Dialogue: Molinism & How God Predestines (Pt. III)

Dialogue: Molinism & How God Predestines (Pt. III) September 20, 2018

See Part I and Part II. “JS” is a Catholic and a Thomist. Note the different color scheme below. My words will be in blue [not the usual black], “JS’s” in black [not the usual blue]; JS’s previous responses green; Scripture red; Ludwig Ott purple; William G. Most in brown.


This conditioned dimension of Molinism is precisely its weakness, since God’s will is not conditioned by anyone or anything, let alone man’s foreseen merits. 

That’s not true as a general statement because God’s will is clearly conditioned by those who reject his grace; i.e., those who are damned (conditioned by demerits in that case). So if the debate is whether God’s will can be conditioned with regard to salvation or predestination of the elect, and you say it is impossible as a general proposition, I must disagree.

I wasn’t offering this as a general statement; it was in reference to the specific issue of the predestination of the elect. According to Ott’s treatment of Molinism, Molina inferred that predestination was predicated upon foreseen merits known via scientia media, the validity of which is the issue at hand. In regards to predestination, it seems clear from Scripture that God’s choice to elect some and not others has nothing to do with foreseen merits (see 1 Cor 4:7, Romans 8-11), or at least the Scriptures are silent on this thesis of Molina.

Reprobation, on the other hand, is a related, but distinct, issue. God permits reprobation from all eternity, but he does not deny sufficient grace, which makes it possible for one to perform salutary acts. Therefore, that one is damned is solely their fault. But again, it is a non sequitur to infer from this that because reprobation is conditioned, predestination of the elect is conditioned or that it might be conditioned.

Predestination is not reprobation. Predestination means simply to direct beforehand; predestination of the elect refers to the decision beforehand to save some men and not others, and then dispense the efficacious grace necessary to secure salutary acts that merit eternal life. Certainly God does not direct “beforehand” anyone to hell, nor does He force anyone to sin. Those that choose such a path do so solely of their own accord.

Lastly, while it was not my intention, I would say that in general, God’s will is unconditional, as St. Paul indicates in Romans 9, “Who can resist the will of God?” The issue is clarified when we bear in mind the distinction between God’s antecedent will, and God’s consequent will. When I hold, following St. Paul, that God’s will is unconditioned by man, I am referring to His consequent will, which infallibly brings about both His infinite mercy (in the case of the elect) and His justice (in the case of the reprobate).

However, the antecedent will of God is, in a sense, conditional, because it pertains to God’s universal will to save all men- in that it is really possible for all men to be saved on account of sufficient grace. As a corollary to this possibility, is God’s permission to allow sin and evil (as alluded to in Job 1 in God’s permission to allow Satan to test Job). Provided that this distinction is granted, as was the case by both St. Augustine and St. Thomas, we need not resort to an “either/or” approach to God’s will. It is conditioned as far as His antecedent will (since this pertains to the possible); it is unconditional as far as His consequent will is concerned (since this is concerned with the infallible execution of His eternal decrees).

Secondly, since merit is Catholic dogma and it involves God rewarding those who cooperate with His graces in doing meritorious works, and since this seems to be a huge consideration in how He decides who is saved or not, it also appears unlikely that man’s free will decisions have nothing at all to do with election.

The fact of the issue is that meritorious works are the effect of predestination, not the other way around. God works through man’s freedom to produce works that merit eternal life. Now, as will be addressed later, by this response I am not implying that Molinism can therefore be reduced to semi-pelagianism. I agree; if this were the case, the Church would have condemned Molina. However, the issue is whether or not efficacious grace can be dispensed in view of foreseen merits. I disagree, since in that case, efficacious grace ceases to be really efficacious.

I don’t believe efficacious grace can be conditioned by man’s present or future merits; either continued efficacious grace is rewarded to a person already moved by efficacious grace; or it is the completely unmerited prevenient grace that justifies man before God. Either way though, you cannot hold that efficacious grace is merited and unmerited at the same time. Is efficacious really efficacious of its own accord or not? Later on, I will briefly look at the Molinist solution to this dilemma and the problems that it entails.

I’ve shown how middle knowledge has explicit biblical support also.

I do not understand this reference, since in your first posting you admitted that there was not much biblical basis highly abstract notions such as middle knowledge.

That God predestines the elect is not in dispute. All parties accept that. The debate is whether He takes into account responses to His grace. 

Agreed, though I would just add that the debate is whether He takes into account foreseen responses to His grace. And again, we are talking about predestination here, not reprobation.

He is still sovereign and He still predestines, in either scenario, I would argue, since any response to His grace is itself caused by His grace.

I disagree here. It is true, He is sovereign and He predestines, but the Molinist theory detracts from the principle of divine sovereignty by asserting that predestination is conditioned upon foreseen merits. If God’s election is conditioned by foreseen merits, then it only follows that He is not entirely sovereign in predestining some and not others. The same holds true, by analogy, of the dispensation of efficacious grace- if this dispensation is conditional, then it is not entirely efficacious, nor is God entirely sovereign. Now, as I noted earlier and you just noted above, “His grace is itself caused by His grace”: it only follows then that “foreseen” merits are the result of prior election, since man would not have foreseen merits had not God first elected to manifest them through meritorious works. In other words, the recognition of foreseen merits presupposes that God has already elected to bestow efficacious grace that secured those foreseen merits. It only follows that election, and the dispensation of grace, are then prior to foreseen merits.

It seems to me that if your critique of Molinism were correct, it would have to be semi-Pelagian. But it is not. Therefore, I disagree that God’s sovereignty is undermined by it. 

My critique of Molinism is not that it is a cleverly disguised form of semi-Pelagianism. The Church permits Molinism; therefore, I avoid this conclusion. The real difference is the distinction between efficacious and sufficient grace. Because of the affirmation that the predestination of the elect is conditioned by foreseen merits (with this is also implied the doctrine of scientia media), Molinists are forced to deny that efficacious grace is intrinsically (of itself) efficacious (see Ott’s treatment of grace and the various schools). Instead, it is held that sufficient grace becomes efficacious grace as man cooperates with it.

Thus efficacious grace is extrinsic; it builds upon and perfects sufficient grace, which moves man towards salutary acts. On account of this teaching, Molinism avoids semi-Pelagianism because grace is recognized to be the origin of the meritorious works. But the downside is that the real efficacy of efficacious grace is compromised. My only point is that I believe the Thomistic solution to this dilemma better preserves the real efficacy of efficacious grace that secures meritorious works, while at the same time better preserving the absolute gratuity of God’s grace. Both are permissible or course, yet the latter I believe better articulates the nature of grace without undermining freedom.

The issue, however, is that God did not choose to reveal such things to Tyre and Sidon, and obviously not because of foreseen merits. Instead, God’s choice was made from all eternity to reveal the works of Christ to one generation and not to do so for another. This choice was made freely by God, without influence from man, in accordance with His Wisdom.

But that doesn’t mean that those before Christ were less able to be saved than those after. They are judged by what they know, per Romans 2.

Agreed, but what is your point? I am not arguing that they were “less able to be saved”; I’m only saying that God elected to reveal the mighty works of Jesus to a different generation, and no indication seems to be given that this was done on the basis of foreseen merits, since if that were the case, God would have revealed them to Tyre and Sidon, since they would have repented. Again, St. Paul reminds us, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy.”

See; like I said, God’s will is conditioned by demerits. You agree.

In the case of reprobation yes, as the Council of Quierzy clearly taught. But again, predestination and reprobation are distinct. God actively directs the former, but he permits the latter-for a greater good. Reprobation is conditioned by man’s demerits, since God- who is perfectly just- cannot punish someone who has not committed a sin. Sin is logically prior to punishment. Yet predestination is altogether different, because it involves the gratuity of God’s grace.

Reprobation involves God’s justice; predestination involves God’s mercy, which is absolute and unconditional. In either case, however, whether we are talking about the execution of God’s eternal decree of mercy (in the case of the elect) or of justice (in the case of the damned), it is unconditional, for as St. Paul states, “Who can resist the will of God?” You seem to be very uncomfortable with Romans 8-11 and its implications.

If that is so, then it seems quite possible and not impossible that it also may be conditioned by merits which are themselves brought about by His grace.

As noted above, I disagree because we are dealing with two distinct orders. Predestination belongs to the order of God’s mercy, and consequently it is not possible for it to be conditioned by merits, either present or foreseen. St. Paul states in Romans 11:6: “But if by grace, it is no longer because of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.” This is unlike reprobation, which belongs to God’s justice, and consequently is inflicted on the basis of man’s demerits. Again, the fact that, as you admit, the merits themselves are brought about by His grace, implies that the decision to dispense these graces is absolute and apart from foreseen merits, since the “foreseen merits” would only be the work of prior grace that was dispensed. Lest we fall into infinite regress, I believe the only solution is to admit that grace is dispensed apart from foreseen merits.

Since I have accepted Father Most’s scenario which does not involve predestination based on foreseen merits, we don’t disagree on this point as we did before, 

Very well then; we have reached an important agreement and this would seem to move you away from the “pure” Molinism of Louis Molina and perhaps closer to the Congruism of a Bellarmine or Suarez. However, there are still some issues with Most’s argument:

1. God wills all men to be saved
2. God looks to see who resists His grace gravely and persistently
3. All others discarded in step two are positively predestined

Of course, there is no disagreement with #1, and the Thomists assert this, only with the added distinction that God’s universal will to salvation belongs to His antecedent will, not His consequent will. Assertions 2 and 3, however, bring us back to scientia media. Yet in this argument, God elects on the basis- not of foreseen merits- but of the lack of foreseen demerits. Most then argues that on account of this, election takes place without recourse to foreseen merits, which would distance him from Molina. However, the difficulty with these premises is that to be without demerit, is to be positively in a state of grace, which can only be given by God. It is impossible to do good deeds, such as keep the commandments, without the assistance of God’s grace, since God is the effective cause of all that is good.

Therefore, it would seem that those who are “discarded” because there is no resistance, have already been the recipients of efficacious grace; which in turn must have already been dispensed. Therefore, we are back to the same problem. The various strains of Molinism and its emphasis on scientia media lead the theologian to put the cart before the horse: it is impossible to be predestined without God first granting the graces that are effects of predestination. The Thomists and Augustinians simply conclude then, that predestination is unconditional, without recourse to man’s foreseen merits or his foreseen lack of demerits.

Another way of putting it is that God, as the Supreme Good, is the cause of all goodness. Therefore, all that is good in us (such as a lack of demerit) is caused in us by God. Therefore, according to Most’s argument, those who are without demerit have already been the recipients of God’s grace, which causes them to be without demerit through free cooperation. Therefore, one cannot hold that predestination occurs after God foresees the absence of demerits, since the absence of demerits presupposes that God had already granted graces that insured that those souls would be without demerits. If God had already dispensed graces insuring that one would be without demerit, then it would seem that election or predestination has already taken place, logically prior to viewing the “absence of demerits.”

but I still contend that God “could or would not” use such a method is not sufficient to prove your assertion. It’s based on Thomist presuppositions which are themselves neither infallible nor the dogma of the Church (as far as I know).

Which “presuppositions” are you referring to? The presuppositions of the Thomistic approach to predestination are either implicitly affirmed by the Church (such as God’s universal causality), or explicitly affirmed by the Church: the absolute gratuity of grace, the assertion that it is really possible for all men to be saved; that God predestines some and not others, and finally the principle of predilection (which as of yet, I have not really discussed). I would also add the distinction between efficacious and sufficient grace. Would you mind elaborating on this claim?

I think one must arrive at a view which preserves the mercy of God as well as His justice

Couldn’t agree more; the infinite perfections of God must all be preserved, even though there complete unity may remain mysterious to us in this life.

without creating seeming difficulties in “unfairness”- why one set of people is chosen over another without consideration of how they act and believe.

The Scriptures do not attest to the fact that God is completely fair; God does not always treat everyone equally. However, the Scriptures do attest to the fact that God is just. And, as Catholics social teaching distinguishes, justice and fairness are distinct. God always renders to each what is due to them; in fact, He does more so, since he is infinitely merciful and gives us freely even that which we don’t deserve- sufficient and efficacious grace. St. Paul addresses this issue in Romans 9:19-23:

“You will say to me then, ‘why does he still find fault? For who can oppose His will?’ But who indeed are you, a human being to talk back to God? Will what is made say to its maker, ‘Why have you created me so?’ Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for a noble purpose and another for an ignoble one? What if God, wishing to show his wrath and make known his power, has endured with much patience the vessels of wrath made for destruction?”

Further on, St. Paul states, “Oh the depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways!” (Romans 11: 33-35).

I think one the main issues I have with Molinism is that it seeks to present this mystery in an inferior light by making it more palatable to human sensitivities. But the fact remains, “I will show mercy to whom I will.” (Romans 9:15)

The two statements [on predestination] are meant in different senses. The Catechism is referring to predestination in the heretical Calvinist sense, but Ott is not since he mentions foreseen sins, which Calvinism would not include in its view.

Good point. However, I think my issue with Ott, after having surveyed his treatment on predestination, is simply a matter of semantics. I take predestination as a modification of the verb to destine, meaning to direct or send. In this sense, it is clear that God predestines no one to hell as the Catechism states, since this would involve God actively guiding one to damnation by moving the soul to sin. That is why I refer to God’s eternal decree to inflict eternal punishment on certain men, not so much as predestination, but as reprobation, since it is permissive and on account of man’s demerits.

God does in fact “foresee” these sins and his judgment is predicated upon them.

So you prove that His will is “conditioned” in this instance once again.

Yes, with regard to reprobation, since reprobation belongs to God’s justice, and in the case of retribution, the action is logically prior to the punishment. But again, you fail to distinguish between reprobation, which belongs to God’s justice, and predestination, which belongs to God’s mercy. I am not arguing that reprobation is unconditional; I am arguing that predestination of the elect is absolutely unconditional, while reprobation is conditional. And, again, it is a non sequitur to assume that simply because God does reprobate on the basis of foreseen demerits that God does or that He “could” predestine on the basis of foreseen merits; we are dealing with an important distinction here between justice and mercy, which qualifies a different approach to each question.

Molinists are not saying that anyone merits eternal life (contra Pelagianism); 

Again, I don’t contend that Molinism is a disguised form of Pelagianism, otherwise it would have been condemned. I do believe however, that it detracts from the very nature of grace- which of its nature is gratuitous- and therefore not conditioned. With its emphasis on scientia media it undermines the absolute gratuity of grace (apart from any consideration of merits, or in Most’s case- consideration of the absence of demerits)- which is clearly part of Church teaching- though not to the point of heresy.

only that God utilizes His middle knowledge in deciding who to give the grace which alone causes them to believe and to attain final salvation. You appear to misunderstand the Molinist claim.

And, again, the Thomists would respond that the “foreseen merits” are already graces that are bestowed on account of prior election; again, scientia media seems to put the cart before the horse. There would be no foreseen merits had not God already dispensed the graces necessary to bring about those foreseen meritorious works. Further, as noted above, this places the efficacy of efficacious grace- not in efficacious grace itself- but in man’s cooperation with sufficient grace. This again seems to undermine the absolute gratuity of God’s grace- “What do you have, that you have not first received?”

Not even future actions (futuribilia) can condition God’s will. The Church is rather clear on this teaching when, following the insights of St. Augustine and his disciple St. Prosper, she declared I the third canon of Quierzy in 853, “Almighty God wills without exception, all men to be saved, though not all are saved. That some are saved, however, is the gift of Him who saves; if some perish, it is the fault of them that perish.

This does not contradict Molinism. Again, if it did, then the Church would have condemned Molinism, but it chose not to in 1607. 

Perhaps so. But the burden of proof is now on you to explain how Molinism supports this canon. This canon clearly establishes the absolute gratuity of grace and predestination, while distinguishing it from the conditioned reprobation of the damned. To me, the Thomist position clearly follows this dogmatic teaching. If predestination is conditioned either by 1) foreseen merits or 2) the absence of foreseen demerits, then you need to explain how the Molinist system accounts for this dogmatic teaching, since Quierzy clearly shows that predestination is “solely the gift of him who saves”. Simply avoiding this question by appealing to the fact that the Pope did not condemn Molinism does not solve this dilemma of the Molinists.

For God to know in His omniscience (middle knowledge) how one will respond is not the same as the assertion that the man who responds favorably to His grace has caused his own salvation, even in part. The prisoner gets no credit for merely accepting the pardon of the governor. He gets no credit at all. It is a pure gift of mercy and grace.

This last part is crucial, and it undermines the reality of scientia media. If he gets a “pure” gift of mercy and grace, then it is an unconditional gift of mercy and grace. If God sees via His omniscience that a man will respond favorably to His gift of mercy, it is only because God has already elected to bestow that gift of mercy; any merit, including a foreseen merit, presupposes the action of a prior grace, which in turn presupposes that God had already elected to bestow that grace. So again, election precedes the meritorious works “foreseen” by God from all eternity.

This is why in the last response I argued that scientia media seems superfluous because the knowledge it presupposes has already been determined by prior election. So God’s foreknowledge (to borrow this expression, since in God there is really no “future knowledge”) has already been determined by His simple intelligence, which already sees all events, past, present and future, in a single glance. To “add” middle knowledge to this delicate equation is like receiving baptism twice- it is superfluous and unnecessary.

You have simply assumed what you are trying to prove. You haven’t yet shown me how God cannot or would not consider foreseen merits or responses to grace in his decision to bestow graces sufficient for salvation. You have asserted it, but not proven it.

Perhaps I have not proven it to your liking, but the fact of the issue remains: I have quoted a multitude of texts that reveal the absolute gratuity of God’s grace. All of the doctors of the Church, even the Congruists, support the interpretation that I have offered, especially with regard to Romans 8:26-30. I have clarified the distinction between predestination to election and reprobation; I have drawn upon the ancient tradition of Augustine and Aquinas, and a host of other doctors, which distinguish between God’s antecedent and consequent wills in explaining the difference between God’s universal will to save all men and the dogmatic teaching that God predestines some men to life through His own free unconditional gift.

What it boils down to is the question: is efficacious grace (grace that secures meritorious works) really efficacious or not? The Molinists say “no” in an attempt to stress man’s free cooperation with God’s grace. The Thomists say “yes”, on the basis of St. Paul’s clear teaching in Ephesians 1, Romans 9-11, and 1 Corinthian 4, not to mention the other texts I quoted in the last response, as well as a variety of others from the Old and New Testaments. Basically, if grace is gratuitous, then foreseen merits and responses are irrelevant to God. “I will show mercy to those whom I will show mercy. I will harden those whom I will harden” (Romans 9). Further, if we are to speak of foreseen merits, it is only on account of God already having dispensed the graces necessary to secure those foreseen merits.

I have argued that…consideration of merit is not impossible.

You seem to be really clinging to the doctrine of scientia media, and again, the cart does not go before the horse. If we hold that God considers merits, and we hold that merits are the effects of God’s grace working through human agency, then it only follows that those merits foreseen by the scientia media are the fruits of graces already dispensed! The whole argument becomes circular: God foresees future merits, but those merits are caused by God’s prior grace. Now logically (not in time, but in terms of causality), grace is prior to merit; merit is the effect of efficacious grace in the justified person. Therefore, it only follows that God unconditionally elects some men and bestows upon them efficacious grace. The merits foreseen by God are simply the fruit of prior election and dispensation of grace.

nor does it undermine God’s sovereignty

I don’t see this; perhaps I’m missing a crucial aspect about sovereignty. A sovereign state, for example, is an independent state; it governs its political affairs without the interference of other nations. By analogy, so it is with God- God is radically sovereign; perhaps infinitely sovereign, because He is infinitely different from all of creation. Therefore His decrees are also sovereign, and the predestination of the elect (which belongs to mercy, not justice) is likewise completely sovereign – “Who can resist the will of God?” Therefore, this would seem to rule out any “conditions” imposed upon God’s will by foreseen merits. I believe Romans 9-11, especially 11, clearly attest to this radical sovereignty of God.

Fr. Most solves this problem by introducing a new nuance and distinction: election to salvation based on foreseen non-rejection of God

With all due respect to this great priest, this hardly solves the problem, since foreseen “non-rejection” is simply a foreseen life of grace, which includes meritorious works. In other words, those who are foreseen to lack demerits must have already been given graces to avoid demerit. To be without demerit, presupposes the work of God’s grace: “Apart from me you can do nothing.” So again, we are back to the dilemma of scientia media: foreseen demerits in this scenario presuppose prior graces that were already bestowed according to God’s good pleasure that allowed one to remain without demerits.

Thus the argument remains circular. I can only assert once again, that the Augustinians and the Thomists avoid this whole conundrum by simply asserting that God’s grace is absolute and unconditional, dispensed apart from foreseen merits; likewise, by analogy, the predestination of the elect (which includes the dispensation of efficacious grace to infallibly guide them to eternal life) could only take place apart from foreseen merits or foreseen lack of demerits.

Now I would modify my former statement to make it consistent with Fr. Most: God takes into account foreseen non-rejection of His sufficient grace for salvation.

The fact that you are modifying your previous statement to make it consistent with Most’s position seems to show that you realize the force of the argument posed by the Thomists and the Augustinians- that election and the dispensation of efficacious grace take place apart from foreseen merits. This shift would move you away from the “pure” Molinist position and closer to the position of the Congruists (St. Robert Bellarmine and Suarez). However, not even the Congruists, who attempted to preserve the doctrine of scientia media, deviated from the Augustinian and Thomistic teaching that God absolutely predestines some men to eternal life, apart from foreseen merits or even foreseen lack of demerits.

In fact, St. Robert Bellarmine and the general of the Society of Jesus, both rejected Molina’s thesis and favored an approach that was much closer to the Thomistic position, yet they still tried to preserve the doctrine of the scientia media. They recommended that Congruism be the general teaching of the Jesuits on this issue. It seems that you are oscillating somewhere between pure Molinism and Congruism. While it remains ecclesiastically permissible to maintain the “conditioned” approach of pure Molinism, on the basis of the authority of virtually all of the doctors of the Church and their interpretation of the Scriptures, in addition to my objections outlined in the past few responses, I am choosing to yield to the Thomistic approach.

It all goes back to grace. You seem to be unable to accept the biblical paradox and insist on either-or reasoning where it is not necessary.

I am baffled by this comment. I don’t deny the paradox between grace and free will, and I think, especially in the last response, I demonstrated the manner in which the Thomists account for this relation- both philosophically and theologically. Certainly, the Molinists don’t deny the parodox either; however, I don’t believe that Molinism adequately preserves the delicate tension of this paradox- this is the real issue. And again, the fact that so many Thomists, Augustinians, Scotists, and Congruists (who make up virtually all of the doctors of the Church) hold the same teaching against pure Molinism compels me to accept the general teaching that predestination to the elect (and the dispensation of efficacious grace that it presupposes) must be absolutely unconditional- apart from either foreseen merits or a foreseen lack of demerits.

The Church decided to allow this option. Therefore, it is a non-defined permissible opinion for Catholics to hold; ergo, I can hold it in perfectly good faith as a Catholic until informed otherwise.


We wouldn’t expect it to be developed, since middle knowledge itself was only stated by Molina in the 16th century. Some of the Marian doctrines are fairly late, too.

To suggest that a particular doctrine has developed is one thing, such as the Immaculate Conception, which has its root in the ancient teaching that Mary is the New Eve. However, this is very different from the “middle knowledge” invoked by Molina in order to support his teaching that predestination is conditioned by foreseen merits. Middle knowledge is a necessary consequence of Molina’s teaching on predestination; yet, as I have shown, that teaching on predestination is nowhere found explicitly in the Fathers, nor in Scripture, nor in the canons of authoritative Church teaching.

The quotes that you’ve furnished from the Fathers are questionable, especially the appeal to Origen as your primary patristic source. While ecclesiastically permissible, it has no firm basis in the Tradition of the Church, whereas the Thomistic solution does, since it develops the principles already set forth by St. Augustine which formed the basis of the Church’s dogmatic teaching at the first and second Councils of Orange (in which the absolute gratuity of grace is defended), as well as the subsequent councils that addressed the question of predestination (Quierzy, Thuzy, Valence, Toul, Trent).

In other words, if your analogy is valid, we should be able to clearly find the teaching that predestination is based on foreseen merits in the writings of the Fathers and the dogmatic decrees of the Church; if that were the case, then that teaching would virtually contain Middle Knowledge, and I would accept your comparison. But since the early Church is at best silent on that issue, whereas the tradition of the early Church clearly yields in favor of St. Augustine, I cannot accept middle knowledge as a “later development” of Church teaching.

Some of the Marian doctrines are fairly late, too. Mary Mediatrix is not explicitly defined (at least at the highest levels).

Again, the “later” Marian doctrines were all virtually contained (as an apple is virtually contained in the newly planted apple tree) in the dogmatic decrees of the early Church, as well as the unanimous testimony of the Fathers. Catholics are bound to profess this truth about Mary (Mediatrix of Graces), though it has not been formally defined as dogma, as was the case with the Trinity prior to its formulation as a dogma. The evidence of this is in the fact that for centuries the Church celebrated feast days in honor of Mary Mediatrix of All Graces (May 31st, and later June 8th). This doctrine is virtually contained in the earlier dogma that Mary is the Mother of God.

However, this is wholly unlike the case with middle knowledge, since this doctrine depends on the presupposition that predestination of the elect depends upon foreseen merits. And since this presupposition has no firm, clear basis in the tradition of the Fathers, or the teachings of the Councils, or even that of Scriptures, I reject it in favor of that ancient tradition which flows through St. Augustine and St. Thomas, and has its origins in the Gospels and catechesis of St. Paul.

So your objection has no force. The fact remains that there is latitude regarding predestination.

There is no dispute here. There is a legitimate plurality concerning this issue, and I am not saying you can’t be a Molinist if you want. But the fact that Molinism is ecclesiastically permissible does not exempt the Molinist from solving difficulties that I don’t believe Molinism is equipped to solve. You seem to be appealing to the permissibility of Molinism as a justification for its tenets, rather than trying to answer the real objections.

I denied that God’s will is unconditioned by anything. It is: by man’s free will.

I find this to be too clumsy of a statement; how would you apply this statement to St. Paul’s clear teaching? “So it depends not upon a person’s will or exertion, but upon God, who shows mercy” (Romans 9:16). And again, St. Paul states, “You will say to me then, ‘Why does he still find fault? For who can oppose his will?” (Romans 9:19) . Psalm 115:3 also states rather clearly, “Our God is in heaven; whatever God wills is done.” Finally, it is Job who ultimately admits, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be hindered.” (Job 42:2) This is why I would argue that to concede your above statement is to make God’s will dependent upon ours, which is absurd. If you respond by saying that man’s cooperation with grace is itself a grace, then the fact is that man’s will to cooperate was already predetermined by God’s election to dispense efficacious grace. So again, we are back to the doctrine of absolute unconditional grace that contradicts the Molinist thesis.

I have yet to see any Molinist refute this objection proposed by the Thomists. As far as I am concerned, the most prominent Thomists of the 20th century, particularly Father Garrigou-Lagrange and Charles Journet have argued this point decisively and it is a death blow to Molinism. The fact is, as Scripture clearly attests to, the express (consequent) will of God is not conditioned by anything- “for whatever God wills is done.” Yet in God’s antecedent will, the possible or the conditional is present, as is the case with the possibility of man forfeiting his salvation on account of his demerits. However, without the delicate distinction between God’s antecedent and consequent will in God, it is easy to confound the issue.

God’s will is conditioned in the case of damnation (as all Catholics agree)

Yes because reprobation belongs to God’s justice, which is commutative in the case of the punishment inflicted on an individual.

Therefore, it is not a priori impossible to suppose that His will as regards the elect may be in part conditioned by foreseen actions, just as it is conditioned in the case of the reprobate.

No, in no way does this follow. Reprobation is a matter of justice; election is a matter of mercy, which of its nature is gratuitous not commutative like justice. Since grace precedes merit, any future meritorious actions can only exist as such on account of a prior grace given to the individual. Thus election precedes foreseen merits. Again, you are not respecting the distinction between mercy and justice. They are not opposed, but they are distinct.

Middle knowledge follows (I think) from omniscience and has been strongly indicated in at least four biblical passages. 

This would appear to flatly contradict your earlier statement, when you said in reference to middle knowledge, “As one would expect for such a highly abstract hypothesis, there is not much direct biblical indication.” (italics mine). I agree, and so I don’t depart from the norms of Scripture and the tradition of Augustine and Aquinas. You seem to be conflicted as to whether there is strong evidence for middle knowledge in the Scriptures or not.

The Fathers assert Divine foresight of conditioned future things when they teach that God does not always hear our prayer for temporal goods, in order to prevent their misuse; or that God allows a man to die at an early age in order to save him from eternal damnation [cites St. Gregory of Nyssa]

I don’t see how this quote supports the Molinist theory of salvation based on foreseen merits.

Technically, it doesn’t; it supports middle knowledge

Is there any difference?? There is no such thing as Molinism without scientia media, as it was concocted by Molina to justify his principle that predestination of the elect was based on foreseen merits. To demonstrate that the writings of the Fathers support middle knowledge is to demonstrate a fortiori the validity of the various Molinist and Congruist schools of thought. That would be like saying the Fathers do not testify to Thomistic principles of causality, only that God is the universal cause of all that is good. Obviously the two are synonymous. So instead of dodging the issue again, please explain how the above citation to St. Gregory justifies the existence of a “middle knowledge” that is somehow independent of God’s simple intelligence.

Please clarify how God answering some prayers and not others establishes the Molinist claim that predestination is based on foreseen merits.

Again, this is proof for patristic support of middle knowledge.

Again, there is no “Molinism” without middle knowledge. And to return to the question, could you please explain how this passage justifies the central tenet of Molinism: scientia media and its distinction from the simple intelligence of God?

There are two problems with this that I see right off the bat:

1) You contradict yourself since now you claim that Molinism creates determinism and abridges man’s freedom, whereas before you complained that Molinism makes man’s decision determine God’s will.

There is no contradiction in my argumentation. The Molinists want to stress man’s freedom and his role in the economy of salvation. This starting point is a noble one, and was perhaps prompted by a desire on the part of the Jesuits to respond to the errors of the Protestants that denied free will. However, my contention is that they overemphasized man’s role in the economy of salvation (though not to the extreme point of heresy, as did the Pelagians). The irony of this Molinist point of emphasis (man’s freedom in cooperating with God’s grace), which I am trying in vain to demonstrate to you, is that I believe the Molinists ultimately undermined man’s legitimate freedom.

They did this by subjecting man’s freedom to scientia media, in which an individual’s response to God’s grace would be conditioned by the various pre-determined conditions foreseen and decreed through middle knowledge. Thus, the Molinists rightly concluded that man was determined (as the Thomists do) by God’s grace; however, they argued that man was determined extrinsically by conditions pre-arranged by God, rather than intrinsically by God’s grace operating through the will irrespective of circumstances. As you’ve noted time and again, both positions are permissible- and I don’t dispute that. Yet, my argument is that the Thomist position does three things better than the Molinist position:

1) It better preserves man’s freedom, since man’s freedom to cooperate with God’s grace in the Thomist scheme is not determined outside of man (through prior conditions) but from within man– efficacious grace intrinsically moving the soul to meritorious works irrespective of circumstances; this teaching also directly responds to the Protestant rejection of efficacious grace and the doctrine of total depravity

2) It grounds the determination of man, not in external circumstances pre-conditioned by scientia media, but in the Divine Causality, which is at least implicitly part of general Church teaching. God is man’s Creator; the Uncreated liberty (God), is the cause of man’s created liberty; therefore, in the order of nature, God causes man to be free- to choose between good and evil- and to will the good. By analogy, in the order of grace, God (uncreated grace) is the cause of created grace in man (meritorious works).

3) Finally, I believe the Thomist position better respects the nature of grace, which is free and unmerited, and in the case of efficacious grace- of itself and in itself- really efficacious, which I believe is a much purer exposition of St. Paul’s catechesis on grace.

You err, I think, in your use of the word “compel” above. What is “determined” is the prior conditions, not the response of the person to them.

So the Molinists claim. However, these “prior conditions” that are pre-determined through scientia media inevitably condition (“compel”) the response of the person to them. Otherwise God would not have already pre-determined those conditions, which would turn imply that those prior conditions are irrelevant, which would in turn render the doctrine of scientia media irrelevant. That is why I am arguing that despite the Molinist attempt to emphasize the role of freedom in the election of the predestined, in the final analysis, it ends up weakening man’s freedom on account of these pre-determined conditions. Again, the position of the Molinists is not heretical, but I think the Thomist position gives freedom more respect, contrary to what the Molinists might object.

Generally speaking, the Greeks are the chief authorities for conditional predestination dependent on foreseen merits. The Latins, too, are so unanimous on this question that St. Augustine is practically the only adversary in the Occident. St. Hilary expressly describes eternal election as proceeding from “the choice of merit”, and St. Ambrose teaches in his paraphrase of Romans 8:29…”He did not predestine before He foreknew, but for those whose merits He foresaw, he predestined the reward”). To conclude: no one can accuse us of boldness if we assert that the theory here presented has a firmer basis in Scripture and Tradition than the opposite opinion. (Catholic Encyclopedia, “Predestination”)

The last sentence betrays the sentiments of the author of this article, who clearly favors the Molinist scheme, and he is very much entitled to do so. However, there are issues with this passage:

First, it claims that the Greeks are the chief authorities for predestination based on foreseen merits, yet no citations of the Greeks are given. You have cited St. Gregory of Nyssa, but at the same time you curiously claim that his citation is not to support Molinism but middle knowledge. Since Molinism refers principally to predestination based on foreseen merits and you claim that your citation of St. Gregory does not “technically” support the Molinist theory of salvation, I can only infer (according to you) the quote does not support Molinism.

In my opinion, the reason why the author of the above article does not explicitly cite any of the Greek Fathers is because the Greeks were relatively silent on the issue. There is no clear statement one way or the other; I have shown that St. Gregory’s quote regarding the death of infants and unanswered prayers in no way undermines St. Augustine’s position, which is the foundation of St. Thomas’ position. It seems to me that one has to read middle knowledge and Molinism into the Greek Fathers in order to pull forth any Patristic basis for that position. Further, since Molinism (and concomitantly, middle knowledge) were later inventions, it would be somewhat anachronistic to try to find them expressed in the early Church.

Secondly, the Greek Fathers– especially prior to St. Augustine- did not have to contend with the heresy of Pelagianism. So, naturally, they were not as conscious of the tenuous relationship between freedom and grace. The Roman Church was forced to address this issue on account of the heresy, and at the first and second Council of Orange the Roman Church clearly adopted the approach of St. Augustine. Later, in dealing with Predestinarianism, the Roman Church was again pressed to articulate this relationship even deeper, as was done at the Councils of Quierzy, Valence, Toul, and Thuzy. Finally, the Roman Church again had to confront the issue in the wake of Protestantism at the Council of Trent. In all instances, the Church clearly follows the teaching of St. Augustine as expounded in the canons of the Church down through the ages. Further, as noted already, St. Augustine in no way taught that predestination was conditioned by foreseen merits.

Lastly, in regard to the Latin Fathers, the author applies the typically Molinist interpretation of the Pauline foreknowledge (Romans 8:26-28) to the Latin Fathers and in my estimation distorts the Latin Fathers. For example, when St. Hilary states that eternal election proceeds from the “choice of merit” (ex meriti delectu) he is referring to the order of execution, not the order of intention, which is logically prior to execution. For example, in the order of intention, God predestines some men to eternal life; He calls many, but chooses a few for eternal life. Subsequently, in the order of execution, God bestows the efficacious grace necessary to secure the elect that he already intends to save.

So, bearing this distinction in mind, which Ott also makes note of, it is perfectly reasonable to say that election follows merits- but only in the execution of God’s will and from the human standpoint of time). Yet, in the order of intention (which always precedes execution) God had already chosen the elect unconditionally, because His will is from all eternity. Of course, all of this in God is realized in the simultaneous glance of eternity. These are mere conceptual distinctions that are necessary on account of the weakness of the human intellect.

And finally, with regard to St. Ambrose, we see this distortion even more clearly. St. Ambrose writes, “He did not predestine before he foreknew, but for those whose merits He foresaw, he predestined the reward.” St. Ambrose was paraphrasing St. Paul’s text in Romans 8:29: “For those he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son” As I stated in my last post, nearly every doctor in the Church, including those among the ranks of the Congruists who accept scientia media interpret the “foreknew” in Romans 8:29 as “loved” or “favored”. St. Ambrose seems to follow suit as well. When he states, “He did not predestine before he foreknew,” he does not mean to say “he did not predestine before he foreknew future merits“; rather, by “before he foreknew” is implied “He did not predestine before he first loved.”

This is the order of intention that is noted above. God loves first; then all else follows. St. Thomas argued that God’s love is the cause of all that is good; therefore, one thing would not be better than another if it were not first loved more by God. This principle of predilection contains virtually the entire Thomistic thesis on predestination and it is presupposed in general Church teaching. Finally, when St. Ambrose concludes by saying “but for those whose merits he foresaw, he predestined the reward”- he is referring to the order of execution in time. If God foresaw merits, it is only because he has already bestowed the graces that produce- with man’s cooperation- meritorious works. To read the Molinist doctrine of middle knowledge into this text of St. Ambrose is anachronistic because as you yourself admitted, it emerged centuries later in attempt to better clarify this mystery.

Once again, the citation [St. Gregory of Nyssa] was to support middle knowledge. I don’t want to start discussing individual citations in depth. We have enough on our plat already.

Perhaps so; but your initial arguments rely in part on the claim that there is some basis for middle knowledge in the Fathers. I dispute that; to read middle knowledge into the Fathers is anachronistic. Further, the only substantial source that you have cited is Origen, and not even he was explicit on the issue- and he is not nearly authoritative as the universally recognized doctors of the Church, almost all of which assert absolute election, apart from foreseen merits.

Rather, I think we can only conclude from Trent that unconditional predestination to hell was condemned. 

Obviously, there is no dispute there, and this is irrelevant. But in not condemning the absolute predestination of the elect apart from foreseen merits, the Church reinforced the teaching that the absolute predestination of the elect is general teaching- otherwise it would have been condemned or at least called into question at Trent. Again, the canons and decrees on justification at the Council of Trent follow clearly the doctrine set forth by St. Augustine in regard to the nature of grace.

Again, Pelagianism is not the issue. Molinism is not Pelagian at all, as I explained in my last survey post.

Agreed, so this is irrelevant. Though I do believe Molinism comes perilously close to Pelagianism. And, the decrees of Quierzy are relevant, because they were not so much about Pelagianism but rather Predestinarianism. The third canon of that council states, “Almighty God wills without exception, all men to be saved, though not all are saved. That some are saved is, however, is the gift of him who saves; if some perish, it is the fault of them that perish.” This canon virtually defines the absolute gratuity of grace as “gift”- the consequence of which is that grace is not dispensed on the basis of foreseen merits, since even those foreseen merits are the work of grace already given. Once again, the burden of proof is on you, as the Molinist, to explain how this canon supports the doctrine that election and the dispensation of efficacious grace are conditioned by foreseen merits.

The Scriptures

With all due respect, I think you missed the boat completely with regard to the Scriptural texts that I produced to argue in defense of St. Thomas’ position, especially since you gave the same response to virtually every single one of them. The implicit and explicit point that these texts demonstrate is that efficacious grace is intrinsically- of itself- really efficacious in justifying man. This critical point, defended by the Thomists and the Augustinians, and rejected by the Molinists, leads logically to the conclusion that the predestination of the elect is absolute, and not conditioned by foreseen merits or the lack of foreseen demerits. Therefore, the teaching that the predestination of the elect is absolute is an implicit one contained in the passages cited in the last post.

“Many are called, few are chosen.” (Matt. 24:22)

This doesn’t tell us how they were chosen, so it is irrelevant to our discussion.

But his passage is pregnant with implications; it is silly to dismiss it so easily; just as many of the doctrines of the Church are implicitly contained in other explicit teachings, so it is with this passage.

Here we see the contrast between God’s antecedent will, which desires that it is really possible for all men to be saved, and God’s consequent will in which some men are predestined infallibly by grace working through charity, while others are not.

But so what? We don’t disagree on that.

If God’s consequent will is infallible (“whatever thou wills is done”)- and you now claim to agree with this- then His graces are efficacious in and of themselves (Who can resist the will of God?) to secure the meritorious works necessary for salvation and in no way conditioned by man’s response. Man’s response, as you yourself admit, is the work of grace producing that response through good works. The dispensation, then, of grace, must be absolute and unconditional. I see no other way out of this conundrum. It logically follows from this simple, yet insightful teaching of Our Lord.

“Those whom thou gavest me have I kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition, that the Scripture may be fulfilled.” (John 17:12)

The elect are not lost, they cannot be. So what? No one disputes that.

Again, you miss the point. If the elect cannot be lost, and you agree with this, then efficacious grace must of itself be able to secure good works, since whatever God wills in heaven is done (Psalm 115:3). The very nature of efficacious grace, given from all eternity to the elect, excludes any thing that might condition it, or else it would not be really efficacious.

God gives grace: we freely consent (the consent itself being enabled by grace, as Trent teaches). 

Yes! God produces the consent by efficacious grace through the will; but the consent of the will doesn’t make efficacious grace efficacious. If you agree with this, you are no longer a Molinist. If you don’t you have to argue against the infallibility of God’s consequent will with regard to the elect. I don’t believe you have proved this thus far, nor can you do so. Therefore, whether in the present, or the future, efficacious grace always remains unconditioned and absolute, which in turn implies, by analogy, that the predestination of the elect is absolute.

By analogy, I don’t see how you could absolutely rule out any foreseen consent in God’s decision to elect, since the Bible shows us consent regarding salvation (at least in the temporal order). 

I simply follow the formulation of Quierzy on predestination, to the effect that for those who are saved, it is the gift of He who saves; for those who are not, it is their own fault. Consent regarding those who are saved, is the gift of Him who saves; therefore, I conclude it is bestowed apart from foreseen merits, since those foreseen merits are only the result of the gift of Him who saves. And, you are right to note, “at least in the temporal order” because if we look only at the order of execution, which takes place in time, election follows merits; but in the order of intention, which proceeds from all eternity, election precedes merit, since God is eternal, and His decrees have existed from all eternity. This is the Thomistic formulation, “glory-grace (God’s eternal decree); grace-glory (time, execution, eternal life)”.

You disputed all my previous Patristic quotes on the grounds that they didn’t get into the “how” of utilizing foreseen merits, then you turn around and give Bible proof texts that are equally silent on the “how.”

Not exactly; that is too simplistic of an argument. My argument is that the absolute predestination of the elect follows logically from the absolute gratuity of efficacious grace and its intrinsic efficacy, which I believe is very clearly stated in Scripture. The Molinists themselves recognize the force of this argument, which is why they seek to avoid defining efficacious grace as being intrinsically efficacious (see earlier statements; also see Ott). I agree, the Scriptural quotes do not explicitly confirm absolute predestination of the elect; but they do, as you yourself agree, explicitly confirm the infallibility of God’s grace and the absolute gratuity of God’s grace. From this conclusion, and by analogy, I defend the Thomistic and Augustinian thesis that predestination of the elect is also absolute.

But I can give plenty of Scripture showing how God seems to consider our merits in His decision to saves or not. 

I find it interesting that you haven’t done so already! And I bet all such passages have to do with cooperation, which I do not dispute; I only argue that man’s cooperation is the fruit of efficacious grace, and for that reason efficacious grace must be intrinsically efficacious. Again, in order to “make” Molinism work, you have to redefine the meaning of efficacious grace, which is essentially what the Molinists have done. While not heretical, it moves away from the rather clear teaching of Scripture that efficacious grace infallibly and of itself secures the salvation of the elect.

So why do you rule out participation…

Ummm, I do?? The difference between the Molinist and Thomistic solution is that in the Molinist scheme, the efficacy of efficacious grace is dependent upon man’s cooperation with sufficient grace; whereas in the Thomistic model, consent and cooperation are the effects of efficacious grace, which of itself infallibly bring about the merits that secure salvation. “What do you have that you have not received?” (1 Cor. 4:7); “Who can resist the will of God?” (Romans 9)

… and God using that as part of His decision to elect and predestine?

Because as explained repeatedly, efficacious grace (that which secures meritorious works, see Ott) is intrinsically capable of bringing about our participation. Participation is an effect of efficacious grace. Sufficient grace makes possible our cooperation with God’s grace; efficacious grace, however, infallibly secures our cooperation with God’s grace.

Now you are arguing my case for me.

Really? Do you really think this? If your analysis of my argument was as simple as that, the whole dispute between the Dominicans, Augustinians and the Jesuits in the Post-Tridentine Church would have never taken place!

You can’t dispute the argument from silence on my part and then use it yourself.

I am not arguing from silence; you are, since you contend the texts are inconclusive. I am arguing that the texts I offered in the last response positively demonstrate that efficacious grace is 1) absolutely gratuitous and 2) infallible of itself to accomplish God’s plan for the elect. From this it logically follows that predestination of the elect is absolute, not contingent upon foreseen merits or lack of demerits. It is like the doctrine of purgatory: it is not expressly stated, just like the absolute predestination of the elect is not expressly stated; however, it is implicitly contained in the above premises. You accept the logical development of the doctrine of purgatory from its theological premises contained in the Scriptures, why is it so difficult to recognize the same approach in this case?

“What hast thou that thou has not received? And if thou hast received, why dost thou glory as if thou had not received it” (1 Cor 4:7)

You agree that this passage from St. Paul confirms that that the grace of consenting to efficacious grace comes from God alone and is in no way merited. Subsequently, this cooperation produces meritorious works. The point (which you claim is “moot”, but really isn’t), is that this initial grace, because it is unmerited, is of itself efficacious- not dependent on us in any way. The Molinists argue that efficacious grace is not of itself efficacious, but our cooperation with sufficient grace makes those graces efficacious. But, as has already been shown, this whole line of reasoning is superfluous because as St. Paul states, “Who can resist the will of God?”, and the Psalmist writes, “Whatever God wills in heaven is done.”

Lots of things develop late. So what? Look at ecumenism and religious freedom, for example: both rather firmly taught by Vatican II.

That doctrines should develop later is not the issue; their later development presupposes the theological “seeds” that were already dormant in the mind of the Church. Religious freedom and ecumenism, however, are not “later” developments of the Church. The entire history of the Church is filled with moments where the Church defended the religious liberty of heretics and engaged in ecumenical dialogue. The novelty of our time is that religious pluralism is so pronounced that it forced the Church to clarify and deepen its understanding. The fact is, however, that these teachings were already either implicit in doctrine or in religious experience. Middle knowledge, on the other hand, is a later “invention”, not a development. To read middle knowledge into the writings of the Fathers as I have shown is not an instance of legitimate development, in my opinion, but of anachronism.

I have shown that St. Ambrose and St. Hilary taught on foreseen merit, and the Catholic Encyclopedia claims virtual unanimity of among the Eastern fathers even the Western ones, save for St. Augustine. 

And this line of reasoning was amply refuted above. Neither St. Hilary, nor St. Ambrose can be conceived as supporting middle knowledge or the doctrine of Molina in general because they were referring to the order of execution, not that of intention, which the Molinists confound as they read their “middle” knowledge into the works of the Fathers. As for the eastern Fathers, there is no real consensus, I agree, and as noted above for several reasons. The passages you have provided are not conclusive at all. And finally, as far as St. Augustine is concerned, he is recognized as the “doctor of grace” by the Universal Church. So I follow his authority, and that of St. Thomas (the “Angelic Doctor”) over that of Dave Armstrong and the Molinists!

Finally, the fact that virtually all of the other doctors of the Church, even the moderate Molinists (with the exception of St. Francis De Sales and St. Alphonsus Ligouri) agree with general teaching that the predestination of the elect is absolute, I choose to yield to their authority.


(originally 5-2-06)

Photo credit: image by spirit111 (January 2018) [Pixabay / CC0 Creative Commons license]


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