The Eternal Spirit


Thomas F. Torrance, "The Eternal Spirit," in The Trinitarian Faith: The Evangelical Theology of the Ancient Catholic Church (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1988), 191-251; #1988-489g


Torrance, Thomas F. "The Eternal Spirit." In The Trinitarian Faith: The Evangelical Theology of the Ancient Catholic Church, 191-251. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1988; #1988-489g

Publication life cycle / General notes

An audio recording of the original lecture is available (#1981-TFT-4e).

Discussed in the Reading Group on January 13, 2022: Video.


From the Foreword: “The sixth and seventh chapters are devoted to the doctrines of the Holy Spirit and of the one Church as the Body of Christ. Since it was the Word or Son of God, not the Father or the Spirit, who became incarnate, it is only through the Son that we have knowledge of the Spirit as well as knowledge of the Father. Thus our knowledge of the Spirit like our knowledge of the Father is taken from and controlled by our knowledge of the Son. As such the doctrine of the Spirit qualifies and completes the doctrine of the Father and the Son, and deepens it in our knowledge of the Holy Trinity. Following upon the Council of Nicaea it became widely evident that denial of the Deity of the Son entailed denial of the Deity of the Spirit, so that the Nicene doctrine of the homoousion or consubstantiality of the Son called for a corresponding formulation of the doctrine of the Spirit, and that is what was given succinct credal expression at the Council of Constantinople. The doctrine of the Spirit was developed, however, not only from biblical statements or from doxological formulae, but from the essential structure of knowledge of God grounded in his own self-communication through the Son and in the unity of the Spirit. The confession of faith in the Holy Spirit emphasises the divine nature of the Spirit, and the fact that the presence of the Spirit is the presence of God in his own eternal being and reality as God. At the same time the presence of God in his mode of being as Spirit confronts us with the ineffability and sublime majesty of God, yet not in such a way that God overwhelms us by the presence of his being, for this is a presence of God that creates and sustains being and life, and acts upon us in a quiet and gentle self-effacing way which does not direct attention to himself but which reveals the Father in the Son and the Son in the Father. Through the incarnation and Pentecost the Holy Spirit comes to us from the inner communion of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, creates union and communion between us and the Holy Trinity. In other words, the Spirit creates not only personal union but corporate communion between us and Christ and through Christ with the Holy Trinity, so that it is the Holy Spirit who creates and sustains the being and life of the Church, uniting the Church to Christ as his one Body. Regarded in this way, the doctrine of the Church is a function of the doctrine of the Spirit who proceeds from the Father through the Son, for it is in him and through the Son that we are brought near to God and are given to share in his divine life, light and love. Just as we have to regard the incarnation of the Son and Word of God as a movement of the saving love of God which penetrates into the ontological depths of our creaturely existence in order to redeem us, so we must regard the activity of the Holy Spirit as actualising our union and communion with God through Christ in the actual structure of our human, personal and social being. The Church as the Body of Christ is not to be regarded as merely a figurative expression, but as expressing an ontological reality within humanity, which affects the whole of the human race. The Church is thus the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church which took its rise from the pouring out of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and took its shape from the foundation laid by Christ once for all upon his apostles, and as such reaches throughout all peoples and all ages to the consummation of Christ’s Kingdom.” (pp. 8-10).


I (p. 193)
II (p. 205)
   (1) God is Spirit and the Holy Spirit is God (p. 205)
   (2) The Holy Spirit is distinctively personal reality along with and inseparable from the Father and the Son (p. 215)
   (3) The Procession of the Holy Spirit (p. 231)
III (p. 247)

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“The Nicene pronouncement that the incarnate Son is ὁμοούσιος τᾠ Πατρί had the effect not only of giving definite assertion to the Deity of Christ but of greatly reinforcing the biblical conception of the personal nature and activity of God the Father Almighty. As we have seen in our discussion of the homoousion, it made clear that what God the Father is toward us in Jesus Christ he is inherently and eternally in himself. He himself is the living content of his Word and Grace in the Person Jesus Christ: the Revealer and what he reveals, the Giver and what he gives, are identical. The ‘I am’ of God and the ‘I am’ of the Son are inseparably one, for the Father is in the Son and the Son is in the Father. While they are personally other as Father and as Son, they are indivisibly one in their divine being. Thus in the mind of the Nicene Church the incarnation stood for the acute personalisation of the nature and activity of God. The application of the homoousion by Athanasius to the relation of the Holy Spirit to Christ and through him to the Father had the same effect in reinforcing the biblical conception of the personal nature and activity of the Spirit and intensifying it in the faith of the Church.” (pp. 215-216).

“We must think of the Holy Spirit, then, as the creative, energising, enlightening presence of God who freely interacts with his human creatures in such a way as to sustain their relation to himself as the source of their spiritual, personal and rational life. According to Cyril it is distinctive of the presence and operation of the Holy Spirit that while he comes to us and acts upon us in the sheer unlimited power of God, he does not overwhelm us with might and violence, for his coming is altogether of a different kind. As Cyril characteristically expressed it: ‘His coming is gentle. Our perception of him is fragrant; his burden is very easy to bear; beams of light shine out with his coming. He comes with the compassion of a true Guardian, for he comes to save and to heal, to teach, to admonish, to strengthen, to exhort, to enlighten the mind.’ This linking of the Holy Spirit to light was fairly common among the fourth century fathers, who often pointed to the behaviour of created light as a way to help people grasp something of the silent, impalpable way in which God operates throughout his creation. Thus the Holy Spirit as well as the Word made flesh could be described as ‘life-giving light’. As Jesus embodied in himself the life that is the light of men, so the Holy Spirit was regarded as functioning with that kind of quiet but utterly supreme power. If it is only the almighty who can be infinitely gentle, the Holy Spirit may well be characterised as the gentleness of God the Father Almighty.” (pp. 227-228).