Iain Torrance

The Very Revd Prof
Iain Richard Torrance

Iain Torrance and Cassiopea
Born (1949-01-13) 13 January 1949
Aberdeen, Scotland, United Kingdom
Occupation Pro-Chancellor of the University of Aberdeen and Dean of the Chapel Royal in Scotland
Language English
Nationality Scottish
Citizenship British
Spouse Morag Ann Torrance, née MacHugh (1975-present)
Children 2

Iain Richard Torrance, TD (born 13 January 1949) is a Church of Scotland minister, theologian and academic. He is Pro-Chancellor of the University of Aberdeen,[1] Dean of the Chapel Royal in Scotland,[2] Dean of the Order of the Thistle, Honorary Professor of Early Christian Doctrine and Ethics at the University of Edinburgh, President and Professor of Patristics Emeritus at Princeton Theological Seminary, and a Chaplain-in-Ordinary to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in Scotland. He is a former Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. He is married to Morag Ann (née MacHugh), whom he met while they were students at the University of St Andrews, and they have a son, Hew, and a daughter, Robyn.


Torrance was born in Aberdeen, Scotland. He is the younger son of Thomas Forsyth Torrance, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1976. He was educated at the Edinburgh Academy and at Monkton Combe School in Bath, England, then graduated MA (University of Edinburgh), BD (University of St Andrews), DPhil (Oriel College, Oxford). His doctoral thesis was entitled A translation of the letters between Severus of Antioch and Sergius the Grammarian, with a theological introduction, and was supervised by Sebastian Brock.

Following Oxford, Torrance was ordained on 23 January 1982 by the Church of Scotland's Presbytery of Shetland as minister at Northmavine Parish Church in the Shetland Islands.[3] Northmavine is the most northerly parish on the main island of the Shetland archipelago, and is famous for the stunning cliff scenery of Eshaness.

He was also commissioned as a Territorial Army chaplain serving with 2/51 Highland and then the Royal Army Medical Corps from 1982 to 1997.

After serving for four years in Northmavine, in 1985 Torrance moved to The Queen's College, Birmingham, an ecumenical theological college (mainly Anglican and Methodist) with strong links to the University of Birmingham. There, he taught New Testament studies.

In 1989 he moved to a lectureship in Patristics and New Testament at the University of Birmingham. He was invited to become a member of the International Dialogue between The World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) and the Orthodox Church in 1992, becoming co-chair in 1995.

In 1993, he moved to the University of Aberdeen, subsequently being promoted to a personal chair and becoming Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Divinity in 2001.

In 2001 he was appointed a Chaplain-in-Ordinary to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in Scotland.

He served as Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, 2003–2004.

In 2005 he represented the Church of Scotland and the WARC at the installation of Pope Benedict XVI. In 2008, he represented the WARC at the Lambeth Conference.

Torrance appears as himself in Alexander McCall Smith’s Edinburgh novels, The Comforts of a Muddy Saturday (2008)[4] and The Forgotten Affairs of Youth (2011).[5]

The composer Paul Mealor dedicated to Torrance the anthem which he had been commissioned to write for the UK and Commonwealth Commemoration of World War One in Glasgow Cathedral on the 4th of August 2014.

In July 2013 The Queen appointed Torrance Dean of the Chapel Royal in Scotland, and in July 2014 she appointed him Dean of the Order of the Thistle.[6][7]

Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland

Iain Torrance's tenure as Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland (2003-2004) was marked by a nationally reported controversy[8] following his public comments on homosexuality in which he stated that he was "utterly untroubled" by the ordination of gay clergy. The context was the nomination of Canon Jeffrey John as Bishop of Reading. Doctor Torrance thereby became the first leader to encourage gay ordination in the Church of Scotland's 500-year history, a stance that marked a major shift in the Church's view and which was met with fierce opposition. Torrance subsequently used a Christmas sermon as a platform to challenge homophobia within his own church.[9] The Reverend David W. Lacy, one of Torrance's successors as Moderator, publicly opposed this stance,[10] arguing that the appointment of openly gay ministers would rip the Church of Scotland apart. When asked to comment on some public criticism by fellow ministers, Torrance said of his critics: "I am not convinced that their vision and my vision need collide in such a way that one must consume the other. There is room for both, and a lively Church needs both those who are zealous in upholding tradition and those who probe its boundaries."[11]

His year in office also saw the first official call for the release of the Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, a Libyan national imprisoned for the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, informally known as the Lockerbie bombing. Furthermore, Nelson Mandela had also called for the support of the Western Christian Churches in what the South African lawyer considered a clear miscarriage of justice. Torrance made representation to the British Prime Minister Tony Blair on behalf of Megrahi pointing out the deep unease in Scotland and elsewhere over the safety of the verdict.[12]

During his year in office, Torrance travelled widely on behalf of the Church, being the first Moderator to visit the churches in China. At some personal risk, in February 2004, he visited every British unit in Southern Iraq. He visited the demilitarized zone in Eritrea as the guest of the United Nations peacekeeping force and preached in southern Sudan.

His formal title following the end of his Moderatorial year is the Very Reverend Professor Iain Torrance.

President of Princeton Theological Seminary

Iain Torrance took up his appointment as the sixth president of Princeton Theological Seminary on 1 July 2004[13] and was installed as President and Professor of Patristics, on 11 March 2005, at a service in the Princeton University Chapel.[14] The inauguration featured more than 64 delegates from institutions of higher education including the four ancient universities of Scotland (St. Andrews, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Edinburgh) as well as The Chapel Royal in Scotland, Yale University Divinity School, Duke University, and Howard University School of Divinity. Twelve ecclesiastical delegates, including Rick Ufford-Chase, the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church (USA), attended. The service also highlighted “Christ is the World’s Redeemer,” a hymn written by John Ferguson and commissioned by Princeton Theological Seminary for the inauguration.

At Princeton Theological Seminary, Torrance was active in the review of existing programs, both academic and financial. He was committed to the renovation of the seminary library (opened in January 2013, a month after he retired) and the rebuilding of student housing on the Charlotte Rachel Wilson campus (completed in May 2012).

Torrance has been committed to inter-faith dialogue, being a public supporter of the Muslim document A Common Word Between Us and You (2007). In August 2010, he was elected to the C-1 Religious Leader Commission.

Torrance retired from the presidency of Princeton Theological Seminary on 31 December 2012.[15]

Academic career

Selected publications

His Arms

Coat of Arms of Iain R. Torrance

Professor Torrance’s arms were matriculated as those of a second son in 1974. Here they are shown impaled with his arms of office, i.e. those of Dean of the Order of the Thistle and Dean of the Chapel Royal in Scotland. The Celtic staff behind the shield denotes the Dean of the Chapel Royal’s position, ex officio, as titular abbot of Dundrennan and of Crossraguel. The badge is that of the Dean of the Order of the Thistle, with the ecclesiastical hat, its distinctive red tassels showing his rank.

On 18 March 2016 Torrance was presented by the Lord Lyon, Dr. Joseph J. Morrow QC, with Letters Patent granting him supporters. Supporters are a high heraldic honour and are only automatically granted to peers and members of the most senior grades of the orders of knighthood, but the Lord Lyon has the discretion to award supporters to persons of distinction. The award recognises Professor Torrance's eminent service to academia, the Church of Scotland, and the Crown in Scotland. The two dachshunds are Maud and Cassiopea, who were often spotted in and around Princeton Theological Seminary when he was President there.[16][17]

Awards and honours

The Torrance family in theology

Iain Torrance's father was the distinguished theologian Thomas F. Torrance, sometime Professor of Christian Dogmatics at New College, Edinburgh, who served as Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1976. His cousin Alan Torrance is Professor of Systematic Theology at St Andrews University. James B. Torrance, sometime Professor of Systematic Theology at University of Aberdeen, was his uncle.


  1. "Duchess of Rothesay to be new Chancellor of the University of Aberdeen". University of Aberdeen. February 15, 2013.
  2. "Court Circular". The Times. July 5, 2013. p. 53.
  3. Fasti Ecclesiæ Scoticanæ. XI. Edinburgh: T&T Clark Ltd. 2000. p. 390. ISBN 0-567-08750-6.
  4. McCall Smith, Alexander (2008). The Comforts of a Muddy Saturday. New York: Pantheon. ISBN 978-0-375-42513-4.
  5. McCall Smith, Alexander (2011). The Forgotten Affairs of Youth. London: Hachette. ISBN 978-0-7481-2804-4.
  6. "Queen honours senior members of the Kirk during her visit to Edinburgh". Church of Scotland. July 7, 2014.
  7. "Court Circular, July 4". The Times. July 4, 2014.
  8. Peterkin, Tom (30 June 2003). "Leader of the Kirk welcomes gay clergy". The Telegraph. Retrieved 2010-03-10.
  9. Bates, Stephen (27 December 2003). "A time for peace on Earth - but not in the royal home". The Guardian. Retrieved 2010-03-10.
  10. Allardyce, Jason (31 October 2004). "Kirk comes out against openly gay ministers". Times Online. Retrieved 2010-03-10.
  11. Torrance, Iain (2004), "The Church of Scotland: Reports to the General Assembly 2004", The Church of Scotland: Reports to the General Assembly, Edinburgh: Church of Scotland Board of Practice and Procedure: 1:2, ISBN 0-86153-357-7
  12. Jeans, Chris. The Case of the Lockerbie Bomber. Al Jazeere documentary, June 2011.
  13. "Princeton Theological Seminary to Inaugurate New President; Welcomes Scottish Professor as its Sixth President.". The America's Intelligence Wire. March 9, 2005. Retrieved 2008-06-11.
  14. Torrance, Iain (2005). The Service of Inauguration and Installation at Princeton University Chapel (video). Princeton, NJ, USA: Princeton Theological Seminary.
  15. "President Torrance to Retire from PTS at the End of 2012". Princeton Theological Seminary. Retrieved 19 October 2011.
  16. "Twitter". Lyon Court. 18 March 2016.
  17. The Public Register of All Arms and Bearings in Scotland. 93. Edinburgh: The Court of The Lord Lyon. 2016. p. 1.
Religious titles
Preceded by
Finlay Macdonald
Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland
Succeeded by
Alison Elliot
Preceded by
Gilleasbuig Macmillan
Dean of the Thistle
Succeeded by
Academic offices
Preceded by
Thomas W. Gillespie
President of Princeton Theological Seminary
Succeeded by
M. Craig Barnes
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