Luis 'Morpheus' Molina
Have you ever wrestled with the issue of God's sovereignty, with Calvinism (TULIP) and Arminianism on opposing sides? It's a tense debate that has raged since the 16th century, and the root of the problem is choice (free will).
Church history reveals that others have dealt with the subject as well, including Luis Molina in his disputations (in Latin): Concordia liberi arbitrii cum gratiae donis. Disputatio 47-53
Since Molina on divine foreknowledge: part IV of the Concordia is Scholasticism in full gear it can be a challenging read, but it's the subject matter of dealing with "how does God know what knows" that can make you feel a lot like Alice...tumbling down the rabbit hole.
Here is a brief overview of his work, and the foundation of Molinism, if you'd like to see how deep the rabbit hole goes.
A Snapshot of the Man
Luis Molina was a Jesuit theologian during the era of the Roman Catholic Church's "Counter Reformation." Born in Spain 1535, he joined the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) at age 18 and received his PhD in Theology. We then became a Theology Professor in Portugal before returning to Spain as the Chair of Moral Theology in Madrid. He died in Spain in the year 1600.
The Disputations were written as Luis Molina debated with other Catholics, namely a man named Scotus and the Bañezians. Luis Molina's goal was to defend free will without sacrificing a high view of God's sovereignty.
“As you adequately put, the problem is choice” - The Architect
(Disclaimer: The philosophies espoused in The Matrix do not correlate to Luis Molina's Disputations or the debate over God's sovereignty and free will, but they do help convey the fundamental issues raised when asking such questions).
Disputation 47: On the source of contingency
Synopsis: Free will – what is it, who has it, and where does it come from?
Luis Molina basically starts off defining terms and the parameters for his understanding of God's foreknowledge (a term he personally isn't fond as explained below).
What is a contingent? Much of the debate over free will revolves around the existence of contingents (def. - something that may or may not happen), or more specifically future contingents. It may help to think of future contingents in terms of a road map. If I'm going to drive from CIU Seminary to USC's Library to return Molina's book, then any interchange along that path available to me in which I could take an alternate route would be considered a contingent. If I'm halfway to the library already, then the interchanges that I haven't reached yet would be future contingents.
What is free will? Luis Molina's understanding of free will is thus the "...ability to think & deliberate about contingencies and then to consent or neglect to act..." (D47.7)
Who has it? God is defended as the primary holder of free will, especially in light of His decision to freely create the world. Angels and Man are also defended as having free will and then to some extent animals (what Molina calls their “sentient appetite”).
Where does it come from? “God's free will should be regarded as the sole source...” (D47.4) of everything, including the free will of others, since He freely chose to create the world. Luis Molina defends this by stating: (i) all "first causes" & things must be first produced by God (ii) all things that require God's conservation still exist.
Disputation 48: Whether all the things that exist, have existed, and will exist in time are present to God from eternity with their own proper existence
Synopsis: Defending St. Thomas & the nature of eternity
The Eternal Now: Luis Molina holds St. Thomas (and most other Church Fathers) in high esteem and defends his understanding of eternity that all things past, present, and future actually exist with God in the timelessness of eternity (D48.2)
Disputation 49: Whether future contingents are known by God with certainty because they are present to him with their own existence, and whether the contingency of these things might thereby be reconciled with divine foreknowledge
Synopsis: What is the source of God's knowledge?
Is eternity the source of God's knowledge? No. After defending the Thomasite view of eternity, Luis Molina moves to argue that eternity cannot be the source of God's knowledge. In other words, God can't look around eternity to see what is there, and thus know what will happen. This is because, (i) nothing can be added to God's knowledge, not even from items in eternity, (ii) it destroys free will (if everything is already there in eternity, then everything is determined by what's there) (D49.17)
What is the source of God's knowledge? Luis Molina goes on to defend that God himself is (as always) the source, and through His Omnipotence & Omniscience He knows things prior to their existence in eternity (D49.8).
Middle Knowledge: God knows things that would've existed
In addition, the bible states God knows things that didn't actually occur. This idea of what God would have known (had God orchestrated circumstances other than He did) is introduced as Middle Knowledge (D49.9). Supporting scripture:
“Choice is an illusion created between those with power and those without” – The Merovingian
At this point Luis Molina begins to address some of his opponent's views. Although he is debating with fellow Catholics, it often sounds like Molina is refuting Calvinism. John Calvin (1509-1564) was alive at the same time as Luis Molina, but had most certainly passed on by the time the Disputations were written, though Calvin's systematic theology would have gained wide acceptance by that time, especially among protestants.
Disputation 50: Whether it is through the ideas that God knows future contingents with certainty, and at the same time the views of Scotus and Durandus are examined
Synopsis: Is fixed determinism and free will compatible?
Argument 1 – Scotus seemed to be promoting the idea that God uses His will to freely determine all future contingents, and thus there really aren't any future contingents. As a result everything is Determined without even the possibility of alternatives. In our road map analogy, there would be one paved path from the CIU Seminary to the USC Library with no actual interchanges in which one could deviate from the set course.
“But if you already know, how can I make a choice?” - Neo
Luis Molina turns to address objections and views expressed at the other end of the spectrum, which interestingly, sound very familiar to Arminianism. Luis Molina does not name an opponent during this disputation, but it seems possible that he may have been responding to the writings of Jacobus Arminius (1560-1609).
Disputation 51: Whether freedom of choice and the contingency of things are correctly reconciled with divine foreknowledge by the thesis that whatever is going to occur because of innate freedom of choice is such that God will bring it about that from eternity he knew none other than that thing
Synopsis: Does God eternally rewrite his knowledge based on our free choices?
Does God know our free choices before we make them? Yes. Luis Molina addresses this question directly, by stating that either God knows what free choice we will make or He isn't certain, which is heresy (D51.17). However, this conclusion doesn't allow for hard libertarian free will since God knows the outcome of our choices, which led some to ask...
Does God use “power over the past” to allow true free choice? No. Some raised the idea that God would learn the outcomes of our free choices and then basically rewrite His knowledge from eternity past to have known that choice. However, this erases the certainty of God's foreknowledge and destroys His immutability. Another consequence is that revelations & prophecy are lost (D51.19)
Can free choice affect predestination? No. How can divine determinations be altered? Molina's stance is clear that God can't change someone's predestination without experiencing a change Himself (D51.15).
Molina is clear in defending God's natural knowledge of the future, constantly returning to the problems alternate views have of Jesus' prediction of Peter's denial. For if God (and subsequently Jesus) did not know the outcome of free choices could Jesus have been wrong if Peter decided not to sin?
Regardless Molina was quick to point out the logical conclusion of "Open Theism" (God does not know the future) was out of the question and that any doctor who holds this view needs to have his Doctorate removed.
“Because you didn't come here to make the choice. You've already made it. You're here to try to understand why you made it.” - The Oracle
Luis Molina then turns to explain his view of God's omniscience as an alternative to the views listed in the previous disputations to show how Divine Sovereignty and Free Choice are compatible. This is the heart of the doctrine named after him: Molinism.
Disputation 52: Whether in God there is knowledge of future contingents. Also, the way in which freedom of choice and the contingency of things accord with this knowledge
Synopsis: If God knows the future, how can other possibilities exist?
How is freedom of choice compatible with God's foreknowledge? It may help to return to road map and the drive from CIU Seminary to USC's Library. Since God knows me intimately, He knows how I think and what path I plan to take. However, He also knows what alternate path (future contingents) I would take if He changed the circumstances (such as if their was construction). In fact, God knows all the possible routes I would take at any of the contingents.
God's Foreknowledge may be incompatible with results turning out otherwise, but not with results being able to turn out otherwise (D52.36). For example, while Jesus knew Peter would deny Him, Peter still had the ability in the moment of the denial to choose not to deny Christ.
How is this possible?
Molina breaks God's knowledge (omniscience) into three types:
"Whoa" - Neo
How everybody feels when they first encounter Molinism as it gives insight to just how infinitely small our understanding of God and subsequently His omniscience really is.
Molina provides further explanation of Molinism in his last disputation (not covered here) - Disputation 53: On Predeterminations, and where the certitude of God's knowledge of future contingents comes from (Parts 1-4). Kenneth Keathley's book Salvation & Sovereignty: A Molinist Appraoch also provides a Molinist understanding of the famed TULIP for modern readers. The impacts of Luis Molina's insights into God's Sovereignty and its compatibility with human free will is remarkable, while doing justice to scripture.
So, why has no one ever heard of Molinism? The likely answer is because Molinism is often challenging to explain when compared to Arminianism and Calvinism.
Yet, despite his Scholasticism, Luis Molina explains it best:
Disp 52.29 – For (i) the things that issue forth from our choice or depend on it are not going to happen because they are foreknown by God as going to happen, but, to the contrary, they are foreknown by God as going to happen in this or that way because they are so going to happen by virtue of our freedom of choice – though if they were going to happen in a contrary way, as they are able to, then from eternity they would be foreknown as going to happen in that contrary way instead of in the way they are in fact foreknown as going to happen – and, indeed, (ii) the knowledge by which God knew absolutely that such-and-such things would come to be is not a cause of things, but rather, once the order of things that we see has been posited by free determination of the divine will, then (as Origen and the other Fathers observe) the effects will issue forth from their causes – naturally from natural causes, freely and contingently with respect to both parts from free causes – just as if God had no foreknowledge of future events.
Brett Yardley: Warrior for Christ. Devoted Husband. Proud Father. Martial Artist. Hopeful Philosopher & Theologian. Aspiring Teacher & Writer.