What Does Thomas Torrance Mean by ‘The Latin Heresy’? Jerome van Kuiken Explains

Thomas Torrance refers to what he calls The Latin Heresy in Western theology; primarily derived from Augustine and his influence upon the development of Western theology. I think some people hear this language, and aren’t exactly sure what Torrance is referring to. To help remedy that I thought I would refer to Jerome van Kuiken’s brief explanation of what Torrance means by ‘The Latin Heresy’:

The ‘Latin heresy’ is Torrance’s term for Western Christianity’s historic tendency to think only in terms of external relations, one manifestation of which is to attribute to Christ an unfallen humanity. Leo’s Tome is a prime example, although Tertullian and Augustine share the blame for the West’s bifurcation of Christ’s humanity from ours. Torrance also faults the Chalcedonian Definition failure clearly to indicate that Christ’s humanity was fallen, not neutral. The ‘Latin heresy’ has infected most Western theology from the fifth century forward. Among those who have escaped its influence, Torrance lists Peter Lombard, Martin Luther, John McLeod Campbell, H.R. Macintosh, and Karl Barth.[1]

Jerome’s is a certain application of the way Torrance deploys his thinking in terms of the Latin heresy, but its explanation is present in the way that van Kuiken articulates it. What can be observed is that for Torrance, when it comes to anthropological concerns, the Latin heresy entails an abstraction of humanity from the humanity of Christ such that humanity can be thought of in terms of a Christ-independent self; exactly what Torrance (and Barth for that matter) believes Scripture and the Chalcedon Christological pattern will not allow for.

At base, the Latin heresy, for Torrance is the idea that we can think reality apart from Christ (i.e. dualistically) only to then, when confronted with God’s Self-revelation in Christ, think ourselves and reality back into Christ. According to Torrance (and I agree!) this is precisely the wrong way, a ‘non-Christ[ian]’ way, to think; in regard to both ontology and epistemology, and “metaphysical/physical” reality in general.

[1] E. Jerome van Kuiken, Christ’s Humanity In Current And Ancient Controversy: Fallen Or Not? (London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2017), 43.