The One Church


Thomas F. Torrance, "The One Church," in The Trinitarian Faith: The Evangelical Theology of the Ancient Catholic Church (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1988), 252-301; #1988-489h


Torrance, Thomas F. "The One Church." In The Trinitarian Faith: The Evangelical Theology of the Ancient Catholic Church, 252-301. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1988; #1988-489h

Publication life cycle / General notes

An audio recording of the original lecture is available (#1981-TFT-4f). See also "The One Church of God in Jesus Christ," in Atonement: The Person and Work of Christ (#2009-TFT-1k).

Discussed in the Reading Group: 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).


(1) The Oneness of the Church (p. 279)
(2) The Holiness of the Church (p. 280)
(3) The Catholicity of the Church (p. 282)
(4) The Apostolicity of the Church (p. 285)

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“The Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed did not repeat the expression ‘we believe’ (πιστεὐομεν) before the article on the Church, but it was nevertheless implied, as it had been in the Creed of Nicaea. The significance of this would appear to be two-fold. In the first place, the clauses on the Church do not constitute an independent set of beliefs, but follow from belief in the Holy Spirit, for holy Church is the fruit of the Holy Spirit, the result of his sanctifying activity in mankind, and as such is, as it were, the empirical correlate of the parousia of the Spirit in our midst. If we believe in the Holy Spirit, we also believe in the existence of one Church in the one Spirit. Belief in ‘one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church’ is thus regarded in the Creed as a function of belief in the Spirit or rather of belief in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In the second place, the clauses on the Church are to be reckoned as belonging to the articles of saving faith, for they have to do with the Gospel. Just as there is ‘one Lord’, ‘one baptism’ and ‘one faith’, so there is ‘one body’. They are central to the Church’s confession of faith in the Holy Trinity and cannot be treated as affirmations having significance in themselves apart from their integration with the substance of the evangelical and apostolic kerygma. This relation of the clauses on the Church to the main content of belief confessed in the Creed sets the context and tone of what must be said about the Church and the way in which it is to be understood. The Church has imprinted upon it through holy baptism the seal and character of the Holy Trinity, and as such it is to be honoured and revered.” (pp. 252-253).

“This means that the deposit of faith is to be understood as spanning two levels. On its primary level it is identical with the whole saving economy of the incarnate, crucified and risen Son of God. On its secondary level it is identical with the faithful reception and interpretation of the Gospel as under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit it took definitive form in the apostolic nucleus established by Christ for this very purpose, that is, in the apostolic foundation of the Church and thus in the New Testament Scriptures. From the beginning these two levels were inseparably coordinated in the deposit of faith, the second being governed and structured through the revelatory impact of the first upon it, so that it pointed away from itself to Christ. Thus the New Testament kerygma referred not merely to the proclamation about Christ but to the reality proclaimed, Jesus Christ who continues to be present and savingly at work through the kerygma.” (p. 259).