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T. F. Torrance, Catholicism, and the quest for church unity

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  15 February 2023

Stanley Maclean*
Keimyung University, Daegu, South Korea


This article examines T. F. Torrance's engagement with Catholicism. It uncovers the breadth and depth of his ecumenical spirit, while concurrently shedding light on his own theological development. The article reveals an evolution in Torrance's posture toward Catholicism, moving from fierce criticism to critical praise, with the Second Vatican Council as a watershed in his thinking. His criticism was provoked by what he considered the fundamental problem with Catholicism (namely, the ‘Latin heresy’ in its theology); while his praise was elicited by the evangelical, christocentric, and ecumenical spirit of the Council.

Research Article
Copyright © The Author(s), 2023. Published by Cambridge University Press

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1 Scandrett, Joel, ‘Thomas. F. Torrance and Ecumenism’, in Molnar, Paul D. and Habets, M., (eds), T&T Clark Handbook of Thomas F. Torrance (London: T&T Clark, 2020), p. 51Google Scholar.

2 See Radcliff, J., Thomas F. Torrance and the Orthodox-Reformed Theological Dialogue (Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2018)Google Scholar.

3 Torrance, Thomas F., ‘Historic Agreement by Reformed and Orthodox on the Doctrine of the Holy Trinity’, ECNL: The Journal of the Anglican and Eastern Churches Association, ns 34 (1992), pp. 30–2Google Scholar.

4 Torrance, Thomas F., Theology in Reconciliation: Essays toward Evangelical and Catholic Unity in East and West (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1996), p. 7Google Scholar.

5 Thomas F. Torrance, letter to The Scotsman, ‘On the Impossibility of Seeking Unity with the Roman Church’ (22 October 1957); Torrance, Thomas F., ‘Ecumenism and Rome’, Scottish Journal of Theology 37/1 (1984), p. 62CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

6 Torrance, Thomas F., Divine Interpretation: Studies in Medieval and Modern Hermeneutics, ed. Nigh, A. and Speidell, T. (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2017), p. 46Google Scholar.

7 Torrance, Thomas F., ‘Karl Barth and the Latin Heresy’, Scottish Journal of Theology 39/4 (1986), pp. 461–82CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

8 ‘The Problem of Discussion with Rome’, in Thomas F. Torrance, Conflict and Agreement in Church (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock), p. 152.

9 Ibid., p. 153.

10 Pope Pius XII, Munificentissimus Deus, 1 November 1950, §24 <>; accessed 6 February 2023.

11 Ibid.

12 ‘Quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est.’ Vincent of Lérins, Commonitorium 4.3.

13 Torrance, Thomas F., The Incarnation, ed. Walker, Robert T. (Downer's Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2008), p. 62Google Scholar.

14 Torrance, Thomas F., The Mediation of Christ (Colorado Springs, CO: Helmers & Howard, 1992), p. 40Google Scholar

15 Torrance, ‘Problem of Discussion’. Torrance always uses the term ‘Evangelical’ for the churches that stem from the Reformation. But since the word ‘evangelical’ has quite different connotations today, I have chosen to use the term ‘Protestant’ instead throughout this article.

16 The Catechism of St Pius X <>; accessed 6 February 2023.

17 Ibid.

18 Ibid.

19 Torrance, ‘The Roman Doctrine of Grace from the Point of View of Reformed Theology’, in Thomas F. Torrance, Theology in Reconstruction (London: SCM Press, 1965), pp. 169–90.

20 Torrance, ‘Roman Doctrine of Grace’, p. 174.

21 Douglas Farrow, ‘T. F. Torrance and the Latin Heresy’, First Things (Dec. 2013), p. 27.

22 Torrance, Thomas F., Divine Meaning: Studies in Patristic Hermeneutics (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1995), p. 392CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

23 Ibid.

24 Thomas F. Torrance, ‘The Place of Word and Truth in Theological Inquiry according to St Anselm’, in Divine Interpretation, p. 73.

25 Torrance, T. F., ‘Scientific Hermeneutics According to St. Thomas Aquinas’, Journal of Theological Studies 13 (1962), p. 271Google Scholar.

26 Ibid., pp. 262–3.

27 Ibid., pp. 276–7.

28 Torrance, T. F., ‘The Function of the Inner and Outer Word in Lonergan's Theological Method’, in Corcoran, Patrick (ed.), Looking at Lonergan's Method (Dublin: Talbot Press, 1975), pp. 101–26Google Scholar.

29 Kerr, Fergus, Twentieth-Century Catholic Theologians (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2007), p. 106Google Scholar.

30 Torrance, ‘The Function of the Inner and Outer Word’, pp. 106, 116.

31 Lonergan, Bernard, Method in Theology (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1990), p. 4Google Scholar.

32 Torrance, The Mediation of Christ, p. 100.

33 Torrance, ‘The Function of the Inner and Outer Word’, p. 123.

34 Ibid., p. 121.

35 Bernard Lonergan, Insight, vol. 3 of The Collected Works of Bernard Lonergan, 5th edn, ed. F. Crowe and R. Doran (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1992), p. 372.

36 T. F. Torrance, ‘Intuitive and Abstractive Knowledge: From Duns Scotus to John Calvin’, in De doctrina Ioannis Duns Scoti: Acta tertii Congressus Scotistici Internationalis: Studia Scholastico-Scotistica 5 (Rome: Societas Internationalis Scotistica, 1968), p. 292.

37 Torrance, ‘Intuitive and Abstractive Knowledge’, p. 305.

38 Torrance, Theology in Reconciliation, p. 7

39 Ibid., pp. 9–10.

40 Hesselink, John, ‘A Pilgrimage in the School of Christ: An Interview with T. F. Torrance’, Reformed Review 38 (1984), p. 59Google Scholar.

41 Ibid.

42 O'Malley, John, ‘The Council's Spirit: Vatican II: The Time for Reconciliation’, Conversations on Jesuit Higher Education, 42/1 (2012)Google Scholar, article 3.

43 Unitatis Redintegratio (Decree on Ecumenism), Introduction <>; accessed 6 February 2023.

44 Torrance, ‘Ecumenism and Rome’, p. 60.

45 Ibid.

46 Lumen Gentium: The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (1964) <>; accessed 6 February 2023.

47 Ibid., §15.

48 Ibid., §8.

49 Torrance, ‘Ecumenism and Rome’, p. 59.

50 Ibid., p. 62; see Lumen Gentium, §28.

51 Lumen Gentium, §10.

52 Torrance, ‘Ecumenism and Rome’, p. 60.

53 Ibid., p. 62.

54 See Lumen Gentium, §8.

55 See Thomas F. Torrance, Space, Time and Incarnation (Oxford: OUP, 1969); idem, Theological Science (Oxford: OUP, 1969); idem, God and Rationality (Oxford: OUP, 1971).

56 T.F. Torrance, ‘Ecumenism and Science’, in God and Rationality, pp. 124–30.

57 Torrance, ‘Ecumenism and Rome’, p. 63

58 Ibid., p. 63.

59 Torrance, T. F., Juridical Law and Physical Law: Toward a Realist Foundation for Human Law (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 1997), p. 2Google Scholar.

60 Torrance, ‘Ecumenism and Rome’, p. 62.

61 Ibid.

62 Rahner, Karl, The Trinity (Freiburg: Herder & Herder, 1970)Google Scholar.

63 Torrance, T. F., ‘Toward an Ecumenical Consensus on the Trinity’, Theologische Zeitschrift 31 (1975), p. 337Google Scholar.

64 Torrance, T. F., The Christian Doctrine of God: One Being Three Persons (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1996), p. 10Google Scholar.

65 Rahner, Trinity, p. 35.

66 Ibid., p. 36

67 Ibid., p. 22.

68 Torrance, Thomas F., ‘Toward an Ecumenical Consensus on the Trinity’, in Trinitarian Perspectives: Toward Doctrinal Agreement (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1994), p. 339CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

69 Ibid.

70 Ibid., p. 340

71 Rahner, Trinity, p. 104.

72 Ibid.

73 Torrance, ‘Toward an Ecumenical Consensus’, p. 346.

74 Ibid., p. 347.

75 Ibid.

76 Ibid., pp. 348–9.

77 Torrance, Thomas F., The Christian Doctrine of God: One Being Three Persons (London: T & T Clark, 2001 [1996]), p. 136Google Scholar.

78 Ibid., pp. 124, 161.

79 Hattie Williams, ‘Kirks and Roman Catholic Scots Celebrate their Common Heritage’, Church Times, 27 May 2022 <>; accessed 6 February 2023.