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Luis de Molina

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One of the most learned and renown theologians of the Society of Jesus, b. of noble parentage at Cuenca, New Castle, Spain, in 1535; d. at Madrid, 12 October, 1600. At the age of eighteen, he entered the Society of Jesus at Alcalá, and, on finishing his novitiate, was sent up to take his philosophical and theological studies at Coimbra in Portugal. So successful was he in his studies that, at the close of his course, he was installed as professor of philosophy at Coimbra, and promoted a few years later to the chair of theology at the flourishing University of Evora. For twenty years, marked by untiring labour and devotion, he expounded with great success the "Summa" of St. Thomas to eager students. In 1590 he retired to his native city of Cuenca to devote himself exclusively to writing and preparing for print the results of his long continued studies. Two years later, however, the Society of Jesus opened a special school for the science of moral philosophy at Madrid, and the renowned professor was called from his solitude and appointed to the newly established chair. Here death overtook him before he had held his new post for half a year. By a strange coincidence on the same day (12 Oct., 1600), the "Congregatio de auxiliis", which had been instituted at Rome to investigate Molina's new system of grace, after a second examination of his "Concordia", reported adversely on its contents to Clement VIII. Molina was not only a tireless student, but a profound and original thinker. To him we are indebted for important contributions in speculative, dogmatic, and moral theology as well as in jurisprudence. The originality of his mind is shown quite as much by his novel treatment of the old scholastic subjects as by his labours along new lines of theological inquiry.

Molina's chief contribution to the science of theology is the "Concordia", on which he spent thirty years of the most assiduous labour. The publication of this work was facilitated by the valuable assistance of Cardinal Albert, Grand Inquisitor of Portugal and brother of emperor Rudolph II. The full title of the now famous work reads: "Concordia liberi arbitrii cum gratiæ donis, divina præscientia, providentia, prædestinatione et reprobatione" (Lisbon, 1588). As the title indicates, the work is primarily concerned with the difficult problem of reconciling grace and free will. In view of its purpose and principal contents, the work may also be regarded as a scientific vindication of the Tridentine doctrine on the permanence of man's free will under the influence of efficacious grace (Sess. VI., cap v-vi; can iv-v). It is also the first attempt to offer a strictly logical explanation of the great problems of grace and free will, foreknowledge and providence, and predestination to glory or reprobation, upon an entirely new basis, while meeting fairly all possible objections. This new basis, on which the entire Molinistic system rests, is the Divine scientia media. To make clear its intrinsic connection with the traditional teachings, the work takes the form of a commentary on several portions of the "Summa" of St. Thomas (I. Q. xiv, a. 13; Q. xix, a. 16; QQ. xxii-iii). Thus Molina is the first Jesuit to write a commentary upon the "Summa". As to style, the work has little to recommend it. The Latinity is heavy, the sentences are long and involved, and the prolix exposition and frequent repetition of the same ideas are fatiguing; in short, "Concordia" is neither easy nor agreeable reading. Even though much of the obscurity of the book may be attributed to the subject matter itself, it may be safely said that the dispute concerning Molina's doctrine would never have attained such violence and bitterness, had the style been more simple and the expressions less ambiguous. And yet Molina was of the opinion that the older heresies concerning grace would never have arisen, or would have soon passed away, if the Catholic doctrine of grace had been treated according to the principles which he followed for the first time in his "Concordia" and with the minuteness and accuracy which characterized that work. But he was greatly mistaken. For not only was his doctrine powerless to check the teachings of Baius, which began to spread soon after the publication of his work, and to prevent the rise of Jansenism, which sprang from early Protestant ideas, but it was itself the cause of that historic controversy which has raged for centuries between Thomists and Molinists, and which has not wholly subsided even to this day. Thus, the "Concordia" became a bone of contention in the schools, and brought on a deplorable discord among the theologians, especially those of the Dominican and Jesuit orders.

The "Concordia" had scarcely left the press, and had not yet appeared on the market, when there rose against it violent opposition. Some theologians, having gotten a knowledge of its contents, endeavoured by every means in their power to prevent its publication. Molina himself withheld the edition for a year. It 1589 he placed it on the market together with a defence of it, which he had in the meantime prepared and which answered the chief objections made against his work even before it appeared. The defense was published separately under the title "Appendix ad Concordiam, continens responsiones ad tres objectiones et satisfactiones ad 17 animadversiones" (Lisbon, 1589). This precaution, however, was of little avail, and the controversy grew apace. Not only his principal adversaries among the Dominicans, Bañez and de Lemos, but even his own brothers in religion, Henriquez and Mariana, opposed his doctrine most bitterly. Soon the whole of Spain rang with the clamour of this controversy, and Molina was even denounced to the Spanish Inquisition. When the dispute was growing too bitter, Rome intervened and took the matter into its own hands. In 1594 Clement VIII imposed silence upon the contending parties and in 1596 demanded that the documents be sent to the Vatican. To settle the controversy, he instituted in 1598 a special "Congregatio de auxiliis", which at the early stages of the investigation showed a decided opposition to Molina's doctrine. Doubtless Molina took to the grave the impression that Molinism was doomed to incur the censure of the Holy See, for he did not live to see his new system exonerated by Paul V in 1607. (For further details see the article CONGREGATIO DE AUXILIIS.)

Undisturbed by the heat and bitterness of the attack, Molina published a complete commentary upon the first part of the Summa of St. Thomas which he had prepared at Evora during the years 1570-73 (Commentaria in primum partem D. Thomæ", 3 vols., Cuenca, 1592). The chief characteristic of this work, which has been repeatedly re-edited, is the insertion where opportunity offered of most of the dissertations of the "Concordia", which thus became an integral part of the commentary. The increasing bitterness and confusion of ideas occasioned by the controversy induced Molina to publish a new edition of the "Concordia", with numerous additions, in which he endeavoured to correct the many misconceptions and misrepresentations of his doctrine, and at the same time to dispel the important misgivings and accusations of his adversaries. This edition bears the title, "Liberi arbitrii cum gratiæ donis etc. concordia, altera sui parte auctior" (Antwerp, 1595, 1609, 1795; new edition, Paris, 1876). Today this is the only standard edition. After a lapse of nearly a century the Dominican Father Hyacinth Serry, in his "Historia Congregationis de auxiliis" (Louvain, 1700; Antwerp, 1709) accused Molina of having omitted many assertions from his Antwerp edition of the "Concordia" which were parts of the Lisbon edition. But Father Livinus de Meyer, S.J., subjected the two editions to a critical comparison, and succeeded in showing that the omissions in questions were only secondary in moment, and that Serry's accusation was thus groundless. Meyer's work bears the title, "Historia controversiarum de auxiliis" (Antwerp, 1708). De Molina was not less eminent as a moralist and jurist than as a speculative theologian. A proof of this is his work, "De Justitia et jure" (Cuenca, 1593) which appeared complete only after his death. This work is a classic, referred to frequently even in the present time (7 vols., Venice, 1614; 5 vols., Cologne, 1743). On broad lines Molina develops therein not only the theory of law in general and the special juridical questions arising out of the political economies of his time (e.g., the law of exchange), but also enters very extensively into the questions concerning the juridical relations between church and State, pope and prince, and the like. It is a sad fact that, in order to justify the brutal persecution of the Jesuits in France, the Benedictine Clémencet ("Extracts des assertions pernicieuses", etc., Paris, 1672) ransacked even this solid work and fancied he found therein lost principles of morality. This is but one of the many misfortunes which, at that time of unrest, fell so heavily, and as a rule so undeservedly, on the Society of Jesus (cf. Döllinger, "Moralstreitigkeiten", I, Munich, 1889, p. 337). The work, "De Hispanorum primigeniorum origine et nature" (Alcalá, 1573; Cologne, 1588) is often attributed to Molina; in reality it is the work of another jurist of the same name, who was born at Ursaon in Andalusia.

As a man, priest, and religious Molina commanded the respect and esteem of his bitterest adversaries. During his whole life his virtues were a source of edification to all who knew him. To prompt obedience he joined true and sincere humility. On his death-bed, having been asked what he wished done with his writings, he answered in all simplicity: "The Society of Jesus may do with them what it wishes". his love for evangelical poverty was most remarkable; in spite of his bodily infirmity brought on by overwork, he never sought any mitigation in that matter of either clothing or food. He was a man of great mortification to the very end of his life.


A biography and bibliography together with a portrait of Molina may be found in the Cologne edition of his De justitia et jure, I (1733). It bears the title, L. Molina, S. J. vitæ morumque brevis adumbratio atque operum Catalogus. There is no modern critical biography. See MORGOTT in Kirkenlex, s. v,; SOMMERVOGEL, Bibl. des éscrevains de la C. de J., V, 1167-70; HURTER, Nomenclator, I (2nd. ed.), 47 sqq.

About this page

APA citation. Pohle, J. (1911). Luis de Molina. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Pohle, Joseph. "Luis de Molina." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 10. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. <>.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. October 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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