Miguel de Molinos (1628-1696)
Denies the necessity of human activity in contemplation and sanctification. Asserts that the highest spirituality is attained when the mind and will are completely inactive; any sort of attachment to a divine image and all external forms of worship are hindrances to union with God.
The name “Quietism” is derived from the Latin quietus, which means passivity, and it is accurate in describing the state of mind and soul which Quietists sought in order to achieve spiritual perfection.
Similar heresies and errors can be traced back as far as the fourth century, when a group known as the Euchites, or Messalians, taught that external acts of sanctification, such as the sacraments, were useless, for prayer alone would free the body from attachment to evil.
The medieval Hesychasts believed that a perfect contemplation of God was possible through repose of the body and stilling of the will. The Brethren and Sisters of the Free Spirit (thirteenth through fifteenth centuries) and the Alumbrados of Spain (sixteenth and seventeenth centuries) took this idea further, to the point where not only external worship and discursive prayer are useless, but obedience to moral law and personal mortification become unnecessary; the soul being mystically united to God, the body’s every desire can be indulged without incurring sin.
These movements helped set the stage for Miguel de Molinos, who crystallized Quietism into its most recognizable form. The first proposition of his work, Dux Spiritualis, sums up the heresy: “Man must annihilate his powers and this is the inward way [via interna]; in fact, the desire to do anything actively is offensive to God and hence one must abandon oneself entirely to God and therefore remain as a lifeless body.”
This “inward way” involves refraining from traditional acts of piety and prayer: contemplation of reward and punishment, heaven and hell; meditation on the divine attributes; petition or thanksgiving directed at God; even contrition for sins. Instead, said Molinos, one “must remain in `obscure faith’ and in quiet . . . abiding in God’s presence to adore, love, and serve him, but without producing any acts because with these God is not pleased.” The Catholic Encyclopedia concludes that this “inward way” of Quietism has “nothing to do with confession, confessors, cases of conscience, theology or philosophy.”
Quietism is a caricature of genuine mysticism as taught by Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross. These too preached detachment from the senses in the highest levels of mystical prayer and a simple, loving union with God dependent not on active or discursive effort. They never went so far as to disavow more ascetic forms of prayer and indeed held they always must precede higher levels. Nor did these great saint-mystics deny the value of corporal mortification, the sacraments, or external forms of worship. Instead, they held these things to be indispensable to the development of the spiritual life, sure foundations for mystical union with God.
The Jesuits, whose spirituality stressed the active contemplation that Quietism condemned, preached and wrote against the heresy for several years. Molinos was arrested on July 18, 1685–more, it is believed, for his moral misconduct (the extent of which remains a secret) than for his heretical teachings.
On September 3, 1687 he retracted the 68 propositions, after which he was sentenced to lifetime “penitential imprisonment.” In November of that year Pope Innocent XI condemned 68 propositions of Dux Spiritualis in his constitution Caelestis Pastor. Molinos died in prison nine years later.
Quietism bears similarity to certain elements of Eastern mysticism and the New Age movement, and it is mirrored in one of the chief principles of Protestantism.
Like Quietism, many Eastern religions (Hinduism and Buddhism, for instance) aim at a state of detachment or indifference, whether it be Nirvana for the Buddhists, tranquil oneness with the pantheistic “all-god,” or the Tao.
Elements of Quietism can be seen in the quasi-mysticism of the New Age movement. In emphasizing subjective mystical experience or “feeling,” downplaying personal moral responsibility, and eliminating sacrament and ritual, many moderns are unaware of the debt they owe to a seventeenth-century writer for their “modern” religion.
The Reformation doctrine of sola fides is a cousin to Quietism in that it rejects mankind’s reciprocal role (through obedience and good works) in the process of salvation.