Saturday, June 06, 2009

T.F. Torrance and the Ignorance of Christ

Have just finished reading T.F. Torrance's The Trinitarian Faith. It was a set text in seminary, and this is now my third reading of it, and probably the first time I have grasped the majority of it (the chapter on the Holy Spirit, remains somewhat elusive, rather like the Spirit himself).

I found his brief discussion on p186-7, in relation to the problem of the knowledge of Christ, incredibly helpful. It occurs in a chapter entitled "The Incarnate Saviour", and Torrance has just been speaking of how Christ's incarnation involves the assumption of our weaknesses, and directly preceding this section he is speaking of Christ the impassible taking on our human passibility, in order to redeem our suffering. Then he writes:

"It is basically the same argument that is to be applied to the atoning exchange between ignorance and wisdom in Christ", over against 'Arian' attempts to utilise texts speaking of Jesus' ignorance and growth in wisdom. Torrance quotes Athanasius with approval, 'He incorporated the ignorance of men in himself, that he might redeem their humanity from all its imperfections and cleanse and offer it perfect and holy to the Father' (Ad Serapion 2.9).

This is in contrast to the faltering efforts of some (Hilary, Basil), to speak of an 'economic ignorance', and Didymus, who considered it 'unreal'. He then notes Cyril of Alexandria as the one "who developed the soteriological approach of Athanasius most fully." "It was an economic and vicarious ignorance on our Lord's part by way of deliberate restraint on his divine knowledge throughout a life of continuous kenosis in which he refused to transgress the limits of the creaturely and earthly conditions of human nature".

One final quotation, this is p187:

"Jesus Christ came among us sharing to the full the poverty of our ignorance, without ceasing to embody in himself all the riches of the wisdom of God, in order that we might be redeemed from our ignorance through sharing in his wisdom."


mark said...

Ah, this chapter I found one of the most interesting also!

I think I like his view of the ignorance of Christ. He seems to walk the tightrope and affirm both the omniscience and human limitedness of Christ well. Where Knox seems to walk it a little bit one-sidedly in his essay on the same thing (Selected Works I, 233-249).

Though I'm glad he used the word 'basically' when paralleling it to his view of the atonement. I thought his grounding of the entire human race in Christ (ie, how close he pulls the interrelation between the incarnation and redemption) probably pushes things a little too far along the universalist path (which in honestly, he vigorously asserts is not the view he is trying to put forward).

What did you think of those statements like: "It is precisely in Jesus therefore... that we are to think of the whole human race, and indeed the whole of creation, as in a profound sense already redeemed, resurrected and consecrated for the glory and worship of God."? (cf, 175, 180-182)

Seumas Macdonald said...


Good thoughts. Nothing to say on the Knox parallel, since I'm studiously ignorant of Knox's writings.

It seems to me that Torrance is pushing a fairly Barthian line in terms of grounding the entire human race in Christ. In that case, it's fairly clear that it at least skirts universalism. Nonetheless, I would probably mount the case that Christ stands as the Adamic head of the redeemed, and so that's not a bad way to speak of the relationship of his humanity to ours, so long as universalism is clearly avoided.

I have a post specifically on the atonement in connection to this book, so I'll leave further thoughts for then.

mark said...

Seumas, ditto to your thoughts about Christ as our Adamic head and our being grounded in him. And ditto about it skirting universalism. The Barthian thing just drives me bonkers when I come across it! (and then I come back to Moo's Romans commentary and take a few deep breaths again!)