catholic

Resources For Catholics Considering Mormonism

Every so often, I receive questions as to why a Catholic should become a Latter-day Saint, or what resources would be helpful for a Catholic considering conversion to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  As someone who considered his own conversion and testimony for quite some time recently, I hope this post will be helpful.

First and foremost, it is important to understand that the claims of the LDS Church and the Catholic Church are at odds with each other.  Both claim to be the “one true church” with the proper authority from God.  They both can’t be right in that regard.  The LDS Church claims that it is a restoration of the original Church established by Jesus Christ as we read in the New Testament.  In this belief, Latter-day Saints find that certain doctrinal truths were lost over time, and have since been restored in the LDS Church, along with newly revealed and expanded on beliefs and practices.

Further, Mormons believe that the priesthood authority of God has been restored, and is only found in the LDS Church.  This brings me to an important issue: that of authority and sacraments/ordinances.  Latter-day Saints believe that only the LDS Church has the authority from God to perform sacred ordinances, such as baptism, confirmation, ordination, eternal marriage, etc.  In contrast, while the Catholic Church regards itself as being the one true Church, it still believes that valid baptisms can be performed outside of its formal confines, and certain churches, such as the Orthodox Church, can validly perform all of the sacraments, even though they are not in formal communion with the Catholic Church (regarded as being in schism).  This concept never made sense to me.  In Mormonism, the authority of God is only found and validly exercised within Christ’s Church, and only members of the priesthood of Christ’s Church, in communion with its prophets and apostles, can validly perform sacred ordinances.

There are a number of doctrinal issues that separate Latter-day Saints from traditional Christians, and from Catholics specifically.  While each topic could be a separate post, I’ll list some of the issues that I find relevant to Catholics considering Mormonism, as well as some books and resources that would be helpful as you investigate the Church of Jesus Christ.

Apostles and Prophets

-Mormons believe that the true Church is led by apostles and prophets, just like the New Testament Church.  The authority and calling of Apostles is present today.  As we read in the Bible, the Church had twelve Apostles, and there were also Apostles outside of the Twelve.  Similarly, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a Council or Quorum of Twelve Apostles, as well as a “First Presidency” composed of three Apostles.  All are also regarded as prophets who receive revelation from God in directing the Church of Jesus  Christ, just like the ancient Church.

Continuing Revelation

-Mormons believe that revelation continues to this day.  In addition to the personal type of revelation that seems to be found in practically all Christian faiths, we also believe that the words of living prophets become like scripture to us, and we have an open canon of scripture.  Our canonized scriptures can be added to when necessary, and the words of our inspired leaders in settings such as General Conference (a twice a year meeting of the worldwide Church) are studied in addition to the scriptures.

Prayer

-Catholics are used to not only praying directly to each member of the Trinity, but also praying to/through canonized saints and the Virgin Mary.  In contrast, Latter-day Saints only pray to the Father, in the name of Jesus Christ.  We readily accept the reality of Heavenly persons and angels interacting with people on earth, however we do not pray to/through them.

Baptism

-As mentioned, Latter-day Saints believe that only The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has the authority from God to perform necessary ordinances (what Catholics would term “sacraments”).  Therefore, all converts to the LDS Church are baptized, whether or not they were baptized in another church.  Baptism is performed by full immersion, as was done anciently.  I’ve found it interesting that proselyte baptism has been performed in Judaism, and was always done by immersion.  Further, Jews sometimes immerse themselves in a “mikveh” for purification.

-Latter-day Saints also do not practice infant baptism.  LDS follow the example of Jesus Christ and lay their hands on infants to bless them.  LDS believe that infants and children prior to the age of 8 do not need baptism, and if they die, they go to Heaven.  In contrast, Catholics do not know with certainty what happens to unbaptized infants, though they find sufficient reason to hope in the mercy of God (though some retain a belief in Limbo of Infants).  I find the LDS belief very comforting, and based on revelation from God.

Temples

-Like the early Christians and Jews, Latter-day Saints have two types of worship services.  First, on Sundays, we go to our meetinghouses/chapels, where we pray, sing hymns, participate in the Lord’s Supper (we call this “the Sacrament”, and it is blessed bread and water), and listen to sermons or “talks” by members of the congregation.  We also have Sunday School classes where we study the scriptures and doctrines of the Gospel, and other types of classes (women attend Relief Society, men attend various Priesthood meetings depending on their priesthood office).

In addition, we also have temples, which are separate sacred structures, regarded as the literal House of the Lord.  God’s presence is there in a special way, and we participate in various sacred ordinances there.  Like the Biblical temple, access is limited.  One must be living the commandments of Christ, and receive a “recommend card” from their Church leaders to present upon entry.  Because Latter-day Saints believe that certain ordinances are necessary for eternal life (for example, the Bible repeatedly says that baptism is necessary, and gives no exceptions, such as “baptism of desire” or “baptism of blood”, as Catholics believe).  Therefore, God has provided a way for these ordinances to be performed for our ancestors that did not have the opportunity to receive them in life (it is believed that once performed, such “proxy ordinances” present them with the opportunity to accept or reject them in the spirit world).  LDS therefore perform ordinances such as “baptism for the dead”, which was also performed anciently (1 Corinthians 15:29-“Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?”).

In the temple, eternal marriages, called sealings, are also performed.  In this sacred ordinance, the couple kneels at an altar, holds hands, and is married for time and all eternity.  Behind them are mirrors that reflect each other into eternity, symbolizing the union.  Another ritual is known as the “Endowment”.  This temple rite involves many ancient temple practices, such as washing, anointing with oil, receiving a new name, clothing in a sacred garment, ceremonial robes, a presentation on the Creation, the making of covenants with God, prayer, and passing through a veil into the presence of God.  It is very beautiful, highly symbolic, and unique to the Latter-day Saint faith (though again, there are many ancient confirmations for the ritual).  Going to the temple for one’s own Endowment is a great, spiritual day.  In the temple, all “patrons” wear white clothing.

Temple worship is very important to Mormons, and is something many converts look forward to participating in.  The temple is literally my favorite part about being LDS, and what drew me back after a short period of inactivity.  The feeling of the Spirit present in the temple is unlike anything else.  Being in the House of the Lord is something that confirms to many of us the reality of God and His Gospel.

Resources

Although I could go on and on, I think it would be helpful to provide some resources for Catholics looking into Mormonism.  For me, these resources have been extremely helpful, not only when I considered leaving Catholicism, but also helpful in further confirming to me the reality of the Restoration, that Joseph Smith and/or his associates didn’t make it all up, and that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints really is the Lord’s Church, with truly restored ancient beliefs and practices.  As much as I love Catholicism, even miss aspects of it, I know that this Church has the authority from God to perform sacred ordinances, and has the fulness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and that I have never felt as happy and as at peace as I have with the restored Gospel in my life.

Please click the links to get to the resource:

Books

Catholic Roots, Mormon Harvest

The Biblical Roots of Mormonism

Restoring the Ancient Church: Joseph Smith and Early Christianity (outstanding resource!)

Where Have All the Prophets Gone?

Early Christians in Disarray: Contemporary LDS Perspectives on the Christian Apostasy

The Inevitable Apostasy and the Promised Restoration

All Things Restored-Evidences and Witnesses of the Restoration

Why Would Anyone Join the Mormon Church?

Mormonism and Early Christianity

The World and the Prophets

Naturally these are a lot of books.  If I had to choose one or two for you to read, I would suggest “Catholic Roots, Mormon Harvest”, and “Why Would Anyone Join the Mormon Church?” to begin with, as they are easier to read and are targeted to the typical reader.  If you’re interested more in patristics, Early Church Fathers, ancient evidences for LDS beliefs, etc, I’d highly recommend “Restoring the Ancient Church”, “Mormonism and Early Christianity”, and “The World and the Prophets”.  If anything, you must read Restoring the Ancient Church.

Official LDS Resources

First and foremost, please check out Mormon.org to get a basic understanding of what Latter-day Saints believe and do.  You can also find a link to chat with missionaries online, and frequently asked questions.  This is probably what you should do before reading any books, articles, etc.

You can request a free copy of the Book of Mormon here.  Note that the missionaries will contact you to see if you’re okay with them hand delivering it to you, and sharing a message.  I believe they can also just have it mailed to you if you don’t want that.  I remember way back in 10th grade, when I was curious about the Church, requesting a Book of Mormon, and the missionaries called!  Naturally my mother who answered the phone said we don’t need the missionaries over, and they just mailed it.

If you feel like you’d like to meet with the missionaries, use the request form here.  This is how I ended up meeting with the missionaries.  You can contact them if you’d just like to chat about Mormonism, or if you know that you’re ready to become a member of Christ’s Church.  It may take a few days for them to get back to you, so don’t worry like I did.  Also, if you aren’t comfortable meeting with them in your home, they can meet you anywhere, such as a local cafe, park, or the local LDS church building.  I met with the missionaries at the church building.

If you’d like to read more about the basic beliefs of the LDS faith, you can read the Gospel Principles manual online here.

In a later post, I’ll share what it’s like actually converting!

Also, check out this recent devotional talk by an LDS leader, Elder Tad Callister, called the Blueprint of Christ’s Church.  In it, you’ll see that the LDS Church is Biblical, and matches the blueprint of the Church Christ Himself designed.  It is things like this which caused me to get out of my comfort zone in Catholicism, and come to the fulness of the Gospel found in the LDS Church.

View The Blueprint of Christ’s Church here.

The Church has also published a video that documents the beginnings of the Restoration of the Church of Jesus  Christ entitled Joseph Smith-Prophet of the Restoration.  It is long, but well worth it.  View it here:

Finally, the LDS Church has published a new series of videos to introduce people not members of the Church to the basic beliefs, practices, and ideals of Mormons.  I encourage you to view these if you are pressed for time and can’t view the other two videos.  You’ll get an idea of what Mormons believe and what it’s like to be Mormon.  You can find all of them here: Introduction to the Church.  Here are a few that I enjoy:

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Great LDS Review of Critical Books by Catholic Author

Going through my library, I found my copy of the book “Inside Mormonism: What Mormons Really Believe” by Isaiah Bennett, a Catholic priest that converted to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and then converted back to the Catholic faith.  I was browsing through it when I found many clear errors and misrepresentations of LDS beliefs.  The Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, an LDS scholarly apologetic organization at Brigham Young University, has a review of this book (and his other book, “When Mormons Call: Answering Mormon Missionaries at Your Door”) by Barry Bickmore, author of the book “Restoring the Ancient Church: Joseph Smith and Early Christianity“, an excellent book tying unique LDS beliefs to ancient Judaism and Christianity.

I found his review to be quite helpful in articulating why this book really doesn’t present any arguments that Latter-day Saint apologists are not familiar with, and indeed presents arguments that have been decisively addressed.  I especially enjoyed how Bickmore demonstrates the presence of a number of unique LDS beliefs in the writings of various Early Church Fathers, early Christians that Catholic apologists are of course familiar with (and I can already hear the automatic response from them-“they are taken out of context!!!”).  His review can be read here.  I was particularly amused by this section near the beginning of the review-

“Karl Keating,
director and founder of Catholic Answers, writes the following regarding
Loraine Boettner’s book, Roman Catholicism, which relies
heavily on the testimony of former priests to establish “what Catholics
really believe”:
These are the books—written by disaffected ex-Catholics or
by people who never have been Catholic but who have made
their mark in the world by pushing unadorned bigotry—
from which Boettner gets his juiciest information. Relying
on them for the straight story on the Catholic Church is like
relying on a political candidate to tell you all the good points
about his opponent. . . .Now it may well be that a man leaving one religion for
another can write fairly, without bitterness, about the one he
left behind. . . . But it stands to reason that most people who
suddenly think they have an urge to write about their change
of beliefs just want to vent their frustrations or justify their
actions. Their books should be read and used with discretion,
and they should not be used at all as explanations of the
beliefs of their old religion if the books betray the least hint
of rancor.2
It is my hope that the reader will apply the same standard when assessing
Bennett’s writings.”

Proxy Baptism, Prayer for the Dead, and 1 Cor 15:29

As I am readying myself for work at the hospital, I only have time to quickly post on something that I found interesting.

One of the unique practices of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormon Church) is “baptism for the dead”, also known as “proxy baptism”.  This is a ritual (or “ordinance”) that occurs in special buildings called temples, which are only open to Mormons that are deemed “worthy” based on their following of the principles of the faith.  In baptism for the dead, a living person is baptized “for and in behalf of” a deceased person.  This practice is based in part on the LDS belief in the necessity of baptism for salvation, and that it can only be performed on earth.  So, to extend the blessings of baptism to those who did not have a chance to accept it during their earthly lives, LDS baptize themselves on behalf of the deceased, who then have the chance to accept or reject that baptism (proxy baptism does not make a dead person Mormon.  An essential part of proxy ordinance theology is that it extends an offer for the deceased to accept or reject the ordinance.  It is not something that forces a change in that person’s soul).

One of the unique practices of ancient Christianity (found in the Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Churches of the East, etc Churches) is that of prayer for the dead.  In Catholicism, it is believed that the dead have two eternal destinations: Heaven or Hell.  However, some souls may have to be cleansed/purified before entrance to Heaven.  It is believed that this occurs in a place/state called “Purgatory”.  According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

III. THE FINAL PURIFICATION, OR PURGATORY

1030 All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.

1031 The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned.606 The Church formulated her doctrine of faith on Purgatory especially at the Councils of Florence and Trent. The tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire:607

As for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before the Final Judgment, there is a purifying fire. He who is truth says that whoever utters blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will be pardoned neither in this age nor in the age to come. From this sentence we understand that certain offenses can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come.608

1032 This teaching is also based on the practice of prayer for the dead, already mentioned in Sacred Scripture: “Therefore [Judas Maccabeus] made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin.”609 From the beginning the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God.610 The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead:

Let us help and commemorate them. If Job’s sons were purified by their father’s sacrifice, why would we doubt that our offerings for the dead bring them some consolation? Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them.611

Part of the necessity for purification before Heaven is based on the belief in “temporal punishment”, which is essentially what Purgatory is.  Catholics believe that after a sin is forgive, the eternal punishment, i.e. Hell, is gone, however temporal punishment remains.  Catholics will therefore perform penance to rid themselves of this temporal punishment (which again applies after the sin is forgiven).  Indulgences also can forgive temporal punishment (a common misconception is that indulgences forgive sins.  They do not.  An indulgence only “works” after the sin is forgiven, since it is remitting temporal punishment due for sins already forgiven).  Purgatory essentially functions in this line, where, if a person still has temporal punishment after they die, it will be remitted in Purgatory.

Catholics believe that prayer for the dead is important because it can reduce the “time” spent in Purgatory being cleansed.  Catholics not only pray for the dead, but also may offer Masses for the departed as well.  This is all in the hope that the deceased will sooner enter into the presence of God, the beatific vision, in Heaven.

One curious verse in the Bible is 1 Corinthians 15:29-

29Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?

Mormons of course see this as a reference to their own supposedly restored practice of baptism for the dead.  Traditional Christians, who have no ritual known as “baptism for the dead”, interpret this differently.  Whatever the practice is, Paul is clearly saying that there would be no point in it if the resurrection was not real.  Some believe that this was a practice that was not practiced by Paul (nor the early Christians), since he says “they” are baptizing for the dead, which implies (to those using this argument) that those who are proxy baptizing are “other”.

While there are multiple interpretations of what this verse is referring to, I found it fascinating to look into the Catholic commentary on this verse, as well as its usage in Catholic apologetics.  For example, in the Saint Joseph Edition of the New American Bible (a Catholic Bible), we find this statement in the notes:

“Baptized for the dead: this practice is not further explained here, nor is it necessarily mentioned with approval, but Paul cites it as something in their experience that attests in one more way to belief in the resurrection.”

In the Douay-Rheims Bible (another Catholic translation) online, there is this commentary:

“29 “That are baptized for the dead”… Some think the apostle here alludes to a ceremony then in use; but others, more probably, to the prayers and penitential labours, performed by the primitive Christians for the souls of the faithful departed; or to the baptism of afflictions and sufferings undergone for sinners spiritually dead.”

From the Catholic Encyclopedia entry on “Prayers for the Dead“:

Passing over the well-known passage, 1 Corinthians 3:14 sq., on which an argument for purgatoryEpistle (15:29), where St. Paul argues thus in favour of the resurrection: “Otherwise what shall they do that are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not again at all? Why are they then baptized form them?” Even assuming that the practice here referred to was superstitious, and that St. Paul merely uses it as the basis of an argumentum ad hominem, the passage at least furnishes historical evidence of the prevalence at the time of belief in the efficacy of works for the dead; and the Apostle’s reserve in not reprobating this particular practice is more readily intelligible if we suppose him to have recognized the truth of the principle of which it was merely an abuse. But it is probable that the practice in question was something in itself legitimate, and to which the Apostle gives his tacit approbation.

On the Diocese of Lincoln’s website, in answer to the question “When did the practice of prayer for the dead begin?“:

The Catholic Church, from the time Christ founded her, always prayed for the dead. This practice, since its importance was already revealed by God in the Old Testament, however, was also present in ancient Judaism. The earliest Christian liturgies (worship services) contains prayers for the deceased. Tomb inscriptions and all the evidence from the catacombs indicate that the earliest Christians prayed for their dead and had Masses offered for the repose of their soul. Writing in the year 211 A.D. Tertullian said, “We offer sacrifices for the dead on their birthdays and anniversaries”. Rejection of the doctrine of purgatory only came about when Martin Luther abandoned the Catholic Church and invented the Protestant Religion. There are indications of prayers for the dead in the New Testament (2 Timothy 1:16-18 and 1 Corinthians 15:29-30).

The traditional Catholic website “Fish Easters” finds a correlation between 2 Maccabees 12:44 and 1 Corinthians 15:29-

2 Maccabees 12:44
For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. [see 1 Corinthians 15:29 below]

1 Corinthians 15:29
Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf? [see 2 Maccabees 12:44 above]

There are many other examples, but I think that these suffice to make my point.  It is interesting to me that those that do not have a practice of prayer for the dead nor proxy baptism see the “baptism for the dead” of 1 Corinthians 15:29 as something “other” that should not be done.  While a few Catholic sources do mention that argument, they also entertain the view that the practice mentioned is something legitimate, more specifically as a reference to their own prayer for the dead (and it is also very interesting that 2 Macc 12:44 uses similar language in referring to prayer for the dead and the resurrection).

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.”

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

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”.