Who Holds the Keys? (Pope or Prophet)
by Barry Bickmore - Representing the
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints'
Position on the "Restored Gospel"
Introduction and Miscellaneous Refutations
The overarching principle governing Steve's approach to the problem at hand seems to be that the earthly Church could not fail, so it didn't. In this round I intend to show that according to the ancient Judaeo-Christian worldview, the continuance of the earthly Church was NOT a given. In fact, the institution of the Church and the preaching of the Gospel by Jesus Christ were thought to be nothing more than a "restoration" of the most ancient religion! Consistent with this, the restoration of the Gospel and the return of the prophets in preparation for Christ's Second Advent was foretold in scripture. Also, I intend to continue a theme I touched on in the last round, namely, that many Latter-day Saint doctrines were present in early Jewish Christianity, whereas the corresponding Catholic doctrines are Hellenized versions of the same. Since the first form of Christianity was Jewish, this is quite a significant phenomenon, and strongly supports the LDS position on the apostasy. First, however, I need to address a few of the points Steve brought up.
Missing the Point
To begin with I need to comment on Steve's lengthy tangent about my inclusion of Anglicans, Orthodox, and Monophysites under the "Catholic" umbrella. I only intended to point out that these groups call themselves "Catholic" and claim to trace an unbroken episcopal succession back to the Apostles, so about a third of Steve's rebuttal entirely misses the point.
Evading the Issues
In some instances Steve's rebuttal completely evades the issues. For example, Steve asserts that the office of Apostle was only a temporary provision, and "when the criteria for being an 'apostle' could no longer be met, no others were appointed to that position." What were these criteria? Steve quotes Acts 1:20-22 to support his notion that all "Apostles" must have accompanied the Lord from the baptism of John onward, and must have been eyewitnesses to Jesus resurrection. First, the scripture never says that these were to be general requirements for all future Apostles - only that these were the guidelines they chose to use when selecting a replacement for Judas. Indeed, the Apostle Paul failed the first test! Some have argued that the first Twelve Apostles (not including Judas) were Apostles with a capital "A", while others, like Paul, were only "apostles" in the sense that they were sent out with the message of the Gospel. However, this is contradicted by Polycrates, bishop of Ephesus near the end of the second century, whom I quoted reporting the tradition that Philip had become "one of the twelve apostles."1 Furthermore, Steve ignored Paul's statement that the FULL Church organization, including Apostles, prophets, etc. should continue in the Church "till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: that we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive." (Ephesians 4:11-14) Since none of these conditions have been met, I must conclude that Apostles are a necessary part of the Church.
Similarly, Steve evades the issue when he addresses my assertion that the Papacy cut itself off from any legitimate priesthood it might have retained in the Middle ages. In the face of fourth century Catholic canon law, which states that any bishop who is appointed through political means shall be cut off along with all those in communion with him, Steve simply asserts that certainly "ALL the bishops throughout the world" never cut themselves off in this way. However, I went to great pains to show that there had been POPES who had thus cut themselves off. Therefore, these POPES and all those who accepted their authority would have been cut off by the standards of the early Church. If "ALL the bishops throughout the whole world" accepted the authority of these POPES, then "ALL the bishops throughout the whole world" were cut off by this standard. Period.
The tendency to interpret texts anachronistically is nowhere more evident than in Steve's argument against continuing public revelation. First Steve asserts (without evidence) that there were no more prophets after John the Baptist, but in the same breath admits that those who wrote the books of the New Testament were prophets. He quotes the Didache, Deuteronomy 12:32, and Revelation 22:18-19 to the effect that "you shall keep what you have received, adding nothing to it nor taking anything away", and asserts that this precludes any further public revelation. However, when Moses said, "See that you observe everything I command you: you must not add anything to it, nor take anything away from it," (Deuteronomy 12:32 NEB) he said it in the context of delivering the Law of Moses to the Israelites. What does this say about the Christian revelation, which certainly added some things and took away others from the Law of Moses? Should we throw it all out? What about the writings of Israelite prophets after Moses? Clearly these passages are injunctions against any who would tamper with the revelations of God. Men can't add or take away anything from God's pronouncements, but God can.
Steve also quotes Tertullian (ca. 200 A.D.) to the effect that no more revelation was needed after the Apostles. I could dwell on the fact that Tertullian changed his mind a few years later when he became a Montanist, but for now I'll simply note that of course he had to claim that, since his church was no longer guided by revelation. Should we assume that Tertullian's opinion was the same as that of earlier Christians? On the contrary, Bishop Wand (Anglican) discloses that the canon was not closed by divine decree, but out of the necessity to combat the Montanist heresy. "The best defence set up by the Church against such conversions [as Tertullian's] was to close the canon of scripture, and by so doing to deny any authority to the Montanist prophecies." In this way "the possibility of a new revelation was excluded...."2
But it never occurred to anyone to close the canon until nearly the third century! Historian Willem Van Unnik writes that until that time the Christians would have had no objection whatever to "someone... add[ing] something to the word of the Gospel."3 The very existence of a document such as theShepherd of Hermas shows that the possibility of a new word of revelation was nothing to be wondered at. A number of prominent early Christian writers, including Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Origen quoted the Shepherd as one of the books of Holy Scripture4, and it hovered on the edge of the canon for centuries.5 However, it purports to be a series of revelations given toone other than the apostles or their associates in the first half of the second century. Indeed, included in the Shepherd is a series of mandates which Hermas was commanded to write for the benefit of all who might read them.
"Accordingly I wrote down the commandments and similitudes, exactly as he had ordered me. If then, when you have heard these, ye keep them and walk in them, and practise them with pure minds, you will receive from the Lord all that He has promised to you. But if, after you have heard them, ye do not repent, but continue to add to your sins, then shall ye receive from the Lord the opposite things. All these words did the shepherd, even the angel of repentance, command me to write." 6
[Note: This seems like a good place to note that Steve is still claiming that Clement of Rome (ca. 96 AD) "talks about the authority as Bishop of Rome and head of the Church," when in fact Clement claimed only the authority of the Holy Spirit, and said not one word about the authority of the bishop of Rome, as such. Clement claimed no more nor less than Hermas, who was only the brother of a future bishop of Rome.]
Dispensations - a Gospel for All Ages
How could true Christianity have been lost? The possibility seems unthinkable to Steve, and is undoubtedly so for many of our Catholic readers. Joseph Smith taught that such a thing was no novelty, because it had happened before. The Gospel has been preached on earth since the beginning, starting with Adam and Eve. Thus, Adam could be termed the first Christian. (See Moses 6:52-60) Whenever the Gospel has been preached, however, and the priesthood given, sooner or later apostasy occurred and the authority and truth of God was removed. Therefore, in periods of apostasy men were left with as much or as little truth as they could cope with. "For behold, the Lord doth grant unto all nations, of their own nation and tongue, to teach his word, yea, in wisdom, all that he seeth fit that they should have...." (Alma 29:8) But when a people is ready, "It is in the order of heavenly things that God should always send a new dispensation into the world when men have apostatized from the truth and lost the priesthood...."7 The dispensation inaugurated by the revelations and ordination of Joseph Smith is the last dispensation before the Second Coming of Christ, and is termed the "dispensation of the fulness of times" because it will "bring to light the things that have been revealed in all former dispensations; also other things that have not been before revealed."8
Non-Mormon scholar Heikke Raisanen wrote that the Prophet's doctrine was to him a thing of "pure logic and downright beauty," and he noted that similar concepts may be found in Clement of Rome's (ca. 96 AD) letter and in the Pseudepigrapha.9 Indeed, Joseph Smith's doctrine agrees with many early Christian writings. Paul insisted that the Lord had "preached before the gospel unto Abraham, [saying], In thee shall all nations be blessed." (Galatians 3:8) And Ignatius of Antioch agreed that the prophets knew of and preached Christ: "For the divinest prophets lived according to Jesus Christ. On this account also they were persecuted, being inspired by grace to fully convince the unbelieving that there is one God, the Almighty, who has manifested Himself by Jesus Christ His Son, who is His Word, not spoken, but essential."10 Compare this with a statement by the Book of Mormon prophet, Jacob: "Behold, I say unto you that none of the prophets have written, nor prophesied, save they have spoken concerning this Christ." (Jacob 7:11) Early writers like Tatian (ca. 170 AD), Theophilus (ca. 181 AD), and Eusebius (early fourth century) all agreed that the gospel was no recent invention, but, in fact, very ancient. "Let us, then, institute a comparison between them; and we shall find that our doctrines are older, not only than those of the Greeks, but than the invention of letters."11 "These periods, then, and all the above-mentioned facts, being viewed collectively, one can see the antiquity of the prophetical writings and the divinity of our doctrine, that the doctrine is not recent, nor our tenets mythical and false, as some think, but very ancient and true."12 "If any one should assert that all those who have enjoyed the testimony of righteousness, from Abraham himself back to the first man, were Christians in fact if not in name, he would not go beyond the truth...."13 Jean Cardinal Danielou mentions some of these early authors and admits that this was the position of "the earliest Christian theologians".14
What about those who do not receive the Gospel? Clement of Alexandria and Eusebius agreed with the philosophy found in The Book of Mormon that God gives as much wisdom and knowledge to a nation as it is capable of receiving.15 And some readers might be interested to know that Joseph Smith believed the Catholics had preserved more truth than any Protestant sect. "The old Catholic church traditions are worth more than all you have said.... The character of the old churches have always been slandered by all apostates since the world began."16
[Note: This is an important concept for the Catholic reader to grasp. We do see the creeds of Christendom as an "abomination", as Steve noted, because the creeds add the philosophies of men to the revelations of God. However, there is still much truth there. Steve quotes a Book of Mormon reference to "the great and abominable church" (1 Nephi 13:25-29) and applies it exclusively to Catholicism, but Nephi applies this term to "all that fight against Zion" (1 Nephi 22:14) and "all churches which are built up to get gain, and... to get power..., and... to become popular in the eyes of the world,... and... seek the lusts of the flesh and the things of the world, and to do all manner of iniquity...." (1 Nephi 22:23) This is not any particular earthly organization, but "the kingdom of the devil". (1 Nephi 22:22) To whatever extent Catholics, Protestants, Hindus, or even Latter-day Saints fit the bill, they are part of the "great and abominable church". Even during the apostasy, when the wheat and tares were growing all together, there was still some wheat (Matthew 13:24-30; cf. Matthew 13:47-50), and "All who have died without a knowledge of this gospel, who would have received it if they had been permitted to tarry, shall be heirs of the celestial kingdom of God." (D&C 137:7) Steve goes on and on about Christ "abandoning" His Church, but Latter-day Saints see the removal of Priesthood authority in response to apostasy as the act of a loving God. Since conditions were not right for the continuation of the Church in its purity, God removed it for a time but now is gathering the wheat (both living and dead) from the tares in preparation for the Second Advent. This is exactly the scenario alluded to in the parables Steve quotes - the wheat is not gathered in till the end times.]
This same principle governed the institution of the lesser law - the Law of Moses. Paul preached that the Law of Moses was a lesser or preparatory law, designed to lead Israel to Christ, added because of their transgression. "Wherefore then [serveth] the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; [and it was] ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator." (Galatians 3:19) But Paul also insisted that the Gospel was preached to the Israelites. "For unto us was the Gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith." (Hebrews 4:2)
Joseph Smith not only accepted Paul's teachings on these matters17, he added a striking twist. According to a revelation the Prophet received as an inspired addition to the Bible, Moses was given the full Gospel law on the first set of stone tablets, but then received the lower law on the next set after he broke the first when he saw the Children of Israel had reverted to idolatry.
"And the Lord said unto Moses, Hew thee two other tables of stone, like unto the first, and I will write upon them also, the words of the law, according as they were written at the first on the tables which thou brakest; but it shall not be according to the first, for I will take away the priesthood out of their midst; therefore my holy order, and the ordinances thereof, shall not go before them; for my presence shall not go up in their midst, lest I destroy them. But I will give unto them the law as at the first, but it shall be after the law of a carnal commandment." (JST Exodus 34:1-2)
Consider the similarity of the preceding passage with this next one from the second-century Epistle of Barnabas, a thoroughly "orthodox" Jewish Christian work:
"Yes [it is even so]; but let us inquire if the Lord has really given that testament which He swore to the fathers that He would give to the people. He did give it; but they were not worthy to receive it, on account of their sins. For the prophet declares, 'And Moses was fasting forty days and forty nights on Mount Sinai, that he might receive the testament of the Lord for the people.' And he received from the Lord two tables, written in the spirit by the finger of the hand of the Lord. And Moses having received them, carried them down to give to the people. And the Lord said to Moses, 'Moses, Moses, go down quickly; for thy people hath sinned, whom thou didst bring out of the land of Egypt.' And Moses understood that they had again made molten images; and he threw the tables out of his hands, and the tables of the testament of the Lord were broken. Moses then received it, but they proved themselves unworthy. Learn how we have received it. Moses, as a servant, received it; but the Lord himself, having suffered in our behalf, hath given it to us, that we should be the people of inheritance." 18
At first the question of why Christianity abandoned this enlightening doctrine might seem baffling, considering how widespread it was in the first few centuries after Christ. However, since the doctrine of dispensations opened up the disconcerting possibility that the gospel may have been lost once again through all their innovations, it is understandable why later churchmen would reject it in favor of the theory of a "once for all" revelation in Christ, which affirmed their authority.19
Predictions of a Restoration
We have seen that the concept of a "restoration" of the true faith was part and parcel of the ancient Christian worldview. Indeed, while Jesus' mission to work the Atonement was unique in history, Christ's teaching mission was a restoration of the full Gospel message, which had been taught from the beginning, but lost by the Jews. Consistent with this, it was predicted by the ancient Christians that a restoration of the Gospel, and a return of the prophets, would occur in the period just prior to the Second Advent of Jesus Christ.
The Restoration of All Things
While speaking to the crowd on the day of Pentecost, Peter predicted that the heavens must receive Jesus "until the times of restitution of all things." (Acts 3:20-21) Was this merely a reference to the Millennial reign of Christ, or was it also an oblique reference to the fact that the Gospel would have to be restored in preparation for that reign? Peter gives us a clue in his first general letter, where he announced that "the end of all things is at hand", (1 Peter 4:7) and later warned the saints of the "fiery trial" which was coming to them, for "judgment must begin at the house of God". (1 Peter 4:12, 17) "All things" was here a reference to the pure Gospel teaching. "According to his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord." (2 Peter 1:3, italics mine) Therefore, unless Peter was greatly mistaken about the timing of the Lord's second advent - and Peter's second letter makes it clear that he had no such starry-eyed expectations (see 2 Peter 3:8) - what was the "end of all things" but the loss of the pure Gospel message through apostasy? And what could a "restitution of all things" be but the restoration of the Gospel?
This point is supported by the Latter-day Saint and early Christian doctrine of Elias. "Elias" is the Greek form of the Hebrew name "Elijah". In the last verses of the Old Testament the promise is made: "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord...." (Malachi 4:5) After Elijah himself appeared before Jesus, Peter, James, and John on the Mount of Transfiguration, Jesus told his disciples to tell no one of the vision until after His resurrection from the dead. But then the Apostles asked:
"Why then say the scribes that Elias must first come? And Jesus answered and said unto them, Elias truly shall first come, and restore all things. But I say unto you, That Elias is come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they listed. Likewise shall also the Son of man suffer of them. Then the disciples understood that he spake unto them of John the Baptist." (Matthew 17:3-13)
What did Jesus mean when He said John the Baptist was Elias, even though Elijah and Moses had just appeared? The angel Gabriel told John's father that he would "go before him in the spirit and power of Elias...." (Luke 1:17) Therefore, it must be that anyone who is called of God to be a forerunner of the Kingdom, as John was, acts in the "spirit and power of Elias".
This must apply to other prophets as well as John, for Jesus not only said that "Elias has come already," but also that "Elias truly shall first come, and restore all things." Thus, a restoration would still be needed in the future, just as the Latter-day Saints have proclaimed. Noting the many persons the revelations of Joseph Smith identify as "Elias", modern Apostle Bruce R. McConkie summarized the LDS doctrine: "... Elias is a composite personage. The expression must be understood to be a name and a title for those whose mission it was to commit keys and powers to men in this final dispensation."20 And as with the Lord's first advent, Latter-day Saints believe that Elijah himself was one of the heavenly visitors who appeared to Joseph Smith (as well as Oliver Cowdery) to restore "keys and powers." (See D&C 110)
Certainly Joseph Smith could have at least partially gotten this doctrine from the Bible, but then I am aware of no other group besides the Mormons who have any developed concept of a similar dogma. Here again, Joseph struck upon a prominent doctrine of the early Church that had been lost. For example, Hippolytus (ca. 200 A.D.) indicated that various forerunners would appear to prepare the way for the second advent of the Savior:
"[The Savior] is to be manifested again at the end of the world as Judge. It is a matter of course that His forerunners must appear first, as He says by Malachi and the angel, [Malachi 4:5-6]. These, then, shall come and proclaim the manifestation of Christ that is to be from heaven; and they shall also perform signs and wonders, in order that men may be put to shame and turned to repentance for their surpassing wickedness and impiety." 21
Justin Martyr explained the doctrine of Elias in similar terms to Trypho the Jew, asking, "shall we not suppose that the word of God has proclaimed that Elijah shall be the precursor of the great and terrible day, that is, of His second advent?..."22 According to John Chrysostom, John was to be the forerunner of Christ's First Advent, and Elias would be the forerunner of the Second: "John is Elias, and Elias John. For both of them received one ministry, and both of them became forerunners."23 Similarly, Victorinus, Methodius, Cyprian, Lactantius, Jerome, Augustine, and Theophylact all expressed the belief that Elijah would come to "restore all things" before the Second Coming of the Lord.24
The Renewal of the Apostolic Commission
Another prediction of the Restoration occurs in Revelation 14:6. In this verse John spoke of an angel who was to appear before the second coming of Christ, "having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people." In other words, the angel was to renew the Apostolic commission in Matthew 28:18-20. But as was noted above, the Gospel restored by angelic messengers through Joseph Smith was to encompass all the knowledge and powers of past dispensations, but also "things that have not been before revealed".25 Similarly, the third-century theologian Origen interpreted the verse as a reference to the preaching of a Gospel that was even greater than the one had by the Christianity of his day. More than a century after Origen wrote, Jerome gave this summary of Origen's teaching which was condemned by the Church of his time: "[Origen says] that according to the apocalypse of John 'the everlasting gospel' which shall be revealed in heaven as much surpasses our gospel as Christ's preaching does the sacraments of the ancient law...."26 Therefore, the restoration of the Gospel was not onlynecessary and expected, but Joseph Smith correctly promised an expansion of the principles formerly revealed.
The Restoration of Ancient Christian Doctrines
In the last round of the debate I showed that the Christian concept of God changed as it was adapted to the God of the philosophers. This point is not really in dispute, since anyone who has studied the history of early Christian doctrines readily recognizes this fact. For instance, when summarizing Cardinal Newman's theory of doctrinal "development", Catholic author Michael M. Winter notes, "This progress was brought about by influences such as the interplay of revelation and philosophy...."27 Newman claimed that this interplay was all part of the Divine plan, but I tend to doubt this, because the Apostles consistently warned against the adoption of the worldly philosophies current in their day. "Be on your guard; do not let your minds be captured by hollow and delusive speculations, based on the traditions of man-made teaching... and not on Christ." (Colossians 2:8 NEB) Paul also wrote, "As God in his wisdom ordained, the world failed to find him by its wisdom, and he chose to save those who have faith by the folly of the Gospel," and he called the Gospel "folly to Greeks". (1 Corinthians 1:21-23 NEB) James Shiel of the University of Sussex agrees that "Saint Paul's letters [contain] a severe warning against Greek philosophy as a dangerous deception"28 Jean Cardinal Danielou writes that "If we now examine the forms of thought and philosophical systems current at the time when Christianity first made its appearance in the world, it is clear that they were by no means ready to assimilate this Christian conception: on the contrary, they were wholly antagonistic thereto."29 However, Shiel notes that a few generations after the Apostles, one "comes upon a reversed situation. The religious message is now framed in philosopher's language, reminiscent at every turn of Heraclitus or Plato or Aristotle or Cleanthes or Epictetus. Indeed, the Christian religion is now occasionally called a philosophy and its founder described as a philosopher."30
The question we must examine here, then, is whether the Hellenistic Catholic version of the Gospel replaced something else - something similar to the LDS message. In the last round I simply assumed that the Hellenized version replaced a Jewish version. This was a valid assumption, since J.N.D. Kelly of Oxford University notes that the first form of Christian theology "was taking shape in predominantly Judaistic moulds..."31, and Cardinal Danielou states that "there was a first form of Christian theology expressed in Jewish-Semitic terms."32 Danielou33 describes a host of Jewish Christian heretical sects in post-Apostolic Christianity, including the Ebionites, Elkesaites, and others. These ranged from strictly Jewish groups who merely believed in Jesus as the greatest of the prophets, to Gnostic speculations that drew heavily on the apocalyptic tradition of Israel for their beliefs. Apart from these were more moderate strains of Jewish Christianity, originally accepted as "orthodox", known to us from their apocryphal literature, as well as such writings as Barnabas, the Pastor of Hermas, and miscellaneous traditions scattered throughout the writings of more Hellenized Christians. Gradually, these groups lost their vitality and were melded into the Hellenized congregations.34
In fact, Mormonism has significant ties to this first form of Christianity. W.D. Davies of Duke University observes that "Mormonism is the Jewish-Christian tradition in an American key.... What it did was to re-Judaize a Christianity that had been too much Hellenized."35 However, Kelly notes that "conditions [in the early centuries of Christianity] were favorable to the coexistence of a wide variety of opinions even on issues of prime importance,"36 and this is true not only of the myriad of Jewish Christian sects, but also of the Hellenized Church Fathers Catholics tend to quote. Therefore, it isn't possible to historically pinpoint exactly what the original Church believed on many issues, but it is possible for us to inquire whether Latter-day Saint doctrines can be found in ancient Jewish Christianity. Therefore, my thesis for this section is that Latter-day Saint doctrines can be found within ancient Jewish Christianity, while the corresponding Catholic doctrines can be shown to have been Hellenized. We don't necessarily expect to findall of our doctrines there, since very few Jewish Christian documents have survived and Joseph Smith claimed to reveal some points that had never before been revealed, but we clearly can expect to find quite a few.
[Note: At several points in this discussion I will be referring to Cardinal Danielou's series, A History of Early Christian Doctrine Before the Council of Nicaea, especially volumes 1 and 2, The Theology of Jewish Christianity and Gospel Message and Hellenistic Culture. Also his The Lord of History, where he rationalizes the historical data into a theology of history. I will refer to Danielou so frequently because not only was he an excellent historian who specialized in early Christian doctrine, but a Catholic Cardinal, so I expect his judgments will carry some weight with our readers.]
Creatio Ex Nihilo?
One distinctive doctrine of the Latter-day Saints is that "God had materials to organize the world out of chaos - chaotic matter, which is element.... Element had an existence from the time he had. The pure principles of element are principles which can never be destroyed; they may be organized and re-organized, but not destroyed. They had no beginning, and can have no end."37 On the other hand, a tract entitled "Creation Out of Nothing" from Karl Keating's "Catholic Answers" organization asserts against Mormonism that, "From the very beginning of Christian history - in fact, from before the time of Christ in faithful Judaism - the people of God have held to the divinely revealed principle that God made everything that exists... and that he created everything out of nothing."38 Which is the true ancient Jewish and Jewish Christian belief?
A cursory examination of the early evidence yields initially confusing results. For instance, The creation account in Genesis indicates creation from a watery chaos: "In the beginning of creation... the earth was without form and void, with darkness over the face of the abyss, and a mighty wind that swept over the surface of the waters." (Genesis 1:1-2 NEB) Also, the Wisdom of Solomon teaches that God "created the world out of formless matter." (Wisdom of Solomon 11:17 NEB) But 2 Maccabees asserts that "God made [the sky and the earth] out of nothing, and... man comes into being in the same way." (2 Maccabees 7:28 NEB) Paul seems to imply creation out of nothing: "God... summons things that are not yet in existence as if they already were." (Romans 4:17 NEB) And yet Peter's language seems to recall the Genesis account of creation from a watery chaos: "In taking this view they lose sight of the fact that there were heavens and earth long ago, created by God's word out of water and with water...." (2 Peter 3:5 NEB) Indeed, in the very same verse Paul writes that God "fashioned" (Greek katertisthai = "adjusted, put in order again, restored, repaired") the universe, but in such a way that "the visible came forth from the invisible." (Hebrews 11:3 NEB) The second-century Pastor of Hermas asserts that God "made out of nothing the things that exist,"39 but in another passage clearly presupposes creation from a watery chaos: "By His strong word [He] has fixed the heavens and laid the foundations of the earth upon the waters...."40 Similarly, Frances Young writes that Philo the Jew, who lived at the time of Christ, spoke of things being "created from nothing" in some passages in his writings, but clearly took for granted the concept of creation from chaos.41 What gives?
Frances Young, David Winston, Gerhard May, and many other scholars have shown that before the second century, the concept of creation "ex nihilo" was foreign to both Judaism and Christianity (and everyone else, for that matter). Peter Hayman indicates that there is only one recognized scholar who has recently worked on the problem of its origin, Jonathan Goldstein, who still maintains that the doctrine originated within Judaism, and even he admits his case is weak.42 What did the earlier writers mean when they said God created things "out of nothing"? Frances Young explains their seemingly contradictory language thus: "God could conceivably bring into existence 'things' which do not exist before, without such language excluding pre-existent 'stuff'."43 Indeed, Tertullian (ca. 200 AD), who argued for the doctrine of creation out of nothing against Marcion, had to take this type of usage into account. "The Creator's works... spring indeed out of nothing. And even if they were made out of some (previous) matter, as some will have it, they are even thus out of nothing, because they were not what they are."44
So where did the doctrine of creation "ex nihilo" originate? Edwin Hatch, in his groundbreaking study of the influence of Greek ideas on Christianity, wrote that the theory originated with the second-century Gnostic philosopher, Basilides, and was quickly adopted into the Christian Church starting with Tatian (ca. 170 AD).45 Frances Young agrees with this judgment, and notes that the theory is a "radicalising" of the Greek notion of matter as a lower form of reality.46 David Winston argues that Christian thinkers readily adopted creation exnihilo because it provided a good argument against the extreme Gnostic position that matter is not just a lower reality, but actually evil.47
"The Offspring of God"
Some readers might think that the issue of whether God created out of "nothing" or "something" is merely academic. Does it really matter (pun intended)? It turns out that the adoption of the doctrine of creation "ex nihilo" had the most profound implications for later Christian theology. For example, Frances Young concludes his study with the observation that "underlying the most crucial episode in the emergence of the Christian doctrine of God, namely the reply to Arianism [culminating in the Nicene Council], was affirmation of creation out of nothing."48 How does the concept of God taught in the Nicene Creed depend on this innovative doctrine? Creation out of nothing puts everything in two categories - "God", who is self-existent and immaterial, and "everything else", which is created from nothing. The Arians contended that since the "Divine Substance" (adopted by the Christians from the Greek philosophers to describe God) is totally unique and indivisible, the Son must be created out of nothing (so as not to create a division in God). The aim of the creeds adopted in councils over the 50 years or so after the Council of Nicea was to exclude the Arians from "orthodoxy" by asserting and sometimes explaining how the Son can be a different person than the Father, but still be fully God without dividing the indivisible.
Consider how different the whole mindset of these councils was from that of the Latter-day Saints. For us, God is a perfect being with all knowledge and all power, but He is not "totally other". He didn't create the universe out of nothing, and while humans, angels, and other gods fall short of His glory and/or perfection in varying degrees, they are not fundamentally different from Him. It is certain that the concepts set out in the creeds are governed by Hellenistic assumptions, and as Edwin Hatch points out, would have been unintelligible to Christ and the Apostles.49 But how does the Latter-day Saint concept of the relatedness of God and men compare to the theology of ancient Judaism and Jewish Christianity?
While discussing the doctrine of God in the last round I noted that the LDS doctrine that the Father has a body in human shape was believed by the Jews and many Jewish Christians as late as the third century. For instance, Christopher Stead of the Cambridge Divinity School notes that, "The Hebrews... pictured the God whom they worshipped as having a body and mind like our own, though transcending humanity in the splendour of his appearance, in his power, his wisdom, and the constancy of his care for his creatures."50 Indeed, one of the few surviving post-Apostolic Jewish Christian documents, the Clementine Homilies (third or fourth century, but based on a second century source document), preaches the same thing: "And Simon said: 'I should like to know, Peter, if you really believe that the shape of man has been moulded after the shape of God.' And Peter said: 'I am really quite certain, Simon, that this is the case.... It is the shape of the just God.'"51
A Catholic might object to LDS and early Christian anthropomorphism by quoting John 1:18: "No man hath seen God at any time...." How could anyone know what shape the Father has, if no one has ever seen Him? And what of Joseph Smith's claim to have seen the Father? The LDS explanation is that a man in his natural state cannot endure the presence of God. It is only possible to see the face of God if one is transfigured by the "glory of the Lord". (See Moses 1:2, 13-14) Peter, in the Homilies, offers a similar explanation: "For I maintain that the eyes of mortals cannot see the incorporeal form of the Father or Son, because it is illumined by exceeding great light.... For he who sees God cannot live. For the excess of light dissolves the flesh of him who sees; unless by the secret power of God the flesh be changed into the nature of light, so that it can see light."52
The same document has the following to say about the relationship between God and man:
"Learn this also: The bodies of men have immortal souls, which have been clothed with the breath of God; and having come forth from God, they are of the same substance, but they are not gods. But if they are gods, then in this way the souls of all men, both those who have died, and those who are alive, and those who shall come into being, are gods. But if in a spirit of controversy you maintain that these also are gods, what great matter is it, then, for Christ to be called God? for He has only what all have." 53
Several points need to be taken from this quotation. First, while men obviously are not "gods" at this time, they are "of the same substance" as God. J.N.D. Kelly notes that before the council of Nicea the term "of one substance" (Greek homoousios) simply meant "the same kind of being".54 Second, the "one God" is the Father here, as I discussed in the last round. Third, Christ is also the same kind of being as other men, because "he has only what all have". (Note: this does not imply that Christ is not unique among men, for He was God from the eternity before the creation, and He was born of a virgin.) Fourth, the first sentence strongly implies the pre-mortal existence of the soul, and indeed this doctrine is explicitly taught in the Clementine Recognitions, which are based on the same source document.55 The main point one should take away from this, however, is that in ancient Jewish Christianity the great gulf separating God and man was simply not there. As Paul told the Athenians, "For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring." (Acts 17:28)
"God is Spirit"
In response to my assertion that God has a body, I expect Steve will appeal to Jesus' statement that "God is Spirit". (John 4:24 NEB) (This verse can be translated either "Spirit" or "a Spirit", but most modern translations choose the former to be consistent with some of John's other statements.) But John undoubtedly meant this statement in the same sense that he also said, "God is light" (1 John 1:5) and "God is love" (1 John 4:8). These do not characterize God's "being", but rather His actions and relationship with men. "God is light" because "in him there is no darkness at all", and "if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, then we share together a common life...." (1 John 1:5-7 NEB) "God is love" because of "the love he showed to us in sending his Son...." (1 John 4:8-10 NEB) "God is Spirit" because He enlightens men through His Holy Spirit, and "those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth." (John 4:24 NEB) Catholic readers may also be surprised to learn that anciently this passage was used by many Christians to prove that God is a corporeal being! The Christian Platonist Origen complained about these less Hellenized Christians:
"I know that some will attempt to say that, even according to the declarations of our own Scriptures, God is a body, because in the writings of Moses they find it said, that "our God is a consuming fire;" and in the Gospel according to John, that "God is a Spirit, and they who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth." Fire and spirit, according to them, are to be regarded as nothing else than a body." 56
Like the Latter-day Saints, these Christians believed "spirit" to be corporeal. With respect to the ancient Hebrew concept of God, Christopher Stead notes, "By saying that God is spiritual, we do not mean that he has no body...."57 Where did Christianity learn otherwise? Speaking of the Neoplatonists, historian and former Anglican bishop of London, J.W.C. Wand, writes:
"It is easy to see what influence this school of thought must have had upon Christian leaders. It was from it that they learnt what was involved in a metaphysical sense by calling God a Spirit. They were also helped... to get rid of that crude anthropomorphism which made even Tertullian believe that God had a material body." 58
The Everlasting God
Time after time we see that in early Jewish Christianity, God was not so far away from humanity. Edwin Hatch notes, "From the earliest Christian teaching, indeed, the conception of the transcendence of God is absent.... The conception which underlies the earliest expression of the belief of a Christian community is the simple conception of children...."59 But just the opposite was true in the Hellenistic world. "One of the most important themes of late Hellenistic intellectualism is that of the transcendency of the supreme God, who is regarded as utterly remote from this universe and as completely incomprehensible to the mind of man."60 Given the Hellenistic mindset they have adopted, it is sometimes difficult for Catholics to fathom certain LDS beliefs about God.
For example, a tract entitled "Mormonism's Double-Think" from Karl Keating's Catholic Answers organization accuses the Latter-day Saints of accepting contradictory statements as true. The prime example of this is Joseph Smith's revelation that "God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens!"61 In the same discourse Joseph Smith stated that just as God is our Father, He has a Father Himself. And yet, the Book of Mormon states, "I know that God is not a partial God, neither a changeable being; but he is unchangeable from all eternity to all eternity...." (Moroni 8:18) Does one need to be sucked into some Orwellian nightmare-cult to consider both statements true? We have seen that early Jewish Christians saw God as much closer in nature to His children than the Greek philosophers, but isn't the idea that God was once a man a little too close for comfort?
In order to understand the LDS view, our readers will have to step into an ancient Hebrew mindset for a moment. The ancient Greeks were absolutely enamored with metaphysics - with "being", "essence", "eternity", etc. The Greek philosophers pondered incessantly about how the material world relates to the true reality, whereas for the Hebrews the material world was reality. When they wrote about God, they didn't obsess about his "being" or "essence", but rather focused on His relationship to men and the world. Likewise, when they spoke of God's nature and eternity, they used relative terms - relative, that is, to them. For example, many of the Biblical passages which speak of God's immutability do so in terms of His honesty, justice, mercy, and constancy. (See Titus 1:2; Numbers 23:19; 1 Samuel 15:29; Hebrews 6:18; Genesis 18:25; Ezekiel 18:14-32; Isaiah 46:10-11; Mark 13:31; Matt. 24:35; Luke 1:20; James 1:17; Daniel 6:26: Hebrews 6:18-19) Christopher Stead explains, "The Old Testament writers sometimes speak of God as unchanging.... In Christian writers influenced by Greek philosophy this doctrine is developed in an absolute metaphysical sense. Hebrew writers are more concrete, and their thinking includes two main points: (1) God has the dignity appropriate to old age, but without its disabilities...; and (2) God is faithful to his covenant promises, even though men break theirs...."62 (Cf. Isaiah 40:28; Exodus 34:9-10) When God is described as "From everlasting to everlasting" (Psalm 41:13 NEB), the word translated as "everlasting" is the Hebrew olam, which means "(practically) eternity" or "time out of mind".63 Another Psalm (104:5 NASB) says that God "established the earth upon its foundations, so that it will not totter forever and ever." And yet Isaiah (24:20 NEB) saw a future time when "the earth reels to and fro like a drunken man...." To the Hebrew mind these passages were not contradictory, because terms like "everlasting" and "forever" were relative terms, and they had no conception of "eternity" and "infinity" as modern people see them.
The same principle applies to the question of God's origin. Are there other Gods beside the Father? Paul asserts that there is only one God, but adds a qualification. "For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,) But to us [there is but] one God, the Father, of whom [are] all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom [are] all things, and we by him." (1 Corinthians 8:5-6) There are other gods, but there is one God to us. It is often objected that Paul was referring to false gods, but Paul did not limit his comments to such. He specifically said that there are other gods, both in heaven and on earth. We have already seen that some (actually a very large number) of early Christian writers spoke of the possibility of men becoming gods, so it is interesting to see how one of them, Origen (third century), interpreted these verses.
"Now it is possible that some may dislike what we have said representing the Father as the one true God, but admitting other beings besides the true God, who have become gods by having a share of God. They may fear that the glory of Him who surpasses all creation may be lowered to the level of those other beings called gods. We drew this distinction between Him and them that we showed God the Word to be to all the other gods the minister of their divinity.... As, then, there are many gods, but to us there is but one God the Father, and many Lords, but to us there is one Lord, Jesus Christ...." 64
So it is with the Latter-day Saints. We see such scriptural statements about the "everlasting" and "unchanging" God as an indication of God's perfect and unchanging moral character, as well as God's eternity relative to men. God is spoken of as the "only true God", because in relation to us this is perfectly true. Given this Hebrew mindset, it is easy to see how Latter-day Saints can accept the biblical statements about God and also believe that God was once a man, having a Father Himself. And as it turns out, some early Christians may have believed the same type of doctrine. Consider the reasoning of Irenaeus of Lyons (ca. 180 AD) while arguing against the Gnostic belief that the Creator was only a secondary God.65 Irenaeus pounded home the fact that the true God is the Creator, but what about the possibility that there is a God above God? And what was God doing before the creation of the world? Irenaeus cited Matthew 24:36, where Christ indicates that only the Father knows the time of the Second Advent, and asserted that since even Jesus doesn't know everything, we ought to leave such unrevealed questions to God.
"If, for instance, any one asks, 'What was God doing before He made the world?' we reply that the answer to such a question lies with God Himself. For that this world was formed perfect by God, receiving a beginning in time, the Scriptures teach us; but no Scripture reveals to us what God was employed about before this event.... The Father, therefore, has been declared by our Lord to excel with respect to knowledge; for this reason, that we, too, as long as we are connected with the scheme of things in this world, should leave perfect knowledge, and such questions [as have been mentioned], to God, and should not by any chance, while we seek to investigate the sublime nature of the Father, fall into the danger of starting the question whether there is another God above God."
Certainly Irenaeus believed no such thing, though he came as close as possible to this view, given his own Greek conception of God (which he quoted almost verbatim from the philosopher Xenophanes).66 Irenaeus taught that though at first we are "merely men", we can become "at length gods...."67 He also wrote, "...our Lord Jesus Christ, who did... become what we are, that He might bring us to be even what He is Himself."68 However, for him God was the "uncreated One" of the philosophers, and everything else was created from nothing, so "inasmuch as they are not uncreated, for this very reason do they come short of the perfect." Men who become gods will "receive a faculty of the Uncreated", and God "shall overcome the substance of created nature" by bestowing eternal life. Progress toward godhood will result in "approximating to the uncreated One" and bring one "nigh unto God", but in the final analysis men will still be contingent beings.69 Irenaeus was not shy at all about labeling the Gnostic heresies as damnable and ridiculous falsehoods, yet in this case his language was strangely subdued. I have no idea whether this particular doctrine had been revealed to the early Christians, but I believe the Hebrew conception of God had not died out in all quarters of the Church, and in this mindset these "speculations" could be seen as a distinct possibility. There were some Christians - "orthodox" Christians - who were "speculating" about these things, or Irenaeus would have said things differently.
Three Degrees of Glory
The Bible makes clear that all mankind will be "judged... according to their works." (Revelation 20:12) And if so, won't everyone's rewards be different one from another? Jesus insisted that in His "Father's house are many mansions," (John 14:2) and Paul wrote that he had seen a vision of "the third heaven". (2 Corinthians 12:2) Therefore, one might logically conclude from these passages that recipients of salvation will be allotted varying rewards within at least three different "heavens" or "degrees of glory".
While pondering the significance of certain of the aforementioned passages in the Bible, Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon were given a most striking vision of the fate of mankind after the general resurrection and judgment, which included a description of the three principal kingdoms of glory. (D&C 76) They found that the first kingdom, called the Celestial, will be inhabited by those who have overcome by faith in Jesus Christ (D&C 76:50-70, 92-96), including children who have died and those who would have accepted the gospel in this life, but were not given the chance until they reached the spirit world. (D&C 137:1-10) The second kingdom, called the Terrestrial, will be inhabited by good people who were just and kind, but were not valiant in their testimony of Jesus. Those who rejected the Gospel in this life, but afterwards received it will be given a reward in this kingdom, as well. (D&C 76:71-80, 91, 97) The third, or Telestial, kingdom will be given to the generally wicked masses of the earth who spent their entire residence in the Spirit World in Hell, and so were not worthy of any higher glory. (D&C 76:81-90, 98-112) Another distinction between these kingdoms is that those who receive Celestial glory will reside in the presence of the Father Himself, while those in the Terrestrial kingdom will receive the presence of the Son, and those in the Telestial will have the Holy Ghost to minister to them. (D&C 76:62, 77, 86)
It happens that this was a very popular early Christian doctrine, taught by such luminaries as Origen70, Irenaeus, Papias71, Clement of Alexandria, and others. For example, Clement of Alexandria expressed belief in the three degrees, and echoed the Lord's revelation to Joseph Smith that those in the highest degree "are gods, even the sons of God." (D&C 76:58) He also preached that the three gradations of glory are procured by virtue of three types of actions:
"Conformably, therefore, there are various abodes, according to the worth of those who have believed.... These chosen abodes, which are three, are indicated by the numbers in the Gospel--the thirty, the sixty, the hundred. And the perfect inheritance belongs to those who attain to "a perfect man," according to the image of the Lord.... To the likeness of God, then, he that is introduced into adoption and the friendship of God, to the just inheritance of the lords and gods is brought; if he be perfected, according to the Gospel, as the Lord Himself taught." 72
"[Clement of Alexandria] reckons three kinds of actions, the first of which is... right or perfect action, which is characteristic of the perfect man.... The second is the class of... medium, or intermediate actions, which are done by less perfect believers, and procure a lower grade of glory. In the third place he reckons sinful actions, which are done by those who fall away from salvation." 73
In addition, Clement (following Hermas) taught that those righteous souls who had not had the chance to accept the Gospel in this life would be preached to and redeemed in Hades (i.e. the spirit world).
"And it has been shown also..., that the apostles, following the Lord, preached the Gospel to those in Hades.... For it was suitable to the divine administration, that those possessed of greater worth in righteousness, and whose life had been pre-eminent, on repenting of their transgressions, though found in another place, yet being confessedly of the number of the people of God Almighty, should be saved, each one according to his individual knowledge.... If, then, the Lord descended to Hades for no other end but to preach the Gospel, as He did descend; it was either to preach the Gospel to all or to the Hebrews only. If, accordingly, to all, then all who believe shall be saved, although they may be of the Gentiles, on making their profession there...." 74 (cf. 1 Peter 3:18-20; 4:6)
When Irenaeus (quoting Papias) described the three degrees, he associated them with the Father, Son, and Spirit, respectively. "The presbyters, the disciples of the apostles, affirm that this is the gradation and arrangement of those who are saved, and that they advance through steps of this nature; also that they ascend through the Spirit to the Son, and through the Son to the Father...."75
Where did this doctrine come from? Cardinal Danielou shows that the three heavens scheme originated in the oldest form of Jewish apocalyptic, and was a standard feature of Jewish Christianity. Other schemes, such as that of seven heavens, derived from "oriental, Irano-Babylonian influences", and were originally spin-offs of the three heavens arrangement.76 As Christianity fell away from its Jewish roots, however, the original doctrine was lost.
Those who are married in Latter-day Saint temples are "sealed" so that the union lasts beyond the Resurrection and into eternity, provided the participants reach the highest degree of glory in heaven. (D&C 132:15-17) This is often considered one of the most bizarre LDS beliefs, especially given a certain statement by Jesus:
"The same day came to him the Sadducees, which say that there is no resurrection, and asked him... Now there were with us seven brethren: and the first, when he had married a wife, deceased, and, having no issue, left his wife unto his brother: Likewise the second also, and the third, unto the seventh. And last of all the woman died also. Therefore in the resurrection whose wife shall she be of the seven? for they all had her. Jesus answered and said unto them, Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven." (Matthew 22:23-30)
A variation of Jesus' answer is given in Luke, where Jesus says "The children of this world marry, and are given in marriage", etc. (Luke 20:34-36)
One must realize that Jesus would never have cast this, his most precious pearl, before the Sadducee swine, who did not even believe in a resurrection and were only trying to trap Jesus in his words. Given that, what was Jesus talking about? The "children of this world", not the children of God, are the ones who remain separate in the resurrection. And indeed, the seven brothers in question were "children of this world", for they were apostate Sadducees ("there were with us seven brethren"). Jesus was merely warning the Sadducees of their ultimate fate without revealing His most sacred mystery. Those who fail to participate in this sacred rite in this world, whether in person or by proxy, "neither marry, nor are given in marriage," because all such contracts have already been finalized. Interpreted in this way, the passage is not at all contradictory to LDS belief.77
Some readers might find it hard to believe that Jesus would be secretive about such an important belief, but the fact is that early Christianity, as well as various Jewish apocalyptic sects, had a rich esoteric tradition of both doctrine and ritual.78 Indeed, R.M. Grant notes that "In Ephesians 5:22-33 the prophecy of Genesis 2:24 ['the two shall become one flesh.'] is described as 'a great mystery' and is referred not only to Christ and the church but also to Christian marriage in general."79
While answering certain unknown questions the Corinthians had posed to Paul, he advised against marriage. "Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman.... I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I. But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn." (1 Corinthians 7:1, 9) And yet, later in the chapter Paul made clear that this was not a general principle, but special counsel in unusual circumstances (persecution? apostasy?): "I suppose therefore that this is good for the present distress, I say, that it is good for a man so to be." (1 Corinthians 7:26) Paul expounded the general principle later in his letter when he said, "neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord." (1 Corinthians 11:11)
I can imagine the eye-rolling that is going on among Catholic readers at this point, but the fact is that many early Jewish Christians interpreted the scriptures in a similar manner! In the early third century Origen complained about certain Jewish Christians, apparently considered orthodox, who believed in marriage after the resurrection.
"Certain persons... are of the opinion that the fulfillment of the promises of the future are to be looked for in bodily pleasure and luxury.... And consequently they say, that after the resurrection there will be marriages, and the begetting of children, imagining to themselves that the earthly city of Jerusalem is to be rebuilt.... Such are the views of those who, while believing in Christ, understand the divine Scriptures in a sort of Jewish sense, drawing from them nothing worthy of the divine promises." 80
Can you believe the temerity of these people - interpreting Jewish scriptures in a "Jewish sense"?!81 Cardinal Danielou infers a similar interpretation from an enigmatic passage in the Didache, a first-century(!) Jewish Christian work. "And every prophet, proved true, working unto the mystery of the Church in the world, yet not teaching others to do what he himself doeth, shall not be judged among you, for with God he hath his judgment; for so did also the ancient prophets."82 Danielou links this mystery to the type of "spiritual marriages" some Gnostic groups practiced:
"The expression 'cosmic mystery of the Church' seems to stand in opposition to a 'heavenly mystery of the church'. This heavenly mystery is the celestial marriage of Christ to the Church, which also finds its expression in this world. The allusion in this passage would therefore seem to be to those spiritual unions which existed in Jewish Christianity between prophet-apostles and a sister... The relation of these unions to their heavenly ideal is explicitly stated by the Gnostics: 'Some of them prepare a nuptial couch and perform a sort of mystic rite (mystagogia)... affirming that what is performed by them is a spiritual marriage after the likeness of the unions... above' (Adv. haer. I, 21:3)." 83
As with so many other doctrines, Catholicism has rejected the Judaeo-Christian outlook in favor of Hellenistic ideals. Robert Markus observes, "The ideal of the philosophic life was among the most important of the sources which nourished Christian monasticism.... In contrast with Judaism... the whole Hellenistic and Roman philosophical tradition offered a rich store-house of commonplaces extolling the ascetic life."84
Bread and Wine (Water?) as Body and Blood
In his opening statement Steve made the claim that Ignatius of Antioch (ca. 110 AD) taught the doctrine of the "Real Presence" in the Eucharist (i.e. the Sacrament for LDS readers). This is usually interpreted to mean that since Jesus said "this is my body" and "this is my blood", He meant that the actual substance of the bread and wine are transformed ("transubstantiation") into the literal body and blood of Christ. In point of fact Ignatius was not any more explicit about it than the New Testament writers, so bringing him up sort of begs the question. However, why such strong language about what the eucharist is ? J.G. Davies explains how the Hebrew mind would have assimilated such statements:
"The Hebrew, unlike the Greek, was not interested in things in themselves but only in things as they are called to be. He was not concerned with an object as such but with what it becomes in relation to its final reference according to the divine purpose. The meaning of an object therefore does not lie in its analytical and empirical reality but in the will that is expressed by it. Hence Jesus could say of a piece of bread: 'This is my body.' The bread does not cease to be bread, but it becomes what it is not, namely the instrument and organ of his presence, because through his sovereign word he has given it a new dimension." 85
Thus, the eucharist is a symbol, but not "just a symbol". Latter-day Saints and Catholics can join together to proclaim to our Protestant brethren (who tend to pooh-pooh the necessity of physical ordinances) the fact that the eucharist is the very instrument of Christ's grace to believers, but we must disagree about "transubstantiation". This is a strictly Hellenistic interpretation, and Edwin Hatch asserts that "it is among the Gnostics that there appears for the first time an attempt to realize the change of the elements to the material body and blood of Christ."86
LDS indifference to the actual "substance" of the eucharist has made possible an interesting variation in sacramental practice. Initially because of the threat of poisoning by persecutors (see D&C 27:2), but later because of our health code which forbids alcohol (see D&C 89), Latter-day Saints began using water in place of wine. The ancient Jewish Christians did not have the same health code, but many of them took Nazarite vows, which forbade the use of alcohol, and so substituted water for wine in the eucharist. One of the very early (perhaps first century) Odes of Solomon refers to this practice. The hymn asserts, "Blessed then are the ministers of that draught who are entrusted with that water of His...." 87 Commenting on this passage, Carl Jung points out that the use of water shows that, like the Mormons, "The fact that the Eucharist was also celebrated with water shows that the early Christians were mainly interested in the symbolism of the mysteries and not in the literal observance of the sacrament."88 The Jewish Christian Acts of Thomas also describes the apostle Thomas as one who drank only water89, so when one Mygdonia brought him some bread and wine for the sacrament, he refused it and "He brake bread and took a cup of water...."90 Indeed, Hegesippus (late second century) asserts that "James, the brother of the Lord,... drank no wine nor strong drink...."91
I expect that Catholic readers exposed to this sort of information for the first time might be somewhat taken aback. In a postscript to his translation of one of Cardinal Danielou's volumes on early Christian doctrine, John Austin Baker related, "One reaction - and a not unnatural one - to the material surveyed in the first volume of the present series, [Father] Danielou's Theology of Jewish Christianity, was compounded of sheer astonishment at the bizarre character of the ideas and imagery used by the writers and relief that their works had, for the most part, sunk into oblivion."92 But this is what the Cardinal called the "first form of Christian theology"! Time and time again we see that the sort of theology adopted by Catholic Christianity from the late second century on is adapted from the Greek philosophical schools, while LDS theology consistently falls within the milieu of ancient Jewish Christianity. I could have used any number of doctrines to make my point, but I deliberately chose a few examples that illustrate the fact that this is the case even where the thought forms and interpretations involved seem totally bizarre and foreign to Catholics.
Certainly this supports LDS claims about the apostasy and restoration, but how can Catholics rationalize this data? One way is Cardinal Newman's theory of "development" - i.e. the Greek philosophers prepared the way for a deeper understanding of the Christian revelation, in accordance with the Divine plan. On the other hand Cardinal Danielou theorizes that the Hellenization of Christianity was a necessary step in the process of persuading Hellenistic culture to accept the Christian revelation. At the end of The Theology of Jewish Christianity he lists a few "essentials" (all of which the LDS would agree with) that had been passed on from Jewish Christianity.93 However, it would be inconsistent to think this sort of cultural translation was allowed in the case of Hellenistic culture, but then all further progress was arrested there. "The revelation was in any case first bestowed upon a people of semitic origin and language.... The preaching of the Gospel to the Greco-Roman world represented a first translation of the Word of God into terms of another civilization. Today we need another translation."94 As Catholics ponder attempts to Christianize Eastern nations they must ask themselves just which parts of their thoroughly Hellenized traditions and creeds are merely cultural adaptations. And in the context of this debate two more questions need to be asked. That is, how can LDS beliefs be proclaimed heretical when they fall within the scope of "the first form of Christian theology", while the corresponding Catholic beliefs decidedly do not? Second, how in the world did Joseph Smith get ahold of all these ancient Jewish Christian traditions? Food for thought, at least.
2 Wand, J.W.C., A History of the Early Church to A.D. 500, (London: Methuen & Co., 1937,) p.59. "The New Testament, though not all at once, put an end to the composition of works which claimed an authority binding on Christendom (inspiration); but it first made possible the production of secular Church literature and neutralised the extreme dangers attendant on writings of this kind." (Harnack, A. von, History of Dogma, 7 vols., New York: Dover, 1961, 2:62.) Harnack also gives the following unflattering description of the motives of those who closed the canon: "Men, however, conceal from themselves their own defects, by placing the representatives of the past on an unattainable height, and forming such an estimate of their qualities as makes it unlawful and impossible for those of the present generation, in the interests of their own comfort, to compare themselves with them." (Harnack, History of Dogma, 2:53.)
3 Van Unnik, Willem Cornelis, "De la Regle mete prostheinai mete aphelein dans l'histoire du canon," Vigiliae Christianae 3 (1949): 1-2, quoted in Nibley, H., The World and the Prophets, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and F.A.R.M.S., 1987,) p. 202.
4 Quasten, J., Patrology, (Westminster, MD: Christian Classics, Inc., 1983-1986,) 1:103; cf. Origen, De Principiis 2:1:5, in Roberts, A., and Donaldson, J., eds., The Ante-Nicene Fathers, 10 vols., (Buffalo: The Christian Literature Publishing Company, 1885-1896,) 4:270. (Hereafter cited as ANF.)
9 Haroldson, E., "Good and Evil Spoken of," Ensign, vol. 25, no. 8 (August 1995), p. 10. See Raisanen, "Joseph Smith und die Bibel: Die Leistung des mormonischen Propheten in neuer Beleuchtung", Theologische Literaturzeitung, Feb. 1984, pp. 83-92.
13 Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 1:4:6-10, in Schaff, P., and Wace, H., eds., The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series 2, 14 vols., (New York: The Christian Literature Publishing Company, 1890-1900,) 1:87-88. (Hereafter cited as NPNF Series 2.)
14 Danielou, J., The Lord of History: Reflections on the Inner Meaning of History, tr. Abercrombie, N., (Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1958,) p. 2. Curiously, the Cardinal ascribes this doctrine to the "Greek idea of perfection as something which has always been the same." However, the fact that Jewish Christian writings like Barnabas and the Jewish Pseudepigrapha teach it refutes this interpretation.
19 Paul did say that "we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all" (Hebrews 10:10), but that does not mean the world can't reject His message, as it has done so many times before. Similarly, some translations of Jude 3 speak of "the faith once for all delivered to the saints", but the word translated as "once for all" is the Greek hapax, which can also mean "once". Indeed, two verses later Jude writes, "I will therefore put you in remembrance, though ye once (hapax) knew this...." (Jude 1:5) Clearly it is preferable to translate hapax as "once" in this case, and thus it is also clear that Jude was warning the saints to cling desperately to the faith that had once been delivered to them, but which was already being forgotten.
35 Davies, W.D., "Israel, the Mormons and the Land", in Madsen, T.G., ed., Reflections on Mormonism: Judaeo-Christian Parallels, (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1978,) p. 91.
39 Pastor of Hermas, Vision 1:1, in ANF 2:9. Origen mistakenly interpreted this passage from Hermas, as well as a similar one from one of the Books of the Maccabees in this way: "But that we may believe on the authority of holy Scripture that such is the case, hear how in the book of Maccabees, where the mother of seven martyrs exhorts her son to endure torture, this truth is confirmed; for she says, `I ask of thee, my son, to look at the heaven and the earth, and at all things which are in them, and beholding these, to know that God made all these things when they did not exist.' In the book of the Shepherd also, in the first commandment, he speaks as follows: `First of all believe that there is one God who created and arranged all things, and made all things to come into existence, and out of a state of nothingness.'" (Origen, De Principiis 2:1:5, in ANF 4:270.)
42 Hayman, P., "Monotheism - A Misused Word in Jewish Studies?", Journal of Jewish Studies, Spring (1991), p. 3. See also Goldstein, J., "The Origins of the Doctrine of Creation Ex Nihilo", Journal of Jewish Studies 35 (1984), pp. 127-135, and Goldstein, J., "Creation Ex Nihilo: Recantations and Restatements", Journal of Jewish Studies 38 (1987), pp. 187-194. For David Winston's reply see Winston, D., "Creation Ex Nihilo Revisited: A Reply to Jonathan Goldstein", Journal of Jewish Studies, vol. 37 (1986), pp. 88-91.
51 Clementine Homilies 16:19, in ANF 8:316. The Clementine Recognitions also seem to imply that God is cognizable only through the senses: "Then said Peter: `Give us then, as I have often said, as being yourself a new God, or as having .yourself come down from him, some new sense, by means of which we may know that new God of whom you speak; for those five senses, which God our Creator has given us, keep faith to their own Creator, and do not perceive that there is any other God, for so their nature necessitates them.'" (Peter, in Clementine Recognitions 2:60, in ANF 8:114.)
52 Clementine Homilies 17:16, in ANF 8:322-323. Here "incorporeal" undoubtedly means "spiritual". Paul called the resurrection body "spiritual" in 1 Corinthians 15:44, but Jesus' resurrected body is anything but "incorporeal". (Luke 24:39)
56 Origen, De Principiis 1:1:1, in ANF 4:242; cf. De Principiis 2:8:5, in ANF 4:289. "It is evident from this remark that one very natural interpretation of the word pneuma to the reader of the New Testament in Origen's time might not have been 'incorporeal' but the very opposite." (Jantzen, G., God's World, God's Body, Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1984, pp. 22-23.)
70 Origen, Commentary on John 2:3, in ANF 10:324-325; cf. Origen, De Principiis 2:10:2, in ANF 4:294. Origen also includes a fourth degree, but this is consistent with the LDS belief in "outer darkness" or hell, in addition to the degrees of glory.
77 LDS scholar John Tvedtnes offers a novel explanation for Jesus' statement: "... in the Apocrypha... we read of a young woman, Sarah, who had been married to seven husbands (all brothers), each of whom was killed on the wedding night by a demon. But in the story (Tobit 6:10-8:9), Sara ultimately marries an eighth husband, Tobias, son of Tobit, who, following instructions from the archangel Raphael, manages to chase the demon away and is therefore not slain. Of special interest is the fact that the archangel (who, according to Tobit 3:17, had been sent to arrange the marriage) tells the young man that his wife had been appointed to him "from the beginning" (Tobit 6:17). This implies that she had not been sealed to any of her earlier husbands, which would explain why none of them would claim her in the resurrection, as Jesus explained. But if she were sealed to Tobias, the situation changes. Assuming that the Sadducees (whose real issue was one of resurrection, not of eternal marriage) were alluding to this story but left off part of it, this would explain why Jesus told them, 'Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God'" (Tvedtnes, J., "A Much-Needed Book That Needs Much", FARMS Review of Books, vol. 9, no. 1, 1997, p. 41.)
81 A Jewish account of the same doctrine occurs in Falasha 5 Baruch. Baruch is being conducted through the heavens by an angel. At the highest level the following conversation occurs: "I asked the angel who conducted me and said to him: 'Who enters through this gate?' He who guided me answered and said to me: 'Blessed are those who enter through this gate. (Here) the husband remains with his wife and the wife remains with her husband.'" (Leslau, W., Falasha Anthology, New Haven: Yale, 1951, p. 65.)
92 Baker, J.A., "The Permanent Significance of the Fathers of the Second and Third Centuries", in Danielou, J., Gospel Message and Hellenistic Culture, (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1973,) p. 501.
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