MIGUEL DE MOLINOS
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Miguel de Molinos (c. 1628–1697), Spanish divine, the chief apostle of the religious revival known as Quietism, was born about 1628 near Muniesa (Teruel).
He entered the priesthood and settled in Rome about 1670. There he became well known as a director of consciences, being on especially friendly terms with Cardinal Odescalchi, who in 1676 became Pope Innocent XI. In the previous year Molinos had published a volume, Guida spirituale, the disinvolge l’anima e la conduce per l’interior camino all’ acquisito della perfetta contemplazione e del ricco tesoro della pace interiore. This was shortly followed by a brief Traltato della cotidiana communione.
No breath of suspicion arose against Molinos until 1681, when the Jesuit preacher, Segneri, attacked his views, though without mentioning his name, in his Concordia tra la fatica e la quiete nell’ orazione. The matter was referred to the Inquisition. It pronounced that the Guida spirituale was perfectly orthodox, and censured the intemperate zeal of Segneri.
But the Jesuits set Father La Chaise to work on his royal penitent, Louis XIV, who prided himself on being a pillar of orthodoxy; but he was on very bad terms with Innocent XI, and soon yielded to the pleasure of discovering heresy in an intimate friend of the pope. Following on official representations by the French ambassador in Rome, who happened to be a cardinal, Molinos was arrested in May 1685. At first his friends were confident of an acquittal, but in the beginning of 1687 a number of his penitents of both sexes were examined by the Inquisition, and several were arrested. A report got abroad that Molinos had been convicted of moral enormities, as well as of heretical doctrines; and it was seen that he was doomed. On September 3, 1687 he made public profession of his errors, and was sentenced to imprisonment for life. In the following November, Innocent signed a bull, Coelestis Pastor, condemning sixty-eight propositions from the Guida spirituale and other unpublished writings of its author. At some date unknown in 1696 or 1697 Molinos died in prison.
Contemporary Protestants saw in the fate of Molinos nothing more than a persecution by the Jesuits of a wise and enlightened man, who had dared to withstand the petty ceremonialism of the Italian piety of the day. But Molinos was much more than the enlightened semi-Protestant that his English admirers took him to be; and his Quietism, had it been suffered to run its course would have swept aside beliefs and practices more important than the rosaries of nuns, though it is most unlikely that he realized the consequence of his own theories. Segneri and La Chaise were not so easily deceived. They were Jesuits; and Jesuitism is built up on the double assumption that God reveals Himself wholly and only through Jesus, and that Jesus reveals Himself wholly and only through the Church of Rome. Luther had already broken through one link in this chain, when he taught the Protestant world to come directly to Jesus, without troubling about the Church; but Luther still assumed that God could only be reached, through the intermediacy of Jesus. Molinos wished to find a royal road to God without any intermediaries at all. The Reformation maintained that the Church, so far from being a help, was a hindrance, to union with Jesus; whereas Molinos welcomed both Church and Jesus as helps to union with God, always provided that the believer treated both as means to an end beyond themselves. In other words, he held that there was a triple stage in piety. Beginners gave themselves wholly to the Church. At the second step came devotion to Jesus. At the third and highest stage both Church and Jesus were left behind as deiformes, sed non Deus, and God remained alone.
But how could a finite being bring himself into direct relation with Infinity? Following very ancient precedents, Molinos fell back on those phenomena of our consciousness which seem least within our own power. The less sense of proprietorship we had in a thought or action–the less it was the fruit of our deliberate will–the more certain might we be that it was divinely inspired. But what state of mind is most likely to be visited by these spontaneous illuminations? Plainly the state that Molinos calls the “soft and savoury sleep of nothingness;” where the soul is content to fold its hands, and wait in dreamy musing till the message comes; meanwhile it will think, do, will as little as it can. For this reason disinterested love became the great hallmark of Quietist sanctity. Why it is unfitted to be a test of sanctity in general has been explained at length by Bossuet in a remarkable Instruction sur les etats d’oraison, published while the Quietist controversy was at its height. But, although Molinos’s system did not long survive him, he had at least the double merit of courage and tenacity. Few writers have struggled so long and so hard to disengage the essence of religion from its transitionary embodiment in an historical creed.
The Guida spirituale was published in Italian in 1675, and has been reprinted. An English translation appeared in 1688; it has been re-edited by Mrs Arthur Lyttelton. French, Spanish and Latin translations have also appeared. For the history of its author see CE Scharling, Michael de Molinos (Ger. trans. from Danish; Gotha, 1855). H Heppe, Geschichte der quietistischen Mystik (Berlin, 1875). On the whole subject of Quietism see H Delacroix, Etudes d’histoire et de psychologie du mysticisme (Paris, 1908). There is a brilliant, but very fanciful, account of Molinos and his doctrines in JH Shorthouse’s romance, John Inglesant.
This article incorporates text from the Encyclopedia Britannica Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.
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BIOGRAPHY and PORTRAIT OF MICHAEL de MOLINOS 1