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Fall 2006 · Vol. 35 No. 2 · pp. 279–99 

Hubmaier’s Concord of Predestination with Free Will

Kirk R. MacGregor

As Anabaptism’s only doctor theologiae, Balthasar Hubmaier (1480-1528), 1 was arguably the foremost apologist and biblical theologian of the Radical Reformation. 2 However, his intellectual interests coupled with pastoral concerns over a misunderstanding of Luther’s sola fide by members of his flock, first at Waldshut and then at Nikolsburg, prompted him to venture into the waters of philosophical theology concerning the perennial quandary between divine sovereignty and human freedom. 3

Hubmaier, while principally a biblical theologian, plays a significant role in the history of philosophical theology, especially as it pertains to the trajectory of thought concerning divine omniscience.

Concerning his parishioners, Hubmaier lamented that

many have thus far learned and understood no more than two points from all the preaching. First, one says: “We believe; faith saves us.” Then: “We can do nothing good. God works in us the willing and the performance. We have no free will.” 4

His labor to remedy this dilemma yielded two volumes in 1527: Von der Freiheit des Willens (On the Freedom of the Will) and Das andere Büchlein von der Freiwilligkeit des Menschen (A Second Booklet on the Free Will of Humanity). The position on human freedom as well as the theological influences reflected within these works have been extensively analyzed by Thor Hall, Torsten Bergsten, Rollin Stely Armour, David Steinmetz, and Walter Moore. 5

In modern philosophical terms, these studies have demonstrated that Hubmaier championed libertarian free will, or the innate human ability to choose between opposites in both the physical and spiritual realms regardless of whether or not persons have been regenerated. He eschewed as heretical the compatibilist freedom of Luther and Zwingli, which only afforded persons the freedom to choose between the options compatible with their natures. 6

Moreover, Hubmaier integrated Scholastic categories concerning God’s will, 7 the Erasmian exegetical underpinnings in support of libertarian freedom (from the 1524 Diatribe de libero Arbitrio [Discourse on Free Choice]), 8 and Hans Denck’s theodicy (delineated in the 1526 Was Geredt sei [Whether God is the Cause of Evil] and Vom Gesetz Gottes [On the Law of God]) 9 together with his own philosophical insights to craft a doctrinal framework. This he judged capable of accounting for the full scope of scriptural passages comprising the common substance of sixteenth-century debates over predestination and free choice (rather than merely the subset of texts advancing one of these two doctrines). 10

While this proposed sovereignty-freedom synthesis has received ample attention by historians of the early modern period, neither its theological plausibility nor its place in the development of the doctrine of divine omniscience have, to my knowledge, ever been explored by philosophers of religion. As a scholar who works both in Reformation studies as well as in philosophical theology, it is my aim to remedy this deficiency in three ways. First, I will furnish a thorough philosophical analysis of Hubmaier’s proposed reconciliation of predestination and human freedom, disclosing in the process its logical ramifications and explanatory power. Second, I will explain the provocative solution which Hubmaier, in laying out his predestinary scheme, gives to the elusive problem of how God could harden the hearts of Pharaoh (Exod. 7:3-13; Rom. 9:17-18) and other evildoers without becoming the author of evil. Finally, I will assess the significance of Hubmaier’s insights regarding various aspects of God’s omniscience to the overall history of philosophical reflection on this topic.


In response to attacks on his Von der Freiheit by followers of Luther and Zwingli, 11 Hubmaier opens the apologetic portion of his sequel, Das andere Büchlein, 12 by directly confronting Romans 9. This he identifies as the principal text by which his “opponents hope to completely obliterate human free will.” 13 Acknowledging the problems of election and reprobation, as encapsulated by the affirmation of Romans 9:18 that God “has mercy on whomever he chooses, and he hardens the heart of whomever he chooses” (NRSV), Hubmaier claims that the text can only be understood by recognizing the existence of and differentiating between various aspects of the divine will.

Thus Hubmaier begins by drawing the typical Scholastic distinction between voluntas absoluta (the “absolute will” of God comprising his power to do whatever he chooses, unconstrained by any law above himself) and voluntas ordinata (the “ordained will” of God amounting to his merciful choice to act toward humanity according to precepts he has freely instituted). 14 Then Hubmaier employs these dialectics of the voluntas Dei to address the question de ratione praedestinationis (concerning the basis of predestination). For Hubmaier, God may choose to gratuitously elect a few to salvation apart from any foreknown faith on their part, for whom the ratio praedestinationis is God’s voluntas absoluta. 15 However, God operates according to his voluntas ordinata in electing the vast majority based upon his foreknowledge of their free response to the gospel, which selection principle he has revealed in Scripture. Hubmaier highlights Mark 16:15; John 1:12; 3:16; 1 John 2:2; and Revelation 3:20 as examples. 16

It should be emphasized at this point that Hubmaier’s formulation of voluntas ordinata depends upon the assumption that God possesses counterfactual knowledge, 17 or cognizance of the truth-value of conditional propositions in the subjunctive mood, i.e., propositions taking the following form: if something were the case (when in fact it may or may not be the case), then something else would be the case. 18 Thus God, in Hubmaier’s view, has foreknowledge of future contingents, including the decisions reached and actions performed by free creatures. Significant in Hubmaier’s use of the two wills is his refusal to speculate concerning the voluntas absoluta; while he makes a number of allusions to God’s absolute power, they are brief and tangential to his arguments. 19 Although Hubmaier is, on the whole, preoccupied with the voluntas ordinata and the principles according to which God agreed to typically act, it appears that the voluntas absoluta is not merely the realm of unactualized possibility, as the reformer recognizes that God “can be merciful to whomever he wants without any injustice.” 20 This is evident elsewhere in his treatment of a select number of people, such as Balaam and Cyrus, whom (in his exegesis of Num. 22:21-35 and Isa. 45:4-5) he believes are known to have been saved without reference to their foreseen response to grace. 21

But Hubmaier tends to circumscribe such anomalous occurrences within narrow limits, such that the operationes Dei externae are, in the overwhelming majority of cases, knowable. In the redemptive realm, for example, the sinner can rest assured that it is impossible for God, given the eternal order freely established by his will, not to predestine someone whom he foreknows will respond to his grace.

So, Hubmaier declares that while God might consign Judas or Caiaphas to heaven, no injustice would be involved in this display of unrestrained mercy so long as he is forbidden by his voluntas ordinata from driving away Jacob, who wrestled for his blessing, or refusing to grant forgiveness to the repentant David. 22 Taken together, the function of Hubmaier’s appeal to voluntas absoluta is to devise a coherent justification for a limited set of clearly (in his mind) substantiated peculiarities inexplicable from the standard order, which special pleading serves to heighten not God’s capriciousness but his mercy, as every proposed exercise of voluntas dei absoluta yields salvation and not damnation. 23

Turning at this point to the voluntas ordinata, Hubmaier formulates two new categories into which God’s ordained will may be subdivided, namely, “the conversive will concerning the one to be converted (voluntas conversiva a convertendo) [and] the aversive will concerning the one to be turned away from (voluntas aversive ab avertendo).” 24 The reformer defines the voluntas conversiva as God’s desire (without taking human free decisions into account) for all persons to be saved, as well as God’s decision to elect all who believe in Christ:

He turns himself toward all human beings with the offer of his grace and mercy, not sparing even his only begotten Son, but giving him up to death for us all so that we might not be lost but receive eternal life. 25

Hubmaier insists that the voluntas conversiva in no way restricts human freedom to accept or reject salvation: “The choice lies with [humanity], for God wants them, unforced, sober, and without compulsion.” 26 Hence the voluntas conversiva is God’s revealed desire to show mercy to humanity.

By contrast, Hubmaier defines the voluntas aversiva as God’s will to abandon in time and to reprobate from eternity persons whom (outside of those specially saved by the voluntas absoluta) he discerns through his foreknowledge would freely choose to reject his offer of prevenient grace. It should be noted that there is no contradiction between the voluntas conversiva and aversiva, since God, in his temporal dealings with all humans—including those whom he had already reprobated from eternity based on his foreknowledge that such persons would ultimately reject Christ—gives sufficient grace for salvation to each person, in keeping with his voluntas conversiva and through the Holy Spirit, up to the moment in time when that person decides to irrevocably reject such prevenient grace. 27

Hence the voluntas aversiva is God’s revealed decision, as an all-righteous being, to justly dispense punishment to the unrepentant in time and eternity. So for those who would “not accept, hear, or follow after God, he himself turns away from them, withdraws from them, and allows them to stay as they themselves would want to be.” 28 These two categories provide Hubmaier a rubric for interpreting scriptural passages concerning God’s eternal intentions for humankind. On the one hand, texts affirming God’s universal salvific will as well as his promise to save those who place faith in Christ, such as 1 Timothy 2:4 and John 3:16, 29 refer to the voluntas conversiva; on the other hand, those teaching “that God wants to harden the godless and damn them” allude to the voluntas aversiva. 30 Hubmaier summarizes his overall categorization of the various aspects to the divine will as follows:

God’s voluntas absoluta yet remains upright and omnipotent, according to which he can do whatever he desires and no one should question, “Why are you doing that?” His voluntas conversiva is a will of mercy. His voluntas aversiva is a will of his justice and retribution, of which we are guilty with our immoralities, and not God. 31


Having traced Hubmaier’s dialectics of the voluntas Dei, we are now in a position to examine its philosophical ramifications as they pertain to the manner in which God carries out his act of predestination prior to the creation of the world. At this point we can put the various divine cognitive events identified or presupposed by Hubmaier in logical order. First, by his voluntas conversiva God chooses to grant sufficient grace for salvation through the gospel to all persons he might create. Then, God discerns via his counterfactual knowledge what, if he were to create the world, every creature therein would freely do in every set of circumstances in which it found itself.

At this juncture, the full scope of Hubmaier’s schema comes into play, as God, through his voluntas absoluta, elects a few individuals to salvation despite his counterfactual knowledge that they would fail to respond to his prevenient grace. According to Hubmaier’s twofold split of the voluntas ordinata, moreover, God elects all whom he discerned would freely appropriate his grace in line with the voluntas conversiva, and he both reprobates all whom (apart from the handful of persons specially saved through his voluntas absoluta) he discerned would freely spurn his grace and decides to stop supplying such grace to them in time, starting at the moment when they would irrevocably reject him. Finally, God completes the act of predestination by choosing to create the world, 32 which decision has typically been called by theologians spanning back to Augustine the “divine creative decree.” 33

Let us consider the logical consequences of this decree in two distinct philosophical senses: in sensu composito (in the composite sense), which analyzes the full scope of reality by taking all of its realms into account as well as the interplay, regardless of whether or not such interplay stems from cause and effect relationships, between the various realms; and in sensu diviso (in the divided sense), which examines each realm of reality in and of itself and takes other realms into account only insofar as they exert causal restraints upon the realm in question. 34

Although not employing such philosophical nomenclature, Hubmaier explicitly uses these same two senses, collectively calling them the “two kinds of role,” and individually dubbing the sensus compositio “the role of God” and the sensus divisio “the human role”:

It must be observed that Holy Scripture assumes two kinds of role. Sometimes it assumes the role of God when it takes the completion of all things from the human being and ascribes it alone to God. . . . Sometimes it assumes the human role and ascribes everything to the human being as if God did nothing at all. 35

In sensu composito, the divine creative decree renders it logically certain that all of the elect (minus those specially saved by God’s voluntas absoluta) will personally appropriate God’s prevenient grace, while all of the reprobate will personally reject it. However, considering human space-time existence in sensu diviso, both the elect and reprobate are entirely free to accept or reject God’s grace, as God’s counterfactual knowledge of what they would freely choose exerts no causal restraint upon their decisions. But if the reprobate were to accept and the elect were to reject salvific grace, then God’s counterfactual knowledge would have been different, and the relevant persons would have been assigned the opposite predestinary status from all eternity.

Analyzing the internal logic of our ordered sequence of the divine cognitive events proposed by Hubmaier, it seems that persons, although normally elected based on God’s foreknowledge of their future faith, do not predestine themselves, since it is God who chose to create a world in which he foreknew that the elect by their own freedom would choose eternal life rather than no world at all (or, although not an option explored by Hubmaier, a different world where he foreknew that the same persons would freely choose damnation). 36

Thus we could summarize these implications of Hubmaier’s view by affirming that it is up to God whether persons find themselves in a world in which they are predestined, but it is typically up to persons whether they are predestined in the world in which they find themselves. 37 Hence Hubmaier maintains that election and God’s universal salvific will are entirely compatible:

Those whom God has elected to salvation and selected by his sovereign choice concerns the decision of God . . . , but it is certain and guaranteed that the crucified Christ wants all persons to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. 38

In this proposed rapprochement, Hubmaier asserts that divine grace is ultimately responsible for the salvation of the elect, while the reprobate bear full accountability for their condemnation and thus have only themselves to blame: “Whoever is not persuaded by this answer, namely, that the mercy of God is the cause of our salvation and our malice to blame for our damnation, must ask God himself.” 39 Assessing the plausibility of this sovereignty-freedom synthesis, it seems that Hubmaier fashions the philosophical building blocks necessary for assembling a sophisticated and logically coherent solution to the perennial theological quandary between predestination and human freedom. While Hubmaier does not himself give any formal sequential arrangement of these “blocks” (but he does informally, as we shall see in the next section), the resulting theological edifice after so doing possesses, in my judgment, great explanatory power in accounting for both sets of biblical texts respectively affirming God’s sovereign predestination and genuine human freedom. 40

We shall now proceed to two provocative corollaries which follow from Hubmaier’s sovereignty-freedom synthesis, one explicitly drawn by the reformer and the other implicit yet furnishing great insight into his precise placement within the philosophico-historical trajectory of reflection on divine sovereignty.


As an application of his synthesis between grace and free will, Hubmaier, affirming the literal truth of the scriptural claim that God hardened the heart of Pharaoh (Exod. 7:13; Rom. 9:17), attempts to explain precisely how God could perform such hardening without devolving into the author of evil. 41 While not tracing the cognitive events as they transpire in the scientia Dei with philosophical formality or exactitude, Hubmaier lists the temporal consequences of each divine cognitive event as it pertains to Pharaoh in exactly the same order as suggested by our formal arrangement of these events in logical sequence. In our arrangement, God would first perceive in his foreknowledge of future contingents that (in spite of his voluntas ordinata or revealed moral will that Pharaoh never sin) Pharaoh would, at the temporal moments described in Exodus, irrevocably reject the lordship of God, as evidenced by his decision to enslave the Israelites and commit infanticide against their children. Similarly, Hubmaier explains that, before Pharaoh was hardened by God, “he had first already abandoned God,” which rejection was borne out by the fact that Pharaoh “burdened the Israelites with unbearable labor and caused their children to be drowned contrary both to natural law and to his own conscience.” 42

Here Hubmaier’s insistence should be noted that, in the moral sphere, it is always God’s desire for humans in every set of circumstances to perform good rather than evil: “Anyone who claims that God wills sin does not know who God is or what sin is, since sinning always means doing or not doing something in violation of God’s will.” 43 In addition, God would discern through his counterfactual knowledge that if he, according to his voluntas aversiva, would in time abandon Pharaoh to his own evil devices starting at the moment when Pharaoh rejected him, then Pharaoh would freely harden his own resolve not to release the Israelites from slavery. God also foreknew that he could use Pharaoh’s wickedness to make both his omnipotence and the riches of his glory known to the Israelites, to the Egyptians, and, subsequently, to all Christian believers, thus creating good out of evil. 44

Consequently, God decided in his voluntas aversiva to turn away from Pharaoh in time and to reprobate Pharaoh from all eternity. Hubmaier stresses, in his exegesis of Romans 9:17, that using Pharaoh in this way was not the reason God created him, as Pharaoh was created to freely appropriate God’s salvific grace. But God, given his foreknowledge that Pharaoh would irrevocably reject such grace, thought it better to use Pharaoh as an instrument for his good ends before his eternal condemnation rather than condemning him immediately via death:

Although, after Pharaoh’s infanticide (Exod. 1:15ff.), God could have destroyed Pharaoh from that moment on, nevertheless he preserved Pharaoh in the calmness of his disposition as an instrument of wrath so that he might demonstrate through Pharaoh his power for our good even more powerfully at the right time. This is why the Scripture says, “For this reason I raised you up”—not “For this reason I created you”—“that I might display my power in you” (Rom. 9:17). But Pharaoh made himself a vessel of wrath, as seen in his infanticide, and God allowed him to remain that way and used him as his instrument insofar as he was useful. 45

Finally, God decreed to create the world, wherein Pharaoh’s wickedness would transpire. Thus for Hubmaier, God hardened Pharaoh’s heart by actualizing a set of circumstances in which he foreknew (which foreknowledge the reformer maintains is infallible) that Pharaoh would freely harden his own heart. Therefore, God can be said to “harden Pharaoh” since his creation of a world where he would deal with Pharaoh in voluntas aversiva constituted the ultimate yet indirect reason for his hardening: “Now God is the preeminent agent of the deed itself, but not of the blame of the deed, which stems from the wickedness of the worker or instrument.” 46

Transposing Hubmaier’s logic into philosophical terms, God hardened Pharaoh in sensu composito by choosing to actualize a world in which he infallibly foreknew that Pharaoh, if treated according to voluntas aversiva, would sin. Thus Hubmaier explains:

We know that Pharaoh acted unjustly . . . [and] for this reason he was justly abandoned by God and hardened in his sins due to his own guilt. . . . In view of this, it was not possible for Pharaoh . . . to will and do anything but evil, just as if inevitably falling from one vice into another, although this impossibility does not come from God but from [his] own guilt. For it is fair and just that God abandon everyone who has already abandoned him first. 47

However, God did not harden Pharaoh in sensu diviso, since Pharaoh, after being rejected by God in voluntas aversiva, still possessed his libertarian freedom and hence could have freely chosen to heed the request of Moses instead of hardening his heart against the Israelites. As Hubmaier points out:

According to his voluntas ordinata God does not want to harden, darken, or eternally condemn anyone except those who, out of their own wickedness and freedom of the will, want to be hardened, darkened, and eternally condemned; so God is not guilty of their hardening. . . . Pharaoh, out of his own internal evil, himself wanted to be hardened and wrong, regardless of what anyone said to him; yet he thereby spurned the revealed moral truth contrary to his own conscience. In this way, Pharaoh acted against the words and miracles of Moses. 48

Since Pharaoh was the direct cause of his own hardening, and since God at no time placed any causal restraints on Pharaoh compelling him to be hardened, Hubmaier insists that God cannot legitimately be indicted as the author of evil: “That which God does not plant he neither does nor effects. But it can never be proven that, in eternity, God planted sin. . . . Thus we will not confess that God is a doer or effecter of sin.” 49 Hubmaier gives the analogy of a lord who delays a captured murderer’s execution for the greater good of his subjects to illustrate the point:

Consider this parable: If a lord has a murderer in his dungeon, he could justly kill him from that moment on. However, the lord allows the murderer to remain alive until a crowd of people come together in order to demonstrate his power and justice even more powerfully through the murderer’s punishment, which serves to the benefit and fear of the lord’s subjects, who will now restrain themselves from committing similar evil deeds. Although the lord raises the murderer up from the dungeon, calls him before the court, and has him broken on the wheel, thereby employing his evil and shameful death as an example to the lord’s own people and to others for good, the lord is clearly not guilty of the murderer’s death. This is exactly the same way that God acted with Pharaoh. 50

Hubmaier emphasizes that God hardens all other evildoers he chooses to harden in precisely the same manner and for precisely the same reason as Pharaoh. 51 Rather than immediately consigning them to eternal damnation, God actualizes sets of circumstances in which he foreknows that persons who irrevocably reject him would freely choose to grow more obstinate in their sin upon coming under the judgment of his voluntas aversiva. However, God only performs such hardening when he also foreknows that he could bring good for his faithful servants out of the further rebellion of these evildoers. 52 In this way, Hubmaier crafts a provocative and, in my judgment, logically satisfying solution to the paradox of how an omnibeneficent God hardens the hearts of the wicked.


In the process of delineating his position on election and reprobation and illustrating how God hardens the wicked through, rather than against, their free choice, Hubmaier offers a number of important reflections on divine omniscience, appearing in the form of incidental rather than central points to his arguments. These reflections are surprising in light of Hubmaier’s reluctance to propose any overarching theory of divine omniscience, due largely to his antipathy to Scholasticism (an antipathy common to many Magisterial and Radical Reformers) 53 and what he considers its presumptuous speculations:

Our desire, arising from grand brazenness, to unravel and know the causes of divine foreknowledge, omnipotence, future events, and his voluntas absoluta . . . is an attempt to eat the forbidden heavenly fruit, analyze the divine hiddenness, and become gods ourselves, knowing good and evil, which is entirely forbidden for us to do.” 54

Notwithstanding this caveat, Hubmaier’s reflections do furnish the elemental data from which a full doctrine of divine omniscience can be formulated, including both its mode (i.e., how God apprehends his knowledge) and logical structure. Hubmaier’s comments regarding the mode of omniscience occur in the context of his polemics against the view of Luther and Zwingli that God’s foreknowledge is grounded in his foreordination (i.e., God knows what will happen because he makes it happen via his divine creative decree and then foresees the result), 55 which he believes renders God the author of evil. 56 Thus Hubmaier assesses his opponents’ exegesis of Romans 9:

My good friend Eliphaz [a satirical comparison of his opponents to Job’s erring friend] raises so definitively the Scripture on Esau, whereby he believes he can prove that, since we have originally been predestined from all eternity, we are already foreordained to good or evil by God. If so, then we cannot do other than how and what God has made us do: Esau had to sell his birthright for a pot of stew; Pharaoh had to pursue the children of Israel; Judas had to betray Christ; and Pilate had to crucify him. . . . But if all things happened from necessity, as my friends say, and God effected good and evil in us, he would no longer have the right to condemn people for their sin; he would instead have to condemn himself. 57

While refuting this position, Hubmaier posited what in philosophical nomenclature is dubbed a conceptualist model of divine omniscience, wherein God’s knowledge is self-contained, analogous to the human soul’s understanding of innate ideas. 58 By contrast, the perceptualist model, which is implicit to Luther and Zwingli, 59 construes prescience on the analogy of sense perception, such that God, definitively residing outside the universe, 60 “looks” into the four-dimensional space-time block, the events within which he has already predetermined, from without and “sees” what lies, from a human vantage point, in the future. 61

Unlike the perceptualist model, Hubmaier insists that scriptural language depicting God’s “foreseeing” the future must be understood figuratively, as “he does not for this reason have eyes . . . as the anthropomorphites say”; however, the text “accommodates itself to speak according to our human ignorance.” 62 Rather, Hubmaier reasons that, as an omniscient being, God essentially possesses the property of knowing all truths; since potential states of affairs exist, it follows deductively that God knows all truths about potential states of affairs: “God’s omniscience . . . includes his foreknowledge of all possibilities, as seen in the case of Esau and Jacob.” 63

Hubmaier reinforces this deduction concerning the mode of divine omniscience with a remarkable threefold statement, pregnant with theological significance concerning the logical structure of omniscience:

Indeed it is true that God knows all possibilities truly, necessarily, and unchangeably from eternity. Which one of two opposite possibilities he knows would happen, however, is still unknown to us. . . . [U]ndoubtedly God knew from eternity that Esau and other people would sin, but without causing them to sin. 64


Here Hubmaier delineates from his concept of omniscience, in order, an underdeveloped sequence of steps which would fifty years later be expanded (almost certainly without knowledge of Hubmaier) by Jesuit philosophical theologian Luis de Molina (1535-1600) into the doctrine of scientia media, or middle knowledge. According to Molina, the structure of God’s omniscience can be understood as a succession of logical moments (not chronological moments, as an omniscient being cannot know less or more at one point in time than another). 65

First, in his scientia naturalis or natural knowledge, God knows all possibilia, including all necessary truths, all the possible individuals and world orders he might create, as well as everything that every possible individual could freely do in any set of circumstances in which that individual found itself. Indispensable to God’s nature, this type of knowledge is also called scientia necessaria or necessary knowledge, since God could not lack this knowledge and still be God. 66 The essence of scientia naturalis is found in Hubmaier’s first sentiment, which declares that God immutably possesses knowledge of all possibilities and that such knowledge is necessary to him.

According to Molina, the second moment of God’s omniscience (the name of which doubles in philosophical nomenclature for Molina’s doctrine of omniscience as a whole) is scientia media or middle knowledge, in which God knows all counterfactual truths, including that which every possible individual would freely do in every possible set of circumstances, as well as all world orders (called feasible worlds) resulting from logically compatible (or compossible) combinations of these free decisions. 67

To illustrate the distinction between scientia naturalis and scientia media, God apprehended in his natural knowledge that Peter, if placed in the courtyard of the Sanhedrin, could freely affirm or deny Christ, but God discerned in his middle knowledge that Peter would freely deny Christ under those circumstances. This is not because the circumstances compelled him to deny Christ, but simply that God knew which way he would freely choose. 68 As we have already seen, the notion that God has counterfactual knowledge is implicit to Hubmaier’s dialectics of the voluntas Dei and proposed reconciliation between predestination and free will.

However, the second step in Hubmaier’s description explicitly affirms that God knows the truth-value of all counterfactual propositions, including those where it is possible for humans to choose between opposite courses of action. Moreover, Hubmaier’s third step almost precisely anticipates Molina by claiming that God knew Esau and other evildoers would freely sin, even though it would be possible for them under the same circumstances to do right, and that God’s knowledge of such contingents of creaturely freedom exerts no compulsion upon the agents to sin. Thus, the evidence indicates that Hubmaier subscribed to a primitive form of what Molina would later denominate as scientia media.

For Molina, God, who is equipped with his middle knowledge of all feasible worlds (worlds consistent with human freedom), then chooses to actualize one of these worlds in his divine creative decree. Stemming from this decree is Molina’s third moment of divine omniscience, scientia libera or free knowledge of all past, present, and future-tense truths in the actual world, so called because this knowledge is based upon his free decision of which world to create. 69 Hence if God had chosen to create a different world, then the content of his free knowledge would be different. 70 Although Hubmaier does not discuss God’s knowledge after his creative decree (he only treats omniscience and foreknowledge prior to the creative act), 71 his differentiation between the “two kinds of role” resulting from this decree, philosophically referred to as the sensus compositius and the sensus divisius, indicates his concurrence with the substance of scientia libera. That is to say, in his category of “the role of God,” Hubmaier recognizes that once God has made the free decision to create the world, all states of affairs which God foreknew would happen contingent on his decision to create will infallibly occur, given the absolute accuracy of God’s foreknowledge.

But in Hubmaier’s category of “the human role,” the reformer insists that the divine creative decree in no way alters the freedom-preserving character of the circumstances in which libertarian free agents find themselves. In other words, since Hubmaier believes that knowledge, under any circumstances, is not causally determinative, human actions are rendered no less free when God knew what the actors would potentially do via his counterfactual knowledge than when God decided to bring the counterfactually known world into being.

Our overall analysis of Hubmaier’s similarity to the Catholic reformer Molina leads to the surprising recognition that Hubmaier, while principally a biblical theologian, plays a significant role in the history of philosophical theology, especially as it pertains to the trajectory of thought concerning divine omniscience. Through his comparatively brief comments on the subject, made to substantiate his polemic against the notion that God’s foreknowledge is based upon his foreordination, Hubmaier provides us a window into his philosophical speculations on the mode and logical structure of omniscience, notwithstanding his reluctance to fully explain his views for fear that he would sacrilegiously intrude into the secret counsels of God.

Hubmaier’s support for a conceptualist model of omniscience, by itself, is not surprising, as he is here following in a well-established line of thought stretching back to the Patristic era and represented notably by Chrysostom, Anselm, and Bernard of Clairvaux. 72 Yet his elaboration of that model to encompass a logical structure, especially one that includes counterfactual knowledge, is most surprising. Hubmaier appears to be among the first known thinkers to separate God’s omniscience into two steps: (1) a knowledge, necessary to his divine nature, of all possibilia (including everything that creatures could freely do if God created the world); and (2) a knowledge of all counterfactuals (including everything that creatures would freely do if God created the world), both of which logically precede his divine creative decree.

Following the divine creative decree, moreover, Hubmaier is distinctive in distinguishing between two logical senses in which events can be explained: one which traces the ultimate reason for any event back to God, due to his free decision to create the world; and one which only considers human freedom and its causal restraints in ascribing guilt exclusively to humans for their evil deeds, since they enjoyed the freedom to act otherwise. In light of this twofold logical structure of God’s omniscience before his creative decree coupled with the dual character of future events after the decree, Hubmaier drew what could be regarded as the theological blueprint for the extensive doctrinal edifice constructed later in the sixteenth century by Molina, most probably without knowledge of the radical reformer’s earlier blueprint.


In his introduction to sixteenth-century Anabaptism, William R. Estep has argued that Hubmaier was one of the most creative and sophisticated thinkers of his day. 73 We find Estep’s verdict confirmed in Hubmaier’s treatment of one of the most intricate theological quandaries in Christian history, namely, the reconciliation of God’s sovereignty with human freedom and the implications of such a reconciliation for divine omniscience. By appropriating the Scholastic dichotomy between the voluntas absoluta and the voluntas ordinata, Hubmaier is able both to account for certain perceived salvific anomalies in Scripture and to certify that God, whose salvific will is universal, gives sufficient grace for salvation to every person he creates.

Hence the underlying subtext of Hubmaier’s use of the duplex voluntas Dei is the conviction that God’s de facto activity regarding humanity tends toward grace more than toward wrath. Hubmaier then introduces two subcategories of the voluntas ordinata—the voluntas conversiva and the voluntas aversiva—in order to disclose how God justly abandons, both in time and from all eternity, those whom he foreknows would irrevocably reject him. In the process of formulating this distinction, which carries the important implication that God possesses counterfactual knowledge, Hubmaier delineates the manner in which God hardened the hearts of various evildoers, such as Pharaoh, without turning the deity into the author of evil.

Finally, Hubmaier’s engagement in polemics with Luther and Zwingli over the relationship between foreknowledge and foreordination, especially as it is displayed in Romans 9, impelled him to formulate a skeletal outline of the various aspects of divine omniscience which directly foreshadows Molina’s doctrine of scientia media.

For these reasons, Hubmaier should be recognized as an important bridge figure between the biblical theology which, stemming out of religious humanism, helped launch the Reformation and the philosophical system-building that characterized the mid-to-late sixteenth century, with its drive to codify the teachings of earlier reformers and its revival of Scholastic methodology. Moreover, since Hubmaier’s proposed solutions to key theological paradoxes, in my judgment, have a prima facie appearance of logical coherence, I would commend their thorough analysis for exegetical accuracy and philosophical cogency by biblical scholars and philosophers of religion, especially those in the believers church tradition.


  1. I have translated all Hubmaier quotations directly from the Balthasar Hubmaier Schriften (abbreviated HS), ed. Gunnar Westin and Torsten Bergsten (Gütersloh: Gütersloher Verlagshaus Gerd Mohn, 1962). Along with each quote I have, for the convenience of readers desiring further interaction with the sources, listed the corresponding page numbers from the standard English edition by H. Wayne Pipkin and John H. Yoder, eds., Balthasar Hubmaier: Theologian of Anabaptism (Scottdale, PA: Herald, 1989; abbreviated BH).
  2. William R. Estep, The Anabaptist Story, 3d ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1996), 77, 103, 207, 222-23.
  3. For examples of Hubmaier’s disquiet over the popular and potentially antinomian interpretation of sola fide from his respective Waldshut (1523-25) and Nikolsburg (1526-28) periods, see his 1525 Von der christlichen Taufe der Gläubigen (On the Christian Baptism of Believers), HS, 142-43 (BH, 124-25) and his 1527 Von der brüderlichen Strafe (On Fraternal Admonition), HS, 339-40 (BH, 375).
  4. Balthasar Hubmaier, Von der Freiheit des Willens, HS, 381 (BH, 427).
  5. Thor Hall, “Possibilities of Erasmian Influence on Denck and Hubmaier in Their Views on the Freedom of the Will,” Mennonite Quarterly Review 35, no. 2 (1961): 149-70; Torsten Bergsten, Balthasar Hubmaier, Seine Stellung zu Reformation und Täufertum (Kassel, Germany: J. G. Oncken, 1961), 441-48; Rollin Stely Armour, Anabaptist Baptism: A Representative Study (Scottdale, PA: Herald, 1966), 24-34; David C. Steinmetz, “Scholasticism and Radical Reform: Nominalist Motifs in the Theology of Balthasar Hubmaier,” Mennonite Quarterly Review 45, no. 2 (1971): 123-44; idem, “Luther und Hubmaier im Streit um die Freiheit des menschlichen Willens,” Evangelische Theologie 43 (1983): 512-26; Walter L. Moore, “Catholic Teacher and Anabaptist Pupil: The Relationship between John Eck and Balthasar Hubmaier,” Archiv für Reformationsgeschichte 72 (1981): 68-97.
  6. Thus a libertarian concerning free will would maintain that fallen humanity can freely choose whether or not to respond to God’s saving grace. By contrast, a compatibilist concerning free will would hold that unregenerate humans, while possessing the freedom to choose between opposites in the physical realm, lack the ability to choose between spiritual good and evil due to original sin. Just as a bad tree can bear bad fruit or no fruit at all, unregenerate humanity can either perform spiritual wickedness by actively rebelling against God or do nothing spiritual at all by displaying passivity toward God.
  7. He learned such categories at the Universities of Freiburg and Ingolstadt while respectively earning his master’s and doctoral degrees under the famous nominalist, John Eck (Moore, 95).
  8. Hall, 155-65.
  9. Bergsten, Hubmaier, 443-48.
  10. Steinmetz, “Scholasticism,” 134-35.
  11. Ibid., 128-29; Bergsten, Hubmaier, 441-43.
  12. This work is divided into three parts: an exegetical portion which furnishes scriptural texts in support of free will; a compilation of theses for debate; and the apologetic portion under consideration, which presents the biblical passages from which his opponents base their arguments coupled with his attempted refutation of those arguments.
  13. Hubmaier, Das andere Büchlein, HS, 415-16 (BH, 471).
  14. Ibid., 416-17 (BH, 472-73); George Huntston Williams, The Radical Reformation, 3d ed. (Kirksville, MO: Truman State University Press, 2000), 336. It should be emphasized that, unlike his Anabaptist contemporaries, Hubmaier explicitly used these Latin philosophical terms and often emphasized them in marginal notes placed alongside the textual lines in which he delineated them. In BH these marginal notes from the original text are faithfully reproduced and translated.
  15. Moore, 83-84.
  16. Hubmaier, Das andere Büchlein, HS, 413, 416, 420 (BH, 468, 472, 477).
  17. This fact is underscored by Hubmaier’s appeal to biblical texts, such as Isa. 1:19, Jer. 18:8-10, and Matt. 23:37, which, if interpreted literally (as Hubmaier does), explicitly ascribe counterfactual knowledge to God (or Christ).
  18. Despite its counterintuitive appearance, since 1973 philosophers of religion have followed David Lewis (Counterfactuals [Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1973], 3, 26-30) in broadly defining the term “counterfactual” to encompass not only statements which are contrary to fact, but also true conditionals in the subjunctive mood. For instance, in his book The Existence and Nature of God (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1983), 112, Alfred J. Freddoso explains, “We shall follow David Lewis’s practice of not presupposing that the term ‘counterfactual’ is to be applied only to conditionals with false antecedents.” The same point is enunciated by Thomas P. Flint, Divine Providence (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1998), 6.
  19. Steinmetz, “Scholasticism,” 131; Hall, 163.
  20. Hubmaier, Das andere Büchlein, HS, 416 (BH, 472); Moore, 83-84.
  21. Hubmaier, Das andere Büchlein, HS, 427 (BH, 486); Von dem Schwert, HS, 451 (BH, 515). The view that Cyrus was saved may also be implied by the context surrounding Hubmaier’s citation of the potter-analogy (Isa. 45:9) in Das andere Büchlein, HS, 423 (BH, 481).
  22. Hubmaier, Das andere Büchlein, HS, 417 (BH, 474); Moore, 84.
  23. Moore, 83-84.
  24. Hubmaier, Das andere Büchlein, HS, 418-19 (BH, 475).
  25. Ibid., 418 (BH, 475).
  26. Ibid.
  27. Earlier in Das andere Büchlein (HS, 407 [BH, 460]), Hubmaier cites Jer. 18:8-10 as an example of God’s decision to turn away in time from evildoers conditional upon their free and obstinate refusal to repent of their sins (Hall, 163).
  28. Hubmaier, Das andere Büchlein, HS, 418-19 (BH, 475).
  29. Ibid.
  30. Ibid., 419 (BH, 476).
  31. Ibid.
  32. Hall, 162.
  33. Jaroslav Pelikan, The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600), The Christian Tradition, Vol. 1 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1971), 295-98.
  34. Alfred J. Freddoso, “Accidental Necessity and Logical Determinism,” Journal of Philosophy 80 (1983): 257-78.
  35. Hubmaier, Das andere Büchlein, HS, 429 (BH, 489).
  36. For an excellent discussion of various worlds consistent with human freedom that God could create, see Thomas P. Flint, “The Problem of Divine Freedom,” American Philosophical Quarterly 20 (1983): 257.
  37. William Lane Craig makes a similar remark in his examination of modern theories which parallel Hubmaier’s perspective in “No Other Name,” Faith and Philosophy 6 (1989): 184.
  38. Hubmaier, Das andere Büchlein, HS, 413 (BH, 467).
  39. Ibid., 414 (BH, 469).
  40. Eddie Mabry appears to move in the direction of my appraisal when he judges that, in Hubmaier’s theology, “predestination is not a matter of God’s arbitrariness, but, rather, it operates in the light of God’s revealed will and human choice” (Balthasar Hubmaier’s Doctrine of the Church [Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1994], 27).
  41. Hubmaier, Das andere Büchlein, HS, 419 (BH, 476).
  42. Ibid., 419 (BH, 476-77).
  43. Ibid., 414 (BH, 469).
  44. Ibid., 420 (BH, 477).
  45. Ibid.
  46. Ibid., 429 (BH, 489).
  47. Ibid., 419 (BH, 476-77).
  48. Ibid., 416, 420-21 (BH, 472, 478).
  49. Ibid., 429 (BH, 488).
  50. Ibid., 420 (BH, 477-78).
  51. Ibid., 420-21, 428 (BH, 478, 487).
  52. Ibid., 420 (BH, 477).
  53. Diarmaid MacCulloch, The Reformation (New York: Penguin, 2003), 117; James D. Tracy, Europe’s Reformations, 1450-1650 (Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 1999), 45; Williams, Radical Reformation, 1242-46.
  54. Hubmaier, Das andere Büchlein, HS, 422 (BH, 479-80).
  55. J. L. Neve, A History of Christian Thought, 2 vols. (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1946), 1:230; Basil Hall, “Ulrich Zwingli,” in A History of Christian Doctrine, ed. Hubert Cunliffe-Jones (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1999), 362-63.
  56. Hubmaier, Das andere Büchlein, HS, 422 (BH, 479-80).
  57. Ibid., 401, 408-9 (BH, 451, 461-62).
  58. J. P. Moreland and William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2003), 521.
  59. Jaroslav Pelikan, Reformation of Church and Dogma (1300-1700), The Christian Tradition, Vol. 4 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984), 219, 259-60.
  60. Introduced by Anselm (Proslogium, in Basic Writings, 2d ed., trans. S. W. Deane [Chicago: Open Court, 1962], 25-26), the concept of God’s definitive presence refers to the omnipotent and unapproachably glorious dwelling of the deity in the spiritual realm, which constitutes his primary base of operation from which his power and repletive presence, or capacity to fill all points within the universe, flows into space and time.
  61. Moreland and Craig, 521.
  62. Hubmaier, Das andere Büchlein, HS, 419 (BH, 476).
  63. Ibid., 421 (BH, 478-79).
  64. Ibid., 413, 422 (BH, 468, 479).
  65. Luis de Molina, On Divine Foreknowledge, trans. Alfred J. Freddoso (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1988), 168.
  66. Ibid., 145, 168.
  67. Ibid., 168-171; Flint, Divine Providence, 51-63.
  68. Molina, 185-86.
  69. Ibid., 168.
  70. Ibid., 168-69.
  71. Hall, “Erasmian Influence,” 162; Mabry, 27.
  72. St. John Chrysostom, The Epistle to the Romans, in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 11, ed. Philip Schaff, repr. ed. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1994), 463-69; Anselm, Proslogion, 24-25; Bernard of Clairvaux, On Grace and Free Choice, trans. Daniel O’Donovan (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1988), 92-108.
  73. Estep, 77.
Kirk R. MacGregor teaches in the Department of Philosophy and Religion at the University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Iowa, Iowa City, in Religious Studies with a concentration in Early Modern Religious History and Thought. His dissertation addresses Balthasar Hubmaier’s interrelationship between the sacraments and ecclesiology, especially church discipline.

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