I have recently been getting to know Bill Ford, a great brother in Christ, and a real fan of the theology of Thomas F. Torrance. He has offered here an excellent short article on the role that the Patristic an/enhypostasis plays in the theology of Thomas Torrance, and indeed, this is something very important to the identity of Evangelical Calvinism. So thank you, Bill for your good piece of writing, and for highlighting a very important piece in Scottish Theology in general, and Evangelical Calvinism in particular.
Bio: I am currently Senior Pastor of the Grace Christian International (F.K.A. Worldwide Church of God) circuit churches in Massachusetts, and soon to retire after twenty-five years as a pastor. One of the highlights of my life was to graduate Grace Communion Seminary with a Masters in Pastoral Studies (what a great program!) this past August. I was privileged, and will be forever grateful to have had as my thesis advisor, Dr. Gary W. Deddo of Grace Communion International. Gary helped me begin to understand Thomas Torrance “all the way down.” The greatest highlight of my life is yet to come after my wife and I say a fond farewell to the churches here and relocate to Cleveland, OH, where we will finally get to know our eight grandchildren!
In The Person of Christ, Donald Macleod writes that the humanity of Christ is “that of Everyman. But he is not Everyman. He is the man, Christ Jesus; and the only humanity united to him hypostatically is his own. This must control our understanding of such a concept as the vicarious humanity of Christ.” Macleod then quotes J. B. Torrance who writes in total agreement with his brother Thomas Torrance: “When Jesus was born for us at Bethlehem, was baptized by the Spirit in Jordan, suffered under Pontius Pilate, rose again and ascended, we were born again, baptized by the Spirit, suffered, died, rose again and ascended in him.” Macleod then asks what do you mean we? Who is the we? Is it Judas, Hitler, or Stalin? Were they all included in the acts of the historical Jesus by way of the vicarious humanity? Macleod goes on to say, “We can entertain such notions only in defiance of enhypostasia. It was not the human race but the specific, personalized humanity [enhypostatis] of Christ that suffered under Pontius Pilate.” As Macleod understands it, enhypostasia limits and defines the humanity of Jesus Christ (Person 202-3).
Macleod’s argument here reminds me of something a Calvinist friend once said to me, “Just because Jesus Christ became human does not mean that he died for all people.” Of course, he speaks from the Calvinist point of view that limits the range of the word “all” here to only a limited elect, while the rest of humanity is condemned, thus never mind 2 Corinthians 5:14. However, I think Torrance would say that both Macleod and my friend do not grasp the doctrine of enhypostatis as it should be applied to the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ together with anhypostasis, as a couplet. Torrance describes these terms as “severely technical,” yet “remarkably fertile,” in that they “serve to bring out the essential logic of Grace and the logic of Christ” (Theological Science 217, 269). In Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ, Torrance explains,
The anhypostatic [anhypostasis, not-person] assumption speaks of God’s unconditional and amazingly humble act of grace in assuming our humanity in the concrete likeness of the flesh of sin. But within that, enhypostasia [enhypostasis, in-person, or person-in] speaks of the fact that the person of Christ was the person of the obedient Son of the Father, who in his humanity remained in perfect holy communion with the Father from the very beginning, and so was sinless, and absolutely pure and spotless and holy. Thus he, the enhypostatic Son of Man, lived out a life of perfect and sinless obedience to the Father in the midst of the fallen human nature which he had anhypostatically assumed, and in virtue of which he had entered into solidarity with all mankind. (232)
Torrance says it another way earlier in this same chapter, “The Hypostatic Union,” as he quotes Heidegger, “The human [nature] is per se anhypostatos and becomes enhypostatos in the Logos, who being pre-existent, in fact existent from all eternity, has received in time the form of a servant (Phil 2.7), and assumed the seed of Abraham (Heb 2.16) as its shrine and instrument” (Incarnation 229). In other words, as Torrance clarifies,
The human nature of Jesus never existed apart from the incarnation of God the Son. At the first moment of the existence of his human nature, it was in hypostatic union with his Godhead. That is, the human nature from the first moment of its existence had its hypostasis or personal subsistence in the personal subsistence of God the Son. That is the meaning of en-hypostasis. (Incarnation 229)
To reiterate the important point Torrance offers above, an-hypostasis means that Jesus has graciously “entered into solidarity with all mankind” in assuming and healing our fallen humanity, giving it divine personhood (232).
Here, I would like to offer somewhat of an aside that speaks to a practical application for ministry in the midst of this “severely technical” jargon. The terms, anhypostasia and enhypostasia are used by Torrance as “disclosure models,” what he calls “cognitive instruments” that give us clarity to see the reality of Jesus Christ, thus the range of the atonement. He likens these terms to “theological algebra” that must “be translated back into ‘the flesh and blood’ of…the person and work of Christ himself,” as we work out the “inner logic” in Christology. “Anhypostasia and enhypostasia together do not themselves contain the ‘stuff’ of Christology, but they may be, rightly used, theological instruments or lenses through which we may discern more deeply and clearly the ontological structures of the incarnation” (Incarnation 233). In my personal theology of ministry, I am compelled to translate the “theological algebra” and preach the “flesh and blood,” but I find Torrance’s explication especially enlightening in the quest of “faith seeking understanding” in relation to the range of the atoning work of Jesus Christ.