Friday, July 3, 2009
I recently received an email from one of the readers of this blog who wrote:
I was wondering if you had seen this Mormon scholar's article concerning the CDF declaration of Mormon baptism's invalidity:http://mi.byu.edu/publications/review/?vol=13&num=2&id=394
There are many points he desires to make about subordinationism, basically along the lines that if Mormon baptism is invalid because Mormons are not Trinitarian, then the early Christian's would too be invalid because they also were not Trinitarians but rather subordinationists.
I was wondering what your thoughts were on this subject, knowing that you are knowledgeable about both Mormonism and subordinationism.
I remember discussing this issue at the now defunct message board ZLMB back in 2001. I have tried to access the pages from that period, but alas, no success. As such, I will comment anew on Father Ladaria’s document, THE QUESTION OF THE VALIDITY OF BAPTISM CONFERRED IN THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST OF LATTER-DAY SAINTS , and Gaskill’s review.
It was back on June 5, 2001 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith ruled that baptisms by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were not valid. Ladaria, a spokesman for the CDF, stated that his document was written to “explain the reasons that have led to this decision and to the resulting change of practice.” The following excerpts (in red) are from Ladaria’s document (bold emphasis is mine):
This explanation becomes even more necessary if one considers that errors of a doctrinal nature have never been considered sufficient to question the validity of the sacrament of Baptism. In fact, already in the middle of the third century Pope Stephen I, opposing the decisions of an African synod in 256 A.D., reaffirmed that the ancient practice of the imposition of hands as a sign of repentance should be maintained, but not the rebaptism of a heretic who enters the Catholic Church…
Precisely because of the necessity of Baptism for salvation the Catholic Church has had the tendency of broadly recognizing this right intention in the conferring of this sacrament, even in the case of a false understanding of Trinitarian faith, as for example in the case of the Arians…
What are the reasons which now led to this negative position regarding the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which seems different from the position of the Catholic Church throughout the centuries?
We have seen that in the texts of the Magisterium on Baptism there is a reference to the invocation of the Trinity (to the sources already mentioned, the Fourth Lateran Council could be added here [DH 8021). The formula used by the Mormons might seem at first sight to be a Trinitarian formula. The text states: "Being commissioned by Jesus Christ, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit" (cf. D&C 20:73). The similarities with the formula used by the Catholic Church are at first sight obvious, but in reality they are only apparent. There is not in fact a fundamental doctrinal agreement. There is not a true invocation of the Trinity because the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, according to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, are not the three persons in which subsists the one Godhead, but three gods who form one divinity. One is different from the other, even though they exist in perfect harmony (Joseph F. Smith, ed., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith [TPJSI, Salt Lake City: Desert Book, 1976, p. 372). The very word divinity has only a functional, not a substantial content, because the divinity originates when the three gods decided to unite and form the divinity to bring about human salvation (Encyclopaedia of Mormonism [EM], New York: Macmillan, 1992, cf. Vol. 2, p. 552). This divinity and man share the same nature and they are substantially equal. God the Father is an exalted man, native of another planet, who has acquired his divine status through a death similar to that of human beings, the necessary way to divinization (cf. TPJS, pp. 345-346). God the Father has relatives and this is explained by the doctrine of infinite regression of the gods who initially were mortal (cf. TPJS, p. 373). God the Father has a wife, the Heavenly Mother, with whom he shares the responsibility of creation. They procreate sons in the spiritual world. Their firstborn is Jesus Christ, equal to all men, who has acquired his divinity in a pre-mortal existence. Even the Holy Spirit is the son of heavenly parents. The Son and the Holy Spirit were procreated after the beginning of the creation of the world known to us (cf. EM, Vol. 2, p. 961). Four gods are directly responsible for the universe, three of whom have established a covenant and thus form the divinity.
As is easily seen, to the similarity of titles there does not correspond in any way a doctrinal content which can lead to the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. The words Father, Son and Holy Spirit, have for the Mormons a meaning totally different from the Christian meaning. The differences are so great that one cannot even consider that this doctrine is a heresy which emerged out of a false understanding of the Christian doctrine. The teaching of the Mormons has a completely different matrix. We do not find ourselves, therefore, before the case of the validity of Baptism administered by heretics, affirmed already from the first Christian centuries, nor of Baptism conferred in non-Catholic ecclesial communities, as noted in Canon 869 §2.
The last two paragraphs above constitute what I believe to be the most significant reasons why the CDF declared LDS baptisms to be invalid. Even more precisely, the perceived teachings that “God the Father is an exalted man, native of another planet, who has acquired his divine status through a death similar to that of human beings”; that “God the Father has relatives and this is explained by the doctrine of infinite regression of the gods who initially were mortal”; that “God the Father has a wife, the Heavenly Mother, with whom he shares the responsibility of creation”; and that “Four gods are directly responsible for the universe, three of whom have established a covenant and thus form the divinity”, were probably the most influential.
Ladaria then went on to state:
The differences are so great that one cannot even consider that this doctrine is a heresy [e.g. Arianism] which emerged out of a false understanding of the Christian doctrine. The teaching of the Mormons has a completely different matrix.
Before moving on to Gaskill’s review, I would like to point out that all of the above LDS teachings are from non-official sources (i.e. they are not contained in the recognized LDS canon of Scriptures). As to whether or not they are ‘official’ teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I do not believe that they are—even though they have been, and are, widely held (the evidence I have complied to support this view is quite extensive—but, it lies beyond the scope of this thread to present it at this time).
Now, moving on to Gaskill, I was a bit disappointed with his contribution. The review is well written (though there are a couple of minor mistakes), however, he completely avoided discussing the above LDS teachings that Ladaria referenced. Rather than deal with those teachings, he instead focuses on the subordinationism of the pre-Nicene Church Fathers, pointing out that they were not Trinitarian in the same sense as the Nicene and post-Nicene definitions. Gaskill completely misses the point made by Ladaria—the problem is not with subordinationism, the problem is that Ladaria and the CDF concluded (right or wrong) that: “The teaching of the Mormons has a completely different matrix.”
More, of course, could be said, but I think I have outlined the most significant points of this issue.
Grace and peace,