Born in Spain in 1535, Luis de Molina was one of the most accomplished, learned figures in the sixteenth-century revival of Scholasticism on the Iberian peninsula. A member of the Jesuit Order, Molina spent twenty-nine years of his life in Portugal–first as a student, then as a professor of theology, law, and philosophy. He was a gifted scholar and an exacting writer whose tireless devotion to scholarship prompted him to write the Concordia, his most famous theological work.
While best known as a theologian, Molina was also a renowned lawyer and astute political philosopher who wrote on a diverse set of topics, ranging from slavery to economics to war. His political philosophy was thoroughly explicated in his five-volume, posthumously published work, De Justitia et Jure, considered by many to be his magnum opus. In it, Molina not only outlines his theory of law but also demonstrates his classically liberal economic views on issues such as taxation, price controls, and monopolies–particularly as they relate to the state.
Underlying Molina’s social thinking is an unwavering belief–shared by many of the early Jesuit thinkers–in the free choice of the human person. According to Molina, “That agent is called free who, with all the prerequisites for acting having been posited, is able to act and able not to act, or is able to do one thing in such a way that he is also able to do some contrary thing.” Theologically, Molina’s focus on the freedom of the will translates to a rather intricate–and, in the sixteenth century, controversial–understanding of the nature of free human action in light of God’s grace and divine foreknowledge. In essence, the human person, Molina asserts, is an active agent of the divine will.
This concept of active agency applies to the political sphere as well. In fact, the concept of human liberty forms the basis of Molina’s view of civil society, in which persons, through God’s grace, are free to act virtuously in their role as citizens, making decisions for themselves on matters of their own physical and spiritual well-being. This concept finds concrete expression in Molina’s writings on economics, in which he affirms the importance of individual liberty in free-market exchanges, opposes government regulation of prices and markets, condemns the slave trade as immoral, and upholds private-property rights theory. Molina’s views on these issues–and many others–continue to influence theologians, philosophers, and economists even today.
Hero of Liberty image attribution: Molina, Luis de Fondazione Mansutti [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons