The Impact of Luis de Molina on Jacob Arminius

Unbeknownst to many, there is a growing debate among scholars as to whether or not the notorious Reformed Theologian Jacob Arminius was actually a Molinist.  In 1996, the venerable philosopher and theologian Eef Dekker argued this very point in an original paper entitled:  Was Arminius a Molinist?  In the article, Dekker suggests that if one examines Arminius’ use of middle knowledge, “the most specific checkpoint of Molinsism,” he would invariably conclude that, “Arminius indeed can be called a Molinist . . . [because] the theory of middle knowledge is at the very core of Arminius’ doctrine of divine knowledge.”[1] 

Unsurprisingly, this sentiment is not shared by all.  Critics like, Kirk R. MacGregor, have strongly condemned Dekker’s view, on the grounds that it does not take into consideration the subtle differences in Arminius’ and Molina’s thought:

On the one hand, if the theory [that Arminius was a Molinist] simply denotes the doctrine of God’s prevolitional counterfactual knowledge, then Arminius’ system is undoubtedly based upon scientia media.  On the other hand, if the theory is taken as shorthand for the full range of divine cognitive activities posited by Molina from God’s counterfactual knowledge to his creative decree, then Arminius’ system is not grounded in scientia media, as it deviates quite sharply from Molina’s depiction of God’s complete and unlimited deliberation.[2]

What is one to make of such extreme views?  How much, if any, did Arminius draw from Molina’s ideas?  These are precisely the questions this paper seeks to answer. 

In an attempt to paint a more balanced picture, this paper will examine the extent of Molina’s impact on Jacob Arminius; specifically explaining how Molina’s ideas influenced Arminius’ understanding of divine providence and free will.  To accomplish this goal it will: (1) outline Molina’s roll in the Sixteenth-Century revival of Scholasticism—explaining his controversial attempt at reconciling God’s providence with human free will (via. the sceintia media), and (2) summarize the impact of Scholasticism on Protestant thinkers—providing compelling evidence for Molina’s direct influence on Arminius’ thought. 

Luis de Molina and Sixteenth-Century Scholasticism

The unassuming Spanish theologian, Luis de Molina, best known for his controversial doctrine of middle knowledge, has been touted by some as, “perhaps the greatest philosophical theologian in Church history.”[3]  This, to be sure, is surprising to many Protestants who, aside from a few vague notions about middle knowledge, know very little about the man.  Although, it is beyond the scope of this paper to provide a comprehensive biography;  it is necessary to provide some biographical facts in an effort to explain Molina’s central roll in the Sixteenth-Century revival of Scholasticism.

Molina entered the Society of Jesus (known more commonly as the Jesuit order) at Alcala when he was only eighteen years old; and from there he was sent to Coimbra in Portugal to take up studies in philosophy and theology.[4]  He was so successful in his studies that, at the end of his course, he was made professor of philosophy at Coimbra, and promoted a few years later to the chair of theology at the affluent University of Evora.[5]   

Molina would go on to become a principal player in the extraordinary sixteenth-century revival of Scholasticism on the Iberian Peninsula, “a revival fueled in large measure by the Protestant Reformation and the subsequent Catholic response at the Council of Trent.”[6]  Many Protestants are surprised to learn that the issues surrounding the problem of human free will and divine providence raised by John Calvin and Martin Luther were the subject of intense debate among Catholic theologians as well.  Unlike the Protestants, however, the Catholic debate (which began years before Arminius’ disputations) revolved more around the theology of Thomas Aquinas than that of Augustine.[7]   It pitted the newly founded Society of Jesus—represented by Molina and Francisco Suarez—against, “the more established religious orders, especially Thomas Aquinas’s own Dominicans [primarily represented by Domingo Banez].”[8]

Molina, “ignited a fierce controversy,” in 1588 when he published his seminal work:  Liberi Arbitrii cum Gratiae Donis, Divina Praescientia, Providentia, Praedestinatione et Reprobatione Concordia (The Compatibility of Free Choice with the Gifts of Grace, Divine Foreknowledge, Providence, Predestination, and Reprobation), more commonly known as the Concordia.[9]  In it, Molina, “framed an explanatory order among the various logical moments of [God’s] omniscience,” positing that God has knowledge of conditional future contingents (i.e. counterfactuals of creaturely freedom) by means of scentia media or middle knowledge.[10]  He was convinced that his explanatory scheme “provided the key to avoiding the Protestant error of obliterating human free choice without relinquishing divine sovereignty in the process.”[11]

But, what is middle knowledge and how does it reconcile divine providence with human free will?  As quoted earlier, Eef Dekker asserts that middle knowledge is the, “most specific checkpoint of Molinism,” and maintains that it lies at the, “very core of Arminius’ doctrine of divine knowledge.”[12]  Is Dekker’s assessment correct?  The following section approaches an answer to these questions by providing a basic outline of Molina’s theory of middle knowledge and explaining how it solves the problem of divine providence  and human free will.

Molina and the Problem of Divine Providence and Free Will

Before discussing middle knowledge it is necessary to clarify Molina’s views on providence and free will.  To begin with, Molina held a high view of divine providence; as Alred J. Freddoso attests:

The doctrine of divine providence [as Molina understood it] involves the thesis that God, the divine artisan, freely and knowingly plans, orders, and provides for all the effects that constitute His artifact, the created universe with its entire history, and executes His chosen plan by playing an active causal role sufficient to ensure its exact realization.[13]

According to this understanding of providence, everything that transpires is, “properly said to be specifically decreed by God.”[14]  However, regarding God’s decrees, Molina would be quick to make a distinction between occurrences which God specifically and knowingly intends and occurrences [namely, human sin and natural evil] which God specifically and knowingly permits—the latter being a “concession to creaturely defectiveness.”[15]  

Another crucial aspect of Molina’s understanding of providence—closely tied to notions of intention and permission–is the idea of God’s general or divine concurrence.  According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the word concurrence denotes, “the simultaneous occurrence of events or circumstances,” or an, “agreement or union in action.”  Other words one might use to express this idea are consent or cooperation

So, the idea behind divine concurrence is this:  God being the creator and sustainer of the universe is the primary cause of all things—including the effects of secondary causes (such as human action)—therefore, secondary causes require consent or cooperation from God in order to transpire.  As Molina explains it:  

The primary, though remote, source of contingency for the effects of all secondary causes belonging to the natural order is God’s will, which created the free choice of human beings and angels and the sentient appetite of those beasts that seem to be endowed with some sort of trace of freedom with respect to certain acts; on the other hand, the proximate and immediate source is the free choice of human beings and angels.[16]  

Naturally, the idea that the proximate and immediate source of secondary causes is the free choice of human beings is extremely controversial—namely, because it assumes humans have free will. 

Molina on Free Will

Freddoso describes Molina’s conception of freedom as being “strongly indeterministic,” and correctly asserts that, “in modern terms he [Molina] is an unremitting libertarian.”[17]  But, what does libertarian free will entail?  More often than not, libertarianism is misunderstood and abused.  Consequently, it is only proper to provide a brief outline of the modern philosophical understanding of libertarian free in an effort to help the reader understand Molina’s ideas more clearly. 

To begin with, modern libertarians (or, indeterminists) are careful to distinguish between two distinct categories of causation:  event-event causation and agent causation.  J. P Moreland defines event-event causation as being the idea that, “all causes and effects are events that constitute causal chains construed either deterministically (causal conditions are sufficient for an effect to obtain) or probabilistically (causal conditions are sufficient to fix the chances for an effect to obtain).”[18]  For the determinist, event-event causation is the only game in town.  Under their view, human actions are, “mere happenings; they are parts of causal chains of events that lead up to them in a deterministic fashion.”[19]  As such, human freedom does not truly exist. 

Libertarians, while accepting event-event causation as the correct explanation of most events in the natural world, posit a second form of causation to explain human action—namely, agent causation.[20]  Agent causation denotes the unique ability of human persons (i.e. agents) to instantiate events by virtue of their own power or ability to do so.  Libertarians recognize that agents are, “first-movers, unmoved movers who simply have the power to act as the ultimate originators of their actions.”[21]  In other words, agents are the efficient cause (i.e. producers) of their actions which are not determined by previous events. 

A common misconception, often held by critics of libertarian free will, is that the actions performed by agents are entirely random; this, however, simply reveals their total ignorance on the matter.  Contrary to what critics say, libertarians ardently believe agents produce actions intentionally; that is to say, agents have distinct reasons for acting and these reasons are the final cause of their actions.[22] 

To understand this, imagine a thirsty little boy who desires a coke.  Believing there is a coke in the refrigerator, the little boy, acting as a first-mover, opens the refrigerator and grabs the coke.  In this scenario, the boy is the efficient cause of his actions, while his desires and beliefs are the final cause.  Accordingly, the little boy’s actions were not random; there were good reasons for him to act.  However, the boy’s reasons did not necessitate his actions; for, it was within his power to refrain from grabbing the coke the entire time.

This final point holds particular importance for Molina, who believed man could not justly be responsible for his sin if he did not have a genuine choice to make.  In other words, if the little boy in the above example had been told by his parents not to drink the coke, but it was not within his power to refrain from grabbing the coke, his parents could hardly be just in condemning the boy when he did grab the coke.  As Molina explains,

What grievance will God have on Judgment Day against the wicked, since they were unable not to sin as long as God did not efficaciously incline and determine them to the good, but rather solely by His own free will decided from eternity not so to determine them?  Most assuredly, if this position is accepted . . . God’s justice with respect to the wicked vanishes, and a manifest cruelty and wickedness is discerned in God.[23]

Thus, at the heart of Molina’s libertarianism, lies a genuine concern for the character of God; for Molina, both His justice and goodness are at stake if man does not have free will.

Molina on God’s Omniscience and Prescience

Now that Molina’s views on divine providence and free will have adequately been explained we can turn our attention to his views on God’s omniscience and prescience; analyzing, in particular, the concept of middle knowledge.  To understand Molina’s views on these matters, however, one must first remember that he was heavily influenced by and drew upon the writings of the great Scholastic thinkers of the Middle Ages.  In light of this, one must understand their basic understanding of omniscience to understand Molina’s. 

In those times, it was common for medieval theologians to make a distinction between two “types” of divine knowledge; the first, was referred to as natural knowledge.[24]  Natural knowledge, is not based upon God’s will, rather, it is based upon God’s knowledge of himself and of every metaphysical possibility outside of himself.[25]  As William Lane Craig notes, “God’s natural knowledge includes knowledge of all possibilities.  He knows all the possible individuals he could create, all the possible circumstances he could place them in, all their possible actions and reactions, and all the possible worlds or orders which he could create.”[26]  In short, by His natural knowledge, God knows everything that could be.  Furthermore, “God could not lack this knowledge and still be God; the content of God’s natural knowledge is essential to him.”[27] 

The second type of knowledge can be called free knowledge.  By His free knowledge, God knows every aspect of actual reality—including the past, present and future—after deciding, from among the vast array of possibilities known by his natural knowledge, which world to instantiate; this type of knowledge is referred to as ‘free’ because, “it is preceded by an act of divine free will.”[28]  Molina elucidates,

The second type is purely free knowledge, by which, after the free act of His will, God knew absolutely and determinately, without any condition or hypothesis, which ones from among all the contingent states of affairs were in fact going to obtain and, likewise, which ones were not going to obtain.[29]

Unlike natural knowledge, free knowledge is based upon God’s will and, therefore, its content could be different from what it is now, as Craig states, “if he had created a different world, the content of his free knowledge would be different.”

Molina fully adopted the medieval depiction of omniscience outlined above, with one important exception:  Molina posited the existence of a third type of God’s knowledge.  He referred to this type of knowledge as middle knowledge because it logically fell in between God’s natural and free knowledge.  Middle knowledge is not contingent upon God’s will like free knowledge is; rather it is based upon God’s complete understanding of his free creatures,

The third type is middle knowledge, by which in virtue of the most profound and inscrutable comprehension of each faculty of free choice, He saw in His own essence what each such faculty [human being] would do with its innate freedom were it to be placed in this or in that or, indeed, in infinitely many orders of things—even though it [the human being] would really be able, if it so willed, to do the opposite.[30]

If natural knowledge can be summed up as God’s knowledge of all that could be, middle knowledge can be similarly summed up as God’s knowledge of what free actions a creature would make in any given circumstance or possible world God might place him in.[31]  In this respect, it can properly be said that God’s middle knowledge of conditional future contingents is partially contingent upon free creatures—in the sense that it is based upon what they would do in any given circumstance.

One can easily see how Molina’s view of omniscience would provide a robust view of God’s prescience.  Relying upon His natural and middle knowledge, God determines what type of world and what type of creatures he desires to create; once God acts upon this desire and creates, he has complete foreknowledge of everything that will transpire in the created world based upon his free knowledge.  In this sense, God does not, “acquire his knowledge of the future by ‘foreseeing’ what lay ahead.  Rather he has such knowledge innately.”[32]  Molina explains in more detail:

The knowledge by which God knows absolutely, without hypothesis, what is in fact going to happen because of created free choice is always free knowledge in God, and such knowledge depends on the free determination of His will, a determination by which He decides to crate such-and-such a faculty of free choice and such-and-such an order of things.[33]

Reconciling Divine Providence and Human Free Will

The aspect of Molina’s account of omniscience which holds the key to reconciling a high view of divine providence with a libertarian view of free will is not middle knowledge per say; rather, it is that God has middle knowledge pre-volitionally.  That is to say, God has middle knowledge before his free act of creation.  As Molina states, “God, before He decides to create a being endowed with free choice, foresees what that being would do on the hypothesis that it should be placed in a particular order of things.”[34]  Thus, in favor of a high view of providence, it can be said that God chooses what creatures to make, what world to create, what circumstances they will be placed in, and what causal relationship He will play in the matter.  Conversely, in favor of libertarian free will, God endows humans with the ability to act as first movers, unmoved movers of their actions—in this sense they are totally responsible for the choices they make because they are the ones making them.

It seems, therefore, contra Dekker, that middle knowledge, so construed as the ability to know what a creature would do in any given circumstance, is not the, “most specific checkpoint of Molinism.”[35]  Rather, it is the idea that God has middle knowledge before his free act of creation which enables Molinism to reconcile providence and free will.  In this sense, it is both the complex interaction between the three types of God’s knowledge and the creative way in which Molina utilizes them that makes his ideas so unique.  What remains to be determined is the extent of Molina’s impact on Arminius’ ideas.  Is Dekker correct when he asserts that the, “very core of Arminius’ doctrine of divine knowledge” is middle knowledge?[36]

Jacob Arminius and Protestant Scholasticism

To grasp the extent of Molina’s influence on Arminius, one must start by analyzing the mental environment in which Arminius lived and worked.  Consequently, Arminius’ mental environment was heavily influenced by the resurgence of Scholasticism within the Catholic Church.  In fact, Protestants in Arminius’ day adopted so much from this movement that modern scholars now refer to the Protestant intellectual movement of that period as Protestant Scholasticism.

As protestant ideas began to take hold in Europe, the generations following Luther and Calvin were faced with the task of establishing protestant orthodoxy and building schools and universities.[37]  Because of this, Protestant Scholasticism has been correctly described, “as a self-consciously Protestant methodological adaptation of the Reformation to the classroom.”[38]  In this respect, most of what Protestants adopted from Scholasticism was their systematic approach to theological issues.  As R. S. Clark explains,

[In this context, Scholasticism was] . . . a ‘technical and logical approach to theological system’ which subdivided the loci component parts and subjected those subdivisions to analysis by propositions.  It was a method designed to facilitate clarity in debate and to make use of Scripture and the broader Christian tradition.  Its goal was to provide ‘an adequate technical theology for schools, seminaries, and universities’ and the church with ‘right teaching’, literally orthodoxy.[39]       

The result of this adaptation of Scholastic methodology was the production of, “vast systematic works,” by both Reformed and Lutheran theologians.[40]  According to Justo L. Gonzalez, these works, “could be compared with the great summas of medieval scholasticism, both in their size and in their careful distinctions and analyses.”[41]

It seems, for some Protestants, the appeal of Scholasticism went beyond mere methodology.  According to Gonzalez, there was also a rekindling of interest in Aristotelian logic and metaphysics among certain theologians,“some even began using the works of their Jesuit counterparts, who also were doing theology on the basis of Aristotle.”[42]  Evidentially, Jacob Arminius, was one such theologian.

Arminius was often accused of, “supporting the theology of ‘Jesuits and other adversaries,” by his Reformed critics who believed he was trying to usurp orthodox Reformed doctrine.[43]  In one account, Casper Sibelius, a student at the University of Leiden, speaks explicitly about his professor’s use of Scholastic works in the classroom:

I observed, among a number of fellow students enrolled in the private theological class of doctor Arminius, many things that, had I been ignorant, might easily have led me into dark and abominable errors.  For in that class we were utterly drawn away from reading the works and treatises of Calvin, Beza, Zanchi, Martyr, Ursinus, Piscator, Perkins, and other learned and valuable theologians of the church of Christ, we were commanded to examine not only holy scripture, but equally so the writings of Socinus, Acontius, Castellio, Thomas Aquinas, Molina, Suarez and other enemies of grace.[44] 

Perhaps, however, this was just negative press–one opponent’s cheap attempt at discrediting Arminius’ ideas among Protestants.  While this is a valid hypothesis, the number of opponents who complained about the similarities between Arminius’ work and that of the teachings of Molina and other Jesuit scholars causes one to pause.[45]  Perhaps, if there was a way to establish a direct connection between Arminius and Molina, one could rule this hypothesis out completely?  Interestingly, there is.

 As it turns out, historians have acquired an itemized list of the full contents of Arminius’ library.  This list identifies a large portion of the authors listed by Sibelius—demonstrating that Arminius, indeed, maintained a significant collection of Jesuit writings.[46]  Most notably, it shows that Arminius had a full copy of Molina’s Concordia.  It seems, then, firmly established, that Molina had a considerable impact on Arminius’ intellectual development.[47] 

Not only is there a direct link between Molina and Arminius, but the mental environment in which Arminius lived and worked was overwhelmingly steeped in the methodology of medieval Scholasticism.  What remains now, is to compare and contrast Arminius’ views on divine providence, omniscience, and human free will with that of Molina’s.  Once this is accomplished, a full account of the extent of Molina’s impact on Arminius will have been made; allowing for a decisive opinion on Dekker’s thesis.   

Arminius on Divine Providence, Human Free Will, and Omniscience   

At even a cursory reading of Arminius’ writings one can see the profound influence Molina had on his thought.  The question is, however, how far reaching was this influence?  Are there any important areas in which the two diverge?   In order to answer these questions, this section will exposit Arminius’ teachings on divine providence, human free will, and omniscience and compare it with Molina’s views; following the same basic pattern of the previous section, which outlined Molina’s thought.  

Accordingly, the discussion necessarily begins with the issue of divine providence.  Note the remarkable similarities between Molina and Arminius on this issue: 

[Speaking of providence] I declare that it preserves, regulates, governs and directs all things, and that nothing in the world happens fortuitously or by chance.  Besides this, I place in subjection to Divine Providence both the free-will and even the actions of a rational creature, so that nothing can be done without the will of God . . . only we must observe a distinction between good actions and evil ones, by saying, that ‘God both wills and performs good acts,’ but that “He only freely permits those which are evil.’[48] 

Like Molina, Arminius holds a high view of God’s providence; acknowledging God’s direct and active involvement in everything which takes place in His creation.  Interestingly, he differentiates God’s involvement between ‘good acts’ and ‘evil acts’ in much the same way as Molina did; stating that God only, “freely permits those [acts] which are evil.”[49]  This idea of permission, is fundamental to both Molina and Arminius’ thought and is directly tied to their mutual concern for preserving the free will of man and protecting the character of God—that is, from dispelling the idea that God is the author of sin.   

Nevertheless, there is a crucial difference here as well.  Arminius states that God, “both wills and performs good acts,” suggesting that God acts as the first mover or efficient cause of all good actions.  In this regard, Arminius is more in line with Reformed ideology than with Molina who simply argued that God “intends” good acts. 

The discussion of God’s causal involvement with both good and evil actions flows naturally into the subject of God’s divine concurrence.  Here, once again, there are both striking similarities and subtle differences between the two.  Regarding divine concurrence, Arminius says,

[it] is necessary to produce every act, because nothing whatever can have any entity except from the First and Chief Being, who immediately produces the entity.  The Concurrence of God is not his immediate influx into a second or inferior cause, but it is an action of God immediately flowing into the effect of the creature, so that the same effect in one and the same entire action may be produced simultaneously by God and the creature.[50]

From this quotation, one would gather that Arminius holds the exact same view of divine concurrence as Molina.  He explains that, without God, there would be no actions at all because He is both creator and sustainer of all life.  In this sense God is “necessary” for producing every action. 

However, as was stated earlier, Arminius also seems to suggest that God acts as the efficient cause of all good actions; speaking elsewhere about the issue of divine concurrence he states, “the power of God serves universally, and at all times, to execute . . . [creaturely action] . . . with the exception of permission; specially, and sometimes, these acts are executed by the creatures themselves.”[51]  This statement implies there are times when God acts as the immediate cause of actions and others when he simply allows creatures to act in accordance with their nature.  In this sense, Arminius deviates from Molina rather drastically.

Arminius on Free Will

It is typically believed that Arminius maintained a libertarian view of free will; and in some sense this is true but in another it is false.  Somewhat incongruently, Arminius held to libertarian free will when it came to creatures performing evil actions but not when it came to creatures performing good actions.  Regarding evil actions, Arminius asserts that God permits creatures to act as the efficient cause or first movers of their actions—“to conduct their motions agreeably to their own nature.”[52]  However, as was just discussed, when it comes to good actions, Arminius appears to be a determinist—at least in the sense that something other than the creature [i.e. God]  is acting as the first mover or efficient cause of the action. 

 In any event, Arminius’ embracement of the libertarian view of freedom, when it comes to the evil acts of men, was spurred by the exact same reason as Molina—to avoid making God the author of sin.  As the historical record attests, Arminius began writing about this issue to counter the overbearing views of his rival, Francis Gomarus, “who felt constrained to present his form of Calvinism in a most offensive way.”  According to Gomarus, “God moves the tongues of men to blaspheme,” and, “predestined . . . [man] . . . to sin.”  The implication of Gomarus’ thought, which Arminius strenuously argued against, was that God directly causes men to sin.

Arminius on Omniscience and Prescience

It is in Arminius’ writings on God’s omniscience that the clearest example of Molina’s influence can be seen.  Like Molina, Arminius embraced the same three types or categories of God’s knowledge:

The Scholastics say besides, that one kind of God’s knowledge is natural and necessary, another free, and a third intermediate (medium).  (1) Natural or necessary knowledge is that by which God understands himself and all possible; (2) free knowledge is that by which he knows all other beings; (3) middle knowledge is that by which he knows that “if this occurs, that will happen.”  The first precedes every free act of the divine will.  The second follows the free act of the divine will.  This latter act indeed is preceded by the free will, but sees any future thing as a consequence of it . . . middle [knowledge] must intervene in things that depend on the freedom of creaturely choice.[53]

This passage demonstrates, in the most explicit fashion, the vast extent of Molina’s influence on Arminius’s thought; yet, rather paradoxically, it also demonstrates a fundamental difference in their understanding of middle knowledge. 

In support of Dekker’s thesis, it can be said that, “Arminius’ conception of the scientia media is foundational to his revision of the doctrine of predestination and to his soteriological synergism.”[54]  Furthermore, it can be said that Arminius defines middle knowledge correctly as being that by which he knows, “if this occurs, that will happen.”[55]  However, Arminius clearly deviates, quite drastically, from Molina’s logical ordering of middle knowledge. 

Unlike Molina, Arminius argues that middle knowledge is, “preceded by the free will,” which essentially means that God does not have middle knowledge pre-volitionally.[56]  As MacGregor explains,

From his claim that God perceives ‘created will’ or ‘created choice’ through middle knowledge we see that Arminius . . . seems to clearly presuppose that it transpired before (not after) God’s scentia media.  In other words, Arminius assumes that God has already settled on creating a particular group of individuals logically prior to his apprehension of scientia media, which knowledge then furnishes him the rational ground to elect or reprobate every such individual based upon what each would freely do in the actual world.[57]     

Thus, Arminius’ understanding of middle knowledge and how it explains God’s foreknowledge of conditional future contingents is the exact opposite of Molina’s. 

In Arminius’ view, God creates based upon his natural knowledge, and has knowledge of what free actions the creatures in his created world would make, based upon his middle knowledge.  In contrast, Molina, believed God had middle knowledge before his free act of creation and in fact relied upon this knowledge in making his decision to create this particular world. 


Based upon this papers analysis, it can be concluded, without reservation, that Molina had a profound influence on Arminius’ thinking.  Not only is there a direct link between Molina and Arminius [via. The copy of the Concordia, along with other Jesuit writings, in Arminius’ library], but the mental environment in which Arminius lived and worked was overwhelmingly steeped in the methodology of medieval Scholasticism.  Furthermore, a careful comparison of Arminius’ and Molina’s understanding of divine providence, free will, and omniscience, shows that Arminius held similar if not identical positions on many of the issues related to these topics.  However, there are notable differences between them as well:  (1) Molina was a strict libertarian while Arminius was only a libertarian concerning the evil actions of men and (2) Arminius’ did not believe God had middle knowledge pre-volitionally.  Based upon these facts it can be concluded that Arminius was not a Molinist, as Dekker believes, but that he simply drew upon and reinterpreted Molina’s thoughts.   

[1] Eef Dekker, “Was Arminius a Molinist?,” Sixteenth Century Journal 27 (Sum 1996): 337.

[2] Kirk R. MacGregor, A Molinist-Anabaptist Systematic Theology (New York: University Press of America, 2007), 64.

[3] Ibid., 14.

[4] J. Pohle, “Luis de Molina,” in The Catholic Encyclopedia, (accessed October 14, 2009).

[5] Ibid.

[6] Luis de Molina, On Divine Foreknowledge: Part IV of the Concordia, trans. Alfred J. Freddoso (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1988), vii.

[7] This is not to say that Augustine’s theology did not play an important role in the Catholic debate; but simply to point out which theologian’s work Molina and his adversaries interacted with the most.

[8] Ibid., vii.

[9] Ibid., vii.

[10] MacGregor, A Molinist-Anabaptist Systematic Theology, 14.

[11] Ibid., 15.

[12] Dekker, “Was Arminius a Molinist?,” 337.

[13]Molina, On Divine Foreknowledge, 3.

[14] Ibid., 3.

[15] Ibid., 3.

[16] Ibid., 94.

[17] Ibid., 24.

[18] J. P. Moreland, Scott B. Rae, Body & Soul:  Human Nature & the Crisis in Ethics (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2000), 123.

[19] Ibid., 123.

[20] Ibid., 129.

[21] Ibid., 129-130.

[22] Ibid., 129.

[23] Molina, On Divine Foreknowledge, 139.

[24] Eef Dekker, Middle Knowledge (Leuven: Peeters, 2000), 4.

[25] Ibid., 4.

[26] William Lane Craig, The Only Wise God (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1987), 129.

[27] Ibid., 129.

[28] Dekker, Middle Knowledge, 4.

[29] Molina, On Divine Foreknowledge, 168.

[30] Ibid., 168.

[31] Dekker, Middle Knowledge, 5.

[32] Craig, The Only Wise God, 133.

[33] Molina, On Divine Foreknowledge, 170.

[34] Ibid., 170.

[35] Dekker, “Was Arminius a Molinist?,” 337.

[36] Ibid., 337.

[37] Clark, R. S in, Protestant Scholasticism:  Essay’s in Reassessment, ed. Carl R. Trueman, R. Scott Clark (Carlisle: Paternoster Press, 1999), 115-116.

[38] Ibid., 115.

[39] Ibid., 115-116.

[40] Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity Volume 2 (New York: Harper One, 1985), 175.

[41] Ibid., 175.

[42] Ibid., 175.

[43] Richard A. Muller, God, Creation, and Providence in the Thought of Jacob Arminius (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1991), 28.

[44]Ibid., 27-28.  Emphasis mine.

[45] Ibid., 28.

[46] Ibid., 46.

[47] Ibid., 46.

[48] James Arminius, The Writings of James Arminius Volume One, trans. James Nichols and W. R. Bagnall (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1956), 120.

[49] Ibid., 120.  Emphasis mine.

[50] Roger E. Olson, Arminian Theology:  Myths and Realities (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 122.

[51] James Arminius, The Writings of James Arminius Volume 2, trans. James Nichols and W. R. Bagnall (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1956), 70.

[52] Ibid., 70.

[53] Muller, God, Creation, and Providence in the Thought of Jacob Arminius, 155-156.

[54] Ibid., 154.

[55] Ibid., 155.

[56] Ibid., 156.

[57] MacGregor, A Molinist-Anabaptist Systematic Theology, 71.


Molinism is not Open Theism: A Critique of Dr. McMahon’s Assessment

In recent years Molinism has made a come-back in philosophical circles thanks to the work of Alfred J. Freddoso, Thomas Flint, and William Lane Craig.  As a result, Molina’s ideas are creeping their way back into theological discussions as well.  Slowly but surely, pastors and seminary students are becoming acquainted with, at least, the term Molinism.  Often, this minimal acquaintance leads the uninitiated to do a quick search on goggle.  Upon searching, they are confronted by the blog-post of Dr. C. Matthew McMahon on A Puritan’s Mind entitled:  The Heresy of Middle Knowledge.  Curiosity gets the best of them and they eagerly click on the post with the inflammatory title.  As they read the first paragraph of McMahon’s article, and encounter his thesis statement, any positive interest in Molinism which might have existed quickly fades away:

“In this paper, the heresy I am re-refuting surrounds Theology Proper, or the doctrine of God.  It is specifically in terms of the doctrine of the knowledge of God, or His Omniscience.  The error is called Molinism, or Middle Knowledge (Today Open Theism is its close brother.)”

After reading the final words of his thesis the troubled pastor or seminary student dutifully  stuffs Molinism in a black file-folder marked, “Heresies that must not be named,” and forego any more research on the matter.

For many, Dr. McMahons malicious and poorly researched blog-post is both their first and last introduction to Molinism.  I find this situation very sad, because Dr. McMahon’s description of Molinism is filled with inaccuracies and misrepresentations.  To rectify this unfortunate situation I will correct four of the biggest mistakes in McMahon’s post.

(1)  McMahon claims that the Doctrine of Middle Knowledge is Open Theisms “close brother.”

This claim is truly baffling considering Molina’s doctrine of Middle Knowledge is actually Open Theisms worst nightmare; for, it ascribes to God what Molina terms supercomprehension.  Without getting into too much detail, this means that God has knowledge of how a person would freely act in any and all possible worlds.  He calls this supercomprehension because it says that God has comprehensive knowledge of states of affairs that may never actually obtain (something far beyond regular comprehension.)  On top of this, Molina believed that God had this knowledge prior to his decision to create.  To put it in the crude vernacular of modern language: the doctrine of middle knowledge is like foreknowledge 2.0.

Open Theism argues that it is impossible for God to have foreknowledge—especially foreknowledge of the free actions of human beings.  So, it is entirely false and nonsensical to claim that Molina’s Doctrine of Middle Knowledge is Open Theisms “close brother.”

(2)  McMahon says, “middle knowledge states that God cannot know the future free acts of men in the same way He knows other things absolutely.  Thus, this middle knowledge is dependent upon the free acts of what men will do.  God, in His “omniscience”, waits for men to act and then will choose them to be saved based on their choice to be saved.”

It’s clear from this statement that McMahon has grossly misunderstood the thrust of Molina’s argument.  Molina holds to a libertarian view of free-will which basically means that human beings are the efficient cause or first cause of their own actions.  Naturally, if man has libertarian free-will then God’s middle knowledge is partly contingent (dependent) upon man because man is the one producing the action.  However, it does not follow from this that, “God, in His “omniscience,” waits for men to act and then will choose them to be saved based on their choice.”  This is the Arminian position.

The crucial part of Molina’s theory is not that God has middle knowledge but that he has middle knowledge prior to his free act to create.  Accordingly, God knew that Peter would deny him when placed in situation A (A being the situation described in the gospels) before the foundation of the world.  Furthermore, God knew how Peter would act in any and all possible situations that he could put Peter in.  Based on both his natural and middle knowledge God chose to create a world in which situation A would obtain.

So, it is not that God waits for men to act and then chooses them.  God chooses what creatures to make, what world to create, and what situations to place them in—knowing what free choices they will in fact make.  Thus, God predestines but this does not impinge upon mans free will.  Man is still responsible for his actions because he is the cause of his actions.

(3) McMahon says, “The Molinian logician will argue that an action must first occur before it can be true.  God, then, cannot know anything in this manner as true and absolute unless it has first occurred.”

This statement is obviously false, because Molina believed God possessed middle knowledge before his free act of creation. In other words, the Molinist does not believe an action must first occur before it can be true—that is Open Theism.  The Molinist believes that God has supercomprehension, and thus can have knowledge of actions before they occur and even if they never occur.

(4) McMahon says, “It is certainly easy to see what the doctrine of Middle knowledge is attractive here.  Men are ultimately their own little saviors.”

Well, actually, the doctrine of middle knowledge says no such thing.  In fact, the doctrine of middle knowledge has only indirect implications on matters of soteriology—it is directly concerned with matters of God’s omniscience.  There may be some crazy exception (there always is) but Molinist’s do not believe man can save himself.  They do believe salvation comes from the Lord—through the work of Jesus on the cross.