Miguel de Molinos

The writings of the Spanish priest Miguel de Molinos (1628-1696) formed the basis of the Quietist movement in the Roman Catholic Church. Both his works and the movement were condemned by Rome.

Born in Muniesa near Saragossa on June 29, 1628, Miguel de Molinos received a doctorate in theology from the University of Valencia. In 1663 he was sent to Rome as promoter for the canonization of a Valencia citizen. The case fell through, but Molinos stayed in Rome and became widely known as a spiritual director.

Molinos's major work, Spiritual Guide, appeared in 1675 and immediately created a sensation. Only the contemplative attitude (that is, the one of passive prayer), it argues, leads to the perfection of spiritual life. The attitude is opposed to all strenuous ascetic efforts, even the need to fight one's evil nature. The emphasis is entirely on inner quiet, resignation, and abandonment to the will of God. His doctrine had, to some extent, been anticipated by the Alumbrados, the Enlightened Ones, a spiritual movement in 16th-and 17th-century Spain which he must have known.

Although Molinos's book displayed all the customary signs of ecclesiastical approval, it was immediately denounced by the Jesuits, whose method of "spiritual exercises" was diametrically opposed to his pure passivity. Yet several powerful dignitaries came to his rescue, and his adversaries saw their own attacks placed on the Index. Just when victory seemed complete, the powerful archbishop of Naples, Caracciolo, warned the Pope against the dangers of "those quietists" (the first time the term was used). In 1685 Molinos was arrested, and his writings, including 12,000 letters, were thoroughly examined by the Holy Office. Persistent rumors have it that the French cardinal D'Estrée, representative of Louis XIV, was behind the entire scheme. At any rate, Molinos was declared guilty not only of doctrinal errors but also of immoral conduct. The latter accusation has continued to intrigue students of Church history, since the man had always been known for his exemplary life. Chances are that the charges were trumped up on the basis of a malevolent interpretation of certain passages in the letters.

A public session was organized in Rome on Sept. 3, 1687, and Molinos admitted the 68 errors with which he was charged. In front of a hostile crowd the tribunal condemned him to life imprisonment. He died in prison on Dec. 28, 1696. However, Quietism did not die with him. While Molinos was in prison, it even entered the very court of France that may have been responsible for his condemnation. One of his disciples, Madame Guyon, ardently publicized Quietist spirituality in France and through the King's favorite, Madame de Maintenon, enjoyed all the marks of royal approval. When Madame Guyon in turn came under fire, Bishop François Fénelon rose to her defense and expanded the Quietist doctrine.

Further Reading on Miguel de Molinos

The standard study of Molinos is in French. An older English study is John Bigelow, Molinos the Quietist (1882). Molinos is discussed in Ronald Arbuthnott Knox, Enthusiasm: A Chapter in the History of Religion, with Special Reference to the XVII and XVIII Centuries (1950). The influence of Quietism and Molinos is analyzed in Katharine Day Little, François de Fénelon: Study of a Personality (1951), and Michael de la Bedoyere, The Archbishop and the Lady: The Story of Fénelon and Madame Guyon (1956).