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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2 comments

  1. Well done my friend. I appreciate your reading my book and giving it a careful and critical review. Your thoughts on the Trinity are interesting and compelling. The fact is the Catholic explanation of the Trinity (much like most of Christendom) is all over the place. You rightfully quote CCC 254 which states “the divine persons are really distinct from one another,” however, the bulk of the CCC focuses on the “oneness” of being. It is pretty tough to wade through the CCC and try to condense it down to something understandable – thus the Catholic bottomline that the Trinity is a mystery beyond human comprehension.

    Tough to explain. Tough to understand.

    Thank you again for your review.

    God bless,
    Eric

    1. Thank you very much for your comment Eric. I agree that the Trinity is difficult to understand, especially if one focuses on the “oneness”, which is the tendency of the Christian West. In Eastern Christianity, there tends to be a focus on the “threeness”. While I found much of your book interesting and enjoyed a number of the doctrinal comparisons, I found the Trinity section very lacking, especially because it is not arguing against Trinitarianism but Unitarianism or Modalism. Trinitarians would also wonder “How can God the Father give up himself as his Only Begotten Son to be sacrificed for our sins” (page 99), since Trinitarians do not believe that. Trinitarians do not believe that three beings are three beings but not be three beings but only being (page 99). Again, the Trinity doctrine was formulated over 1000 years ago, and is using English translations of Greek/Latin words that had specific meanings in that ancient context. Therefore, one cannot use the word “being” as we use it today (interchangeably with “person”) in explaining the Trinity. The Trinity doctrine is quite clearly defined as “three distinct Persons that are one in being/essence/nature”. The word translated as “being” is from the Greek “ousia”, and may also be translated as “essence” or “nature”. If one does not realize this, then they make the Trinity more complicated than it needs to be, and unfortunately, the section on the Trinity falls into this problem. Jesus was not praying to Himself, nor was He calling Himself Father. From the Trinitarian perspective, Jesus was praying to the Father, not Himself. Again, there is a difference between Trinitarianism and Unitarianism and/or Modalism. The way that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three (i.e. in “personhood”) is totally different from how they are one (i.e. their “being” or nature).

      So, I hope you understand that I’m not personally attacking your beliefs or you personally. In critically reviewing your work, I wanted to ensure that the Catholic doctrines were presented correctly. Since I have read extensively on the Trinity, I am a little more critical of those that write on it (whether Trinitarian themselves or not), and like to emphasize that the key to demystifying some of the mystery of the Trinity is understanding the specific meaning of words such as “person” and “being” (the most important word), and how, although we use “being” interchangeably with “person” today, in the Trinity doctrine they have separate meanings and usages, and it would be incorrect to say that three beings are one being (or that the Son prayed to the Father, or that the Father incarnated and was crucified, which is actually a heresy called “patripassianism”).

      Thank you again for commenting.

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