Torrance on the Holy Spirit

This post continues our look at Communion with the Triune God in which Dick Eugenio examines Thomas F (TF) Torrance's trinitarian understanding of soteriology (the doctrine of salvation). In previous posts we looked at TF's understanding of the role of Jesus and of the Father. Now we'll look at what TF says about the role of God the Holy Spirit. For the other posts in this series, click on a number: 123456781011.


Dove of the Holy Spirit
by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, ca. 1660
St. Peters Basilica, Rome
(Wikimedia Commons, public domain)
Though TF rarely addressed the Holy Spirit in a systematic (stand-alone) way, he often touched on the person and work of the Spirit while discussing that of the Father and the Son. This approach was consistent with his Trinitarian, Christocentric emphasis as illustrated in this statement from TF:
There is no separate activity of the Holy Spirit in revelation or salvation in addition to or independent of the activity of Christ, for what he does is to empower and actualize the words and works of Christ in our midst as the words and works of the Father (Communion with the Triune God, Kindle ed, loc 3697). 
One of the complexities faced by TF and by all who explore the nature and work of the Holy Spirit, is that the nature (ousisa - being) of the triune God (Father, Son and Spirit) is said to be "spirit" (John 4:24). For that reason, some authors minimize the Spirit's personhood, even relegating him to a non-personal "power of God." But not TF. Note another statement of his:
The fact that the Holy Spirit is both the hypostasis of the whole Being of God, and, considered absolutely in himself as God, is identical with Being, for God is Spirit, means that he is consubstantial bond of the Holy Trinity (loc 3750).
In this statement TF is using some of the key technical terms used in the formulations of patristic and creedal theology, most notably the Niceno–Constantinopolitan Creed, which establishes that the three persons (hypostases) of God are homoousios, meaning "of one being (ousia)." Thus there is the three-in-one God, the Trinity. Eugenio comments:
The early [church] fathers regarded the concept of homoousios [meaning "of one being"] as inspired by the Holy Spirit in determining and expressing the consubstantial relation of Jesus Christ to the Father, and of the Holy Spirit to the Father and the Son. Torrance asserts that it was Athanasius who "had little hesitation in applying the term homoousios to the Spirit as well as the Son." In this way, the person [hypostasis] of the Holy Spirit is established on the same ontological [pertaining to being] and soteriological [pertaining to salvation] grounds as the person of the Son (loc 3672). 
As Eugenio notes, TF, like Athanasius, rather than addressing the being of the Spirit, tended to focus on his doing, that is his role in salvation. Also, TF was careful to note that our knowledge of the Spirit, like our knowledge of the Father, "is controlled and grounded by [our] knowledge of the Son" (loc 3762). Torrance comments:
The Holy Spirit is not cognoscible [capable of being known] in himself. In the doctrine of the Spirit we are concerned with the ultimate Being [Ousia] of God before whom the very cherubim veil their faces, for there God the Spirit hides himself not only by the very mode of his Being as Spirit, but by his exaltedness, his greatness and majesty, that is, by this infinite holiness. Because he is infinitely greater than we can conceive, we can think and speak of him in his revelation to us only with awe and awareness of the weakness of our minds to apprehend him (loc 3776).
This difficulty in apprehending the Holy Spirit is compounded by his self-effacing nature, for the he tends to "hide" himself in order to point us to the Son who, in turn, points us to the Father. Thus, we do not see the Spirit "face to face" in his own hypostasis (person). Torrance concludes that "the identity of the Holy Spirit remains a mystery that needs to be honored" Loc 3791). In summing up TF's doctrine of the Spirit, Eugenio notes this:
The Holy Spirit is not an impersonal emanation, force, or energy of God but is "at once intensely personal reality." Moreover, the Spirit clarifies the nature of God as both holy and spiritual: "The very designation of God's spiritual nature as holy and the third person as Holy Spirit emphasizes the otherness, the utterly transcendent glory and majesty of God....
The Holy Spirit is the "holy presence of God in and through whose communion we may know the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God the Father. Pentecost, or the universal outpouring of the Holy Spirit to the church for the world, thus, belongs to the salvific economy." In fact, Torrance argues that the last times "are fully inaugurated by the descent of the Spirit, for it is through the Creator Spirit that the saving work of Christ is actualized in the Church as redemption. Moreover, the eschatalogical Spirit is also the teleological Spirit, for it is the agency of the Holy Spirit, in relation to the work of Christ, to bring to completion the mediation of reconciliation (loc 3883-3895).
In considering the Holy Spirit's work in salvation, Eugenio notes how TF distinguishes between "objective union in Christ" and "subjective union in the Spirit." He makes this distinction in order to address the two related aspects of the one movement of salvation. First there is what Christ accomplished objectively for all humanity through his representative/substitutionary life, death, resurrection, ascension and his continuing mediatorial work in the world in and through the agency of the Holy Spirit. Then there is the subjective way in which individuals receive, by the Holy Spirit, the personal benefits of Christ's objective work. According to Torrance, "the work of the Spirit in God's people [is] actualizing subjectively in them what has been accomplished for them once and for all objectively in the Incarnation" (loc 3990). Eugenio then elaborates on this trinitarian perspective concerning the movement of salvation:
....Torrance borrows Basil's view of the Father as "the originating cause," the Son as "the molding cause," and the Spirit as "the perfecting cause" in the economy of salvation, with emphasis on the act of the Spirit in bringing "to completion the creative purpose of God for human persons in the Son." Torrance also borrows Barth's emphasis on the unity of God's act and being, and argues that "when we speak of the 'subjective' operation of the Holy Spirit in us, or of our being 'in the Spirit,' that is to be understood in an objective, ontological sense, as being in God" (loc 4004).  
....The Holy Spirit subjectively actualizes in us Christ's objective work for us... [now quoting TF] "The Spirit works as the power and operation of God, effectively applying Christ's victory over the powers of darkness to us, and so delivering us from bondage into freedom as the sons of God. In all these, the emphasis is on the fact that the fulfillment and realization of the work of the incarnate Son is effected by the coming and indwelling of the Holy Spirit.... We grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ as we surrender to the creative impact of the Holy Spirit upon us" (loc 4067). 
This work of the Father, Son and Spirit constitutes what Torrance refers to as a "three-fold movement of grace": From the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit, which then is answered in a three-fold responsive movement of faith: In the Spirit, through the Son to the Father. In these motions, the Holy Spirit has a vital, personal and continuing role, which Torrance defines as the work of "the personalizing Spirit who creates the earthly communion of the church, grounded in the interpersonal communion of the Triune God" (loc 4215).

Next time we'll look further at TF's view of this "personalizing" work of the Spirit, including his work to form the church (ecclesiology) and to send the church in mission (missiology).
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For a helpful paper by Dr. Gary Deddo on TF's theology of the Spirit, click here. For a helpful article on the topic from GCI, click here.

Comments

  1. Thank you sir for posting this. It was extremely helpful. The article by Dr. Deddo is excellent and mind blowing as well. Thank you again!

    ReplyDelete
  2. I'm glad this is helpful to you Mike! What a marvelous, gracious triune God it is that includes us in his love and life.

    ReplyDelete
  3. This so helpful. Thank you for making this available.
    I'm looking for TFT's comment on the personalizing person of Jesus Christ; do you know where he wrote on that?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Thomas for your comment. TF Torrance refers to Jesus as "the personalizing person" in several of his books including "The Mediation of Christ."

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