Torrance’s Incarnation 2.2b: Outline of the Doctrine of the Person of Christ

The cover of Torrance's Incarnation

After exploring the background matters relating to the incarnation, Torrance pauses to offer an outline of his theology of the incarnation before launching into the details. (This section technically comes between chapters 2 and 3. I’ve listed it as “2.2b” in the title to reflect its positioning.)

1) The mystery of true God and man in one person

It’s difficult to grasp something so new that it lies at the outskirts of our human understanding. This is the mystery of divine and human nature in one person. The best way to approach this is doxologically: with worship and praise.

2) The mystery of Christ only capable of negative definition

The incarnation is a mystery. When we try to say positively what it is, we end up limiting our understanding. It’s better to define what the incarnation is not. There are four terms used to describe the incarnation negatively. In Christ, the divine and human natures are united:

  1. inconfuse (without confusion)
  2. indivise (without division)
  3. immutabiliter (without change)
  4. inseparabiliter (without separation)

3) The inseparability of anhypostasia and enhypostasia

Consider these theological terms:

  1. Anhypostasia (not person) means that the humanity of Jesus did not exist apart from the divine union. It’s not as if God invaded a preexisting human container with his divinity.
  2. Enhypostasia (in person) means that the human nature of Christ “is given existence in the existence of God” (84). This means that Jesus was fully human, with a real human mind, will, body, etc.

These two ideas are inseparable which helps us to understand the hypostatic union dynamically.

4) The hypostatic union to be understood dynamically and soteriologically

In order to understand Jesus’ nature (hypostatic union), you have to view it in terms of his atoning work. This prevents us from viewing the nature of Christ as a metaphysical puzzle.

5) Reconstruction of the classical doctrine of Christ: integration of Patristic and Reformation Christology, and of Christology with Pneumatology and the doctrine of the Trinity

The patristic theologians emphasized the being of God with a lack of concern for his acts, while the Reformed theologians emphasized the acts of God with a lack of concern for his nature. We need to rethink this to bring the sides together. This rethinking process will require that we reconsider our pneumatology. Anything “through the Son” must be “from the Father” but also “in the Spirit” (86).

Some Reflections

The place of the mystery of Christ in our understanding can only be stated and guarded in negative terms. … In this way we allow the mystery to declare itself to us, and to keep on declaring itself to us without hindering the depth and breadth of its self-disclosure by positive man-made definitions of what it actually is. (83)

My first reaction to defining the hypostatic union in negative terms (declaring what Jesus wasn’t) was frustration. I generally believe that it’s a lot more helpful to offer a positive suggestion than a warning. As I began to think this through with respect to Jesus, however, I found Torrance’s negative definition to be more freeing.

Jesus’ nature—the hypostatic union—is so grand and mysterious, any human definition will fall short. Negative definition allows Jesus to be who he is and to reveal himself to us.

Of course, our negative definitions could always infringe on his person as well—and I have a suspicion that, defined or not, positive ideas about the hypostatic union will inevitably fill the empty space in our minds.

← 2.2: The incarnation and the new Israel
3.1: The biblical witnesses to the virgin birth →

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