Could Molinism Become a Catholic Dogma?

Molinism, that is the doctrine of middle knowledge (Lat. scientia media) has been a widely debated topic in Catholic and even Protestant theology for the past four and a half centuries. Despite Molina’s ideas being widely debated in the 16th and early 17th centuries, the Church under Pope Paul V chose not to pick a side in the debate and in 1607 he declared that both Molina’s views and those of his Dominican opponents could be taught without censure in the Church and that the Church would settle the issue at a later time. While that later time has not come, it is always possible that a future pope or council could issue a definitive teaching on the dispute regarding middle knowledge. The question I am asking here is whether the Church could dogmatize Molinism, that is, make it an essential part of the Catholic faith, something that must be believed by all the faithful.

Dogma and Infallible Doctrine

To answer this question one must first understand what it means for something to be a dogma. A dogma, as the Catechism teaches, is something which is part of Divine Revelation and is taught definitively by the Church.

The Church’s Magisterium exercises the authority it holds from Christ to the fullest extent when it defines dogmas, that is, when it proposes, in a form obliging the Christian people to an irrevocable adherence of faith, truths contained in divine Revelation or also when it proposes, in a definitive way, truths having a necessary connection with these

Catechism of the Catholic Church 88

Dogmas, as the citation indicates, are not the only infallible teachings of the Church. Dogmas are distinguished from other infallible teachings which, as the Catechism describes in the same paragraph are “truths having a necessary connection with these”. Thus what distinguishes a dogma, from a non-dogmatic infallible teaching is whether the truth of such teaching is “in divine Revelation” as is the case with a dogma or merely in a “necessary connection” with a dogma. Dogmas are often called “primary” objects of the Church’s infallibility while non dogmatic teachings are “secondary” objects. The general principle behind secondary objects of infallibility is that a denial of the secondary object would imply a denial of a dogma. A couple examples of such teachings might help clarify the distinction between a dogma and another infallible doctrine of the Church.

Dogmatic Facts

As the Catholic encyclopedia notes, certain dogmatic facts which are necessary for maintaining the teaching of the Church can be definitively taught by the Church even though they are not themselves part of revelation.

It is also generally held, and rightly, that questions of dogmatic fact, in regard to which definite certainty is required for the safe custody and interpretation of revealed truth, may be determined infallibly by the Church. Such questions, for example, would be: whether a certain pope is legitimate, or a certain council ecumenical, or whether objective heresy or error is taught in a certain book or other published document

Scope and Object of Infallibility 2

A second type of teaching that falls under the Church’s infallibility are truths whose truth is revealed partly in Scripture and partly in human reason. As the Catholic Encyclopedia says,

[I]t is generally held, and may be said to be theologically certain, (a) that what are technically described as “theological conclusions,” i.e. inferences deduced from two premises, one of which is revealed and the other verified by reason, fall under the scope of the Church’s infallible authority.

Scope and Object of Infallibility 2

Such teachings, while possibly being infallible, since they are not purely from revelation cannot be dogmas but are secondary objects of infallibility.

With that background we can now answer the question of whether Molinism can be dogmatized.

As we saw, for something to be a dogma, it must be part of divine Revelation. To be a part of divine Revelation does not mean something is clearly taught in Revelation or that it be explicitly taught in Scripture or Tradition. The dogma of the bodily assumption Mary would be a good example of something which is hinted at in Scripture (e.g. in Rev. 12) but not taught explicitly in Scripture. Thus for Molinism to be a dogma, there does not need to be in Scripture a verse teaching that “God has knowledge of creaturely free choices logically prior to his decree to create”. However, that teaching does need to be in Scripture at least implicitly.

Molinism and Scripture

Scripture does have things to say about God’s knowledge of the choices of free creatures. Christ for instance says that if the works he had done in Capernaum had been done in Sodom, Sodom would have repented (Mat 11:23). However, such a verse does not support Molinism any more than its alternative view since Thomists too agree that God knows what creatures would do if placed in various circumstances. The difference between Molinism and Banezianism is not whether God knows what creatures would do, but rather whether he knows that logically prior to his decree to create. It is on this latter point that Scripture is silent.

The main argument that God’s knowledge of creaturely choices must be prior to his decree to create can be found in William Lane Craig. Craig argues as follows:

  1. Counterfactuals of creaturely freedom are either true prior to or posterior to God’s divine decree
  2. If such truths were truth posterior to divine decree, they would not be counterfactuals of genuine creaturely freedom
  3. But they are counterfactuals of genuine creaturely freedom
  4. Thus, they are true prior to the divine decree.

They key premise in the argument is premise 2, that if the truths of the counterfactuals of creaturely freedom were true posterior to the divine decree, they would annihilate human freedom and not truly be counterfactuals of creaturely freedom. This premise, it seems to me is defended solely on the grounds of human reason. I don’t think even a Molinist would argue that there is Scriptural support for this specific premise. Thus, Molinism fits into the category of things whose truth is taught partly in divine revelation and partly by human reason. Such truths can be infallibly taught by the Church but are not dogmas.

Molinism as Theological Conclusion

As we have seen, the truth of Molinism is based upon teachings of Scripture regarding human freedom, God’s knowledge of counterfactuals, and his sovereignty among other things. However, Scripture does not answer the question of whether God has knowledge of counterfactuals logically prior to his decree to create or not. If middle knowledge is true, we can only know this through human reason. Thus, Molinism, cannot be dogmatized.

However, Molinism is closely connected with two other things which are dogmas: human freedom and divine sovereignty. If Molinism is true, then one could reasonable argue that to deny Molinism, one must deny either that humans have free will (e.g. Calvinism) or that God is truly sovereign and omniscient (e.g. Open Theism). Of course, the Molinist would have to argue that Molinism is the only way of reconciling both of these dogmas. Only then would Molinism meet the condition of being “necessarily connected” with dogma and so be able to function as a dogmatic fact and be taught infallibly by the Church. The Church has not as of yet made such a judgement and allows both Molinists and their opponents to argue for their positions.


In conclusion, while Molinism is capable of being taught definitively by the Church, I have argued here that it cannot become a dogma of the Church. That is because dogmas must be in divine Revelation at least implicitly. While there are truths about human freedom, divine sovereignty, and divine knowledge of human choices which are in Scripture, I do not think that these things imply that God has middle knowledge. However, if Molinism is true, it is plausibly the only way to reconcile the above mentioned dogmas. Thus, a denial of it would entail a denial of one of the dogmas thus making Molinism a dogmatic fact. Will Molinism ever be definitively taught? It is unlikely to occur anytime soon. The Church has already waited over 400 years since Paul V promised to settle the issue. God only knows what the Church in his timing will do.

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