TF Torrance contrasts Reformation and Westminster Theology

To cap off this TF Torrance month here at DET (maybe it will become annual, who knows), I wanted to put up a few paragraphs from TF where he compares and contrasts the theology found in the older reformation catechisms with that found within the Westminster catechisms. Bobby will appreciate this; maybe he hasn't read it it yet. Who knows. In any case, here it is:

Thomas F. Torrance, “Introduction” in The School of Faith: The Catechisms of the Reformed Church (Trans/Ed., Thomas F. Torrance; London: James Clarke & Co. Limited, 1959): xvii-xix.
“(i) By keeping more close to a biblical mode of expression and to the Apostles’ Creed the older Catechisms were more universal in their teaching, more in harmony with the theology of the whole Catholic Church from the beginning and less marked by the idiosyncrasies of their producers.

“(ii) The Westminster Catechisms are markedly less Christological both in content and in outlook than their predecessors. [xvii] Thus in proportion they give less than half the space that the others give to the person and work of Christ. But the same contrast appears in the manner in which the other material is expounded. In Calvin’s exposition of the Ten Commandments for example, there is much more evangelical teaching than in the Larger Catechism’s highly moralistic handling of them.

“(iii) The Reformation catechisms are less rationalistic than those of Westminster. That is to say, they expound Christian doctrine in the light of its own inherent patterns, following the direction of the Apostles’ Creed, whereas the Westminster divines abandoned that for a schematism of their own which they imposed upon the instruction they had received from their fathers. They schematised it to the scholastic pattern of Federal Theology and thus expounded Christian doctrine from the point of view of a particular school of thought. There can be no doubt that this had many advantages at the time particularly over against the Counter-Reformation, but it led to serious difficulties in later generations when the Federal schematism was found to conflict with the results of fresh biblical exegesis and a more biblical theology.

“(iv) There is also a clear contrast between the two in regard to objectivity. In the older Catechisms the focus of attention was directed toward the Incarnate Word as the object of theological activity, upon the objective person and work of Christ. In the Westminster theology the main focus of attention is upon man’s appropriation of salvation through justifying faith and the working out of sanctification. Ultimately the main content of these Catechisms is concerned with man’s action, man’s obedience, man’s duty toward God, man’s duty to his neighbor, and man’s religion, although undoubtedly all that is directed upward in a most astonishing way to the glory of God. But it is man’s glorification of God that occupies [xviii] most of the picture. In the older Catechisms man’s obedience was regarded as part of his thanksgiving, but in the later it is schematised to the moral law as something that is partly revealed by ‘the light of nature’. Here there is a very powerful objectivity of a different kind, and objectivity that is bound up with rationalised norms and patters of thought and behavior rather than with the nature of the object, that is to say, the subject-matter of theology.” [xix]


Anonymous said…
You're right, I do appreciate this, and I haven't read this yet; but you can bet I will, thanks! Of course the next task will be to get my hands on this, hopefully my library will have it.

Anyway thanks for sharing . . . and I would vote that you make T.F. Torrance month an annual thing.

P.S. I should be receiving T.F.'s book Incarnation this Friday; can't wait!

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