HeyJ XLIX (2008), pp.
THE PRAYER OF THE MOLINIST
Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, NC, USA
According to the ‘Power of Prayer’ objection to Molinism, the insights of the Church’s great saints and spiritual directors regarding how best to grow in the spiritual life conﬂict with Molinism: spiritual growth is best achieved by praying from a Thomistic attitude towards Providence. Thomas Flint has recently replied to this objection as it was raised by Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange. In this paper, I respond on behalf of Garrigou-Lagrange. Ut legem credendi lex statuat supplicandi–St. Prosper of Aquitaine1
Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange was no admirer of the Molinist theory of Providence, and he argued rather forcefully against it. Thomas Flint has recently replied to several of Garrigou-Lagrange’s objections.2 Some of these replies seem compelling: at least one, however, does not. In this paper, I will argue that Flint’s quick dismissal of the ‘Power of Prayer’ objection fails. The discussion will bring to light an unexpected, but quite interesting, reason to worry about whether Molinism is true. The Power of Prayer objection, as discussed by Flint, is the following:
The scientia media puts less emphasis on the need for prayer. For the Molinist, who would wish to have his theory remain unimpaired in prayer, could not ask God for the efﬁcacious grace that makes him will, that takes away from him the stony heart, that compels the rebellious will to turn to God, as the Church prays. He cannot pray with the profundity of meaning as in the prayer of the Mass: ‘Make me adhere to Thy commandments and never permit me to be separated from Thee’.3
This objection, says Flint, can be easily dismissed once we make a couple of distinctions. First, we need to distinguish between those things in a conversion that (arguably) happen to the sinner – such as the removal of his stony heart – and those things that the sinner freely does – such as willing to sin no more. Second, we should distinguish between the weakly and strongly actualizing states of affairs. We strongly actualize those states of affairs which we directly cause, and we weakly actualize those states of affairs that result (but not by causal necessity) from states of affairs that we strongly actualize.
r The author 2008. Journal compilation r Trustees for Roman Catholic Purposes Registered 2008. Published by Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK and 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA.
it is at least clear that he considered it and found it wanting. there would be no life preserver there to grab. who then pulls her to safety. and embrace Thomism.’ So Flint thinks that the objection has no force whatever. Flint holds that this doesn’t undermine God’s priority in bringing about our salvation.4 This kind of prayer provides. more or less. (The One God. p. These two problems set up the following argument.’ since the proposed paraphrase fails. the equivalent of the petition ‘Make me adhere to Thy commandments and never permit me to be separated from Thee. e. consider that the quotation from Garrigou-Lagrange continues as follows: ‘But according to the Molinist’s theory. And he holds that this priority is all that is required to avoid the Power of Prayer objection. Consider the following simile. This reply. 111) But this is. But this means that at best. sin to more.
. all that is required from the sinner is to not resist God’s grace when you can resist. on the Molinist view. the Molinist can ask to be put in circumstances where she will sin no more. the Thomist would say that there are two problems. On Garrigou-Lagrange’s reading of Molinism. since without God. Second. he asks God merely to place him in those circumstances in which He foresaw that he would consent to the grace offered’. because she has to grasp and hold onto those preservers on her own power. it is essential to growth in the spiritual life that one is able to pray precisely that kind of prayer. This argument is what the Power of Prayer objection is all about.. So I shall have to explain why Garrigou-Lagrange ﬁnds these two problems with the reply. We will start with the ﬁrst problem – the failure of the paraphrase. and since the greatest growth in holiness ﬂows from a prayer life that is inconsistent with Molinism. God would put people – if he could – in situations where he knows they’ll freely hold on to the life preservers. Indeed. What.THE PRAYER OF THE MOLINIST
So Flint says that the Molinist can ask God to strongly actualize those elements of conversion or sanctiﬁcation that are outside her power. contrary to what was suggested above. and ask God to weakly actualize those things that are in her power.g. Since we are all called to holiness. in effect. by way of bringing about those states of affairs in which God knew that she would freely will to. may not be as strong as it seems. however. Flint sees the sinner as a swimmer in distress who must take hold – by her own power – of the life preserver handed to her by the Divine lifeguard. the Molinist actually cannot ask God to ‘make me adhere to Thy commandments. and nobody doing the pulling. is wanting? If I understand this properly. To see why I say so. we should reject Molinism. Since Garrigou-Lagrange includes it as part of his objection. First. Certainly. this means the sinner still has to rely on herself for her salvation. exactly. Flint’s reply to the objection. (Divine Providence. 110–11) In other words. There’s nothing God can do to determine that the sinner will be saved.
it is consequently less exacting . Garrigou-Lagrange would say that the Molinist certainly can’t pray ‘Make me adhere to Thy commandments and never permit me to be separated from Thee. to speak of ﬁdelity to grace and abandonment to Providence like most convinced Thomists . . (T)he authors of the spiritual life who had to receive their training in the Molinist or Congruist school. The sinner cannot trust God to save him or to make him grow in holiness. Thomas and that based on Molinism. . O Lord.942
God can weakly actualize our salvation: and that just means that there is no causal necessity leading from any of God’s actions to our own salvation. to thee and I shall be converted’. the saints. The Molinist in his hours of intense prayer. for one cannot ask much from a man who cannot rely upon God in coming to a ﬁrm resolution and keeping it . and not merely weakly actualize it. There simply is no making of the relevant kind possible on the Molinist account. in order that God may transform their rebellious wills and strengthen the weak. . A whole book could be written on the difference between the spiritual direction based on the teaching of Saint Augustine and St. abandonment to divine Providence.
The converters of souls. . inclines the soul rather to examine itself than to see God’s action in us. . for their preaching to be effective. The latter . forgets his doctrine and says with the Scripture: ‘Have mercy on me. to make generous sacriﬁces. If the sinner cannot rely completely upon God’s Providence – if the sinner cannot pray and live in the way mentioned above – then the sinner’s spiritual growth will be stunted. . I will use fairly lengthy excerpts from Garrigou-Lagrange in order to try to make his perspective clear. and God will give you the efﬁcacious grace which will incline you infallibly to good. Let me here lay out this case in some detail. He argues that these saints have urged people to trust wholly in God’s Providence in ways not consistent with Molinism. they must above all pray for those whom they are evangelizing.
. This total reliance on Providence involves the trust that God can strongly actualize our salvation. They know the Lord is not impotent to cause these wills to return to Him . . Convert me. recommends far more the need of prayer. .6
This may look at ﬁrst like an ad hominem: the point may appear to be simply to poke fun at Molinists for not being consistent with their own doctrine while they are at their prayer or preaching or spiritual direction. The former . to a more and more perfect charity.5 This leads to the second problem. . He has to rely on his own strength. by reason of the sublime topics they were treating and the souls they were directing. well know that.’ and really mean it – not in a straightforwardly literal sense. . have been led. . no matter how favourable the circumstances are in which he ﬁnds himself. and says: See that you do not resist sufﬁcient grace and good inspirations. For this reason. O God . . . Garrigou-Lagrange cites the approach of the great spiritual directors of the Church. anyway. . As proof of this claim.
Remember the imagery of the swimmer holding onto the ﬂotation device: that rescue is not the lifeguard’s work alone. Paul [1 Cor 4:7] that Garrigou-Lagrange never tires of quoting as a fundamental insight behind the Thomist view of Providence). St.THE PRAYER OF THE MOLINIST
That’s certainly part of the problem. It is a team effort. no doubt. theoretically. but we will glorify God because he alone is its author. why do we glory in it? . . What good do we possess that we have not received? And if we have received it. says St. and growing in holiness. The reason they do so is that there is something fundamentally right about the Thomist way of understanding Providence. The passage from St. we will easily perceive that what we do when he is with us is not the result of our own efforts. If Garrigou-Lagrange is right in his claim that the greatest spiritual directors – including the Molinists – presuppose that God strongly actualizes our salvation. become great saints – but only insofar as they pray like Thomists – and Molinist spiritual directors can. at least. We will of course enjoy it and rejoice in it because we possess it. no doubt. If we reﬂect on what we did when God was not with us. even though he rejected that view theoretically.e. Molinist) spiritual authors Grou. no matter how attentive the lifeguard may be. Francis. . Francis could have been written by Garrigou-Lagrange. As proof of these claims. but that’s not all that’s going on here. the quotation includes a line from St. divine teacher and model of all perfection. Here is a particularly vivid passage:
There is no need to fear that knowledge of his gifts will make us proud if only we remember this truth.8
God alone is the author of our salutary acts. while speaking as a Molinist. He also mentions a far more important director of souls: St. committed Molinists. There is a close connection between living and praying as though the Thomist view of Providence were true. All are called to holiness:
The Lord Jesus. Francis de Sales. Francis frequently speaks as a ‘convinced Thomist’ on the issue of Providence. Garrigou-Lagrange cites the works of the Jesuit (i.7 In his Introduction to the Devout Life. . direct souls as though Thomism were true. that none of the good in us comes from ourselves . and something fundamentally wrong about the Molinist way of understanding it. then this seems to give good grounds for accepting the Thomist account of Providence. Molinists can. If the swimmer didn’t hold the ﬂotation device on her own power. . be wonderful spiritual directors – but only insofar as they direct souls just as Thomists would. de Caussade and Lallemant. This connection is so close that even those saints and spiritual directors who are. The point that Garrigou-Lagrange is really making is that it is not a mere accident that even Molinists pray as Thomists at those times when they are in their deepest communication with God. she would be lost. No Molinist could say such a thing – not. preached holiness of life (of which he is the author and maker) to each and every one of his disciples
but still deny that it gives us a good reason to believe accordingly. Bonaventure had a view very similar to the one we’ve been discussing – that God strongly actualizes our salutary acts.’ (Mt 5:48) . as in any other science. and instead attribute everything to God. It can. Bonaventure held that it is ‘the mark of pious souls’ that they desire to claim nothing for themselves. as your heavenly Father is perfect. I don’t have arguments to muster in support of his claims beyond those arguments from authority that I’ve already noted. and I don’t believe Flint’s reply is sufﬁcient to blunt its force. been made before. no doubt. Francis de Sales should be read as understandable exaggerations. as Gilson says. It seems obviously less than optimal to be a Molinist in the classroom. in effect. but a Thomist when at prayer. will ﬁnd the Power of Prayer objection quite untroubling indeed. . such a principle can become dangerous when used as a criterion of theological truth . be argued that Garrigou-Lagrange’s claims about the best way to grow in holiness are simply false. Perhaps passages such as the quotation from St. rather than as attempts to speak in perfectly precise terms. or those who are doubtful that it is right. there is nothing pious in being wrong about God (and he’s surely correct about that. Gilson replies to Bonaventure’s claim:
Excellent as a rule of personal devotion. and as long as it is restricted to the sphere of religious feeling.9
But doctrine should be consistent with growth in holiness – indeed. One might grant that Garrigou-Lagrange’s approach to spirituality is correct. I think. he seems clearly wrong. . Consider a related objection. Truth does not contradict truth – why should prayer contradict truth? This. but to be right.10 Those who are convinced that his approach to spirituality is wrong. it seems like a chief purpose of doctrine simply is to aid us in growing in holiness by keeping us from error and leading us to truth.944
without distinction: ‘You. Such an objection has. . is the real point of the Power of Prayer objection. (A)ll Christians in any state or walk of life are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of love. if attributing nothing to oneself really is an excellent rule of personal devotion. the main question is not to be pious. Perhaps we
. how can it be excellent for personal devotion to use a ‘rule’ that gets God wrong? Thus. although obviously one who is. we have good reason to think it’s true that we should attribute nothing to ourselves. to some degree. In theology. must be perfect. For there is nothing pious in being wrong about God!11
I’ve just argued that the view Gilson objects to – that we should attribute all to God and nothing to ourselves – should be used as a criterion of theological truth. though I say this with some trepidation. St. One might also raise a different kind of objection. But. wrong about God can nevertheless be pious). According to Etienne Gilson. therefore. when teaching philosophy of religion. Gilson denies this. If. .
St. (God: His Existence and His Nature. Francis resorted to speaking like a Thomist. become more fruitful. and not to have a tendency towards such exaggeration. It is the Church’s public worship that is useful in determining the falsity of certain theological propositions. even though he was not conveying his own beliefs with strict accuracy. his motivation has to have been that he thought the way he was speaking was more conducive to growth in the spiritual life than the way he would speak if he were trying to convey his beliefs with strict accuracy. no Molinist would ever claim that we can take credit for our salvation. is that heretical claims can be seen to be heretical simply on the grounds that they are not consistent with the way the Church prays. one thing should be clear: those who believe that Garrigou-Lagrange’s approach to spirituality is fundamentally correct ought to doubt that Molinism is religiously adequate. Francis to be simply saying. Again all this leaves open the question of whether it is true that we should attribute nothing to ourselves. The argument is much more modest. If St. Consider this paper’s epigraph from St. Francis is speaking loosely. not only on the terrain of theological speculation. If spiritual growth is best
. But even if readers are unconvinced by the objection. And again. Importantly. Francis’s own beliefs where they differ from it. That is that anyone who seeks to deal with this objection will have to take up the matter of spirituality – and questions of spirituality are strikingly absent from most contemporary discussions of Providence. there is still something important to be gained from considering it more carefully. that we can’t take credit for our salvation: and. Francis seems – to me.THE PRAYER OF THE MOLINIST
should understand St. in slightly poetic terms. if there were a more pronounced tendency to take a stand. At the very least. we believe. however.’ his point. GarrigouLagrange. and disagree with St.12 So my argument here is not intended to show that Molinism is heretical (and I do not believe that it is!). even if St. Let me conclude with an important qualiﬁcation. one can’t argue from the fact that Molinism conﬂicts with the assumptions and exhortations of that process (at its best). Prosper. When he writes ‘Ut legem credendi lex statuat supplicandi. then we should think it true. That saying has to do with speciﬁcally liturgical prayer. The point is simple. of course. heartily desired that the dispute be moved onto precisely those grounds: ‘This controversy would. to the conclusion that Molinism is heretical. since spiritual direction is not a liturgical affair. Volume II. And if it is more conducive to growth in the spiritual life. p. though. the reply to Gilson still seems appropriate. not her private devotions or the advice of her spiritual directors. Further. in the work quoted. as I understand it. but also on that of spirituality’. However. anyway – to be speaking quite plainly and clearly. 507) I think he was right. I have nothing more to add in defence of that claim.
camp.).). Volume 1. (Third Part of the Introduction.newadvent. y40. The reply to Garrigou-Lagrange is in the latter.946
achieved on Thomist suppositions about Providence. Louis: Herder. OP. Dom Bede Rose (trans. St. 147–81. it’s pretty clear he belongs to the broadly Molinist. Such technicalities aside. It bears noting that this conciliar teaching was quite possibly made under the direct inﬂuence of the extremely important work of Garrigou-Lagrange. 1998). 507. Louis: Herder. OP. 1988). 1975). the Catholic Encyclopaedia article ‘Controversies on Grace. Francis was not a fully committed Molinist. 7 In one place. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange. which is a Molinist line that no Thomist could accept. Colman O’Neill. become rather commont in Catholic circles by the 20th century. 5 Note that this does not amount to a charge of Pelagianism. 1989). (cf. Francis’s Treatise on the Love of God (Book 2. 8 St. No strict Molinist could accept intrinsically efﬁcacious grace. p. Nor would they be likely to specify that they’d appreciate being put in situations where they will freely choose not to sin. He very efﬁciently took to pieces the ‘two-tier’ view (that religious are called to attain real holiness. 1952). Dom Bede Rose (trans. for he held that there was such a thing as intrinsically efﬁcacious grace. that they’d like God to ‘weakly actualize’ certain things and ‘strongly actualize’ other things. New Revised Edition (Northport. p. When a Molinist prays ‘God. 2 Flint’s most important work on Providence can be found in ‘Two Accounts of Providence’ in Thomas V. and Vatican II unequivocally took his side in
. though he believed it was offered only on rare occasions. Vatican Council II. But that’s not relevant to this paper.’ her prayer doesn’t have such speciﬁc ontological commitments (though. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange. He accepted that predestination was post and propter praevisa merita.). Reginald GarrigouLagrange. No doubt when the ‘person in the pew’ prays ‘God help me. p. Ambrose. NY: Preserving Christian Publications. help me!’ her meaning is different from the Thomist’s when he prays the same prayer. NY: Cornell University Press. God retains priority. OP (ed. (St. lex credendi. Section 5). Cf. 1934. p.’ says that it was on the advice of St. apparently. 397. OP. Louis: Herder. NY: Costello. God: His Existence and His Nature. OP. for. p. in a difﬁcult situation. Introduction to the Devout Life (New York: Image Books.htm) St. The phrase means roughly ‘the order of supplication determines the rule of faith’. 467.org/ cathen/06710a. 378. however. Morris (ed. excerpts from pp. Francis sounds like a Thomist. But I would contend that like ontological theries. (Cf. 1944). This work has also been attributed to Pope St. Celestine I (as the title would suggest) and St. 3 Rev. 135. which seems to me an even clearer example of the phenomenon Garrigou-Lagrange is talking about. http://www. Francis de Sales. The quoted translation is by Fr. The Catholic Encyclopaedia article on St.). Albany.newadvent. The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents. This idea is often expressed in the better known aphorism lex orandi. while the laity are held to a much lower standard) that had. Volume II (St. prayers involve ‘ontological commitments’. Most people simply ask God for help. because they understand the nature of the requested help in different ways.org/cathen/06220a. Grace (St. Divine and Human Action (Ithaca. it does commit her to things like the existence of a God who intervenes in human affairs). 277. p. Dominican Nuns of Corpus Christi Monastery (trans. Francis that Pope Paul V permitted both systems. such as in the case of the Blessed Mother. pp. 9 Vatican Council II document. NY: Cornell University Press. He does not cite the passage I mention here. most people do not specify.htm) Further. http://www. he suffered a terrible and prolonged temptation to despair as a result of that very controversy. repr. Francis was no stranger to the Thomist-Molinist controversy. The One God. Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium). Chapter 12) where St. 6 Rev. and is from Austin Flannery. 4 True. and Divine Providence (Ithaca. for example. 498–501. Rev.). rather than the broadly Thomist. 1993). Garrigou-Lagrange cites a passage from St.). and forbade the labelling of either as heretical. a temptation from which he was miraculously healed through prayer to our Lady. as Flint points out. then why should anyone believe Molinism?13
1 Capitula Coelestini. John K. Ryan (trans. Francis says that early in his life. presumably.
Augustine’s Press. On Dulles’s own e-t view. IN: St. Cardinal Dulles has recently articulated a ‘model of theology’ which he calls the ‘ecclesiastical-transformative’ (e-t) trend. 1992].’ (Avery Dulles. the reader should consult some very interesting work by Avery Cardinal Dulles. 13 My deep thanks to Tom Flint.) In other words. so the support here for Garrigou-Lagrange’s argument from this view is also at best analogical. ch. is regarded as a real and efﬁcacious self-communication of God . 10 I would direct interested readers to Fr. OP. and which stands in opposition to the ‘propositionalist-cognitive’ approach of the scholastics and the ‘experiential-expressive’ approach of the modernists and existentialist phenomenologists (among others). who would be thought to be in most cases a paradigmatic example of a ‘propositional-cognitive’ theologian apparently implicitly invoking the e-t model in one of his anti-Molinist arguments. ‘Revelation . 12 For more on this claim. The Sacred Monster of Thomism (South Bend. For an excellent discussion of these matters.
. 17–19.THE PRAYER OF THE MOLINIST
this dispute. 2005). In addition to the chapter on spirituality. 51–52. . Peddicord’s book for more on this. not in the ﬁrst instance through propositional discourse. The deeper insights of revelatory knowledge are imparted. see Richard Peddicord. the prayer life of the Church is a partial determinant of what the belief of the Church is. 1937). but through participation in the life and worship of the Church. It is surely interesting to see Garrigou-Lagrange. and at the Society of Christian Philosophers Eastern Division meeting in 2004. 226– 229. who discussed this paper with me a couple of times and offered extremely helpful comments. pp. Prosper. to the believing community. Trenton Merricks and Patrick Lee both gave good advice on an early version of this paper. to have the liturgical life and worship of the Church in mind. SJ. like St. there is an interesting discussion related to the present one at pp. 11 Etienne Gilson. The Unity of Philosophical Experience (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons. pp. Dulles seems. I also beneﬁted greatly from comments and questions from audience members at the Notre Dame Centre for Philosophy of Religion weekly seminar. . . . The Craft of Theology [New York: Crossroad. 8.