Dr. Thomas F. Torrance and Dr./Fr. John Zizioulas are two of the most important Trinitarian theologians of the late 20th and early 21st centuries (a period recognized by many as one which has seen a significant increase of interest in the doctrine of the Trinity). I have read a number of the works produced by both men; and came to realize, quite early, that though there are some common elements in their Trinitarian thought, there are also some very important differences.
A couple of days ago, I came across an excellent article/paper by Nikolaos Asproulis in the online journal, Participatio (link), which focuses on one of those differences—the monarchy of God the Father. The following is the abstract of Asproulis' contribution:
The disagreements between T. F. Torrance (1913-2007) and John Zizioulas (1931-) regarding the reading of the patristic (especially Cappadocian) doctrine of the monarchy of the Father bear implications for fundamental issues of theological method which require careful study. In the present article, questions regarding the transcendent and immanent Trinity, historical revelation as a starting point of Christian theology and the interpretation of the Cappadocian Fathers will be discussed in connection with a critical comparison of the way these two eminent theologians, who belong to different traditions (Torrance, Reformed; Zizioulas, Eastern Orthodox), interpret the monarchy of the Father as the most fundamental issue of Trinitarian theology. (Page 162.)
As noted in the above abstract, "the reading of the patristic (especially Cappadocian) doctrine of the monarchy of the Father bear implications for fundamental issues of theological method which require careful study" [I would certainly add Athanasius to the Cappadocians.] Asproulis goes on to demonstrate that Torrance's patristic interpretations bear some significant differences from those of Zizioulas, especially concerning the monarchy of God the Father. [Interestingly enough, Keith W. Goad's readings, as found in is doctoral dissertation, Trinitarian Grammars, are quite similar to those of Torrance—who he cites a number of times—for a link to the dissertation, and some of my musings, see THIS THREAD.]
Torrance places a heavy emphasis on the being/substance/essence (Gr. ousia) of God; and as Asproulis points out, he has a, "preoccupation with the term homoousian"(p. 164). But, Zizioulas' focus is quite different; note the following from Asproulis:
Since the beginning of his career Zizioulas has focused on the importance of the concept of personhood both as a conceptual tool for the conceptualization of the doctrine of the Trinity and as the very soteriological reality of Christian faith, the fulfillment of theosis. As he puts it, “the concept of person with its absolute and ontological content was born historically from the endeavor of the Church to give ontological expression to its faith in the Triune God.” (Page 166.)
A bit later in the article, we read:
Torrance is known for his robust critique of the “Cappadocian settlement,” which identified the monarchy exclusively with the person of the Father and introduces causal relations within the Holy Trinity: the Cappadocians “sought to preserve the oneness of God by insisting that God the Father, who is himself without generation or origination, is the one Principle or Origin and Cause of the Son and the Spirit.” (Page 172.)
This is followed by:
According to Torrance, the introduction of such a hierarchical and subordinationist structure, following from the priority of the person of the Father as the “cause” of the Godhead and the one principle of Trinitarian unity, constitutes the main thrust of the Cappadocian teaching. (Ibid.)
Torrance's rejection of the “Cappadocian settlement”—in contrast to Zizioulas' emphatic acceptance—establishes the wide difference between their respective understandings of the monarchy of God.
Personally, I side with Zizioulas on this "most fundamental issue of Trinitarian theology", and would be interested in hearing from others as to which side they take.
Grace and peace,