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History and Theology of Grace

Chapter VIII

Analysis of Efficacious Grace

by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

In order to appreciate the meaning and importance of the celebrated controversy about efficacious grace, we must see its beginnings in their historical work. Apart from the circumstances to which it gave rise, the centuries-old discussion between two major religious orders in the Church might well seem to be “wrangling about a theological subtlety.” If the subject under dispute was subtle, the issue at stake was far from useless. In fact on its clarification depended the substance of the Catholic faith.

Commentators on the disputation De Auxiliis sometimes underrate the significance of the problem by considering it only a domestic argument with no relevance to the Christian life. It is highly relevant, and the early disputants were not “wanting in a sense of humor” for taking too seriously what should have been an academic debate.

History of the Question

The origins of the issue go back to early Reformation times, when the original Reformers revised the traditional concept of the supernatural to proclaim a new type of grace which supplied for the inherent freedom that man was said to have lost with the fall of Adam. The Council of Trent took cognizance of this theory and laid heavy stress on the fact that, in spite of his normal weakness, man’s nature remains substantially sound; that grace neither substitutes anything for liberty nor does it negate autonomous human choice.

In the spirit of Trent, St. Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556) drafted his Rules for Thinking with the Church, which he incorporated into the Spiritual Exercises as a ready norm for giving retreats and directing the consciences of the faithful. Three of these eighteen norms of Catholic orthodoxy deal expressly with the relation of grace and free will, and became the vademecum for his followers in the Society of Jesus.

We should not make it a habit to speak 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 error. They are sometimes misled, so 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 works that are conducive to the salvation or spiritual progress of their souls.
In the same way, caution is necessary lest by much talk about faith and much insistence on it without any distinctions or explanations, occasion be given to the people, whether before or after they have faith informed by charity, to become slothful and lazy in good works.
Likewise we ought not to speak of grace at such length and with such emphasis that the poison of doing away with liberty is engendered.
Hence, as far as possible with the help of God, one may speak of faith and grace that the Divine Majesty may be praised. But let it not be done in such a way, above all in times which are as dangerous as ours, that works and free will suffer harm, or that they are considered of no value. [1]

The best tradition about the origin of these Rules is that they were written about 1537, or some fifteen years after Ignatius had his mystical experiences at Manresa and eight years before the convocation of the Council of Trent. As an integral part of the Exercises, which are permeated by the same spirit, the Ignatian emphasis on man’s freedom in confrontation with God became part of the tradition in the Jesuit order and is still one of its typical orientations in spiritual theology.

St. Ignatius’ concern was not an empty fear because the principles laid down by the Reformers were not sterile theories. In the lifetime of Luther, one of his disciples, John Agricola (1494-1566), developed a system of religious thought which has since become known as antinomianism, from the Greek anti (against) and nomos (law). Its basic tenet is that Christian people are freed from the obligations of the moral law, and was derived by Agricola from Luther’s idea of justification; since if good works are not necessary for salvation neither are evil works detrimental to achieving man’s destiny.

Luther reacted against Agricola and forced the latter verbally to retract, but the theory was carried on by others. It became part of the religious structure of the Anabaptists in Germany and Holland, and through them of the English (and later American) Dissenters. If Protestant authorities officially repudiated antinomianism, it was only because they rightly saw the consequences of pushing the Reformed denial of human liberty to its logical conclusion.

Before Molinism came on the scene, the first shadows of the later conflict were already cast at the stronghold of Baianism in the University of Louvain. Leonhard Lessius (1554-1623), a native of Belgium, taught at Louvain from 1585 to 1600, where he soon found himself in opposition to the dominant followers of Baius on the efficacy of divine grace. He saw the dangerous consequences of the Louvain chancellor’s ideas and, while opposing them, constructed a system of his own, which was closely akin to that of Molina, who had not yet published his classic treatise.

In 1587 Lessius’ zeal cost him the humiliation of having the Louvain theological faculty spurred by Baius to censure thirty-four of his theses on grace and predestination, culled from his writings. Baius had not forgotten that twenty years before the Jesuits had secured his own condemnation under St. Pius V.

Similar tension had built up at the University of Salamanca, where certain Jesuits were charged with heresy by the Dominican theologian, Domenico Banez (1528-1604), spiritual director of St. Teresa of Avila. However both the Louvain and Salamanca situations might have cleared up with a minimum of friction, except for the appearance in 1588 of the Concordia Liberi Arbitrii cum Gratiae Donis by the Jesuit writer Luis de Molina (1535-1600). A native of Spain, Molina had entered the Society of Jesus at eighteen, and after ordination taught at the Universities of Coimbra and Evora until 1583. He then spent several years in writing at Lisbon, where he also published the Concordia. 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.

There was something of a furor over Molina’s book while it was still in manuscript. The Salamanca faculty wished to prevent its publication, but their protests did not move the censor of the Inquisition, Bartolomeo Ferreira, who gave the volume a glowing imprimatur. In this he stated that the work contained nothing that was not in accordance with the Catholic religion, and that many passages from the Councils and Holy Scriptures were explained in a most satisfactory manner.

Destined to become the focus of heated controversy, the Concordia was favorably received in wide circles, and even before Molina’s death it ran into new editions at Cuenca, Venice, Lyons, and Antwerp. A contemporary theologian at Valladolid admitted that the book contained nothing fundamentally new that could not be found in Augustine and Thomas Aquinas; yet that Molina was the first to treat of the reconciliation of grace and freedom at such length and with so much detail, by solving the difficulties that theologians needed to meet the crises of Protestantism. Lessius pronounced enthusiastically in favor of Molina, observing that he defended the same opinion on efficacious grace. The judgment of Lessius is particularly valuable because St. Francis de Sales, who was later declared a doctor of the Church, declared that he shared Lessius’ views on the doctrine of predestination, which completely excludes the physical predetermination of Banez. [2]

Yet Molina’s Concordia was new in many ways, and excited criticism not only outside the Jesuit order but also within its ranks, notably from St. Robert Bellarmine. However Bellarmine was not against the main thesis of Molina, and later defended him stoutly against his critics in Rome.

The principle part of the struggle against Molina was undertaken in 1590 by Domenico Banez, whose name is as firmly attached to the Dominican theory on grace as that of Molina to the corresponding Jesuit position. Banez was an ardent follower of St. Thomas, down to the smallest details. Among the Dominicans who founded the so-called neo-scholasticism, he ranks with Francisco de Vittoria as an outstanding theologian, a shrewd dialectician and profound student of metaphysics.

During the years 1590-1594, the Spanish Inquisition was preparing a supplement to its Index of prohibited books for Spain. Banez urged that Molina’s treatise on grace should be included among the forbidden books. The attempt failed, and in the sequel Molina passed from a defence of his book to an attack on Banez, stating that the latter’s teaching on grace and free will was not reconcilable with the Council of Trent. He charged that the Lutherans had started from the same principles as Banez and ended by denying human freedom. To bolster his indictment, Molina drew up a list of texts from Luther and Calvin, flanked them alongside those of Banez and one of his disciples (Zumel), and stated that Banez was the first to introduce these ideas into Spain. About this time, the Spanish Inquisition examined Molina’s work and gave it formal approval.

During the seven years from the first publication of the Concordia, a veritable civil war of theology was waged throughout Spain, with the Dominicans writing and speaking against Molina, and the Jesuits defending his orthodoxy against what they said were distortions of his doctrine. The climax was reached when the Jesuits appealed to the Grand Inquisitor of Spain, who was told by Rome that since a question of faith was involved, and a matter of no small importance, the decision belonged to the Holy See and no one else must interfere. A papal letter of August 15, 1594 was received by the two religious orders, instructing them not to discuss efficacious grace in public or private under penalty of excommunication.

Unfortunately the tension had mounted to the breaking point, so that Philip II decided to intervene once again. Conferences were held between civil and ecclesiastical authorities, and peace was temporarily achieved, only to be broken when Banez addressed a memorial to Clement VIII, on October 28, 1597, in the name of the General of the Dominicans and the whole order. He asked that the papal prohibition be removed in favor of the Dominicans, since Banez took for granted that his doctrine was the ancient of Augustine and Aquinas, whereas the teaching of the Jesuits was an innovation.

Clement VIII ordered Robert Bellarmine, who was then the Pope’s adviser, to study Banez’ memorial and report on it. Bellarmine’s opinion was that the Dominican scholar assumed what still had to be proved, namely that his theory could be considered as the Church’s tradition. He believed the cardinal issue was whether Banez’ physical predetermination was compatible with the Scriptures, Councils and ancient Fathers, which the Jesuits denied and especially argued for its contravention at Trent. St. Robert felt it would be rash to condemn the Society of Jesus outright; let there first be a hearing of both sides and allow the final decision to the Apostolic See. He further thought it would be better to lift the prohibition against speaking about efficacious grace, allowing discussions on an academic level, with substantial proof and without incriminating charges of heresy from either side.

Meanwhile a massive report was also sent to Rome from the Spanish Inquisition, transmitting the opinions of five bishops and four scholars (none of them Dominicans or Jesuits) on the relative merits of Molina and Banez. The opinions were scattered, some were strongly for one and some for the other, or they blamed both for innovations. Thus the final stage was set for the great duel between the two sides. Writing years later, the Jesuit General Oliva observed that the issue had been very useful to the Church, but that while the controversy lasted the very existence of the Society of Jesus was in the greatest danger (gravissimum discrimen).

During all the subsequent proceedings, two different attitudes were held on the precise question under scrutiny. The Jesuits from the first held it was not important to defend all the theses of Molina. They considered the fate of a single book incidental to the dogmatic issue at stake, that is, whether physical predetermination was true or false. But the Dominicans wished to avoid this vital problem, on which not all members of their own order were in agreement. They wanted everything to center around Molina’s Concordia, and not only the specific area of grace and free will, but everything which Molina taught.

Representatives for the two orders met before the papal commission in the Congregation De Auxiliis, so called because the auxiliary function of grace was under dispute. Three series of meetings were held between 1597 and 1607. In the first series, the decisions were highly critical of Molina and the Jesuits, urging the Pope to condemn their teaching. The final process was conducted under Paul V who dissolved the Congregation on September 5, 1607. His decision was to leave the final judgment to the Holy See while enjoining charity on the contending parties.

The De Auxiliis was unique in theological history. Each debate lasted several hours. At the first meeting, Alvarez (Dominican) and Valencia (Jesuit) disputed for a full four hours. The report for July 27, 1602, states that the disputation lasted uninterruptedly for seven hours on end. Sixty-eight distinct meetings took place under Clement VIII; at thirty-seven of these the theologians disputed, while the cardinals and consultors deliberated at the others. All told eighty-five congregations were held under Clement VIII and Paul V. What raised these discussions to a historic level was the personal assistance of the Pope at the various meetings, and the sincere effort made by the Holy See to settle the issue in one or the other direction, while finally deciding, in the words of Paul V, that “in treating of this question, neither side may condemn the position opposite to his own or charge it with any censure. Even more he desires that they abstain from using harsh epithets that betray animus towards one another.” [3]

Numerous efforts were subsequently made to evoke a papal decision beyond that of Paul V, but they did not succeed. Among the most dramatic was the appeal by the Jansenists against the Molinists, citing certain judgments of one or another consultor of the De Auxiliis as showing the true mind of Paul V although lacking his definitive approval. In 1654 Innocent X issued a solemn decree which condemned several Jansenist publications and passed judgment on the pretended declarations of his predecessor. Among the forgeries was a supposed Constitution of Paul V condemning Molina by formal definition. Innocent X decreed that “no trust at all is to be placed” in these documents, and that “nothing can or ought to be alleged on either side by anyone whatsoever,” [4] in favor of their position.

A half century later the faculty at Louvain petitioned Innocent XII to make a public declaration in favor of their traditional doctrine, including a doctrinal statement that grace is efficacious by itself, and that predestination before foreseen merits has not been weakened by the condemnations of Baius and Jansenius. Innocent replied that, “We do not think it opportune at present to demand a more elaborate discussion of divine help than that which was instituted by our predecessors, Clement VIII and Paul V.” [5]

When Benedict XIII in 1727 reconfirmed the privileges of the Order of Preachers, he forbade anyone to say that the doctrine of St. Thomas or his school was impugned by the condemnation of Jansenism. He than added that, “having discovered the mind of our predecessors, We do not wish either by our own or their praises conferred on the Thomistic school, which we approve and confirm by our repeated judgment, that there be any disparagement of the other Catholic schools which think differently from the same in explaining the efficacy of divine grace, and whose merits are also clear to the Holy See.” [6] He renewed the decrees of Paul V and forbade anyone “to brand with any mark of theological censure the schools that have different opinions” from the Thomistic position.

His successor, Benedict XIV, in 1748 came to the defense of the Molinists in a detailed statement to the Grand Inquisitor of Spain. It is the latest, authoritative declaration on the subject, which briefly summarizes the various schools of thought permissible in Catholic theology on the efficacy of grace.

You know there are manifold opinions in the schools on the famous questions about predestination and grace, and on the manner of reconciling human liberty with the omnipotence of God. The Thomists are said to be destroyers of human liberty and followers not only of Jansenism but of Calvinism. However, since they meet the charges with eminent satisfaction, and since their opinion has never been condemned by the Holy See, the Thomists carry on without hindrance in this matter, and it is not right for any ecclesiastical superior in the present state of affairs to force them to change their opinion.
The Augustinians are reported as the followers of du Bay and of Jansenism. They represent themselves as defenders of human liberty, and strenuously answer their critics. Since their opinion, too, has not been condemned by the Holy See, no effort should therefore be made to compel them to give up their theory.
The followers of Molina and Suarez are condemned by their adversaries as Semi-Pelagians. But the Roman Pontiffs have not passed judgment on the Molinist system, which they presently defend and may continue to do so. [7]

Benedict XIV’s reference to Suarez indicates the stage of development that Molinism had reached by the middle of the eighteenth century. By that time the accepted Jesuit theory on grace had become known as Congruism, a modification of Molina. It was elaborated by Suarez, Vasquez and Lessius, and became the quasi-official teaching in the Society of Jesus under the Generals Vitelleschi and Piccolomini, in the mid-seventeenth century.

However, as early as 1613, the Jesuit General Claudius Aquaviva, told the teachers of theology in the Society to lay greater stress on the Congruistic phase of efficacious grace. As will be seen in the theological analysis, Congruism steers a middle course between pure Molinism and Banezianism, without relinquishing the basic features of Molina’s theory. Aquaviva was led to his decision by the representations, besides others, of St. Robert Bellarmine, who felt that Molina’s defense of free will might undervalue the primacy of grace, which is the decisive factor in the economy of salvation.

Analytic Comparison

As indicated in Benedict XIV’s letter to the Grand Inquisitor, there are three principal theories of efficacious grace permissible in Catholic thought: the Thomistic, more commonly known as Banezianism; the Augustinian because its defenders said it was based directly on St. Augustine; and Molinism, whose historical development into Congruism was recognized in the Society of Jesus within a decade after Molina’s death.

Banezianism. The true founder of the Thomistic theory of grace was Domenico Banez, whose name is commonly attached to the system, although he personally felt it was not an interpretation but a restatement of the doctrine of St. Thomas.

Banez started with the universal principle that God is the First Cause and Prime Mover of all things in creation. They depend upon God not only for their existence and faculties but for every one of their acts. “No second cause can operate,” he declared, “unless it has been efficaciously determined by the First Cause.” [8]

There are no exceptions to this divine causality. Whatever creatures do, comes within the scope of God’s primal operation. Whether the creaturely acts are good or bad, necessary or free, they depend upon the Prime Mover, without whom nothing can occur. God adapts Himself to the special nature of each creature, whom He moves accordingly. However this divine action is not simultaneous concursus, by which God together with the secondary cause influences an effect. It is a prevenient concurrence, which acts logically on the cause prior to acting on the effect. Like a workman using his tools, God moves and applies the secondary cause to produce the effect.

This application of the divine power to all secondary causes is called premotion or physical predetermination. It is a motion because through it God moves a creature to action. It is a pre-motion because it logically precedes the action of the secondary cause, namely the exercise of its native activity. It is physical and not moral, because it does not operate objectively by means of knowledge and attraction, but subjectively as a physical cause that flows into the faculty. It is a predetermination because it moves uniquely to that one determined act to which God has decreed to move a creature.

Transferring these norms to theology, Banezianism teaches that a twofold help of grace is needed for a salutary act. One help is less powerful and perfect; it predetermines the soul to certain indeliberate supernatural acts, and functions by way of stimulus or excitation. The other help follows on the previous, is more perfect and powerful, and assists the will to perform deliberate acts of free choice. The first kind of grace is called sufficient or stimulating (excitans), the second type efficacious, or assisting (adjuvans).

These two graces, sufficient and efficacious, are essentially different, since the former gives only ability (posse) whereas the latter produces activity (agere). “Sufficient grace in a Thomistic sense is one that gives a man the power of doing something good; in order to have him actually do well or rightly use this ability, he needs another more powerful grace.” [9] This “more powerful” grace is called efficacious grace. It confers not only the power to act but the act itself. By definition, it includes the free consent of the will, whereas merely sufficient grace lacks that consent.

More closely examined, efficacious grace is that additional divine aid which physically predetermines the human will, without taking away our free choice, both as to the exercise of our freedom and its specification or choice of a given object. “It never happens that the power which sufficient grace confers would either act or obtain its main effect, unless it were supplemented by an efficacious grace.” [10] This efficacious grace is a determination because it is absolutely impossible for the will, under its influence, not to perform the act which God has determined; it is in every sense a pre-determination since it comes before our consent, for the sake of that consent and in order to effect a consent. It is physical because it produces its effect by virtue of its own reality, intrinsically woven into its nature, and independent of any circumstance or consent of the free agent.

If a man resists sufficient grace, he sins. [11] For a sin to take place, two decrees are required on the part of God: an eternal decree permitting the sin in this case and moreover the man to remain with sufficient grace only; another decree predetermining the sinner to the material element in the sin. Both factors are verified antecedent to God’s foresight of what choice the created agent will make. The sequence is something like this. God confers a sufficient grace on some person; He predetermines the individual to the material part of this sin, by which he resists the grace offered; thereby the man sins formally, consequently rendering the grace merely sufficient. In penalty for this sin he is deprived of the efficacious grace that would have predetermined him to place a salutary act.

The relation of efficacious grace to predestination in the Banezian system follows naturally on the foregoing. God wants all men to be saved, unless a universal salvation would impede the achievement of higher divine ends or purposes. Antecedent to His prevision of their good or bad use of freedom, by a free and absolute decree on God’s part, He chooses certain persons for a definite measure of eternal glory. The rest of the human race He omits from this decree, which is technically called a negative antecedent reprobation. It is reprobation because it is not predestination to glory. It is negative and not positive because (other than Calvin) the object of the divine resolve is not eternal punishment but exclusion from the beatific vision. It is antecedent because God’s will on their fate is determined (in human language) before He foresees their merits or demerits.

God absolutely predetermines to give the help of efficacious graces, by which the predefined meritorious acts of the elect will infallibly take place. This predetermination is called extrinsic. But when God puts it into effect in time by means of physical premotion, as explained above, it becomes intrinsic predetermination, i.e., built into the free human will. As regards the negative reprobates, God orders their lives in such a way so that they receive only such graces as are finally merely sufficient. They do not die in the state of grace.

While there are minor variations to the theory, substantially Banezianism postulates a threefold infallible connection between efficacious grace and salutary acts. The first nexus arises objectively from the internal force of premotion, as an instrument of divine omnipotence; given predetermination to a certain salutary act, it is inconceivable that a man would fail to consent. On the level of cognition, God foresees the future free actions of creatures in His eternal volitional decrees, in which He knows with infallible certainty the free actions of creatures predetermined by Him. In terms of His divine purpose, God absolutely and efficaciously wills that salutary good works be performed, and consequently ordains to confer intrinsically efficacious grace to make that effect come to pass.

Before going on to evaluate the Banezian theory, it may be useful to summarize. The Thomistic explanation of how grace and free will are reconciled begins with the premise that God has eternally predetermined that some people should be saved, and to realize this aim confers effective (efficacious) graces on these elect. He therefore physically affects their free wills, and thus secures that they decide freely to cooperate with His grace. There is an inner power in efficacious grace which infallibly insures that the predestined freely consent to perform such salutary actions as will merit heaven. Consequently efficacious grace is essentially different from merely sufficient grace, which confers the power or ability to place salutary acts, but no more. Before this bare potency can be reduced to action, another and different divine help must be received, namely efficacious grace. Since God has eternally willed the free consent of His chosen ones to the efficacious graces He confers, He thus ineluctably brings about the salvation of those who are included in His loving decree. All the rest who do not come within the ambit of this election are permitted, through the abuse of their freedom, not to attain heaven. The divine motive for this negative reprobation is that God willed to manifest His goodness not only by means of His mercy, but also by means of His justice.

On its credit side, Banezianism is in the Augustinian tradition of safeguarding the sovereignty of God and the gratuity of grace. It has the merit of constructing a system of grace that is perfectly consonant with the principle that God is the First Cause of all created activity, and that mankind, in its existence and operations, is utterly dependent upon God.

However, the problems to which it gives rise are neither few nor unimportant. At the head of these difficulties is how to reconcile physical predetermination with authentic human freedom. Howsoever defined, liberty must include the inner power of self-determination, of doing something or not doing it, of willing or not willing, or assenting or dissenting. It must be able to determine itself in such a way that, before decision, it is undetermined; otherwise it could not be the autonomous faculty that reason and revelation hold it to be. “Man has free choice,” wrote St. Thomas, “otherwise counsels, exhortations, precepts, prohibitions, rewards, and punishments would all be pointless.” [12]

In the Banezian system, before efficacious grace is received there is no real power to perform a salutary act. After its reception there is no corresponding ability to do anything but that act. Prior to its own determination, then, the will is already (by logical priority) determined to the one act for which it has been given an efficacious grace. When asked for his judgment by Clement VIII, Robert Bellarmine observed that “This opinion does not seem to save free will, nor can it be distinguished from the formulae used by the modern heretics.” Yet he prudently added, “I do not, however, dare to condemn it absolutely, as I know it is defended by great men.” [13]

At the time the controversy De Auxiliis was raging, contemporary writers spoke of the Protestant reaction to the prospects that Banezianism would be canonized and Molinism condemned. Followers of the Reformation eagerly gave ear to the rumors that Molina had already been censured. Scribani, the Jesuit rector at Antwerp, wrote that, “I can find no words to describe the expressions of joy with which this news has been received by the heretics of our city. Some of them have gone so far as to congratulate themselves that the view of Calvin as to free will has at last been recognized as true.” [14]

The fact is that an impassable difference separated the Banezian from the Calvinist theories on grace. Calvin denied freedom and built a whole theological structure on this premise; whereas Banez and his disciples resolutely defended human freedom under the impulse of grace. But better than speculative commentaries was the spontaneous reaction of the sectarians of the times, who thought (mistakenly) that the opponents of Molinism were proponents of determinism.

Equally grave is the practical impossibility of retaining truly and merely sufficient grace in the Banezian hypothesis. Truly sufficient grace would be a misnomer if it did not really suffice for the performance of a salutary act. The sources of Catholic tradition and the common belief of the faithful hold that sufficient grace gives more than a bare supernatural potency which cannot be reduced to act. On the contrary, God confers it so that we might have both the potency to perform and actually to accomplish salutary actions.

In the Banezian system, sufficient grace is insufficient of itself for a man to act supernaturally. He needs besides a substantially new grace, called efficacious. But then how do we square two opposing concepts of sufficiency: one that is truly adequate for something, and another that is inadequate unless supplemented?

All defendants of physical predetermination sincerely maintain that truly and purely sufficient grace exists. The Jansenists were condemned for denying the fact, and no Catholic questions the Church’s teaching. But how do we retain a sufficient grace that does not derogate from the primacy and necessity of the grace that is efficacious? If it is given too much potency, in the sense of enough power actually to perform a salutary act, then what is called merely sufficient would conceivably become efficacious grace and produce salvific actions - which contradicts a first principle of Banezianism, that strictly efficacious grace is necessary for every salutary act we place.

Molinism. There are really two forms of Molinism, one proposed by Molina himself, and the other developed under the stress of the debate with his critics. The modified form is called Congruism and will be examined later.

The best presentation of classic Molinism is in the words of the author, whose Concordia deserves to be rated one of the great books of all time. Its most salient feature is the scrutiny given to it by the highest authority in the Church; and from which it emerged dogmatically unscathed. No book, it has been said, since the invention of the printing press has been subjected to such minute and ruthless criticism in every line. Yet not a syllable of its more than 300,000 words was censured or condemned by the Holy See. Opposition from all sides over a period of twenty years only gained its author the privilege of being numbered among those who have reasoned most deeply on the relations of man with God. Modern scholars outside the Christian tradition rank Molina alongside Augustine, Aquinas and Calvin as one of the most influential exponents of predestination in the history of Christianity.

Molina traced his doctrine first along historical lines. He showed that the beginnings of a theology of predestination were occasioned by the Pelagian heresy, which attributed all things to our free will and declared that nothing else is needed for salvation. To answer Pelagius, Augustine and his contemporaries. “demonstrated from Holy Scripture that the origin of our salvation comes from God through His foresight and action, and that the beginning and perfection of our salvation depend upon the grace of God which is given to us through Christ. In other words, the gifts and means of grace are conferred not according to the effort of our free will but according to the pleasure of God.” [15]

As a result of Augustine’s lucid writing, and the Church’s authoritative teaching, certain truths became commonly accepted in Catholic tradition. Thus “the following matters have been above controversy; there is in us freedom of will; no one, whether adult or child can attain eternal life except through grace derived from the merits of Christ; and no adult, by reason of his own powers and without the aid of supernatural grace, can be justified and attain eternal life. In God there is a foreknowledge of all future events and a predestination of the good to eternal life through grace, gifts and supernatural helps. The freedom of the will is related to all of these and is not in the least diminished or impeded by them.” [16]

But more than this was “above controversy,” in Molina’s opinion. The ancient writers also agreed “it was not because God foreknew what would happen that those things which depend on the created will would take place. On the contrary, it was because such things would happen through the freedom of the will that He foreknew it. He would also foreknow the opposite, if the opposite was to happen, as was possible by reason of the freedom of the will.” [17]

However, if “there was always common opinion” concerning these elements one thing Augustine admitted was still lacking: to find a solution by which human liberty might be reconciled with divine grace, divine foreknowledge and predestination. Molina was therefore looking for the clue to solve the problem, so that, as he hoped, “an adult could work out his salvation as he chose” without being worried about “these three obstacles.”

There was a higher than academic motive that prompted Molina to spend years in reflective research on the issue. He was frankly interested in converting those who had left the Church, ostensibly because they could not accept the Catholic doctrine on grace and free will. “A way would be opened,” he hoped, “whereby they might more easily return to the unity of the Church.”

Certain principles should guide the theologian in explaining how grace and freedom are compatible. Molina ventured the guess that “if these principles had always been given and explained, perhaps the Pelagian heresy would never have arisen, now would the Lutherans have dared so impudently to deny the freedom of our will, alleging that it could not be reconciled with divine grace, foreknowledge and predestination.” [18]

He proceeds to enunciate these principles, which he reduces to four. They are the backbone of Molinism and state in clearer terms than any commentary what the author of the Concordia meant when he said he was sure that his theory would have been unanimously approved by St. Augustine and the Fathers “if it had been proposed to them.”

The first and basic principle is the nature of the divine influence, both through its concurrence in the natural acts of the will, as well as through particular aids to supernatural acts. (Thus) the prevenient and auxiliary graces which are conferred upon us in our pilgrim state (on earth), are efficacious or inefficacious for conversion or justification. They depend upon free will and the cooperation of our will. In fact, these graces are in our free will, either to render them efficacious by consenting to or cooperating with them towards those acts by which we are disposed to sanctification; or to render them inefficacious by refusing our consent and cooperation, or even to raise a contrary disagreement.
The second principle is the legitimate, or better the orthodox, explanation concerning the measure of the gift of perseverance…Two things are necessary for the gift of perseverance. One on the part of God: that He will have decided to give those aids with which He foresaw that the adult would persevere by His own free will. Another (on the part of man): that the free will of the adult is a necessary condition; for without it the (divine) will to confer such aids could not imply the will to confer the gift of perseverance, namely, that the adult of his own free choice would so cooperate with such helps that he might persevere, which it is clearly within his ability to do. Therefore it should not be understood that the gift of perseverance from God is of such a nature that it takes away the power of not persevering. [19]

The foregoing principles are the foundation on which Molina rested his case. But they involve another postulate, relative to the way God foresees the future, which had first been defined and scientifically demonstrated by Fonseca, the teacher of Suarez. Molina distinguished three types of foreknowledge in God: mere possibles, actual future events, and an intermediate, scientia media, which covers the futuribles, i.e., of things which are not, but which would be if certain conditions were realized.

According to Molina, “God knew before the free act of His will what the crated will would do in all circumstances, if He, God, decided to place such created wills (men and angels) in a particular set of circumstances. And to the contrary, He also foreknew if the created will should decide on an opposite course of action. On the basis of this principle, the freedom of the will is compatible with divine foreknowledge.” [20] This means that through the scientia media God knows from eternity what reaction a created will would make to every conceivable grace He might confer. When, therefore, in the light of this knowledge, He actually bestows a grace, this grace will turn out to be efficacious or merely sufficient, according as God foresees whether a man will freely accept or resist the divine aid. He has absolute power to give or withhold His graces in each individual case, depending on His own free decision.

One last step needs to be made, in order to reconcile freedom of the human will with divine predestination. “God chose to create this order of things rather than another, and to bestow these aids rather than others, and by means of which He foresaw that some persons and not others will attain to eternal life,” Moreover, “predestination has no cause or reason on the part of the use of the free will of the predestined and the reprobate, but is to be attributed solely to the free will of God. This follows logically from the fact that the will to create a certain order of things and to confer upon individuals certain aids, provides the basis for the predestination of adults, which depends on the use that God had foreseen they would make of their free will.” [21]

The essentials of Molinism, therefore, are three. The first is its denial of any kind of predetermination, whether physical (in the Banezian sense) or moral, as understood by the Augustinians. The other two are its hypothesis of a scientia media by which God foreknows the free future acts of creatures not in predetermined decrees but through the scientia media; and its concept of grace which is extrinsically efficacious.

Beyond these basic features, two principal schools of Molinism have since arisen. Most Molinists, following Molina, Vasquez and Lessius, teach a conditioned predestination (to heavenly glory only), that is, after and because of foreseen merits. Others prefer the modified form which Suarez and Bellarmine devised to meet the critics who charged that “pure Molinism” has something strange about it because it implies that the efficacy or inefficacy of grace depends on the arbitrary choice of a created will. If sufficient grace becomes efficacious only by the consent of man, how can we still call the resulting salutary act an effect of grace? They consequently held that predestination is antecedent to foreseen merits. According to them, God freely resolved from eternity, without considering the merits of men, to confer grace for the performance of good works (gratia de congruo) in accordance with such circumstances as He foresees will be favorable to their use. This latter theory is also called Congruism, although it differs only accidentally from pure Molinism.

Congruism. The essence of strict Molinism is that efficacious grace is not given as efficacious, i.e., in order that a good act might be performed, but grace is conferred which God foresees to be efficacious. Congruism, on the other hand, declares that efficacious grace is given qua efficacious, that is, in order that a salutary act be placed.

The nature of congruous grace was explained in a famous decree of Claudius Aquaviva (1545-1615), General of the Society of Jesus, published in 1613, by which he directed Jesuit theologians to teach Congruism, as being more in agreement with the doctrine of St. Augustine and St. Thomas.

Henceforth let our Fathers always teach that efficacious and sufficient graces do not differ merely in completed act (actu secundo), because the one obtains its effect by the cooperation of the free will and not the other. But they differ also in their first movement (actu primo), in this sense that, presupposing scientia media, God Himself, with the fixed intention of producing good, designedly chooses those determinate means and employs them in the manner and at the moment which He knows infallibly will insure that the effect will be produced. Consequently, if He had foreseen the inefficacy of these means, God would have made use of other means.
That is why, morally speaking and considering it as a favor, there is something more in efficacious grace than in sufficient grace even in its first movement (actu primo). In this way God brings it about that we actually do something, and not merely gives us the grace to be able to do it. The same may be said of perseverance, which is undoubtedly a gift of God. [22]

Soon after the decree was published, a variety of interpretations arose, which prompted the next general congregation of the order (1616) to further explain Aquaviva’s ruling. “There was no intention to declare,” it was stated, “that God by His will predetermines or predefines any good work of ours independently of the free cooperation of our will. Nor was it meant to say that in efficacious grace there is some sort of real entity or some kind of physical mode in its first movement (actu primo), which is absent from sufficient grace. The decree only meant to say it was a special benefit of God to have given one man, e.g., to Peter, with the intention that he might do good thereby, a grace at such a time and place as God saw beforehand by His foreknowledge that the man would rightly use. This benefit He might not confer on another man, e.g., John, whom He gives a grace at such a time and place as He foresees the person will not put to use through his own fault.” [23]

Commentators have pointed out that, according to this interpretation, all Molinists, including Molina and Lessius, have taught the same things. Nevertheless the decree of Aquaviva was not incorporated into the Jesuit Institute, nor is it now mandatory on the Society.

According to Congruism, sufficient grace is truly sufficient from the side of God, because its inefficacy is attributable solely to the human will. No one questions that in this system the influx of efficacious, that is, congruous grace, fully safeguards the liberty of our wills, which the Congruists consider not as a mere abstraction but immersed in the complex circumstances of human life. God foresees what grace will prove efficacious in the context not only of chronological time or local place but of a man’s temperament, native ability, weakness, education, past experience, association, and a myriad factors that certainly influence the will without compelling it. He confers a supernatural grace that attracts the will, and softens it. As it were, but (except for rare interventions like St. Paul’s conversion) never compels us to do good.

Thus conceived, the difference between efficacious and sufficient grace depends not only on the will of man, but also on the will of God. He gives not only the grace which He knows to be efficacious, but because He foresees it will be efficacious. His selective choice of congruous graces, conferred under conditions so favorable to their efficacy that He knows we shall cooperate, vindicates the divine sovereignty over His creatures and guaranties the absolute dependence on His will which is the hallmark of Christianity.

Syncretism. Other methods of reconciling grace and free will have been proposed and still enjoy some vogue in theological circles. Often they are joined in various combinations to produce a type of syncretism which draws either on Banezian or Molinist principles. Two especially are significant: the Augustinian theory of moral predetermination, and the Alphonsian hypothesis of a distinction between ordinary and onerous divine precepts.

The Augustinian system was first elaborated by certain members of the Order of St. Augustine in the eighteenth century to answer the Jansenist challenge without compromising the Catholic doctrine of free will. Actual grace, said the Augustinians, is the impulse of a holy love or heavenly delight, which may take on two different forms. When the grace is merely sufficient, the divine attraction is less than the pull of earthly self-love, and therefore no consent takes place. God gives the ability to perform a salutary act, if man desires to cooperate. However, to actually cooperate, he must receive a “conquering delight,” in the form of efficacious grace. But all the while he remains perfectly free.

Efficacious grace morally predetermines the will to consent by attracting rather than physically impelling it to action. While the will responds infallibly to the inspiration of efficacious grace, it does not do so necessarily. In fact there would have been no need of such grace were it not for the fallen state of man and resulting concupiscence. Otherwise than in the Banezian system, the reason for efficacious grace is man’s weakened condition, and not the hypothetical need of all secondary causes absolutely to depend on the First Cause for their action.

Augustinianism also differs from the Thomistic theory by admitting degrees in efficacy of the same grace, according to the circumstances in which a person finds himself, to the point where an identical help from God will be efficacious under one set of conditions and inefficacious if these conditions radically change. It therefore approximates Molinism, while transmitting the need of a scientia media and making grace intrinsically efficacious. Banezians favor the Augustinian explanation, but suggest that it does not go far enough; that the need for intrinsic efficacy in grace is not due simply to man’s fallen state but to his created nature.

The name of St. Alphonsus Liguori is commonly associated with a form of Congruism developed at the Sorbonne in the eighteenth century. This was later adopted by many Redemptorists, and is sometimes called a mitigated Augustinianism. However a careful distinction must be made between the theoreticians who first conceived the hypothesis or later explored it, and the practical use to which St. Alphonsus put those elements in the Sorbonne system which is the common possession of Catholic theology.

On its speculative side, the Sorbonne hypothesis is an attempted combination of Banezianism, Molinism, Congruism and Augustinianism. As summed up by a Redemptorist in the last century, “Grace is intrinsically efficacious, and in this we follow the Thomists and Augustinians as against the Molinists. Contrary to the Thomists we say this intrinsically efficacious grace is not physical but merely a moral motion. Intrinsically efficacious grace is required only for difficult salutary acts. For the easy acts, especially for prayer, sufficient grace, which is commonly granted to all , is the only grace required.” [24]

Thus a middle ground is established in this eclectic system, whose critics are both Banezians and Molinists. They argue that the intrinsic and infallible efficacy of the divine decrees and of grace either is or is not compatible with human freedom. If it is, why limit intrinsically efficacious grace to difficult acts; if it is not, why admit it for them? Salutary acts are supernatural and therefore require the advent of grace. Their relative ease of difficulty does not change the function of grace in its relation to the will.

However, it would be less than accurate to identify the speculative side of Sorbonne Congruism with St. Alphonsus Liguori’s ascetical interest in the necessity of prayer. We must ask God, St. Alphonsus would say, for efficacious graces when we conscious of weakness, find ourselves hard pressed with severe temptation and trial. In his treatment of the subject, he relies on the authority of Bellarmine and Francis de Sales. He is not even remotely concerned to reconcile grace and free will in the style of Banez or Molina. He wants to explain in clear language the common teaching of the Church about the need of prayer for salvation.

Liguori’s trenchant insistence on everyone’s receiving sufficient grace at least to pray, and thereby obtain further, efficacious graces to overcome grave obstacles, is borrowed from Bellarmine, whom he quotes to the effect that all the Scripture exhortations to “be converted, return, come, ask,” would be “vain and mocking if God did not give to all at least the grace to pray actually if they wish.” [25] He concludes with a graphic description of the just complaint that sinners might make if this were not true.

I am unable to understand how preachers can exhort the people to return to God, if even the grace of prayer is refused to some. For the people might answer, “Why do you exhort us to repentance? Ask God Himself to convert us, for we have neither the immediate efficacious grace to return actually to God, nor the mediate sufficient grace to obtain it by means of prayer.”
I am likewise unable to conceive how the Sacred Scriptures can so strongly exhort men to listen to the divine inspirations if the grace of prayer be not granted to all. For they who are destitute even of the efficacious grace of prayer may say to God, “Lord, why do You tell us to do this? Make us do it Yourself, for You know we have not even the grace to ask You to make us correspond to Your invitation.”
Finally I cannot comprehend how the reproof given to sinners in these words, “you always resist the Holy Spirit” (Acts 7:51), can be just, if they do not receive even the remote grace necessary for actual prayer. [26]

His conclusion is that since the grace of prayer is common to all, every excuse is removed from those who say they had no strength to resist the assaults of the flesh or the evil spirit, since they always had, as the Council of Trent declared, the grace of prayer by which “God does not command the impossible; but when He commands, He warns you to do what you can, and also to pray for what you cannot do.” [27] To this principle, all theoretical systems of reconciling grace and free will would subscribe.

Chapter VIII - References

[1] St. Ignatius Loyola, “Rules for Thinking with the Church,” Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, (Chicago: Loyola Press, 1951), para. 367-69, 160-61.

[2] St. Francis de Sales to Lessius, August 26, 1618 in Oeuvres de St. Francois de Sales (Annecy: Nierat, 1912), 18:272-73.

[3] DS 1997.

[4] DS 2008.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] DS 2564.

[8] Domingo Banez, Scholastica Commentaria in Primam Partem Summae Theologicae S. Thomae Aquinastis (Madrid: Editorial F.E.D.A., 1934), 1, 14, 13; CCC 308.

[9] Charles Rene Billuart, De Gratia, diss. V, a. 4.

[10] Ibid.; CCC 1742.

[11] CCC 679.

[12] St. Thomas, Summa Theologica, I, 83, 1; CCC 311.

[13] Xavier-Marie Le Bachelet, Auctiarum Bellarminianum (Paris: Gabriel Beauchesne, 1913), 143-47.

[14] Ludwig von Pastor, History of the Popes (London: Kegan Paul, 1912), 24:355.

[15] Luis de Molina, Concordia Liberi Arbitrii cum Gratiae Donis, Divina Praescientia, Providentia, Praedestinatione et Reprobatione (Paris: P. Lethielleux, 1876), pp.545-546; CCC 1987, 1996, 2007.

[16] Luis de Molina, Concordia Liberi Arbitrii cum Gratiae Donis, Divina Praescientia, Providentia, Praedestinatione et Reprobatione (Paris: P. Lethielleux, 1876), p.547.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid., p.548.

[19] Ibid., pp.231, 548-549.

[20] Ibid., p.549.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Claudius Aquaviva, quoted in Controversiarum de Divinae Gratiae Liberique Arbitrii Concordia. ed. G. Schneemann. (Friburgi Brisgoviae: Herder, 1881), p.203.

[23] Ibid., pp.303-304.

[24] Joannes Hermann, Tractatus de Divina Gratia Secundum S. Alphonsi M. de Ligorio Doctrinam et Mentem (Rome: P. Cuggiani, 1904), num. 509.

[25] St. Robert Bellarmine, De Gratia, II, 4, Vol. 5 Opera Omnia (Paris: Ludovicum, 1874).

[26] St. Alphonsus Liguori, Exposition and Defense, p.124; CCC 2744.

[27] DS 1536.

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