St. Ephrem the Syrian, Thomas F. Torrance on a Theology of Nature rather than Natural Theology

Thomas Torrance has many things in common with the Patristic theologians and writers he spent so much time with. Mark Mourachian a scholar of one of these early Christian theologians, St. Ephrem the Syrian, constructively brings T.F. Torrance into discussion with Ephrem with focus on their similarity in the area of theological realism.

ephremWhat I wanted to highlight was the basis upon which Torrance can have a ‘theology of nature’ (versus a natural theology), and how there is precedence in this in many of those from the past inclusive of Ephrem. In the following Mourachian describes for us how ‘faith’ works as the lens through which knowledge of God in and through the Incarnate Christ not only grounds knowledge of God for us, but also knowledge of God in creation itself as creation finds its reality in the eternal Logos, Jesus Christ. So there is no sensus divinitatis or sense of the divine embedded in humanity, in general, there would only be such sense first found and grounded in creation’s reality, in the Deus incarnatus, in God incarnate. As humanity participates in the vicarious humanity of Incarnate God, Jesus Christ, we by his faith for us have the capacity to rightly appreciate God’s works in creation in the ‘theater of God’s glory’, as we understand those works as works of Christ and not abstract things from Christ. Here Mourachian enlightens us:

The pervasive emphasis in Ephrem’s works on the concrete reality of God’s self revelation in the midst of the world he created may incline some of his readers to consider him a natural theologian of sorts. The corrective to that misreading is Ephrem’s equally persistent stress on the priority of faith in Christ as that which enables human persons to read nature and Scripture rightly, to find in them what God has veiled. The notion that natural knowledge serves as the necessary propaedeutic for the reception of divine revelation given in Christ and in the biblical testimonies to him is certainly alien to Ephrem’s way of thinking. Faith is the requisite lens through which the human person is able to perceive the truth of God to which all the natural world and all the Bible bear witness in symbolic fashion. It is faith that transforms the believer’s eye into the instrument by which the opacity of created realities is changed to a transparency opening out onto God. More accurately, it is faith in the incarnate Word and the life-giving relation into which he draws the believer that make proper vision, perceptive hearing, and true knowledge possible: “With faith gaze upon Him, / upon the Lord of symbols, who gives you life.”

Since truth, for Ephrem, is ultimately hypostatized in the person of the Word, our relation to the truth consists in our relation to him. The source of all true knowledge and that of life are one and the same, the person of the incarnate Lord, and our relation to him is given life by way of faith in him – Ephrem considers faith a “second soul,” enlivening our soul which, in turn, enlivens our body. All theological knowing is actualized in relation to Christ and through the dynamism of faith in him. The mind possessed of faith is enabled by God to bear the fruit of a godly life in freedom on the basis of knowledge of truth. Torrance points to the same interpenetration of faith, true knowledge, and life lived according to the truth:

The very passion of faith is the opening up of the knowing subject to the most objective of all realities, God Himself as He actively communicates Himself to us in Jesus Christ. To know the truth is to be in a right relation to Him, to be in the truth with the Truth. To know this Truth in a medium appropriate to Him is to do the truth and to live the truth, to be true.[1]

I hope this has encouraged you!

[1] Mark Mourchian, “Theological Realism in St. Ephrem the Syrian and T.F.Torrance,” Participatio Vol. 4 (2013): 103-04.

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