Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Origen of Alexandria – commentary on the celebration of birthdays

In combox of my previous post, I linked to the Catholic Encyclopedia entry: Christmas. From that entry, we read:

Christmas was not among the earliest festivals of the Church. Irenaeus and Tertullian omit it from their lists of feasts; Origen, glancing perhaps at the discreditable imperial Natalitia, asserts (in Lev. Hom. viii in Migne, P.G., XII, 495) that in the Scriptures sinners alone, not saints, celebrate their birthday...(Vol. III, page 724 in the 1908 printed edition)

I have a copy of Gary Wayne Barkley’s English translation of the above passage—the following selection is the germane portion to our topic at hand:

But Scripture also declares that one himself who is born whether male or female is not "clean from filth although his life is of one day.” And that you may know that there is something great in this and such that it has not come from the thought to any of the saints; not one from all the saints is found to have celebrated a festive day or a great feast on the day of his birth. No one is found to have had joy on the day of the birth of his son or daughter. Only sinners rejoice over this kind of birthday. For indeed we find in the Old Testament Pharaoh, king of Egypt, celebrating the day of his birth with a festival, and in the New Testament, Herod. However, both of them stained the festival of his birth by shedding human blood. For the Pharaoh killed "the chief baker,” Herod, the holy prophet John "in prison’” But the saints not only do not celebrate a festival on their birth days, but, filled with the Holy Spirit, they curse that day. (Origen, Homilies on Leviticus, trans. Gary Wayne Barkley; Catholic University of America Press – 1990, p. 156)

The above contribution is not the only time Origen commented on birthdays; from his commentary on Matthew’s Gospel we read:

And on birthdays, when the lawless word reigns over them, they dance so that their movements please that word. Some one of those before us has observed what is written in Genesis about the birthday of Pharaoh, and has told that the worthless man who loves things connected with birth keeps birthday festivals; and we, taking this suggestion from him, find in no Scripture that a birthday was kept by a righteous man. For Herod as more unjust than that famous Pharaoh ; for by the latter on his birthday feast a chief baker is killed ; but by the former, John... (Origen’s Commentary on Matthew, trans. John Patrick; Charles Scribner and Sons, 5th ed. 1906, ANF 9.428, 429)

Quite interesting…

Grace and peace,


Friday, December 25, 2020

Joseph F. Kelly – Catholic scholar and author of The Origins of Christmas


An online article—“The Birth of Christmas” (link)—by Joseph F. Kelly, that I had read a little over a week ago, prompted me to order a book referenced therein by the same author: The Origins of Christmas.

I received the above book earlier this week and finished reading it this morning. The book—as too the aforementioned article—validates a number of elements concerning Christmas that I had been taught as a child and young adult. The elements of which I speak include: Jesus beyond any reasonable doubt WAS NOT born on December 25th; speculation on when Jesus was born did not start until the 3rd century; from the writings of the 3rd century that have survived only one undisputed author mentioned Dec. 25th as the possible date of Jesus’ birth—Sextus Julius Africanus; Dec. 25th was most likely adopted by Christians in the 4th century to compete with/counter three pagan feasts—the cult of Deus Sol Invictus, that of the Persian deity Mithra, and the feastival of Saturnalia which honored Saturn, the god of prosperity.

From past experience, I suspect few Christians will take the time to delve into Dr. Kelly’s research. Personally speaking, I have spent a considerable amount of time studying the origins of Christmas, and to date, have found no substantial data to negate Dr. Kelly’s assessments.

Grace and peace,


Saturday, December 5, 2020

Proverbs 8:22 and Pope Dionysius of Rome

Back on December 30, 2015 I published a post that delved into the interpretation of Proverbs 8:22 by a number of Church Fathers (LINK). I opened the post with the following:

In the 4th century, one Old Testament text, Proverbs 8:22, became a heated point of contention during the Arian controversy. Interestingly enough, two of the factions involved in the debate—the pro-Arians and the pro-Nicene Church Fathers—introduced interpretations of the text that went against an almost universal understanding by the pre-Nicene Church Fathers who cited it. Though all three parties applied the passage to Jesus Christ, each did so differently. The pro-Arians believed the passage taught that the pre-existent Jesus was created ex nihilo (out of nothing) by God the Father. Some of the pro-Nicene Fathers believed that the passage was a reference to Jesus' human nature only, and had nothing to do with his pre-existence (for an early example of this interpretation see Athanasius', Expostio Fidei, circa 328 A.D. - NPNF - Second Series 4.85). Both of these interpretations ran contrary to the pre-Nicene Fathers who taught that the passage did in fact refer to Jesus' pre-existent causation by God the Father (to date, I have found only one explicit exception), while clearly rejecting the pro-Arian novelty that this causation was ex nihilo.

A bit later, I cited nine pre-Nicene Church Fathers’ understanding(s) of Proverbs 8:22. All but one of those CFs applied the passage to the pre-existent Jesus Christ. I would now like to provide one more CF who sided with the eight who constituted the majority—Dionysius of Rome. Athanasius, in his Defence of the Nicene Definition, provided the following from Dionysius:

“Next, I may reasonably turn to those who divide and cut to pieces and destroy that most sacred doctrine of the Church of God, the Divine Monarchy, making it as it were three powers and partitive subsistences and godheads three. I am told that some among you who are catechists and teachers of the Divine Word, take the lead in this tenet, who are diametrically opposed, so to speak, to Sabellius's opinions ; for he blasphemously says that the Son is the Father, and the Father the Son, but they in some sort preach three Gods, as dividing the sacred Monad into three subsistences foreign to each other and utterly separate. For it must needs be that with the God of the Universe, the Divine Word is united, and the Holy Ghost must repose and habitate in God ; thus in one as in a summit, I mean the God of the Universe, must the Divine Triad be gathered up and brought together, For it is the doctrine of the presumptuous Marcion, to sever and divide the Divine Monarchy into three origins,—a devil's teaching, not that of Christ's true disciples and lovers of the Saviour's lessons. For they know well that a Triad is preached by divine Scripture, but that neither Old Testament nor New preaches three Gods. Equally must one censure those who hold the Son to be a work, and consider that the Lord has come into being, as one of things which really came to be; whereas the divine oracles witness to a generation suitable to Him and becoming, but not to any fashioning or making. A blasphemy then is it, not ordinary, but even the highest, to say that the Lord is in any sort a handiwork. For if He came to be Son, once He was not ; but He was always, if (that is) He be in the Father, as He says Himself, and if the Christ be Word and Wisdom and Power (which, as ye know, divine Scripture says), and these attributes be powers of God. If then the Son came into being, once these attributes were not ; consequently there was a time, when God was without them ; which is most absurd. And why say more on these points to you, men full of the Spirit and well aware of the absurdities which come to view from saying that the Son is a work? Not attending, as I consider, to this circumstance, the authors of this opinion have entirely missed the truth, in explaining, contrary to the sense of divine and prophetic Scripture in the passage, the words, 'The Lord created me a beginning of His ways unto His works.'

For the sense of 'He created,' as ye know, is not one, for we must understand 'He created' in this place, as 'He set over the works made by Him,' that is, ‘made by the Son Himself,’ And 'He created' here must not be taken for 'made,' for creating differs from making. 'Is not He thy Father that hath bought thee? hath He not made thee and created thee?' says Moses in his great song in Deuteronomy. And one may say to them, O reckless men, is He a work, who is 'the First-born of every creature, who is born from the womb before the morning star,' who said, as Wisdom, 'Before all the hills He begets me?' And in many passages of the divine oracles is the Son said to have been generated, but nowhere to have come into being ; which manifestly convicts those of misconception about the Lord's generation, who presume to call His divine and ineffable generation a making'. Neither then may we divide into three Godheads the wonderful and divine Monad ; nor disparage with the name of 'work' the dignity and exceeding majesty of the Lord ; but we must believe in God the Father Almighty, and in Christ Jesus His Son, and in the Holy Ghost, and hold that to the God of the universe the Word is I united. For 'I,' says He, 'and the Father are one ;' and, 'I in the Father and the Father in Me.' For thus both the Divine Triad, and the holy preaching of the Monarchy, will be preserved." (NPNF - Second Series - 4.167, 168, bold emphasis mine – link to PDF; Migne's Greek text HERE.)

I found Dionysius’ statement that, "'He created' here must not be taken for 'made,' for creating differs from making” to be quite interesting…

Grace and peace,


Sunday, November 29, 2020

John Henry Newman’s, Arians of the Fourth Century

It has been about thirty years since I last read Newman’s Arians of the Fourth Century [1833 first edition (link); 1871 edition with added appendix (link)]. Though Arians was Newman’s first full-length book, it was the fourth of his books that I had read—An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, Apologia Pro Via Sua, and An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent being the prior three.

My current interest in Arians was precipitated whilst reading Rowan Williams’, Arius – Heresy and Tradition (1987, 2001 – Google preview). Williams wrote:

The modern critical study of the subject [i.e. Arius and Arianism] really begins with Newman’s justly celebrated essay of 1833, The Arians of the Fourth Century, a work many times reprinted, which exercised a formative influence on British scholarship in particular. Newman rightly claimed a degree of originality for his interpretation of the roots of Arianism… (p. 3)

Newman’s “originality” concerning “the roots of Arianism” was his belief that it was the theology of “the Church of Antioch” which was the primary source for Arius’ theology. He sharply contrasted this Antiochene church with the “Alexandrian church”. Newman’s contrast concerning these two churches is summed up by Williams in the following selection:

The Alexandrian church is held up, in contrast, as the very exemplar of traditional and revealed religion (ch. I, s. III, passim). So far from Arianism being the product of an unhealthy Alexandrian flirtation with philosophical mystagogy, and adulteration of the gospel by Platonism (pp. 7, 26), it is the result of a systematic refusal of true philosophy, a refusal of the wisdom that pierces the material veil of things, in favour of shallow materialism. In true Alexandrian (or at least Origenian) style, Newman regards certain exegetical options as moral and spiritual in character and effect. Antioch’s exegetical preference is no mere alternative within the spectrum of possible techniques: it is a spiritual deficiency. (p. 4)

Williams immediately follows the above summation of Newman’s assessment with a sharp critique; note the following:

One must charitably say that Newman is not at his best here: a brilliant argument, linking all sorts of diverse phenomena, is built up on a foundation of complacent bigotry and historical fantasy. However, setting aside for the moment the distasteful rhetoric of his exposition, it should be possible to see something of what his polemical agenda really is. The Arians of the Fourth Century is, in large part, a tract in defence of what the early Oxford Movement thought of as spiritual religion and spiritual authority. It works with a clear normative definition of Christian faith and practice, in which ascetical discipline goes hand-in-hand with the repudiation of Protestant biblicism (and Protestant rejection of post-scriptural development in teaching and devotion) and a commitment to the ‘principle of reserve’ a mystagogic approach to the faith in which deep mysteries could be concealed beneath simple forms and words and only gradually unveiled. (pp. 4, 5)

And in the next paragraph:

Newman’s version of the fourth-century crisis, then, rests upon a characterization of Arianism as radically ‘other’ in several respects. It is the forerunner of stolid Evangelicalism, Erastian worldliness (‘carnal, self-indulgent religion’), and—by 1874, anyway—the new style of university theology. (p. 5)

Williams' criticisms of Newman seemed quite harsh, and unfounded to me. I certainly did not discern the “complacent bigotry”, “historical fantasy” and “distasteful rhetoric” in my original reading of Arians. But then, given the fact that Dr. Williams is a highly respected patristic scholar, I wanted to see if I could find some basis for his assessments. Subsequent research revealed that Williams had written a lengthy introduction for the University of Notre Dame Press/Gracewing 2001 edition of Arians. On page XLVI, Williams wrote: “Newman regarded the book in later life with some real embarrassment” (Google preview). To support this assertion, he provided four references from the multi-volume project, Letter and Diaries of John Henry Newman. I have the first thirty volumes of this series, so I was able to look up all four references; and yes, it sure seems that Newman himself did in fact regard Arians with some real embarrassment”. Note the following:

TO W. S. LILLY – June 27, 1882

My dear Lilly,

I return with this letter your proof.[3]

The article is most singularly interesting and arresting.[4]

I think you praise my Arians too highly; it was the first book I wrote, and the work of a year, and it is inexact in thought and incorrect in language. When at a comparatively late date I was led to re-publish it, I should have liked to mend it, but I found that if I attempted it would come to pieces, and I should have to write it over again.

In saying this, I have no intention of withdrawing from the substance of what you quote from me; on the contrary, I hold it as strongly as I did fifty years ago when it was written; but I feel the many imperfections of the wording.[5]

Very sincerely yours, John H. Card. Newman.

[3] Lilly, who printed this letter in the Fortnightly Review (Sept. 1890). Could not remember what this proof was. [See page 434.

[4] This was ‘Sacred Books of the East’, DR (July 1882), pp. 1-32, reprinted in Lilly Ancient Religion and Modern Thought, London 1884, Chapter III.

[5] At the end of his article Lilly quoted with high praise from Ari. Pp. 81-6. (Letters and Diaries of John Henry Newman XXX, p. 105)

It was John Nelson Darby’s Analysis of Dr. Newman’s Apologia Pro Vita Sua (link) that prompted me to deeply ponder and reflect on my original reading of the book; Dr. Williams has now done the same for me concerning Arians of the Fourth Century.

Grace and peace,


Tuesday, November 17, 2020

An interesting nineteenth century prayer

The biographies/histories on Alexander Campbell, Peter Cartwright, Charles Finney, and Charles Hodge—four important figures of 19th century American Christianity—provided by Lynne Wilson in his 2010 dissertation [link], prompted me to look into other folk of 19th century American Christianity. One gent who caught my eye was Henry Grew [Wikipedia link]. 

At the beginning of his book, An Examination of the Divine Testimony Concerning the Character of the Son of God (1824), he provided the following prayer:

O LIGHT DIVINE ! O SPIRIT OF TRUTH ! beam on my dark mind, irradiate my benighted soul, to know him who is the joy of earth, and the glory of heaven. Open upon me the vision of truth, and shine into my heart, to give me the light of the knowledge of thy glory as it shines in the face of Jesus Christ. Rectify the errors of my understanding, and remove the coldness of my heart, by the overflowing of thy holy love. Oh, elevate my soul to the contemplation of the things which “the angels desire to look into;" the divinity, the humanity, the wisdom, power and love of that blest name which "is as ointment poured forth.” And while I am “looking unto Jesus,” encircle me with that holy radiance of truth which shall dispel all my darkness. O my God, what thou hast been pleased, in thine infinite love, to reveal concerning thy “beloved Son,” that mortals may have a glimpse of thy glory, grant me to know. I desire not to look into those “secret things” which belong to thee alone. It is my highest felicity to acknowledge, to love, and to adore thee as the incomprehensible source of all perfection, and to feel, that in thy sight I am less than nothing and vanity. But, O my Father , is it not my eternal life to know thee, “the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent?" Thou seest me encompassed with mine own infirmity, and with the diverse systems and traditions of erring men . Oh, call me away from these polluted streams to thine own pure fountain. Pity a poor worm of the dust that looks towards thee to direct his path, and in thine infinite condescension and mercy, grant me an understanding of that “wisdom of God” which the redeemed multitude shall celebrate to eternity, for thy dear Son's sake . Amen

Back to my studies…

Grace and peace,


Sunday, November 1, 2020

Joseph Smith's Doctrine of the Holy Spirit Contrasted with Cartwright, Campbell, Hodge, and Finney

Last week, I discovered Lynne Wilson’s dissertation—Joseph Smith's Doctrine of the Holy Spirit Contrasted with Cartwright, Campbell, Hodge, and Finney [LINK]. It happened almost by accident whilst I was checking some references from Matthew Brown’s, A Pillar of Light. Wilson’s contribution was not one of Brown’s references, but came up on the third page of a Google search. The title included three important figures of 19th century American Christianity—Campbell, Hodge and Finney—that I am quite familiar with, so I immediately downloaded the PDF, holding off on reading it until I finished Brown’s book.

From Wilson’s abstract, we read:

The dissertation is an historical-critical examination of Joseph Smith’s (1805-1844) sermons and writings from 1830 to 1844 to determine the scope of his doctrine on the Holy Ghost. Many biographers dismiss Joseph Smith as a product of his environment. Superficially, his thoughts on the Holy Ghost appear to fall within the mainstream of the enthusiastic outbursts of the Second Great Awakening, but a closer look shows that they are an abrupt and radical departure from the pneumatology of his day. To clarify the unique parameters of Smith’s pneumatology, it is necessary to place Smith's views in a historical context by examining the ideas circulating on the Holy Spirit in the early nineteenth century American Protestant thought. Smith’s views are compared to those of four of his contemporaries: Peter Cartwright (1785-1872) Alexander Campbell (1788- 1866), Charles Finney (1792-1875), and Charles Hodge (1797-1878). We examine these four men's use of the Holy Spirit from their sermons and other writings, and then compare them to Smith's interpretation.

I found Wilson’s dissertation to be quite informative. I suspect that even folk who are not particularly interested in Mormon studies will find value in this work. (The first 202 pages of the dissertation have a non-Mormon focus.)

Chapter 1 “Historical Context: Reactions to Revelation and to Mormonism”, “outlines two historical phenomena: a general early American religious interest in the Holy Spirit and a specific religious reaction to the rise and development of Mormonism in the early nineteenth century" (p. 13). Wilson starts with a look into a number of historical periods within America’s religious history, beginning with, the “Colonial (1620-1700)”, which included “immigrating Pilgrims, Puritans, Quakers, Dutch Reformed, Lutherans, Catholics, and Anglicans" [pp.13, 14]. He moves on to “the “Enlightenment (1700s)” [pp. 15-17], and then draws attention to the, “First Great Awakening (1740s)” [pp. 17-20]—from this section we read:

The Puritans’ fervor waned in their progeny until a resurgence occurred between 1739 and 1741, known as the First Great Awakening. The charismatic British preacher George Whitefield (1714-70) ignited a religious renaissance to the thirteen colonies during his seven tours from Maine to Georgia...His enthusiastic sermons captivated tens of thousands, who followed with great religious commitment. A “spiritual new birth” or personal witness of the Holy Spirit was his core message. [pp. 17, 18]

Concerning Whitefield, I learned the following:

Whitefield sought the Spirit’s inspiration during prayer by incorporating lessons from the Imitation of Christ, a handbook on prayer, by Thomas à Kempis (1379-1471). [p. 18]

He then relates:

Equally as important as Whitefield’s revivals were Jonathan Edwards’ (1703-1758)  writings, calling Americans to seek the Spirit in a spiritual rebirth. Edwards, who became known as the father of American theology, emphasized the Holy Spirit working within humanity as “Spiritual and Divine Light immediately imparted to the soul by God.” [pp. 18, 19]

The next period is the “Revolutionary Era (1773-1791)” [pp. 20-22], which is then followed by the "Second Great Awakening (1801-1840)” [pp. 23-25]. This section provides the following extraordinary statistics:

Churches that emphasized a spiritual rebirth or witness of the Spirit before baptism grew the most dramatically during this time. Methodist membership rose from 4,921 members in 1776 to 130,570 in 1806. Similarly, Baptists grew from 53,101 in 1784 to 172,972 by 1810. These numbers are more significant in light of the fact “that the nation’s population did not even double during this interval.” [pp. 24, 25]

After the look into the above historical periods, Wilson then delves into the following topics: “Missionary Efforts”, "Training for the Ministry", "Volunteerism and Voluntary Societies", "Burned-over District", and "Reactions to Mormonism” [pp. 25-51]. The last section includes a survey of the anti-Mormon writings of three of the four Protestant contemporaries of Joseph Smith listed in the dissertation’s title: Alexander Campbell, Peter Cartwright, and Charles Finney.

Chapter 2 is devoted to the Methodist preacher, Peter Cartwright [pp. 52-80]. Chapter 3 is on the restorationist theologian, Alexander Campbell [pp. 81-118]. Chapter 4 focuses on, “arguably the greatest nineteenth-century conservative Presbyterian theologian", Charles Hodge [pp. 119-158]. Chapter 5 delves into, “the greatest revival preacher in the Second Great Awakening", Charles Finney [pp. 159-202].

Each of these four chapters has a “Biographical Sketch”, followed by an in depth, “Teachings on the Holy Spirit" section, and then ends with a concise “Conclusion". The chapters are excellent, giving readers an informative look into four important religious figures of early 19th American Christianity. Wilson has certainly ‘done his homework’ on these four men.

The titles of the final three chapters are self-explanatory. Chapter 6: "Joseph Smith Junior’s Biographical Background" [pp. 203-257]. Chapter 7: “Joseph Smith Junior’s Doctrine of the Holy Spirit” [pp. 258-326]. And Chapter 8: "Comparing Smith with Cartwright, Campbell, Hodge, and Finney” [pp. 327-369].

Wilson discerned that all five men had a number of, “shared doctrines of the Holy Spirit". Note the following selection:

They all believed in the same Bible and shared biblical thought particularly in four areas: First, each man believed that God’s Spirit took part in creating the earth and humanity. Second, they understood that the Spirit assisted in applying the atonement or cleansing of sins. Third, they also all warned against false spirits and the dangers of being deceived by satanic influences. Fourth, they felt the Lord’s Spirit could commune with humanity, even though they differed on how that communication occurred. [p. 338]

Wilson immediately followed the above with:

On the other hand, the four religious leaders differed considerably from Smith in five major areas of pneumatology: Most notably, Smith did not limit the Spirit’s revelation to the Bible and professed to offer the world “new scripture.” Second, he did not believe in a Trinity that was ontologically one but viewed the Spirit in a Godhead of three separate personages. Third, he taught that obedient, baptized, church members could enjoy the constant companionship of the Spirit, termed: “the Gift of the Holy Ghost.” Smith used this idiom to refer to a special gift received via an ordinance administered through the laying on of hands by those who held a special “Melchizedek priesthood” or apostolic authority. Fourth, he enthusiastically embraced the gifts of the Spirit and believed all of them had been restored to the earth again. Finally, he claimed that the Holy Spirit of Promise sealed baptism and other ordinances dependent upon the obedience of each participant. [p. 339]

Wilson’s dissertation ends with five very useful appendices and a topical bibliography [pp. 370-549].

My overall assessment: an excellent contribution.

Hope at least some folk will take the time to read it…

Grace and peace,


Wednesday, October 21, 2020

A tale of two tomes - Jesus' Resurrection and Joseph's Visions: Examining the Foundations of Christianity and Mormonism vs. First Vision: Memory and Mormon Origins



A couple of weeks ago, I finished reading Robert M. Bowman’s, Jesus' Resurrection and Joseph's Visions: Examining the Foundations of Christianity and Mormonism—a book I had ordered after discovering its existence during my recent studies into Joseph Smith’s 'First Vision’ (see this thread). I completed the book the day after it arrived, and became resolved to publish a post to bring the tome to the attention of AF readers; but before doing so, thought it prudent to order a book Bowman had referenced that I had yet to read: Steven C. Harper's First Vision: Memory and Mormon Origins.

It took me over a week to read Harper’s heavily referenced tome—nearly 700 notes—spending hours each day checking a number of the works referenced, completing the book itself this last Tuesday morning. These two recent works clearly have diametrically opposing views concerning Joseph Smith's 'First Vision', though both authors acknowledge the importance of this event concerning the origins of the LDS Church. With this in mind, I would now like to share some musings on both tomes, beginning with Bowman’s contribution.

Bowman’s book is in a sense two books—the first half being a solid defense of the historicity of Jesus Christ’s physical resurrection from the dead; and the second half, a negative critique of Joseph Smith’s visions. From the publishers website, we read:

Just as the resurrection of Jesus is the foundation of Christianity, the visions of Joseph Smith are the foundation of Mormonism. In Jesus’ Resurrection and Joseph’s Visions, Robert Bowman compares the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection with the evidence for Joseph’s visions, showing how the historical data confirm the truth of Jesus’ resurrection, and that the accounts of Joseph Smith’s visions are historically unreliable. For Mormons who have doubts about their religion, this study will help them find a more reliable basis for faith in Christ. For Christians, this study provides a fresh angle on the historical evidence for the truth of Christianity. (link)

As related above, the first half is a solid, treatment defending Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the dead as a historical reality. It confronts the various theories that have been advanced by skeptics and non-Christians in their attempt to explain away the New Testament’s and early Church Fathers’ affirmation of the resurrection event. An important aspect of Bowman's defense is the use and referencing of a number of recent, full-length works that focus on the historicity of Jesus' resurrection by internationally recognized scholars—e.g. William Lane Craig, Craig Evans, Craig Keener, Michael Licona, Lydia and Timothy McGrew, N. T. Wright—scholars I have a good deal of respect for. After focusing on the Gospel accounts, Bowman then provides an entire chapter (#4) on, “Jesus’ Appearances to Paul”.

With that said—though I personally believe that the first half of the book offers a pretty good defense—I sincerely doubt that it will persuade skeptics and non-Christians to reverse their denial of Jesus’ Christ physical resurrection from dead as a historical reality.

But then, Christians who have been troubled by some of the recent attacks by atheists, agnostics, and liberals—e.g. Richard Carrier, John Dominic Crossan, Bart Ehrman, John Shelby Spong—on Jesus’ resurrection, will undoubtedly find this section of significant value.

As for the second half, I have mixed feelings. I cannot help but conclude that this section begins with the presupposition that Joseph Smith’s visions did not happen. As such, even though Bowman gives the impression that his evaluation of evidence is objective, it clearly is not. In the introduction, he admits that in, “the broadest sense of the term Christianity, Mormonism is a type of Christianity” (p. 13). But, he follows this up with, “in the somewhat narrower sense used in this book, Mormonism is not a type of Christianity” (ibid.).

Bowman clearly has two differing approaches concerning the historicity of Jesus Christ’s resurrection and Joseph Smith's visions. But with that said, I still believe the second half still has value—especially for those folk who are unaware of the large amount of interest/research that has been taking place concerning a number of historical events that Joseph Smith related, which include: the ‘first vision’, Moroni’s visitations, and the ‘gold’ plates containing the Book of Mormon which he ‘translated'. Bowman’s footnotes demonstrate that he is up to date on the literature that has recently been produced concerning Smith’s claims—both pro and con. The major weakness of this section is his quick dismissal of a number of the solid contributions produced by LDS scholars, especially concerning the ‘first vision’. Concluding assessment: despite its weaknesses, I still think the book is worth reading.

As for Harper’s book, if one has the time to read only one contribution concerning the issue of the ‘first vision’, this is THE book to read. Though the author is LDS, he does not avoid ANY of the controversial issues concerning this topic.

In addition to the Introduction and “Afterword”, the book consists of twenty-eight concise chapters, divided into three parts. Part I, “Joseph Smith’s Memory”, deals with the Smith’s accounts of the ‘first vision’. Part II, “Collective Memory”, delves into how others related the ‘first vision’. It includes an interesting aspect that I do not recall reading of before—it was Orson Pratt who first used the phrase “the first vision” to describe Smith’s 1820 vision of the Father and the Son. Part III, “Contested Memory” examines the negative treatments of the ‘first vision’, and the types of reactions to them. Chapter twenty-seven relates the curious case of Jeremy Runnells. Runnells is the author of the infamous 'CES Letter'. What amazes me about Runnells’ case is that in 2012 he claimed that: “I did not know that there are multiple first vision accounts” (p. 239). Runnells before his apostasy from the LDS Church “was a lifelong Latter-day Saint and ‘fully believing’ former missionary.” What I find interesting is the fact that I fully knew about the multiple first vision accounts in the late 1980s. My knowledge of the multiple accounts came via easily available LDS sources—e.g. Milton Backman’s, Joseph Smith’s First Vision (1971, 1980), Paul Cheesman’s, The Keystone of Mormonism – Early Visions of the Prophet Joseph Smith (1988), BYU Studies Volume 9.3 (Spring 1969). The multiple accounts have never troubled me, which really makes me wonder why they bothered Runnells so much.

Moving on, Harper’s book is published by Oxford University Press. It is a scholarly work, but a readable one. If one ignores the footnotes, and just reads the main body of the book, it can easily be read in just a few hours. But if one delves into the footnotes as I did, it will take days to finish—I feel fully rewarded for doing so.

In ending, I want to relate that I am quite disappointed that Bowman did not interact with Harper’s book in any real depth—his treatment of it being little more than a mention of the tome. I am going to be on the lookout for future, scholarly dialogue on this informative contribution…

Grace and peace,


Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Holy Year(s), Holy Door(s), and some musings concerning 1933

I had no recollection of the phrase “holy year” when I came across it yesterday in the pages of a most unlikely source—J. F. Rutherford’s book, Jehovah.

During the last couple of days, I have been researching the use of the nomina sacra found in the early New Testament manuscripts, attempting to understand why early second century Christian scribes adopted their use—not only in the NT manuscripts, but also their Greek copies of the OT—whilst Jewish scribes did not employ them at all. Related to this issue was the use of the Tetragrammaton by Jewish scribes as a substitute for kurios in some copies of the Greek OT they created circa  2nd century B.C. through the 3rd century A.D. (Christian scribes never made use of the Tetragrammaton in any of their copies of the OT).

In this process of trying to understand the differing scribal methods utilized by Christian and Jewish scribes when copying the OT, I began reading a book that I had not read for over four decades—Rutherford’s aforementioned book, Jehovah. Note the following:

The so-called “holy year” has failed to bring the promised peace and prosperity, and that failure should of itself convince the people of good will that God did not authorize the year 1933 to be called a holy year, nor will he hear the prayers of men who try to make it a holy year. Upon earth there is now no peace, and poverty continues to stalk hideously through the land. Jehovah’s witnesses have no controversy with men. Their only purpose is to be obedient to God's commandment to tell the message of truth. (J. F. Rutherford, Jehovah, p. 23 – 1934.)

As mentioned above, I had no recollection of what this 1933 “holy year” entailed. Some online research revealed that the official Vatican website has a page titled, “WHAT IS A HOLY YEAR?” (link). From that contribution we read:

In the Roman Catholic tradition, a Holy Year, or Jubilee is a great religious event. It is a year of forgiveness of sins and also the punishment due to sin, it is a year of reconciliation between adversaries, of conversion and receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and consequently of solidarity, hope, justice, commitment to serve God with joy and in peace with our brothers and sisters. A Jubilee year is above all the year of Christ, who brings life and grace to humanity…

A Jubilee can be "ordinary" if it falls after the set period of years, and "extraordinary" when it is proclaimed for some outstanding event. There have been twenty-five "ordinary" Holy Years so far: the Year 2000 will be the 26th. The custom of calling "extraordinary" Jubilees began in the 16th century and they can vary in length from a few days to a year. There have been two extraordinary jubilees in this century: 1933 proclaimed by Pope Pius XI to mark the 1900th anniversary of Redemption and 1983 proclaimed by Pope John Paul II to mark 1950 years since the Redemption carried out by Christ through his Death and Resurrection in the year 33. In 1987 Pope John Paul II also proclaimed a Marian year.

The mystery of the “Holy Year” was now solved. However, in the same Vatican contribution, I came upon yet another phrase I had no recollection of—“Holy Door”. Note the following:

In 1500 Pope Alexander VI announced that the Doors in the four major basilicas would be opened contemporaneously, and that he himself would open the Holy Door of Saint Peter's.

So, what are these “Doors”; and specifically, “the Holy Door”? The following is from a Wikipedia article:

A Holy Door (Latin: Porta Sancta) is traditionally an entrance portal located within the Papal major basilicas in Rome. The doors are normally sealed by mortar and cement from the inside so that they cannot be opened. They are ceremoniously opened during Jubilee years designated by the Pope, for pilgrims who enter through those doors may piously gain the plenary indulgences attached with the Jubilee year celebrations. (link)

Armed with this new knowledge, two important events during the 1933 “Holy Year” came to mind. The first important event is quite personal, for it was the birth of my father. As for the second event, I can think of no better term to describe it than ‘insidious’, for that was the year Adolf Hitler rose to power, becoming the Chancellor of Germany. I suspect the latter event may have been one of the factors Rutherford had in mind when he penned his assessment of the 1933 “holy year”.

Back to my studies…

Grace and peace,


Sunday, September 20, 2020

Vatican I and Vatican II – antecedents and “unfinished business”

The genesis of this post took place back on Sept. 2, 2019 when THIS COMMENT was published by Rory. Since then, explorations into the issues of apostasy, doctrinal development—corruption vs. legitimate— the validity of certain councils, and the possibility that we may be living in the generation that will experience the second coming of our Lord, have been discussed in the subsequent threads:

Development of doctrine, Dignitatis Humanae, and the Christianizing of paganism vs. the paganizing of Christianity 

John Henry Newman’s "acceptance of non-Christian religions” 

Accommodation for “the Gospel's sake”—the risk of paganizing Christianity  

The Great Apostasy - A provocative, book length contribution, from a Catholic perspective

Vatican I: a ‘rupture’ in Catholic tradition, or legitimate development of doctrine?

As my personal research into the aforementioned issues continues, I would like to bring to the attention of AF readers some germane, and valuable, contributions that I have recently read:

 First, three books that significantly informed my understanding of the conservative, Catholic viewpoint concerning the issue of infallibility—especially the Papal and Vatican I:

Anti-Janus: an historico-theological criticism of the work entitled "The Pope and the Council" 

The Vatican Council and its Definitions 

The True Story of the Vatican Council 

I would also like to recommend a 2018 dissertation that I read over the last couple days:

Eighteenth-Century Forerunners of Vatican II: Early Modern Catholic Reform and the Synod of Pistoia 

This work is so much more than title suggests, and is a must read (IMO). I hope the following selections provide enough impetus to at least take a look the contribution:

This dissertation sheds further light on the nature of church reform and the roots of the Second Vatican Council (1962–65) through a study of eighteenth-century Catholic reformers who anticipated Vatican II. The most striking of these examples is the Synod of Pistoia (1786), the high-water mark of “late Jansenism.” Most of the reforms of the Synod were harshly condemned by Pope Pius VI in the Bull Auctorem fidei (1794), and late Jansenism was totally discredited in the increasingly ultramontane nineteenth-century Catholic Church. Nevertheless, many of the reforms implicit or explicit in the Pistoian agenda – such as an exaltation of the role of bishops, an emphasis on infallibility as a gift to the entire church, religious liberty, a simpler and more comprehensible liturgy that incorporates the vernacular, and the encouragement of lay Bible reading and Christocentric devotions – were officially promulgated at Vatican II. (From the Abstract, n.p.)

reform occurred at the Council in the form of the development of doctrine. The idea that doctrine could develop was rejected by most early modern Catholic theologians. It was totally antithetical to the Gallican tradition, and the immutability of doctrine was a primary claim wielded in anti-Protestant polemic. Because of the work of Newman and others, the concept of development became the established way of explaining doctrines that were not explicit in scripture or the earliest Christian sources (the Marian dogmas of 1854 and 1950 loom large here). The notion of development itself is embedded in Dei verbum, and defined in §8.

Development, however, is a fundamentally conservative type of reform, like ressourcement and unlike aggiornamento. By its very nature, development brings to light elements implicit in an existing doctrine or idea. The most conservative council fathers at Vatican II recognized at least some form of the development of doctrine. (Pages 32, 33 – bold emphasis mine)

Just as concerns about the “unfinished business” of Vatican I survived long after that Council closed in 1870, so have the concerns described by Routhier endured past the fiftieth anniversary of the closing of Vatican II. There were important moments in this continued debate in the Catholic Church in the postconciliar period, such as the revision of Canon Law in 1983, the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops in 1985, and the promulgation of Ut unum sint (1995) and Apostolos suos (1998) by Pope John Paul II. In the papacy of Francis, however, calls for a re-examination of collegiality, often through appeals to “synodality,” are increasing. In light of the collegial deliberations of the Synod on the Family (4–25 October 2015) and the widely diverging reactions to the Apostolic Exhortation Amoris laetitia (19 May 2016), the Catholic Church may again be preparing for a major debate surrounding the exercise of the papal primacy in light of episcopal collegiality. (Page 369)

Looking forward to some in depth discourse…

Grace and peace,


Saturday, August 29, 2020

Vatican I: a ‘rupture’ in Catholic tradition, or legitimate development of doctrine?

The first to plead his case seems just, Until another comes and examines him—Proverbs 18:17 – NASB.

In the combox of the recent thread, “The Great Apostasy” (link), Tom provided a link to a lengthy essay, “The Vatican Dogma”,  by the Russian Orthodox scholar, Fr. Sergius Bulgakov (Seregei Bulgakov's "The Vatican Dogma").

Fr. Bulgakov is certainly a bright, well-read fellow. My first reading of his essay left an impression that his conclusions concerning the Papacy and Papal infallibility—that both are heretical—were quite solid, and perhaps unassailable. However, subsequent research and reflection has significantly altered my first impression—I now believe that both of Fr. Bulgakov conclusions are flawed. My second reading of his essay revealed a serious misunderstanding of the foundational Catholic dogma concerning the sacrament of Holy Orders. From his essay we read:

If it be said that papacy is not a special order but only an office, since the pope is in bishop’s orders, that will be quite in keeping with the view of the universal church before the schism, but it will be contrary to the Vatican doctrine. According to it, there is a special grace (charisma) given to Peter and his successors—veritatis et fidei nunquam deficientis—which consti­tutes the order of papacy. Roman Catholic theology has gradually raised St. Peter so high above the other Apostles that he is no longer regarded as one of them but as a prince of Apostles. In addition to the general apostolic charisma he has his own, personal one, similar­ly to the way in which episcopacy includes priesthood. A bishop celebrates the liturgy like a priest, and does not differ from him in this respect, but it does not follow that they are of equal rank. The same considerations apply to the Catholic conception of the pope, for whom a fourth and highest degree of holy orders has been created. True, Catholic literature contains no direct expression of the idea that papacy it the highest of holy orders—that of episcopus episcoporum or episcopus universalis, but this is either evasiveness or inconsistency; the special and exceptional place assigned to the “primate” in Catholic canonical writings can have no other meaning.

But if papacy be understood as a special order of St. Peter (Tu es Petrus is sung when the newly elected pope is carried in procession), the difficulties which have already been mentioned stand out all the more clearly. On the one hand, bearers of lower hierarchical orders cannot ordain to higher orders, so that the consecration of a pope by bishops (cardinals) is canonically and sacramentally unmeaning: the pope ought in his life-time to consecrate his successor. On the other hand, if an order is discontinued because there is no bearer of it, there is a break in the apostolic suc­cession as a whole. The permanent miracle of the existence of a vicarius Christi requires his personal immortality. The dogmatic teaching about the pope must certainly be made less presumptuous and confine itself to regarding the pope as simply a patriarch but that, of course, means the fall of the whole Vatican fortress. In any case, as has been said already, the mere fact of the death of a pope has dogmatic implications which have not yet been satisfactorily dealt with by the Roman theologians.

The above is clearly a flawed understanding of the Catholic understanding of Holy Orders. From the apostolic/New Testament period through Vatican II, the Catholic Church has affirmed ONLY THREE Sacramental, Holy Orders: the ordo episcoporum, the ordo presbyterorum, and the ordo diaconorum. The Petrine office is just that, an office not a higher, fourth Holy Order.

Not long after my second reading of Fr. Bulgakov’s essay, I discovered a definitive critique of it. Back on Jan. 1, 2020 a thread on a forum was started which was dedicated to the essay:

On the very next day, a gent posting under the name ‘Xavier’ provided a solid critique of the essay:

As of today, I have yet to find any errors in Xavier’s cogent critique. But, I feel compelled to dig even deeper into Fr. Bulgakov’s essay, along with Xavier’s contribution. I hope others will join me in this endeavor, and subsequently share their reflections.

Grace and peace,


Saturday, August 15, 2020

Joseph Smith’s ‘First Vision’

Yesterday, I received in the mail a copy of Volume 59-Number 2-2020 of the BYU Studies Quarterly—SPECIAL ISSUE: JOESPH SMITH’S FIRST VISION. (Some subsequent online browsing revealed that a PDF edition of this special issue is available online—see THIS LINK.)

This issue, of course, brought back to mind part 2 of my series, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the diminishing relevance of “the Great Apostasy” (link), wherein I touched on the topic of the ‘First Vision’. I was planning to delve more deeply into the 'First Vision' but got sidetracked after discovering the online book, The Great Apostasy, which prompted THIS POST.

Given the contents of the aforementioned special issue, it seems somewhat providential that further exploration into the “First Vision' was delayed. This special issue, “features the proceedings of a conference held at the Huntington Library in San Marino, California, to commemorate the two hundredth anniversary of Joseph Smith’s First Vision” (p. 4)—twelve papers—and three related articles. The entire issue is 320 pages in length.

Though I have just started reading the journal, I felt compelled to bring it to the attention folk who may share my interest in this intriguing topic.

Hope to share some of thoughts and reflections once I have completed reading this comprehensive contribution.

Grace and peace,


Friday, August 7, 2020

SSPX in Kansas under investigation

I do not want to take focus away from the informative, on going dialogue currently taking place in the combox of the previous threadbut the following article published yesterday by The Catholic World Report, ‘hits close to home’ for some folk who regularly contribute to this blog:

The  following quote from the article seems to indicate that “guilt by association” may be in play:

The SSPX is under investigation in the state of Kansas for alleged sex abuse, along with the four Catholic dioceses.

 Let’s pray that the truth in the matter will come forth soon…

Grace and peace,


Monday, June 22, 2020

The Great Apostasy - A provocative, book length contribution, from a Catholic perspective

Whilst recently engaged in online research, I discovered a fascinating contribution on the issue of “the Great Apostasy” from a Catholic perspective. The work is 263 pages in length, and is appropriately titled, The Great Apostasy. A free PDF copy can be downloaded via THIS LINK.

This book drew me in from the beginning, and apart from checking a number of the sources referenced within its pages for accuracy, I literally could not stop reading it. It has me deeply reflecting on the possibility that I may have misunderstood the very nature of what “the Great Apostasy" entails.

The book is a must read for folk who are of the opinion that we may be living in the eschatology period which immediately precedes the second coming of our Lord. I also suspect it might change the minds of some who are not of that opinion, but take the time to read and reflect on its contents—I am eagerly looking forward to dialogue with those who do so.

Grace and peace,


Saturday, May 16, 2020

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the diminishing relevance of “the Great Apostasy”: part 4 – Hugh Nibley

I am implementing a change of course for this ongoing series. The intent of my original plan was to be strictly chronological, proceeding from the oldest to the newest contributions on “the Great Apostasy”. However, certain comments published in the comboxes of the previous AF thread (link), and in a thread over at ‘Nick’s Catholic Blog’ (link), have prompted me to make some adjustments. Instead of examining a number of works from the writings James E. Talmage and B.H. Roberts concerning the “the Great Apostasy”, I am jumping forward to an essay written by Dr. Hugh Nibley. Of the dozens of works I have read from an LDS viewpoint on this topic—articles, essays, pamphlets and books—Nibley’s, “The Passing of the Church: Forty Variations on an Unpopular Theme”, provides the best defense of the LDS belief that the Church founded by Jesus Christ and his apostles in the first century had fallen into a deep, wholesale apostasy, to the point that the ordinances that had been authoritatively instituted, were no longer available on Earth, and needed to be restored at a future date. Importantly, Nibley focuses heavily on what the New Testament and a number of early Church Fathers had to say on the issue of the apostasy, providing hundreds of quotes and/or references from those sources to support his position

Dr. Nibley’s essay was first published in the Cambridge journal, Church History (Vol. 30, Issue 2 – June 1961, pp. 131-154 - link); it was reprinted in the book, When The Lights Went Out – Three Studies on the Ancient Apostasy (Deseret Book 1970, pp. 1-32 - link); again in BYU Studies (Vol. 16.1, Autumn 1975, pp. 139-184 - link); and then in the book, Mormonism and Christianity (Deseret Book/FARMS 1987, pp. 168-208 - link). Selections from the essay in this post will be from the online BYU Studies PDF version (LINK)—the page numbers in the online version differ from the original paper edition, so citations will include page numbers from both, with the first being the online, and the second, the paper.

Nibley begins his treatment with the following:

A Somber Theme:—Ever since Eusebius sought with dedicated zeal to prove the survival of the Church by blazing a trail back to the Apostles, the program of church history has been the same: “To give a clear and comprehensive, scientifically established view of the development of the visible institution of salvation founded by Christ.” To describe it—not to question it. By its very definition church history requires unquestioning acceptance of the basic proposition that the Church did survive. One may write endlessly about The Infant Church, l’Eglise naissante, die Pflanzung der Kirche, etc., but one may not ask why the early Christians themselves described their Church not as lusty infant but as an old and failing woman; one may trace the triumphant spread of The Unquenchable Light through storm and shadow, but one may not ask why Jesus himself insisted that the Light was to be taken away. Church history seems to be resolved never to raise the fundamental question of survival as the only way of avoiding a disastrous answer, and the normal reaction to the question— did the Church remain on earth?—has not been serious inquiry in a richly documented field, but shocked recoil from the edge of an abyss into which few can look without a shudder. (Page 1/139 – see online essay for footnotes)

In the next paragraph, Nibley outlines the “purpose of this paper”:

The purpose of this paper is to list briefly the principal arguments supporting the thesis that the Church founded by Jesus and the Apostles did not survive and was not expected to. We shall consider the fate of the Church under three heads: 1) the declarations of the early Christians concerning what was to befall it, 2) their strange behavior in the light of those declarations, 3) the affirmations and denials, doubts and misgivings of the church leaders of a later day. Our theme is the Passing of the Church, our variations, designated below by Roman numerals, are a number of striking and often neglected facets of church history. (Page 1/140)

He then writes:

(I) Jesus announced in no uncertain terms that his message would be rejected by all men, as the message of the prophets had been before,6 and that he would soon leave the world to die in its sins and seek after him in vain.7 The Light was soon to depart, leaving a great darkness “in which no man can work,” while “the prince of this world” would remain, as a usual, in possession of the field.8 (II) In their turn the Disciples were to succeed no better than their Lord: “If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more shall they call them of his household?”9 Like him they were to be “hated of all men,” going forth as sheep among wolves, “sent last as it were appointed unto death,”10 with the promise that as soon as they completed their mission the end would come.11 (Page 2/140)

6. Matthew, xvii:12; xxi:37–39; xxiii:31–37; Mark xii:6–8; Luke xvii:25; John 1:5, 10–11; iii:11f, 19, 32; v:38, 40–47; vii:7; viii:19; 23f, 37f, 40–47; xv:22–25; cf. Acts iii:13–15.
7. Matthew xi:15; Luke ix: 41; xiii:25–27; xvii:22 John vii:33f; xii:35f; xiii:33; xiv:30; xvi:16; cf. Acts iii:21.
8. John ix:4f; vix:30. Evil triumphs from Abel to the eschaton: Matthew xxiii:35–39; xvii:12 Luke xi:51; Clementine Recognitions, iii. 61.
9. Matthew x:24f; Mark xiii:13; Luke x:16; John xv:18–21; xvii:14: Acts xxviii:26f; F. C. Grant, “The Mission of the Disciples,” J.B.L., XXXI (1916), 293–314.
10. Matthew x:16–22, 28; xxiv:9; Mark xiii:9; Luke x:3; John xvi:1–2, 33; I Corinthians iv:9; II Clement v.
11. Matthew. xxiv:14; xxviii:20; Mark xiii:10. Below, notes 17,21.]

And then:

As soon as the Lord departs there comes “the lord of this world, and hath nothing in me”; in the very act of casting out the Lord of the vineyard the usurpers seize it for themselves, to remain in possession until his return;18 no sooner does he sow his wheat than the adversary sows tares and only when the Lord returns again can the grain be “gathered together,” i.e., into a church, the ruined field itself being not the church but specifically “the world.”19 After the sheep come the wolves, “not sparing the flock,” which enjoys no immunity (Acts xx; 29) after sound doctrine come fables;20 after the charismatic gifts only human virtues (1 Cor. xiii; 8, 13). The list is a grim one, but it is no more impressive than (VI) the repeated insistence that there is to be an end, not the end of the world, but “the consummation of the age.”21 It is to come with the completion of the missionary activities of the Apostles, and there is no more firmly-rooted tradition in Christendom than the teaching that the Apostles completed the assigned preachingto the nations in their own persons and in their own time, so that the end could come in their generation.22 (Page 2/140)

18. John xiv:30; Matthew xxi:38; Mark xii:7; Luke xx:14.
19. Matthew xiii: 24–30, 38. Both syllegein and synagogein are used.
20. II Timothy. iv:2–4; II Thess. ii:9–12; Rom. i:21–31.
21. Matt. xxiv:14; cf. x:23; xxviii:20, where aeon refers to that particular age. O. Cullmann, in W. D. Davies & D. Daube (eds.). The Background of the New Testament  and Its Eschatology (Cambridge Univ., 1956), 417; cf. N. Messel, Die Einheitlichkeit der
jüdischen Eschatologie (Giessen, 1915), 61–69, 44–50. See below, note 181.
22. Mark xiii:9f; Acts ii:16f, 33; Origen, In Mt. Comm. Ser. 39, in P.G., XIII, 1655B, concludes that, strictly speaking, jam finem venisse; so also John Chrysostom, In Ep Heb. xi, Homil. xxi.3, in Migne, P.G. LXIII, 1655B.]

Shifting focus to the Apostolic Fathers, Nibley writes:

(X) The Apostolic Fathers denounce with feeling the all too popular doctrine that God’s Church simply cannot fail. All past triumphs, tribulations, and promises, they insist, will count for nothing unless the People now repent and stand firm in a final test that lies just ahead; God’s past blessing and covenants, far from being a guarantee of immunity (as many fondly believe) are the very opposite, for “the greater the blessings we have received the greater rather is the danger in which we lie.”33 (Page/s 4/142, 143)

33. I Clem. xli. 4; xxi. 1; Barnab. iv. 9, 14; Ignat., Ephes, xi. 1. “The last stumbling-block approaches . . .” Barnab. iv. 3, 9; I Clem. vii. 1; II Clem. viif; xvi; Hermas, Vis., ii. 2; iv. 1.]

A bit later:

(XII) The call to repentance of the Apostolic Fathers is a last call; they labor the doctrine of the Two Ways as offering to Christian society a last chance to choose between saving its soul by dying in the faith or saving its skin by coming to terms with the world.41 They have no illusions as to the way things are going: the Church has lost the gains it once made, the people are being led by false teachers,42 there is little to hinder the fulfillment of the dread (and oft-quoted) prophecy, “. . . the Lord shall deliver the sheep of his pasture and their fold and their tower to destructions.”43 The original Tower with its perfectly cut and well-fitted stones is soon to be taken from the earth, and in its place will remain only a second-class tower of defective stones which could not pass the test.44 In the Pastor of Hermas (Vis. iii. 11–13) the Church is represented as an old and failing lady—“because your spirit is old and already fading away”—who is carried out of the world; only in the world beyond does she appear as a blooming and ageless maiden. The Apostolic Fathers take their leave of a Church not busily engaged in realizing the Kingdom, but fast falling asleep; the lights are going out, the Master has departed on his long journey, and until he returns all shall sleep. What lies ahead is the “Wintertime of the Just,” the time of mourning for the Bridegroom, when men shall seek the Lord and not find him, and seek to do good, but no longer be able to.”45 (Pages 4, 5/ 143, 144)

41. Ignat., Magnes., v; II Clem. vi; Barnab. v; xviii; see K. Lake’s note on Hermas in his Apostolic Fathers (Loeb ed., 1912), ii. 21, n. 1.
42. I Clem. i; iii; xxiv; xix; Ignat., Trall, vii; Ephes., xvii; ix. 5; Hermas, Vis., iii. 3, 10. Cf. Test. of Hezekiah, ii. 3B–iv. 18.
43. Didache, xvi. 3; Barnab. xvi; Enoch lxxxix; lvi; lxvif; Logion No. xiv, in Patrologia Orientalis, IV, 176f; cf. IX, 227f.
44. Hermas, Vis. iii. 3–7.
45. Hermas, Sim. iii; iv; ix; I Clem. lviii; Euseb., H. E., III. xxxi. 3; V. xxiv. 2.]

Two more selections before ending this introductory post to Nibley’s essay:

Arguments for Survival:—The arguments put forth by those who would prove the survival of the Church are enough in themselves to cast serious doubts upon it. (XXXIV) The first thing that strikes one is the failure of the ingenuity of scholarship to discover any serious scriptural support for the thesis. There are remarkable few passages in the Bible that yield encouragement even to the most determined exegesis, and it is not until centuries of discussion have passed that we meet with the now familiar interpretations of the “mustard seed” and “gates-of-hell” imagery, which some now hold to be eschatological teachings having no reference whatever to the success of the Church on earth. (Page 12/152)


Christians have often taken comfort in the axiom that it is perfectly unthinkable that God should allow his Church to suffer annihilation, that he would certainly draw the line somewhere. This is the very doctrine of ultimate immunity against which the Apostolic Fathers thunder, and later Fathers remind us that we may not reject the appalling possibility simply because it is appalling. (Page 13/153)

Shall end here for now, hoping that the folk who are interested in this topic will take the time to read the entire essay, and look up the extensive quotes and references provided therein.

Grace and peace,


Sunday, April 26, 2020

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the diminishing relevance of “the Great Apostasy”: part 3 – Orson Pratt, the Great Apostasy was “total" not "partial"

Orson Pratt was one of the original twelve apostles appointed by Joseph Smith. Orson was a gifted mathematician, astronomer, surveyor, missionary and writer. More than one author has legitimately identified him as Mormonism’s "first intellectual”.

Orson went on at least eighteen missions during his lifetime. It was on his first mission to the British Isles (1839-1841)—in conjunction with the entire quorum of the twelve apostles—that he wrote and published his first apologetic work, A [sic] Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions, and of the Late Discovery of Ancient American Records (1840). Upon his return to the United States, this work was republished under the title, History of the Coming Forth of the Book of Mormon (1841). During his second mission to the British Isles, it was republished under the shortned title, Remarkable Visions (1848 – link to PDF copy HERE). This 1848 edition—16 pages—added the following introductory synopsis:

Visions of Joseph Smith—Discovery of Gold Plates, filled with Egyptian Characters and Hieroglyphics—Their Translation into the English Language by the aid of the Urim and Thummim—The Sacred History of Ancient America, now clearly revealed from the earliest ages after the Flood, to the beginning of the Fifth Century of the Christian Era—A Sketch of the Rise, Faith, and Doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

In addition to being the first published work to contain an account of the ‘First Vision’, the pamphlet provided in creedal form—i.e. ‘we believe’—"a sketch of the faith and doctrine of the Church” (pp. 12-16). This section contains the following take on the issue of the ‘Great Apostasy’:

We believe that there has been a general and awful apostacy from the religion of the New Testament, so that all the known world have been left for centuries without the Church of Christ among them; without a priesthood authorized of God to administer ordinances; that every one of the churches has perverted the gospel; some in one way, and some in another. For instance, almost every church has done away ”immersion for remission of sins.” Those few who have practised it for remission of sins, have done away the ordinance of the “laying on of hands” upon baptized believers for the gift of the Holy Ghost. Again, the few who have practiced the last ordinance, have perverted the first, or have done away the ancient gifts, and powers, and blessings which flow from the Holy Spirit, or have said to inspired apostles and prophets, we have no need of you in the body in these days. Those few, again, who have believed in, and contended for the miraculous gifts and powers of the Holy Spirit, have perverted the ordinances, or done them away. Thus all the churches preach false doctrines, and pervert the gospel, and instead of having authority from God to administer its ordinances, they are under the curse of God for perverting it. Paul says, Gal. i. 8, “Though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.” (Bold emphasis mine.)

During his second mission to the British Isles, Pratt published other apologetic works. In his, Divine Authority—or was Joseph Smith Sent of God? (Sept. 30, 1848 - 1891 reprint available online HERE), Orson published a letter he received on July 15, 1848, of which he wrote:

The author of the above letter has carefully examined the present state of the world, and declares himself fully convinced of the awful apostasy which now so universally prevails. He unhesitatingly admits that all authority to teachto administer ordinancesto build up the church of Christ, has entirely ceased from the earththat “ all is uncertain.” (1891 reprint, pp. 10, 11 - bold emphasis mine)

A bit later, he writes:

If Joseph Smith was not sent of God, this Church cannot be the Church of God, and the tens of thousands who have been baptized into this Church are yet in their sins, and no better off than the millions that have gone before them. The form, without the power and authority, is no better than the hundreds of human forms that have no resemblance to the ancient pattern; indeed, it is more dangerous, because better calculated to deceive. Other churches do not profess to have inspired apostles, prophets, prophetesses, evangelists, etc., hence we know, if the New Testament be true, that they cannot be the church of God. But the Latter- day Saints profess to have all these officers and gifts among them, and profess to have authority to administer in every form, ordinance and blessing of the ancient church; hence we know, that so far as the officers, doctrines, ordinances, and ceremonies are evidence, this Church can exhibit a perfect pattern. In these things, then, both ancient and modern Saints are exactly alike. By the New Testament then we cannot be condemned.

If the Latter-day Saints are not what they profess to be, one thing is certain, that no one ever will be able to confute their doctrine by the scriptures; however, imperfect the people may be, their doctrine is infallible. Can this be said of any other people who have existed on the eastern hemisphere during the last 1700 years? No. Their doctrines have been a heterogenous mixture of truth and error, that would not stand the test one moment when measured by a pattern of inspiration; some disparity could be seen and pointed out—some deviation either in the organization or in the ordinances of the gospel could be shown to exist. And now after so many centuries have elapsed, and when human wisdom has been exerted to its utmost strength, and the most exalted and gigantic talents displayed to lay a stable foundation whereon to build, we awake and behold all an empty bubble—a vain show—a phantom of man’s creation, with scarcely a vestige of the ancient form to say nothing of the power. In the midst of all this thick darkness, a young, illiterate, obscure and inexperienced man announces a message from heaven, before which darkness flees away; human dogmas are overturned; the traditions of ages are uprooted , all forms of church government tremble like an aspen leaf at its approach, and the mighty fabric of popular sectarianism is convulsed and shaken to its very foundation. How happens all this? If Joseph Smith were an impostor, whence his superior wisdom? What power inspired his mind in laying the foundation of a church according to the ancient order? How could an impostor so far surpass the combined wisdom of seventeen centuries as to originate a system diverse from every other system under heaven, and yet harmonize with the system of Jesus and His apostles in every particular? What! an impostor discover the gross darkness of ages, and publish a doctrine perfect in every respect, against which not one scriptural argument can be adduced! (1891 reprint, pp. 11, 12 - bold emphasis mine)

We then read:

John, nearly one hundred years after the birth of our Savior, saw the wonderful events arid sceneries of unborn generations displayed in majestic and awful grandeur before him. He saw the churches of Asia, then under his own personal watch-care, lukewarm, corrupted, and about ready to be moved out of their place. He saw the universal apostasy that was soon to succeed arid hold dominion for ages over all kindred and tongues, under the name of the Mother of Harlots—the great Babylon that should make all nations drunk with her wickedness. He saw that after the nations had been thus overwhelmed in thick darkness for ages, without the church of God, without apostles, without prophets, without the ministering of angels, without one cheering message from heaven, that there would be one more proclamation of mercy made to all people—one more dispensation of glad tidings from the heavens, to be ushered in by an angel restoring the everlasting gospel, which was to receive a universal proclamation to all the inhabitants of the earth, followed with a loud cry, that the hour of Gods jugdment is come. (1891 reprint, p. 17 - bold emphasis mine)

A little over two years later, Orson published his Divine Authenticity of the Book of Mormon (Oct. 15, 1850 - 1891 reprint available online HERE). Once again, the topic of a universal apostasy is presented to the reader. Note the following selections:

if investigation should prove the Book of Mormon true and of divine origin, then the importance of the message is so great* and the consequences of receiving or rejecting it so overwhelming, that the various nations—to whom it is now sent, and in. whose lan¬ guages it is now published, should speedily repent of all their sins, and renounce all the wicked traditions of their fathers, as they are imperatively commanded to do in the message: they should utterly reject both the Popish and Protestant ministry, together with all the churches which have been built up by them or that have sprung from them, as being entirely destitute of authority, they should turn away from all the priestcrafts and abominations practiced by these apostate churches (falsely called Christian), and bring forth fruits meet for repentance in all things: they should be immersed in water by one having authority, and receive a remission of their sins, and be filled with the Holy Spirit. (1891 reprint, pp, 125, 126 - bold emphasis mine)

Without new revelation every office in the Church would necessarily become vacant. It is true, that those who held office at the time revelation ceased, would still, during their natural life, continue to retain it, unless through transgression they should be legally deprived of it. If revelation ceased at the close of the first century, it is not at all likely that any of the officers, then holding the authority, would be alive a century afterwards; and as they would have no authority to ordain others without new revelation, when they died, the authority upon the earth would necessarily become extinct. How overwhelming the thought! Yet there is no conclusion more certain. If all offices became vacant there could be no additions to the church by baptism; for it would be a great sin for private members to assume the authority to baptize ; hence, as soon as those who had been baptized by authority were dead, the world would be entirely destitute of both the officers and private members of the Church of Christ. But when officers and members both cease, what is left? nothing at all. Hence, without continued revelation, the Church could no more continue in its existence on the earth, than a body could live with¬ out the spirit. (1891 reprint, pp, 159, 160 - bold emphasis mine)

Whilst on yet another mission to the British Isles, Orson published a series of eight tracts/pamphlets, with the seventh being entirely dedicated to the issue of the “Great Apostasy’ under the title, Universal Apostacy, or the Seventeen Centuries of Darkness (1856 – online PDF copy HERE). The entire contribution is a must read (IMO); but for now, I would like to focus on paragraph 3ff., which delineates a distinction between a partial apostasy from one which is universal. Pratt maintains that the history of the “Jewish Church” was characterized by a number of partial apostasies, whilst the “great Apostacy of the Christian Church”, was universal. As such, the only remedy for this universal apostasy was a restoration, rather than a mere reformation.

Now, with the above in mind, I would like to reproduce a question, that Rory and I began to delve into, from the combox of the previous thread: “what atrocities did Jesus’ followers commit in the first through the early fourth century that approached the depravity of OT covenant people?” [Link]

Framed another way, why only a partial response by God in the Mosaic dispensation to apostasy, whilst His response is universal in nature concerning the Church founded by His Son?

Grace and peace,