Sunday, February 25, 2018

Augustine's novel development concerning the Trinity

In the combox of the previous thread on Augustine (link), Andrew L. Davis wrote:

 >>I definately agree that Augustine saw the Trinity as one substance/essence. But what I hoped to show with the quotes I cited above is that it appears that he went beyond articulating the persons to be one essence to ultimately treat them as a single person. What I mean by that isn't that he uses the term "person" for the Trinity, but in using singular personal pronouns for the Trinity, and praying to it as though a person, it seems like a difficult conclusion to avoid that he treated the Trinity as a person, conceptually. In doing so I think he went to a place beyond where the Nicene and pre-nicene fathers went.>>

Andrew then asked:

>>What do you make of the singular personal language in his prayer quoted above from the end of On the Trinity?>>

In one of his later works, Augustine himself provides an explanation which I believe constitutes an answer to Andrew's question. Before going to that work, I am going to provide a quote from the prayer that Andrew mentioned.

[Note: all the following Latin texts are from the Sant'Agostino website; the English translations are from, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (hereafter, NPNF).]

Domine Deus une, Deus Trinitas - O Lord the one God, God the Trinity - (De Trinitate - On the Trinity, 15.28.51; NPNF 3.228)

The above is one of the many variants of Augustine's famous phrase:

Trinitas quae Deus est - the Trinity, Who [which] is God - (De Trinitate - On the Trinity, 1.4.7; NPNF 3.20)

Concerning this phrase, the Augustinian scholar, Lewis Ayres wrote:

...the phrase Trinitas quae Deus est, [is] a phrase not found in his predecessors. Interestingly this phrase is only once used by Augustine in his homiletic corpus, but it is used frequently in his the De Trinitate, in two letters closely connected to that work and in his late anti-'Arian' works. Its absence from sermons, and from the record of his public debate with Maximinus, suggests that Augustine saw the phrase as, at the least, needing careful explanation because of its direct identification of Trinitas as Deus. While Augustine's standard practice seems to have been to refer to the Father when Deus is used without further qualification, he also uses a number of innovative phrases which speak directly of the Trinity as God and which identify Son and Spirit by (scriptural) titles and phrases that his predecessors were reticent to apply to any other than the Father without qualification. (Augustine and the Trinity, 2010, p. 100.)

Other variants of the phrase include the following:

Trinitas sit unus et solus et verus Deus - the Trinity is the one and only and true God - (De Trinitate - On the Trinity, 1.2.4; NPNF 3.19)

uno et solo Deo, quod est ipsa Trinitas - the One and only God, which is the Trinity itself - (De Trinitate - On the Trinity, 1.6.10; NPNF 3.22)

unus et solus et verus Deus, ipsa Trinitas - the One and only and true God, the Trinity itself - (De Trinitate - On the Trinity, 1.6.10; NPNF 3.22)

ipse Deus Trinitas - God Himself, the Trinity - (De Trinitate - On the Trinity, 1.6.11; NPNF 3.22)

ista Trinitas unus est Deus - this Trinity is one God - (De  Fide et Symbolo - On Faith and the Creed, 9.16; NPNF 3.327)

But, why has Augustine introduced the phrase—and its variants—Trinitas quae Deus est ??? As mentioned above, I believe that he has given us one of his explanations as to the 'why' in one of his later works— Contra Maximinium (Against Maximinus). Note the following:

I would not have thee mistake that place in the epistle of John the apostle where he saith, "There are three witnesses: the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and the three are one." Lest haply thou say that the Spirit and the water and the blood are diverse substances, and yet it is said, "the three are one:" for this cause I have admonished thee, that thou mistake not the matter. For these are mystical expressions, in which the point always to be considered is, not what the actual things are, but what they denote as signs: since they are signs of things, and what they are in their essence is one thing, what they are in their signification another. If then we understand the things signified, we do find these things to be of one substance. Thus, if we should say, the rock and the water are one, meaning by the Rock, Christ; by the water, the Holy Ghost: who doubts that rock and water are two different substances ? yet because Christ and the Holy Spirit are of one and the same nature, therefore when one says, the rock and the water are one, this can be rightly taken in this behalf, that these two things of which the nature is diverse, are signs of other things of which the nature is one. Three things then we know to have issued from the Body of the Lord when He hung upon the tree: first, the spirit: of which it is written, "And He bowed the head and gave up the spirit:" then, as His side was pierced by the spear, "blood and water." Which three thingsf if we look at as they are in themselves, they are in substance several and distinct, and therefore they are not one. But if we will inquire into the things signified by these, there not unreasonably comes into our thoughts the Trinity itself, which is the One, Only, True, Supreme God, Father and Son and Holy Ghost, of whom it could most truly be said, "There are Three Witnesses, and the Three are One:" so that by the term Spirit we should understand God the Father to be signified; as indeed it was concerning the worshipping of Him that the Lord was speaking, when He said, "God is a Spirit:" by the term, blood, the Son; because "the Word was made flesh:" and by the term water, the Holy Ghost; as, when Jesus spake of the water which He would give to them that thirst, the evangelist saith, "But this said He of the Spirit which they that believed on Him were to receive." Moreover, that he Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are "Witnesses," who that believes the Gospel can doubt, when the Son saith, "I am one that bear witness of myself, and the Father that sent me. He beareth witness of me." Where, though the Holy Ghost is not mentioned, yet He is not to be thought separated from them. Howbeit neither concerning the Spirit hath He kept silence elsewhere, and that He too is a witness hath been sufficiently and openly shown. For in promising Him He said, "He shall bear witness of me.'' These are the "Three Witnesses, and the Three are One," because of one substance. But whereas, the signs by which they were signified came forth from the Body of the Lord, herein they figured the Church preaching the Trinity, that it hath one and the same nature: since these Three in threefold manner signified are One, and the Church that preacheth them is the Body of Christ. In this manner then the three things by which they are signified came out from the Body of the Lord: like as from the Body of the Lord sounded forth the command to ''baptize the nations in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost." "In the name:" not, In the names: for "these Three are One," and One God is these Three. And if in any other way this depth of mystery which we read in John's epistle can be expounded and understood agreeably with the Catholic faith, which neither confounds nor divides the Trinity, neither believes the substances diverse nor denies that the persons are three, it is on no account to be rejected. For whenever in Holy Scriptures in order to exercise the minds of the faithful any thing is put darkly, it is to be joyfully welcomed if it can be in many ways but not unwisely expounded. (NPNF 7.526, 527) [For another English translation of the above passage, see The Works of Saint Augustine - A Translation for the 21st Century - Arianism and Other Heresies, (vol. 1.18), pp. 307, 308.]

And so, "the Three are One", because of one substance; and because the Trinity—i.e. the Father, Son and Holy Spirit—hath one and the same nature. Since the one substance and the nature is God, the Trinity is God.

Grace and peace,


Monday, February 19, 2018

Augustine - on God the Father as 'the principle without principle'

Back on 10 July 2016, I published one of my personal, favorite posts:

In that post I provided a number of examples which prove beyond any doubt that Augustine clearly taught the Son owes his existence to God the Father.

Today, I am publishing yet one more example of causality from Augustine; note the following:

We can ask whether we should understand the words "In the beginning God made heaven and earth" only in accord with history, or whether they also signify something in figures, and how they conform to the gospel and for what reason this book begins in this way. According to history one asks whether "In the beginning" means in the beginning of time in the principle, in the very Wisdom of God. For the Son of God said that he was the principle. When he was asked, "Who are you?" he said, "The principle; that is why I am speaking to you." For there is a principle without principle, and there is a principal along with another principal. The principle without principle is the Father alone, and thus we believe that all things are from one principle. But the Son is a principle in such a way that he is from the Father. (Augustine, On the Literal Translation of Genesis, in  Fathers of the Church, vol. 84, p. 148 - bold emphasis mine.)

The maxim that 'the principle without principle is the Father alone', employed by Augustine, became an important component of Catholic dogma, being adopted by Church councils, and theologians (most notably, Thomas Aquinas). Directly related to this dictum is the monarchy of God the Father, as well as the often neglected  teaching that it is the Father alone who is autotheos.

Hope to have more on 'the principle without principle is the Father alone', in the near future (the Lord willing).

Grace and peace,


Friday, February 2, 2018

Early Mormon history: an important paradigm shift - Part 2

In the first installment of this series (link), I delineated "three primary explanations/interpretations of the historical period under investigation". This post will open with the 'Supernatural B' explanation.
One of the earliest, published examples of 'Supernatural B' came from the pen of a close relative of Joseph Smith Jr., his uncle Jesse Smith, the eldest brother of Joseph Smith Sr. We learn from George A. Smith, a cousin of Joseph Smith Jr., that letters from Joseph Smith Sr. and Joseph Smith Jr., began to be written and sent to close family members (e.g. Asael Smith, Jesse Smith,  John Smith), in the fall of 1828, promoting Joseph Smith Juniors recent supernatural experiences—e.g. the discovery of the 'gold plates', the translation work, and angelic visitations. We learn from the following letter penned by Jesse Smith that Hyrum Smith was also sending letters to close family members. The entire letter is provided below. I am using the Joseph Smith Papers online edition, and have included a few of their editorial additions. The hand written copy, and fully edited version can be accessed online HERE.

Letter, Jesse Smith to Hyrum Smith • 17 June 1829
Stockholm June 17th 1829
Mr. Hiram Smith

Once as I thot my promising Nephew, You wrote to my Father long ago, that after struggling thro various scenes of adversity, you and your family, you had at last been taught the very salutary lesson that the God that made the heavens and the earth w[o]uld at onc[e] give success to your endeavours, this if true, is very well, exactly as it should be— but— alas what is man when left to his own way, he makes his own gods, if a golden calf, he falls down and worship’s before it, and says this is my god which brought me out of the land of Vermont — if it be a gold book discovered by the necromancy of infidelity, & dug from the mines of atheism, he writes that the Angel of the Lord has revealed to him the hidden treasures of wisdom & knowledge, even divine revelation, which has lain in the bowels of the earth for thousands of years is at last made known to him, he says he has eyes to see things that are not, and then has the audacity to say they are; And this Angel of the Lord (Devil it should be) has put me in possession of great wealth, gold and silver and precious stones so that I shall have the dominion in all the land of Palmyra.—
In a subsequent letter you write that you learn from your Grandfather’s letter that uncle Jesse thinks you are carrying on a work of deception, in this he and you are right, Uncle Jesse did, and still does think the whole pretended discovery, not a very deep, but a very clear and foolish deception, a very great wickedness, unpardonable, unless you are shielded by your ignorance. Again you say, if you are decieved God is your deciever, Blasphemous wretch— how dare you utter such a sentence, how dare you harbor such a thot— aye, you never did think so, but being hardened in iniquity, you made use of the holy name of Jehovah! for what, why to cover your nefarious designs & impose on the credulity of your Grandfather, one of the oldest men on the earth,
Blackness of darkness! [p. 59]

You say you have God for a witness— to prove the truth of what you write miserable creature, not to say perjured villain, how dare you thus trifle, in taking the name of God in vain, nay far worse than vain— that God with whom you thus trifle, is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity he cannot look on sin with any degree of approbation or complacency it is true he passeth by iniquity transgression and sin in his redeemed ones, he sees their shield, and for his sake recieves them to favour, but to such as make lead books, and declare to the world that they are of the most fine gold, calling on the great & dreadful name of the most High to witness the truth of their assertions, He says “depart from me ye that work iniquity,” and again “these shall go away into everlasting punishment, they shall be cast into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels” these are the angels that tell where to find gold books.——
Your Grandfather is sorely disappointed he would not have listened a moment to your foolery, had he been forty years younger, he would have discovered barefaced falsehood in every line of your statement, nor would he as it is, but they say there must be one fool in the play, your good, pious & methodistical uncle Asahel induced his father to give credit to your tale of nonsense, your abominable wickedness.— but now the poor old man just dropping into the grave is in tears day and night as David, mourning as did David over Absolam, who fell in rebellion against God & man, my poor old father is in deep mourning, not for his younger son, he sleeps in the dust, his ashes are not disturbed by your horrible deeds, he was taken from this evil, he mourns for Joe & his numerous family, not because wild beasts have torn him in pieces, but because he has destroyed himself & associated so much with thieves murderers etc etc
Your father would not be implicated in this place, but for the message he sent by the hands of a fool to my brother Saml [Smith] this fellow says that you and your father are in this business very deep the fellow also believes all to be a fact, this to be sure, for no one unless predisposed to believe a lie would have heard a syllable from either of you on the subject, he says your father has a wand or rod like Jannes & Jambres who withstood Moses in Egypt— that he can tell the distance from India to Ethiopia or another fool story, many other things alike ridiculous.
You state your Father cannot write by reason of a nervous affection this is a poor excuse, worse than none, he can dictate to others and [p. 60]

they can write, If he knows not what to write, he can get your Brother’s spectacles he would then be as able to dictate a letter, as Joe is to decypher hieroglyphics, if more should be wanting he can employ the same scoundrel of a scribe, and then not only the matter but manner and style would be correct.
My compliments to your Father and Mother, tell them I wish them to review through years that are past, and say if they have done well in not writing to me these many years, tell them the time has been when they were glad to see me, but I am suspicious that the length of time since we last parted, has in some measure obliterated me from their memory, so that they would not now be pleased to recieve a visit from me, If they will write me that I may know their affairs and how they do, I will give them a history of the family concern &c
I write this at the request of my Father not for your sake you have not written to me, the story is that the gold book proved to be lead, that the Authority have taken it & Joe is under bonds to appear before his betters, so let it be.
Jesse Smith.
Mr Hiram Smith.
Palmyra N.Y.
     Wayne County. [p. 61]

[Note: the entire letter, with slightly different editing, and important footnotes, was published back in 1996. See the first volume of Dan Vogel's valuable series, Early Mormon Documents, pages 551-554.]

We learn from the above letter that Jesse did not dispute Joseph had experienced angelic visitations, uncovered metal plates, and was working on a translation of those plates. His opposition concerned the source of Joseph's experiences. He relates some Biblical examples in his critique, and mentions Joseph Smith Senior's involvement in folk magic—i.e. his possession and use of, "a wand or rod like Jannes & Jambres".

Now, as related in my recent posts on Mormonism, it seems the LDS scholars who are promoting the new historical paradigm—e.g. Mark Ashurst-McGee, Richard Bushman, Gerrit Dirkmaat, Eric Eliason, Nicholas Frederick, Terryl Givens, Michael MacKay, Kerry Muhlestein—now accept as fact that Joseph Smith Jr. participated in various forms of 'folk magic'. But for many folk (including Mormons), any participation in 'magic' is considered problematic, given the overall negative appraisal of 'magic' in the Scriptures.

I am firmly convinced that any discussion concerning magic and the occult within a Christian context, must begin with what the Scriptures have to say on the topic. As noted in the previous post, back in the mid-1980s, the Mark Hofmann forgeries gave cause to a number of LDS scholars to reexamine Joseph Smith's involvement in magic/occult practices. One of the earliest published treatments on this subject that I read when I began my studies into Mormonism had the following to say:

There are a score or so of words in the Hebrew Bible that refer to practices or practitioners of magic (as is generally understood), falling roughly into categories of magic in general or sorcery, divination, and astrology (these categories, it should be pointed out, have been devised by modern exegetes, not by the Israelites themselves: in none of these lists are these types of magical practices explicitly divided). Roughly three-quarters of the occurrences of these words refer, explicitly or implicitly, to non-Israelite practitioners or activities. Indeed, some of these words are used exclusively of non-Israelites. The remainder of the occurrences refer to deviant Israelite practices or practitioners. In no instance that we have found are any of these used favorably of an Israelite practice. (Stephen D. Ricks and Daniel C. Peterson, “Joseph Smith and ‘Magic’: Methodological Reflections on the Use of a Term,” in Robert Millet, ed., “To Be Learned Is Good If . . . ” - 1987, p. 133 - bold emphasis mine.)

A number of Old Testament examples (plus some NT) are provided below:

Lev. 19:26 - Ye shall not eat any thing with the blood: neither shall ye use enchantment, nor observe times.

Lev. 19:31 - Regard not them that have familiar spirits, neither seek after wizards, to be defiled by them: I am the LORD your God.

Lev. 20:6 - And the soul that turneth after such as have familiar spirits, and after wizards, to go a whoring after them, I will even set my face against that soul, and will cut him off from among his people.

Lev. 20:27 - A man also or woman that hath a familiar spirit, or that is a wizard, shall surely be put to death: they shall stone them with stones: their blood shall be upon them.

Num. 23:23 - Surely there is no enchantment against Jacob, neither is there any divination against Israel: according to this time it shall be said of Jacob and of Israel, What hath God wrought!

Deut. 18:9-12 - When thou art come into the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not learn to do after the abominations of those nations. There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch, Or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer. For all that do these things are an abomination unto the LORD: and because of these abominations the LORD thy God doth drive them out from before thee.

Deut. 18:14 - For these nations, which thou shalt possess, hearkened unto observers of times, and unto diviners: but as for thee, the LORD thy God hath not suffered thee so to do.

1 Sam. 15:23 - For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the LORD, he hath also rejected thee from being king.

1 Sa. 28:2-25 - Saul and the witch of Endor.

2 Kings 17:17 - And they caused their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire, and used divination and enchantments, and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the LORD, to provoke him to anger.

2 Kings 21:6 - And he made his son pass through the fire, and observed times, and used enchantments, and dealt with familiar spirits and wizards: he wrought much wickedness in the sight of the LORD, to provoke him to anger.

2 Kings 23:24 - Moreover the workers with familiar spirits, and the wizards, and the images, and the idols, and all the abominations that were spied in the land of Judah and in Jerusalem, did Josiah put away, that he might perform the words of the law which were written in the book that Hilkiah the priest found in the house of the LORD.

1 Chr. 10:13 - So Saul died for his transgression which he committed against the LORD, even against the word of the LORD, which he kept not, and also for asking counsel of one that had a familiar spirit, to enquire of it;

2 Chr. 33:6 - And he caused his children to pass through the fire in the valley of the son of Hinnom: also he observed times, and used enchantments, and used witchcraft, and dealt with a familiar spirit, and with wizards: he wrought much evil in the sight of the LORD, to provoke him to anger.

Isa. 8:19, 20 - And when they shall say unto you, Seek unto them that have familiar spirits, and unto wizards that peep, and that mutter: should not a people seek unto their God? for the living to the dead? To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.

Isa. 19:3 - And the spirit of Egypt shall fail in the midst thereof; and I will destroy the counsel thereof: and they shall seek to the idols, and to the charmers, and to them that have familiar spirits, and to the wizards.

Isa. 29:4 - And thou shalt be brought down, and shalt speak out of the ground, and thy speech shall be low out of the dust, and thy voice shall be, as of one that hath a familiar spirit, out of the ground, and thy speech shall whisper out of the dust.

Isa. 47:9-12 - But these two things shall come to thee in a moment in one day, the loss of children, and widowhood: they shall come upon thee in their perfection for the multitude of thy sorceries, and for the great abundance of thine enchantments. For thou hast trusted in thy wickedness: thou hast said, None seeth me. Thy wisdom and thy knowledge, it hath perverted thee; and thou hast said in thine heart, I am, and none else beside me. Therefore shall evil come upon thee; thou shalt not know from whence it riseth: and mischief shall fall upon thee; thou shalt not be able to put it off: and desolation shall come upon thee suddenly, which thou shalt not know. Stand now with thine enchantments, and with the multitude of thy sorceries, wherein thou hast laboured from thy youth; if so be thou shalt be able to profit, if so be thou mayest prevail.

Jer. 14:14 - Then the LORD said unto me, The prophets prophesy lies in my name: I sent them not, neither have I commanded them, neither spake unto them: they prophesy unto you a false vision and divination, and a thing of nought, and the deceit of their heart.

Jer. 27:9 - Therefore hearken not ye to your prophets, nor to your diviners, nor to your dreamers, nor to your enchanters, nor to your sorcerers, which speak unto you, saying, Ye shall not serve the king of Babylon:

Ezek. 12:24 - For there shall be no more any vain vision nor flattering divination within the house of Israel.

Ezek. 13:6, 7 - They have seen vanity and lying divination, saying, The LORD saith: and the LORD hath not sent them: and they have made others to hope that they would confirm the word. Have ye not seen a vain vision, and have ye not spoken a lying divination, whereas ye say, The LORD saith it; albeit I have not spoken?

Ezekiel 21:21 For the king of Babylon stood at the parting of the way, at the head of the two ways, to use divination: he made his arrows bright, he consulted with images, he looked in the liver.

Micah 3:5-7, 11 - Thus saith the LORD concerning the prophets that make my people err, that bite with their teeth, and cry, Peace; and he that putteth not into their mouths, they even prepare war against him.Therefore night shall be unto you, that ye shall not have a vision; and it shall be dark unto you, that ye shall not divine; and the sun shall go down over the prophets, and the day shall be dark over them. Then shall the seers be ashamed, and the diviners confounded: yea, they shall all cover their lips; for there is no answer of God... The heads thereof judge for reward, and the priests thereof teach for hire, and the prophets thereof divine for money: yet will they lean upon the LORD, and say, Is not the LORD among us? none evil can come upon us.

Micah 5:12 - And I will cut off witchcrafts out of thine hand; and thou shalt have no more soothsayers:

When one turns to the New Testament, the negative view of magic/occult related practices continues; note the following:

Acts 8:9-11 - But there was a certain man, called Simon, which beforetime in the same city used sorcery, and bewitched the people of Samaria, giving out that himself was some great one: o whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, This man is the great power of God. And to him they had regard, because that of long time he had bewitched them with sorceries.

Acts 13:6-8 - And when they had gone through the isle unto Paphos, they found a certain sorcerer, a false prophet, a Jew, whose name was Barjesus: Which was with the deputy of the country, Sergius Paulus, a prudent man; who called for Barnabas and Saul, and desired to hear the word of God. But Elymas the sorcerer (for so is his name by interpretation ) withstood them, seeking to turn away the deputy from the faith.

Acts 16:16-18 - And it came to pass, as we went to prayer, a certain damsel possessed with a spirit of divination met us, which brought her masters much gain by soothsaying: The same followed Paul and us, and cried, saying, These men are the servants of the most high God, which shew unto us the way of salvation. And this did she many days. But Paul, being grieved, turned and said to the spirit, I command thee in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her. And he came out the same hour.

Acts 19:19 - Many of them also which used curious arts brought their books together, and burned them before all men: and they counted the price of them, and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver.

Galatians 5:20 - Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies,

Revelation 9:21 - Neither repented they of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts.

Revelation 18:23 - And the light of a candle shall shine no more at all in thee; and the voice of the bridegroom and of the bride shall be heard no more at all in thee: for thy merchants were the great men of the earth; for by thy sorceries were all nations deceived.

Revelation 21:8 - But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.

Revelation 22:15 - For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie.

It sure seems to me than any unauthorized use of 'spiritual gifts' falls under God's condemnation, for the source is not from God. Not only is the Bible clear on this, but also the Book of Mormon, and D&C. One interesting example is found in D&C 28:11, wherein it is related that Hiram Page's use of a "[seer] stone" was "not of me", but rather of "Satan".

So, how do LDS scholars who are promoting the new historical paradigm defend their assumptions? Three methods are employed: one assigns Joseph's supposed participation in magic and occult practices to youthful folly; a second suggests that many other contemporary, professing 'Christians' also engaged in such practices; and the third, sees Joseph's earlier involvement in magic and occult practices as a progressive preparation for his future divine calling by God.

Note following from Mark Ashurst-McGee's thesis:

A multitude of divinatory methods have flourished in western civilization. By reading omens, or by carefully inspecting the stars, one could forecast the future or obtain information about the otherwise unknown matters of the present. Others have used divinatory instruments and techniques to obtain the information that eluded them when pursued through ordinary means. By casting lots one could shift the responsibility of making difficult decision over a supernatural entity—one with superior wisdom. By waiting for his forked rod to dip, a waterwitch could find a site to dig a well. Others have obtained supernatural visions, but not without the help of a speculum of some sort—whether it be a crystal ball, a magic mirror, or a pool of clear water. A number of aspiring prophets have made use of means and methods such as these to aid them in their spiritual journey.

Joseph Smith, the founding prophet of the Mormon faith, followed such a course. He began "exercising" the "gifts of the spirit" by using a divining rod. Later, he was able to obtain visions by using a seer stone. Then, in 1830, the newly organized Church of Christ accepted and "sustained" him as a "prophet." Joseph Smith's spiritual development through these successive modes of divination constitutes the primary study for this thesis. (Ibid., page 2.)

In this thesis, I will explore in detail the historical origins of this most fundamental aspect of Mormonism. I argue that Joseph Smith's prophethood and his revelations originated to some extent in less ecstatic modes of divination. Astrology, divining rods, and seer stones provided an historical background for Joseph's later revelations as well as did dreams, visions, angel visitations, and theophanies. I lay out a series of divinatory modes through which Joseph Smith progressed on his pathway to prophethood. (Ibid., page 6)

Keeping in mind that Mark Hoffman's forged documents were a major source of the foundational impulses that lie behind the direction which the contributors to the new LDS historical paradigm have taken, take note of what the then LDS apostle and First Counselor in the First Presidency (and future President/Prophet) had to say in General Conference:

As most of you know, in the last four or five years we have passed through an interesting episode in the history of the Church. There came into our hands two letters that were seized upon by the media when we announced them. They were trumpeted across much of the world as documents that would challenge the authenticity of the Church. In announcing them we stated that they really had nothing to do with the essentials of our history. But some few of little faith, who seemingly are always quick to believe the negative, accepted as fact the pronouncements and predictions of the media. I recall a letter from an individual who asked that his name be taken from the records of the Church because he could no longer believe in a church that had to do with an experience with a salamander.

Now, as you know, these letters, together with other documents, have been acknowledged by their forger to be total frauds and part of an evil and devious design which culminated in the murder of two individuals.

I have wondered what those whose faith was shaken have thought since the forger confessed to his evil work.

However, I hasten to add, the vast majority of Church members, all but a very few, paid little attention and went forward with their faithful service, living by a conviction firmly grounded in that knowledge which comes by the power of the Holy Ghost. They knew then and they know now that God watches over this work, that Jesus Christ is the head of this Church, that it is true, and that happiness and growth come of following its precepts and teachings.

Out of this earlier episode has now arisen another phenomenon. It is described as the writing of a “new history” of the Church as distinguished from the “old history.” It represents, among other things, an effort to ferret out every element of folk magic and the occult in the environment in which Joseph Smith lived to explain what he did and why.

I have no doubt there was folk magic practiced in those days. Without question there were superstitions and the superstitious. I suppose there was some of this in the days when the Savior walked the earth. There is even some in this age of so-called enlightenment. For instance, some hotels and business buildings skip the numbering of floor thirteen. Does this mean there is something wrong with the building? Of course not. Or with the builders? No.

Similarly, the fact that there were superstitions among the people in the days of Joseph Smith is no evidence whatever that the Church came of such superstition.

Joseph Smith himself wrote or dictated his history. It is his testimony of what occurred, and he sealed that testimony with his life. It is written in language clear and plain and unmistakable. From an ancient record he translated the Book of Mormon by the gift and power of God. It is here for all to see and handle and read. Those who have read with faith and inquired in prayer have come to a certain knowledge that it is true. The present effort of trying to find some other explanation for the organization of the Church, for the origin of the Book of Mormon, and for the priesthood with its keys and powers will be similar to other anti-Mormon fads which have come and blossomed and faded. Truth will prevail. A knowledge of that truth comes by effort and study, yes. But it comes primarily as a gift from God to those who seek in faith. (Gordon B. Hinckley, “Lord, Increase Our Faith,” Ensign, Nov. 1987 - LINK)

Plenty of 'food for thought'...

Grace and peace,