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Three Common Anti-Mormon Myths

I know it seems odd for a Catholic to be writing this, but I think this is very important for us, as Catholics and especially as apologists, to keep in mind, first of all because I know what it is like to have my beliefs straw-manned as a Catholic and so, according the the Golden Rule, it would be wrong to do the same to others and second, if we really want converts from Mormonism, we should make sure we understand their doctrines correctly. Without further ado, therefore, let us discuss three common anti-Mormon myths. I am only discussing the current official Mormon doctrine. Whether the Presidents and Elders previously taught something different is none of my concern.

Mormons believe God lives on a planet called Kolob

First of all, Kolob is not a planet, but a star mentioned in the Book of Abraham. According to Abraham 3:9, God said to Abraham: “And thus there shall be the reckoning of the time of one planet above another, until thou come nigh unto Kolob, which Kolob is after the reckoning of the Lord’s time; which Kolob is set nigh unto the throne of God, to govern all those planets which belong to the same order as that upon which thou standest.” So it does not say God lives on Kolob or in its system, but simply that he lives near it. This is actually not too incredible since Anthropomorphites—in other words, in their view God the Father has a body and has always had one. I suppose it is not too incredible that such a God’s physical throne could be located somewhere in the universe (although we, as Catholics, can fairly say that heaven is not in the universe, of course). God apparently reckons His time by that star. I do not know what that means, but it is difficult to understand, for example, the passage in Genesis about the Nephilim as well. It is certainly not incredible, all the same, that God can name a star if He so wills.

Mormons believe women cannot be deified

Catholics, of course, believe no one can be deified in an absolute sense. However, Mormons would argue that “As man now is, God once was; as God now is, man may be”, does seem to extend to women. As a matter of fact, in LDS doctrine, God is married to one goddess. An argument could be made that the truth is more heretical than the anti-Mormon myth. However, there is a Heavenly Mother according to LDS doctrine. According to their viewpoint, “No matter to what heights God has attained or may attain, he does not stand alone; for side by side with him, in all her glory, a glory like unto his, stands a companion, the Mother of his children. For as we have a Father in heaven, so also we have a Mother there, a glorified, exalted, ennobled Mother.” (Elder Melvin J. Ballard, Sermons and Mission Services of Melvin Joseph Ballard, 205)

If that is not evidence enough for the LDS belief, see the following quote from President Rudger Clawson, “It doesn’t take from our worship of the Eternal Father, to adore our Eternal Mother, any more than it diminishes the love we bear our earthly fathers, to include our earthly mothers in our affections. In fact, the love of one is a compliment of our love for the other.” (“Our Mother in Heaven,” Millennial Star 72, September 29, 1910).

I am not saying this is a good thing. As a Catholic, I do not approve of worshipping goddesses or claiming that God is married to them. However, I want to make sure people understand what Latter-day Saints actually believe rather than a contrived version of their doctrine. I am not entirely sure whether a Mormon would agree to saying they “worship” the Heavenly Mother, but if they hold her in equally high honor and regard as they do the Father, that is technically worship. She does not take much part in their formal worship, but she is still seen to be there and be worthy of honor.

Mormons believe that God had conjugal relations with the Blessed Mother

Thank goodness this is not true. It is certainly not the official LDS doctrine at any rate. It seems it is thought that Jesus did have the DNA of both the Heavenly Father and the Blessed Mother (because, as I said, Mormons are Anthropomorphites). However, it is thought not to have occurred by the literal conjugal act, but through some miraculous intervention. 

Remember when we are trying to evangelize Mormons, we must follow the Golden Rule. If we continually claim that they believe things they do not, then what makes us better than fundamentalists who say they random things the Pope says to reporters make for official Catholic teaching or that Catholics believe they can “earn” salvation, denying the sole sufficiency of Christ’s salvific work? We must focus on debunking what Mormons actually believe rather than what others say about their doctrine.

Bonum Certamen Certemus

I am the Catholic of Honor

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They Neither Marry Nor Are Given in Marriage

And again, verily I say unto you, if a man marry a wife by my word, which is my law, and by the new and everlasting covenant, and it is sealed unto them by the Holy Spirit of promise, by him who is anointed, unto whom I have appointed this power and the keys of this priesthood; and it shall be said unto them—Ye shall come forth in the first resurrection; and if it be after the first resurrection, in the next resurrection; and shall inherit thrones, kingdoms, principalities, and powers, dominions, all heights and depths.

Doctrine and Covenants 132:19

Basically the doctrine which I would like to discuss would be Eternal Marriage, as espoused by the Church of Latter-day Saints. Basically, in LDS doctrine, when a Mormon is married in a temple, marriage does not end in death, but lasts into eternity in the Resurrection. This, of course, differs from the Catholic doctrine, in which marriage basically lasts “until death do us part”. In the Resurrection, the preordained number of individuals will exist, for which reason there will be no purpose of marriage, which exists for procreation. A Latter-day Saint would often quote “So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.” (Matt. 18:6) But God who joined it does have the authority to put it asunder by death. This is why Catholics believe widowed individuals are free to remarry. The usual verse brought up in this debate is Luke 20:27-36,

There came to him some Sadducees, those who say that there is no resurrection, and they asked him a question, saying, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, having a wife but no children, the man must take the wife and raise up children for his brother. Now there were seven brothers; the first took a wife, and died without children; and the second and the third took her, and likewise all seven left no children and died. Afterward the woman also died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had her as wife.” And Jesus said to them, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are accounted worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, for they cannot die any more, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection.”

The following objections are taken directly from the Church of Latter-day Saints’ website, which can be found here.

Objection 1: “First, we see that it was made in response to an attempt by the Sadducees to trap the Lord. Consequently, it would not have been the Lord’s final word on the subject. Why should the Lord scatter pearls before them that they would only trample underfoot? (See Matt. 7:6.) They were no more prepared to listen to a discourse on eternal marriage than they were prepared to accept the reality of the resurrection.”

To this I respond that first of all, Jesus was willing to defend the Resurrection. Following Jesus words on marriage, He says in verses 37-38, “But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living; for all live to him.” Would not the Resurrection be a little more relatable to this world if he introduced to them the idea that marriage still exists in the next life? Besides, concerning marriage Jesus was willing to introduce an even harder saying in Matthew 18:8-9: “For your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another, commits adultery.” This must have been shocking to the Jews who were used to an escape route if their relationship did not work out. In verse 10 the disciples say, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is not expedient to marry.” Now, compared to our Lord’s teaching on divorce, would Eternal Marriage really be so difficult to accept? Now, the LDS viewpoint in answer to the question is simple: the first one. Is it really so incredible for Jesus to say this? When one thinks about it, such an idea of marriage in heaven would be much more relatable than the idea that there will be no reason to marry at all.

Objection 2: “Second, the Lord did not say there would be no people in the married state in the resurrection, but that there would be no marriages made in the resurrection.”

To this I respond that this is correct, but irrelevant. The question which the Sadducees asked Him was concerning those whom she had married in this life. So if this is what our Lord meant, His answer was irrelevant to the question.

Objection 3: “Third, we must be clear about the “they” who are neither marrying nor being given in marriage. The context of the scriptures just cited suggests a generic rather than a specific meaning. Simply put, that means no marriages are made in the resurrection. The Lord was warning the Sadducees. They were Jews of the day who had rejected him and therefore had no access to the higher ordinances of the Melchizedek Priesthood. How could these men, whom Jesus had called a “generation of vipers” (Matt. 3:7), qualify for the highest blessings of the celestial kingdom?”

To this I respond that the original question was about a hypothetical woman. Doctrine and Covenants 132:37 states specifically: “Abraham received concubines, and they bore him children; and it was accounted unto him for righteousness, because they were given unto him, and he abode in my law; as Isaac also and Jacob did none other things than that which they were commanded; and because they did none other things than that which they were commanded, they have entered into their exaltation, according to the promises, and sit upon thrones, and are not angels but are gods.” So Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob became gods. As eternal marriage is essential for exaltation to the Celestial Kingdom and deification, I would assume they had access to it before Christ. Jesus said “they” not “you”. As far as I can tell (and LDS are free to inform me if I am wrong) Eternal Marriage is still considered to have existed in the Old Testament.

Bonum Certamen Certemus

I am the Catholic of Honor

All Scripture verses are from the Revised Standard Version

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Answering Orthodox Objections to the Immaculate Conception

Now the Immaculate Conception is, of course, the Catholic doctrine that “the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin.”1 Now, Orthodox and Catholics agree that she was without personal sin. However, although Catholics believe specifically she was without Original Sin from the moment of conception, the majority of Orthodox theologians teach that although an “abundance of grace for overcoming sin in every particular was conferred upon her who had the merit to conceive and bear Him who undoubtedly had no sin”, as Augustine said,2 she was still born under the law of Original Sin, sharing with all other human beings the common responsibility for the fall, a doctrine which Catholics reject. This does not, of course, mean (as some have claimed) that she could not sin, but simply that she would not sin and was given special graces, in advance, from the merits of her divine Son’s passion to make such a choice (Catholics still believe that this was only possible by Christ’s merits). This is fitting, as since the Second Century, Fathers have considered her the Second Eve, examples including St. Justin Martyr, St. Irenaeus, and Tertullian.

“Eve, a virgin and undefiled, conceived the word of the serpent and bore disobedience and death. But the Virgin Mary received faith and joy when the angel Gabriel announced to her the glad tidings that the Spirit of the Lord would come upon her and the power of the Most High would overshadow her.” Justin Martyr Dialogue with Trypho the Jew 100

“In this way, the Virgin Mary might become the advocate of the virgin Eve. And thus, as the human race fell into bondage to death by means of a virgin, so it is rescued by a virgin. Virginal disobedience has been balanced in the opposite scale by virginal obedience. For in the same way, the sin of the first created man received amendment by the correction of the First-Begotten.” St. Irenaeus Against Heresies 5:19:1

“Eve had believed the serpent; Mary believed Gabriel. That which the one destroyed by believing, the other, by believing, set straight.” Tertullian The Flesh of Christ 17:4

See that not one but three Fathers made the comparison between Mary and Eve. Evidently some pattern is being made. Thus they are emphasizing the cooperation of Mary with the work of Christ in a similar way that Eve cooperated with Adam’s sin (although, of course, in a wholly subordinate sense). This idea of her important cooperation with Christ is expanded upon by Augustine who wrote: “But [Mary is] clearly the mother of His members, which are we: in that she wrought together by charity, that faithful ones should be born in the Church, who are members of That Head: but in the flesh, the mother of the Head Himself.” (On Holy Virginity 6) Hence as Eve was the mother of all men, Mary, by her singular cooperation with Christ’s salvific work in bringing life back to souls, can be called the Mother of the new men, the Redeemed, the Christians. So if the she is personally sinless, does it not at least make sense, if no more information is known, that Mary, who fulfilled the role of Eve, might be free from the guilt of Original Sin?

It might be right to mention that the Orthodox accept the Assumption of Mary into heaven, a doctrine which makes more sense in light of the Immaculate Conception, since it is not fitting for one who was conceived without sin to not be subject to corruption of the body. The Orthodox would object considering the fact that traditionally she suffered a corporeal death prior to the Assumption. The problem with this is that Jesus also died, willingly taking on the effects of the Fall. It is logical, therefore, that He would allow her who was so closely connected to His salvific work, to die as well.

Turning back to the parallel with Eve and the Immaculate Conception, this goes back to the prophecy in Genesis 3:15, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (RSV) Now Mary is the “woman” (John 2:4, 19:26) The term “woman” in Jesus’ day meant “my lady” or “madam”, not an impolite title, but one that would not typically be used by a son to his mother, especially not in a serious moment such as the Crucifixion. Evidently something deeper is going on. Jesus is the “seed” who was at enmity with Satan’s. Note that the woman is not included in Satan’s seed, in spite of the fact that “we were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” (Eph. 2:3) So as Mary is the second Eve, it makes sense that she is at enmity with Satan as Jesus is (in other words, not sharing in the responsibility of Man for the Fall).

I personally think it rather unfair for the Orthodox to so vehemently oppose this doctrine. Some Orthodox apologists have even called it a “unanimous” patristic consensus that she was not sanctified until later (generally at the Annunciation, when the angel declared her “Full of Grace”). I say this because although many Fathers did in fact seem to contradict the Immaculate Conception, other aspects of Mariology which were disputed in the Early Church, such as her sinlessness, and her bodily Assumption via Dormition into heaven both seem to be required Orthodox beliefs given their liturgical pedigree. 

For instance, St. John Chrysostom states, in apparent contradiction of Mary’s sinlessness:

“But when she heard that John had come on His account, and that he had borne such witness to Him as he did, and that He had disciples, after that she took confidence, and called Him, and said, when they wanted wine, ‘They have no wine.’ For she desired both to do them a favor, and through her Son to render herself more conspicuous; perhaps too she had some human feelings, like His brethren, when they said, “Show yourself to the world”, desiring to gain credit from His miracles. Therefore He answered somewhat vehemently, saying, ‘Woman, what have I to do with you? My hour is not yet come.’”

Homilies on the Gospel of John 21

This is wrong. If this were what she meant, our Lord would not have done the miracle.

Similarly, St. Theodoret of Cyrus (393 – 458) says this:

“For one proclaims the divinity of the one only-begotten one, that is, Christ the Lord, while the other proclaims the humanity. And Christ the Lord himself teaches us this way of understanding. For sometimes he calls himself Son of God, and at other times Son of Man. At one time he honors his mother as the one who bore him, while at another time, as master, he rebukes [her] (greek: και ποτέ μέν ώς γεγεννηκυΐαν την μητέρα τιμά, ποτέ δέ ώς Δεσπότης επιτιμά). On one occasion he approves those who call him son of David, while on another he teaches those who lack knowledge that he is not only David’s son, but also David’s Lord.”

Eranistes 2, Migne PG83: 144-145

So the idea that she was sinless was not unanimous in the Early Church. Similarly, St. Epiphanius of Salamis states: “I cannot decide for certain, and am not saying that she remained immortal But neither am I affirming that she died. For scripture went beyond man’s understanding and Left it in suspense with regard to the precious and choice vessel, so that no one would suspect carnal behavior of her. Whether she died, I don’t know; and [even] if she was buried, she never had carnal relations, perish the thought!” (Panarion 78:11:4-5) Thus he indicates the Assumption as something that no one knows for sure. Now do Catholics accept the Fathers? Yes, but they only accept their testimony as doctrine if it is a unanimous consensus. It must be remembered that we have more Councils than the Orthodox do, and therefore our Church has declared more dogmas. So did any Fathers testify to the Immaculate Conception? Yes, they did.

St. John Damascene is an example of this. Now Damascene is an Eastern, not a Western, Father, and therefore more close to home with the Orthodox Church. He was an important enemy against the heresy of Iconoclasm, so I think his viewpoint, whether one is Catholic or Orthodox, should be taken with some consideration. This is what he had to say:

“O blessed couple, Joachim and Anna, all nature is indebted to you! For through you it has offered a gift to the Creator which is more excellent than all [other] gifts: a holy mother who alone is worthy of the Creator. O blessed loins of Joachim, whence the all-pure seed was poured out! O glorious womb of Anna, in which the most holy fetus grew and was formed, silently increasing! O womb in which was conceived the living heaven, wider than the wideness of the heavens.”

St. John of Damascus, Homily on the Nativity 2: Patrologia Graeca 96, 664 A

Now if our Lady was really conceived as anyone else, why does Damascene praise “blessed loins of Joachim, whence the all-pure seed was poured out”? It seems he is calling her all-pure from her conception.

St. Andrew of Crete (650-712) writes:

“Death, natural to men, also reached her; not, however, to imprison her, as happens to us, or to vanquish her. God forbid! It was only to secure for her the experience of that sleep which comes from on high, leading us up to the object of our hope…No man lives, says Scripture, who will not see death. But even though the human create we celebrate today [Mary] must obey the law of nature, as we do, she is superior to the other humans. Therefore, death does not come to her in the same way that it comes to us. Instead, it comes in a superior way, and for a reason higher than the reason that obliges us to surrender totally to death.”

Homily 1 on the Dormition, PG 97, 1052 C-1053 A

So Mary’s death was unique among all deaths, including those of sinless infants. This is because she had not inherited death from Adam, being without the stain of Original Sin.

This is fairly late, of course, but the Orthodox hold other doctrines about which theologians did not write much directly until later in history, such as icon veneration, real essence/energies distinction, and others. There is archaeological evidence for icons in the Early Church, but we cannot expect such for the Immaculate Conception obviously. Does this prove the Immaculate Conception? No, but nor does it disprove the doctrine either. To show whether it is true, whether Mary was, in fact, saved by her Son from the responsibility for the Fall at the moment of her conception, one must show first whether there is a biblical and patristic blueprint for papal infallibility, a discussion for another time.

Bonum Certamen Certemus

I am the Catholic of Honor

1Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus 

2Augustine, On Nature and Grace 42

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Eternal Progression and the First Cause

“God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! That is the great secret. If the veil were rent today, and the great God who holds this world in its orbit, and who upholds all worlds and all things by his power, was to make himself visible, — I say, if you were to see him today, you would see him like a man in form — like yourselves in all the person, image, and very form as a man; for Adam was created in the very fashion, image and likeness of God, and received instruction from, and walked, talked and conversed with him, as one man talks and communes with another.”

Joseph Smith, “King Follett Discourse,” April 7, 1844, as quoted in Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, comp. Joseph Fielding Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret, 1976) 345-346

“Abraham received concubines, and they bore him children; and it was accounted unto him for righteousness, because they were given unto him, and he abode in my law; as Isaac also and Jacob did none other things than that which they were commanded; and because they did none other things than that which they were commanded, they have entered into their exaltation, according to the promises, and sit upon thrones, and are not angels but are gods.”

Doctrine & Covenants 132:37

This is the Mormon doctrine of deification or eternal progression. Basically, the Heavenly Father is an exalted man who was born on some other world and became righteous, wherefore we all, by the merits of Jesus Christ, may also become righteous and receive worlds of our own, of which we may become gods. As President Lorenzo Snow put it, “As man now is, God once was; as God now is, man may be.” This differs from the Catholic view (and the view of most other groups who call themselves Christian) that God is transcendent of all reality, the “Supreme Act of Being”, who created everything out of nothing. Mormons believe that God made things out of preexisting matter (it is my understanding that generally the universe has always existed in their view). I wrote an article on why I think this doctrine unbiblical, but Mormons do not adhere to Sola Scriptura (2 Nephi 29:6-7) nor do Catholics, for that matter (Trent, Sess. IV Decree Concerning the Edition, and the Use, of the Sacred Books). However, no one can be immune to logic, for he is the cornerstone of all sciences, nor philosophy, for she is the maidservant of theology, who is said to be the queen of sciences. I will explain. After all, the Holy Spirit will not reveal to anyone logical impossibilities.

So it seems to me that Mormons believe that the Heavenly Father and Mother have a god above them, but the universe is eternal. Now, why do I have a problem with this? Let me put it this way: our heavenly parents were caused by a god above them, who was caused by a god above him, who was caused before him, backwards into eternity. Now why can there not be infinite causes? Imagine an infinite string of dominoes. Would they fall? No. It does not matter whether there are three dominoes or one thousand or infinite. Unless there is some force outside of the dominoes to move them, they would not budge! Indeed, since everything in the universe is contingent, I could hardly say that the universe itself is non-contingent, nor the timeline for that matter, as all that the timeline really is is a string of causes and effects. What is necessary is a force outside of time to act in it for anything to happen.

If we are to suppose that there was a first god or Prime Mover who started this process, that is what non-Mormons believe. Such a Prime Mover would have to be outside of this eternal cycle. Catholics worship that Prime Mover, whom we believe to be the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It would be right to honor our heavenly parents if the Mormons are correct, but how much more so would it be right to honor the One who put this eternal cycle in motion? I believe that such a Prime Mover, whom I call God ought to be highest and most supreme in our affections.

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I am the Catholic of Honor

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The Errors of the Church of Latter-day Saints and the Great Apostasy

Joseph Smith tells a story of how he was once wondering what denomination he ought to join. At that time he was only fourteen when he came upon James 1:5, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives to all men generously and without reproaching, and it will be given him.”

If we believe Smith’s testimony, he went into the woods to pray about it. There appeared to him two men. One pointed to the other and said: “This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!” (Joseph Smith—History 1:17) Smith, although frightened by the appearance of two heavenly beings, immediately inquired which denomination was true as soon as he had the courage to do so. They replied that all of them were false and corrupt abominations. “They draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof,” they said. (Joseph Smith—History 1:19) I honestly think it swell that some of the Mormon Scriptures are from two hundred years ago. I suppose that is how Origen, Tertullian and the rest felt. I actually enjoyed what I have read of the Mormon scriptures (the ones that Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox reject, that is), and I intend to read more at some point. I do not know why it seems to be written in archaism exactly, but never mind that. As a Catholic, anyone who believes the words of Alma 7:10 is a friend of mine. If you are familiar with the doctrine of the Church of Latter Day Saints, you will know that Joseph Smith said that God has informed him of a Great Apostasy which had led to the corruption of the entire Christian Church from the original doctrine (the one of Latter-day Saints, that is). Mormons rightly believe that after the coming of our Lord, there were false teachers preaching false doctrines. They believe, however, that after the apostles died, that the priesthood was lost. I think this is roughly the equivalent of the Catholic understanding of apostolic succession, only Catholics do not believe it to have been lost. Naturally, because the Church was no longer led by priesthood authority, error crept into the Church’s teachings and it basically apostatized. This priesthood was not restored until it was given to Joseph Smith and a man named Oliver Cowdery. According to the Mormon view, the Church of Latter Day Saints is now “the establishment of the kingdom of God in the latter days, never again to be destroyed nor given to other people.” (Doctrine and Covenants 138:44) I think this is a reference to the book of Daniel, although I would argue that it was referring to something different. I do not quite see why God could not protect it the first time, but I suppose the ways of God are mysterious.

Mormons usually bring up Amos 8:11-12, “‘Behold, the days are coming,’ says the Lord GOD, ‘when I will send a famine on the land; not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD. They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, to seek the word of the LORD, but they shall not find it.’” This is an excellent point and I see why someone would bring this up. It seems that a great famine from knowledge of God is prophesied. However, in the next chapter, Amos continues to say: “ ‘Behold, the eyes of the Lord GOD are upon the sinful kingdom, and I will destroy it from the surface of the ground; except that I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob,’ says the LORD. ‘For lo, I will command, and shake the house of Israel among all the nations as one shakes with a sieve, but no pebble shall fall upon the earth. All the sinners of my people shall die by the sword, who say, “Evil shall not overtake or meet us.” ’ ” (Amos 9:8-10) So Amos is writing about an apostasy in the House of Israel, not a post-New Testament apostasy. It is also not an absolutely complete apostasy, as He says: I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob. The Old Testament records many times when priests and prophets were corrupt, or when prophets prophesied falsely, (Lamentations 2:14) or when there was no prophet at all (Psalms 74:9) The existence of the high priesthood and a God-ordained hierarchy, however, forever remains constant in the Old Testament. The high priest, or those to whom he delegated authority, had the power to deliver the oracle of God to his people.

“If any case arises requiring decision between one kind of homicide and another, one kind of legal right and another, or one kind of assault and another, any case within your towns which is too difficult for you, then you shall arise and go up to the place which the LORD your God will choose, and coming to the Levitical priests, and to the judge who is in office in those days, you shall consult them, and they shall declare to you the decision. Then you shall do according to what they declare to you from that place which the LORD will choose; and you shall be careful to do according to all that they direct you; according to the instructions which they give you, and according to the decision which they pronounce to you, you shall do; you shall not turn aside from the verdict which they declare to you, either to the right hand or to the left. The man who acts presumptuously, by not obeying the priest who stands to minister there before the LORD your God, or the judge, that man shall die.”

Deuteronomy 17:8-12

The High Priest had the “Urim and the Thummim” (Exodus 28:30) on the breastplate of his vestments, whereby he would bear the sins of the people of Israel when he went before the Lord in the temple. Even in the time of the Judges, when every man did what was right in his own eyes, the Urim and the Thummim was still functioning. Our Lord acknowledged this authority in Matthew 23:2-3, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice.” The same message ought to be kept in mind for the bishops today. Hence St. John notes that even a personally corrupt High Priest was able to prophesy. (John 11:51)

But this still does not say anything about a New Testament apostasy. A Latter-day Saint might well bring up 2 Thessalonians 2:1-3, “Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our assembling to meet him, we beg you, brethren, not to be quickly shaken in mind or excited, either by spirit or by word, or by letter purporting to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of perdition.” The word Paul uses for rebellion is, of course, ἀποστασία (apostasía), which can mean “apostasy”. Some would point out the people of Israel apostatized in not believing the Messiah, showing that an apostasy of that nature is at least possible. Actually, not all Israel apostatized. There were still the Virgin, the beloved disciple, all the apostles, and other disciples. Paul writes of an apostasy, but not a total apostasy as the Church of Latter-day Saints preaches. This cannot happen, on account of the following verses:

“And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed, nor shall its sovereignty be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand for ever.” (Daniel 2:44)

“I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.” (Daniel 7:13-14)

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder, and his name will be called ‘Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.’ Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David, and over his kingdom, to establish it, and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and for evermore.” (Isaiah 9:6-7)

“And lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)

“And he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:33)

A Mormon would argue that this refers only to the ultimate triumph of the Church of Latter-day Saints and does not rule out a total apostasy at some point in between. My problem with that is the terminology our Lord used. “I am with you always,” he says for instance. See He uses the present tense. “His kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.” But it seems that it was temporarily destroyed.

Still, for the sake of argumentation, I will let that pass. “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it,” says our Lord in Matthew 16:18. But, although the correct Church did triumph eventually, it seems that for seventeen hundred years or so the powers of death did prevail. A Mormon would argue that the Rock is revelation from God. The Rock is sort of a gateway to the earth, but Christ’s Church still existed, they say, among the dead. Mormons accept the presidency of Peter, so the easiest way to respond to this is by showing that Peter is, in fact, the Rock. The usual reason for why non-Catholics argue that he is not the same as the Rock is that two separate words are used in the Greek: “You are Peter (Πέτρος | Pétros), and on this rock (πέτρα | pètra) I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.” Mormons and Protestants frequently argue that pètra means a large, massive stone while Peter’s name, Pétros means a pebble. This is not entirely true. Some poets would have done this in Attic Greek, but in Koine Greek, in which the New Testament was written, it basically means “rock”. If our Lord had wanted to call him a small stone, the word lithos would have been used. We must remember, however, that Jesus spoke in Aramaic. The Aramaic word is Kepha, sometimes rendered Cephas in the New Testament. So there was no differentiation in the Aramaic—“You are Kepha and on this kepha I will build my church.” The differentiation in Greek is because of the different grammatical structure. Petros is masculine and petra is feminine. Peter was a man and therefore could not be called petra. In French, for instance, our Lord says: “Et moi je te dis que tu es Pierre, et sur cette pierre je bâtirai mon Eglise.” So there is no differentiation there, for instance. The play on words between “Peter” and “rock” is lost entirely in English. So, if Peter is the Rock on which the Church is built, it makes sense that he should have perpetual successors and there should not be an eighteen-hundred-year interregnum.

Paul describes the Church as “his body, the fulness of him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:23) “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:20) “Through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 3:10) “Some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ; so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the cunning of men, by their craftiness in deceitful wiles.” (Ephesians 4:11-14) So Paul is saying that God gave us the Church so that we might know with certainty the truths of the faith. This is not, of course, the only reason for the existence of the Church, but it is a central reason.

More importantly, Paul specifically says to the Ephesians: “Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21) In other words, the Church is to exist for all generations forever. This hardly allows for one generation, much less seventeen hundred years.

Besides, many of the Church Fathers, before Nicea, seemed to think they still had apostolic succession. Surely, orthodox Mormon theology would not vanish without a struggle to the Catholics?

“Our apostles also knew, through our Lord Jesus Christ, that there would be strife on account of the office of the episcopate. For this reason, therefore, inasmuch as they had obtained a perfect foreknowledge of this, they appointed those [ministers] already mentioned, and afterwards gave instructions, that when these should fall asleep, other approved men should succeed them in their ministry.”

Pope St. Clement I Letter to the Corinthians 44 (A.D. 80)

“Wherefore it is incumbent to obey the presbyters who are in the Church — those who, as I have shown, possess the succession from the apostles; those who, together with the succession of the episcopate, have received the certain gift of truth, according to the good pleasure of the Father. But [it is also incumbent] to hold in suspicion others who depart from the primitive succession, and assemble themselves together in any place whatsoever, [looking upon them] either as heretics of perverse minds, or as schismatics puffed up and self-pleasing, or again as hypocrites, acting thus for the sake of lucre and vainglory.”

St. Irenaeus Against Heresies 4:26:2 (A.D. 180)

“Having, on the authority of a prophecy, which occurs in a psalm of David, chosen Matthias by lot as the twelfth, into the place of Judas, they obtained the promised power of the Holy Ghost for the gift of miracles and of utterance; and after first bearing witness to the faith in Jesus Christ throughout Judaea, and founding churches (there), they next went forth into the world and preached the same doctrine of the same faith to the nations. They then in like manner founded churches in every city, from which all the other churches, one after another, derived the tradition of the faith, and the seeds of doctrine, and are every day deriving them, that they may become churches. Indeed, it is on this account only that they will be able to deem themselves apostolic, as being the offspring of apostolic churches. Every sort of thing must necessarily revert to its original for its classification. Therefore the churches, although they are so many and so great, comprise but the one primitive church, (founded) by the apostles, from which they all (spring). In this way all are primitive, and all are apostolic, while they are all proved to be one, in (unbroken) unity, by their peaceful communion, and title of brotherhood, and bond of hospitality — privileges which no other rule directs than the one tradition of the selfsame mystery.”

Tertullian The Prescription Against Heretics 20 (A.D. 200)

“The Church is one, and as she is one, cannot be both within and without. For if she is with [the heretic] Novatian, she was not with Cornelius. But if she was with Cornelius, who succeeded the bishop [of Rome], Fabian, by lawful ordination, and whom, beside the honor of the priesthood the Lord glorified also with martyrdom, Novatian is not in the Church; nor can he be reckoned as a bishop, who, succeeding to no one, and despising the evangelical and apostolic tradition, sprang from himself. For he who has not been ordained in the Church can neither have nor hold to the Church in any way.”

St. Cyprian of Carthage Epistles 75:3 (A.D. 253)

Indeed, in the Early Church, the Gnostics quickly appeared and many Church Fathers wrote against them. Catholicism and Mormonism are wholly different viewpoints. Why was there no apparent struggle? I am aware that Mormons believe some Church Fathers to have testified to Mormon viewpoints, but generally why was there not a greater battle? Why do we not have a single Church Father who clearly argues against the Mormons as there were many with the Gnostics?

Bonum Certamen Certemus

I am the Catholic of Honor

***

All Bible passages are from the Revised Standard Version.

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On Orthodox & Mormons

LDS Law of Eternal Progression: Can We Become Gods?

I would like to deal now with a distinctive teaching of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the doctrine of eternal progression, also known as the doctrine of deification or becoming like God. Nicene Christians use some of this terminology but mean something quite different. President Lorenzo Snow reduced it to a helpful paradigm: “As man now is, God once was; as God now is, man may be.” What this basically means is that by the merits of Jesus Christ, a person may become righteous and obtain godhood—“what God is”. We might therefore have spiritual children of our own. The Heavenly Father himself is said to have done this, having another God above him, but he was exalted to godhood along with his wife, the Heavenly Mother. They are the two parents of all human beings and Mormons reason that the thing our parents want for us is that we might be like them. Mormons typically blame Greek philosophy for the inventions of Ex Nihilo, homoousion, aseity, divine simplicity, and the like. At first I thought that odd because the Greek gods are far more like the gods of Mormonism than the God of Nicene Christianity, but it actually makes logical sense. As a Catholic reading Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero, I see how this paved the road for Christ. Now I will demonstrate the errors of eternal progression from Scripture. It is not fair, I admit, to argue with the Mormons entirely from the Bible, as neither Catholics nor Mormons go by the principle of Sola Scriptura. I believe it is written somewhere in the Book of Mormon, “Thou fool, that shall say: a Bible, we have got a Bible, and we need no more Bible. Have ye obtained a Bible save it were by the Jews? . . . Know ye not that the testimony of two nations is a witness unto you that I am God, that I remember one nation like unto another?” (2 Nephi 26:6,8) This is probably a warning to Catholics as well, as they also do not accept the Book of Mormon. Still, if the Church of Latter Day Saints is correct, the Bible cannot disagree with its doctrine, and the same is true for the Catholic Church.

“You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect,” our Lord declares in Matthew 5:48. The Greek is τέλειος (téleios), which can mean also absolute, complete, or accomplished—but not generally, when talking about people, “deified”. We must become perfect in that we must become holy, loving, and righteous, unsullied by sin. It says nowhere, however, you must become omnipotent as your heavenly Father is omnipotent or you must become omniscient as your heavenly Father is omniscient.

2 Peter 1:14 states: “you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of passion, and become partakers of the divine nature.” I see why someone think that this might refer to eternal progression to an extent, because if we take the phrase “partakers of the divine nature” to mean “persons whose nature is entirely divine”, then the eternal progression is correct. We are partakers in the divine nature because we are infused with divine grace. We therefore receive the communicable aspects of God’s nature such as goodness, holiness, and love, but this does not mean we are actually divine. Therefore, partaking in the divine nature does not here pertain to what we are but simply what we are like. For instance, in 1 Corinthians 10:17, Paul states: “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” Are we to conclude that all who partake in the Lord’s Supper become the Savior of Mankind? St. John of Damascus argues “Let us . . . apply our eyes and lips and brows and partake of the divine coal, in order that the fire of the longing, that is in us, with the additional heat derived from the coal may utterly consume our sins and illumine our hearts, and that we may be inflamed and deified by the participation in the divine fire. Isaiah saw the coal. But coal is not plain wood but wood united with fire: in like manner also the bread of the communion is not plain bread but bread united with divinity. But a body which is united with divinity is not one nature, but has one nature belonging to the body and another belonging to the divinity that is united to it, so that the compound is not one nature but two.” (An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith 4:13) In other words, when a pan or wood is put on a fire, it participates in the fire’s heat. The heat is what the fire has by nature but the heat is is what the pan has in participation of that nature. The pan becomes hot but it never becomes fire. The basic essences of the pan and the fire stay the same. This is what “becoming like God” or “deification” means in Nicene Christianity. For this reason, Paul says that “we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” (Romans 8:16–17) Indeed, after a short suffering on earth, we will share forever in his glory and be glorified with him, seeing the Beatific Vision for all eternity. To quote St. Augustine, “It is evident then, that He has called men gods, that are deified of His Grace, not born of His Substance. For He does justify, who is just through His own self, and not of another; and He does deify who is God through Himself, not by the partaking of another. But He that justifies does Himself deify, in that by justifying He does make sons of God. ‘For He has given them power to become the sons of God.’ (John 1:12) If we have been made sons of God, we have also been made gods: but this is the effect of Grace adopting, not of nature generating. For the only Son of God, God, and one God with the Father, Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, was in the beginning the Word, and the Word with God, the Word God. The rest that are made gods, are made by His own Grace, are not born of His Substance, that they should be the same as He, but that by favor they should come to Him, and be fellow-heirs with Christ. For so great is the love in Him the Heir, that He has willed to have fellow-heirs. What covetous man would will this, to have fellow-heirs?” (Exposition on Psalm 50:2)

“Holy Father, keep them in thy name, which thou hast given me, that they may be one, even as we are one,” says our Lord in John 17:11. We are to be one as the Father and Son are one insofar as it is possible, united by charity. In other words, we are called to imitate the love between the Father and the Son. As does not, however, In verse 18, our Lord says “As thou didst send me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” Surely we cannot suppose that Christ wished them all to equally be the Savior of mankind with him! So also Jesus says: “He who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I myself conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.” (Revelation 3:21) For indeed we are actually to be glorified with God co-reigning in heaven, though we stay forever less to God as explained above.

“Let us make man in our image, after our likeness,” said God.(Genesis 1:26) This is also stated in the LDS scripture Moses 2:27, “And I, God, created man in mine own image, in the image of mine Only Begotten created I him.” It is often supposed by the Latter-day Saints that if man was made in God’s image, man has the potential to become a god. However, the Hebrew word בְּצַלְמֵ֖נוּ (bəṣalmênū) can mean nothing more than God’s resemblance. For this reason, this word is frequently used to refer to idols, although certainly an idol made in the image of a calf is not the same as a calf, nor indeed can a statue of a calf some day become a calf outside of Pinocchio. We are made in the image of God in that he has actually given us the ability to love, create, and choose the good. We cannot, however, become the exact same as God.

“Behold, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil” says God after they had eaten the fruit of the Tree. (Genesis 3:22) Latter-day Saints usually argue that that this suggests that the process of deification was already underway. First of all, this occurred when they sinned against God. Divinity is received when a man lives uprightly according to the Latter-day doctrine. It can only be supposed that the tree did not give knowledge Adam and Eve mere knowledge, which is something they already had by virtue of being rational animals. Rather they thought it gave them legal authority to determine what is good and evil. “ ‘Disobedience’,” says Pope St. John Paul II, “means precisely going beyond that limit, which remains impassable to the will and the freedom of man as a created being. For God the Creator is the one definitive source of the moral order in the world created by him. Man cannot decide by himself what is good and what is evil – cannot ‘know good and evil, like God.’ ” (Dominum et Vivificantum 36) Thus God punished them.

“You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you,” Asaph writes (Psalm 82:6). First we must remember verse 7: “nevertheless, you shall die like men, and fall like any prince.” The idea seems to be more along the lines of: You are gods now, but when you die you will be judged as men rather than you are men with the potential to become gods if you have been judged to have lived uprightly. Jesus explains when he quotes this verse in John 10:35, “he called them gods to whom the word of God came (and scripture cannot be broken)”. So those “gods” are the ones who acted under God’s authority. He quoted this to give an argument they could not answer. However, our Lord shows that he is the Son of God in quite a different way. In the next three verses he says: “Do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’? If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” Hence they still picked up stones to kill him.

Interestingly enough, Mormons are more likely to quote the Bible than the Book of Mormon about this doctrine, so even if I did accept the Book of Mormon as scripture, I would not be being that unfair to the Mormons by not dealing with it.

Isaiah 43:10-12 states: “Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me. I, I am the LORD, and besides me there is no savior. I declared and saved and proclaimed, when there was no strange god among you; and you are my witnesses.”A Mormon would argue on account of the word “formed” that God is forbidding man from the inventing of false gods, particularly the fashioning of idols. Indeed, in the following chapter God expressly condemning worship of graven images, but the reason he gives is that no God was formed before him or nor will be after him whatsoever. The same Hebrew word, yatsar | יָצַר, is used in Genesis 2:7 where it says, “the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground.” Certainly we cannot suppose that Adam was an inanimate object. If God is an exalted man, then it seems that there was a point in which God was formed and the a point at which the god who made him was formed. And if we take nor shall there be any after me to simply be a command for the Jews to follow, that they should not invent gods of their own other than the true God, why did God say before me no god was formed?

“Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary, his understanding is unsearchable,” says Isaiah 40:28. And again Isaiah 44:6–7 states, “I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god. Who is like me? Let him proclaim it, let him declare and set it forth before me. Who has announced from of old the things to come? Let them tell us what is yet to be.” And in Ephesians 4:6 Paul says: “There is . . . one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all.” A Latter-day Saint would say that God was simply saying that he was the only God for the children of Israel to worship, but there seem to be four gods in which Mormons believe—the Father, the Mother, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Now in Hebrew, the name of God here is YHWH, which is rendered in older translations as Jehovah. According to LDS theology, Jehovah (or Yahweh) is the premortal name of Jesus. (D&C 110:3–4) Now, Jesus may have been the main God (according to Mormonism) of the Old Testament. However, it would be wrong to say that the Father was not also present. According to the LDS Scriptures, Moses said to Satan: “Get thee hence, Satan; deceive me not; for God said unto me: Thou art after the similitude of mine Only Begotten. And he also gave me commandments when he called unto me out of the burning bush, saying: Call upon God in the name of mine Only Begotten, and worship me . . . Depart from me, Satan, for this one God only will I worship, which is the God of glory.” (Moses 1:17–18,20) It seems that it was the Father to whom Moses spoke on the mountain. It seems that Mormons also worship the Heavenly Mother, seeing her equal in honor to the Father. Mormons do not pray to her directly, but as President Gordon B. Hinckley explains: “The fact that we do not pray to our Mother in Heaven in no way belittles or denigrates her.” President Rudger Clawson explains: “It doesn’t take from our worship of the Eternal Father, to adore our Eternal Mother, any more than it diminishes the love we bear our earthly fathers, to include our earthly mothers in our affections.”1 Elder Melvin J. Ballard says: “No matter to what heights God has attained or may attain, he does not stand alone; for side by side with him, in all her glory, a glory like unto his, stands a companion, the Mother of his children. For as we have a Father in heaven, so also we have a Mother there, a glorified, exalted, ennobled Mother.”2 So provided that these two men’s words reflect orthodox LDS doctrine (which I assume, considering their titles), they seem to hold the Mother in equal esteem as the Father. As quoted above, Clawson says they even “adore” her. So what is worship other than to hold someone in equal esteem with God? If I understand LDS doctrine incorrectly, write to me in the comments or email me about it, but it appears to me that there are at least three or four gods. A Mormon would say that they are technically one God together since they are united for a common purpose, but they still seem to be three beings (or four if we count the Heavenly Mother). Still I do not think God would say: “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:2–3) but rather “You shall have no other gods before us”.

Still, that does not explain John 1:3, “all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.” I imagine a Mormon would say this simply refers to all things on this world, but it does not say “all things on this world were made through him” but simply “all things were made through him”. John emphasizes this further by adding a negative “without him was not anything made that was made.” It seems that God himself was not made and he made everything. If this is true he cannot be an exalted man.

“There will be no other God, O Trypho, nor was there from eternity any other existing, but He who made and disposed all this universe. Nor do we think that there is one God for us, another for you, but that He alone is God who led your fathers out from Egypt with a strong hand and a high arm. Nor have we trusted in any other (for there is no other), but in Him in whom you also have trusted, the God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob.”

St. Justin Martyr Dialogue with Trypho the Jew 11 (A.D. 155)

“He (the Creator) made all things freely, and by His own power, and arranged and finished them, and His will is the substance of all things, then He is discovered to be the one only God who created all things, who alone is Omnipotent, and who is the only Father rounding and forming all things, visible and invisible, such as may be perceived by our senses and such as cannot, heavenly and earthly, ‘by the word of His power,’ Hebrews 1:3 and He has fitted and arranged all things by His wisdom, while He contains all things, but He Himself can be contained by no one: He is the Former, He the Builder, He the Discoverer, He the Creator, He the Lord of all; and there is no one besides Him, or above Him, neither has He any mother, as they falsely ascribe to Him . . . But there is one only God, the Creator — He who is above every Principality, and Power, and Dominion, and Virtue: He is Father, He is God, He the Founder, He the Maker, He the Creator, who made those things by Himself, that is, through His Word and His Wisdom — heaven and earth, and the seas, and all things that are in them.”

St Irenaeus Against Heresies 2:30:9 (A.D. 189)

“There is one only God, and that He is none other than the Creator of the world, who produced all things out of nothing through His own Word, first of all sent forth.”

Tertullian Prescription Against Heretics 13:1 (A.D. 200)

Bonum Certamen Certemus

I am the Catholic of Honor

***

All Bible verses are from the Revised Standard Version

1“Our Mother in Heaven,” Millennial Star 72, September 29, 1910

2Sermons and Mission Services of Melvin Joseph Ballard, 205