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."

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