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Of all the mystical movements of the middle ages, that which goes by the name of "The Quietists” is undoubtedly the most famous and is that of which we have the most knowledge. The period of its greatest activity was from 1675 to 1700 and the countries most affected were France, Italy and Spain; although offshoots of the same movement may be observed in the religious history of both Germany and England: the rise of the Quakers in England occurring at about this same time.
Any reference to the Quietists brings to mind the two most famous exponents of Quietism, Madame Guyon and Archbishop Fenelon, but a study of the times indicates without doubt that the much less known Molinos must be given the credit of being the main originator and heart and soul of the movement. A sketch of Madame Guyon and her philosophy appears under its own heading in this issue of the magazine, so that I shall devote myself solely to a consideration of Molinos and his doctrines.
Michael de Molinos was of the noble Spanish family of Minozzi, in the diocese of Saragossa, in Aragon, where he was born the 26th of December, 1627. Very little is known about his early life. He took his theological degree at Coimbra, but he never had any ecclesiastical benefice, his desire seeming to be to dedicate himself to the service of the church without striving for any advantages for himself. Indeed, in after life, when he had become famous and was the friend of Cardinals and Popes, he steadily refused ecclesiastical preferment.
Looking upon Rome as the centre from which he could best disseminate his doctrines, he journeyed thither and in 1675 published his first book, called Il Guida Spirituale, taking care to have the formal approbation of his superiors, which was then, in the days of the Inquisition, a most necessary formality, but which was not effectual in preserving him from the charge of heresy, as will later appear.
The Spiritual Guide was approved by five famous doctors of divinity, four of them being members of the Inquisition. The book met with immediate and enormous success all over Europe. In six years it passed through more than twenty editions and was translated into many European languages. It even reached America and was circulated here in the latter part of the 17th century.
Persons of every quality of life besought his acquaintance and friendship and he became the most popular spiritual director in Rome. Several Cardinals became his intimate friends and companions, one being Cardinal D'Estrees, the French Ambassador at Rome, and another Cardinal Odescalchi, who afterwards became Pope Innocent XI, and who, upon his elevation to the Papacy provided Molinos with lodgings at the Vatican, offered to make him a Cardinal and is said to have selected him as his spiritual director. Another intimate friend and disciple was Father Petrucci, afterwards a Cardinal, who for a time, shared with Molinos the onslaughts of the Inquisition.
For the next six or seven years Molinos lived a quiet and extremely busy life in Rome disseminating his beliefs and coming in contact with most of the prominent people in Europe, either personally or by correspondence. Among others, ex-Queen Christine, of Sweden, who renounced her throne to enter the Roman Church, made him her religious perceptor. He was one of the greatest letter writers of that or any other time, and when his papers were finally seized by the Inquisition, the 20,000 letters which were found were evidence of his prodigious industry during the period of his mission. We will discuss his views at greater length later on, but it is necessary at this moment to explain briefly the reasons why he finally incurred the hostility of a large section of the church. He taught that the true end of human life ought to be "the attainment of perfection” and that there are two principal steps in the progress towards this result, the first being meditation, and the second and higher, contemplation. He discarded as unnecessary all what might be described as the paraphernalia of religion, confession, penance, absolution, and any kind of rigorous asceticism, with the consequence that his disciples began to abandon the ceremonies of the church. The defection reached such a height in 1680, when whole convents and monasteries full of his devoted followers gave up going to confession and performing the other observances of a regular Catholic religious life, that the clergy took alarm. They saw that if the confessional, with its perquisites, was to be closed; if the external acts of devotion were to be slighted; if transgressors were to go directly to their Maker for forgiveness; if indulgence became valueless; and if there was no reason to pay for the intercession of priests for deliverance of souls from Purgatory, the revenues of the church would be very seriously curtailed.
The Jesuits awoke to this situation first and saw that either Quietism or Romanism would have to go to the wall. They determined upon the destruction of Molinos and set about their work with great skill. In 1680 a book by a Jesuit Father Segneri appeared, which, while it did not attack Molinos and his doctrines by name, did so in effect, and it created such a stir and was resented so vehemently by the friends of Quietism, that Segneri found himself, instead of Molinos, on the defensive. In fact, such was the danger of his being burned for heresy, that he and the order to which he belonged had to put forth all of their strength to endeavor to make good their charges against the doctrines of the Quietists. Several more books and pamphlets were published until the matter caused such a tumult that it was referred to the Inquisition, which, after a protracted and tedious investigation, justified the works of Molinos and Petrucci and censured those of Segneri as scandalously heretical. It was soon after this that Petrucci was made a Bishop.
The Jesuits, however, were not despairing of bringing the Pope around to their view. They sought another ally and found him in that redoubtable protector of the church, Louis the XIV, then at the height of his power. Through his confessor, Père la Chaise, a member of their order, they made the King believe there was nothing that he could do that would be so worthy of his reputation as Defender of the Faith as to bring about the condemnation of Molinos, his disciples and doctrines. The King sent preëmptory instructions to his Ambassador at Rome, Cardinal D’Estrees, to enter the lists against Molinos and to do everything in his power to ruin him. The treason of D’Estrees is one of the most disgraceful instances in the history of human perfidy. For years the intimate friend and devoted follower of Molinos, on receipt of these instructions he turned against him, and from that moment until he had effected Molinos's complete ruin, he was his most inveterate and implacable foe. Backed by the power and prestige of being the personal representative of the most powerful monarch in Europe, he caused charges of heresy to be laid against Molinos at the office of the Inquisition, and himself appeared and testified against him. On being asked to explain his once notorious intimacy with the person he was now accusing, he replied that he had long known of the danger and subtlity of Molinos's heretical opinions and that his alleged friendship was but a device he had used to get close enough to the source of heresy to discover its full inwardness so that he might thus be better able to crush it. So powerful was his position in Rome that even the friendly Pope could not save Molinos. He was arrested in 1685, his papers were seized and he was kept in prison for two years during which there was a pretence at a trial. The charges were secret, the trial was secret and no defence was permitted except such verbal explanations as Molinos himself was permitted to make, from time to time, during the examination. Some 68 heretical doctrines were selected from the writings of Molinos, but many of these he denied ever having made or written, while others were identical with the statements made in the past by Saint Theresa, Saint Bonaventura, John of the Cross, Saint Francis de Sales and others, many of whom have been canonized as Saints. They also manufactured some impudent calumnies against his private character, which, however, even at that time, received no credence and have since been completely disproved. From a contemporary document I take samples of the so-called "Errors" of Molinos, with the official censure and refutation and some quaint marginal comments by a sympathizer. Nothing could better illustrate the lengths to which the Inquisition had to go in order to prefer charges against him.
“Contemplation, or the Prayer of Inward quietness, consists in this, that a man puts himself in the presence of God, by forming an obscure Act of Faith, full of Love, tho simple, and stops there, without going further: and without suffering any Reasoning, the Images of any things, or any Object whatsoever to enter into his mind: and so remains fixed and unmovable, in his Act of Faith: it being a want in that Reverence that is due to God, to redouble this simple Act of his: which is a thing of so much merit, and of so great force, that it comprehends within itself, and far exceeds the merits of all other vertues, joyned together: and it lasts the whole course of a mans life, if it is not discontinued by some other Act, that is contrary to it; therefore it is not necessary to repeat or redouble it.
THE CENSURE AND REFUTATION.
“It is not an Act of Faith that puts us in the Presence of God: for he is within us by a necessary effect of the Immensity of his nature: therefore Elias, Micaiah and the other Prophets said, Vivit deus in cujus conspecto sto. The Lord lives in whose presence I stand: and it is upon the same reason that the Divines have said after St. Austin, In Deo vivi
mus movemur & sumus; in God we live, we
move, and have our being; so that an Act of Another would have Faith, that presupposes that the Agent is in thought that S. Paul should being, supposes likewise that it is in the have been cited for this, rather than St. Aust., since presence of God; and it is indeed nothing else he had said this first, Acts
but a Resignation that the Creature makes of 17, v. 28, but Rome is not the place of the World
it self to God. Therefore Contemplation, even where the New Testament
during that first obscure Act of Faith, that is is most read, and this putting of one's self in the simple and full of love, is carried on by the Presence of God, con only Soul while she looks at God, and not at all mean the considering one's self as before him.
while she continues in an unmoveable state. It is then an evident Falsehood to say, that
other good actions are not at all necessary: any good act being of its nature finite, may become always better, by being often reiterated, and the multiplying the Acts of vertue cannot be contrary to the Reverence that is due to God, who being exempt from all passion, can never be troubled or wearied with Importunities, as great men are apt to be, who as Experience teaches, are often changed, disturbed, and become uneasy, when the same things are too often repeated to them. But with relation to God, when an act is in it self good, the repeating it is a progress in good; which is approved of God, and becomes more meritorious in his Sight. Therefore the Soul in Contemplating, continues her Acts, and does not stick obstinately to one single Act, Contemplation being still an Operation of the Mind, tho other things are likewise necessary.
"One cannot make one step towards Perfection by meditation, that being to be obtained entirely by Contemplation.
REFUTATION. "A Christian by meditating seriously on the Passion of Christ, and reflecting on that Love that made a God suffer so much for Mankind, may upon that resolve to love him again, and to obey all his Commands: and he may by the grace of God which is ever present to us put those good purposes in Execution; so that the Soul may well advance towards Perfection by Meditation: It may be also done without Meditation; for every one that lives according to the Laws of God, may work out his own Salvation by the help of God. Now since no man can be saved but he that is Perfect, and a Friend of God's, then this Article is most certainly false.
V. ERROR. “Corporal Penitences and Austerities do not belong to Contemplative Persons: On the Contrary, it is better to begin ones Conversation by a state of Contemplation, than by a State of Purgation or of Pennance; and Contemplative Persons ought to avoid and despise all the effects of sensible Devotion, such as Tenderness of Heart, Tears, and Spiritual Consolations, all which are contrary to Contemplation.
REFUTATION. "Mortifications dispose the Spirit to rise above the Motions of sense; and therefore it is that all the Saints have begun their course towards Perfection with Fasting and Discipline. And therefore if these Contemplatives design Perfection, they must practise Pennance; since nothing renders a man so fit for Contemplation, as to rise above all the Disorders of Sense. God in the Scriptures promises to forgive the mourning Sinner; but this is not promised to the Contemplative in any place either of the Old or New Testament. Therefore it is better to begin ones Conversion with purgative Exercises and Pennances, than with Contemplation.