Access to the Father


Thomas F. Torrance, "Access to the Father," in The Trinitarian Faith: The Evangelical Theology of the Ancient Catholic Church (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1988), 47-75; #1988-489c


Torrance, Thomas F. "Access to the Father." In The Trinitarian Faith: The Evangelical Theology of the Ancient Catholic Church, 47-75. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1988-489c, 1988; #1988-489c

Publication life cycle / General notes

Original lecture audio: 1981-TFT-4a.

Discussed in the Reading Group on Sept 2, 2021: Video (handout).


From the Foreword: “The second and the third chapters are devoted to the doctrine of God and to our knowledge of him as Father and Creator. The basic clue to the understanding of the Nicene approach is taken from Athanasius: ‘It is more pious and more accurate to signify God from the Son and call him Father, than to name him from his works and call him Unoriginate’. To know God in any precise way we must know him in accordance with his nature, as he has revealed himself – that is, in Jesus Christ his incarnate Son in whom he has communicated not just something about himself but his very Self. Jesus Christ does not reveal the Father by being Father but by being Son of the Father, and it is through Christ in the one Spirit whom he mediates that we are given access to God as he really is in himself. In contrast with Judaism and its stress on the unnameability of God, the Christian Faith is concerned with God as he has named himself in Jesus Christ, and incarnated in him his own Word, so that in Christ we know God as he is in his own inner being, as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ is the arche (ἀρχή), the Origin or Principle, of all our knowledge of God, and of what he has done and continues to do in the universe, so that it is in terms of the relation of Jesus the incarnate Son to the Father, that we have to work out a Christian understanding of the creation. It is the Fatherhood of God, revealed in the Son, that determines how we are to understand God as Almighty Creator, and not the other way round. It was through thinking out the inner relation of the incarnation to the creation that early Christian theology so transformed the foundations of Greek philosophy, science and culture, that it laid the original basis on which the great enterprise of empirico-theoretical science now rests.” (pp. 6-7).


[God's being-in-relation: overcoming the radical dualism of the Hellenistic world (pp. 47-65)]
(1) The contrast with Judaism (pp. 65-68)
(2) The contrast with Hellenism (pp. 68-75)

Series Number
Series name (click to see more)
Publisher (click to see more)

“Let us take our cue from Athanasius: ‘It would be more godly and true to signify God from the Son and call him Father, than to name God from his works alone and call him Unoriginate.’ In this statement Athanasius was reflecting the emphasis of the Council of Nicaea on the centrality of the Father/Son relation and its primacy over the Creator/creature relation. The latter is to be understood in the light of the former and not vice versa. He pointed out that to approach God as Father through the Son is a more devout and accurate way than to approach him through his works by tracing them back to him as their uncreated Source. Piety and truth (εὐσέβεια and ἀλήθεια), godliness and accuracy (θεοσέβεια and ἀκρίβεια), belong inseparably together in authentic knowledge of God through Jesus Christ his Son. This combination of Christocentricity and theological precision was a highly distinctive feature of Nicene theology which we must constantly keep in mind.

The Nicene theologians contrasted these two approaches to God, from his Son and from his works, as from what God has begotten of his own nature and from what he has made out of nothing in complete difference from his nature. When we think and speak of God from the perspective of the Creator/creature relation, or the Unoriginate/originate relation, we can only think and speak of him in vague, general and negative terms, at the infinite distance of the creature from the Creator where we cannot know God as he is in himself or in accordance with his divine nature, but only in his absolute separation from us, as the eternal, unconditioned and indescribable. In such an approach we can do no more than attempt to speak of God from his works which have come into being at his will through his Word, that is, from what is externally related to God, and which as such do not really tell us anything about who God is or what he is like in his own nature. That line of approach, as both Athanasius and Hilary insisted, is entirely lacking in accuracy or precision (ἀκρίβεια).” (pp. 49-50).

Torrance, contra Harnack: “while the Nicene theologians made considerable use of Greek terms and ideas in articulating the conceptual content of the Christian Faith, they reshaped them in a very basic way under the creative impact of the Holy Scriptures. Being, word, and act in patristic theology came to mean something very different from what they meant in Platonic, Aristotelian or Stoic thought: they are in fact radically ‘un-Greek’. Thus far from Nicene theology resulting from a Hellenisation of Biblical Christianity, it represents a recasting of familiar Hellenic thought-forms in order to make them worthy vehicles of the Gospel...” (p. 74)