Friday, February 25, 2011

Torrance Hypostatic Union, pt 8: Hypostatic Union and the Mediation of Reconciliation

Not only is the humanity and deity of Jesus Christ essential for the mediation of reconciliation; the hypostatic union of divine and human natures in the one person of Jesus Christ is also essential for our salvation. As is characteristic of his unitary approach to theology, Torrance rejects any form of Nestorian dualism that would disrupt the unified integrity of the hypostatic union by bifurcating the person (being) and work (acts) of Jesus Christ.
Comment: Nestorius created a dualism (separation) in the person of Jesus Christ by arguing that Jesus is” two persons," one divine, one human, and there is no union between the two (hence, a dualism). If Nestorius is right, then God is not involved in any meaningful way at the cross, for, according to Nestorius (and others), Jesus suffered in his humanity only. His argument has been rightly rejected in orthodox Christianity. Remember, the correct (orthodox) understanding of Jesus Christ is that he is "one person in two natures."
Because humanity and deity are joined together in the one person of the incarnate Son, the divine acts in the human nature of Jesus Christ and the human acts in the divine nature of the eternal Word “are both acts of one and the same person.” Because the divine and human natures are “one and indivisibly united,” the divine and human acts of Christ are indivisibly united. In short, the divine and human acts of the incarnate Son are all predicates of one person: “the one whole Christ.” All the acts of Christ in the mediation of revelation and reconciliation are the acts of God as he is antecedently and eternally in himself, so that the love of Jesus manifest in his self-sacrifice arises from the eternal love and decision of God. The doctrine of the hypostatic union is the assertion that, in the mystery of Christ, “divine and human natures and acts are truly and completely united in one person or hypostasis.” Also known as “personal union,” the hypostatic union transcends even the intimate union of two persons in marriage, for the unity of divine and human acts in Christ inhere in only one person (Torrance, 2008:190, 191). In asserting that the divine and human acts of Jesus are predicates of one person, Torrance aligns himself with the doctrine of communicatio idiomatum associated with Cyril and Alexandrian christology.

In examining the significance of the two natures in the one person of Jesus Christ, we find that the humanity of Christ has no revealing or saving significance apart from his deity; likewise, his deity has no revealing or saving significance apart from his humanity. As Torrance (2008:191, 192) carefully explains:
The doctrine of Christ is the doctrine of true and complete humanity in full union with true and complete deity, and it is in that union that the significance of both revelation and reconciliation lies. It is such a union that the presence of full and perfect humanity does not impair or diminish or restrict the presence of full and perfect deity, and the presence of full and perfect deity does not impair or diminish or restrict the presence of full and perfect humanity. It is such a union that true Godhead and true humanity are joined together in Jesus Christ in such a way that they cannot be separated, and yet that they can never be confused, in such a way also that one does not absorb the other, nor do both combine to form a third entity which is neither divine nor human. In the hypostatic union, God remains God and man remains man, and yet in Christ, God who remains God is forever joined to man, becomes man and remains man. In this union God has become man without ceasing to be God, and man is taken up into the very being of God without ceasing to be man. This is the mystery of Jesus Christ in whom we have communion through the Holy Spirit.
The doctrine of the hypostatic union of God and man in Jesus Christ is the “objective heart” of Torrance’s doctrine of atoning reconciliation. In assuming our “flesh of sin” in the hypostatic union, God “has judged sin in the flesh and made expiation for our sin in his own blood shed on the cross, and so has worked the hypostatic union right through our alienation into the resurrection, where we have the new humanity in perfect union with God, and in that union we are given to share.” Torrance (2008:195) continues:
The significance of that atonement lies not merely in that Jesus Christ as man offered a perfect sacrifice to God, nor does it lie merely in that God here descended into our bondage and destroyed the powers of darkness, sin, death and the devil, but that here in atonement God has brought about an act at once from the side of God as God, and from the side of man as man; an act of real and final union between God and man. Atonement means that God’s action was translated into terms of human action, for only in so doing does it reach men and women and become relevant to them as saving act; but it remains God’s action, for only so does it touch and lay hold of them, and raise them up to salvation in reconciliation with God.
In summary, the significance of the atonement lies in that fact that God has acted both from the side of God as God and from the side of man as man in an act of real and final union between God and humanity.

In keeping with his non-dualist, unitary theology, Torrance is careful to assert that there are not two acts in the life and death of Jesus Christ, but only one act by the God-man, a single action which is at once “Godward” and “manward.” If atonement is to be real, it must take place from man’s side if man is to be reconciled to God; yet, it must also take place from the side of God, that is, as atonement by God for man, if it is to be effectual. Echoing Athanasius (De Incarnatione Verbi Dei), Torrance argues that only the Word through whom man was made, by himself becoming man, can act in man’s place and for man in such a way as to recover and restore that which man lost (cf. Kruger, 2003:15ff). Hence, atonement is the work of the God-man, of God and man in hypostatic union; it is not merely the work of God “in” man but an act of God “as” man. “Atonement is possible on the ground of the hypostatic union, and only on the ground of atoning reconciliation can the oneness of the Word and our flesh of sin be brought to its full telos [i.e., “end” or “purpose”] in the hypostatic union of God and man in the risen Jesus Christ” (Torrance, 2008:195).

Torrance (2008:196) reinforces his argument for atoning reconciliation by stating it differently. If the natures of Christ were divided, that is, separated into a divine person and a human person, then his human acts would not be the acts of God, and his divine acts would not be the acts of a human being. In that case, reconciliation would be “illusory,” for there would be no union of God and man. To be sure, it is the doctrine of two natures in ‘one’ person that Torrance calls the “mainstay” of a doctrine of atoning reconciliation, for the hypostatic union is central to the mediation of reconciliation and lies at the heart of the atonement. He continues:
The purpose of atonement is to reconcile humanity back to God so that atonement issues in union between man and God, but it issues in union between man and God because the hypostatic union is that union already being worked out between estranged man and God, between man’s will and God’s will in the one person of Christ. It is the hypostatic union, or hypostatic at-onement, therefore, which lies embedded in the very heart of atonement. All that is done in the judgement of sin, in expiation of guilt, in the oblation of obedience to the Father is in order to bring humanity back to union with God, and to anchor that union within the eternal union of the Son and the Father, and the Father and the Son, through the communion of the Holy Spirit.
In the indivisible, inseparable, unconfused, and unchangeable personal union of divine and human natures in Jesus Christ lies the mystery of our salvation. In order to reveal God to man, Jesus must be God speaking within the limitations and constraints of human thought and speech. In order to reconcile man to God, Jesus must be human, so that his acts reach us; at the same time, he must be divine, for only God can save. Yet, for the mediation of revelation and reconciliation to be valid, all Jesus’ acts “for us and our salvation” must issue from one person, so that every act is both human and divine. As Torrance notes, “Only he can be mediator who is himself the union of God and man, only he can be pontifex [“bridge-maker”] who is himself the pons [“bridge”]” (Torrance, 2008:190).


Kruger, C.B. 2003. Jesus and the Undoing of Adam. Jackson, MS: Perichoresis Press. 72 pp.

Torrance, T.F. 2008. Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ (edited by R. Walker). Downers Grove: IVP. 371 pp.

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