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Molinism and Varieties of Freedom VI: Conclusions

12 November 2011

The previous fives posts in this series have explored the nature of Molinism as a theory of divine knowledge seeking to reconcile perfect divine foreknowledge with perfect creaturely free will and how that theory can interacts with other philosophical positions on the nature of the will, and thus the religious traditions within which those theories are operative, as well as some unique religious perspectives. Molinism was born of the attempt to reconcile a dominant theological orthodoxy which required a predestinarian view of human freedom and salvation with a profound belief in human free will. It does so by asserting that God created human beings, and other creatures, with perfect freedom, but, through his scientia media, knows perfectly what decisions free willed creatures will make. The eternal problem with scientia media is the question of the truth of counter-factuals: what makes a counter-factual true? This is often called the grounding objection, since it raises the problematic of on what ground rests the truth of counter-factuals. It is not certain that the truth of counter-factuals can be said to be grounded in anything. It is also not certain that a counter-factual need have its truth value grounded in anything or that a ground could ever successfully be established. Molina himself might respond that it seems foolhardy to ask after the ground of the mind of God.[1]

It will likely surprise no one to learn that I count myself among the ranks of Molinists, or, more precisely, among those Anglicans who embrace Arminianism. Luis de Molina’s reconciliation of perfect divine foreknowledge with perfect creaturely free will maintains two necessary components of the classical understanding of God without compromising other critical divine attributes the way that Process and Open theism do and Jacobus Arminius seems to me quite correct in holding that the seemingly inexorable predestinarianism of absolute monergism incompatible with a loving and just God and that the God of the cross is not a God of limited atonement, as John Calvin and the Synod of Dort claim.[2] Though less under discussion in this series, Arminius’ theology of prevenient grace, the theological heart of his larger thinking regarding divine foreknowledge, is also dear to me, as a theology that maintains the absolute primacy of divine action in salvation without robbing human beings of a choice in the matter. Certainly I acknowledge that Molinism is not a perfect theory, as the list of objection to be found by following note 1 makes clear, but I think that many theists owe a debt of gratitude to men like Molina and Arminius who stood in defense of human free will against the dominant stream of thought in the early modern age.

Early modernity itself was period of rapid change and heated, polemical, politically charged intellectual debate. Scientia media was the cause of major religious controversies with serious repercussions for those who advocated it. The Catholic controversy, known as De auxiliis, literally ‘on help,’ referring to the divine ‘help’ required for salvation, continued for years between the Jesuits, who supported Molina’s philosophy, and the Dominicans, who advocated predestinarian Thomistic orthodoxy. Accusations of heresy and calls for excommunication of the other side, even of the rival order, were heard from both sides, until Pope Clement VIII forbade such serious accusations and called a series of theological conferences to be held to finally decide the issue. A series of sixty eight sessions were held from 1602 to 1605, the year of the Clement’s death, with no resolution. After the short reign of Leo IX his successor Paul V put a moratorium on publication on the issue on 1 December 1611 until a final determination was reached by the Holy See. That determination is still pending.[3]

The Protestant side of the debate was no less contentious. Arminius himself, as mentioned in the previous installment of this series, is believed to have avoided ever citing Catholic thinkers who influenced his thought, such as Aquinas and Molina, for fear of accusations of heresy. Arminius’ theology and the ideological community that had grown up around it, who called themselves the Remonstrants after their five-point confession of faith, the Remonstrance, were officially condemned at the Synod of Dort, the origin of the famous five points of Calvinism, and leading Remonstrants Johan van Oldenbarnevelt and Hugo Grotius were arrested and Arminian pastors ejected from the Dutch Reformed Church. Only years later would the Remonstrants gain political toleration in the Netherlands. Even today the Remonstrant Brotherhood is a distinct denomination out of communion with Dutch Calvinists.

I hope you have enjoyed “Molinism and Varieties of Freedom” and have found this exploration of Molinism and scientia media interesting, perhaps even informative. After a short break from serialised posting I will be embarking on The Molinist’s second long-form series, “Early Modern Theologies of the Atonement,” which will explore the myriad theologies of the meaning and efficacy of the cross and their places within larger intellectual systems and cultures.

Notes and Bibliography

[1] For a discussion on other objections to Molinism which I have not raised and the Molinist responses thereto see here.

[2] For a discussion of monergism and synergism see here. A remarkably good discussion, given the source, of limited atonement can be found here.

[3] Though Congruism, the theology of Molina’s student and interpreter Francisco Suárez, could be reasonably called the mainstream Roman Catholic position, though not the official one.

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