Reformed Critique of Middle Knowledge (Molinism/Arminianism). Part 1 by Petrus van Mastricht

It has been suggested by some bloggers that exegesis is on the side of the Calvinists while logic is on the side of the Arminians. This suggestion sounds plausible since the majority of Christian philosophers today are either Arminians or Open theists. The bloggers are correct in acknowledging that Calvinists offer robust exegesis to support their arguments which is evident in the works of Thomas Schreiner, John Piper, Sam Storms and James White. However, the suggestion is mystifying since historically Calvinists have been accused of imposing of a rigid logical system onto Scripture. We can only conclude that the bloggers who suggest that Calvinists lack rigor in logical analysis have never bothered to read Calvin and his successors like Francis Turretin, John Owen, Jonathan Edwards or Dutch Reformed theologians like Wilhelmus Brakel and Petrus van Mastricht. A quick glance of Richard Muller’s 4-vol (2176 pages) work on Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics should immediately impress the reader of both the acuity and logical brilliance displayed by the Calvinists. It was precisely because the doctrinal disputations of the Reformed Scholastics were dominated by austere logic, where conciseness and clarity trumps readability that Calvinism has been accused on putting logic above Scripture.

The following posts will provide two readings by Petrus van Mastricht (1630-1706) and Francis Turretin (1623-1687). Their critique of Molinism and middle knowledge is backed by precise and penetrating logical analysis that is characteristic of the theological argumentation of Reformed scholastic theologians. Calvinism comes across in their writings as a most logical theological system. Their critiqued of middle knowledge is of utmost relevance since middle knowledge serves as a cornerstone underpinning the Arminian understanding predestination. Enjoy reading.



Definition: What is “middle knowledge.”
Middle knowledge is distinguished from two traditional categories used by Reformed theologians to describe divine knowledge.
Necessary or natural knowledge is the direct awareness which in virtue of his being God has of Himself and of all possibilities, in so far as He is the conditioning cause of them.
Free knowledge is the awareness comprising all realities, which rests upon the absolute decree of the divine will and is determined by it.
Middle knowledge (attributed to Luis de Molina) is a conditioned knowledge of future contingencies, by which from eternity, not absolutely but conditionally, God knows what men and angels would be doing for their freedom, if they are put with these or those circumstances in such and such an order of events (Voetius). [Heirich Heppe, Reformed Dogmatics (Baker, 1978), pp. 73, 77]

Thomas Flint gives an excellent diagram to compare these forms of divine knowledge [Source: Thomas Flint, Divine Providence (Cornell UP, 1998), pp. 42-43].

Necessary-Natural Knowledge

Middle Knowledge

Free Knowledge

Necessary Contingent Contingent
Independent of God’s free will Independent of God’s free will Dependent on God’s free will

The picture of God’s “growth” in knowledge might be illustrated as follows:

First moment Second ,moment Third moment Fourth moment
Natural knowledge Middle knowledge Creative act of will Free knowledge

In Molinism, middle knowledge is not the knowledge God has about what causally determined creatures would do (counterfactuals of freedom) under different circumstances brought about by God’s decree. This definition would bring Molinism close to Calvinism. However, in Molinism, middle knowledge is like natural knowledge prior to God’s choice to create. The counterfactuals of freedom are contingently true and independent of God from eternity. God has no control over them; they actually limit what God is able to create. As William Craig explains, “The counterfactuals of creaturely freedom which confront Him [God] are outside His control. He has to play with the hand He has been dealt.”


Reading 1 – Reformed Critique of Molinism/Middle Knowledge by Petrus van Mastricht

The objects of divine omniscience
Natural and free knowledge
In relation to future things, it [omniscience] obtains a double name. There is his natural knowledge or knowledge of simple intelligence, by which he knows purely possible things, perceiving their responsibility in his own all-sufficiency and omnipotence. And there is his free knowledge or knowledge of vision, by which, first, he sees that universal order, long ago decreed from eternity to be applied to things in their own time, and afterwards actually applied to them in creation, the order through which all things are appointed to have such dependency and connection among themselves that from it God, although he never decreed certain things to happen in actuality, can foresee and foretell that they will happen (that is, given the proper prerequisites), for example, that dry straw, if it be brought close to fire, will burn. In this way God also foresaw and foretold that David, if he remained in Keilah, would be delivered by its inhabitants into the hand of Saul, namely, because by the order that was decreed and concreated with things, an enemy delivers an enemy into the hand of his master or his friend to be destroyed. Second, he foresees that certain things, whether they are good or evil, will happen in actuality, and that from his decree alone, since a determined future event admits no other foundation and no other cause besides the divine decree alone. The invented idea of a third knowledge, which they call middle knowledge, we will expressly refute in the elenctic part… (pgs. 261-262)

4. Besides natural and free knowledge, is there a middle knowledge in God?
What do the Jesuits say?
XX. It is asked, fourth, whether besides natural foreknowledge, or the knowledge of simple intelligence, and free foreknowledge, or the knowledge of vision, there is in God some third foreknowledge, which they call middle knowledge. The Jesuits (whom the Remonstrants [Arminians] follow) and other semi-Pelagians, so that they can more conveniently protect God’s certain foreknowledge of future free events against the Pelagians and Socinians but also hold intact an independent indifference of free choice, have contrived, besides natural knowledge, by which God from the all-sufficiency of his own nature knows possible things, and besides free knowledge, by which he from his decree knows future things, a certain third knowledge, by which God certainly foreknows future, free things, though not from his decree, but rather from the surrounding conditions, given which, the will determines itself to this or that thing. And this third knowledge they have baptized middle knowledge for two reasons: (1) because it is a knowledge that belongs neither to natural knowledge nor to free knowledge: not to natural knowledge because it has for its object not what is possible but what is future; not to free knowledge because it does not know from the decree. And at the same time (2) because it shares something from both: from natural knowledge because it does not know from the decree; from free knowledge because it is occupied with what is future. Two Spanish theologians, Peter Fonseca and Luis Molina, contend for the glory of the paternity of this invention. The Reformed reject this novel invention as idle, false, and injurious to the divine perfection.

By what arguments is it [middle knowledge] toppled?
XXI. The Reformed do so chiefly by the following reasons: (1) because middle knowledge is superfluous, since every knowable thing is subject to the two received knowledges, natural and free. For if a thing is considered as merely possible, then undoubtedly it falls under natural knowledge. If it is considered as having a connection with various second causes, and thus as a thing that will occur if it should be construed with those second causes, even though it never actually will occur, it belongs to that latter knowledge that depends upon the decree, the decree that constituted at creation the order that would thereafter be applied to things, so that for example, dry straw would be burned if it were laid near a flame, even though God never did decree that it would be laid there or burned. And finally, a thing that will actually occur belongs to free knowledge. Next, (2) because God’s idea, in the intuition of which we heard that his knowledge consists, can be considered only in two ways: either in an antecedent relation to his decree, under the notion of God’s reason, and thus supplying his knowledge of simple intelligence, or in a consequent relation to his decree, and thus supplying his knowledge of vision. (3) Because by middle knowledge the intellect of God would draw its ideas from elsewhere, and thus it would depend upon creatures. And on the other hand, (4) the human will and its primary determination would be released from dependence on God. (5) The connection that exists between an event that will happen freely or contingently and the circumstances that surround it would, since it precedes the divine decree, not be subject to the divine will. From this (6) there will arise a concept of fate worse than that of Stoicism, a fate that God himself is entirely unable to turn, because that future event is reckoned antecedent to all of God’s good pleasure. Furthermore, (7) neither will this knowledge have the right to be called knowledge, since it has no true object. For that which has no determined truth, whether in itself or in its cause, is also not knowable. So surely it would imply knowing what is not knowable. Accordingly, (8) it will be more correctly called conjecture than knowledge. Indeed, (9) even called error, for he who knows as certainly future what can happen or not happen, that is, what is not certainly future, undoubtedly errs. See Twisse, On Middle Knowledge; Rutherford, Exercises Defending God’s Grace; and others.

[Rebuttals] The chief objection in favour of middle knowledge
XXII. Meanwhile in objection they [Molinists] bring up:
(1) those passages in which God predicts under a future condition which he never decreed (e.g. 1 Sam. 23:11-12; Matt. 11:21; Jer. 26:2-3; etc.). I respond, God foresaw those things by his free knowledge, from the decree by which he decided to apply to all things in their own time that order through which, from this construction of things, such an event would follow, provided that the ordinary concurrence of God agreed. It was based on this order that he predicted that the Keilahites would deliver up David. For it is the order of things in this world that an enemy delivers up an enemy, if he can (cf. 1 Sam. 24:19).  Other specific responses to the other passages can be found in many places, and so for the sake of brevity we leave them to their own authors.

(2) That all things that occur have been set to happen from eternity, antecedent even to the decree of God. For one of two contradictories – either something will happen, or it will not – was true antecedent even to the decree. And God accordingly foreknew which one was true, not by his natural knowledge, which is concerned with purely possible things, and also not by his free knowledge, which follows his decree. Therefore he did so by certain third or middle knowledge. I respond, We completely deny that one of two contradictories was, antecedent to the divine decree, to happen or not to happen determinately. Indeed logically, only one or the other of the contradictories could be true, but indeterminately so; that is, only one of the two, speaking disjunctively, could come to pass. And God held this fact in his natural knowledge.

(3) That apart from this middle knowledge, there does not appear to be a way to reconcile the contingency of events, the liberty of choice, the certain foreknowledge of future contingencies, with the divine decrees, with providence, with the grace of conversion. I respond, That disagreement of free choice with the decrees and with divine knowledge, which this knowledge promises to take away, rests in nothing else than a perverse definition of free choice, according to which it is nothing but a faculty by which, given all the prerequisites for acting, you are able to act or not to act, and thus, entirely all certainty of futurity and dependence of free choice is excluded. But when this definition is replaced by a more correct definition (according to which free choice is nothing but the faculty of acting from counsel), all the disagreement ceases. For God has decreed many future things through contingent causes, many things through free causes, and his foreknowledge of vision takes nothing away from this fact. But these things will recur in the chapters on the decrees, on providence, on free choice, and on conversion. (pgs. 267-270)

Source: Petrus van Mastricht, Theoretical-Practical Theology: Faith in the Triune God. vol. 2 (Reformation Heritage Books, 2019), pp. 261, 267-270.

Next Post: Reformed Critique of  Middle Knowledge (Molinism/Arminianism). Part 2 by Francis Turretin