Theology in Reconciliation (Torrance)

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Torrance, Thomas F. Theology in Reconciliation. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1975.

Liturgical Apollinarianism: The Mind of Christ in Worship

Torrance’s thesis is that the shift in public liturgy from Christ as our high priest, having a human mind and a vicarious humanity, who brings our worship to God the Father, to seeing Christ as the formal object of worship, represents a subtle shift to Apollinarianism. Notice that Torrance isn’t saying we can’t pray to Christ.  Of course we can.  What he means is that in the later medieval prayers, Christ is no longer the vicarious high priest but himself an object of adoration.  There is no longer any need for the human mind of Christ.

Torrance follows John Macleod Campbell in defining Christian worship as “the presentation of the mind of Christ to the Father” (139). As Christ presents himself to the Father, and as we are in Christ by the eternal Spirit, we participate in this worship.

In our prayer we rely on Christ’s praying to the Father (also) on our behalf, “for in Christ we are turned away in our praying from resting on ourselves to rest on his vicarious prayer” (141).  According to Cyril of Alexandria, from whom Torrance takes his cue, Christ “Carried up the mind of believers into the one nature of the Godhead” (175, quoting Cyril, Adv. Nestorium, PG 76, 364B, 368B-D). Even more for Cyril, we pray “with Christ” because of his self-identification with us in the economy.  

On the other hand, per late medieval piety, if Christ is the dread object of adoration, as he is in some masses, then it isn’t clear how he could in his vicarious humanity present our minds to God.  It isn’t clear how this can’t but be a functional Apollinarianism.

On the other hand, we argue with Cyril that Christ becomes the pattern of our worship. In doing so Christ heals the noetic range of our mind.  This participation in the human mind of Christ guarantees the objectivity of our worship.

This is why the prepositional phrase “with whom” is so important.  It safeguards Christ’s mediation.

Athanasius: The Foundation of Classical Theology

This might be the most important essay Torrance ever wrote.  He argues that Athanasius broke with the Gnostic and Platonic view of the world, which divided the cosmos into “sensible” and “intelligible” realms.  This lead to a “kataphysical” view of reality: we allow our minds to fall under the compelling evidence of things” (216).  More on that later.

For Greek philosophy, the rational is the limited; anything beyond rational grasp is irrational.

God and Being

God is beyond all created being, to be sure, but pace Platonism (Republic 509b), he is not beyond the concept of being.  God’s being is being and presence and activity-in-being (Athanasius, CA 2:2; 38; enousious energia).

When Athanasius says we can know God in his internal relations, he isn’t saying we can know God “in himself” (whatever that phrase might mean; not much I suppose). His argument is simple: the Logos is internal to the eternal Being of God, and if we know the Logos then we know him in the inner reality of his being” (Torrance 222).  The passages from Athanasius  don’t explicitly say what Torrance asserts they do.  However, Torrance is correct that Athanasius says that God’s energy inheres in his ousia, and so the previous claim might be true by implication.

This directly affects our epistemology. Our knowledge of the Son is correlated “with the Father in a relation of mutual knowing and being” and “grounded within the eternal Being of God himself” (223). If we separate God’s activity (energia) from his ousia, then we are left with complete agnosticism.


The other essays in the volume deal with the exciting opportunity to do theology in an area where older dualisms have broken down.  The two most important essays, though, are the ones dealing with Cyril and Athanasius.  They are hard reading, even for those who are used to Torrance.


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