Month: February 2010

The Traditional Concept of the Trinity

As someone considering conversion to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the “Mormon church”), I, along with all others that come from traditional Christian backgrounds (Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and Protestantism) must come to terms with the difference in our understanding of who God is.  While traditional Christians believe in the Trinitarian view of God, Latter-day Saints do not, and instead believe in what is termed the “Godhead”.

The purpose of this post is not to compare and contrast each view of God.  Instead, I will go over the traditional view of the Trinity.  Why?  In a few Latter-day Saint-related publications and venues, such as General Conference, books, articles ,etc., I have noticed a misportrayal of the Trinity doctrine.  Just to be fair, many Trinitarians themselves incorrectly explain the doctrine, which perhaps contributes to the lack of understanding of it by non-Trinitarians such as LDS.  However, I think that it is even more important for LDS apologists to understand the Trinity doctrine when attempting to debate on it, since it is never helpful to be debating a straw man construct.  LDS do not like when critics misrepresent their beliefs, and nor do traditional Christians (even when that misrepresentation may have originated with a traditional Christian incorrectly explaining the doctrine to the non-Trinitarian, since they would not know this).  Therefore, this article will attempt to define what is meant by the Trinity, so that misperceptions can be cleared up and traditional Christians and Latter-day Saints can discuss and debate on the real differences between their two differing views on God.

The Trinity is defined as the belief in three distinct Persons that are one God.  It will be helpful here to quote from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

253 The Trinity is One. We do not confess three Gods, but one God in three persons, the “consubstantial Trinity”.83 The divine persons do not share the one divinity among themselves but each of them is God whole and entire: “The Father is that which the Son is, the Son that which the Father is, the Father and the Son that which the Holy Spirit is, i.e. by nature one God.”84 In the words of the Fourth Lateran Council (1215), “Each of the persons is that supreme reality, viz., the divine substance, essence or nature.”85

254 The divine persons are really distinct from one another. “God is one but not solitary.”86 “Father”, “Son”, “Holy Spirit” are not simply names designating modalities of the divine being, for they are really distinct from one another: “He is not the Father who is the Son, nor is the Son he who is the Father, nor is the Holy Spirit he who is the Father or the Son.”87 They are distinct from one another in their relations of origin: “It is the Father who generates, the Son who is begotten, and the Holy Spirit who proceeds.”88 The divine Unity is Triune.

These two paragraphs sum up the major points of the Trinity.  What is important to realize here is that the Catechism is clear that “the divine persons are really distinct from one another”.  I cannot emphasize this point enough, and it is one that Latter-day Saints must understand before they attempt to discuss the Trinity with a Trinitarian (or at least one that is knowledgeable on the subject), since it has come up multiple times.  Trinitarians believe that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct from each other.  The Father is not the Son or the Spirit, the Son is not the Father or the Spirit, nor is the Spirit the Father or the Son.

Trinitarians do not believe that Jesus prayed to Himself.  He prayed to the Father, who is distinct from the Son.  In Genesis 1:26, Trinitarians believe that the “us” in “Let us make man…” is a reference to the Trinity, since it is a belief in a plurality of Persons (Tri) in the Unity.  Jesus’ baptism is also another example of the distinction between the Persons.

So, how are the Three, One?  This is perhaps the part that confuses many people.  The Three Persons are said to be “consubstantial”, or of the same substance.  What does this mean?  The important word here is “substance”.  This doctrine actually has origins at the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD.  This word came up in an attempt to describe the relationship between the Father and the Son, specificially if and how the Son, Jesus Christ is divine.  This was in response to the so-called heresy (among others) of Arianism.  From “The Story of Christian Theology” by Olson:

“After some wrangling and little agreement, Constantine himself proposed that the new creed include the affirmation that the Son is homoousios-consubstantial-with the Father.  It may be that Hosius recommended the wording to him and that Hosius may have been influenced in that direction by Alexander and Athanasius.  Another possible source is Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea.  In any case, the compound word homoousios-made up of hte Greek words for “one” and “substance”-was accepted by the majority of bishops to describe the relationship of the Son of God to the Father.  They are “one substance”, or “one being.”

The phrases “one substance” and “one being” are used interchangeably in Trinitarian discourse.  It is these phrases that cause confusion.  If there are three distinct Persons, how can they be one being at the same time?  The problem here is that we are thinking of the word “being” in its modern usage, where we think of one human person as being equivalent to one human being, and use “person” and “being” interchangeably.  This is not the case in Trinitarianism.  We must remember that the Trinity was not formulated in the 21st century, nor was it formulated in the English speaking world.  These words therefore have specific meanings from that specific time, which is what many Trinitarians and non-Trinitarians alike do not realize.

The word “substance” actually comes from the Latin “substantia”, which in turn is a translation of the Greek “ousia”.  Ousia means “essence”, “being”, or “nature”.  So, the Greek “homoousios”, or “one substance/one being” means that the three Persons are of the same essence or nature.  What does that mean?  Olson continues:

The Arian bishops and their sympathizers pointed out that since the Greek word ousia could mean an individual subsistent thing like a person, saying that Father and Son are homoousios could be interpreted as saying that they are identical in every way, including being the very same person in two disguises.  That would be modalism and Sabellianism.  The more common meaning of ousia, however, was “substance” or “being,” and affirming that Father and Son are homoousios simply meant to most of the bishops that they share all the same essential attributes of deity. If the Father is eternal, so is the Son.  If the Son is omnipotent, so is the Father.  And so forth.”

So, it is important to realize that Trinitarians do not believe that the Father and the Son (and the Spirit) are one Person, nor are they attached to each other like some sort of three headed monster.  They are three distinct Persons who are “homoousios” or the same being in that they “share all the same essential attributes of deity”.  I personally prefer the usage of the phrase “one essence” or “one nature” (the Catechism states “divine substance, essence or nature”), since it avoids the confusion of the word “being” in its modern usage.

As we can see, the Trinity doctrine uses words important to philosophy, such as “being”, “person”, “essence”, etc. that must be understood to explain what the doctrine actually means.  While there are many differences between the traditional Trinity and the LDS Godhead, it is important to focus on real differences, and not those based on our misinterpretations of either position.  I would just like to emphasize again that Trinitarians do not believe that Jesus prayed to Himself, nor do they believe that the Father incarnated (was born on the earth as Jesus).  They believe that Jesus prayed to the Father, that the Son incarnated and not the Father, that Jesus’ baptism emphasizes the distinct Persons of the Trinity, and that the “us” in “Let us make man…” emphasizes the multiple distinct Persons of the Divine.  To say otherwise is to confuse Trinitarianism with Modalism, Unitarianism, etc.

I will close with one final point from “Theology and Sanity” by Sheed:

The three Persons are God, not by the possession of equal and similar natures, but by the possession of one single nature; they do in fact, what our three men could not do, know with the same intellect and love with the same will.”

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As Far As It Is Translated Correctly

One of the criticisms of the Latter-day Saint (Mormon) faith is based on its 8th Article of Faith: “We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly;we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God.”

When critics, especially of the Evangelical kind, come across this statement, they frequently believe it to mean that LDS reject the Bible, and can simply reject parts that supposedly don’t agree with their theology as not being “translated correctly”.

Recently, I began to read a somewhat controversial New York Times bestseller, “Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why“, by Bart Ehrman (Ph.D and M.Div from Princeton Theological Seminary, Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill).  In this book, Ehrman discusses (somewhat briefly) what “scripture” is, the evolution of what was considered as “canon” in Judaism and early Christianity, how manuscripts were copied anciently (i.e. by hand), who the scribes were, and the textual variants found among Biblical manuscripts in various languages (English, Greek, Latin, etc).

What does all of this have to do with the LDS church accepting the Bible as the word of God as it is translated correctly?  I think that this article of faith of Mormonism touches on something that many non-Biblical scholar Christians do not realize, or perhaps do not think about: the Bible(s) that we have today is a translation, which was translated from another manuscript that may have also been a translation.  When we look at the various English Bibles available, such as the King James Version, the New International Version, the New American Bible, etc., we note that the differences between these translations are not just about “modern English” versus “archiac English”.  There are actually differences in certain passages, whether certain words are translated differently, certain sentences may be omitted or added, etc.  There are of course differences between the Septuagint (Greek version of the Old Testament) and the Masoretic Text (Hebrew version of the Old Testament).  There are differences among ancient manuscripts such as the Codex Sinaiticus and the Codex Vaticanus.  In some of these comparisons, we find multiple verses missing, differences in wording (some because of similar spelling in the Greek that was misinterpreted), etc.  The “Johannine Comma” is a popular example of extra words appearing in 1 John 5:7-8 that supposedly emphasis the Trinity.  These words do not appear in the most ancient manuscripts of 1 John, but were added much later (in fact, for example, the KJV includes the “comma” (phrase), while the NIV does not).

So, when a traditional Christian states that they believe that the Bible is the inerrant word of God, which Bible are they talking about?  Is it the Latin Vulgate, the King James Version, or the original manuscripts?  I think that all Christians would agree that originals certainly were inspired.  However if what we have today includes additions and substractions caused by various issues throughout the ages, then how can we be certain as to what the original authors really said?  Some may counter that sure, there may have been additions and subtractions, however they don’t change the meanings of the overall texts.  To me, that misses the entire point: if the original text was inspired, then who are we to say that it doesn’t matter if uninspired changes were introduced, some accidently and some intentionally?

This is why I find the LDS article of faith on accepting the Bible as far as translated correctly extremely insightful.  The fact is that Biblical scholars and textual critics aim to find the most ancient manuscripts, comparing them to each other, as well as to our modern translations, understanding how and why they vary.  Since we don’t have the original manuscripts, it is especially important for this work to continue, and for modern Christians to realize that the Bible that we read from is not the same as the Bible that your neighbor may be reading, or the same as the Bible that someone in Egypt is reading, or that someone in the 300s was reading.

With the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, as well as the work in Biblical scholarship, it is clear that the Bible has not always been translated correctly (whether intentionally or unintentionally), Greek, Hebrew and Latin manuscripts vary to various degrees (some more serious than others, including additions of verses not found in older manuscripts, or in converse, some older manuscripts subtracted certainv erses)  and this is something that all have to come to accept and study.  Latter-day Saints therefore are right to qualify their acceptance of the Bible as the word of God in light of the historical realities of Biblical textual scholarship (much of which is done by believers).

Comparing Translations: Textual Criticism and Interpretation

Codex Sinaiticus

Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts

Heyns Lecture Series: Misquoting Jesus

Why Mormonism?

If you have read my “About” page, you already know that I am a “cradle Catholic” that is considering the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, otherwise known as the “Mormon Church”.  While I briefly touch on the reason(s) why on that page, I thought that it would be helpful to explain a little further how I feel about that issue.

When a person leaves one religion for another, no matter what religion it is, members of the initial religion will claim that that person was not knowledgeable on that religion, that they probably didn’t have good experiences in that religion, that they are leaving for cultural/non-theological reasons, etc.  For those leaving Catholicism, this is no different.  As a regular poster on Catholic Answers Forum, I was amused to find that, after I changed my “religion status” from simply Catholic to “Catholic pondering LDS”, I received multiple private messages from people I had never even interacted with before.  On threads that I post in, some people may reference my “pondering LDS” status, and imply that I am not knowledgeable on the “real history” of Mormonism (which of course they are privy to).  One poster even called me “anti-Catholic”, then said he didn’t mean to be offensive about anything in his post, which amused me immensely.  My point is this: Yes, I am very knowledgeable on Catholicism, and was very active;  Yes I am very knowledgeable about Mormonism, and have researched it for a number of years from both sides-pro and “anti” material; No, I am not considering Mormonism for cultural reasons, or because I think they are nice people with a nice lifestyle; Yes, I have researched the unique doctrines of Mormonism, and they are the reason why I am currently “pondering LDS”.

As I mentioned above, I am a “cradle Catholic”.  I was baptized as an infant, and received First Communion and Confirmation in my pre-teen to early teenage years.  I have always loved reading about theology (any).  During high school, I taught two religion courses at my local parish.  I was also a lector (reader), the youngest one in my parish.

After high school, I attended Georgetown University, a major Catholic/Jesuit University in Washington, DC.  There, I studied Psychology and Health Sciences.  In addition, I took coursework in philosophy, the philosophy of ethics, bioethics, Catholic theology, and Hindu theology.

During college, besides other extracurricular activities, I was also involved in the Campus Ministry, where I was a Eucharistic Minister and Lector on campus.  The 12:30pm Mass was an oddity at Georgetown.  It was the “community Mass”, where people that lived in the surrounding Georgetown neighborhood of DC would come, and were involved in coordinating the Mass.  As an “informed Catholic”, I was well read on the issue of liturgics and liturgical rubrics.  I was aware of who should say what, and what was allowed and not allowed (to a general degree).  This Mass had a number of “liturgical abuses”, to the point where I confronted the Mass Coordinator about it.  She informed me that “each Mass has a different flavor, and this is how we do things”.  This was an odd statement, since, yes, one can use different music, decorations, etc., however there are certain “liturgical norms” that must be followed, which simply were not at this Mass.  I was so disturbed that I wrote an article about “losing traditions” in the Georgetown Hoya, the campus newspaper.

Nevertheless, I continued studying Catholicism, as well as attending Mass, as well as Eucharistic Adoration.  I frequently attended the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, a wonderful, HUGE Catholic shrine in DC, on the campus of the Catholic University of America.  However, at one point, I began to be attracted to Eastern Orthodoxy.

Why Eastern Orthodoxy?  I was disturbed by the lack of support in the Bible as well as history for a number of unique Catholic beliefs, such as indulgences, Purgatory, the Treasury of Merits, Papal Infallibility and Supremacy of Jurisdiction, etc.  I found that Eastern Orthodoxy allowed for generally the same doctrines, without those that I found spurious on Biblical and historical grounds (without “forcing” the interpretation or reading things back into history, which many Catholics do with doctriens such as the Immaculate Conception or Papal Infallibility).  I attended Vigil and Divine Liturgy a number of times at Saint Nicholas Cathedral, part of the Orthodox Church in America.  However, there was still something missing.

Being well-read on Christian theology, I was aware of the Mormons.  They intrigued me because of their unique beliefs, scripture, church organization, etc.  There was a difference between the Mormons and others likes the Jehovah’s Witnesses.  Both groups claim a “Great Apostasy” of the original Church established by Jesus Christ.  The difference was, Latter-day Saints claim the entrance of God into time (again) to restore that original church, along with a claim of new scripture (not simply rewriting the Bible as the Jehovah’s Witnesses did), as well as a claim of historical events in the history of the New World.

At first, I was critical of Mormonism, and wrote in that capacity on a few forums, including Catholic Answers Forum and CARM.  I wasn’t necessarily anti-Mormon, however I did read the material, from Mormonism Research Ministry, Institute for Religious Research (perhaps the most scholarly of all), the material on Catholic Answers, Recovery from Mormonism, etc.  I also watched the anti-Mormon videos “Bible vs. the Book of Mormon”, “DNA vs. the Book of Mormon”, and “The Lost Book of Abraham”.

Later on, after reading much of the other side (i.e. LDS apologetics), as well as non-LDS related sources, I began to notice something that brings me to the point of this post: Mormon apologetics, especially in these times, is focused on showing the ancient origin of their beliefs and scriptures, in a way that leads one to wonder how exactly did Joseph Smith know about all of these ancient beliefs and practices (whether or not they are valid)?  Even if one accepts that Smith had help from his associates, if we accept the critical line of thought, they clearly had a huge library of materials on ancient beliefs that were yet to be known, and were able to write a very complex book, the Book of Mormon.

In my time posting on Catholic Answers Forum, I have come to realize that the vast majority of posters there, including the ex-Mormons, are simply not aware of this scholarship, and if they are, they simply dismiss it as false (without addressing the content), since of course they are members of the one, true Church, and the blinders go up.  The fact of the matter is that there is substantial evidence for most of the unique Latter-day Saint beliefs, from non-LDS sources.  What are these beliefs that find ancient support?

-corporeal God

-Pre-mortal existence

-creation from pre-existing material

-“secret”/esoteric ordinances in orthodox Christianity

-the Heavenly Mother

-deification (similarities with the Eastern Orthodox and Catholic concept)

-Divine Council

-Degrees of Glory

-Salvation for the Dead

All of the above (and perhaps others that I forgot) find ancient Judeo-Christian support from non-LDS scholars.  In addition, the Book of Mormon has been shown to include a number of “Hebraisms” (or peculiarities specific to Hebrew language structure) as well as other complex literary structures.  Again, if I accept the “anti” refrain that Joseph Smith made it all up from his mind, he was not only a literary genius aware of complex and obscure (until recent times) Hebrew literary forms, but was aware of a large amount of ancient Judeo-Christian beliefs and practices that scholars had yet to write about.  Clearly Joseph Smith had a large library of ancient texts (sarcasm).

So why Mormonism?  Because there is more to it than critics are wont to admit.  Critics are too quick to dismiss Mormonism as invented by Joseph Smith himself, without addressing the huge elephant in the room: if Joseph Smith invented LDS theology from his mind, how on earth did he, an uneducated young man, know so much about ancient Judeo-Christian beliefs and Hebrew language structure (some that weren’t discovered until long after his time), before he even started to learn Hebrew.  These are not reasons why I or anyone should convert, but they are reasons why Mormonism should be given more thought than critics give it.

Currently, I continue my studies on both sides of the Mormon coin.  In addition to my post-bacc pre-medical studies, I am also learning Biblical Hebrew, and perhaps Biblical Greek at a later time.  And of course much prayer is involved.  We shall see where God leads me.

The Problem of Apostolic Succession

One of the distinctive beliefs of Catholicism (as well as Eastern and Oriental Orthodoxy, among a few other Christian churches) is that of “apostolic succession”.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church states this:

1087 Thus the risen Christ, by giving the Holy Spirit to the apostles, entrusted to them his power of sanctifying: they became sacramental signs of Christ. By the power of the same Holy Spirit they entrusted this power to their successors. This “apostolic succession” structures the whole liturgical life of the Church and is itself sacramental, handed on by the sacrament of Holy Orders.”

Apostolic succession is therefore the belief that Jesus Christ chose and ordained the Apostles, who then chose and ordained their own successors, the bishops, who in turn have authority passed down the ages through the episcopate, to today.  Catholics believe that all validly ordained bishops are successors of the Apostles, and that the Bishop of Rome, the Pope, is specifically the successor of the apostle Peter.  Now, there are a number of issues surrounding how and why the Bishop of Rome is the successor of Peter, a belief that is based on a number of non-Biblical assumptions and premises (such as the belief that because Peter died in Rome, his office therefore rested there), as well as the issue of the See of Antioch being a Petrine See as well (the Church of Antioch being established by Peter, according to tradition).  This post is not in reference to those beliefs.

One aspect of Apostolic Succession that is frequently ignored by those who trumpet it is the issue of how exactly did this succession begin? One book that discusses this issue is From Apostles to Bishops: The Development of the Episcopacy in the Early Church, by Francis A. Sullivan, a Catholic priest and theologian.  While I have not yet finished reading this book (which I will review at a later date), it is clear to me that Sullivan rightfully believes that Apostolic Succession is something that is not readily provable in conception, and therefore must be accepted as a matter of faith.  Sullivan concludes in the first chapter:

Neither the New Testament nor early Christian history offers support for a notion of apostolic succession as “an unbroken line of episcopal ordination from Christ through the apostles down through the centuries to the bishops of today…such scholars (me: Catholics convinced that there is evidence of apostolic succession) agree that along with the evidence from the New Testament and early Christian documents, one must invoke a theological argument based on Christian faith to arrive at the conclusion that bishops are the successors of the apostles “by divine institution”.

Sullivan’s view that apostolic succession is not a simple matter to solve is important.  Far too many times, Catholics will copy and paste a list of bishops from Peter (who we must remember was an Apostle, not a bishop) to Pope Benedict XVI (bishop of Rome today, 2010), and submit this as proof of apostolic succession.

The problem with such an approach is that one needs to demonstrate the beginning of apostolic succession.  Where did Peter, let alone any of the other apostles, designate a bishop as his successor?  The New Testament is silent on this matter.  What is the dating of the earliest document professing an apostolic succession?  For someone to accept the belief in apostolic succession, they must first demonstrate that the apostles designated bishops as their successors, which is not an easy task.  What is the origin of the belief that bishops succeeded the apostles, and did it originate with the apostles themselves?  Even more important: did this belief originate with God?  If so, how do we know?

This issue is what I call “the problem of apostolic succession”.  No one can doubt that the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church (as well as the Oriental Orthodox Churches) have ancient origins.  No one can doubt that the view that the bishops are the successors of the apostles is an ancient view.  No one can doubt that their are lists of bishops purportedly extending back to Peter, for example.  The question is, what is the origin of the belief in apostolic succession?  Where is the proof that the apostles chose bishops as their successors, and did the apostles themselves write about this belief?  Is Irenaeus, in 180 AD, really the first person to claim that Linus was the successor of Peter?  Did Linus himself say anything of the sort?  Why is there confusion as to whether Linus or Clement succeeded Peter?  Who is Linus for that matter, and is he the Linus of the Bible (2 Tim 4:21)?

Why is there nothing known in the very beginnings of the Church about the apostles designating bishops as their successors, and why is there no recorded revelation from God on such an important issue of Church structure (especially since the apostles were not dead yet for the traditional view of “no more public revelation after the death of the last apostle” to apply)?  On the subject of revelation on apostolic succession, an excerpt from the Dogmatic Constitutions on the Church and on Divine Revelation of the Second Vatican Council of the Catholic Church states this:

“The sacred synod teaches that the bishops have by divine institution taken the place of the apostles as pastors of the church in such wise that whoever hears them hears Christ and whoever rejects them rejects Christ and him who sent Christ.”

The Second Vatican Council therefore affirms that apostolic succession was put in place by “divine institution”.  The question is, where is this “divine institution” recorded?  As Father Sullivan states in his book, “Admittedly the Catholic position, that bishops are the successors of the apostles by divine institution, remains far from easy to establish”.

Catholic Roots, Mormon Harvest Review

Recently, I finished reading the book “Catholic Roots, Mormon Harvest-A Story of Conversion and 40 Comparative Doctrines” by Eric Shuster. As a Catholic strongly considering conversion to the LDS Church, this book was a natural choice for me, as I would be able to see how a Catholic couple, raised in the faith and very active and knowledgeable (as am I), came to conversion to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I have been aware of this book for some time, and finally gave in and purchased it from Deseret Book, along with Gospel Principles and Leap of Faith by Bob Bennett.

In reading the book, I focused more on the “40 Comparative Doctrines” part than the conversion story, though I did find it interesting. This review therefore focuses on the doctrinal comparison, since that is extremely important when one is considering leaving one faith for another, especially when there are clear doctrinal differences between the two. I will touch on doctrines that I find to be very important, and hope to be objective in my analysis (instead of relying on what I “feel” or “think” just sounds right or “just makes sense”, which the author tends to do in a few cases). While I am considering becoming LDS, I did not let that color my reading of this book, and found the mis-portrayal of the Catholic doctrinal stance in a few cases.

In Shuster’s analysis of the 40 doctrines, he presents the Catholic view of the doctrine, then the LDS view, then concludes with his analysis (and essentially why he sees the LDS view as more Biblical and “makes sense”, as well as his Catholic background providing the “roots” for the “Mormon harvest”). As sources, Shuster relies on the “Catechism of the Catholic Church” (an extensive official Catholic text that covers practically every aspect of Catholic belief and practice) for the Catholic perspective, and “Gospel Principles” for the LDS perspective.

The doctrines that Shuster covers include: Premortal Life, Creation and the Fall (and Original Sin), Communication to and from God (Revelation, Scriptures, Prayer), the Father Son and Holy Spirit , Angels and Satan, the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ (and Atonement), Priesthood (Structure and Authority, Priesthood Power-Healings and Blessings, Priesthood Marriage and Celibacy, Paid Ministry), Organization (Structure and Church Name), Popes and Prophets, Mary, the Seven Sacraments (Baptism, Reconciliation, Eucharist/Sacrament, Confirmation and Gifts of the Spirit, Matrimony/Marriage, Holy Orders, Anointing of the Sick), Life After Death (Particular or Partial Judgment, Purgatory Limbo and the Spirit World, the Second Coming, the Resurrection, Final Judgment, Hell, Heaven), Earthly and Eternal Families (the earthly family, Temples, Eternal Families, Redeeming the Dead), and a chapter on the “fruits” of each Church pertaining to youth and adults.

The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit

The Trinity is a subject that I have read and written extensively on. Therefore it is no surprise that I read this chapter more closely than others. While I may agree with the LDS perspective on a number of issues, I think that accurate portrayal of what you are critiquing is important, otherwise you are arguing a straw man.

Shuster argues from the view that Catholics believe that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one individual, one Person. This is a popular misconception, especially because very few people realize that Catholics use the words “being” and “person” to mean specific things that they may no longer mean today, especially because we say that one human being = one human person, and use them interchangeably. Shuster goes through a number of Biblical passages that emphasize that the Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Father, etc, since he is arguing from the belief that Catholics believe that they are one and the same (he touches on the usual issues, such as Genesis 1:26, Jesus’ baptism, and Jesus praying to the Father).

It seems as if Shuster missed paragraph 254 in the Catechism, which explicitly emphasizes that “the divine persons are really distinct from one another”. While there are clear differences between the Catholic Trinity and the LDS Godhead, Catholics and LDS agree that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct Persons, that Jesus prayed to the Father (and not to Himself), and that, in the words of the Catechism “God is one but not solitary”. Since Trinitarians are not Unitarians (such as the Oneness Pentecostals), I find it odd that Shuster, a professed ex-Catholic, did not know the reality of three distinct Persons to Catholics.

Priesthood Marriage and Celibacy

It should come as no surprise that Shuster would touch on the issue of clerical celibacy, which is one of the defining characteristics of the Roman Catholic church. Note that I stated “Roman Catholic church” and not Catholic Church. I would venture to say that most Americans, including Catholic Americans, are not aware that the Catholic Church is actually made up of 23 “particular churches”, of which the Roman Catholic church is the largest. The rest fall under the umbrella of “Eastern Catholic churches”, which are, in most cases, communities of Eastern Orthodox that came into union with Rome, and retain their defining characteristics. One of these is the allowance of married men to become priests. While clerical celibacy is a discipline (and not doctrine) of the Roman Catholic or “Latin West”, it is not a practice for priests in the East (whether Orthodox or Eastern Catholic). So I think that this is an important thing to realize when discussing the issue of clerical celibacy, and that one should note that the practice is not universally followed in the Catholic Church, and that, as it is a discipline, it can be changed at any time.

It was interesting to note that a number of Popes in the past were married.

Baptism

The issue of baptism is of course very important to Catholics and LDS. I found Shuster’s argument in this section very convincing, and did touch on the issues of 1) Original Sin and Baptism, 2) Age of accountability and Repentance, and 3) mode of baptism. Shuster notes that the Bible is “very clear” that we must repent and be baptized. He rightly notes that the Catholic Church (and perhaps all churches that practice infant baptism) believes that faith is necessary for baptism. One therefore wonders where the view that someone else’s faith (i.e. parents and godparents) could substitute for the faith of the one being baptized came from. The issue of “mode” is also important. I find that many Catholic authors, such as Scott Hahn, emphasize the symbolism of immersion baptism, yet immersion is not the norm in the Latin West, pouring is. Even the Didache, a 1st century Christian document, gives immersion as the norm, and pouring should be done only if immersion is not possible. The Eastern Orthodox retain immersion as the norm, including for infants. To me, this seems to be a clear case where the LDS maintain a more ancient and biblical view.

The Atonement

Shuster ties the atonement into various doctrinal issues, such as the sacrament of reconciliation. I agree with Shuster that the LDS church emphasizes the atonement and how it relates to practically everything, more than the Catholic Church does. Now, of course Catholics believe in the atonement, and believe that the Mass is a participation in the atonement of Christ. However in my view, Mormons tend to discuss the atonement more (and certainly write more books on it), and emphasize its all-encompassing nature to a higher degree.

I came away from this book with mixed feelings. I enjoyed reading the perspective(s) of a couple that was raised Catholic, was very active, and became LDS, since at times, people like myself may wonder if all that time spent in the Catholic Church was a waste. Most of the doctrinal comparisons were very interesting, however some did not give the full picture of how the Catholic Church sees it, even if one relies on the Catechism as the primary research text, as Shuster did. It is interesting to note the many ways that the Catholic and LDS churches are similar, in ways that many on both sides may not want to acknowledge. While I can agree with Shuster that in many regards, the LDS view on a doctrinal topic just “makes sense”, it makes even more sense to anchor that in Biblical texts (since the Bible is common ground for both groups), instead of on what “sounds good”.

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Just Who Are the Mormons?

Again, welcome to my new blog.  In this post, I will very briefly go over who “the Mormons” are, since their church is what this blog is about.

The Mormons.  When Americans hear that name, I would wager that more times than not, they think about polygamy.  HBO’s hit series, Big Love, doesn’t help that image, where it depicts the life of a Fundamentalist Mormon family (with the first wife described as being a former member of the mainstream Mormon church).  Neither does the recent case involving Warren Jeffs, the leader and “Prophet” of the Fundementalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints.  So, while many people have heard the name “Mormon”, they may not know who they really are.

The proper name of the Mormon church is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (henceforth: LDS Church).  This worldwide church claims 13 million members, over half of which reside outside of the United States of America.  How did this church come into being?  It all began with a teenage boy named Joseph Smith.

Joseph Smith was born in 1805 in Vermont.  About 10 years later, Smith moved with his family to Palmyra, New York (western upstate New York).  A number of years later, in 1820, Joseph Smith became concerned with his soul and religious matters.  He went to the forest near his home, and prayed to God.  Suddenly, he had what the LDS Church believes to be a pivotal vision in the history of the world.  At that moment, Smith saw a pillar of light come down from the sky.  He saw two “personages”: God the Father, and Jesus Christ.  God the Father pointed at Jesus Christ, and said “This is my Beloved Son: Here Him!”.  Joseph Smith asked which church he should belong to.  Jesus Christ then gave a very important answer: none of them.  He said that all creeds were an abomination, and that the “professors” of the creeds are corrupt.

Three years later, Smith had another important vision in Mormonism.  One night before bed, Smith beheld a pillar of light.  In it, another Heavenly being visited.  This was the angel Moroni.  Moroni informed Smith that God had something for him to do: there was a book of gold plates in existence that documented the activities of peoples that lived on the North American continent.  This account contained “the fulness of the everlasting Gospel…as it was delivered by the Savior to the ancient inhabitants”.  Four years later, in 1827, Smith was finally allowed access to the gold plates.  These plates were purportedly written in a language called “reformed Egyptian”. These plates, once translated into English, would become what is now known as the Book of Mormon.

The Book of Mormon tells the story of groups of peoples in North America (the locations are disputed within the LDS Church itself) that originated from the Middle East.  According to the Book, there was a prophet named Lehi that lived in Jerusalem somewhere near 600 BC.  He was informed by God that the city was about to be destroyed.  Because of this, he sailed with a group of people to North America.  When Lehi died, these Hebrews in America split into two groups, named after two of Lehi’s sons: the Nephites, generally the good guys, and the Lamanites, generally the bad guys.  There were many similarities between this new civilization and that of the Middle East, with prophets, temples, wars, etc.  Each of these prophets wrote their accounts of events, many of which are found in the Book of Mormon.  They all prophesied of Jesus Christ.  Somewhere about 34 AD, after Christ ascended to Heaven according to the Bible, the prophet Nephi wrote that Jesus came to America, and ministered to the people there.  Jesus then ascended again, after which war began again in America.  The Nephites were then killed off by the Lamanites in a great battle, and the Lamanites are seen as among the ancestors of the Native Americans.  The prophet Mormon put together the works of the other prophets, inscribing them on the gold plates found by Joseph Smith.  His son Moroni, the same angel that visited Smith, then buried these gold plates.

Throughout the subsequent years, Smith set about to forming the “restored” Church of Jesus Christ, with the “restored Gospel”.  According to Mormon theology, when Jesus established his Church in ancient times, various heresies crept in.  In the end, it resulted in something called the “Great Apostasy”, a falling away from the true Faith of Jesus Christ.  The “keys” were no longer on the earth with the death of the last Apostle. Therefore, it had to be restored, and this occurred 1800 years later, when the Father and the Son appeared to the latter-day prophet, Joseph Smith.

Smith and his associate Oliver Cowdery were visited in the following years by John the Baptist, who restored and ordained them to the “Aaronic Priesthood”.  Afterward, Peter, James, and John also appeared to them, and who restored and ordained them to the “Melchizedek Priesthood”.  Smith continued to receive various revelations from God (indeed, the LDS Church claims that its President, or Prophet, can receive direct revelations from God to guide the church and doctrine) to formulate new doctrine.  These revelations are found in another book of Mormon scripture, Doctrine and Covenants (along with other revelations by subsequent Prophets).  The Pearl of Great Price is another book of scripture, and these four books (the Bible, the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price) are regarded as the “standard works” of Mormon scripture.  Smith was killed in 1844 by a group of people that came to the jail where he was being held.  He was 38 years old.

Throughout the years, the LDS Church has encountered persecution.  It has also believed in and practice various doctrines that I will discuss in this blog, such as polygamy and a ban of black males from the priesthood.  As the LDS Church sees itself as the true Church of Jesus Christ restored on earth, and that there was an apostasy, there are various differences between “traditional Christianity” (though as a Catholic, I will only refer to Catholicism) and Mormonism.  Some of these different doctrines of the LDS Church, that will also be discussed at length in this blog, are:

  • the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are separate Persons that are one in purpose
  • Jesus Christ not only has a glorified body (as Trinitarians believe), but God the Father also has a glorified body of flesh and bones
  • God the Father is married to the Heavenly Mother
  • continued public revelation
  • salvation for the dead, where those that have died can be saved through “ordinances” (ceremonies) that are performed by people on earth, in buildings called “temples”
  • Temples, open only to those that have a “recommend”, where they perform baptism for the dead, the endowment, and sealing (eternal marriage)
  • Three degrees of Heaven: Celestial (highest), Terrestrial, Telestial
  • the pre-mortal existence.  We existed before we were born as literal spirit children of the Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother.
  • exaltation, or the belief that we can become gods
  • a Word of Wisdom, prohibiting the use of alcohol, tobacco, coffee, and tea (at least as so interpreted)

With many high profile members, such as Mitt Romney, Harry Reid, and Glen Beck (a convert), as well as the 50,000 person missionary force that you may have seen at some point, Mormonism has become more known in today’s society.  It is an American born religion that claims to be the restoration of the original and true Church of Jesus Christ, restored by God the Father and Jesus Christ themselves, the only church on earth that holds the priesthood keys, and thus the authority of God on earth.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Website

LDS Church’s Website for “Investigators”

LDS Church’s Website on Jesus Christ

LDS Church’s Website on the Bible

LDS Church’s Website on the Book of Mormon

LDS Church’s Website on Joseph Smith