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T. F. Torrance on the transition to the Apostolic Fathers


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#1 Shawn Lazar

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Posted 05 November 2007 - 02:56 PM

Hey Folks,

Has anyone read T. F. Torrance's book (doctoral dissertation) "The Doctrine of Grace in the Apostolic Fathers" ? What do you think of his arguments for the thesis that the N.T. view of salvation was lost by the time the Apostolic Fathers were writing?

In Him,
Shawn

#2 Andrew

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Posted 05 November 2007 - 03:07 PM

Hey Folks,

Has anyone read T. F. Torrance's book (doctoral dissertation) "The Doctrine of Grace in the Apostolic Fathers" ? What do you think of his arguments for the thesis that the N.T. view of salvation was lost by the time the Apostolic Fathers were writing?

In Him,
Shawn


Which Apostolic Fathers? We have Apostolic Fathers living today.

#3 Rick H.

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Posted 05 November 2007 - 03:15 PM

Dear Shawn,

I have not read this; however, I am wondering what in his argument would be unique to him viz. what has not already been said by his cohort Barth and some of the other Neo-Orthodox? Could you possibly present the key points of his work here? It is common for an undergrad student at an evangelical or fundamentalist university to be presented with a chart or a graph or sorts that shows a high point during the time of Christ and the apostles, in the history of the Church and Christian thought, to be followed by a sharp drop in the line to the bottom of the graph in the immediate years following (during the years of early patristic and monastic studies). Then the line on the graph indicates a jump/spike to another high point during the Reformation which then begins to decline after that. In this way the argument of Torrance is illustrated; however, I am wondering if you could give us a snapshot of what Torrance is arguing?

In Christ,
Rick

#4 Owen Jones

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Posted 05 November 2007 - 03:17 PM

I have not read it, and am certainly not an expert, but permit me to take a stab at the context. Modern Protestants have a problem dealing with the "location" of the Incarnation. For Bultmann, it is an existential event (i.e. in the mind of the believer). For Barth, it is an historical event. Torrence seems to be dealing with the same, what we would term, false problem. And I think part and parcel is the tendency to view the Epistles as a mythologizing of the Incarnation, particularly the Epistle to the Hebrews. So one must remove the myths to get at the fact of the Incarnation, or so they say.

For Orthodox, the mind of the believer is not an isolated, separate entity but some "thing" which does not exist apart from God in the first place. It has no existence or reality apart from God. One must begin with a proper philosophical/theological anthropology before we can have any proper understanding of God Incarnate. And this is something that Protestants in general avoid. The "event" of the Incarnation is in the meeting place between God and Man, the in between or intermediate realm. With a proper understanding that man participates in all levels of the divine-human hierarchy, this is not such a leap. But Protestantism begins with man as utterly depraved, fallen, and completely distinct from God in every way, and the idea of participation in God is alien and foreign. You will not find any doctrine of deification or union with God in Torrence or other "Reformed" theologians, unless they are out on the New Age fringe. It is all about repairing the damage caused by the Fall. Now, I am sure Torrence is more sophisticated than that and that I am probably not doing him justice. This is simply background.

#5 M.C. Steenberg

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Posted 05 November 2007 - 05:36 PM

Which Apostolic Fathers? We have Apostolic Fathers living today.


The title 'Apostolic Fathers' refers to the collection of theologian-writers of the first and second centuries, whose writing is similar in many regards to the epistolary writings of the apostles themselves.

Included under this title are Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp of Smyrna, Papias the Elder; as well as the authors of the Didache, and the Epistle of Barnabas (sometimes called Barnabas of Alexandria). The author of the Shepherd of Hermas is sometimes also included in the listing.

It is in this sense a closed group with a very specific definition (notwithstanding the fact that all fathers are apostolic; as a title it refers to a specific collection of writings and writers from the 1st/2nd centuries).

INXC, Dcn Matthew

#6 Michael Stickles

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Posted 05 November 2007 - 10:16 PM

For those (like me) who don't have access to a copy of the book, here are some excerpts I found on the web:

Thomas F. Torrance, in his The Doctrine of Grace in the Apostolic Fathers (see pgs 137-141) – whose entire work is an inquiry into the literature of the apostolic fathers, that is to say, into the Didache of the Twelve Apostles, the First Epistle of Clement, the Epistles of Ignatius, the Epistle of Polycarp, the Epistle of Barnabas, the Shepherd of Hermas, and the Second Epistle of Clement (includes all the Patristic books that Wallace references), in order to discern how and why such a great divergence away from the teaching of the New Testament occurred in their understanding of salvation – concludes his research by saying: “In the Apostolic Fathers grace did not have [the] radical character [that it had in the New Testament]. The great presupposition of the Christian life, for them, was not a deed of decisive significance that cut across human life and set it on a wholly new basis grounded upon the self-giving of God. What took absolute precedence was God’s call to a new life in obedience to revealed truth. Grace, as far as it was grasped, was subsidiary to that. And so religion was thought of primarily in terms of man’s acts toward God, in the striving toward justification, much less in terms of God’s acts for man which put him in the right with God once and for all.”

Torrance continues, “In the Apostolic Fathers grace lost its radical character. They developed a doctrine of salvation by works of righteousness... A Christian ethic was codified, and the charismatic life under the constraining love of Christ [was] reduced to rules and precepts. The centre of gravity was shifted from the mainspring of the Christian life in the person of Christ Himself to the periphery of outward conformity and daily behaviour.”

“In the Apostolic Fathers grace became related to the continuance of the Christian life, rather than to the decisive motion of God's love as the presupposition of the whole Christian life... Grace became an ad hoc matter, an aid to the main work of sanctification, a donum superadditum. In other words, grace was something given by God to those who worthily strive after righteousness to enable them to attain their end [IOW, heaven]… Grace was taken under the wing of the Church in an official way...as the depository of pneumatic grace, dispensed in sacramentalist fashion. The Church...possessed the means of grace."

“What facilitated the syncretism of Judaism and Hellenism was the idea, common in principle to both, of self-justification, but it was Christianity which provided the sphere in which the two could come together, for as opposed to Hellenism it brought the principle of revelation, and as opposed to Judaism it did away with the ceremonial law. As opposed to both, the Gospel of Christianity was so astounding just because it taught a doctrine of justification by grace alone. This was unpalatable to both sides. Judaism refused to accept it because of its revolutionary character and its attitude to the law. Hellenism simply failed to see the New Testament problems. Both of these attitudes to grace are found in the Apostolic Fathers. Their theology represents a corrosion of the faith both from the side of Judaism and from the side of Hellenism, because the basic significance of grace was not grasped.”


The other excerpts were in a PDF file called Apostolic Fathers: Key Issues and their Understanding of Grace. Torrance's view is covered from page 7 through the top of page 9. I didn't just copy that section because there's more of interest in there, but one bit really caught my attention (I don't think I'll need to elaborate on why):

According to Torrance, the Church Fathers were not opposed to the issue of grace as much as they were misguided in their understanding of grace. Thus it resulted in their failure to grasp the significance of the death of Christ. Hence they concentrated not on what Christ accomplished once-and-for-all, but on the new way Christ showed them how to live. Christianity as a result became a set of rules.


In Christ,
Mike

#7 Mourad Mankarios

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Posted 05 November 2007 - 10:53 PM

Hey Folks,

Has anyone read T. F. Torrance's book (doctoral dissertation) "The Doctrine of Grace in the Apostolic Fathers" ? What do you think of his arguments for the thesis that the N.T. view of salvation was lost by the time the Apostolic Fathers were writing?

In Him,
Shawn


This does not make any sense at all as it was the Apostolic Fathers along with later fathers who compiled the NT itself, perhaps the only thing that Christians universally can agree upon without argument, ie the books of the NT, though there is much debate over interpretation. Therefore, it was these fathers who in compiling our modern day Bible breathed forth their message through the books of the Bible that they compiled. Those that were contrary to their beliefs were discarded while those that were consistent with the faith were upheld.

Furthermore, early Christianity is replete with a diversity of beliefs, sects and groups who had varying opinions on Jesus, the Bible and God. It seems that if Torrence is correct then there would be some literature evident of the such such as there is of the above, or there would at least be references in the fathers to the existence of the above or at least exegesis on scripture which countered assumedly false interpretations. However, to the best of my knowledge the struggle regarding an Orthodox understanding of grace did not come till much later namely in the persons of St Augustine and St John Cassian.

It seems that the argument Torrence presents is one commonly made by Protestants though not limited to the Protestants as it is a belief commonly propounded by many other groups such as the Muslims, Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses, etc, etc, etc, ie that age old argument that the faith was so corrupted and that therefore the leaders of these groups were required to reinstate the old faith based on revelation or simply personal inspiration.

#8 Shawn Lazar

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Posted 06 November 2007 - 01:03 AM

Thanks for posting those excerpts, Mike. That provides a nice summary of Torrance's argument. Namely, that the centrality of the work and person of Christ, and the gracious nature of God's self-giving to mankind, is more or less absent in the Apostolic Fathers who view the Chrsitian life as a modified form of Judaism largely consisting of laws to be obeyed. That is not to question their holiness or sincerity, of course.

For anyone interested, as I'm sure you all are, Fr. Andrew Louth (Durham) re-edited a collection of the Apostolic Fathers for Penguin called "Early Christian Writings" I think. Its a great collection.

Admittedly, this was Torrance's earliest work, written in his early to mid twenties. He may have changed his mind later on. I don't know. And I don't think he would have ascribed to some of the characterization of Protestant views of Church History mentioned here. If I'm not mistaken, he was ordained an (honorary?) deacon in the Orthodox church. And he was known as a Patristic scholar (hence his dissertation and many other works such as his The Trinitarian Faith).

In any case, I raised the question because I wonder whether a more nuanced, or sympathetic approach to the Apostolic Fathers would be possible. I'm looking around for a D.Th. project, and was wondering if that could be the one. Rather than begin by interpreting the apostolic fathers in light of a Reformed reading of Paul, perhaps a different starting point would end in different conclusions. For instance, I was wondering if the Apostolic Fathers' approach to grace would make more sense in light of the so-called New Perspective on Paul (which seems to be more sympathetic to Orthodox theology)? I don't know.

#9 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 06 November 2007 - 01:09 AM

Interesting. I have NEVER heard of an "honorary" Deacon or any other kind of clergy. I suppose some people consider a "subdeacon" to be something of an "honorary", but I simply cannot imagine someone who is not Orthodox being considered Orthodox clergy, even "honorary". I've only been Orthodox for 31 years, so perhaps I just haven't been "around", but I really would like to hear more details on that.

#10 Nicolaj

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Posted 06 November 2007 - 11:03 AM

Dear Brethren!

Herman you are right!

Shawn you can read all about this man who was never Orthodox in his whole life here: http://en.wikipedia....mas_F._Torrance

And Shawn, the Apostolic Fathers are very good to deliver any kind of material for a D.Th. project, but discuss it with your deacon and probably look here:

http://en.hilarion.orthodoxia.org/

This man really knows the Fathers and has wrote a great many books about them, he will be a better inspiration!
Gods blessing for your project.

In Christ, Nicolaj

#11 Owen Jones

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Posted 06 November 2007 - 02:26 PM

Well, there seems to be a contradiction between Torrence, et al, and Jesus' words. His actual words are all about how we are to live. Protestants generally regard the Orthodox/Catholic emphasis on virtue as works righteousness.

#12 Shawn Lazar

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Posted 10 November 2007 - 06:37 PM

I will have to search the library for the reference to Torrance becoming an honorary deacon in the Orthodox church. (Wikipedia, of course, is a poor source of information.) I suspect it was mentioned in his biography by McGrath or in the book collecting the various articles he wrote when the Reformed and Orthodox churches issued a joint statement on the Trinity ("Agreed Statement on the Holy Trinity" 1985-1993). But I could be mistaken about that. I'll check it out and get back to this post.

In any case, it does seem as though there is tremendous disjunction between the faith of apostles and the apostolic fathers where grace is concerned. It becomes all the more noticeable when you read Irenaeus and Athanasius who were both very Christocentric in their theology, and therefore more like the apostles themselves.

#13 Owen Jones

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Posted 10 November 2007 - 07:44 PM

Huh???

The fundamental Protestant thesis is that almost immediately in the early Church, it was polluted by Greek philosophic mysticism and the true Church went underground and became invisible, only to become visible in the 15th Century in Germany! And the the Reformers wanted to purge any hint of mysticism from the Church and return it to what they perceived to be its its Jewish roots. This is the fundamental mythology of Protestantism that we cannot avoid in any discussion. There are those who go so far as to say that the later Epistles are all examples of this, including the so-called Catholic Epistles, including Hebrews, none of which, they argue, could have possibly have been written by Paul. Colossians I think is particularly galling for its sacramental mysticism. And so the basis of Protestant theology is to have a "right relationship" with Christ, both in the legal sense and in the psychological sense, because there is no such thing as communion with Christ, i.e. union with God. Impossible. It's just not Judaic. And the whole business with deification is nothing but Platonic mysticism.

#14 Shawn Lazar

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Posted 10 November 2007 - 10:36 PM

To be absolutely honest, I've never heard of that "fundamental thesis" before. Maybe that is more of a caricature than an accurate representation of Protestantism (in much the same way that Protestants will caricaturize the Orthodox position)? Certainly it is not an accurate picture of the Reformers' own beliefs, whose writings are filled with citations from the Fathers. Read Calvin's Institutes, for example.

#15 Father David Moser

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Posted 11 November 2007 - 12:05 AM

To be absolutely honest, I've never heard of that "fundamental thesis" before. Maybe that is more of a caricature than an accurate representation of Protestantism (in much the same way that Protestants will caricaturize the Orthodox position)? Certainly it is not an accurate picture of the Reformers' own beliefs, whose writings are filled with citations from the Fathers. Read Calvin's Institutes, for example.


As a former member of an Evangelical Protestant congregation and a graduate of a non-denominational Protestant University, I will say that I heard this assumption quite frequently. The "caricature" was the belief that Church history went something like, "St John the Evangelist died and Martin Luther was born" The presumption was that as soon as the last apostles left the scene, nothing important happened and the Church lost its zeal and vitality and began to slide more and more into error and that slide was not corrected until the reformation. Oh, and most protestants don't really know what the reformers taught - they are shocked to discover, for example, that many of them (Luther, Calvin, etc) held to the ever-virginity of Mary (unlike today's romanticized belief that after the birth of Christ, the young very-much-in-love newlywed couple Joseph and Mary resumed their romance and lived happily ever after and had many other children).

This is the same assumption that Joseph Smith, many centuries later, developed to found the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (the Mormons).

Fr David Moser

#16 Shawn Lazar

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Posted 11 November 2007 - 01:28 AM

Fr Moser, the poster previous to yours claimed that the fundamental assumption of Protestantism includes the idea that the church was polluted with greek mysticism, that communion with God is impossible, and that some of the N.T. writings are rejected for these reasons. I've never heard anything of the kind. I've attended three evangelical seminaries - in Amsterdam, Texas and Boston, and nowhere have I ever heard anything like that. The Fathers were always treated with respect.

But as you say, there is this idea, among some evangelicals (particularly Baptists and Charismatics) that the church passed through a kind of dark ages between the apostles and the Reformation. But is that belief limited to Protestants? Don't the Orthodox agree? At least with respect to the Western church being affected with Roman legalism, nominalism, manicheism, etc, and generally losing its Orthodoxy sometime beginning with Augstine, and culminating in the great schism. In fact, someone just recently gave me a tract called "River of Fire" that condemns the West in the strongest possible terms, goin so far as to claim that the fundamental Western theological thesis was that God is the source of sin which idea consequently gave birth to atheism!!! I'm sure whoever wrote that is part of the fringe element of Orthodoxy... but so are the Protestants who view church history in such a stark light.

#17 Father David Moser

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Posted 11 November 2007 - 04:16 AM

But as you say, there is this idea, among some evangelicals (particularly Baptists and Charismatics) that the church passed through a kind of dark ages between the apostles and the Reformation. But is that belief limited to Protestants? Don't the Orthodox agree?


Heavens no! Some of the greatest luminaries of the Church lived and wrote during that time - The three hierarchs, St John Chrysostom, St Basil the Great, St Gregory the Theologian; St Photius; St. Gregory Palamas, Nicholas Cabasilas, St Mark of Ephesus, St Maximus the Confessor, ... just to name a few. Then there were those whose lives place them among the greatest saints of history, St Nicholas, St Demetrios, St George, St Anthony, and so on. And the Equals-to-the Apostles Mary Magdalene, Nina, Averky, Methodius and Kyrill, etc. This was also the time of the Ecumenical Councils by which the great basic heresies were countered and eliminated from the Church (heresies which continue to "pop up" in "new clothes" even today) and the establishment of the canon of Scripture. The saints who lived and struggled during this period easily make the post apostolic, Constantinoplian period arguably the "golden age" of the Church.

At least with respect to the Western church being affected ... and culminating in the great schism.


Yes, it is true that while the Church enjoyed a "golden age" that demonic forces also were violently active such that the western Church became infected with those ills that led to the schism (and indeed that is something that the Church mourns) - but then you must also recall that the western Church and Rome was considered to be the "standard" of the Orthodox faith up into about the 8th century and when she did fall away from the Church, she only represented one of the 5 patriarchates.

Fr David Moser

#18 M.C. Steenberg

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Posted 11 November 2007 - 10:10 AM

Above, Mr Lazar wrote:

In any case, it does seem as though there is tremendous disjunction between the faith of apostles and the apostolic fathers where grace is concerned. It becomes all the more noticeable when you read Irenaeus and Athanasius who were both very Christocentric in their theology, and therefore more like the apostles themselves.


I find this startling, as someone who spends a great deal of time in this historical period. I'd be very grateful if you could provide some specific textual examples of the kind of disjunction you envisage. I cannot say as I have ever had cause to interpret their relationship in this way.

Clement of Rome is often thought to have known St Peter; his writings, though, are especially Pauline. I cannot imagine viewing him as not Christocentric in focus. His epistle to the Corinthians is profoundly Christological.

Similarly Ignatius - though perhaps here even moreso. And in Ignatius we find the mystery of Christ present in martyric sacrifice - ruminating, as it were, on the same themes as 1 and 2 Peter.

As to the slightly later writers - Irenaeus and Athanasius were mentioned - Irenaeus was the disciple of Polycarp, one of the apostolic fathers, and harks back to Polycarp's teachings constantly. He also quotes Ignatius, as well as the Shepherd of Hermas, for their Christological focus on creation and resurrection.

I don't really think this notion of a disjunction can be sustained (though, as above, I would invite some textual examples of how you perceive it in their writings). Rather, it seems very clear to me that the apostolic fathers reflect a continuation of reflection on the Christian mystery that is wholly in line with that of the NT and the later second-century writers.

INXC, Dcn Matthew

#19 Anthony

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Posted 11 November 2007 - 12:57 PM

To be absolutely honest, I've never heard of that "fundamental thesis" before. Maybe that is more of a caricature than an accurate representation of Protestantism (in much the same way that Protestants will caricaturize the Orthodox position)? Certainly it is not an accurate picture of the Reformers' own beliefs, whose writings are filled with citations from the Fathers. Read Calvin's Institutes, for example.


I'm not sure it is my place to chip into this discussion, but I think Owen is referring to a common theme in continental Protestant scholarship since the so-called Enlightenment. According to this, the second-century church is an unhappy compromise between the true Gospel (basically Romans and Galatians as read through the eyes of Luther) and a Judaeo-Christian reaction, the resulting hotch-potch being termed "early Catholicism". When more was discovered about Greco-Roman mystery religions, they were also added to the equation (often with little regard for accurate dating).

This strand of thought keeps popping up (though I thought it had been discredited - cf. Fr Matthew's last post), and does perhaps underlie the Torrance article quoted at the start of this thread.

Incidentally, I believe some of Torrance's students are now Orthodox, and speak with respect of his influence on their thought. As one poster has already commented, this was quite likely an early piece of work.

#20 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 11 November 2007 - 01:21 PM

I used to have a Protestant Bible Commentary that defined the "major faiths" this way:

Roman Catholicism: Early Christianity mixed with Roman paganism.

[sic]Greek Catholicism (I believe they meant Eastern Orthodox): Early Christianity mixed with Greek paganism.

Protestantism: Early Christianity without the paganism!

Yes, this believe is rife within many, many strains of Protestantism.

And I have to say that I too, would be interested in exactly HOW the Early Church Fathers differed "radically" from what the Apostles taught. To be honest I think this is nothing more than Protestantism defending the definition above. It is the recognition that if the Church "got it wrong", then it did so very early on, within a generation of the Apostles. What we see here is simple projection. The Protestants came up with what they wanted the Gospels to say, and then ignored anyone who disagreed with them, the most egregious being the Fathers of the Church who were simply repeating on what they had been taught BY THE APOSTLES THEMSELVES. Since this differs with what Protestantism teaches, then ergo, it MUST be wrong, and a reason why must be developed.

All analysis is objective, as long as you know what the objective is....




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