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I am studying the book, Sacred Bond, Michael G Brown and Zach Keele, Reformed Fellowship Inc. Second Edition reprint 2018, on the topic of what Reformed Presbyterians call “The Covenant of Redemption”. It says on page 26 that “this is sometimes referred to by its Latin title, pactum salutis.”

Although I’ve uncovered loads of material on the Reformed understanding, and the history of this doctrine in Protestant circles, I want to know if there is any Catholic ‘counterpart’ which might have preceded the first emergence of this in Protestant circles.

Apparently the Puritan, John Owen, wrote at length about “the rule of law” in connection with the “active obedience of Christ” in a “Covenant of Redemption”. These phrases are inextricably bound up in the Presbyterian concept / doctrine of ‘The Covenant of Redemption’.

Owen seems to be the originator of the phrase “the rule of law”, first appearing in The Savoy Declaration, drawn up at a conference of English Congregationalists who met at Savoy Palace, London in 1658. That post-dated the Westminster Confession, of 1646, although in matters of doctrine it was primarily a restatement (with some modifications) of the Presbyterian Westminster Confession. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Savoy-Declaration

I’ve also searched other sources, such as The Cavity in the Covenant: George Whitefield’s Use of the Pactum Salutis Joel D. Houston www.churchsociety.org › wp-content › uploads Yet all the many sources I’ve checked only mention this in relation to Protestantism.

What I desire to discover is whether this Latin phrase, Pactum Salutis, occurs anywhere in Catholic theology, and if it does, the earliest date that could be attributed to Catholic theology relating to this.

Any information on a Catholic ‘take’ of this theology is what I’m hoping to find. I’m not interested in etymology, or the related idea, “my word is my bond”, or details of the Protestant view (I’ve got reams of stuff on that.)

Does Catholicism have any concept of a theology of Pactum Salutis and, if so, when did this first arise?

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  • A site search of vatican.va reveals many pactums and many salitus but none together in any of the encyclicals or bulls. Dr. Scott Hahn and Jeff Cavins write a lot about covenant theology, is that applicable? Or are you asking about matters of church and state?
    – Peter Turner
    Nov 9, 2023 at 14:57
  • @PeterTurner Yes, it's about covenant theology (not church and state). But I don't want to open up a debate on the topic! I just want to know if there's a parallel doctrine, though of course it would not agree much with the Protestant one - or would it? I just want direction in finding out, even if the Latin term is not used - is the concept there, and did it predate statements of the Reformers?
    – Anne
    Nov 9, 2023 at 15:25
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    the two people I mentioned are Protestant converts to Catholicism, so it might be an import - I do like it though, it makes a lot of sense and really helps to understand the major and important parts of the OT and how they lead up to Jesus.
    – Peter Turner
    Nov 9, 2023 at 15:30

1 Answer 1

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Does Catholicism have a theology related to Pactum Salutis?

Not that I am aware of at this moment in time. This has not been something of note for major Catholic theologians.

Technically, Reformed covenant theology “originated” in the 16th century – it “developed” or became scholasticized in the 17th century. I certainly didn’t mean to suggest that “covenant theology” was invented in the 17th century. This remains a Reformed theological idea and has not caught on by Catholic intellectuals.

The Church does have many Pactums, but nothing in reference to Pactum Salutis as understood by Protestant Reformers, at least not yet.

A Catholic Anaylsis of Reformed Federal Theology

Covenant or Federal Theology became formally articulated in the Calvinistic theological tradition, beginning in the 17th century. This was the era of “Reformed Scholasticism.” Beginning especially with Theodore Beza, Aristotelian methods of theological speculation began to take root in Calvinist circles (whether they were conscious of it or not). As a result, Calvinism in the 1600s began to morph in a number of ways.

17th century Calvinism became increasingly focused on predestination and “eternal decrees” – much more so than John Calvin himself had been. I think it is safe to say that Calvin presented soteriology in a more Christological way than his later followers. Later Calvinism pushed the locus of salvation out of history and into the Godhead. This also led to a fully articulated doctrine of limited atonement (i.e. that Christ’s atoning death was only accomplished for the elect and not all mankind). This “decretal” perspective also diminished the role of the sacraments in the Calvinistic tradition. Unconcerned with questions about predestination, Lutheranism was disinterested or hostile to growing influence of covenantal theology in continential Calvinism. By the 17th century, covenant or federal theology was being called the “marrow of theology” by Reformed theologians.

The Federal Theology of Cocceius

The focus on salvation arising from eternal decrees and not from redemptive history led to the development of a late medieval notion of the pactum. Dutch Calvinist theologian John Cocceius taught that God the Father and God the Son entered into a eternal pactum by which Christ agreed to be testator of an eternal testamentum. History is thus divided into two covenantal eras: the covenant of works (foedus operum) and the covenant of grace (foedus gratiae). The covenant of works is the time before the Fall of Adam. The covenant of grace is the era of redemption in which the eternal pactum is anticipated by the Old Testament and executed in history by Christ.

The Federal Theology of Amyraut

Moses Amyraut (father of Amyraldianism or what is called “four point Calvinism”) was also a Dutch Calvinist of the 17th century. He put forth a competing covenant theology that was also triplex. However, Amyraut put forth three historical covenants corresponding to redemptive history. This model is historical, less esoteric, and more Catholic. He posited the foedus naturale (from Adam to Moses), the foedus legale (from Moses to Christ), and the foedus gratiae (from Christ forward). Anyone familiar with Thomas Aquinas’ treatment of the law will notice that this basically follows the triplex model of Thomas: Natural Law, Old Law, New Law.

It was however the model of Cocceius that won the day. The covenant theology of Cocceius was enshrined in the Westminster Confession of Faith as the Covenant of Redemption (pactum salutis), the Covenant of Works (foedus operum), and the Covenant of Grace (foedus gratiae).

What Does This Mean for Catholic Theology?

Nothing really. However, we can see in these models a failure to appreciate the ecclesial and familial language of Sacred Scripture. Covenantal theology of 17th century Calvinism is heavily contractual. Calvinists rightly gravitated toward the biblical model of the covenant but they filled it with their forensic presuppositions of extrinsic righteousness and legal, courtroom imagery. The Catholic Church, while not possessing an advanced “covenant theology”, has maintained the substance of what a covenant is – a unitive bond that creates a real ontological or familial union between God and man and man and man.

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  • I was looking into this because I thought I could get half an answer by trying to find out where Jeff Cavins and Scott Hahn got their ideas from - is this Amyraldianism 2.0? mikeisthird.com/covenants ?
    – Peter Turner
    Nov 10, 2023 at 16:31
  • @PeterTurner I am not sure.
    – Ken Graham
    Nov 10, 2023 at 17:43
  • This is a truly helpful answer, giving a history of the development of such ideas. It also shows (in the last para) why Catholicism will not have anything similar, either before or after the 17th century Reformed views were formed. I am also looking for info on Amyraldianism, Cavins & Hahn, but have found nothing so far. I suspect those 2 men will be 20th century characters. I'll keep this Q open longer in case more info. comes to light.
    – Anne
    Nov 11, 2023 at 15:58
  • Learning more about Amyraut, and yes, there were some similarities with what came later to be called 'four-point' Calvinism', and Thomas Acquinas' triplex model re. law. Very interesting! I don't think anyone is going to match your answer, so a Green Tick for you!
    – Anne
    Nov 14, 2023 at 10:47

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