The Holy Spirit’s Role In John Owen’s “Covenant Of The Mediator” Formulation: A Case Study In Reformed Orthodox Formulations Of The “Pactum Salutis” -- By: Laurence R. O’Donnell III

Journal: Puritan Reformed Journal
Volume: PRJ 04:1 (Jan 2012)
Article: The Holy Spirit’s Role In John Owen’s “Covenant Of The Mediator” Formulation: A Case Study In Reformed Orthodox Formulations Of The “Pactum Salutis”
Author: Laurence R. O’Donnell III


The Holy Spirit’s Role In John Owen’s “Covenant Of The Mediator” Formulation:
A Case Study In Reformed Orthodox Formulations Of The “Pactum Salutis”

Laurence R. O’Donnell III

John Owen (1616-1683) is widely recognized as a preeminent trinitarian and covenantal theologian of Reformed orthodoxy. Scholarship on Owen has tended to focus either upon his trinitarian theology1 or

upon his covenant theology2 accordingly. Few studies have focused upon the nexus3 of the two, namely, Owen’s formulation of the “covenant of the Mediator,”4 a doctrine known in Reformed orthodoxy as the pactum salutis.5 Furthermore, no studies have examined the Holy

Spirit’s role in Owen’s formulation of the pactum.6 In this essay, then, I attempt to weave together the two threads of this relatively unexplored trinitarian-covenantal nexus by arguing a twofold thesis: (1) Owen formulates the pactum salutis as the “mode” of the trinitarian consilium Dei7 with respect to salvation, and (2) Owen explicitly and implicitly assigns the Holy Spirit a role in both the consilium Dei and the pactum.

Before attempting to make headway down an unmarked trail, however, we need to get our bearings in the related scholarship.

Common Criticisms Of The Pactum Salutis

The pactum salutis is a divisive doctrine in Reformed trinitarian theology. One eminent twentieth-century Reformed dogmatician, Herman Bavinck (1854-1921), hails the pactum as “the divine work par excellence,”8 while another, Karl Barth (1886-1968), derides it as a heterodox “mythology, for which there is no place in a right understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity.”9 Contemporary Reformed

theologians are equally divided. Cornelius Plantinga, for example, terms the pactum a “grotesque” and “seemingly barbaric idea” in which the Son is a sort of whipping boy who provides catharsis for the vengeful Father,10 whereas oth...

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