The Apocalyptic Eucharist as the Reality that Unites the Churches Under the Primacy of Jesus: T Torrance

The following (well the indented section that is following; the first three paragraphs are my introduction and thoughts on what Torrance has written to Florovsky as transcribed by Baker) comes from Matthew Baker’s tommytorrancetranscription of a personal correspondence that took place between Fr. Georges Florovsky and Thomas F. Torrance.*

I want to highlight an aspect of Thomas Torrance’s theology by quoting this lengthy section of this particular letter from Torrance to Florovsky. What is at stake is an undertaking wherein Torrance and Florovsky were seeking ecumenical dialogue, and to do so between the Eastern Orthodox and Reformed church that Torrance dutifully represented in his homeland of Scotland.

What is theologically insightful in this is Torrance’s emphasis upon the Eucharist as being the reality that ought to apocalyptically bind all of the branches of the Christian churches together (i.e. not just Rome, not just the Greeks, not just the Reformed, etc.). As you will read below, you will see how Torrance has a theology of Ascension informing his conception of the binding and apocalyptic reality of the Eucharist itself. As you will read, you will observe that Torrance believed that the uniting factor present in the Eucharist is the reality mediated in and through it, something that does not pronounce a word of judgment or reconciliation grounded in the ecclesia itself; but instead mediating the very reality of Christ himself into the presence of his seven churches (pace Revelation) as representative of all instances of his church. And this, for Torrance, the Eucharist, was conferred upon God’s people immediately at the Holy Ascension signifying his primacy over all of creation, but in particular, his people in his church[es]. Jesus, for Torrance, is the Eschatos, the first and the last word of judgment and reconciliation over his people. This is not something or some-reality that the churches can manage or control, but this is something instituted in Christ’s blood (of the New Covenant), given life in the resurrection, and constantly in-breaking (apocalyptic) as his churches, out of obedience to him, participate koinonially around his broken body, and shed blood. This is the reality that binds all of his people together, no matter what nation, tribe or tongue, or denomination (under the rubric of his orthodox life).

Okay, so the above is my take on what Torrance has written to Florovsky. You read it, and tell me what you think. And tell me if you agree with Torrance about the apocalyptic reality and power and place of the Eucharist; do you think it has the purchase to provide for the kind of ecumenicism that Torrance hoped for (Florovsky did not in the final analysis).

Beechgrove Manse,

39 Forest Road,

Jan. 25, 1950

My dear Professor Florovsky,

I am ready to understand the theological significance of defection from a united Eucharist, behind which there is a certain theological earnestness and sincerity so often lacking in those who are not very pained at our divisions; but ultimately refusal of intercommunion can only mean for me a lack of trust in the opus Dei in the Eucharist and a fear that it is not so powerful as to overcome our mistakes and heal our divisions, and bring medicine to our mortal strifes. If the real presence of the Lord, the Son of Man, the Eschatos, the Lamb of God, is with us in the Eucharist, as I most firmly believe it is, then I am ready to put the Lord and Head of the Church before Church Order, before Doctrine, before Tradition. All our Church Order and Doctrine come as the result of the charismata given us by the Lord of the Church in his Ascension-gifts; but, says Paul, even these charismata will pass away, though faith, hope, and love will remain. Even the Ämter[1] of the Church, as Eugen Walter of Freiburg says in a recent powerful book (Das Kommen des Herrn – R.C.!)[2], will pass away before the apocalypse of the New Creation which is absolutely one with the risen Body of the Saviour.[3]

This is the notion that the Reformed Church takes seriously, the Lordship of the Real Presence in the Church, and not the domestication of the Real presence to be the manipulable tool of Church history and ecclesiastical orders that are necessarily fraught with the misunderstandings of this passing world. The Reformation stands for a Christological correction of the doctrine of the Church and sacraments in accordance with the principles of Nicaea and Chalcedon, which was NEVER carried out anywhere until a beginning was made at the Reformation. This is what it means to put on the wedding garment for the Marriage Supper of the Lamb – “not being conformed to this world but being transformed by the renewing of the mind . . . Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus,” etc.[4] But there is no need to say all this to you, for as a Biblical theologian you will agree with it.[5] Our divisions come however where we arrest some particular doctrine and freeze it a special point, and refuse for [?] pride or prejudice or history to carry this doctrine critically through the whole pleroma of our Church life and thought and practice. This may be painful to you, but I submit that as we look over at the Catholic sections of the Church, conscious though we may be that we have yet to reform ourselves anew in areas where we became deficient through defection at the Reformation, there are areas in the Catholic Churches where a refusal to submit to self-correction in terms of the great Christological Councils is the greatest stumbling block to reunion.

One of the burning points here is where Church Order concerns the Eucharist. You are right to put your finger on this point! I do wish I could spend several days with you going over all the relevant passages in the Scriptures and the Fathers of the first four centuries on these matters – that is the only way to come to a closer understanding, is it not?[6]

 

*The following footnotes are transcribed directly from Matthew Baker’s transcription of the above section of the letter that he has offered for us in his Participatio vol. 4, pg. 287-323 essay highlighting the correspondence that took place between Fr. Georges Floroskvy and Thomas F. Torrance. The numeration of the footnotes does not correlate to the original essay offered by Baker due to transcriptional edits made by me.

[1] German: “offices,” “orders.”

[2] “R.C.”: Roman Catholic. Walter’s study Das Kommen des Herrn (Freiburg im Breisgau: Herder, 1948-1950) was published in two volumes: Die endzeitgemässe Haltung des Christen nach den Briefen der heiligen Apostel Paulus und Petrus (1948); II. Die eschatologische Situation nach den synoptischen Evangelien (1947).

[3]  Torrance notably does not address here the apostolic thrones still to be found in  the kingdom of God (Matt. 19:28; Lk. 22:30; Rev. 20:4), of which the ancient Orthodox liturgical synthronon of bishop and presbyters is an eschatological image.

[4] Romans 12:2; Philippians 2:5.

[5] Note how Torrance’s regard for Florovsky as a “Biblical theologian” – quite a different perception than the one that obtains in recent criticisms of Florovsky and neopatristic theology among academicians in the Orthodox sphere.

[6] In his 1970 sermon “The Relevance of Orthodoxy,” reprinted in this issue of Participatio, Torrance reflected on his experience of precisely such common study of Scripture in the Faith and Order Commission on Christ and His Church and admitted: “Again and again  … when passages of the Bible were being interpreted by others – Professor Florovsky, for example – I had to take a new hard look at the Greek text of the New Testament to see whether it really did mean what he said, and again and again found that I had been misreading the New Testament because I had been looking at it through Presbyterian spectacles. Our conjoint discussion, to which we brought our several Church traditions and outlooks, enabled us in the give and take of criticism, to read what was actually written in the Bible and to interpret it as far as possible undistorted by this or that ecclesiastical tradition. I myself learned, I think, from the Orthodox more than from any other.”

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2 thoughts on “The Apocalyptic Eucharist as the Reality that Unites the Churches Under the Primacy of Jesus: T Torrance

  1. Hi Bobby,
    Thanks for this very interesting post of yours. It illustrates the importance of TFT’s theology of the eucharist quite nicely. It has a very promising ecumenical meaning, which hasn’t been fully explored yet.
    I missed this (4th) Participatio edition so far, but it is exciting, especially his 1970 sermon and the correspondence with Florovsky. I can’t wait to go through it. Do you happen to know, whether there are plans for an edition of his sermons and/or his correspondence? That would be a very worthwile project.

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  2. Hi Arjen,

    Thanks.

    Myk Habets, while on sabbatical at Princeton last year spent a lot of time with their TFT archives and sermons, as I recall Myk said he was going to, at some point, attempt to edit and publish some of Torrance’s unpublished sermons; I think he was still working on trying to get the rights to do that. That would be cool though!

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