development supralapsarianism. [Nichols, James, trans., The Works of James Arminius vol I of III (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1986), 623-624. From Arminius’ best known work, his Declaration of Sentiments.]

[4] As mentioned in the previous post it is important to remember that it is a logical order, not a temporal one, being asserted here. Because God is here understood to be atemporal and not subject our conceptualisations of ‘before’ and ‘after’ there cannot be said to be atime ‘prior to creation’ when God possessed only some of the knowledge he would possess ‘after creation.’ However we can conceptualise a logical priority of act and knowledge in order to distinguish between the categories of divine knowledge of creation.

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