Thursday, December 18, 2014

Roman Catholic Arguments for Papal Supremacy, part II: St. Irenaeus of Lyons and the meaning of "convenire"

In my previous post I considered what can and cannot be concluded from the text of Matthew 16:18-19, which is often used by Roman Catholic apologists to support their specific doctrine of Papal Primacy. In this post I examine the passage most frequently cited by Roman Catholics seeking to bolster their view of Papal Primacy, passage 3.3.2 from St. Irenaeus's Against Heresies:

"Since, however, it would be very tedious, in such a volume as this, to reckon up the successions of all the Churches, we do put to confusion all those who, in whatever manner, whether by an evil self-pleasing, by vainglory, or by blindness and perverse opinion, assemble in unauthorized meetings; [we do this, I say,] by indicating that tradition derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostlesPeter and Paul; as also [by pointing out] the faith preached to men, which comes down to our time by means of the successions of the bishops. For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church, on account of its preeminent authority,that is, the faithful everywhere, inasmuch as the tradition has been preserved continuously by those [faithful men] who exist everywhere."


In the first line of interest, St. Irenaeus says "...the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostlesPeter and Paul..." which is interesting for two reasons. First, St. Irenaeus speaks about the church in Rome as a whole, making no effort to emphasize who leads the Church of Rome or drawing any special connection between the episcopate in Rome and St. Peter. In fact, Irenaeus speaks about both St. Peter and St. Paul as those responsible for the Roman Church's existence. Once again, there is no mention of any special connection between St. Peter and the episcopate alone since St. Irenaeus is focused on the Church of Rome as a whole.

If it was St. Irenaeus's objective to demonstrate that the Bishop of Rome is the primate over all Christendom because he succeeds St. Peter, he would have focused his attention specifically on the apostle who grants this authority, St. Peter, and on the Bishop of Rome himself whom Roman Catholics claim is the reason for the Church of Rome's preeminence. Instead, St. Irenaeus focuses on the Church of Rome in its entirety, basing its importance on both St. Peter and St. Paul.

When St. Irenaeus does refer to bishops, he says the following "...; as also [by pointing out] the faith preached to men, which comes down to our time by means of the successions of the bishops." St. Irenaeus speaks of multiple successions of multiple bishops, thus referring to bishops both within and outside of Rome. Like other churches in Christendom, the Church of Rome is important and maintains legitimacy because it preserves and professes the same faith as all the other churches. 

The last and final portion best supports the Roman Catholic position, and is the section emphasized by apologists:

"For it is a 
matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church, on account of its preeminent authority,that is, the faithful everywhere, inasmuch as the tradition has been preserved continuously by those [faithful men] who exist everywhere."

It is tempting to conclude that Roman Catholic apologists are correct in their interpretation of this passage, but closer examination undermines such conclusions. The first complication for the Roman Catholic apologist is the Latin word convenire, which in the passage above is translated as "agree with," but might also be translated as "come together," "assemble," or "meet." In fact, the Perseus classics resource database, run by Tufts University and held as the preeminent internet resource for classical Latin and Greek, doesn't even list "agree with" as one of the primary options. That said, there are numerous examples in Latin texts of convenire being translated as "agree with" based on the context in which it is used. The relevant question, then, is whether the context of the passage provides a reasonable basis for translating "convenire" as  "agree with," and it is here that the debate comes to a standstill since we cannot be sure how St. Irenaeus intended for his message to be translated since both "agree with" and "meet with" fit the context of the passage. What is clear, though, is that once again a passage Roman Catholic apologists claim clearly demonstrates their case is shown to be ambiguous.

Additionally, even if one concedes that St. Irenaeus claims all faithful should agree with the Church of Rome there remain obstacles for the Roman Catholic apologist. The first of these obstacles lies in why St. Irenaeus deems it necessary for faithful to agree/ meet with Rome. Is it because the Bishop of Rome holds Petrine authority over other churches? Is it because the Church of Rome as a whole has demonstrated is faithfulness to Christendom and its mission and thus has garnered respect? Once again, St. Irenaeus's meaning is unclear.

Because Roman Catholic apologists make a positive claim, being that the above passage from St. Irenaeus demonstrates their view of Papal Primacy, it is their duty not only to put forward this quote as self-evident, but to answer the questions I have raised in this post, namely:

1. How does this passage demonstrate that the Church of Rome's preeminence is rooted in the Bishop of Rome who is the unique successor of St. Peter?

2. Why is "agree with" the best translation of "convenire ad" in this passage?

For further reading, I recommend the following:

Monday, December 8, 2014

Roman Catholic Arguments for Papal Supremacy, part I: What can and cannot be established by the plain text of Matthew 16:18-20.

In this post I consider the most prevalent Roman Catholic argument for Papal Supremacy, being that Matthew 16:18-19 demonstrates that St. Peter, and thus the Bishop of Rome, acts as the head of the Christian Church's hierarchy in Christ's stead. I argue this inference in not justified by the plain reading of the text. I love my Roman Catholic brothers and sisters and I recognize that without Roman Catholic friends, colleagues, and resources I never would have found my way home. Although argumentative, I pray my words are interpreted in charity as I intend them.

To begin, here is the Greek text of Matthew 16:18-19. Each verse is followed by the English translation.

18κἀγὼ δέ σοι λέγω ὅτι σὺ εἶ Πέτρος, καὶ ἐπὶ ταύτῃ τῇ πέτρᾳ οἰκοδομήσω μου τὴν   ἐκκλησίαν, καὶ πύλαι ἅδου οὐ κατισχύσουσιν αὐτῆς. 

And (I) to you I say that you are Petros (nominative), and on this petra (dative) I will build my assembly, and the gates of hades will not overcome/ prevail over it.

19δώσω σοι τὰς κλεῖδας τῆς βασιλείας τῶνοὐρανῶν, καὶ  ἐὰν δήσῃς ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς   ἔσται δεδεμένον ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς, καὶ ἐὰν λύσῃς ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς ἔσται λελυμένον ἐν 
τοῖς οὐρανοῖς. 

I will give to you the keys of the kingdom of the heavens, and that which you bind on the earth is bound in the heavens, and that which you free/ loose on the earth will be freed/ loosed in the heavens.

In verse 18, as I have indicated, the nominative form, Petros, is first used. The nominative case in Greek is used to designate the subject of a sentence. The next use, petra, is in the dative case which, in this case indicates an indirect object to which an action will be applied. Some have used the dative use to indicate that "petra" does not refer to the person St. Peter, and, while this opinion is shared by numerous Church Fathers, I do not think that conceding that it is, in some sense, the person St. Peter upon whom Christ builds his ecclesia is problematic for Eastern Orthodoxy. Thus, for the sake of this article I will concede that Christ establishes his ecclesia on St. Peter.

Verse 18 establishes that Christ in some way uses St. Peter to establish his ecclesia on earth. That is it. This verse says nothing about how the ecclesia is to be governed, what St. Peter's role in that governance is, whether or not Peter is to have a successor or successors, or what authority his successor(s) would have. Thus Eastern Orthodox Christians can concede that Christ gives first the keys to St. Peter and that Christ uses St. Peter to establish his ecclesia without conceding anything to their Roman Catholic interlocutors.

In verse 19 St. Peter is given a special authority that essentially gives him heavenly power in establishing structure and laws of Christ's ecclesia. From the text we can infer that this inheritance is important and signifies legitimate authority; however, once again, what is absent are the very things Roman Catholicism needs to make its case: no mention of who is to succeed St. Peter. It is possible, then that St. Peter might have had multiple successors as did Charlemagne after his death.

It is clear that Matthew 16:18-19 itself does not establish the Roman catholic position. That being said, although there exist a surprising number of Roman Catholics who believe these verses alone establish their case, the majority of Roman Catholics acknowledge that Matthew 16:18-19 are only one piece of a larger historical and theological argument. In my next post I will investigate the broader scope in which this argument falls. I will first examine who the ante-Nicene Church Fathers saw as St. Peter's successor.

Note: Because I wish to maintain intellectual honesty and give this topic adequate consideration, I invite questions, rebuttals, comments, and suggestions. I would especially be interested in reading what arguments or quotes from the Church Fathers you think best support the Roman Catholic position.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

My latest encounter with LDS (Mormon) missionaries, or: To debate or not to debate?

Since my departure from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, visits from LDS (Mormon) missionaries have become a semi-regular occurrence. As much as it pains me to admit it, when I finalized my departure from the LDS faith I harbored much disdain for the religion and its official representatives. When I saw missionaries approaching, or was visited by them at home, I thought only of ways to expose to them the errors of their faith, and I often wasn't gracious in my efforts to put my thoughts into action.

At some point, perhaps due to the grace provided me by my entrance into the Orthodox faith, my anger subsided and eventually disappeared altogether. This was most apparent yesterday when I invited two young men representing the LDS faith into my home. Rather than assessing the situation to determine the most opportune moment to pounce, I instead attempted to take interest in and listen to what the missionaries had to say. I was, of course, more interested in the missionaries themselves than the message they had to share.

The best part of the experience was that these two young men reciprocated. Whereas missionaries in the past were eager to remove themselves from my defensive, sometimes combative presence, my most recent visitors wanted to learn more not just about me but about my faith. I shared the Church's history and how Orthodox Christians view Christ, and they asked questions aimed not to lead the conversation back to Mormonism, but to learn more about my beliefs.

By attempting to show these two young men that I cared about them and what they had to say, rather than using them to practice my debate techniques and boost my ego, I shared the Orthodox Christian faith and it didn't fall on deaf ears. Mine is only one experience, but I did find that sometimes listening and sharing is more effective method than argument. This may be especially true with LDS missionaries who have been conditioned to see attacks against their faith as signs of their divine calling.

Monday, October 27, 2014

A follow-up by Jerry Thomas

Last week, Jerry Thomas offered a comparison of Mormon and Eastern Orthodox Christian temple theology. A reader by the name of Christian Piper offered a thoughtful critique. Here is Jerry's response:

Rather than respond to Christian Piper’s interesting observations via comments, I am responding with another posting. My response enlarges on the themes presented quite elliptically in the original post. 

First, you object to my breaking the arcana disciplina, the ancient promise among Christians not to speak of the Mystery, even avoiding mention that bread and wine were involved, let alone the theology of the “metabole,” the method, whatever it may be, by which the believer receives Christ’s flesh and blood in the Eucharist. While it is interesting to note that both the Divine Liturgy and the endowment are shrouded in mystery, the cat has been out of the bag so long for Christians that we forget even that it exists, as we constantly have to field questions about this topic. Since I openly discussed the theology of the veil being Christ’s flesh in the Eucharist as the fulfillment of our participation in the Temple—which is the most sacred thing I believe, the heart of it all—I thought that LDS wouldn’t mind “taking the lid off” of their rites, as has been done with Christian rites by hostile readers for many, many centuries, and comparing the Orthodox understanding of crossing the veil and the LDS understanding, which could not be accomplished without examination of the key moment in the central rite, secret or not.

Secondly, I agree that increasing understanding of the role of temples and how that became Christian liturgy makes Mormonism more like Orthodoxy than it is like other Christian faiths. Thus, the thing you like about Mormon temples, their exclusiveness, applies to the Orthodox as well. To “hide the Mystery” we’ve erected an entire battery of walls, screen, veils, curtains, and doors, but in Holy Communion all of those come down, and only those deemed worthy by a less rigid, but by no means less effective, policing of the matter by the clergy are allowed to approach and receive. Orthodoxy, while open to all to worship with us, maintains a tight control on who is actually “in the Church,” which means receiving Holy Communion.

I am from a Masonic family, as well as a Mormon family. My son is an active Mason. I understand that a direct comparison between the initiatory rites all Masons go through to become a Master Mason and the LDS endowment does not extend to the text. This is why I mentioned specific elements. I was undergirding my thesis that something changed between Kirtland and Nauvoo and we know among the things that changed was Joseph moving from not being a Mason to being a Mason. The Masonic rituals sparked his prophetic imagination and developing the endowment was part of an entire new program he was developing at the time of his death that was to culminate in his receiving publicly what had already been done in private, proclaiming Joseph Smith to be the “King of Israel.” Between Kirtland and Nauvoo, something happened.

As to your last point, I do think that not invoking the Holy Name of God when one passes through the veil in the Holiest Place is not in keeping with Temple Tradition. The only time in the First Temple when anyone entered the Holiest Place was on the Day of Atonement. And then only after sacrificing a goat with a sign on it reading, “YHWH,” and eating its raw flesh and drinking its blood, does the high priest, now bearing a sign saying “YHWH,” for it is YHWH’s blood that is shed and it is YHWH who enters the Holiest Place with His Blood, does the high priest dare to enter beyond the veil, bearing the blood and the incense, and stand before the Cherubic Throne. Now this action became the action of each and every Christian when receiving Holy Communion. Now each Christian bears Jesus’s Name (the Saving Name of God) and acts as a high priest in Israel, even infants, and eats of the flesh and blood of the bloodless sacrifice instituted by the Lord Himself. I find it quite odd that the endowment fails to invoke the Holy Name of Jehovah (keeping with endowment terminology) while crossing through the veil.

The Holy Name of God has power and is to be used sparingly and appropriately is a lesson we learn from Scripture and from the practice of the Second Temple to only utter YHWH’s Holy Name aloud on the Day of Atonement. The Name and Atonement go together. Leaving it out at the very moment when the Atonement is being ritualized does raise my eyebrow, for one. Although I don't know, nor can anyone know, why the Holy Name of God is lacking in the Second Token of the Melchizedek Priesthood, I can hazard a guess. Consistent with Joseph Smith's theological tendencies towards the end of his life, it seems clear that he was moving to a concept of God that we might call "transpersonal." It wasn't God the Father Himself who was "eternal," it was the "Priesthood," the culmination of which was the "Priesthood of God." In the Second Token the "mystery" is revealed: there is no Creator God but only an eternal "priesthood" that births the "gods."

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Guest Post: "Health in the Navel: A Comparison of Mormon and Orthodox Christian Temple Theology" by Jerry Thomas

I am very excited to share with you a post by fellow Mormon-to-Orthodox convert, Jerry Thomas:

One unique feature of the LDS Church, especially considering its time and place of origin, is its insistence on the importance of temples. When the Saints were sacrificing in Kirtland to build the first Temple it was because the Lord had promised them an “endowment” with “power” upon completion of the temple. In Section 110 of the Doctrine and Covenants, Joseph described the experience he had with Oliver Cowdery of seeing and hearing Jesus announce: “7 For behold, I have accepted this house, and my name shall be here; and I will manifest myself to my people in mercy in this house. 8 Yea, I will appear unto my servants, and speak unto them with mine own voice, if my people will keep my commandments, and do not pollute this holy house.” The interesting feature of this “endowment” is that it lacked any of the features of the later “endowment” as developed in Nauvoo under clear Masonic influence. The vision of Christ that Joseph had in Kirtland, however, was immediately following the Lord’s Supper, the key event in the dedication.
Although the first Mormons got their ideas about temples from the Holy Bible, the Orthodox Church has been building and worshiping in temples since the founding of the Church. A true temple, in Orthodox understanding, is where “two or three” are gathered in Christ’s Name for the purpose of participation in the Holy Mysteries, particularly Holy Communion. These impromptu temples came first, often in people’s houses, and only later did the Church become established enough to build buildings.
In the dedication of the Kirtland Temple, with the Lord’s Supper as the central rite, we find ourselves well within the common Christian tradition. It is with the further development of the “endowment” as a separate rite, with the Lord’s Supper still celebrated in the temples on occasion, but no longer the centerpiece, that we find ourselves in unfamiliar territory in the traditions of Christianity. This new rite contained features taken directly from Masonic ceremonies, including the handshakes and the Five Points of Fellowship, as well as the penalties. Many of these elements were eliminated or downplayed in the 1990 revision of the endowment.

Even though the Lord’s Supper was eliminated from the central temple rite, “washing and anointing” were added. These can be seen as a repeat of baptism and confirmation (by anointing, as in the Orthodox Church) or both can be seen as a continuation of the rites accompanying the Day of Atonement when the high priest had to bathe in the ritual bath and vest to participate in the rite.  
In the Orthodox Divine Liturgy, the Lord (as His Body and Blood) comes out of the veil to be among His people (through their participation in Holy Communion). In the LDS Endowment, the opposite happens. The participant enters the Celestial Room through the veil after reciting the Second Token of the Melchizedek Priesthood. The text of this is apparently the most sacred part of the Endowment, as it is often eliminated even in “exposes” of the Endowment. A careful examination of this text, then, is in order to understand what is happening in the Endowment. “Health in the navel, marrow in the bones, strength in the loins and in the sinews. Power in the priesthood be upon me and my posterity through all generations of time and throughout all eternity.” First, one notices that neither God nor Christ are invoked to cross through the veil! The first part seems to be an invocation for health and the second part invokes “the priesthood,” not God or Christ as the origin of the “power” to be passed on through all time. Second, while the Scripture ties together the “veil” and Christ’s “flesh,” making clear that Holy Communion is how one “enters through the veil” ([Heb 10:20 KJV] By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh) and this connection persisted at Kirtland, the Nauvoo endowment removes even mention of Christ from the action of entering through the veil. Third, while it is clear that the Scriptures are being quoted in the first part ([Pro 3:8 KJV] “It shall be health to thy navel, and marrow to thy bones”) is there a Scriptural basis for the remainder? Job’s description of the mythical monster “Behemoth” is the only possible Scriptural basis for the remainder of the first sentence: “[Job 40:16-17 KJV] Lo now, his strength [is] in his loins, and his force [is] in the navel of his belly. 17 He moveth his tail like a cedar: the sinews of his stones are wrapped together.” Here we find “strength,” “loins,” and “sinews” together, the only place this happens in the Holy Bible. The second sentence of the Second Token of the Melchizedek Priesthood may be alluding to these Bible verses: 
[Exo 29:9 KJV] And thou shalt gird them with girdles, Aaron and his sons, and put the bonnets on them: and the priest's office shall be theirs for a perpetual statute: and thou shalt consecrate Aaron and his sons. [Exo 40:15 KJV] And thou shalt anoint them, as thou didst anoint their father, that they may minister unto me in the priest's office: for their anointing shall surely be an everlasting priesthood throughout their generations. Here we find the idea of the “priest’s office” or the “priesthood” being “everlasting throughout their generations,” reminiscent of “the power of the priesthood” invoked to “be upon me and my posterity for time and all eternity.”  
In the New Testament and subsequent Orthodox teaching “priesthood” refers to several different concepts: 1) the Aaronic priesthood of the Second Temple 2) the Melchizedek priesthood of Christ and 3) the “priesthood of all believers,” which is participation through the Mysteries in Christ’s Melchizedek priesthood. In later developments, a fourth meaning was added, the “priesthood” of the Christian clergy, which priesthood derives from the “priesthood of all believers,” which priesthood is Christ’s Melchizedek priesthood. There is no role for the Aaronic priesthood, a hereditary priesthood, in the New Testament nor in the subsequent Christian Church. The titles, however, of the Aaronic priesthood were incorporated into the Church with “bishops” being “high priests,” “presbyters” being “priests,” and “deacons” being “Levites.”
Thus, the present-day Orthodox Church has buildings called temples with a “holy place” and a “prosthesis” (Table for the Showbread). Often the “holy place” is divided from the rest of the temple by a veil and an icon screen or wall. It is from this place that several “entrances” are done—with the gospel book before the readings and with the prepared sacrament before the blessing, culminating in the entrance of the Lord Himself as His Body and Blood during Holy Communion. It was following Holy Communion when Joseph Smith saw Christ in the Kirtland Temple. This is what one would expect based on the Holy Bible and Christian tradition. Between Kirtland and Nauvoo something changed and Holy Communion ceased being the culmination of the Holy Mysteries in Mormonism. Instead, an odd rite with Masonic roots culminating with an entrance of the believer into the “celestial kingdom” while invoking the power of the “priesthood,” presumably the Melchizedek priesthood of Christ, without reference to the Holy Name of Jesus or to Christ or to God, has taken the place of Holy Communion in Orthodox Christianity.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

"Was there a Great Apostasy?" A great review from Soul Device

Some kind of “apostasy narrative” is required to explain why a group that did not exist for nearly 2,000 years can consider itself the true expression of Christianity. Obviously, if the Church founded by Jesus did not go into apostasy, there would be no excuse to create a new group or “restore” what was “lost.” Unlike most Christian sects that attempt to locate themselves (in some form) throughout Christian history, the Mormons accept and explain their non-existence by claiming the Church founded by Jesus Christ disappeared from the Earth shortly after its creation.
I wrote previously of the problem of the Latter-day Saint (LDS or Mormon) story of a “great apostasy” of the early ChurchHERE. Now I would like to expose some of the errors of the primary text used by the LDS in support of such an idea: Mormon Apostle James E. Talmage’s book The Great Apostasy: Considered in the Light of Scriptural and Secular History (hereafter: “TGA”). Written in 1909, the point of Talmage’s work was to present “the evidence of the decline and final extinction of the primitive Church” as evidenced by “scriptural record and in secular history.” The reason this alleged apostasy is so important to Mormons is that it under girds their movement’s very existence. This is admitted on the very first page of TGA:
If the alleged apostasy of the primitive Church was not a reality, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not the divine institution its name proclaims. (TGA, Preface – emphasis added)

Read more at:

Friday, July 11, 2014

Mormon Deification and Orthodox Theosis

The LDS church recently published an article that sheds light on the the LDS view of becoming like God. This effort to clarify a difficult and misunderstood aspect of the tradition is laudable and I look forward to seeing what else the LDS church has to offer in the future. That said, I was moved to write this post by the way in which the author uses the Early Church Fathers to make his/ her case and the comparison of the LDS tradition to Eastern Orthodoxy.

First referenced is this passage from Irenaeus' Against Heresies:

 "For it is thus that you will both controvert them in a legitimate manner, and will be prepared to receive the proofs brought forward against them, casting away their doctrines as filth by means of the celestial faith; but following the only true and steadfast Teacher, the Word of Godour Lord Jesus Christ, who did, through His transcendent love, become what we are, that He might bring us to be even what He is Himself."

Comparing LDS and Orthodox Christian views of deification is a wonderful example of the importance of defining terms and theological background since both faiths can endorse the statement "
our Lord Jesus Christ, who did, through His transcendent love, become what we are, that He might bring us to be even what He is Himself" while understanding it completely differently.

Members of the LDS faith believe that God the Father and the Son are both beings with an immortal body of flesh and bone. One might say the Father and Christ are the perfection of human evolution in the LDS view. Thus when a Mormon says that Christ died so humans can become like Him they mean this in a much more literal way than traditional Christians (Christians who believe the faith as stated in the Nicene Creed); they will be not only just like Christ, but also the Father who has a physical body akin to theirs.

To understand why traditional Christians understand Irenaeus' statement, and deification in general, differently than the LDS faith, one must understand how they view the Holy Trinity. For traditional Christians, God is the foundation of all that exists, the wellspring from which everything is created and sustained; He who is everywhere present, filling all things. Thus God is not just different from us in degree (as is the case in the LDS faith) but different in kind. He is not constrained by the spacio-temporal aspects of our material existence because he is the creator and sustaining force of our universe. We cannot ever be just like God because, by our nature, we are forever dependent upon him.

That said, God's creation reveals to us certain aspects of His nature, and this is especially true in the case of humans who are the pinnacle of God's creative work. In the traditional Christian view, when God says "let us make man in our image" He is referring to the mental and spiritual characteristics of humanity which makes it different from God's other creatures not only in degree, but in kind. Our self-consciousness, will, and immortality are the ways in which our image is similar to God's.

It is tempting to interpret the use of the term "image" as used in Genesis in a materialistic way. After all, the images we encounter most often are physical depictions. However "image" or "likeness" need not refer to physicality. If my mother tells me I remind her of her grandfather, this does not necessarily mean I resemble him physically. It may be my voice or personality that makes our "images" similar. 

Likewise, Irenaeus leaves open to interpretation what he means when he states Christ becomes what we are so we might become what He is. Mormons interpret this in a more expansive manner; we will become exactly what Christ is, save for unique physical and personality characteristics. For traditional Christians, Irenaeus is telling us that through Christ we too can become sons and daughters of God, but sons and daughters that will always be different in kind and dependent upon the Grace of the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit.

Mormons and Orthodox Christians both believe that we can become like Christ, but mean very different things. The LDS Church believes we can be like Christ in both His human and His divine nature, whereas Orthodox Christians believe, being dependent material creations, we share only in Christ's human nature, a human nature which itself can be perfected or divinized.

Change of name and intention

After a long period of discernment I have become an Orthodox catechumen. Having, in a sense, become more settled in my journey (although recognizing the journey has just begun) I have decided to steer this blog in a direction different than it has taken in the past. As I am now convinced of Orthodoxy's truth I have much less interest in actively criticizing the merits of the LDS faith and other faiths. I also question what I can offer that has not already been provided by better voices. I hope to offer something a bit less prevalent in the blogosphere- my perspective as a 6th generation cradle Mormon who converted to Eastern Orthodoxy. I imagine this will primarily consist in commentary on things Mormonism and Orthodoxy, especially where there is overlap between the two.

From here on out my blog will be known as Mormon to Orthodox rather than Comparative Religion to fit its new direction.

In Christ,


Monday, February 17, 2014

Personal revelation (subjective experience) as the basis of conviction.

Living in an area where much of the population is LDS provides a unique atmosphere where discussions on topics related to religious belief often arise. A few of my closest LDS friends and I have pressed one another on such matters to points that might make others feel uncomfortable or violated. Both sides usually begin these conversations by appealing to less subjective factors like history, science, and philosophy. Occasionally, though, a Mormon friend eventually claims that their primary, and sometimes only reason for believing rests on what they call a personal revelation or personal witness. I can sympathize with such claims since I too see experience as essential to one's spiritual life; however I am convinced that insurmountable problems arise for those who rely on subjective bases alone or when other factors clearly contradict their interpretation of their subjective experience.

For instance, imagine there are three women, one Muslim, one Christian, and one Jewish. They all claim that they know their religion is true because God has shown this truth to them through personal revelation. However, all three of these faith traditions have competing claims. If Jesus is in fact the divine Son of God, then Islam and Judaism are, at least in this regard, in error. Likewise, if Muhammad is God's last prophet, then Judaism and Christianity are in error. Put simply, not all of these women can be equally correct in their convictions. Figuring out whether a faith tradition is true can be difficult (some might say impossible) work, so the three women might settle for saying "my faith is right for me, but maybe yours is right for you." Under such a view religious affiliation becomes little more significant than one's preferred color or food. Additionally, the claim of the LDS faith and many other faith traditions is a strong, authoritative one. The LDS faith, according to its official doctrines, claims not to be just one of many different-but-equal options, but the most true religion. Such a claim, as any good debater or philosopher knows, places the burden of proof on the LDS faith.

"The LDS church is true because the Holy Spirit revealed to me that it is so" and similar claims cannot be used to surpass this burden of proof since such a claim is relevant only to the subject making the claim. One can always fall back on "try it for yourself and then you will see," but what if the individual challenged does try and still isn't convinced? I doubt members of the LDS faith would be comfortable concluding that this disproves their faith tradition.

Authoritative claims require proofs or arguments that are understandable and sound to all parties involved in a dialogue. I invite LDS voices to respond to my post so that I might better understand why Mormons stay Mormon and so I might be corrected where I have made errors in this post.