On Middle Knowledge: Classic Reformed Definitions of the Key Terms

Here are definitions of the basic terms of the discussion. The definitions are drawn from Richard A. Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms Drawn Principally from Protestant Scholastic Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1985).

The English term “middle knowledge” is a translation of a Latin phrase, media scientia.


“Media Scientia; Middle Knowledge; a term used to describe a category in the divine knowing according to which God has a conditioned or consequent, rather than an absolute and antecedent foreknowledge of future contigents.”

“Scientia necesaria; necessary knowledge; viz., the knowledge that God, according to his nature, must necessarily have; infinite and perfect knowledge of both the divine being itself (see theologia archetypa) and of all possibilities. Scientia necessaria is synonymous with scientia simplicis intelligentiae seu naturalis et indefinita (q.v.).”

Scientia Dei; The knowledge of God; i.e., the attribute of knowledge predicated of God, which is the knowledge, identical with the divine essence (see essentia), according to which God knows himself and all his works most perfectly. The scholastics distinguish two basic categories of divine knowing, the scientia simplicis intelligentiae, or knowledge of unqualified intelligence, and scientia libera, or free knowledge. In opposition to the Luther and Reformed orthodox, the Arminians follow the Jesuits in adding a third category in between the scientia simplicis intelligentiae and the scientia libera, the so-called scientia media, or middle knowledge. The first category, scientia simplicis intelligentiae seu naturalis et indefinita (q.v.), also called simply scientia necessaria or scientia naturalis, is the uncompounded, unqualified, absolute, indefinite, or unbounded knowledge that God has necessarily according to his nature and by which God perfectly knows himself and the whole range of possibility. This is an antecedent knowledge that logically precedes the eternal decrees and, thus, the free exercise of the divine will. It is a scientia libera seu visionis et definita (q.v.), a scientia voluntaria, a free or voluntary knowledge, of actual things brought freely into existence by the divine will operating within the range of possibility perfectly known to God. The effect of this conception of divine knowing is to rest all divine knowledge, including the divine foreknowledge of contingent events, upon the divine will which alone can actualize what is possible. Nothing falls outside of the divine knowing because all things rest on the divine will (see voluntas Dei). Contingent events are known to God as belonging to the realm of his permissive willing and providential concurrence (concursus, q.v.). Against this view, in the attempt to create an area of radically free willing and moral responsibility beyond the control of the divine will, the Jesuit theologians Pedro de Fonseca and Luis de Molina proposed a category of middle knowledge or scientia media. The scientia media underlies their synergistic theory of salvation and was adopted in the seventeenth century by the Arminians for the same purpose. Middle knowledge is conditioned and consequent knowledge of future contingents by which God knows of an event because of its occurrence. In other words, it is a knowledge eternally in God consequent to on and causally independent of, events in time. Such events are outside of the divine willing. The effect of such a doctrine upon soteriology is to allow an area of human choice, prior to the effective operation of divine grace, the results of which condition the divine activity or operation ad extra. God can elect individuals on the basis of his foreknowledge of their freely willed acceptance of the promises given in Christ, and this election will be grounded upon no antecedent willing or operation of God. The acts ad extra of the divine will and the scientia libera or scientia voluntaria will rest, then, in certain instances on a foreknowledge of future contingents which is consequent on and conditioned by the contingents themselves. Both the Lutheran and Reformed orthodox reject the idea—the Reformed with vehemence. At very best the scientia media limits divine control to the circumstances surrounding an event and provides a certain knowledge of events that lie outside of divine control; at worst it hypothesizes an uncertain knowledge of contingents on the part of God. In either case it limits the sovereignty of grace in the work of salvation.

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  1. Dr. Clark,
    Did the Amyraldians who hold to the hypothetical universal atonement idea maintain this middle knowledge idea in some form?

    On the side, I appreciate you taking your valuable time for interacting with all of us and your forebearance when we get off track.

  2. In the for what its worth category – and only related to this matter in an ancillary way – Muller’s Dictionary is a superb addition to any Pastor’s study. My edition is much older than the one that appears in this post, but its well worn too.

  3. Dear Dr. Clark,

    There are a couple (at least) of things in one the quotations above that appear to me to be misleading or simply mistaken. I’ll focus on just one for now. In the section explaining Scientia Dei Muller writes:

    “Middle knowledge is conditioned and consequent knowledge of future contingents by which God knows of an event because of its occurrence.”

    This is misleading because it appears to conflate simple foreknowledge with middle knowledge. Middle knowledge is the knowledge God is alleged to have of contingent truths (contingent in the sense that they are possible true and possibly false)–thereby being like His free knowledge–that are independent of His voluntary choice–thereby being like His natural knowledge. So middle knowledge sits squarely between God’s natural knowledge and His free knowledge. The paradigmatic type of proposition that falls within the class of things that God middle knows are called counterfactual of freedom, which have the following form:

    if some agent S were placed in some circumstance C, then S would freely perform A (of course there will be a corresponding instance of this type where the consequent of the above counterfactual is denied).

    Now God knows all true instances of this type even if the agent S is never actually placed in C (hence the term ‘counterfactual’). Hence, God’s middle knowledge is not based on His knowledge of what event occurs, for no event actually occurs. Indeed, the way that Muller puts things not only collapses the distinction between simple foreknowledge and middle knowledge it also (and this is an entailment of the collapse) undermines one the most problematic aspects of middle knowledge, namely, the fact that true counterfactuals of freedom are brutely contingent.

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