What are the origins of Molinism?

by Matt Slick
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Molinism began with Luis De Molina (1535-1600) who was born in Cuenca, Spain and resided in Madrid.  He was a Roman Catholic Jesuit who responded to the Protestant Reformation's doctrine of the sovereignty of God over the free will actions of man - though the reformers did not deny human free will, they just defined it biblically.  Molina wanted to harmonize God's omniscience, predestination, and man's free choice.  So, he developed the concept of what is called middle knowledge which is God's knowledge of what free creatures will choose to do under different circumstances.  In doing this, Molina also proposed a heavy emphasis on man's libertarian free will which is the capability of freely doing both good and bad without coercion.

To repeat, Molina stated that God's redemptive grace was not based on his eternal self-determined decrees alone, but was also based on God's foreknowledge of what free creatures would do in different circumstances (middle-knowledge).  To be clear, he taught that this knowledge is logically prior to God's decrees. God then actualized a world based on this foreseen knowledge. 

"On the other hand, if by middle knowledge one also means, as Molina did, that God possessed this knowledge logically prior to making any decisions about the world, including whether he would create our world, then Arminius’s system is inconsistent with middle knowledge."1

But, I digress.  Molina was a very astute and capable Roman Catholic student who upon...

"...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."2

In addition, Molina was well educated.

"In 1553 he entered the Society of Jesus, and later taught at Coimbra (1563–7) and Evora (1568–83). He then spent several years at Lisbon writing, and in 1588 published his Concordia liberi arbitrii cum gratiae donis. In 1590 he retired to Cuenca, where he remained until, in the year of his death, he was appointed professor of moral theology at Madrid. His major work on political theory, De Justitia et Jure (1593–1609), was completed by other Jesuits and partly published after his death."3

Also, his writings were very influential.

"In 1588, his most famous work, Liberi arbitrii cum gratiae donis, divina praescientia, providentia, praedestinatione et reprobatione concordia ("A Reconciliation of Free Choice with the Gifts of Grace, Divine Foreknowledge, Providence, Predestination and Reprobation"), popularly known as the Concordia, was published in Lisbon. It provoked a fierce controversy over the question of grace and human freedom, a discussion which had been taking place for two decades between the young Society of Jesus (founded in 1540) and its theological opponents."4

The relationship between God's sovereignty and man's free will had been an ongoing discussion long before Molina came on the scene. However, he is the one credited with formulating what has become known as that system of theology now known by his name.

Nevertheless, much of what Melina taught was in opposition to the Roman Catholic position of the day, though modern Roman Catholicism, along with much of present-day Protestantism, and the Orthodox church all affirm Molinism in one form or another.  Molina remained a Roman Catholic throughout his life even though he opposed some of its abuses and he sought to accomplish a measure of reform within its doors.  For this, he was persecuted.

"For his defiance of the doctrines of grace and salvation articulated by the Council of Trent (1545 – 63), Catholic authorities unleashed the Spanish Inquisition upon Molina in 1591, from which he was forced to escape."5

Luis de Molina died in Madrid, Spain on Oct. 12, 1600


Luis de Molina was a brilliant thinker who exhibited a substantial influence in his day. At present, his concept of middle knowledge is affirmed by many within Roman Catholicism, Arminianism, the Eastern Orthodox, etc.  It is supported and defended by William Lane Craig and Alvin Plantinga. Molinists seek to remain faithful to Scripture while they affirm the sovereignty of God and the morally free will choices of fallen man.

  • 1. MacGregor, Kirk R.. Luis de Molina: The Life and Theology of the Founder of Middle Knowledge, Zondervan. Grand Rapids, MI, Kindle Edition, 2015, p. 20
  • 2. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/10436a.htm
  • 3. Cross, F. L., and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, eds. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.
  • 4. newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Luis_de_Molina
  • 5. MacGregor, Kirk R.. Luis de Molina: The Life and Theology of the Founder of Middle Knowledge (p. 12). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.