Notes and Thoughts on the Pactum Salutis

A while ago Peter Leithart blogged on the Pactum Salutis, and I’ve been mulling jit over ever since. The Pactum Salutis (PS) doctrine turns on the idea of negotiated agreement or settlement or whatever term you prefer. The extent to which this is flattened and weakened is the extent to which the PS really stops being an actual doctrine of PS. Turretin and Owen (among others) try to turn the PS into a super duper trinitarian thing but also keep it super duper undivided by limiting the PS to the economy. Of course it pretty much isn’t ad intra at this point, and also at this point there really ceases to be any kind of ‘agreement’ between ‘legal parties’ as the PS posits. There isn’t much of a way to have your cake and eat it too here.


But it sort of sounds like you actually can only hold on to the doctrine by invoking ‘proper’ qualifications, which is pretty weak. The more ‘proper’ the qualifications become the less real the P and the S become, until they’re basically just plain old bad analogies. Analogy can be ok but straining language to the breaking point in order to hold on to a doctrine that you don’t need to and that has pretty minimal  support in the tradition is fairly shaky ground. And, really, it’s probably even worse than that, since the PS language seems to go directly against the sixth ecumenical council, where two wills christology is orthodox, because faculty of will = nature and not person. God has one will because God has one nature or essence or whatever. Father, Son, Spirit all share one nature and therefore share the same will – they share the same faculty of willing. The PS, on its face, strains this because it posits agreement between two specific parties, Father and Son, and like I said before, this implies theoretical room for disagreement. And as I’ve argued above, attempts to soften this as Owen Turretin et al do by moving the PS into the economy really neuters the force of the PS.

So obviously these decrees are eternal and ordered to the economy – this is pretty unhelpful, though, since this would apply to anything God decreed would also fall under this heading. Obviously (again) this = that these are intrinsic/extrinsic, but this again (again) is pretty unhelpful, since this just follows from the definitions and ordering. The PS, as I’ve said, turns on a very specific thesis: negotiated agreement between the members of the Trinity – *not* the order of divine decrees. This is clear in Owen, Cocceius, Turretin, et al:

‘The council of peace involves the triune God and has its own oeconomia — an economy with specific legal relationships.  To formulate it more precisely: the concilium pacis or pactum salutis describes a relationship among the three Trinitarian persons in a negotiated agreement (negotium) in which these persons act as legal parties who are mutually obligated to each other.  The Father functions both as the Lawgiver who requires that righteousness be rendered and that sin be punished in the person of the Son, and as the all-wise Sovereign, who appoints his Son as sponsor in order to reveal his mercy in his dealing with his creatures.’ (W. J. Van Asselt, The Federal Theology of Johannes Cocceius)

‘Regarding the pactum salutis (or covenant of redemption), Owen explains that there are five characteristics: (1) the Father and the Son mutually agree to the common goal of the salvation of the elect; (2) the Father as principal of the covenant requires the Son to accomplish all that is necessary to secure the redemption of the elect — to do the Father’s will; (3) the Father promises to reward Christ for accomplishing his will; (4) the Son accepts the work given to him by the Father; and (5) the Father agrees to accept the Son’s work upon its completion.’ (John Fesko, Beyond Calvin: Union with Christ and Justification in Early Modern Reformed Theology)

And the Turretin

“The pact between the Father and the Son contains the will of the Father giving the Son as lytroten (Redeemer and head of his mystical body) and the will of the Son offering himself as sponsor for his members to work out redemption. . . . For thus the Scriptures represent to us the Father in the economy of salvation as stipulating the obedience of the Son even unto death, and for it promising in return a name above every name that he might be head of the elect in glory; the Son as offering himself to do the Father’s will, promising a faithful and constant performance of the duty required of him and restipulating the kingdom and glory promised him”  

One possible fix is to argue the idea that the PS is more of a way to understand inter-trinitarian relations. Obviously, you can take that to be the case – but it is quite another thing to argue that this is what the articulators of the PS actually meant, when the evidence points to them taking it quite literally: the Father and Son negotiate and agree on salvation/election/whatever the case may be. The extent to which a doctrine of PS does not posit that agreement is the extent to which it isn’t really a doctrine of PS.

The various ordering of the decrees is window dressing for this specific thesis. Taking it in the strict sense is actually taking it in the sense that the original articulators meant. Contrast the above quotes with Brakel and Leithart’s Brakel quote, who, as Leithart notes, saw the difficulties (with Owen) and began hanging window dressing. The problem is that the window-dressing does soften the force of the doctrine to the point where it isn’t a P of S but an illustration of intertrinitarian relations.

The overall point is that that way forward leaves the actual PS in its strict Coeccius-ian sense in the dust, and the PS has to be strict if it’s to be anything more than an illustration of one way of thinking about how divine decrees are ordered among the trinity in eternity.


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