Thomas Torrance: The Incarnation

Torrance, Thomas. The Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsityPress, 2008. Ed. Robert T. Walker.

These are collections of his lectures on Christology spanning his entire career. As far as Torrance’s works go, this book is quite easy. Parts of it are quite sermonic. He does get into heavier concepts in the second half of the book. There is a second commandment violation on the cover, which is quite odd. Thomas Torrance had very stern views on images of the divine (he would close his eyes real tightly when he prayed!).

Torrance warns us against using phrases like “messianic self-consciousness,” regardless of whether Jesus had it (conservative) or not (liberal). He writes, “If we begin with the self-consciousness of Christ and rest our own interpretation of Christ upon it, we will never be able to disentangle Christ’s self-consciousness from our own” (Torrance 18).

Enhypostasia and Anhypostasia

Standard treatment but Torrance notes some Scottish developments: “The ancient Catholic Church never really came to put anhypostasia and enhypostasia together in full complementarity in that way. We have had to wait until modern times to see it in its fullness, although it was set out by Robert Boyd in the early seventeenth century” (84). Torrance documents his own work on Boyd, but it would have been nice to have a paragraph summary.

Torrance’s fear is that of using some abstract, neutral category of human nature. It is his contention that a proper reading of anhypostasia secures our knowledge of Christ’s taking our humanity. Perhaps. I like the idea, but he never really develops it.

Knowledge of Christ

Our way of knowing Jesus must correspond to his order of being (94). He took upon himself our humanity in its aisthenia.

In Jesus there is no gap between a realm of truth and a realm of event. Being and Act are united in him. “His action is his presence in act….That act of the ever-living God is identical with Jesus” (107).

Election and Incarnation

Only at times does Torrance hint at what could be called a Barthian reading. He notes the prothesis (purpose) of God in election. Eternal election is brought about by Christ. “What God is in Christ as God and man in union, God is antecedently and eternally in himself, and so the prothesis speaks of the recession of the hypostatic union into God and its grounding eternally in the communion of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” (174). In other words, there is no behind the back of God. God doesn’t “do God” with his fingers crossed.


The book itself is quite easy to read. Torrance does have several long endnote chapters that discuss the evolution of German Christological liberalism. He also has a nice survey of different uses of the concept “Person.”

Augustine: the image of the Trinity is one person (shades of Van Til!), but the Trinity himself (singular personal pronoun!) is three persons (De Trin. XV.23).

Boethius: individual substance of rational nature.

Richard of St Victor: Divine person is the incommunicable existence of the divine nature (De Trin. IV.22).

Duns Scotus: Person is the incommunicable existence of an intellectual nature (Opera Omnia, Ordinatio, 1.23.1


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