Intratrinitarian Reconciliation?

The Theology of ReconciliationJenson, Robert W. “Reconciliation in God.” In The Theology of Reconciliation, edited by Colin E. Gunton, 158–66. London: T&T Clark, 2003.1

Jenson’s opening lines set the stage for his main thesis:

When I am invited to speak at a conference, I know I am supposed to indulge in the sort of trinitarian and christological speculation that skirts the edge of the sayable. So I have posed the question to myself: is there anything in God himself that might plausibly be called “reconciliation”? (158)

He goes on to argue that the traditional understanding of the Father begetting the Son and spirating the Spirit is inadequate because incomplete. He posits that the Spirit liberates the Father for the Son and reconciles the Son to the Father (158).

To defend this idea, Jenson turns to Gethsemane and the baptism of Jesus. In the Garden, the will of the Son is “reconciled” to the will of the Father. Although it’s not explicitly stated, it is reasonable to assume the Spirit’s involvement.

The Son says, “Not my will but yours.” The utterance itself is, of course, precisely the act of his will to be one with his Father, but nevertheless this very act is itself a reconciliation of two wills. Were Gethsemane a scene in anyone else’s life, we would not hesitate to say that what we see here is a man being reconciled to his destiny or to one who determines his destiny.

The evangelists do not explicitly name the Spirit as the agent of this reconciliation. But the classical trinitarian tradition names the Spirit as the vinculum amoris between the Father and the Son, and if the love of the Father and the Son includes a reconciliation between them, then the Spirit is the agent thereof. (160)

Jesus’ baptism, though, is more explicit. There

the Spirit mediates between the Son and the Father, and that this mediation is essential to the Son being the Son. . . . The prophetic and creative Spirit, known throughout the Old Testament, appears between them, as the power of the proclaimed relation. (161)

Jensen proposes that the Spirit’s role as vinculum amoris is the key to seeing the Spirit as the reconciler between the Father and the Son.

It requires an active third person to make a bond of love between two; a person who gives himself to them, just so to unite them. And what would one call such a gift, except the act of a reconciler? (161)

You are probably alarmed at this point by the implications of intratrinitarian “reconciliation,” which typically denotes the act of restoring friendly relations between two or more parties.2 But Jenson quickly qualifies, “There of course cannot be any suggestion that Jesus and his Father were ever at odds” (161).

An analogy might be the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son. Generation implies origin. Adding eternal makes it clear that the Son never had a beginning.3 It seems that what Jenson is suggesting is a doctrine of eternal reconciliation, though he doesn’t use the term. The Father and the Son have always been in a reconciled relationship due to the person and work of the Spirit.

From here Jenson explores how the Son might reconcile the Father and the Spirit and how the Father might reconcile the Son and the Spirit. The speculation gets even more strained, and the argument is too complex to summarize concisely. You can read it for yourself on pages 161ff.

In his discussion of the Son as the reconciler of the Father (the source) and the Spirit (the future), he warns of modalism, which he curiously describes as “the doctrine that God’s story is infinitely dull in itself and that only in his condescension to time does it acquire any excitement” (162).

I love his concluding paragraph:

The trinitarian geometry is exhausted; there are no more possibilities to be tried. What, if any, of the above makes sense and what does not, is hard to tell. I offer the whole for whatever truth a reader may discern in it. (166)

Hmm. You have to wonder when the author himself doesn’t even know if what he wrote makes any sense or contains any truth!

Though it’s a little too speculative for my liking, Jenson’s view of the Spirit as “reconciler” of the Father and the Son bears some similarities to the Trinitarian theology of Jonathan Edwards, both of whom follow Augustin in seeing the Spirit as the bond of love between the Father and the Son.

And this I suppose to be that blessed Trinity that we read of in the Holy Scriptures. The Father is the Deity subsisting in the prime, un-originated and most absolute manner, or the Deity in its direct existence. The Son is the Deity generated by God’s understanding, or having an idea of Himself and subsisting in that idea. The Holy Ghost is the Deity subsisting in act, or the Divine essence flowing out and breathed forth in God’s Infinite love to and delight in Himself. And I believe the whole Divine essence does truly and distinctly subsist both in the Divine idea and Divine love, and that each of them are properly distinct Persons.4

Some, like Letham, would object to both of these models and maintain that “the Holy Spirit can never be assimilated into the mutual love between the Father and the Son.”5 Letham gives two primary objections: (1) the Spirit is reduced to an attribute and loses His personality,6 and (2) the implications of preexisting disunity or a “fragile unity” between the Father and the Son are inescapable.7

I find neither objection compelling, but neither am I drawn strongly toward the Augustinian model of the Spirit as the intratrinitarian vinculum amoris.

More reading and pondering to do.


  1. Cf. Amazon.
  2. COED.
  3. FWIW, at present I am inclined to reject the doctrine of eternal generation. But many prominent theologians, like Letham, still affirm it, so I am going to give it some more thought.
  4. An Unpublished Essay on the Trinity.”
  5. The Holy Trinity, 331.
  6. Ibid., 287. This is one of Letham’s biggest criticisms of Barth’s trinitarianism.
  7. Ibid., 287, 331.

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