Old Errors Return? Some Never LeftSome of us who took the time to read, or at least glance over, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith's latest pamphlet, Placuit Deo, were bemused to learn that Pelagianism and Gnosticism had infiltrated on little cat feet the City of God while we weren't looking. After all, as actual doctrinal movements in the Church's past, they have both long since been condemned and abandoned.
Pelagius argued that the first movement of grace depended entirely on the will of the recipient, but then more or less held for the operation of supernatural grace, its essential nature, and the rest, along orthodox lines. The Gnostics did not so much deny the dogmas of the Creed as make all sorts of ridiculous additions, perhaps male sonans but more likely proximum haeresi. In any event, St. Irenaeus and others thoroughly lambasted and condemned the Gnostics' pathetic attempts to bend Christianity to the Neo-Platonist ideas then in vogue, while the great St. Augustine, the Council of Orange, and others again condemned the errors of Pelagius and his followers (who at least seemed to be motivated by a desire to discourage a kind of Quietism among some of the faithful).
Bemusement resulted from the CDF monitum, it seems fair to say, because the errors that surround us on almost every side nowadays are nowhere near so pious or tentative as the Pelagians' and Gnostics' of old. We have instead the outright denial not just of grace but of the supernatural itself! There is ultimately no distinction between the uncreated God and the created world in Kant, Hegel, Feuerbach, Loisy, Teilhard, Rahner, et al. ad nauseam. If there is any substance to the broad category of Modernism, it is this particularly disastrous notion of Idealism. Once it's adopted, as has been rehearsed many times by Catholic theologians (worthy of the name), that's the end of the dogmas of creation, the fall, Original Sin, the Incarnation, the Sacraments, the Church, and the Resurrection of the Dead.
Even though the recent adherents and exponents of Idealism-Modernism (say, everyone post-Teilhard) have rarely if ever been condemned--some have received the red hat, for crying out loud--their sad little ideas have been, and not just in Pascendi and Lamentabili. Consequently, these contemporary adherents are simply uncondemned heretics, like the Arian bishops of the fourth century. In fact, some of them are bishops (and Arians, for that matter).
There is, however, an old error that has gone uncondemned--indeed, it received official shelter--throughout the long, violent centuries of the Modern Era. If we trace its muddy footprints through the household of the Faith, we just might find that it lent a hearty helping hand in bringing about the current crisis.
Meet Fr. Luis de Molina, S.J.
|Fr. Molina, SJ: about as much fun as he looks|
We should not make it a habit of speaking much of predestination. If somehow at times it comes to be spoken of, it must be done in such a way that the people are not led into any error. They are at times misled, so that they say: "Whether I shall be saved or lost, has already been determined, and this cannot be changed whether my actions are good or bad." So they become indolent and neglect the works that are conducive to the salvation and spiritual progress of their souls.Boldly stepping into the minefield so clearly posted with warning signs by the Saint comes the Reverend Luis de Molina. Not only did he not avoid "speaking much of predestination," he wouldn't shut up about it. However, it must be said that he did heed the second part of St. Ignatius' warning--there was no Calvinistic predeterminism in his ideas. Far from it. In fact, he exemplifies the old Latin adage:
Incidit in Scyllam dum vult vitare Charybdim ["He fell to Scylla while trying to avoid Charybdis"]Molina, you see, decided that the best answer to Calvin and his ilk regarding Predestination was to deny that God predestined souls without at least some glance into their future as it might play out in various circumstances. (Believe me, I am going to boil down and condense as much of this extremely prolix and protracted dispute as I can for the purposes of a blog post. For an atypical and amusing overview of Molina's life and works, you might consult the article in the 1911 Catholic Encyclopedia, written by Fr. Pohle of the Society of Jesus, although the all-clarifying "SJ" is slyly omitted in the citation.)
Molina eventually called this "glance into the future" the scientia media, the "middle knowledge" of God: not God's knowledge in Himself, nor His knowledge of beings in existence or willed to come into existence, but a kind of what-if knowledge before the divine will decrees their existence. This way, don't you know, God can choose which "scenario" to decree so that a) the individual will actually cooperate with grace and be saved, or b) will do the least amount of bad so as not to merit too terrible a punishment.
How Was This Not Condemned as Heresy? Patronage, That's HowSo, what's so wrong with this theory, one might ask. There is, in the first (and last) place, a dependence in God: He becomes dependent on something that is not, ultimately, God: the scientia media. If He needs to consult, as it were, the "middle knowledge" to will if or how an individual human being will come into existence, how is this not a dependence? Obviously, it is just that. Immediately emanating from this initial error, like gangrene from a wound, comes a denial of all the divine attributes: God would not be the Prime Mover, would not be infinite, would not be the sole Creator, etc., etc. Molina and his fellow Jesuits denied such conclusions, of course, but more on the strength of their say-so than anything else, since explanations regarding the scientia media generated a flood of words, but not much clarity.
|Fr. Bañez: the hero of this story|
Thankfully for Catholic theology, the great Domingo Bañez, of the Order of Preachers, rescued Catholic theology, and in particular the thought of St. Thomas, from the tortured rationalizations of Molina. Like a good Catholic, Bañez formulated a concrete, explicit phrase to express God's absolute sovereignty (including predestination) and the creature's utter dependence on Him: physical premotion of the will. God moves the will physically (that is, directly by His own power) before the creature can do anything. Deny this, and you deny the nature of God. The Molinists realized this and spent the majority of their time attacking Bañez and his fellow Dominicans as "Determinists," as though they denied free-will.
Eventually, the Holy Father got wind of all the controversy in Spain stirred up by the devil, or rather Molina and his co-religionists, and had the entire matter transferred to Rome. According to another great Thomist, René Billuart (in his commentary on the Summa), the Pope, Clement VIII, was at length determined to condemn Molina's ideas, once he'd had time to consider the Dominicans' objections. In a conversation with St. Robert Bellarmine (SJ, don't forget), Pope Clement stated that Molinism was simply Pelagius in a new form. St. Robert countered that Pelagius had his good points. The Pope flew into a rage and shouted at Bellarmine: "Now you would defend even Pelagius!" Shaken, St. Robert withdrew and feared the worst, and rightly so: the Holy Father had the condemnation drawn up, ready for his signature, but--alas!--he died before he could put his name to the document.
|Paul V of the Borghese: the Spoiler|
ConclusionIt's amusing, in a sad way, to think that if Pelagianism and the fog of Gnosticism have returned, they did so by way of the Jesuit influence on Catholic thought, through the medium of the scientia media. In the end, however, although scholars like to complicate the matter with talk of "schools of thought" and "intellectual influences" and the like, it really comes down to a fundamental error about man as creature and God as Creator: some refuse, however subtly or partially, to admit that creation is wholly dependent on the Trinity in every way. They would like to reserve some aspect--our choices, our "conscience"--to ourselves alone, apart from the divine will. And so, perhaps, just as Molina could argue that, after all is said and done, we have a part to play in determining the divine will, so his intellectual heirs can argue that conscience, so called, has an independent role in determining the extent and the power of Christ's law, e.g. in the reception of Holy Communion (to choose a random example).
Of course, one day all this confusion about the divine sovereignty will be cleared up in a manner quite unmistakable to each one of us, just as it already has been for Molina and Paul V. May that day not find us unprepared. The old Latin poem, after all, warns us all: Media vita, in morte sumus: quem quaerimus Adjutorem nisi te, Domine? ["In the midst of life, we are in death: who besides Thee, O Lord, shall we seek for our helper?]