Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Mormons and Communists

The eminent canon lawyer, Ed Peters, has some interesting second thoughts on the Chinese communists ordaining a couple of bishops. He refers his readers to what he terms the "most theologically significant decision reached by CDF" under then-Cardinal Ratzinger which was the declaration that Mormon baptism is invalid.

I had first-hand experience with this. I spent a year as the Director of Education and Formation at the Cathedral of the Madeleine in Salt Lake City, about three blocks east of Temple Square. One of my duties was to be an advocate for those who petitioned the Diocese of Salt Lake City for a declaration of nullity in regard to their marriage. This meant I had to have some quick tutoring in canon law, and was ably assisted in that by Father Robert Moriarty of the diocesan tribunal. One of the things we discussed was the validity of Mormon baptism. That this was even a question was a surprise to me, but he explained that when it came to form and matter, they had everything correct. They baptize with water and use the same formula we do.

But -- and this is a big 'but' -- do they intend to do the same thing that we do? When a nurse or someone else baptizes another in an emergency situation, that baptism is valid because the form and the matter are the same as the Church's and because we know that, even if she can't articulate it to any great extent, the nurse intends to do what the Church intends in baptism -- cleanse the person of sin and bring him into the life of the Trinity.

Mormons, on the other hand, do not believe in the Trinity. Their doctrine is so totally mixed up on the nature of Jesus Christ that you can't tell from one moment to the next if you're talking about Arianism, adoptionism, Manicheeism, or any other type of heretical "ism" there is. What we do know, though, is that they do not believe that Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man, "one in being (homoousion) with the Father." We do know that their understanding of the Father is that he is god of this planet, not the God and creator of the universe. Their understanding of the Holy Spirit is so totally lost that one hardly knows where to even begin to look to find it. In a nutshell, we know that they are pagans -- polytheists, even.

So when a Mormon says, "I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit," he is saying, "I baptize you in the name of three different gods." And it is that intention that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said was totally incompatible with Catholic teaching, and therefore it makes their baptism invalid.

So when the Chinese Communists ordain bishops solely for the purpose of thumbing their noses at the Holy See, the intent of what they're doing should be very carefully considered when it comes to evaluating the validity, never mind the liceity, of their actions.


john f. said...

We do know that their understanding of the Father is that he is god of this planet, not the God and creator of the universe.

This is simply incorrect. I am sorry that your time in SLC did not give you more accurate insight into the simply beliefs and doctrines of Latter-day Saints.

As for LDS conceptions of Jesus Christ being totally mixed up, I find this derisive comment ironic when spoken by someone who holds to an (arbitrarily created) creed stating that God is incomprehensible.

Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz said...

Thank you for your comments, John.

While my understanding of Mormon understanding of the Father's nature may be inaccurate (and I would appreciate it if you could correct me on it), certainly it is not inaccurate to state that Mormons do not believe in the Trinity, in the divinity of Christ, or are clear on the nature of the Holy Spirit.

The comment about LDS conceptions of Jesus is not derisive, but true. They are totally mixed up, as is to be expected. Because when one denies the divinity of Christ, His co-equality with the Father from all eternity, one quickly loses one's way to the truth. Mormons are not alone in this -- Jehovah's Witnesses have similar issues as do, unfortunately, many of my fellow Catholics who would reduce the Gospel to a mere call to social justice.

As to our creed stating that God is incomprehensible, I can assure you that I've never said that in any creed I've uttered -- and I've uttered them all. In fact, that would go against Catholic teaching. If we proclaimed God to be incomprehensible, then we would be denying what we proclaim -- that God has taken on human flesh, made Himself visible for us to see. We cannot fully comprehend Him, mind you. But we can at least know that He is the creator of the universe, that He is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, three divine persons in a perfect unity of love, that He created us out of love, that we offended Him by our sin but that He has had mercy on us by the Son freely obeying the Father's will in taking on our human flesh, teaching the truth, healing the sick, showing forth His Father's glory, dying on the Cross and rising from the dead and then pouring out on us the Holy Spirit so that we might become like Him, not by nature, but by participation.

The problem with your statement is a logical one as well -- if I cannot comprehend God, then why should I believe Him worthy of any of my time? Because those things we do not comprehend are those things that we do not love.

This, however, is not what Joseph Smith or Brigham Young proclaimed. Instead, they left their followers with the axiom, "As we are now, he once was. As he is now, we hope to become." This statement is simply false. God was human like us at one time? Then how did he become god? How does a human being acquire divinity with all that implies -- immortality, omniscience, omnipresence, omnipotence, never having been created but creating out of nothing, and so on -- of his own accord? This is utterly incomprehensible. Why would I want to worship a god who is simply superhuman? Or one that I have the potential to be equal with at some point in time? Why would I waste my time doing such a thing?

If I have totally misunderstood Mormonism, then please feel free to correct me. However, given what I have read and been taught, there is nothing within it that is attractive, for it fails the essential test -- the test of truth.

john f. said...

It is inaccurate to state that Latter-day Saints do not believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ. This entire problem stems from the creeds, and as you know, Latter-day Saints reject the creeds based on latter-day revelation that Jesus Christ is displeased with the creeds. In other words, He does not approve of the choices of the councils that created them. I am sure that He has no problem with philosophy generally, but if the philosophization of His nature simply gets it wrong, fancy Greek words, created ex nihilo, to describe His nature notwithstanding, then there is no reason to make them the basis of a circular argument. But it is precisely this circular argument that forms the basis of Catholic and other creedal Christians' assertion that Latter-day Saints are not Christians. So be it. The term is nice but I don't need it to know the Lord Jesus Christ, his grace, and the ordinances that He requires of us, performed by the sealing priesthood authority that He has restored through Peter, James, and John to Joseph Smith.

As to your concerns about what is called the King Follet discourse, you are correct that this is difficult to understand. What exactly was meant by it is unclear and it is not taught as doctrine in the Church. Rather, what is taught as doctrine is that God the Father loves us enough to want us to have everything that he has, to become co-heirs with Jesus Christ, and to participate with him on a policy-making or creative level in the hereafter. If this is all "unattractive" to you, as you have written, then that is your choice. My question to you is simply, what will you be literally doing in the hereafter according to your belief system? Why is sitting around on a cloud singing eternal praises to a God who is eternally alienated from you by nature a more attractive option?

On to the point of this post, Catholic rejection of Latter-day Saint baptism is ironic considering the way the Catholic Church changed this ordinance so much as to render it symbolically meaningless. The practice of infant baptism not only cannot symbolize the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, as stipulated in Romans 6, it also denies the grace and power of the Lord Jesus Christ. Here is some straightforward Latter-day Saint doctrine:

8 Listen to the words of Christ, your Redeemer, your Lord and your God. Behold, I came into the world not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance; the whole need no physician, but they that are sick; wherefore, little children are whole, for they are not capable of committing sin; wherefore the curse of Adam is taken from them in me, that it hath no power over them; and the law of circumcision is done away in me.

9 And after this manner did the Holy Ghost manifest the word of God unto me; wherefore, my beloved son, I know that it is solemn mockery before God, that ye should baptize little children.

. . . .

11 And their little children need no repentance, neither baptism. Behold, baptism is unto repentance to the fulfilling the commandments unto the remission of sins.

12 But little children are alive in Christ, even from the foundation of the world; if not so, God is a partial God, and also a changeable God, and a respecter to persons; for how many little children have died without baptism!

13 Wherefore, if little children could not be saved without baptism, these must have gone to an endless hell.

14 Behold I say unto you, that he that supposeth that little children need baptism is in the gall of bitterness and in the bonds of iniquity; for he hath neither faith, hope, nor charity; wherefore, should he be cut off while in the thought, he must go down to hell.

15 For awful is the wickedness to suppose that God saveth one child because of baptism, and the other must perish because he hath no baptism.

. . . .

20 And he that saith that little children need baptism denieth the mercies of Christ, and setteth at naught the atonement of him and the power of his redemption.

. . . .

22 For behold that all little children are alive in Christ, and also all they that are without the law. For the power of redemption cometh on all them that have no law; wherefore, he that is not condemned, or he that is under no condemnation, cannot repent; and unto such baptism availeth nothing—

23 But it is mockery before God, denying the mercies of Christ, and the power of his Holy Spirit, and putting trust in dead works. (Moroni 8:4-23.)

The Catholic Church has its 2001 CDF proclamation stating that Mormon baptism is invalid. It is suggested that the reasoning behind this is the intent of Latter-day Saint baptism; that Latter-day Saints do not baptize unto the mystical Trinity and therefore the baptism is not valid. That is only fair since an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ has also made a statement on the creedal Christian baptism of infants (in addition to the scriptural authority quoted above):

A more infamous doctrine than that of the condemnation of un-baptized infants can scarcely be imagined, and a stronger proof of the heresies that had invaded and corrupted the early Church need not be sought. Such a doctrine is foreign to the gospel and to the Church of Christ, and its adoption as an essential tenet is proof of apostasy. (James E. Talmage, The Great Apostasy (1909), 119.)

Before a good faith argument about the speculations of the King Follet discourse can take place, it seems to me that such obvious tokens of Apostasy must be answered.

john f. said...

As to the Holy Ghost, it is really simple, if you'll indulge me:

22 The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s; the Son also; but the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit. Were it not so, the Holy Ghost could not dwell in us. (Doctrine and Covenants 130:22.)

There you have it in one sentence. If you need a little more insight, try the Book of Mormon:

11 . . . I spake unto [the Holy Spirit] as a man speaketh; for I beheld that he was in the form of a man; yet nevertheless, I knew that it was the Spirit of the Lord; and he spake unto me as a man speaketh with another. (1 Nephi 11:11.)

Latter-day Saints are clear on what they believe about the Holy Ghost. Just because it is not the same as what you believe does not mean that it is confused or that Latter-day Saints are lost in their comprehension of the Holy Ghost. There is plenty of evidence that the Catholic Church's doctrines on many matters are not the same as those espoused by the Primitive Church of Jesus Christ, the one run by his Apostles. Thus, there is no reason to assume that the Catholic Church's doctrine on the Holy Ghost is the correct one. Through latter-day revelation, Latter-day Saints believe that it is not. This is a matter of faith so there is nothing wrong with you believing something different. But your different something does not make my something "confused."

john f. said...

Sorry, that Doctrine and Covenants passage was two sentences, not one.

Scott said...

The problem does not stem from Christian creeds, the problem, vis-a-vis understanding deity, flows from an equivocation. What is equivocal is the fundamental understanding of deity itself.

Taking my cue from Abraham chapter 3, the LDS Church teaches that God the Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost are not ontologically different than any other human being. This idea is summed up neatly by LDS Church President Lorenzo Snow's saying: "As man is God once was. As God is man may become." An example of this belief, in addition to Abraham chapter 3 (specifically verses 21-28), is found in the Doctrine & Covenants section 132, verse 37 "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, John is correct insofar as it is LDS belief that Jesus is divine, but as uncreated intelligences, we all are. I suppose irony begets irony as regards being derisive. It is easy to see, whether one accepts it or not, that the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed was not, as John ignorantly opines, "arbitrarily created."

john f. said...

Scott, my meaning with the term "arbitrarily created" is not as opaque as you are acting, and I assume you know that full well.

What I mean by that is that it is the creation of a committee trying to figure out a way to define what they could not understand and for which there is little direct guidance in the Bible. One thing for sure is that the Bible itself does not say what the Nicene Creed says. That is wholly extra-biblical. Therefore, it is arbitrary in the sense that some other committee could have come up with some other creedal definition of the nature of God (and they have).

As to exactly how any of my comments here are ignorant, that will be up to you to explain since I don't know what you could be referring to. With the Apostles dead and fundamental doctrines and ordinances of the Church changed from when the Apostles themselves were general authorities of the Church with authority to admonish the entire Church (bishops were local authorities not intended to function in a general capacity and thus it is unclear why we should believe that a bishop would succeed the Apostle Peter), it is difficult to understand why the Council at Nicea had the authority to cement a definition of God in the way that it did that should bind all future generations of people who confess Jesus Christ as the Lord and promised Messiah. Why would anyone participating in the Council have more authority than the boy Joseph Smith? Their philosophical or theological training? Latter-day Saints make a clear and direct appeal to revelation straight from God in their belief that God Himself and Jesus Christ appeared to Joseph Smith to deliver this message. Our knowledge of the nature of God the Eternal Father stems from Joseph Smith having seen Him as a separate being from Jesus Christ, and not from the decisions of a committee.

Scott said...
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Scott said...

John I'm taking your use of "arbitrarily" at face value. Again, whether one accepts the Creeds or not is one thing, but to dismiss them as arbitrary creations is quite another and does no justice to the issue at hand. Your clarification further reveals an obstinate ignorance about the development of doctrine in the early Church.

A gathering of bishops to discern what Scripture teaches under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, is hardly the assembling of a committee. Besides, your assertions that things had changed from the apostles to the Council of Nicea has no source other the assertions of Joseph Smith, Jr 1900+ years after the fact. If you took the trouble to study apostolic fathers, such as Polycarp of Smyrna, Ignatius of Antioch, Clement of Rome, Ireneaus of Lyons, you would know that the integrity of the apostolic faith was vigorously maintained in the face of many challenges from various gnostic sects and from the erroneous doctrine of Arianism.

Besides, if the so-called Great Apostasy is true Christ himself is a liar because the "gates of hell would have prevaled against the Church for almost the entirety of Christian history.

Scott said...

To write about the initial issue the validity of LDS baptism. The CDF's judgment was that, even though the Trinitarian formula invoked, LDS reject the Trinity. In other words, when baptizing in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, LDS are not referring to the same God, but rather to a henotheistic conception of the deity.

Prior to that, LDS converts to the Catholic Church, at least in the Diocese of Salt Lake City, which receives hundreds of formerly LDS into the Church each year, has always re-baptized LDS converts. The dubium to Rome was initiated in the early 90s by the Diocese of Helena Montana.

john f. said...

Scott: I'll give you this much--I have not read the entire corpus of works from the Church Fathers, the Apologists, the Polemicists, the Scholastics, etc.

But I have read some of this material.

Polycarp of Smyrna, Ignatius of Antioch, Clement of Rome, Ireneaus of Lyons were not Apostles. In their own writings, they do not presume to fill the shoes of the Apostles. They write to other churches by way of admonition and love but do not indicate that they think they have authority over any other church. If, as you suggest, there was no Great Apostasy because the theories cemented in the creeds by the Council (is that better than committee?) at Nicea were intact from the Apostles straight to that Council, then there would have been no need for that Council. That is because, if the bishop of Rome had really been intended to succeed the Apostle Peter as a Pope, then such a Council would not have been necessary. To the contrary, bishops weren't claiming that the bishop in Rome was Peter's successor until a later date.

In fact, during the period between the death of the Apostles and the Council of Nicea, especially at the beginning of that period during the time of Clement, Cletus, Ignatius, etc. none of the bishops claimed primacy over the others. It is true that the bishops of certain cities began, over time, to be seen as having inherently more authority if the city, such as Rome or Antioch, could boast having had more than one Apostle ministering there.

Nineteenth and early twentieth-century creedal Christian scholars were on to something when they observed what appeared to be two priesthoods in the primitive church, one of general, spiritual, jurisdiction, and the other of local, temporal, jurisdiction. Stated succinctly, a bishop is not an Apostle, not meant to succeed such (unless by laying on of hands they are elevated to the apostleship), and, in the very early period, they did not view themselves as succeeding the Apostles. It is not until later that the election of bishops in Rome became such a big deal and that episcopate began claiming primacy through a succession to Peter.

If there is no unbroken line of authority to Peter, it is unclear why one should accept the Catholic Church as the church that Jesus Christ established while here. This is compounded when examining doctrines such as the damnation of unbaptized infants (or infant baptism itself), indulgences, celibacy of the priesthood, transsubstantion, etc., not to mention the Nicene Creed and other creeds, which, although merely the decision of a particular committee (and therefore, arbitrary, as I stated, since some other committee might have decided on some other definition), cement a definition of the nature of God that is to bind all future generations of Christians, excluding any (for many hundreds of years through shunning, torture, and execution) who do not agree with the conclusions of the Council at Nicea and appeal to the words of the Bible and direct revelation for information on the nature of God and His Son Jesus Christ.

It is well and good that the Catholic Church created these doctrines well after the death of the Apostles. But to claim that these doctrines were intact from the ministry of Jesus Christ straight through to the Council of Nicea, and to the present day is a bit of a stretch.

john f. said...

I meant transsubstantiation.

Scott said...
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Scott said...
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Scott said...

No matter how accurate, I just can't be uncharitable. I suggest you invest some time reading both about your faith and, if you're going to comment, about that of others

john f. said...

Scott, that is an extreme cop-out. In what way do you suggest that I have not read about my faith or the Catholic faith/history?

I take it you believe that the Pope enjoys a succession straight to the Apostle Peter. That is your belief and fine. But that does not make it historical fact.

Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz said...


Sorry, but apostolic succession is established historic fact. The unbroken and continuous line of popes from Benedict XVI to St. Peter is well-established. That Rome intervened in the affairs of other churches with authority early on in her history is also well-established by the writings of the Fathers. The book "St. Peter Lives in Rome," by Robert Stackpole, a former Anglican, gives a very detailed history of this and confronts many myths and legends regarding the succession clearly and accurately.

What Mormons have a hard time proving is the so-called great apostacy. You're not the only group to make such a claim - it's essentially the same claim that Protestants make. The Catholic Church makes no pretensions to perfection. However, she has maintained for 2,000 years the truth that Jesus is "the Christ, the Son of the Living God," the He is equal with the Father from all eternity, and that He and the Father share such a unity of love that they always and have always brought forth the Holy Spirit. From this, she has never wavered and many willingly went to their deaths to proclaim this truth. Yes, we have made errors -- many of them -- and they have been admitted. That does not, however, prove apostacy. All it proves is that we are still sinners in need of God's grace in order to come to perfection.

john f. said...

TAS: thanks for the recommended book. I will read it with interest. Here's one you might be interested in: Hugh Nibley, Apostles and Bishops in Early Christianity (2005).

Your comment got me to thinking about why scott would recommend that I read some basic Catholic history books instead of engaging me on this topic. I was a little unclear. I do not dispute that the Catholic Church has been able to establish lists of succession of bishoprics in Rome all the way back to Clement and Cletus. The point of my comments was that it is unclear why we should believe that a bishop or a certain bishopric should be seen as taking over for Apostles once the Apostles were gone. That question is separate from whether the Catholic Church can provide a list of names going all the way back to the Apostle Peter. The prestige of one bishopric based on "two Apostle" status seems to be the most any bishopric was claiming in the early period right after the Apostles were all gone (don't forget, Antioch had the prestige of this status as well). This, however, is different from primacy or authority over bishops of other cities that could not make such a claim to fame.

Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz said...

Actually, the list in Rome goes back to Linus, not to Clement.

The reason, John, that we should see the bishops as taking over from the apostles is because that is exactly what they did. This is traceable back to the Acts of the Apostles when the Apostles, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, selected Matthias to take the place of Judas the Iscariot.

We also see it in the selection of men like Timothy to take charge of churches in certain places. They were there with the authority of the apostles themselves since the apostles had laid hands on them, an ancient sign of giving the same spirit that the prophet or apostle has.

The question is, why would the apostles appoint successors if they didn't mean that they should have the same authority? But this is exactly what they intended and Clement, in his letter to the Corinthians says this:

"The apostles received the gospel for us from the Lord Jesus Christ; Jesus, the Christ, was sent from God. Thus Christ is from God and the apostles from Christ. In both instances, the orderly procedure depends on God's will. And so the apostles, after receiving their orders and being fully convinced by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ and assured by God's word, went out in the confidence of the Holy Spirit to preach the good news that God's kingdom was about to come. Through countryside and city they preached, and they appointed their earliest converts, testing them by the Spirit, to be the bishops and deacons of future believers. Nor was this a novelty, for bishops and deacons had been written about a long time earlier. . . . Our apostles knew through our Lord Jesus Christ that there would be strife for the office of bishop. For this reason, therefore, having received perfect foreknowledge, they appointed those who have already been mentioned and afterwards added the further provision that, if they should die, other approved men should succeed to their ministry" (Letter to the Corinthians 42:1–5, 44:1–3 [A.D. 80])"

Irenaeus of Lyons, writing in 189, said, "But since it would be too long to enumerate in such a volume as this the successions of all the churches, we shall confound all those who, in whatever manner, whether through self-satisfaction or vainglory, or through blindness and wicked opinion, assemble other than where it is proper, by pointing out here the successions of the bishops of the greatest and most ancient church known to all, founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul—that church which has the tradition and the faith with which comes down to us after having been announced to men by the apostles. For with this Church, because of its superior origin, all churches must agree, that is, all the faithful in the whole world. And it is in her that the faithful everywhere have maintained the apostolic tradition" (Against the Heresies, 3:3:2).

And there are many more such quotes one can point to, but this is not the place for it. (Instead, you can look at

I think this is sufficient to point out, John, that the bishops of the early Church clearly saw themselves as successors of the apostles, of carrying out their office and that it had a three-fold purpose -- teaching, sanctifying and governing. They taught with the authority of the apostles, they santified with that same authority through the sacraments, and they governed with that very apostolic authority.

And it was to one place they all looked when necessary -- Rome. It wasn't merely a matter that Peter and Paul had both been there, for as you pointed out, other churches could make the claim that they had two apostles there. It was the fact that Peter had been told by Jesus Christ Himself, "You are Peter and on this rock I will build my church and the gates of hades will not prevail against it. I will give to you the keys of the kingdom..." (Matt. 16.18-19)

In other words, the Lord did not abandon His Church, as Clement pointed out the succession -- God the Father sent His Son, Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit, and He then sent the Apostles in the power of the Holy Spirit, and they then passed on their authority through the power of the Holy Spirit to their successors.

The authority of their successors, though, is not to come up with new revelations, for the Word of God is completely revealed in the Word made Flesh, Jesus Christ. Their authority is to teach what has been handed on and to guard the deposit of faith to keep it from being distorted by lies of every sort.

That is what is still present today in the office and ministry of bishop, especially in the Bishop of Rome.