We spend our whole time resisting the dichotomies of form and content, or substance and methodology, that we are offered in every intellectual form. This is just how it should be. The whole Christian gospel may be summed up like this: There is no division between content and form, between method and truth – in Christ. There is therefore no separation between gospel and how we come to know it, between Jesus of Nazareth and today’s Church – in Christ. There is no separation between Son and Spirit, nor between God in himself and God as he is for us.
The concealed paganism of the West consists in a habit. The habit is of making the assumption that content can never be its own form and so of dividing the one from the other. But in the case of the gospel, the content is its own form. So the Western mind introduces a gap between content of the gospel and the means of its becoming known, and the event of its becoming known, confessed and expressed. It introduces mediations where they do not belong. These mediations are never necessary or helpful as their proponents suggest, but rather function as barriers and roadblocks. We have to refuse them, and sometimes this makes us look unsophisticated or ungrateful. But we cannot allow such intermediaries to be introduced where none are needed, precisely where God himself insists he is himself for us, our servant, provider and Lord. God in person is fully content and fully the form, that is the provider, container and delivery system of all truth and life.
No one says this like Tom Torrance, the towering figure of British theology. It has been his life’s work to say this. It appears in short form in his ‘Karl Barth and the Latin heresy’ (Scottish Journal Of Theology 39 1986). Don’t be taken in by the apparently local concern of the title. Here is a great exponent of the Western theological tradition charging the Western tradition with being inadequate to the point of emptying the gospel. It is not enough to be Western (‘Latin’) and an heir of Augustine. No, it is not even enough to be Reformed. The Western tradition’s urge to divorce form from content tends to undo the gospel. This Reformed and evangelical theologian, always insistent on the priority of truth, is insistent on catholicity and thus on ecumenism. The Latin heresy that ceaselessly divides – and so attempts to divide what God has united – is counteracted by a proper obedience to the rest of the Church, the Eastern and Orthodox Church and to whole Patristic intellectual tradition – for TF Torrance always best represented by Athanasius.
Here is a bit from Torrance:
‘What Karl Barth found to be at stake in the twentieth century was nothing less than the downright Godness of God in his Revelation. The Augustinian, Cartesian and Newtonian dualism built into the framework of Western thought and culture had the effect of cutting back into the preaching and teaching of the Church in such a way as to damage, and sometimes even to sever, the ontological bond, between Jesus Christ and God the Father, and thus to introduce an oblique or symbolical relation between the Word of God and God himself. Barth’s struggle for the integrity of divine Revelation opened his eyes to the underlying epistemological problems, not only in neo-Protestantism and Roman Catholicism, but in Protestant orthodoxy as well.
These were bound up with the Western habit of thinking in abstractive formal relations, greatly reinforced by Descartes in his critico-analytical method, and of thinking in external relations which was accentuated by Kant in his denial of the possibility of knowing things in their internal relations. This is what I have called the Latin heresy, for in theology at any rate its roots go back to a form of linguistic and conceptual dualism that prevailed in Patristic and medieval Latin theology.’
Read more from Torrance Karl Barth and the Latin heresy
This is either a long article – and very quotable – or a miniature systematics wrapped in a brief history of the Western intellectual tradition. But which is content and which is form?