Saturday, August 10, 2019

I am a subscriber to Saint Joseph Communications, and over the last few weeks had been receiving emails concerning the forthcoming publication of a book titled: The Devil In the City of Angels - My Encounters With the Diabolical. The following is from one of the promotional emails—it is now on the Tan Books website, as well as the front flap of the dust cover:

“I went from an indifferent apathetic Sunday Mass attending Catholic Christian to an on fire Catholic Christian in a few short years. What reignited my faith? The many encounters I had with the occult and diabolical.” 

So says renowned Catholic apologist and retired veteran of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, Jesse Romero. Now for the first time in print, Romero reveals the harrowing details of his experiences with the demonic while working for the LASD. Discover the true stories of spiritual warfare being waged in the streets and alleys of L.A., including: 

·         Romero’s encounters with Richard Ramirez, the infamous “Night Stalker” 

·         How the Rosary drove out a demon that had taken hold of a young man 

·         What happened when inmates involved in the occult would try to say “Jesus is Lord”

·         How a young man who had committed suicide returned to beg his parents for prayers to release him from the pains of Purgatory 

…and much more. 

I ordered, received and read the book earlier this week. This contribution is quite informative, and could only have been written by one who has personally experienced the extraordinary events that are related within its pages. Included in the book are nine actual encounters with demons, five encounters with practicing witches, what the Bible has to say about witchcraft, a chapter on the new cult Santa Muerte, and one on Santeria.

I recommend this book to anyone interested in how Satan and his followers are attempting to advance his kingdom of darkness in our day—it is truly an 'eye-opener'.

Grace and peace,


Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Seer Stone v. Urim and Thummim: Book of Mormon Translation on Trial

I became keenly interested in the translation method of the Book of Mormon after reading the book, Joseph Smith's Seer Stones, by Michael Hubbard Mackay and Nicholas J. Frederick.

This book prompted further purchases and months of research. It also inspired a number of posts here at AF under the LABEL: Book of Mormon-translation method—the first of which was published back on June 29, 2017 (link).

A few months after the first post of the series, I published a thread (link) that raised a number of serious questions concerning the paradigm shift in the understanding of the translation method/process of the Book of Mormon by many Latter-day Saints. Foremost among those questions was the following:

The question that needs to be asked is: WHY has Kirkham's and Nibley's assessments been jettisoned by so many 21st century LDS scholars?

I immediately followed the above question with some reasons provided by LDS scholars who have embraced the paradigm shift—reasons which I am currently of the opinion are somewhat dubious in nature.

Now, up until just a few days ago, I thought I was pretty much the sole 'voice in the wilderness' who had some serious questions concerning this paradigm shift in the understanding of the Book of Mormon translation method. Last week, I finished reading the recently published book, Seer Stone v. Urim and Thummim: Book of Mormon Translation on Trial—I now know that I am not alone.

This book focuses on a number of the extant 'witnesses' of the Book of Mormon translation method/process, including an important, detailed examination of David Whitmer. His chapter, "David Whitmer vs. David Whitmer" (#14), is of particular interest, exposing a number of inconsistencies in the recorded Whitmer statements.

I sincerely hope that folk interested in this topic will purchase the book, and share their reflections on it.

The book can be obtained via Amazon (link), or directly through the publisher (link).

Grace and peace,


Saturday, June 15, 2019

Monoousios vs. Homoousios - further reflections

In the previous AF thread which dealt with the topic of monoousios vs. homoousios (link), I provided selections from Christian theologians and historians who acknowledged that the term homoousion, used in the Nicene Creed and by a number of subsequent Church Fathers, was most likely understood in a generic sense, rather than an absolute numeric sense. In this new post, I hope to establish beyond any reasonable doubt that the generic understanding is the most viable option.

At the end of the opening post of the above referenced thread, I mentioned that the generic understanding of homoousios, "is the dominant understanding of many Eastern Orthodox theologians". Interestingly enough, a LDS author back in 2004 provided substantial support for my reflections—the following quote is from the book, Prelude to the Restoration (2004):

Christos Yannaras proposes that “schematically: God is a Nature and three Persons; man is a nature and ‘innumerable’ persons. God is consubstantial and in three hypostases, man is consubstantial and in innumerable hypostases.” Essence could thus be characterized as that nature which, for the Trinity, is divinity, and that nature which, for humans, is humanity. (J. B. Haws, "Defenders of the Doctrine of Deification", p. 77) [The quote that Haws provided from the EO theologian Yannaras, is from the book Elements of Faith, p, 36.]

Haws' understanding of the Yannaras quote, brings to mind the Christology delineated in the Chalcedonian Definition (451)—the germane portion is provided below:

Following therefore the holy Fathers, we all with one accord teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Divinity (theotēti) and also perfect in humanity (anthrōpotēti); truly God and truly man, of a rational soul and body; same essence (homoousion) with the Father according to the Divinity (theotēta), and same essence (homoousion) with us according to the humanity (anthrōpotēta) ...

Ἑπόμενοι τοίνυν τοῖς ἁγίοις πατράσιν ἕνα καὶ τὸν αὐτὸν ὁμολογεῖν υἱὸν τὸν κύριον ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦν Χριστὸν συμφώνως ἅπαντες ἐκδιδάσκομεν, τέλειον τὸν αὐτὸν ἐν θεότητι καὶ τέλειον τὸν αὐτὸν ἐν ἀνθρωπότητι, θεὸν ἀληθῶς καὶ ἄνθρωπον ἀληθῶς τὸν αὐτὸν, ἐκ ψυχῆς λογικῆς καὶ σώματος, ὁμοούσιον τῷ πατρὶ κατὰ τὴν θεότητα, καὶ ὁμοούσιον τὸν αὐτὸν ἡμῖν κατὰ τὴν ἀνθρωπότητα ...

Clearly we have before us an application of the term homoousion in a generic sense. As such, we can add the Chalcedonian Definition to the list of examples wherein the term homoousion is used in the generic sense—e.g. Nicene Creed, numerous post-Nicene Church Fathers and EO theologians.

The concept that "man is consubstantial and in innumerable hypostases" means all the members of mankind share one and the same nature/essence. When the same type of concept is applied to the Godhead, it means that all members of the Godhead share one and the same nature/essence; or as Haws states it:

Essence could thus be characterized as that nature which, for the Trinity, is divinity, and that nature which, for humans, is humanity.

For one to be human from human, one has to be fully human—possessing the nature of humanity in its fullness—not partially human, or even mostly human. For one to be God from God, one has to be fully God—possessing the nature of divinity in its fullness—not partially God, or even mostly God.

To end, I would like to submit that when the related concepts of 'God from God', 'homoosion with the Father', and 'begotten not made' are applied to Jesus Christ, two early theological errors are avoided: first, modalism, which changed the understanding of homoosios into monoousios, and denied the causality of the Son from the Father; and second, Arianism, which denied that the Son of God was fully God.

Grace and peace,


Thursday, June 6, 2019

Todd Lawson's, The Crucifixion and the Qur'an, now available online for free download

Back on November 21, 2009, I published the following post:

Does the Qur'an deny the crucifixion and physical death of Jesus?

This post introduced AF readers to Dr. Todd Lawson's definitive work concerning the controversial issue of the crucifixion Jesus in the Qur'an and early Islamic interpretation.

Earlier today, I discovered that Dr. Lawson has made this book available on his website for free download—link for PDF provided below:

The Crucifixion and the Qur'an - PDF

Enjoy !!!

Grace and peace,


Saturday, May 25, 2019

Monoousios vs. Homoousios

Back on May 11th, a good friend of mine began posting again in the Terminology: trinitarianism, unitarianism, monotheism, polytheism... thread, after an extended hiatus. The conversation between the two us continued over the next few days; and then on the 22nd, Tom contributed three consecutive, interrelated posts that would have been a bit difficult to adequately address in the combox. As such, I have created this new thread in an attempt to do justice to the cogent concerns and questions that he raised in those posts.

Now, a bit of background information. For a number of years now, I have maintained that the Greek term homoousion in the Nicene Creed and Chalcedonian Definition was used in a generic sense and not a strict numeric sense—in other words, homoousion is to be understood as 'same essence' rather than 'one essence'. And so, on my May 21st post to Tom, I wrote:

The Greek of the Chalcedonian Definition (451) strongly suggests a generic sense for both. My studies indicate that the numeric sense was not adopted until much later when homoousia began to be interpreted as monoousia. [Note: I had quickly typed up the above response and posted it before realizing that I had misspelled both homoousia and monoousia—should read homoousios and monoousios—sorry Tom, I am getting old.]

Tom on the 22nd responded with:

I would agree that homoousia began to be interpreted as monoousia, but what scholars usually say is “homoousia in the numeric sense.” I have not seen folks who suggest that traditional Christian Trinitarian teachings are true use the term monoousia to describe what they believe. Folks like Plantinga might be inclined to point to the developed equivalence of monoousia and homoousia in the numeric sense, but I don’t see things like this from Father Don Davis or Phillip Schaff.

I first encountered the distinction between monoousios and homoousios in Dr. Charles Hodge's Systematic Theology. Dr. Hodge wrote:

The ambiguity of the word μοούσιος has already been remarked upon. As ούσια may mean generic nature common to many individuals, not unum in numero, but ens unum in multis, so μοούσιος (consubstantial) may mean nothing more than sameness of species or kind. (Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1981 reprint, 1.463.)

Dr. Hodge then provides two important quotes from the famous Christian historian, Philip Schaff:

It is therefore said, that “the term homoousion, in its strict grammatical sense differs from monoousion or toutoousion, as well as from heteroousion, and signifies not numerical identity, but equality of essence or community of nature among several beings.” “The Nicene Creed,” Dr. Schaff adds, “does not expressly assert the singleness or numerical unity of the divine essence (unless it be in the first article: ‘we believe in one God’), and the main point with the Nicene fathers was to urge against Arianism the strict divinity and essential equality of the Son and Holy Ghost with the Father. (Ibid.)

In the next paragraph, Hodge continues with:

Gieseler goes much further, and denies that the Nicene fathers held the numerical identity of essence in the persons of the Trinity. The Father, Son, and Spirit were the same in substance as having the same nature, or same kind of substance. This he infers was their doctrine not only from the general style of their teaching, and from special declarations, but from the illustrations which they habitually employed. The Father and the Son are the same in substance as among men father and son have the same nature; or as Basil says, Father and Son differ in rank, as do the angels, although they are the same in nature. Gieseler says that the numerical sameness of nature in the three divine persons, was first asserted by Augustine. It was he, according to Gieseler, who first excluded all idea of subordination in the Trinity. “Athanasius and Hilary understood the proposition, ‘There is one God’ of the Father. Basil the Great and the two Gregories understood by the word God a generic idea (Gattungsbegriff), belonging equally to the Father and the Son. (Ibid.)

Though Hodge and Schaff acknowledge that homoousios can be understood in a generic sense, they maintain—contra Gieseler—that it's use in the Nicene Creed should be interpreted in the numeric sense.

Moving from 19th century writers to those of the 20th century, we find the following from the pen of J.N.D. Kelly:

It is reasonable to suppose, pace Eusebius, that a similar meaning, viz. 'of the same nature', was read into the homoousion. But if this is granted, a further question at once arises: are we to understand 'of the same nature' in the 'generic' sense in which Origen, for example, had employed ὁμοούσιος, or are we to take it as having the meaning accepted by later Catholic [i.e. Western] theology, viz. numerical identity of substance? The root word ούσια could signify the kind of substance or stuff common to several individuals of a class, or it could connote an individual thing as such. (Early Christian Doctrine, 2nd ed. 1960, p. 234.)

And from Ivor J. Davidson:

Homoousios was, however, a word with a difficult history. For a start, it was not biblical, which meant that the council [i.e. Nicaea 325] was proposing to talk about the nature of the Godhead in terms that were philosophical or conceptual rather than in language drawn directly from the Scriptures. 

the outcome of the council was virtually unanimous. All but two of the bishops agreed to sign the creed. The dissenters, Theonas of Marmarica and Secundus of Ptolemais, were both from Libya, where Arius had particularly loyal support. They suffered exile, as did Arius himself. The rest, it seemed, were at one, and Constantine had got his way; the church was united in its opposition to the teaching of Arius [i.e. that the Son was a created being, created ex nihilo, and that there was “a time he was not”].

The reality, however, was for more complex. The apparently all-important homoousios could in fact be understood in a variety of ways. Literally, it meant “same being.” But what was the “sameness” here? To be “the same as” can be “identical to” in a specific sense or “exactly like” in a generic sense. The “being” in question is also vague: a human and animal may both be described as “beings,” but one has on form of “being” (or “nature” or “substance”) and the other another. For staunch enemies of Arius, such as Eustanthius and Marcellus, homoousios meant “one and the same being.” For Eusebius of Caesarea, on the other hand, it meant “exactly like in being”—potentially a very significant difference. Is the Son, the same as God in his being, or is he exactly like God in his being? To Eusebius and many other Greek bishops it seemed better to say that he is like God.
(The Baker History of the Church, Vol. 2 – A Public Faith: From Constantine to the Medieval World, AD 312-600, 2005, pp. 35, 36.)

In the selections provided above, our esteemed authors identify four prominent 4th century Church Fathers who interpreted homoousios in the generic sense—Eusebius of Caesarea, Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nyssa, and Gregory of Nazianzus. I would now like to introduce a fifth Church Father from the 4th century who affirmed the generic understanding, and also explicitly differentiated between monoousios and homoousiosAthanasius. From his Expositio Fidei we read:

For neither do we hold a Son-Father, as do the Sabellians, calling Him of one but not of the same essence, and thus destroying the existence of the Son. (Statement of Faith, 2.2 - A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers - Second Series, Vol. 4.84)

The phrase, "calling Him of one but not of the same essence", is a non-literal translation of the Greek, and a bit misleading. The Greek reads as follows:

λέγοντες μονοούσιον καὶ οὐχ ὁμοούσιον  (legontes monoousion kai ouch homoousion)

My translation: saying [he is of] one essence and not [of the] same essence

[Full Greek text of 2.2—οὔτε γὰρ υἱοπάτορα φρονοῦμεν ὡς οἱ Σαβέλλιοι λέγοντες μονοούσιον καὶ οὐχ ὁμοούσιον καὶ ἐν τούτῳ ἀναιροῦντες τὸ εἶναι υἱόνMigne, PG 25, 204.]

Athanasius identifies the strict numeric understanding of the relationship between the Father and the Son with the Sabellians, contrasting the term monoousion from that of homoousion to drive home his point.

This generic understanding found in Athanasius, Eusebius of Caesarea, Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nyssa, and Gregory of Nazianzus (and other Church Fathers), is the dominant understanding of many Eastern Orthodox theologians—theologians who adamantly maintain that it is the only consistent understanding of the use of homoousion in the Nicene Creed and Chalcedonian Definition.

More later, the Lord willing...

Grace and peace,


Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Is Pope Francis guilty of heresy ???

I am a subscriber to The Catholic World Report—as such, on May 1, 2019 I became aware of a "group of nineteen Catholics, including some prominent academics" who "published an open letter to the bishops of the world accusing Pope Francis of heresy" (see this link). 

[Online copy of the letter here; PDF copy here.]

Numerous websites over the last few days have been analyzing and discussing this provocative letter. As expected, some folk fully concur with charges of the letter, whilst others take issue with it.

Interestingly enough, Jimmy Akin—a conservative Catholic convert and well known apologist—is one of those folk who takes issue with the letter. On May 2, 2019 his following article was published online:

On May 5, 2019 another conservative Catholic convert and well known apologist, Dave Armstrong, defends Jimmy Akin in the following post:

Websites that side with the charges of the open letter, include:

Directly related to the issue at hand was an earlier, "25-page letter signed by 40 Catholic clergy and lay scholars [that] was delivered to Pope Francis on August 11th [2017]". (Link to quote here ; link to letter here.)

So, is Pope Francis guilty of heresy? The two above letters are compelling; but then, Jimmy Akin's analysis raises some serious questions. For now, I have not been able to reach a conclusion on the matter. Would be very interested in hearing from those folk who have...

Grace and peace,


Wednesday, May 1, 2019

The Apostasy That Wasn't - an interesting, multi-dimensional book by Rod Bennett

The Apostasy That Wasn't was published back in 2015, and though I own, and have read Bennett's earlier work, Four Witnesses: The Early Church in Her Own Words (link), I did not become aware of The Apostasy That Wasn't until November 2018, whilst I was engaged in research for my Unity and the Christian Church series.

The Apostasy That Wasn't is fairly unique in that it is a multi-dimensional contribution. In one sense, it is in part a more traditional historical work; in another, it is a historical narrative with some speculative material; and lastly, it has apologetic elements. The historical aspect of the book primarily covers a period of history from Diocletian's persecution (303 A.D.) through first Ecumenical Council of Constantinople (381 A. D.), though it also touches on certain events in the third century prior to Diocletian's persecution. The more traditional historical part takes it's form in extensive quotations from the extant works of ancient Christian historians. The historical narrative comes via the use of a number of historical persons in the period being covered. As for the apologetic dimension of the book, it is a defense of the historic Catholic Church against the claims advanced by a number of sects that this historic Catholic Church became apostate. In the introduction (pages 13-27), some of the sects he mentions include: Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormonism, Seventh-day Adventists, The Church of God of Prophecy, and Bennett's former "Baptist church".

The balance between the three aforementioned dimensions is quite good—keeping in mind that the book is not an in depth historical treatment—with the flow of the book making it very readable. (But with that said, I found the interaction between the footnotes and endnotes to be a bit cumbersome at times.) Bennett's narrative format 'brings to life' a number of key historical figures—e.g. Anthony of the Desert, Athanasius, emperors Constantine and Julian (the Apostate), Basil the Great—prompting one to engage in more extensive research via the extant, ancient sources provided in the footnotes and endnotes.

I suspect a number of AF's readers would benefit from reading this engaging contribution. For those folk who have some interest in the topic, but do not wish to obtain book, I recommend the following YouTube video:

Grace and peace,


Thursday, April 4, 2019

Divine Embodiment in Jewish Antiquity: Rediscovering The Jewishness of John’s Incarnate Christ - a doctoral dissertation

Beginning with my January 20, 2019 post (link), I began to explore the issue of divine embodiment, creating a new LABEL—Corporeality and God— specifically for the topic (link). This post will be the sixth contribution included under that label/topic.

The first five threads concerning 'Corporeality and God' have to date roused 99 comments. I suspect/hope that the dissertation I am about to introduce will stimulate some continued interest and discussion on this topic.

It was just a few days ago that I discovered Deborah L. Forger's 2017 doctoral dissertation— Divine Embodiment in Jewish Antiquity: Rediscovering The Jewishness of John’s Incarnate Christ—whilst engaged in online research (PDF). The following excerpts will serve as an introduction to this engaging and thought provoking contribution:

At the heart of this dissertation is my definition of the notion of divine embodiment. Divine embodiment for my purposes encompasses a wide variety of ways in which an aspect, or attribute, or personification of Israel’s supreme God enters into the created world, though much of my work centers on how these manifestations became localized or mediated through humans. These entities are not synonymous with Israel’s supreme deity, but they participate in the divinity of that ineffable and uncreated One, and thereby can also be considered divine. As a close corollary, I define human apotheosis as instances in which created humans, or human-like figures, either undergo the process of deification or are presented as being divine themselves. These figures, though created, also participate in the divinity of Israel’s supreme deity, and thus can also be considered divine.

Throughout this dissertation I intentionally employ the phrase “divine embodiment,” instead of “God’s embodiment” or “incarnation.” With respect to the notion of “God’s embodiment,” I draw a distinction between the words God and divine, because although Jews had a conceptualization of one supreme God who was uncreated himself, there were many other entities that could participate in that high God’s divinity and thereby be conceived of as divine as well. (Pages 8,  9)

A bit later we read:

...I suggest that within the period of Jewish Antiquity which I investigate, there were a number of ways that the “divine” could became “embodied,” and thus the notion of incarnation emerged out of the matrix of and not as a significant deviation from, other Jewish thought. Specifically, I claim that the description found in John 1:14 that the divine word became flesh (ὁ λόγος σὰρξ ἐγένετο) was just one of the many ways that Jews in the early centuries of the Common Era understood that God, or an aspect of God, was embodied, or took on a corporeal form. Thus, in the first century CE, both immediately before and in the aftermath of the destruction of the Second Temple, the notion of divine embodiment was not antithetical to Jewish religious thought, but rather integral to it. (Page 13)


The primary question that I ask throughout this dissertation is why it is at this particular time in Jewish history that so many Jewish texts present a manner by which God can become embodied or humans can become deified. I do not assume that the authors of these texts necessarily knew one another. Nor do I claim that they were dependent upon one another. What I do observe, however, is the wide variety of ways that Jews in this period thought about how God and humanity could be connected through embodiment. Thus, though I posit a number of different ways that first-century Jews conceived of divine embodiment, I demonstrate how the Gospel of John’s description of this phenomenon both stands in continuity with other Jewish descriptions and is distinct from them as well. (Page 44)

Forger has cogently, and importantly, identified that more than one interpretation of what divine embodiment entailed was in existence during the life of Jesus Christ, and the subsequent emergence of Christianity as new religion. Forger also advances a somewhat provocative understanding of the term 'monotheism'; a term which is inextricably related to the issue of divine embodiment—note the following:

My dissertation makes this argument in three primary parts. In the first part, which also comprises chapter two, I re-contextualize one pivotal term—namely, the notion of ancient Jewish monotheism—with respect to my broader investigation of divine embodiment in the Second Temple Period. Such re-contextualization enables me to move past debates that have stymied progress in this arena, particularly the question of how early Christians, who were Jewish monotheists themselves, could have believed in a Jesus who was also divine. Wouldn’t that move have implied a step towards ditheism? My work in this chapter complicates and ultimately dismantles this assumption from two primary perspectives: First, I challenge the appropriateness of the term “monotheism” to describe Jewish belief during this period by showing that “monotheism” and its derived adjective “monotheistic” did not exist in antiquity. It was only in the midst of seventeenth-century CE philosophical debates that Henry Moore first coined the term. To impose it onto the ideological imagination of Jews living in the first-century CE is anachronistic and does not fully encapsulate the complexity of ancient Jewish beliefs about God. Second, I suggest that to use descriptors of a supreme uncreated God from whom all other reality flows is a better way of conceiving of God in the Second Temple Period, because this is the language that ancient Jews actually employed when describing God. I argue that though Jewish monotheism did not exist per se, since ancient Jews conceived of the oneness of the godhead in a complex and hierarchical manner, they did understand there to be a clear separation between the one uncreated God and all other reality. (Page 47)

Before ending this introduction to Forger's dissertation, I would like point out one more important aspect directly related to the issue of divine embodiment: the development of doctrine. Forger's contribution clearly demonstrates that the 'traditional' understanding of divine embodiment—contra the competing Stoic and cruder anthropomorphic views—emerged within a Jewish matrix, rather than a Hellenistic one.

Looking forward to further discussion on these important topics...

Grace and peace,


Friday, March 29, 2019

New narrative history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

The entire first volume of the new narrative history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is now available in a PDF format, for online reading and/or download:

Saints - The Standard of Truth - 1815-1846 

I found out about this new—700+ pages—book yesterday, and began reading it last night. I may share some of my musings once I have finished the tome.

Grace and peace,


Monday, March 11, 2019

God, LDS Metaphysics, and the Development of Doctrine - Blake Ostler: "all things indwell in God and God indwells all things"

In the combox of the previous thread, Tom has been postulating that a doctrinal development concerning the nature God found in the writings of the majority of the early Church Fathers was a corruption rather than a true development. In the first comment post of the thread, Tom wrote:

...I thought to claim that “preservation of type” was lacking in the CHANGE from an embodied God to a totally incorporeal God.

And in a later post, we read:

Now perhaps more important to this discussion you said,
Development cannot be used as a cover for contradiction.
What could be a more perfect example of contradiction? Where once Jews and Christians believed God was embodied, latter they DEMAND it is ridiculous to believe God is embodied and He in fact is totally incorporeal.

In this thread, I am going to propose that the phrase "totally incorporeal" lacks a certain degree of clarity when describing the person and or persons termed "God", as found in the Bible, writings of the early Church Fathers—and importantly for this thread—in the LDS Triple Combination.

Before moving forward with my proposition, it is necessary to delineate how the term "God" will be used throughout this thread. I will be relying heavily on a number of descriptions utilized by Blake Ostler in his,  Exploring Mormon Thought - The Attributes of God (2001).

First and foremost, "God" will refer to a "class or kind of being", which "kind K" has a certain set of properties that are:

"essential properties of a natural kind" because anything that lacks such properties would not belong to the kind...for anything to count as God, it would have to have properties of a perfect being such as omniscience, omnipotence and omnibenevolence etc. Moreover, God is understood to be that being who possesses all great-making properties in their fullest. No other being could be more powerful, or more wise, or more good...

The monotheistic use of "God" presupposes that God must have each of his properties in a special sort of way, i.e., perfectly and uniquely. Thus, the term God is such that the individual that bears those properties must be the unique and exclusive member of a unique and exclusive class. The notion that God must be absolutely one seemed to be supported in the earliest years of Christianity by both Jewish monotheism and Greek metaphysics. Despite the obvious subordination of the Son to the Father in the Christian scriptures, the Jewish scriptures contained statements of monotheism which did not permit any real competitor to Yahweh: "I am Yahweh, and there is none else, there is no God beside me" (Isa. 45:5, 21, 22). In addition that, the notion that God is incomparable, literally in a class by himself, required that all contenders are merely pretenders to divinity: "thou shalt have no other gods but the Lord thy God." Here "gods" refers to beings who aspire to belong to "God's" class, but there can be only one legitimate being in the class, the God Yahweh. This usage is more or less equivalent to the Hebrew meaning of Elohim and the English expressions such as "deity," "the Godhead," "the Almighty," "the Lord," "the Supreme Being." or "the Most High." These terms for deity imply that there is a single, supreme member of the class "God Almighty." (2001 - pp. 6, 7)

In the next page, Ostler acknowledges another use of the term God, and its plural, Gods:

The very term "God" has seemed to include in it the notions of supremacy and perfection. Nevertheless, "God" or "Gods" is found in the Hebrew scriptures referring to beings that are not supreme. For example, there are divinities who are inferior or subordinate or divinities only by permission of the head God. (2001 - p. 8)

The rest of this opening post will focus on the "class or kind of being" identified in the KJV and Triple Combination as the 'eternal God', 'everlasting God', 'one God', 'true God', 'Lord God', 'Lord Omnipotent', 'Lord God Omnipotent', 'LORD', 'Jehovah', 'Most High', "Most High God', 'Almighty God', 'God of Gods', 'Lord of Lords', etc.

Moving forward, note the following from Oslter:

In 1832, Joseph Smith received a revelation which elucidated God's immanence—the doctrine that God is present to but is not identical with all realities. Immanence is more than omnipresence or being present at all places.  Immanence includes the notion that God is: (1) present in terms of power and awareness at all places; (2) able to effectuate his will at all places without intermediary; and (3) the experience or information of every reality is included within God's experience and knowledge. Put another way, all things indwell in God and God indwells in all things. Immanence, as conceived by Joseph Smith, is preeminently a reciprocal relation, for it is true that God is in and through all things as that all things are in and through God. A revelation to Joseph Smith referred to God's power and knowledge in terms of supreme relatedness and immediacy to all aspects of the physical universe" "He comprehended all things, that the might be in all and through all things, the light of truth. . . . Which light proceedeth forth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space" (D&C 88:6, 12).

God is aware of or "comprehendeth" all things because they are before him. However, things are not merely present to God, but God is also to all things. He is not merely present to, but actually through all things. (2001 - pp. 75, 76 - bold emphasis mine)

And just a bit later, we read:

This revelation, and others received by Joseph Smith use the terms "spirit," "intelligence," "power," "light." and "law," as synonyms and mutually reinforcing notions. (2001 - p. 76)

With Ostler's reflections in mind, I will now turn to a number of verses from the Bible and Triple Combination which describe the attributes and nature of God:

Jeremiah 23:24 - Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? saith the LORD. Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the LORD.

1 Kings 8:27 - But will God indeed dwell on the earth? behold, the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain thee; how much less this house that I have builded?

Chronicles 2:6 - But who is able to build him an house, seeing the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain him? who am I then, that I should build him an house, save only to burn sacrifice before him?

Isaiah 66:1 - Thus saith the LORD, The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool: where is the house that ye build unto me? and where is the place of my rest?

John 4:24 God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.

1 John 5:7 - For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.

2 Nephi 31:21b - ...this is the doctrine of Christ, and the only and true doctrine of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, which is one God, without end. Amen.

Alma 11:44b - ...and shall be brought and be arraigned before the bar of Christ the Son, and God the Father, and the Holy Spirit, which is one Eternal God, to be judged according to their works, whether they be good or whether they be evil.

3 Nephi 11:36 - And thus will the Father bear record of me, and the Holy Ghost will bear record unto him of the Father and me; for the Father, and I, and the Holy Ghost are one.

Mormon 7:7 - And he hath brought to pass the redemption of the world, whereby he that is found guiltless before him at the judgment day hath it given unto him to dwell in the presence of God in his kingdom, to sing ceaseless praises with the choirs above, unto the Father, and unto the Son, and unto the Holy Ghost, which are one God, in a state of happiness which hath no end.

D&C 20:17 - By these things we know that there is a God in heaven, who is infinite and eternal, from everlasting to everlasting the same unchangeable God, the framer of heaven and earth, and all things which are in them;

D&C 20: 27, 28 - As well as those who should come after, who should believe in the gifts and callings of God by the Holy Ghost, which beareth record of the Father and of the Son; Which Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are one God, infinite and eternal, without end. Amen.

D&C 88: 11-13 - And the light which shineth, which giveth you light, is through him who enlighteneth your eyes, which is the same light that quickeneth your understandings; Which light proceedeth forth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space. The light which is in all things, which giveth life to all things, which is the law by which all things are governed, even the power of God who  sitteth upon his throne, who is in the bosom of eternity, who is in the midst of all things.

The descriptions of God in the above passages strongly suggest to me that those attributes which make God 'eternal', 'everlasting', 'infinite', 'one God', 'fill heaven and earth', 'fill the immensity of space', 'in all things', 'Spirit', etc., are descriptions of God's divine nature; a divine nature that sure seems to be identifying a "class or kind of being" who has a spiritual, infinite essence, rather than a corporeal, finite one.

I can now delineate why I believe that the phrase "totally incorporeal" lacks a certain degree of clarity when describing the person and or persons termed "God". Though God's divine nature is essentially "Spirit", this does not preclude Him from taking on corporeal form. With that said, I cannot help but maintain a correct reading of Scripture demands that we acknowledge God has in fact done so.

If the above assessment of mine is an accurate one, it then seems to follow that the development of the doctrine of God—via the reflections of the early Church Fathers—constituted a “preservation of type”, and was not a corruption.

But then, this beachbum may have missed somethnig...

Grace and peace,


Thursday, February 21, 2019

Is Theology Poetry? - the nature and necessity of the development of doctrine

In the January 20, 2019 thread I linked to Gordon Carle's doctoral dissertation, "Alexandria in the Shadow of the Hill Cumorah: A Comparative Historical Theology of The Early Christian and Mormon Doctrines of God" (link). The primary content and context of the dissertation, "is a comparative study of the theological and historical development of the early Christian (Pre-Nicene) and Mormon doctrines of God." The post gave rise to a robust discussion concerning which of the two above paradigms has been the more faithful development of the divine revelations recorded in the Old and New Testaments, with a focus on anthropomorphism.

The issue of the development of doctrine has been one of the major topics explored here at AF for over a decade now, with 55 prior posts delving into the subject (see THIS LINK). However, the relationship between anthropomorphism and development of doctrine was not explored until the above referenced thread. My current studies into this topic has brought to light an essay presented by C. S. Lewis to the 'Socratic Club'—an Oxford debating society—back in 1944. 

This essay provides some fascinating contrasts between theology, mythology and poetry; but it is page 10 where the issue of doctrinal development begins. Note the following:

What did the early Christians believe? Did they believe that God really has a material palace in the sky and that He received His Son in a decorated state chair placed a little to the right of His own? — or did they not? The answer is that the alternative we are offering them was probably never present to their minds at all. As soon as it was present, we know quite well which side of the fence they came down. As soon as the issue of Anthropomorphism was explicitly before the Church in, I think, the second century, Anthropomorphism was condemned. The Church knew the answer (that God has no body and therefore couldn’t sit in a chair) as soon as it knew the question. But till the question was raised, of course, people believed neither the one answer nor the other. There is no more tiresome error in the history of thought than to try to sort our ancestors on to this or that side of a distinction which was not in their minds at all. You are asking a question to which no answer exists.

It is very probable that most (almost certainly not all) of the first generation of Christians never thought of their faith without anthropomorphic imagery, and that they were not explicitly conscious, as a modern would be, that it was mere imagery. But this does not in the least mean that the essence of their belief was concerned with details about a celestial throne room. That was not what they valued, or what they were prepared to die for. Any one of them who went to Alexandria and got a philosophical education would have recognised the imagery at once for what it was, and would not have felt that his belief had been altered in any way that mattered...

The earliest Christians were not so much like a man who mistakes the shell for the kernel as like a man carrying a nut which he hasn’t yet cracked. The moment it is cracked, he knows which part to throw away. Till then he holds on to the nut, not because he is a fool but because he isn’t. (Pages 10, 11 - LINK to PDF)

Those who are familiar with John Henry Newman's, An Essay On The Development of Christian Doctrine, will most likely discern his motif of organic development in Lewis' essay.

Before ending, I would like to issue a challenge of sorts: take Newman's famous seven notes concerning doctrinal development—Preservation of Type, Continuity of its Principles, Its Power of Assimilation, Its Logical Sequence, Anticipation of its Future, Conservative Action Upon its Past, and Its Chronic Vigor—and apply them to the two different paradigms contrasted in Carle's dissertation.

Hope to hear from those folk who take up the challenge soon...

Grace and peace,


Monday, February 11, 2019

"Let us make man in our image, after our likeness" - Jewish Midrash concerning Genesis 1:26

Over the weekend, I read Jacob Neusner's, Judaism When Christianity Began (link to Google Preview). 

Given the recent AF topic on corporeality and God, I felt compelled to share the following selection:

The Torah's single most important teaching about God is that humanity is like God, so Genesis 1:26: "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness." God and the human being are mirror images of one another. Here we find the simple claim that the angels could not discern any physical difference whatever between man—Adam—and God:

Genesis Rabbah VIII:X
A. Said R. Hoshaiah, "When the Holy One, blessed be he, came to create the first man, the ministering angels mistook him [for God, for man was in God's image,] and wanted to say before the latter, Holy, [holy, holy is the Lord of hosts].' (Page 29)

This brought back to mind an essay by Neusner which I read back in the late 90s—"Conversation in Nauvoo about the Corporeality of God"—which was published in volume 36.1 (1996) of the BYU Studies Quarterly. I grabbed the issue from my collection, and on page 14 found the exact same Midrash quote referenced above—which I must admit, I had forgotten. (PDF copy available online HERE.)

I think many folk will find Neusner's book and essay of interest...

Grace and peace,


Thursday, January 31, 2019

Lactantius on the figure/form of God

In the previous thread the dissertation by Gordon Allen Carle, which I linked to, has elicited a robust discussion concerning the issue of whether or not God in some sense has a 'body'. An important element of the topic concerns whether or not any extant writings of early post-apostolic Christians support the view that God in some real sense possesses bodily form. Support for God having bodily form is explicitly found in the extant writings of Tertullian and in the collection of Jewish Christian writings commonly known as the Clementine literature. A consensus of Patristic scholars also believe that Melito of Sardis held to the belief.

In the above referenced discussion the question of whether or not Lactantius affirmed the notion that God has a bodily figure/form was raised. One of the participants—TOm—included Lactantius with Tertullian and Melito as those folk who affirmed a bodily form of God. This was the first time I had seen Lactantius associated with the view. TOm related that he inherited this understanding from two sources: first, The Harvard Theological Review article, "Augustine and the Corporeality of God" by Griffin and Paulsen [link]; and second, The Catholic Encyclopedia entry, "Anthropomorphism". The HTR article merely mentions the name along with Tertullian (see page 107). The following is an excerpt from the TCE entry:

Anthropomorphites (Audians)

A sect of Christians that arose in the fourth century in Syria and extended into Scythia, sometimes called Audians, from their founder, Audius. Taking the text of Genesis, i, 27, literally, Audius held that God has a human form. The error was so gross, and, to use St. Jerome's expression (Epist. vi, Ad Pammachium), so absolutely senseless, that it showed no vitality. Towards the end of the century it appeared among some bodies of African Christians. The Fathers who wrote against it dismiss it almost contemptuously. In the time of Cyril of Alexandria, there were some anthropomorphites among the Egyptian monks. He composed a short refutation of their error, which he attributed to extreme ignorance. (Adv. Anthrop. in P.G., LXXVI.) Concerning the charges of anthropomorphism preferred against Melito, Tertullian, Origen, and Lactantius, see the respective articles. The error was revived in northern Italy during the tenth century, but was effectually suppressed by the bishops, notably by the learned Ratherius, Bishop of Verona.  (The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume I, 1907, p. 559.)

Once again, we have merely the mention of Lactantius, with no reference/s to his extant works. But the TCE entry prompts one to, "see the respective articles." Under the "Lactantius" entry we read:

Another treatise, "De Ira Dei", directed against the Stoics and Epicureans, is supplementary to the "Divine Institutions" (II,xvii,5) and deals with anthropomorphism in its true sense. (The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume VIII, p. 736.)

"De Ira Dei"—The Anger/Wrath of God—is one of Lactanitus' minor works. It had been over three decades ago since I last read Volume Seven of the Nicene and Post-Nicene series, which contains the English translations of many of Lactantius' works, including his De Ira Dei. I pulled down the volume from the self a couple of days ago and found the following:

But we say that those fall from the second step, who, though they understand that there is but one Supreme God, nevertheless, ensnared by the philosophers, and captivated by false arguments, entertain opinions concerning that excellent majesty far removed from the truth ; who either deny that God has any figure, or think that He is moved by no affection, because every affection is a sign of weakness, which has no existence in God. (Lactantius, A Treatise on the Anger of God, Chapter 2 - NPNF 7.260 - bold emphasis mine.)

An, 'ah hah moment' for sure! Next step for me was to find out what the Latin reading was. From Migne's Patrologia Latina we read:

qui aut figuram negant habere ullam Deum (Migne, Patrologiæ Cursus Completus, Tomus VII, Columns 82, 83.)

Armed with the Latin and Google, I found two contributions that are germane to our issue at hand. From the first:

Lactantius, as is usual with him, displays considerable acuteness in detecting the weak points of his adversary's argument ; but a deficiency of soundness and clearness in his own views. He describes the steps towards Truth, from each of which he represents the fall into fatal error as prone and easy ; and he shows how low were the attainments even of those among the philosophers who made the nearest approaches to right opinions. But in speaking of those who attributed absolute quiescence to the Deity, he himself employs language from which it may not unfairly be inferred that he considered God to have both a body and bodily affections. "They entertain sentiments wide of the Truth, who deny that God has any shape, or can be excited by any feeling ." (Jacob Henry Brooke Mountain, A Summary of the Writings of Lactantius, Page 133 - bold emphasis mine.)

And the second:

The crudest form of anthropomorphism, proceeding from a misapprehension of the expression "Image of God" in Genesis, represented God as Man per eminentiam. It was held by Melito, bishop of Sardis in the second century, who wrote a book entitled περί ἐνσωμάτου θεοῦ, which treated not, as some suppose, of the Incarnation, but of the corporeity of God in a sensuous human figure, as Origen testifies. Somewhat more refined is another form according to which God was conceived of as an ethereal being of light. This view is maintained in the Clementine Homilies, and even by Tertullian ; notwithstanding the depth and purity of his religious feelings, he says—"Who shall deny that God is a body, although God is a Spirit.";* He maintains that there is nothing uncorporeal, except what does not exist.† Spirit is Body of a peculiar quality.‡ Some have tried to excuse him as if he only wanted another word in order to express real existence. But this is certainly unfounded. The errors of thought and language here exactly coincide. Tertullian, with his vivid religious feeling and his robust realism, knew not how to separate the ideas of Reality and Corporeity. We remark similar representations in Lactantius, who combats those who deny that God possesses form and affections. When we read in writers of this period that God is sine corpore, it does not follow that they conceived of him as a purely spiritual Being, but possibly they only meant to express a contrariety to earthly bodies. (Neander, The History of Christian Dogmas, Vol. 1, pp. 103, 104 - bold emphasis mine.)

And so, it seems that Lactantius must be included with the Clementine literature, Tertullian, and Melito as one of the early Christian writers who believed that God exists in some bodily form.

Grace and peace,