What's love got to do with it? A constructive theology of love as the primary image of the trinitarian life in conversation with Thomas Aquinas and Hans Urs von Balthasar

  • Cameron Crickenberger

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis (PhD)


This thesis is a constructive theology of retrieval in which I develop a metaphysical account of the trinitarian life in se as the eternally plerotic movement of mutually kenotic love. First, I turn to the trinitarian theology of Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologiae to argue that his attribution of a concept of substantial unity derived from individually hypostatized rational natures to the divine essence prevents a priori true and reciprocal relationality between the divine persons, especially in relation to the act of love. Turning next to his anthropology, I argue that love (amor) is ontologically correlative to and convertible with esse. This creates the possibility of the ecstatic relationality of love within the divine life, such that the unio substantialis identified in God may also admit of a unio realis evocative of Thomas’s concept of amicitia. The trinitarian theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar is then explored, focusing particularly on the nature of the kenosis of Father and Son and the causa finalis of the Spirit, which he adapts from Ferdinand Ulrich. While kenosis remains as the heart of this vision of divine love, the kenotic love of the Father and Son surges forth in the infinite freedom of the Spirit who manifests the plerotic fulfilment of mutual kenotic love. Finally, the dichotomies of essence/person and common/particular explored with Thomas and von Balthasar are reconciled through the categories of Hemmerle’s trinitarian ontology, specifically focusing on the unique role of the Spirit. Understood in its trinitarian fulness, I argue that the act of divine love can be characterized as amicitia, in which the essential unio substantialis and personal unio realis coincide in the relational simplicity of the one absolute life of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I end the thesis by suggesting its implications for the relation between God and creation and the relations within creation itself.
Date of Award11 Jun 2024
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of St Andrews
SupervisorJudith Wolfe (Supervisor)


  • Trinity
  • Love
  • Hans Urs von Balthasar
  • Thomas Aquinas
  • Ferdinand Ulrich
  • Klaus Hemmerle
  • Act and being
  • Unity and distinction
  • Psychological analogy
  • Pneumatology
  • Participatory ontology

Access Status

  • Full text embargoed until
  • 7 May 2029

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