Miguel de Molinos (30 June 1628 – 29 December 1696) was a Spanish mystic, and the chief representative of the religious revival known as Quietism. Henry Longfellow wrote a sonnet about him, William James anointed him a ‘spiritual genius’ in The Varieties of Religious Experience.
He was born in Aragon, and moved to Valencia in his youth and undertook religious education with the Jesuits there at the College of St Paul. He was ordained in 1652, and seemingly took his doctorate shortly thereafter, though it is unclear when or where (both the University of Valencia and the College of St Paul granted doctorates). On 4 June 1662, Molinos was admitted to the local chapter of the School of Christ, a religious brotherhood that would play an important role in his later life in Rome. He seems in these early years in Valencia to have held a number of secondary roles in the chapter’s leadership, at least one of which earned him a place on the chapter’s governing body.
In July 1663, Molinos was chosen to travel to Rome to support the cause of the beatification of, and to report back to Valencia on, the Venerable Francisco Jerónimo Simón (d1612), a secular cleric and beneficer of the parish of St Andrews in Valencia. He left Spain in late 1663; he would not return.
There is almost no specific evidence of Molinos’s activities in Rome in the years 1663-1675. It is known that Molinos was affiliated with the Roman chapter of the School of Christ (and, by 1671 at the latest, had become its leader). He also became well known as a spiritual director – and it was in this role that he gained prominence as the leading advocate of the teaching and practice that would come to be known as Quietism. He was a regular correspondent with Princess Borghese, and counted Cardinal Odescalchi, who in 1676 became Pope Innocent XI, as an admirer. He also paid frequent visits to the house of the exiled Christina, Queen of Sweden. He was also in these years working on the case of the Venerable Simón; by 1675, however, Molinos had to admit to his superiors in Valencia that the Congregation of Rites had refused to reconsider the case. Molinos’s royal commission and line of credit were revoked, and he was deprived of his official position in the Valencian delegation in Rome.
In the same year, 1675, Molinos published his most famous work, the Spiritual Guide. The initial Spanish edition was quickly followed by an Italian translation entitled Guida Spirituale, che disinvolge l’anima e la conduce per l’interior camino all’ acquisito della perfetta contemplazione e del ricco tesoro della pace interiore. The work was published with the usual approval from the ecclesiastical authorities – the book received the imprimatur from the Dominican Raymond Cappizucchi, the pope’s own theologian, and the book opened with approbations by clergy of the Trinitarian, Franciscan, Carmelite, Capuchin and Jesuit orders. This was followed soon after in 1675 by a brief Trattato della cotidiana communione (Brief Treatise on Daily Communion, in which Molinos argued that those who wished to receive the Eucharist daily should not be denied by their confessor, so long as they were in a state of grace). Again, this work was approved by the censors of several orders.
Molinos’s writings was clearly extremely popular. By 1685 seven editions had been printed in Italy and three in Spain. Translations of the book would be made into Latin (1687), French (1688), Dutch (1688), English (1688), and German (1699).
The first attack on Molinos’s Guide (though without specifically mentioning the Guide or Molinos) appeared in 1678, written by Gottardo Bell’huomo. Molinos evidently felt that Bell’huomo’s book could not be ignored, because shortly after he wrote (though never published) an apologia for his Guide entitled Defence of Contemplation, aiming to defend the Guide against charges of theological innovation. Specifically, he marshalled a long list of past writers and saints (including Francisco Suarez and Jean-Joseph Surin) in order to demonstrate that the Guide’s principal thesis – that in order to pass to the state of contemplation one must leave behind meditative practices (even though, aware of the focus of the writings of Ignatius of Loyola on meditation, and the likelihood that Jesuit writers would react poorly to any perceived attack on Ignatius’s thought, he was quick to emphasise that these are certainly an important stage of the spiritual life) – was a well-established part of church doctrine. Instead of publishing the book, Molinos took up his case with the superior general of the Jesuits, Giovanni Paolo Oliva. In a series of letters from February 1680 onwards, Molinos sought to assure Oliva that he had nothing but praise and respect for the Jesuits and their spirituality.
A second moment of suspicion against Molinos arose in 1681. In March 1680, the Jesuit preacher Paolo Segneri wrote to Oliva, proposing a book defending meditation against the quietists’ teaching. Oliva encouraged him and forwarded copies of the letters he had recently sent to Molinos. Later in 1680, a book was published in Florence, Concordia tra la fatica e la quiete nell’ orazione (Agreement between Effort and Quiet in Prayer), with Oliva’s name signed as imprimatur, which attacked Molinos’s views though without mentioning his name.
During 1680-1, a series of responses appeared from both the quietists and the Jesuits. The matter was referred to the Inquisition. In late 1681, it pronounced that the Guida Spirituale was perfectly orthodox, censured Segneri, and placed his book on the Index (later in 1681, Bell’huomo’s work was also placed on the Index).
The apparent Quietist victory, however, was short-lived. It is unclear why exactly this happened, though one factor suggested has been disquiet caused in Rome the flourishing of Quietism outside Rome, and the reaction this was causing among its opponents. On 18 July 1685, Molinos was arrested by the pontifical guards and imprisoned in the Castel Sant’Angelo. At first his friends were confident of an acquittal, and it seems that many in Rome remained sympathetic to his beliefs, but matters gradually turned against him.
In spring 1687, Molinos was brought before the tribunal of the Holy Office and asked to explain his teaching, with 263 questionable propositions from his works at stake. Although initially defending them, by May 1687 his attitude had changed and he confessed his errors of conduct and teaching and waived his opportunity to present a defence. By July, the tribunal had isolated 68 objectionable propositions, and had prepared articles of censure for each. On 23 August the entire case was read to the cardinal inquisitors, and on 2 September Molinos’s sentence (a life sentence) was announced. On 3 September Molinos made public profession of his errors in the Dominican Church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva. On 20 November Innocent XI ratified his condemnation in the bull Coelestis Pastor, condemning sixty-eight propositions from the Guida spirituale and other unpublished writings of its author. Molinos died nine years later in the prison of the Holy Office on 29 December 1696.
Quietism is the name given (especially in Roman Catholic Church theology) to a set of Christian beliefs that rose in popularity in through France, Italy, and Spain during the late 1670s and 1680s, were particularly associated with the writings of Miguel de Molinos (and subsequently François Malaval and Madame Guyon), and which were condemned as heresy by Pope Innocent XI in the papal bull Coelestis Pastor of 1687. The “Quietist” heresy was seen to consist of wrongly elevating ‘contemplation’ over ‘meditation’, intellectual stillness over vocal prayer, and interior passivity over pious action in an account of mystical prayer, spiritual growth and union with God (one in which, the accusation ran, there existed the possibility of achieving a sinless state and union with the Christian Godhead).
Since the late seventeenth century, “Quietism” has functioned (especially within Roman Catholic theology, though also to an extent within Protestant theology), as the shorthand for accounts which are perceived to fall foul of the same theological errors, and thus to be heretical. As such, the term has come to be applied to beliefs far outside its original context. The term quietism was not used until the 17th century, so some writers have dubbed the expression of such errors before this era as ‘pre-quietism’.
Although both Molinos and other authors condemned in the late seventeenth century, as well as their opponents, spoke of the Quietists (in other words, those who were devoted to the ‘prayer of quiet’, an expression used by Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross and others), ‘Quietism’ was a creation of its opponents, a somewhat artificial systematisation made on the basis of ecclesiastical condemnations and commentary upon them. No single author, even Molinos (generally seen as the main representative of Quietist thought) advocated all the positions that formed the Quietism of later Catholic doctrinal textbooks – as such, it is better to speak of a Quietist tendency or orientation, one which may be located in analogous forms through Christian history.
The key components of Quietism, as it has traditionally been characterised, are that man’s highest perfection consists of a self-annihilation, and subsequent absorption, of the soul into the Divine, even during the present life. In this way, the mind is withdrawn from worldly interests to passively and constantly contemplate God. Quietists would say that the Bible describes the man of God as a man of the tent and the altar only, having no part or interest in the multitudinous affairs, pursuits, and pleasures of the world system.
Quietists were so called from a kind of absolute rest and inaction, which they supposed the soul to be in when arrived at that state of perfection which they called the unitive life; in which state, they imagined the soul wholly employed in contemplating its God, to Whose influence it was entirely submissive, so that He could turn and drive it where and how He would. In this state, the soul no longer needs prayers, hymns, etc. being laid, as it were, in the bosom, and between the arms of God, in Whom it is in a manner swallowed up.
Quietism is particularly associated with Miguel de Molinos, referred to by the Catholic Encyclopedia as the “founder” of Quietism. Molinos and the doctrines of quietism were finally condemned by Pope Innocent XI in the Bull Coelestis Pastor of 1687. Molinos was imprisoned in the Castel Sant’Angelo, where he died in 1696.
Quietism spread among Catholic through small groups into France. Here, they were also influenced by the thought of François de Sales, with his emphasis on pure love resulting from spiritual practice. The most noted representative was Mme Guyon, especially with her work “A Short and Easy Method of Prayer”, who claimed not to have known the teaching of Molinos directly, but certainly did have contact with François Malaval, a proponent of Molinos.
Madame Guyon won an influential convert at the court of Louis XIV in Madame de Maintenon , and influenced the circle of devout Catholics in the court for a time. She was also a spiritual counsellor to Archbishop Fénelon of Cambrai. A commission in France found most of Madame Guyon’s works intolerable and the government confined her, first in a convent, then in the Bastille, leading eventually to her exile to Blois in 1703. See: https://westernmystics.wordpress.com/2015/03/15/madame-guyon/
In 1699, after Fénelon’s spirited defense in a press war with Bossuet, Pope Innocent XII prohibited the circulation of Fénelon’s Maxims of the Saints, to which Fénelon submitted at once. The inquisition’s proceedings against remaining quietists in Italy lasted until the eighteenth century.
It is possible to isolate similar tendencies (and similar concerns from the accusers) as those condemned in the seventeenth century “Quietist” controversy in earlier periods. In classical philosophy, the state of imperturbable serenity or ataraxia was seen as a desirable state of mind by Epicurus, Pyrrhonian, and the Stoic philosophers alike, and by their Roman followers, such as the emperor Marcus Aurelius.
In the Eastern Orthodox Church, an analogous dispute might be located in Hesychasm in which “the supreme aim of life on earth is the contemplation of the uncreated light whereby man is intimately united with God”.
In early Christianity, suspicion over forms of mystical teaching may be seen as controversies over Gnosticism in the second and third centuries, and over the Messalian heresy in the fourth and fifth centuries. The Cathars’ denial of the need for sacerdotal rites has been perceived as a form of quietism. Likewise, the twelfth and thirteenth-century Brethren of the Free Spirit, Beguines and Beghards were all accused of holding beliefs with similarities to those condemned in the Quietist controversy. Among the ideas seen as errors and condemned by the Council of Vienne (1311–12) are the propositions that humankind in the present life can attain such a degree of perfection as to become utterly sinless; that the “perfect” have no need to fast or pray, but may freely grant the body whatsoever it craves (a tacit reference to the Cathars or Albigenses of southern France and Catalonia), and that they are not subject to any human authority or bound by the precepts of the Church. Similar assertions of individual autonomy on the part of the Fraticelli led to their condemnation by John XXII in 1317.
The condemnation of the errors of Meister Eckhart in 1329 may also be seen as an instance of an analogous concern in Christian history. Eckhart’s assertions that we are totally transformed into God just as in the sacrament the bread is changed into the body of Christ (see transubstantiation) and the value of internal actions, which are wrought by the Godhead abiding within us, have often been linked to later Quietist heresies.
In early sixteenth century Spain, concern over a set of beliefs held by those known as alumbrados raised similar concerns to those of Quietism. These concerns continued into the mid-sixteenth century, and the writings of Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross. Both were very active reformers and both cautioned against a simple-minded “don’t think anything” (no pensar nada) approach to meditation and contemplation; further, both acknowledged the authority of the Catholic Church and did not oppose its teaching concerning contemplative prayer. Thus, their work was not condemned as heresy, being consistent with Church teaching. This did not stop John’s work, however, coming under suspicion after his death; the fact he was not canonised until 1726 is largely due to seventeenth-century suspicions of beliefs similar to those termed ‘Quietist’ later in the century.
George Fox came to the conclusion that the only real spirituality was achieved by paying attention to the Holy Spirit (the godhead) through silence, and founded the Quaker movement on this basis – one which shared much resemblance with ‘Quietist’ thought. Quietist thinking was also influential among the British Quakers of the later 19th century, when the tract A Reasonable Faith, by Three Friends (William Pollard, Francis Frith and W. E. Turner (1884 and 1886)) caused sharp controversy with evangelicals in the society.
The Capuchin friar Benet Canfield (1562–1611), an English Catholic living in Belgium, espoused quietism in a tract called Way of Perfection, on deep prayer and meditation.
THE INNER LIFE; “CRUCIFIED WITH CHRIST” by Miguel Molinos (1628–1697)
“I would say that the greatest temptation is to be without temptations. The greatest onslaught is to be without any onslaught at all. Therefore be glad when you are assaulted. With resignation, peace and consistency…abide. There, in internal regions, walk and live.
You must walk the path of temptation. You will not walk down this road very far before you discover that the most internal parts of you are scattered; scattered and active, moving from one thing to another.
Collect yourself in His presence with the one purpose and intent of loving Him. Come to Him as one who is giving himself to God. The consistency of true prayer is in faith, and in waiting on Him. First you believe that you are in His presence. You believe that you are turning to Him with all your heart. And you wait there before Him, tranquilly.
You can expect to suffer through problems of a multitude of thoughts, problems of the imagination, provocation of your natural desires, and problems of an inward life that is very dry. All of these temptations must yield to the spirit.
And if it seems to you that you have done nothing in the time that you have set aside for the Lord, do not be deceived. A good heart — a firmness in prayer — is something that is very pleasing to your Lord. When we come to the Lord in this way we labor without personal interest. We are as the young men who work in the field with their father. At the end of the day, unlike the hired labor, we receive no pay. But at the end of the year, we enjoy all things.
When there is no emotional experience nor intellectual insight into His way, the enemy may suggest to you that God has not spoken. But your Lord is not impressed with a multitude of words. He is impressed with the purity of the intent of your heart. He wishes to see the inward part of you humbled, quiet, and totally surrendered to Him and to His will, whatever it may be.
There are those people who have begun a practice of collecting their inmost being but turned away from it almost immediately because they did not find any pleasure in it! There was no sense of God, there was no power, there was no sense of being pleased with their own thought, or being impressed with the way they formed their words and sentences to God. Actually all of these approaches to God are nothing but a hunt for sensible pleasures. This, to God, is but self -love and seeking after self. It is really not seeking after God at all.
But the less you care for the outward thrills of spiritual things…ah, here is something which delights the Lord.
Your daily occupations are not contrary to your Lord’s will. Your occupation is not against the resignation to His will, which you presented to Him. You see, resignation encompasses all the activities of our daily life. Whether it be study, reading, preaching, earning your living, doing business, or the like…you are resigned to whatever it is that comes into your life each day, each hour, each moment.
If you are drawn away from Him — if you are drawn away from prayer — revert to God, return to God, return to His presence — then renew an act of faith and renew an acquiescence to His will. You will never attain to the mountain of internal peace if you govern yourself according to your own will. This self-nature of your soul must be conquered. There must come a holocaust of your own values and judgments and will. It would be better that you gather dung by obedience than be caught up into the third heaven by your own will.
Obedience that is pure has no personal interest or thought of gain for oneself. Pure obedience is solely for the gain of God.”
Further excerpts from Molinos:
“You will never be fully resigned to the will of God if you are troubled by human opinion of you, or if you make for yourself a little idol of what people say.”
“Your directions, your judgment, your disposition to rebel must be subjected and reduced to ashes. How? In the fire of obedience, for it is there that you will find out if you are truly a follower of Divine love or self love.”
“Seek silence in the midst of the tumult, seek solitude in the masses, light in the midst of darkness; find forgetfulness in injury, victory in the midst of despondence, and courage in the midst of alarm, resistance in the midst of temptation, peace in the midst of war.”
“If you desire any good, however spiritual it may be, let it be desired in such a manner that you be not disquieted if it is not granted you.”
“Thou are never at any time nearer to God than when under tribulation; which he permits for the purifications and beautifying of thy soul.”
“Vows about doing something are impediments to perfection.”
For full text of Molinos’ Spiritual Guide online: http://www.adamford.com/molinos/src/s-guide-20071210.pdf