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HeyJ XLIX (2008), pp.




Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, NC, USA

According to the Power of Prayer objection to Molinism, the insights of the Churchs great saints and spiritual directors regarding how best to grow in the spiritual life conict 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 supplicandiSt. 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-Lagranges objections.2 Some of these replies seem compelling: at least one, however, does not. In this paper, I will argue that Flints 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 efcacious 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.



So Flint says that the Molinist can ask God to strongly actualize those elements of conversion or sanctication that are outside her power, and ask God to weakly actualize those things that are in her power, by way of bringing about those states of affairs in which God knew that she would freely will to, e.g., sin to more. (Divine Providence, 11011) In other words, the Molinist can ask to be put in circumstances where she will sin no more.4 This kind of prayer provides, in effect, the equivalent of the petition Make me adhere to Thy commandments and never permit me to be separated from Thee. So Flint thinks that the objection has no force whatever. This reply, however, may not be as strong as it seems. To see why I say so, consider that the quotation from Garrigou-Lagrange continues as follows: But according to the Molinists theory, he asks God merely to place him in those circumstances in which He foresaw that he would consent to the grace offered. (The One God, p. 111) But this is, more or less, Flints reply to the objection. Since Garrigou-Lagrange includes it as part of his objection, it is at least clear that he considered it and found it wanting. What, exactly, is wanting? If I understand this properly, the Thomist would say that there are two problems. First, contrary to what was suggested above, the Molinist actually cannot ask God to make me adhere to Thy commandments, since the proposed paraphrase fails. Second, it is essential to growth in the spiritual life that one is able to pray precisely that kind of prayer. These two problems set up the following argument. Since we are all called to holiness, and since the greatest growth in holiness ows from a prayer life that is inconsistent with Molinism, we should reject Molinism, and embrace Thomism. This argument is what the Power of Prayer objection is all about. So I shall have to explain why Garrigou-Lagrange nds these two problems with the reply. We will start with the rst problem the failure of the paraphrase. Consider the following simile. 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, who then pulls her to safety. Flint holds that this doesnt undermine Gods priority in bringing about our salvation, since without God, there would be no life preserver there to grab, and nobody doing the pulling. And he holds that this priority is all that is required to avoid the Power of Prayer objection. Indeed, all that is required from the sinner is to not resist Gods grace when you can resist. On Garrigou-Lagranges reading of Molinism, this means the sinner still has to rely on herself for her salvation, because she has to grasp and hold onto those preservers on her own power. Theres nothing God can do to determine that the sinner will be saved. Certainly, on the Molinist view, God would put people if he could in situations where he knows theyll freely hold on to the life preservers. But this means that at best,



God can weakly actualize our salvation: and that just means that there is no causal necessity leading from any of Gods actions to our own salvation. For this reason, Garrigou-Lagrange would say that the Molinist certainly cant pray Make me adhere to Thy commandments and never permit me to be separated from Thee, and really mean it not in a straightforwardly literal sense, anyway. There simply is no making of the relevant kind possible on the Molinist account. The sinner cannot trust God to save him or to make him grow in holiness. He has to rely on his own strength, no matter how favourable the circumstances are in which he nds himself.5 This leads to the second problem. If the sinner cannot rely completely upon Gods Providence if the sinner cannot pray and live in the way mentioned above then the sinners spiritual growth will be stunted. As proof of this claim, Garrigou-Lagrange cites the approach of the great spiritual directors of the Church. He argues that these saints have urged people to trust wholly in Gods Providence in ways not consistent with Molinism. This total reliance on Providence involves the trust that God can strongly actualize our salvation, and not merely weakly actualize it. Let me here lay out this case in some detail. I will use fairly lengthy excerpts from Garrigou-Lagrange in order to try to make his perspective clear.
The converters of souls, the saints, well know that, for their preaching to be effective, they must above all pray for those whom they are evangelizing, in order that God may transform their rebellious wills and strengthen the weak. They know the Lord is not impotent to cause these wills to return to Him . . . A whole book could be written on the difference between the spiritual direction based on the teaching of Saint Augustine and St. Thomas and that based on Molinism. The former . . . recommends far more the need of prayer, abandonment to divine Providence, and says: See that you do not resist sufcient grace and good inspirations, and God will give you the efcacious grace which will incline you infallibly to good, to make generous sacrices, to a more and more perfect charity. The latter . . . inclines the soul rather to examine itself than to see Gods action in us; it is consequently less exacting . . . for one cannot ask much from a man who cannot rely upon God in coming to a rm resolution and keeping it . . . (T)he authors of the spiritual life who had to receive their training in the Molinist or Congruist school, have been led, by reason of the sublime topics they were treating and the souls they were directing, to speak of delity to grace and abandonment to Providence like most convinced Thomists . . . The Molinist in his hours of intense prayer, forgets his doctrine and says with the Scripture: Have mercy on me, O God . . . Convert me, O Lord, to thee and I shall be converted.6

This may look at rst 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.



Thats certainly part of the problem, but thats not all thats going on here. 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. The reason they do so is that there is something fundamentally right about the Thomist way of understanding Providence, and something fundamentally wrong about the Molinist way of understanding it. There is a close connection between living and praying as though the Thomist view of Providence were true, and growing in holiness. This connection is so close that even those saints and spiritual directors who are, theoretically, committed Molinists, direct souls as though Thomism were true. Molinists can, no doubt, become great saints but only insofar as they pray like Thomists and Molinist spiritual directors can, no doubt, be wonderful spiritual directors but only insofar as they direct souls just as Thomists would. As proof of these claims, Garrigou-Lagrange cites the works of the Jesuit (i.e. Molinist) spiritual authors Grou, de Caussade and Lallemant. He also mentions a far more important director of souls: St. Francis de Sales.7 In his Introduction to the Devout Life, St. Francis frequently speaks as a convinced Thomist on the issue of Providence, even though he rejected that view theoretically. 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, that none of the good in us comes from ourselves . . . What good do we possess that we have not received? And if we have received it, why do we glory in it? . . . If we reect on what we did when God was not with us, we will easily perceive that what we do when he is with us is not the result of our own efforts. We will of course enjoy it and rejoice in it because we possess it, but we will glorify God because he alone is its author.8

God alone is the author of our salutary acts, says St. Francis. No Molinist could say such a thing not, at least, while speaking as a Molinist. (Indeed, the quotation includes a line from St. Paul [1 Cor 4:7] that Garrigou-Lagrange never tires of quoting as a fundamental insight behind the Thomist view of Providence). Remember the imagery of the swimmer holding onto the otation device: that rescue is not the lifeguards work alone. It is a team effort. If the swimmer didnt hold the otation device on her own power, she would be lost, no matter how attentive the lifeguard may be. The passage from St. Francis could have been written by Garrigou-Lagrange. If Garrigou-Lagrange is right in his claim that the greatest spiritual directors including the Molinists presuppose that God strongly actualizes our salvation, then this seems to give good grounds for accepting the Thomist account of Providence. All are called to holiness:
The Lord Jesus, divine teacher and model of all perfection, preached holiness of life (of which he is the author and maker) to each and every one of his disciples



without distinction: You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Mt 5:48) . . . (A)ll Christians in any state or walk of life are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of love.9

But doctrine should be consistent with growth in holiness indeed, 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. It seems obviously less than optimal to be a Molinist in the classroom, when teaching philosophy of religion, but a Thomist when at prayer. Truth does not contradict truth why should prayer contradict truth? This, I think, is the real point of the Power of Prayer objection, and I dont believe Flints reply is sufcient to blunt its force. It can, no doubt, be argued that Garrigou-Lagranges claims about the best way to grow in holiness are simply false. I dont have arguments to muster in support of his claims beyond those arguments from authority that Ive already noted.10 Those who are convinced that his approach to spirituality is wrong, or those who are doubtful that it is right, will nd the Power of Prayer objection quite untroubling indeed. One might also raise a different kind of objection. One might grant that Garrigou-Lagranges approach to spirituality is correct, but still deny that it gives us a good reason to believe accordingly. Such an objection has, in effect, been made before. According to Etienne Gilson, St. Bonaventure had a view very similar to the one weve been discussing that God strongly actualizes our salutary acts. Bonaventure held that it is the mark of pious souls that they desire to claim nothing for themselves, and instead attribute everything to God. Gilson replies to Bonaventures claim:
Excellent as a rule of personal devotion, and as long as it is restricted to the sphere of religious feeling, such a principle can become dangerous when used as a criterion of theological truth . . . In theology, as in any other science, the main question is not to be pious, but to be right. For there is nothing pious in being wrong about God!11

Ive 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. Gilson denies this. But, though I say this with some trepidation, he seems clearly wrong. If, as Gilson says, there is nothing pious in being wrong about God (and hes surely correct about that, although obviously one who is, to some degree, wrong about God can nevertheless be pious), how can it be excellent for personal devotion to use a rule that gets God wrong? Thus, if attributing nothing to oneself really is an excellent rule of personal devotion, we have good reason to think its true that we should attribute nothing to ourselves. Consider a related objection. Perhaps passages such as the quotation from St. Francis de Sales should be read as understandable exaggerations, rather than as attempts to speak in perfectly precise terms. Perhaps we



should understand St. Francis to be simply saying, in slightly poetic terms, that we cant take credit for our salvation: and, of course, no Molinist would ever claim that we can take credit for our salvation. However, in the work quoted, St. Francis seems to me, anyway to be speaking quite plainly and clearly, and not to have a tendency towards such exaggeration. Further, the reply to Gilson still seems appropriate, even if St. Francis is speaking loosely. If St. Francis resorted to speaking like a Thomist, 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. And if it is more conducive to growth in the spiritual life, then we should think it true, and disagree with St. Franciss own beliefs where they differ from it. Again all this leaves open the question of whether it is true that we should attribute nothing to ourselves. And again, I have nothing more to add in defence of that claim. At the very least, though, one thing should be clear: those who believe that Garrigou-Lagranges approach to spirituality is fundamentally correct ought to doubt that Molinism is religiously adequate. But even if readers are unconvinced by the objection, there is still something important to be gained from considering it more carefully. 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. GarrigouLagrange, however, heartily desired that the dispute be moved onto precisely those grounds: This controversy would, we believe, become more fruitful, if there were a more pronounced tendency to take a stand, not only on the terrain of theological speculation, but also on that of spirituality. (God: His Existence and His Nature, Volume II, p. 507) I think he was right. Let me conclude with an important qualication. Consider this papers epigraph from St. Prosper. That saying has to do with specically liturgical prayer. When he writes Ut legem credendi lex statuat supplicandi, his point, as I understand it, 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. Importantly, since spiritual direction is not a liturgical affair, one cant argue from the fact that Molinism conicts with the assumptions and exhortations of that process (at its best), to the conclusion that Molinism is heretical. It is the Churchs public worship that is useful in determining the falsity of certain theological propositions, not her private devotions or the advice of her spiritual directors.12 So my argument here is not intended to show that Molinism is heretical (and I do not believe that it is!). The argument is much more modest. The point is simple. If spiritual growth is best



achieved on Thomist suppositions about Providence, then why should anyone believe Molinism?13

1 Capitula Coelestini. This work has also been attributed to Pope St. Celestine I (as the title would suggest) and St. Ambrose. The phrase means roughly the order of supplication determines the rule of faith. This idea is often expressed in the better known aphorism lex orandi, lex credendi. 2 Flints most important work on Providence can be found in Two Accounts of Providence in Thomas V. Morris (ed.), Divine and Human Action (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1988), pp. 14781; and Divine Providence (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1998). The reply to Garrigou-Lagrange is in the latter. 3 Rev. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, OP, Dom Bede Rose (trans.), The One God, (St. Louis: Herder, 1944), p. 467. 4 True, most people do not specify, in a difcult situation, that theyd like God to weakly actualize certain things and strongly actualize other things. Nor would they be likely to specify that theyd appreciate being put in situations where they will freely choose not to sin. Most people simply ask God for help. But I would contend that like ontological theries, prayers involve ontological commitments. When a Molinist prays God, help me! her meaning is different from the Thomists when he prays the same prayer, because they understand the nature of the requested help in different ways. No doubt when the person in the pew prays God help me, her prayer doesnt have such specic ontological commitments (though, presumably, it does commit her to things like the existence of a God who intervenes in human affairs). But thats not relevant to this paper. 5 Note that this does not amount to a charge of Pelagianism, for, as Flint points out, God retains priority. 6 Rev. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, OP, Dom Bede Rose (trans.), God: His Existence and His Nature, Volume II (St. Louis: Herder, 1934; repr. Albany, NY: Preserving Christian Publications, 1993), excerpts from pp. 498501, p. 507, p. 378. 7 In one place, Garrigou-Lagrange cites a passage from St. Franciss Treatise on the Love of God (Book 2, Chapter 12) where St. Francis sounds like a Thomist. Cf. Rev. Reginald GarrigouLagrange, OP, Dominican Nuns of Corpus Christi Monastery (trans.), Grace (St. Louis: Herder, 1952), p. 277. He does not cite the passage I mention here, which seems to me an even clearer example of the phenomenon Garrigou-Lagrange is talking about. St. Francis was no stranger to the Thomist-Molinist controversy. The Catholic Encyclopaedia article on St. Francis says that early in his life, he suffered a terrible and prolonged temptation to despair as a result of that very controversy; a temptation from which he was miraculously healed through prayer to our Lady. (cf. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06220a.htm) Further, the Catholic Encyclopaedia article Controversies on Grace, says that it was on the advice of St. Francis that Pope Paul V permitted both systems, and forbade the labelling of either as heretical. (Cf. http://www.newadvent.org/ cathen/06710a.htm) St. Francis was not a fully committed Molinist, for he held that there was such a thing as intrinsically efcacious grace, though he believed it was offered only on rare occasions, such as in the case of the Blessed Mother. No strict Molinist could accept intrinsically efcacious grace. Such technicalities aside, however, its pretty clear he belongs to the broadly Molinist, rather than the broadly Thomist, camp. He accepted that predestination was post and propter praevisa merita, for example, which is a Molinist line that no Thomist could accept. 8 St. Francis de Sales, John K. Ryan (trans.), Introduction to the Devout Life (New York: Image Books, 1989), p. 135. (Third Part of the Introduction, Section 5). 9 Vatican Council II document, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium), y40. The quoted translation is by Fr. Colman ONeill, OP, and is from Austin Flannery, OP (ed.), Vatican Council II, Volume 1, The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents, New Revised Edition (Northport, NY: Costello, 1975), p. 397. It bears noting that this conciliar teaching was quite possibly made under the direct inuence of the extremely important work of Garrigou-Lagrange. He very efciently took to pieces the two-tier view (that religious are called to attain real holiness, while the laity are held to a much lower standard) that had, apparently, become rather commont in Catholic circles by the 20th century; and Vatican II unequivocally took his side in



this dispute. For an excellent discussion of these matters, see Richard Peddicord, OP, The Sacred Monster of Thomism (South Bend, IN: St. Augustines Press, 2005), ch. 8. 10 I would direct interested readers to Fr. Peddicords book for more on this. In addition to the chapter on spirituality, there is an interesting discussion related to the present one at pp. 226 229. 11 Etienne Gilson, The Unity of Philosophical Experience (New York: Charles Scribners Sons, 1937), pp. 5152. 12 For more on this claim, the reader should consult some very interesting work by Avery Cardinal Dulles. Cardinal Dulles has recently articulated a model of theology which he calls the ecclesiastical-transformative (e-t) trend, 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). On Dulless own e-t view, Revelation . . . is regarded as a real and efcacious self-communication of God . . . to the believing community. The deeper insights of revelatory knowledge are imparted, not in the rst instance through propositional discourse, but through participation in the life and worship of the Church. (Avery Dulles, SJ, The Craft of Theology [New York: Crossroad, 1992], pp. 1719.) In other words, the prayer life of the Church is a partial determinant of what the belief of the Church is. Dulles seems, like St. Prosper, to have the liturgical life and worship of the Church in mind, so the support here for Garrigou-Lagranges argument from this view is also at best analogical. It is surely interesting to see Garrigou-Lagrange, 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. 13 My deep thanks to Tom Flint, who discussed this paper with me a couple of times and offered extremely helpful comments. Trenton Merricks and Patrick Lee both gave good advice on an early version of this paper. I also beneted greatly from comments and questions from audience members at the Notre Dame Centre for Philosophy of Religion weekly seminar, and at the Society of Christian Philosophers Eastern Division meeting in 2004.