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The Heresy of Michael Molinos

1. This heresiarch preached two impious maxims; one did away with every thing good, the other admitted every thing "evil. His first maxim was that the contemplative soul should fly from and banish all sensible acts of the will and understanding, which, according to him, impede contemplation, and thus deprive man of all those means which God has given him to acquire salvation. When the soul, he said, had given itself entirely up to God, and annihilated its will, resigning itself entirely into his hands, it becomes perfectly united with God, it should then have no further care for its salvation, no longer occupy itself with meditations, thanksgivings, prayers, devotion to Holy Images, or even to the Most Holy Humanity of Jesus Christ; it should avoid all devout affections of hope, of self sacrifice, of love for God, and in fine, drive away all good thoughts and avoid all good actions, for all these are opposed to contemplation, and to the perfection of the soul.  

2. That we may perceive how poisoning this maxim is, we should know what is Meditation and what Contemplation. In meditation we labour to seek God by reasoning and by good acts, but in contemplation we behold him without labour, already found. In meditation the mind labours operating with its powers, but in contemplation it is God himself who operates, and the soul merely receives the infused gifts of his grace, anima potitur. Hence, when the soul is by passive contemplation absorbed in God, it should not strain itself to make acts and reflections, because then God supports it in an union of love with himself. " Then," says St. Theresa, " God occupies with his light the understanding, and prevents it from thinking of anything else." " When God," says the Saint, "wishes that our understanding should cease to reason, he occupies it, and gives us a knowledge superior to that which we can arrive at, and keeps the intellect suspended." But then she also remarks that the gift of contemplation and suspension of the intellectual powers, when it comes from God, produces good effects, but when it is procured by ourselves only makes the soul more dry than before. Sometimes in prayer, she says, we have a beginning of devotion which comes from God, and we wish to pass of ourselves into this quietude of will, but if it is procured by ourselves it is of no effect, it is soon over, and leaves nothing but dryness behind. This is the defect which St. Bernard noticed in those who wish to pass from the foot to the mouth, alluding to that passage in the Canticle of Canticles, which refers to holy contemplation: " Let him kiss me with the kiss of his mouth" (Cant, i, 1). " Longus saltus," says the Saint, " et arduus de pede ad os."  

3. It may be objected to us, however, that our Lord says by David: " Be still, and see that I am God" (Psalm xlv, 11). The word " be still," however, does not mean that the soul should remain in a total state of quiescence in prayer, without meditating, offering up affections, or imploring grace. " Be still" means that in order to know God, and the immensity of his goodness, it is sufficient to abstain from vices, to remove ourselves from the cares of the world, to suppress the desires of self-love, and to detach ourselves from the goods of this life. That great mistress of prayer, St. Theresa, says: "It is necessary on our part to prepare ourselves for prayer; when God elevates us higher, to Him alone be the glory. When, therefore, in prayer, God elevates us to contemplation, and makes us feel that he wishes to speak to us, and does not wish that we should address him, we should not try to do anything then ourselves, lest we impede the Divine operation in us; we should only apply our loving attention to the voice of God, and say: Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth. When God, however, does not speak to us, then we should address him in prayer, making acts of contrition, acts of love, purposes of advancement in perfection, and not lose our time doing nothing." St. Thomas says: "Contemplatio diu durare non potest, licet quantum ad alios contemplationis actus, possint diu durare" (1). True contemplation, in which the soul is absorbed in God, can operate nothing, and does not last long; the effects of it, however, last, and so, when the soul returns to the active state, it ought to return also to labour, to preserve the fruit received in contemplation, by reading, reflecting, offering up pious affections, and performing similar acts of devotion, because, as St. Augustine confesses, he always felt himself, after being exalted to some unusual union with God, drawn back again as it were by a weight, to the miseries of this life, so that he felt obliged again to assist himself by acts of the will and the understanding, to an union with God. He says: " Aliquando, intromittis me in affectum inusitatum sed recido in hæc ærumnosis ponderibus, et resorbeor solitis" (2). (1) St. Thomas, 2, 2 7. 180, a. 8, ad 2, (2) St. Aug. Conf. l. 10, c. 40.  

4. We have now to examine the pernicious propositions of Molinos, of which I will merely quote the principal ones, which will clearly show the impiety of his system. In his first proposition he says: " Oportet hominem suas potentias annihilare, et hæc est via interna;" in the second: " Velle operari active, est Deum offendere, qui vult esse Ipse solus agens; et ideo opus est seipsum in Deo totum, et totaliter delinquere, et postea permanere velut corpus exanime." Thus he wished, that, abandoning all to God, man should do nothing, but remain like a dead body, and that the wish to perform any good act of the intellect or the will was an offence against God, who wishes to do every thing by himself; this, he said, was the annihilation of the powers of the soul, which renders it divine, and transfuses it in God, as he said in his fifth proposition: " Nihil operando Anima se annihilat, et ad suum principium redit, et ad suam originem, quæ est essentia Dei, in quem trasformata remanet, ac divinizata et tune non sunt amplius duæ res unitse, sed una tantum." See what a number of errors in few words.  

5. Hence, also, he prohibited his disciples from having any care about, or even taking any heed of, their salvation, for the perfect soul, said he, should think neither of hell or paradise: "Qui suum liberum arbitrium Deo Donavit, de nulla re debet curam habere, nec de Inferno, nec de Paradiso; nec desiderium propriæ perfectionis, nec proprise salutis, cujus spem purgare debet." Remark the words " spem purgare." To hope for our salvation, then, or make acts of hope, is a defect; to meditate on death and judgment, hell and heaven, shows a want of perfection, although our Lord says that the meditation on them is the greatest safeguard against sin: "In all thy works remember thy last end, and thou shalt never sin" (Ecclcs. vii, 40). lie also taught that we should make no acts of love towards the Saints, the Divine Majesty, or even Jesus Christ himself, for we should banish all sensible objects from our soul. See his thirty-fifth proposition: " Nec debent elicere actus amoris erga B. Virginern, Sanctos, aut humanitatem Christi; quia, cum ista objecta sensibilia sint, talis est amor erga ilia." Good God ! to prohibit acts of love towards Jesus Christ, because he is a sensible object, and prohibits our union with God ! But, as St. Augustine says, when we approach Jesus Christ, is it not God himself we approach, for he is both God and man? How even can we approach God, unless through Jesus Christ? " Quo imus nisi ad Jesum, et qua imus, nisi per Ipsum?"  

6. This is exactly what St. Paul says: " For by him we have access both in one spirit to the Father" (Ephes. ii, 18). And our Saviour himself says in St. John: " I am the door. By me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and he shall go in and go out, and shall find pastures" (John, x, 9). " he shall go in and go out," that is, as an author quoted by Cornelius Lapido explains it: " Ingredietur ad Divinitatem meam, et egredietur ad humanitatem, et in utriusque contemplatione mira pascua inveniet." Thus, whether the soul contemplates Jesus either as God or man, it will always find pastures. St. Theresa having once read in one of these condemned mystical books, that stopping in the contemplation of Christ prevented the soul from passing on to God, began to adopt this evil practice, but she constantly afterwards grieved for having done so. " Is it possible, my Lord," she says, " that you could be an impediment to me for greater good. Whence does all good come to me, if not from you alone?" She afterwards says: " I have seen that in order to please God, and that we may obtain great graces from him, he wishes that everything should pass through the hands of this Most Holy Humanity, in which he has declared that he is well pleased."  

7. Molinos, in prohibiting us from thinking of Jesus Christ, consequently prevented us from meditating on his passion, though all the Saints have done nothing else during their lives than meditate on the ignominy and sufferings of our loving Saviour. St. Augustine says: " Nihil tam salutiferum quam quotidie cogitare, quanta pro nobis pertulit Deus homo;" and St. Bonaventure: "Nihil enim in Anima ita operatur universalem sanctificationem, sicut meditatio Passionis Christi." St. Paul said he wished to know nothing but Christ crucified: " For I judged not myself to know anything among you but Jesus Christ, and him crucified" (Cor. ii, 2). And withal, Molinos says we ought not to think on the humanity of Jesus Christ.  8. He also had the impiety to teach, that we should ask nothing from God, for petitioning is a defect of our own will. Here is his fourteenth proposition: " Qui Divine voluntati resignatus est, non convenit ut a Deo rem aliquam petat; quia petere est imperfectio, cum sit actus propriaa voluntatis. Illud autem Petite et accipietis, non est dictum a Christo pro Animabus internis," &c. He thus deprives the soul of the most efficacious means of obtaining perseverance in a good life, and arriving at the Grace of perfection. Jesus Christ himself, in the Gospel, tells us to pray unceasingly: " We ought always to pray, and not to faint" (Luke, xviii, 1); " Watch ye, therefore, praying at all times" (Luke, xxi, 36); and St. Paul says: " Pray without ceasing" (I. Thes. v, 17); and "Be instant in prayer" (Col. iv, 2). And still Molinos will tell us not to pray, and that prayer is an imperfection. St. Thomas (3) says that continual prayer is necessary for us till our salvation is secured; for though our sins may have been remitted, still the world and the devil will never cease to attack us till the last hour of our lives: " Licet remittantur peccata, remanet tamen fomes peccati nos impugnant interius, et mundus et Dæmones, qui impugnant exterius." In this battle we cannot conquer without the Divine assistance, and this is only to be acquired by prayer, as St. Augustine teaches us, that except the first Grace, that is, the vocation to Grace or Penance, every other Grace, especially that of perseverance, is only given to those who pray for it: " Deus nobis dat aliqua non orantibus, ut initium Fidei, alia nonnisi orantibus præparavit, sicut perseverantiam."  

9. We have now to examine his second maxim, which, as we said in the commencement, allows evil to be innocent. When the soul, he says, is given up to God, whatever happens in the body is of no harm, even though we perceive that it is something unlawful; for the will, as he said, being then given to God, whatever happens in the flesh is to be attributed to the violence of the devil and of passion; so that, in that case, we should only make a negative resistance, and permit our nature to be disturbed, and the devil to operate. (3) St. Thom. 3 p. q. 1, 39, a. 5.  Here is his seventeenth proposition: " Tradito Deo libero arbitrio, non est amplius habenda ratio tentationum, nec eis alia resistentia fieri debet nisi negativa, nulla adhibita industria; et si natura commovetur, oportet sinere ut commoveatur, quia est natura." And in the forty-seventh proposition, also, he says: " Cum hujusmodi violentiæ occurrunt, sinere oportet, ut Satanas operetur etiamsi sequantur pollutiones, et pejora et non opus est hæc confiteri."  

10. Thus this deceiver led people astray, though our Lord tells us, through St. James: " Resist the devil, and he will fly from you" (James, iv, 7). It is not sufficient, then, to take no active part, negative se habere, we are not to allow the devil to operate in us, and our concupiscence to be gratified, for God commands us to resist him with all our strength. Nothing can be more false than what he says in his forty-first proposition: "Deus permittit, et vult ad nos humiliandos quod Dæmon violentiam inferat corporibus, et actus carnales committere faciat & c. Nay, it is most false, for St. Paul teaches us that God will not allow us to be tempted above our strength: " God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that which you are able; but will make also with temptation issue, that you may be able to bear it" (I. Cor. x, 13). The meaning of the Apostle is this: that God will not fail to give us sufficient assistance in time of temptation to resist with our will, and by this resistance our temptations will be advantageous to us. He allows the devil to tempt us to sin; " but, as St. Jerom says, he will not permit him to force us: " Persuadere potest, præcipitare non potest." And St. Augustine(4) says that he is like a chained dog, who can bark at us, but not bite us, unless we put ourselves in his power. No matter how violent the temptation may be, if we call on God we will never fail: " Call on me in the day of trouble I will deliver you" (Psalm xlix, 15); " Praising I will call upon the Lord, and I will be saved from my enemies" (Psalm xvii, 4). It is on this account that St. Bernard says (5) that prayer prevails over the devil, and St. Chrysostom, that nothing is more powerful than the prayer of a man. (4) St. August. l. 5, de Civ. c. 20. (5) St. Bern. Serm. 49, de Modo bene viv. or. 7.  

11. In his forty-fifth proposition Molinos says that St. Paul suffered violence in his hody from the devil, for the Saint says: " The good I will, I do not; but the evil which I will not, that I do." But we reply, that by the words " that I do," the Apostle only intends to say that he could not avoid involuntary motions of concupiscence; and, therefore, he says again: " Now that is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me" (Rom. viii, 17). In his forty-ninth proposition, also, he adduces the example of Job: " Job ex violentia Dæmonis se propriis manibus polluebat eodem tempore, quo mundas habebat ad Deum præces." What a shocking perversion of the Scripture. Job says (chap, xvi): " These things I have suffered without the iniquity of my hand, when I offered pure prayers to God." Now, is there any allusion to indecency in this text? In the Hebrew, and the version of the Septuagint, as Du Hamel informs us, the text is: " I have not neglected God, nor injured any one." Therefore, by the words " these things I have suffered without the iniquity of my hand.”Job meant to say that he never injured his neighbour; as Menochius explains it: "I raised up my hands to God unstained by plunder or by any other crime." In his fifty-first proposition, also, he quotes in his defence the example of Sampson: "In sacra Scriptura multa sunt exempla violentiarum ad actus externos peccaminosos, ut illud Sampsonis, qui per violentiam seipsum occidit, cum Philistæi" &c. We reply, however, with St. Augustine, that this self-destruction of Sampson was accomplished by the pure inspiration of the Holy Ghost, and that is proved by the restoration to him, at the time, of his miraculous strength by the Almighty, who employed him as an instrument for the chastisement of the Philistines; for he having repented of his sins before he grasped the pillar which supported the building, prayed to the Lord to restore him his original strength: " But he called upon the Lord, saying: Lord God, remember me, and restore me now to my former strength." And hence, St. Paul places him among the Saints: " Sampson, Jeptha, David, Samuel, and the Prophets, who, by Faith, conquered kingdoms, wrought justice," &c. (Heb. xi, 32, 33). Behold, then, the impiety of the system of this filthy impostor. He had good reason to thank the Almighty for his mercies, in giving him Grace to die repentant, after his imprisonment of several years (Hist. c. 13, ar. 5, n. 32).

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