Catholics and Protestants

May 18, 2005 | 35 comments
By

Mormons are often dismissive of some Protestants, especially evangelicals. Few of us know much about what they believe, but we know that we disagree with them, partly because our encounters with them have made it clear. We know that many of them deny that we are Christians, and that some of them have been responsible for scurrilously attacking us and misportraying what we believe. Our difficulties with Protestantism of one kind or another began with the nineteenth-century persecutions, and continue today, though in less virulent forms.

In spite of that, our view of history is closely aligned with the Protestant view, a view we take in with mother’s milk. (See this site for a Protestant version of history that looks a lot like what I hear from Mormons.) From that perspective, the Catholic Church was bad and the Protestant churches were good–or at least better.

We talk about “the Dark Ages” by which we mean “anything prior to the Protestant Reformation,” collapsing 1,400 years of Western history into an unfortunate and inaccurate phrase. Oddly, we assume that the great apostasy was brought about by the Catholic Church, though on our view the Catholic Church didn’t come into being until after the apostasy had already occurred. We read scriptures referring to “the whore of all the earth” (1 Nephi 14:10) or “the great and abominable church” (1 Nephi 11:13), and we assume that the phrase refers to the Catholic Church, in spite of the fact that scripture defines that whore as “he that fighteth against Zion, both Jew and Gentile, both bond and free, both male and female” (2 Nephi 10:16). Presumably that includes more than just Catholics, and not all Catholics at that. I strongly suspect that it also includes a few Mormons.

We tell each other that prior to the Protestant Reformation no one was allowed to read the Bible, though that distorts the facts (among them that reading was not a wide-spread skill until after the invention of printing–printing was barely 50 years old when Luther nailed his theses to the cathedral door), confusing who was allowed to read the Bible (individuals who could read) with who was allowed to give authoritative interpretation of it (the Church through those authorized). We honor Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli, and other of the reformers, overlooking their dogmatism and complicity in horrible events. We ignore Catholics like Erasmus, St. Teresa, Thomas More, Ignatius of Loyola, and Vincent de Paul, or if we take notice of them, it is almost always to focus on their weaknesses.

The idea of a great apostasy is central to our self-understanding as the restoration of the Primitive Church. Without the Protestant Reformation, it would have been impossible for that restoration to have occurred, at least because the Reformation made it possible for Joseph Smith to believe that he could find an answer to his question by reading the Bible, and because it helped make new forms of government possible and, so, religious freedom. But neither the fact of the apostasy nor the necessity of the Reformation requires that we understand history in the black and white terms that we so often use. In fact, we are more likely to understand the significance of the Restoration if we understand the Protestant Reformation as not only its necessary precursor, but also as the culmination of the apostasy (in, for example, Luther’s version of salvation by faith alone, which entails that ordinances are not essential, and the denial of priesthood authority).

For balanced views of the Protestant Reformation, see here and here. (For an explanation of indulgences (you are in for some surprises), look here).

For a Catholic view of the Reformation as a whole, here is one entry in the Catholic Encyclopedia. And here is one for Luther.

Tags: ,

35 Responses to Catholics and Protestants

  1. Tim on May 18, 2005 at 9:07 pm

    Thanks for these links, Jim. I’ve often wondered what the purpose of the Great Apostacy was. What about all the innocent people who were denied the benefit of being taught and living the true principles of the Gospel. Doesn’t seem fair somehow.

    Anyway, I just wanted to say that, speaking on behalf of myself here, I appreciate you hanging in with all the repetitive comments and youthful immaturity on this blog. Your wisdom and perspective is duly noticed and greatly appreciated. Thanks.

  2. Miranda PJ on May 18, 2005 at 9:34 pm

    Christian history is so full of contradictions, like the liberating Luthar’s horrible anti-semitism or the scholarly Erasmus’s mediocre greek Bible that eventually became the basis for the venerable King James New Testament. Catholicism is the perennial paternal bugbear, but has its towering women. Protestantism is the voice of freedom but has few prominent women. One could just go on and on. Catholicism has been around a lot longer and has accumulated more contradictions.

    The contradictions of Christianity make it easy to pick and choose and weave whatever historical narrative suits your prejudices. I, too, find the Mormon bias in favor of the protests to be odd.

  3. Jonathan Green on May 18, 2005 at 10:35 pm

    Jim, would you say that the problem is that we labor under an incomplete or mistaken view of who our spiritual ancestors are?

    When we talk abou the Restoration, it’s too easy to dismiss everything that came before 1830 as completely unconnected to our present state, but that can’t be right; there had to be people at various stages in the past preparing the way for Joseph Smith. This is the point where Luther and Tyndale are trotted out, and then another line is drawn through history, again separating us from everything that came before. This too seems incorrect to me. We’re heirs in many ways, mostly unconscious, of medieval Christianity.

    The usual lines of spiritual paternity, if they are traced back that far at all, usually mention medieval heretics, then Luther and Zwingli, the only common factor being opposition to orthodox Catholicism. But in my (admittedly limited) reading of heretics and the magisterial reformers, most of them seem alien to me. I don’t recognize our church in embryo. Instead, if you look for people in, say, the twelfth century who believe they have been given special revelations and commandments and been allotted a crucial role to play in the last days–in short, people whose self-understanding is similar to our own–you’re more likely to come up with monastic and other religious communities (who may also be branded heretics or have conflicts with papal authority from time to time).

    I like the suggestion that the Reformation was the culmination of apostasy. I’d also suggest that the deepest roots of the Restoration lie in the 2nd century A.D., if not earlier.

  4. Mark B. on May 18, 2005 at 10:38 pm

    Thanks for the thoughtful post, Jim.

    One good antidote for the biases you mention (which are among those that seem to “easily beset [me]”) is to befriend a thoughtful, faithful Catholic. The lessons that a faithful Catholic takes from his (or her) faith, and the way those lessons inform his (or her) life–the masculine pronouns come first for me because my friend is male–leave me feeling like Jack Nicholson in As Good as it Gets: You make me want to be a better man.

  5. Jim F on May 18, 2005 at 10:56 pm

    Jonathan Green: I like that way of describing the problem: “We labor under an incomplete or mistaken view of who are spiritual ancestors are.” I think you’re right, we have had ancestors all the way back, but I would also say that we have intellectual and spiritual ancestors in early and late medieval Catholicism, as well as in the Orthodox tradition. (I don’t think you would disagree with that.)

    Mark B: I think a good deal of my own reflection on these questions came from similar experiences, particularly working with some Catholic philosophers. I think you have described a general truth: a good antidote for bias is to have a friend who is a member of the group toward which one has biases.

  6. Ben S. on May 19, 2005 at 12:04 am

    “Few of us know much about what [Evangelicals] believe, but we know that we disagree with them, partly because our encounters with them have made it clear.”

    In his talk at the JS conference in DC, Robet Millet told a great story about this. He grew up somewhere in the south. He asked his Dad if, as Mormons, they believed inbeing saved by grace. His father responded with a firm “No!”
    “Well… why not?”
    “Because the Baptists do!”

  7. Johnna Cornett on May 19, 2005 at 1:53 am

    (in, for example, Luther’s version of salvation by faith alone, which entails that ordinances are not essential, and the denial of priesthood authority).

    The priesthood issue is interesting. Luther needed an out from ecclesiastic authority, and found it not in eliminating priesthood, which it devolved to today, but in the idea of the priesthood being held communally by the body of Christ rather than being ordained upon specific believers as priests. Lutherans still hold that baptism is a means of grace. Thus, the “priesthood of all believers” only functioned inasmuch as believers were connected to the body. Coupling Hebrews to read that Christ is the only High Priest, of a royalty priesthood, with verses like Revelation 1:5 and Revelation 5:10, you get the view all believers, or at least male believers, as king-priests assisting the high priest and high king Jesus Christ. We read the same verses and see the appropriateness of ordaining all believers, or at least all male believers, to a royal king-priest Melchizedek priesthood.

  8. Wilfried on May 19, 2005 at 7:04 am

    Thanks for the post, Jim.

    As a former Catholic, having closely watched and experienced the developments in (Belgian and Dutch) Catholicism over the past 50 years, and having studied Catholicism from various angles (one of which was the first French Bible translation in the 13th century), there is one thing we should well realize when discussing this matter: there is not one Catholicism. The Rome-based central entity is the result of centuries of struggles and fighting for supremacy. But divergences have always remained, sometimes weaker, sometimes stronger. Catholicism has always been divided in various territories, regionally, politically, doctrinally, morally. Even nowadays the “Catholic Church” in the Netherlands, or Belgium, or France, or Italy, or the Philippines, or the U.S. has surprisingly different characteristics beyond the surface. It makes clear historical delineations, also in relation to the protestant Reformation, not easy.

    At the same time, I don’t think that our general view on the apostasy needs a “revision”. I fear that a certain “political correctness” or a certain diplomacy entice us to weaken our standpoints in this regard. The loss of direct revelation after the death of the apostles, the loss of the priesthood, the changing of doctrines, the fragmentation of early Christianity into hundreds of factions, and the slow emergence of quite different churches, like the Catholic Church, are part of our fundamental understanding why, centuries later, the Restoration was necessary.

  9. danithew on May 19, 2005 at 7:44 am

    We talk about “the Dark Ages” by which we mean “anything prior to the Protestant Reformation,” collapsing 1,400 years of Western history into an unfortunate and inaccurate phrase.

    I think this is a great sentence in your post. It speaks of a tendency we sometimes have to sum up significant eras in religious history (in a negative way) without probing for all the good that exists. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    I found it interesting to read the second part of Tim’s comment (#1) where he said:

    Anyway, I just wanted to say that, speaking on behalf of myself here, I appreciate you hanging in with all the repetitive comments and youthful immaturity on this blog. Your wisdom and perspective is duly noticed and greatly appreciated. Thanks.

    I think to a certain degree Tim is correct, that too often (and I’ve certainly been a major contributor to this) we devolve into silly comments or dull polemics. And I think he’s right that you (Jim) have been a mature example and influence. So thanks for that also. I’ll be pondering Tim’s criticism and try a little harder to contribute more concretely in future comments. At the same time I do think humor sometimes helps to ease tensions or simply to have fun — something we all need from time to time.

    … mingling with all kinds of society, I frequently fell into many foolish errors, and displayed the weakness of youth, and the foibles of human nature; which, I am sorry to say, led me into divers temptations, offensive in the sight of God. In making this confession, no one need suppose me guilty of any great or malignant sins. A disposition to commit such was never in my nature. But I was guilty of levity, and sometimes associated with jovial company, etc. … Joseph Smith History 1:28

  10. Russell Arben Fox on May 19, 2005 at 8:10 am

    I also like Jonathan’s excellent comment, as it reframes the apostacy/restoration as more a continuum and less a rupture. Last year, in response to a comment Jim made in a thread begun by Damon Linker about how the apostacy consisted primarily of the loss of priesthood authority, and was therefore “complete prior to 100 [a.d.],” I suggested that:

    If the priesthood authority which Christ gave to His apostles, as contemporary Mormons understand it, was disappearing from the earth even while some of those apostles were still living, might it not suggest that said priesthood authority was not in fact designed to accomplish whatever it is that the [usual Mormon notion of the apostacy] assumes wasn’t accomplished? That is, it seems hard to conceive of a loss (and thus a need for a recovery or “restoration”) when there is scant evidence that anything ever managed to get built in the first place from which doctrines or practices in need of being recovered had been forgotten or taken away.

    Given the fact that the Old Testament record (as well as the BoM) assures us that God called prophets out of the midst of conditions of “apostacy” on numerous occasions, it seems strange to me that the centuries which followed the murder of the apostles are to be understood as so uniquely wicked and/or confused as to prevent God’s saving action entirely, or to prevent God’s saving action from being understood by the remnant of the faithful for what it was. Of course, the whole point of Jim’s post is to challenge that notion: we should recognize that the “Dark Ages” weren’t really dark, and that many great and faithful Catholics–early, medieval, and modern–deserve as much praise and admiration from us for having served God as they understood Him as we tend to give Protestant reformers, the Puritans, etc. But if Jim’s point is to be taken to heart–and I think it should–then I think it does, contra Wilfried, require a real “revision” of what we think the “great apostacy” consisted of. It cannot simply be the fact that there were a whole bunch of churches and schismatic spiritual movements on the earth with abominable creeds, because those churches were often (not always, but often) both led by and produced deeply spiritual men and women who, by lights of their own records and achievements, were in close contact and blessed by God. Which means that God was presumably doing some sort of work through them. Which therefore suggests that perhaps the “great apostacy” wasn’t a total calamity so much as just the way God intended His work to be done at that time, with the restoration of priesthood authority through Joseph Smith being less the ending of a dark and miserable night and more the culmination (or is it?) of a Christian story that had been told, through good times and bad, for nearly two millenia.

    The more I think about this, the more it seems to me to fit the very idea of “dispensationalism,” the notion that God’s work is being done here, and there, in this way and that, as He orders it. It’s not just Christianity that has been splintered into hundreds (if not thousands) of sects, with even major denominations like Catholicism, as Wilfried notes, doing good (or evil) in very different ways in different parts of the world. Even before the rise of Christianity you had numerous Jewish sects, and the revelations of latter-day prophets (as well as some recent scholarship) make it clear that in the midst of those sects you had some that were holding onto one aspect of ancient authority or teaching, while another group was holding onto another, and so forth. (And who is to say that isn’t true in the church today? We trade stories all the time about odd or worldly teachings which seem to creep into various wards, stakes, missions; as Jim suggests, there are probably a few Mormons that will end up being counted as part of the “great and abominable church” as well.) In the long run. Maybe, as per Jim’s comment, we ought to be suspect of any strict, black-or-white, on-or-off interpretation of the history of salvation.

  11. lyle on May 19, 2005 at 8:17 am

    Russell: So would you second my motion that Pelagius was a Prophet?

  12. Jonathan Green on May 19, 2005 at 9:57 am

    Jim F: Yes, I’m in full agreement.

    Russell, I think that there are some binary oppositions concerning apostasy and restoration that are useful and supportable. For example, the notion that the Lord recognized the church founded by Joseph Smith in 1830 as his kingdom and approved of its ordinances, where he had not granted this privilege to any church for a long time before. At that level, black-and-white can’t be banished from our self-conception.

    But a lot of habitual conceptions of the Great Apostasy won’t withstand scrutiny, I think, above all the idea that the heavens were closed, that there was no revelation for many centuries at a time. God hears and answers prayers, period. If a good man at the head of a church earnestly prays for inspiration in leading his flock, the result–at any time and in any place–is a church led (at least in part) by revelation. While not the restored Kingdom, a church doing work pleasing to God is nevertheless a good thing. Also, the Middle Ages certainly accepted the idea of direct divine intervention, up to and including personal appearances of Christ. You can mock the trade in relics, but you can’t maintain at the same time that people thought the heavens were closed.

    At times when there has been a cessation of revelation, people seem to recognize it; in the book of Maccabees, for example, the stones of an altar are stored until a prophet can declare what should be done with them, as there was no prophecy in the land at the time. At the time of the Reformation, Luther and others chose to deprecate the value of ‘prophetism,’ avoiding both its potential for abuse and its promise.

  13. Wilfried on May 19, 2005 at 10:39 am

    Interesting discussion.

    Yes, of course, through all ages there have been good and believing people, even if their Church could not be called divine. The concept of the Great Apostasy is not intended to be a condemnation of individuals or a denial of their achievements, but an explanation of the problems associated with the ecclesiastical purity of authority, doctrine and organization. We recognize the faith and the sacrifices of millions of Christians from all denominations through the centuries. But their existence is no proof of the divine truth and the purity of the churches to which they belong. In comparison: the ‘heretical’ Judaism of the time of Christ, as experienced and as denounced by Christ himself, with its short-sighted high priests and its fanatical Sadducees and Pharisees, did not remove the fact that in that same Judaism we find people that are pure in heart such as Zacharias and Elizabeth, Joseph and Mary, John the Baptist, Jairus, Nicodemus, the twelve and the seventies, and all the others from simple shepherds to despised tax collectors. Their existence, however, does not prove that God approved of their religious system.

    The history of the first centuries of Christianity shows sufficiently enough that revelation, understood here as God revealing his will to a prophet heading his Church, ceased with the death of the apostles. Is not this ceasing a very dogma of the Catholic Church? We cannot deny that the original organization changed thoroughly, that the central priestly authority disappeared into the maze of schools and parties, and that the correct teachings fell prey to change and additions at a very early stage. But all this did not prevent devout individuals to pray, lead exemplary lives and be enlightened by the Spirit.

  14. Russell Arben Fox on May 19, 2005 at 10:53 am

    “If a good man at the head of a church earnestly prays for inspiration in leading his flock, the result–at any time and in any place–is a church led (at least in part) by revelation. While not the restored Kingdom, a church doing work pleasing to God is nevertheless a good thing.”

    Excellently put, Jonathan. I don’t mean to say anything otherwise. The question, I suppose, is whether accepting such a proposition makes it impossible to also be black-and-white in regards to one’s understanding of the (or any) “apostacy.” I think it may, or at least it requires that all such “binary oppositions” include some some qualifications–as you put it, defining what “level” we’re speaking of. I would agree that all the Catholic christenings and Protestant baptisms performed over the centuries were ordinances without authority (though I’m not sure I would go so far as to say that they were utterly unrecognized by God and thus not the least indicative of God’s grace). As for the building of God’s kingdom, I’m not sure He doesn’t have multiple ones, engaged in parallel projects. But certainly this kingdom fulfills certain crucial prophecies, what with the Book of Mormon and the restoration of temple and covenant theology to Christianity. Does that amount to a black-and-white view of things? I don’t think so, while still acknowledging that there is something uniquely important about the workd of this “Mormon” dispensation, as opposed to whatever good and holy work was done under the aegis of Augustine, Jerome, Francis, Luther, Wesley, Newman, and all the rest.

    “So would you second my motion that Pelagius was a Prophet?”

    Well Lyle, given that he was wrong about the nature of sin and humankind, I’d have to say “no.” But I’m sure God thought the guy did his best, though, all the same.

  15. annegb on May 19, 2005 at 11:10 am

    I have been blessed by my friendship with several devout Catholics, whose love for and faith in God have been an inspiration to me. I’m not educated as to the history of the apostacy, and our friendship has only touched on specific tenets of our faiths, outside of encouraging each other to trust in God.

    I think my friends believe authority is with their church, but I also think that they don’t spend too much time keeping score, or worrying about other religions. Another thing I’ve noticed is a gentle tendency to downplay or disregard certain of their teachings, such as the idea that infants who die without baptism go to….I forget the name.

    I’m secure in my belief about the priesthood authority of our church, but I believe that Heavenly Father is going to work things out without as much small print as we would like to believe.

  16. Zerin Hood on May 19, 2005 at 12:06 pm

    Wilfried,

    I enjoy your straight forward and accurate posts on this thread, stated so much better than I could have.

  17. lyle stamps on May 19, 2005 at 12:17 pm

    Russell: I just thougth he would make an interesting example. At least he got the part about the non-necessity of infant baptism and the nature of moral agency correct.

  18. Jim F on May 19, 2005 at 5:43 pm

    Johanna Cornett (#7): Thanks for the correction. I was writing with a broad brush. But I think that the disappearance of priesthood, as well as the present irrelevance of ordinance (for many but certainly not all Protestants) is the logical outcome of Luther’s position. However, I also think it is important, to point out as you do, that Luther’s “priesthood of all believers” opened the way for Latter-day Saint understanding of the priesthood.

    Wilfried (#8 and #13): You are (as always) absolutely right. There is not only one Catholicism now, nor has there ever been only one. Roman Catholicism comes into being with the consolidation of western power in Rome in the fifth century and with the Great Schism of the eleventh. And even after the Schism Roman Catholicism cannot be understood as a unity in the way that the Mormon Church is. Nor does the fact that good people lived, acted, and led during the time of the apostasy mean that the churches to which they belonged had the fulness of the gospel or the authority of the priesthood.

    I don’t disagree with you that our general view of the apostasy doesn’t need revision. If there was no apostasy, then there is no need for the Restoration. Since I believe that the Restoration not only occurred, but was necessary, I also believe that there really was an apostasy. If I wasn’t clear about that, then I want to be clear here. But I also think that we too often think about that apostasy in too-simple terms. For example, we often talk about it in terms of “good guys vs. bad guys.” Usually, the good guys are the Protestant reformers and the bad guys are the Catholics, one and all. We do ourselves and history a disservice when we take that approach.

    Danithew (#9) and so also Tim (#1): Thanks. I’m not all that comfortable coming off as the humorless old man. I have no objection to humor at all. Indeed, danithew, I’ve often enjoyed your witty remarks. However, I think that some of our threads go off, repetitively, on tangents that aren’t helpful.

    Russell (#10 and #14): [The apostasy] cannot simply be the fact that there were a whole bunch of churches and schismatic spiritual movements on the earth with abominable creeds, because those churches were often (not always, but often) both led by and produced deeply spiritual men and women who, by lights of their own records and achievements, were in close contact and blessed by God. Which means that God was presumably doing some sort of work through them. Which therefore suggests that perhaps the “great apostacy” wasn?t a total calamity so much as just the way God intended His work to be done at that time.

    Obviously, I am sympathetic to the point that there have been spiritual women and men, as well as movements and churches, throughout Christian history. We could add many names to those you mention: Augustine, Jerome, Francis, Hildegaard, Luther, Teresa, Wesley, Newman, and so on. In spite of that agreement, I don’t think your conclusion follows. In order for it to follow, we would have to assume something like, “The apostasy was a total calamity only if it was brought about intentionally.” I doubt that very many people intended to pervert the doctrine of the Primitive Church or to undermine it. But circumstances being what they were–poor communication, difficult travel, few trained and experienced leaders, etc.–the apostasy occurred as those with authority to ordain and to guide died and were unable to replace themselves. That was a tragedy, a disaster. Good people responded to that disaster as best they could, and surely God guided them in their efforts.

    The result of their efforts was that the geographic divisions in the early Church gradually solidified and some of them were relatively united under Rome while others were not but continued the looser affiliation of the Eastern churches. Then Protestantism, with the concomitant rise of the nation state, challenged the authority and unity of the Roman Church, resulting in the fragmentation we see now. Every step of this historical thread has both people of good will and faith and people without them.

    As you say, my point is that we ought to be suspicious of any merely black or white interpretation of Christian history (which I don’t think I would identify with salvation history), but I don’t think that point requires denying that the apostasy was a disaster.

    Jonathan Green (#12): You can mock the trade in relics, but you can’t maintain at the same time that people thought the heavens were closed.

    Nice way to make the point. And I think we should be careful about mocking that trade since, though we don’t speak of relics, we have something akin to them in our attachment to items associated with the Prophet, with other early leaders, and with those whom we love. The idea of relics has often taken the notion too far, but there is something very important about the idea of physical things as reminders of our connections to important others, starting with wedding rings and photographs. Some thinking about relics becomes superstition, but what needs to be avoided is the superstition, not the basic intuition.

  19. Richard T on May 19, 2005 at 6:58 pm

    Jim F:

    I’m struck by the power of promises and the effect they have on the world’s history. Abraham sought “the rights of the firstborn” (abraham1:3), and thereby obtained promises concerning his posterity, as did Isaac and Jacob and generations after them. Lehi’s family was sent to America because God had promised Jacob that he would preserve his seed, (2ne3:5;alma46:24), and Lehite descendants today are the recipients of the blessings of the gospel because of God’s promises to Lehi and his people (2ne9:53).

    I think it’s useful to remind ourselves that behind the history stands God who orchestrates the fates of nations–raising them up and destroying them–all in servitude to these promises he’s made to men of great faith. And these promises play out over millenia.

    Recognizing this–that much of what we see in Western history over the last 2500 years is God orchestrating affairs in such a way so that he can keep his promises to Israel and redeem as many as possible along the way–allows me a lot more latitude in my interpretation of events associated with the apostasy, reformation, and restoration.

  20. Jim F on May 19, 2005 at 7:15 pm

    By the way, Noel Reynolds is editing a book on the apostasy that should be coming out by early July. Since I have an essay in it, my recommendation is hardly objective, but those interested in the topic might wish to take a look at Noel’s collection.

  21. Jack on May 19, 2005 at 11:17 pm

    Jim,

    Just to add a little fuel to the fire; I think one of the virtues of the protestant reformation is that it is an effect of moving away from priestcraft–not that protestantism has done a whole lot better in dealing with priestcraft than the more rigid catholocism. But even so, it seemed to wash over society as a wave of discontent for illegitimate authority. I would compare it to a romantic movement of sorts. Romanticism seems to arise with a sense of inevitability There’s no stopping it–as it is a force generated by the discontent of a culture coming to terms with the limitations of it’s ideologies. We had our own little romantic movement just a generation ago, and while it has left an enormous amount of destruction it it’s wake, some of that destruction has been good. In this sense, I think I can agree with you when you say that (in so many words) the reformation may be the high point (or low point) in the apostasy–that, inspite of the negatives, the end outcome is that a swath has been openned up which can accomodate a move toward futher reformation (or restoration as the case may be). At any rate, in spite of the good that is to be found in medieval christianity, that world had to let go of one priesthood to make room for another. This, I think, is the linchpin on which the restoration hangs–priesthood authority.

  22. Jim F on May 19, 2005 at 11:50 pm

    Jack, I agree with your last point, that if the Protestant notion of the priesthood of all believers had not replaced the medieval notion of priesthood, there probably wouldn’t have been room for the Restoration of an authentic understanding of priesthood, and that priesthood authority is fundamental to the Restoration. What I don’t agree with is your claim at the beginning that, on the whole, Catholic (or Protestant) priests and leaders practice priestcraft or that Catholics did prior to the Reformation.

    Alma 1:16 suggests that priestcraft is associated with preaching false doctrines for the sake of riches and honor. Surely not all non-LDS religious leaders teach and lead for riches and honor. I would guess that the majority have not and do not. Nor do they knowlingly preach false doctrine. And I am sure that there are LDS priesthood holders who practice priestcraft, preaching for riches and honor whether or not the preach false doctrine.

    [By the way, and completely off-topic: it is interesting that since 1930 priestcraft has been mentioned only 5 times in General Conference but 25+ times before that. There seems to have been a flurry of its use from 1926 to 1930 (9 uses), then it almost disappears.]

    Whether Protestanism “washed over society as a wave of discontent for illegitimate authority” depends greatly on whose history you read. Neither the Proestants nor the Catholics are very objective about that time period. However, I don’t think that historians who deal with it in a more objective way would agree with you that the fundamental issue was illegitimate authority. Authority–religious and civil–was a major question, but to call it illegitimate authority is already to have decided the question. Illegitimate authority is authority that I or we don’t recognize. One could say that Catholic opposition to the Reformation was resistance to illegitimate claims of authority. Also, putting the Reformation in terms of the question of authority may be important, but it is only one of a number of important issues or we can’t account for the Counter Reformation, in which authority was not an issue.

    I also don’t think I agree that the Protestant Reformation was “a force generated by the discontent of a culture coming to terms with the limitations of it’s ideologies,” unless that is true by definition since it was a rejection of the Roman Catholic Church. All sorts of things were breaking down that contribute to the Reformation, and all sorts of things were arising, such as strong states and the idea that individuality is important.

  23. Jack on May 20, 2005 at 1:29 am

    Jim,

    The fact that you disagree with me most certainly means that you have not understood me (which has nothing to do with my gift for vagueness, to be sure). :>)

    First of all I am in total agreement that most medieval souls serving in the church were of a good sort. That said, let me make it clear that I am not criticizing individuals. I am criticizing a culture. And furthermore, because I criticize a culture it does not necessarily follow that the culture in question had(has) absolutely no virtue. I think what we’re talking about are those elements that had(have) a strangle hold on society (whether it was intended as such by the concurrent generation or not is irrelavent). My contention is that the church as a stablizing political force, of necessity, found itself acting beyond the intended usage of the divine priesthood in an effort to maintain an order of sorts in society. And sadly, that order being aristocratic in nature meant that the church was in a constant struggle against those who would abuse it (from within) for their own gain and glory. Thus, what we have is a priesthood (how ever ideal) struggling against an ungodly bureaucracy. This, I think, is what is at the heart of the apostasy–the loss of the original intent and purpose (and sacred power) of the priesthood because of its being brought into servitude under those who would seek to exploit it for their own purposes. And so, on a grand scale, taking the political forces of the day as a whole, what we have is priestcraft–regardless of the good intentions of individuals who were caught in the matrix.

  24. Jack on May 20, 2005 at 1:49 am

    Let me clarify a little further; I don’t mean to suggest that the Catholic Church per se is the “abominable church”. The abominable church is that force which abused the living priesthood and then left the world on its own (as it were) to pick up the pieces and move forward with what it had. No doubt, we could generate a long list of the many virtues of the Catholic Church (some of which, I wish we were more sympathetic to).

  25. Russell Arben Fox on May 20, 2005 at 8:55 am

    Jim,

    “I don’t think your conclusion follows. In order for it to follow, we would have to assume something like, ‘The apostasy was a total calamity only if it was brought about intentionally.’ I doubt that very many people intended to pervert the doctrine of the Primitive Church or to undermine it. But circumstances being what they were–poor communication, difficult travel, few trained and experienced leaders, etc.–the apostasy occurred as those with authority to ordain and to guide died and were unable to replace themselves. That was a tragedy, a disaster.”

    Well, I suppose this will move the discussion in the direction of theodicy and divine intentionality, but in reading this I can’t help but think: poor communication, difficult travel, and few trained and experienced leaders didn’t prevent God from helping to keep the faithful sustained throughout Israel’s and Nephite history. In times of persecution and apostasy, God was regularly sending revelations and angels to enlist servants and pull things back together. Surely He could have continued to do so–couldn’t have He? In the BoM lands, at least, we have a world in which the holy records had been hidden away, and the lineage of those who took care of them exterminated, and so there really may not have been anyone seeking God’s help in Christ’s name over all those centuries. But that surely wasn’t the case in Europe and the Near East following the death of the apostles. So it seems reasonable to me to believe that God was intending something to be accomplished by and through that time we call the great apostasy; if that were not the case, He would have acted otherwise.

    Of course, just because a historical event can be seen as contributing and/or conforming to God’s intentions doesn’t mean that it isn’t, on its own terms, a terrible event; you and Wilfried are right to press me on that point. (I need to be consistent; if I believe that the way in which God can make use of our sins doesn’t, in fact, make those sins into something other than sins–which I do–then it makes no sense for me to say that a historical failure, if it fits into God’s plans, somehow is no longer still nonetheless a failure.) I guess I would just like to be clear on what kind of “disaster” or “failure” we’re talking about here. Pressure from the federal government forced the church to abandon plural marriage. By any measure, that was a disasterous experience: lives lost, property destroyed, marriages broken up. More broadly, the vision of the church held out by Joseph Smith, Brigham Young and many others had to be set aside, perhaps permenantly; the 19th-century church built in the state of Deseret may not be absolutely different from the one which exists today, but the differences are huge nonetheless. So that was a tremendous loss, a calamity for the church. But does it follow, therefore, that it would have been a good thing, or at least a better thing, if that loss hadn’t have ever occurred? By having failed to become a small, polygamous, sovereign theocratic state in the midst of American modernity, has God’s work been frustrated? Somehow, given the apparent disinterest which the church leadership has shown in regards to reviving polygamy and elements of sovereignty in the contemporary church, I doubt it.

    Maybe we should just say that what Luther said about individuals is also true of the “apostate” Christian church, whether Catholic or Protestant: “simul justus et pecccator,” both a failure (in terms of providing saving ordinances) and justified (in terms of the promulgation of the Christian message), at the same time.

    “Noel Reynolds is editing a book on the apostasy that should be coming out by early July. Since I have an essay in it, my recommendation is hardly objective, but those interested in the topic might wish to take a look at Noel?s collection.”

    Will this book contain the Siebach essay on the apostasy which you made reference to in the Linker thread last year? I’ve been interested to read that since you first mentioned it.

  26. Jim F on May 20, 2005 at 12:21 pm

    Russell, I agree that God not only could but did use the apostasy for his purposes and that he could have prevented it had he desired to do so, though I also have to say that I don’t really know how to understand such counterfactuals. I don’t know how to give them any meaningful content, meaning I don’t know what it means to think about alternative histories, though I don’t think the history we have is the only one that was possible. (Of course, that has nothing to do with your comment; it’s just my rambling.)

    I don’t know what essays are in Noel’s book. I know mine is. I’m sure that Noel has one. Since Siebach was part of the small conference that initiated the book, I assume his will also be. And, by the way, if I recall correctly, the essay was co-authored with Dan Graham, the ancient philosophy specialist in the department at BYU.

  27. Russell Arben Fox on May 20, 2005 at 12:32 pm

    Yes, that’s the one you mentioned before; the Siebach and Graham piece. I’m glad it’ll finally be available.

  28. KLC on May 20, 2005 at 1:16 pm

    [By the way, and completely off-topic: it is interesting that since 1930 priestcraft has been mentioned only 5 times in General Conference but 25+ times before that. There seems to have been a flurry of its use from 1926 to 1930 (9 uses), then it almost disappears.]

    Jim, I’m glad I’m not the only person in the church who likes to play with word and phrase frequencies in General Conference. A few years ago as part of a Gospel Doctrine lesson I presented some statistics about the frequency of certain phrases in General Conference, including the phrase “plan of salvation” versus “plan of happiness”, the first an old standby from my youth that has fallen out of favor, the second a recent construction that has come on strong only in the last decade.

    I saw several blank stares and glazed eyes but afterwards one member came up to me and said how fascinating he thought the topic was. Is it just a coinicidence that he’s an RM from Korea, Ivy League law graduate and now a partner in a big downtown LA firm?

  29. MDS on May 20, 2005 at 1:41 pm

    While “plan of happiness” may have been used more in recent years, I don’t know that it works to call it a recent construction, as its origin is clearly ancient. See Alma 42:8.

  30. KLC on May 20, 2005 at 2:26 pm

    MDS, you’re right, “construction” was a poor word choice, both phrases are found in the scriptures. What is interesting is how abrupt the change in usage has been. Pre 1990 almost exclusively one, post 1990 almost exclusively the other.

  31. Jim F on May 20, 2005 at 2:30 pm

    KLC (#28): I suspect it is a coincidence, even though I’d like to believe otherwise.

    MDS (#29): Thanks for reminding us of the Alma reference. It seem as if, at least in this instance, we are moving in the direction of using scriptural language rather than our glosses on scriptural language. If so, I think it is an improvement.

  32. Jim F on May 20, 2005 at 3:09 pm

    Now I will reveal just how nerdy I really am. Here are the results of about an hour’s worth of investigation, which means it may not be worth a whole lot.

    The use of both “plan of salvation” and “plan of happiness” in Conference goes in fits and starts, several years where they gets lots of uses, then several with only a few. Here are the last 25 years. The first number is the number of times that “plan of salvation” was used in Conference talks; the second number is for “plan of happiness”:

    1981: April – 2/0 uses; Oct. 2/2 uses
    1982: April – 2/0; Oct. – 5/1
    1983: April – 6/0; Oct. – 2/1
    1984: April – 14/4; Oct. – 10/0
    1985: April – 5/2; Oct. – 0/1
    1986: April – 6/4; Oct. – 5/1
    1987: April – 5/0; Oct. – 6/0
    1988: April – 1/0; Oct. – 8/4
    1989: April – 9/0; Oct. – 10/0
    1990: April – 8/1; Oct. – 8/3
    1991: April – 3/1; Oct. – 7/5
    1992: April – 3/4; Oct. – 2/1
    1993: April – 5/1; Oct. – 13/17
    1994: April – 10/5; Oct. – 4/5
    1995: April – 7/17; Oct. – 14/7
    1996: April – 5/5; Oct. – 11/17
    1997: April – 9/2; Oct. – 15/10
    1998: April – 10/9; Oct. – 4/9
    1999: April – 9/2; Oct. – 16/10
    2000: April – 15/5; Oct. – 9/4
    2001: April – 6/4; Oct. – 10/10
    2002: April – 5/5; Oct. – 4/7
    2003: April – 4/5; Oct. – 3/10
    2004: April – 3/10; Oct. – 2/2
    2005: April – 3/4

    I don’t see any particular pattern, though someone who wanted to bother with the statistical analysis might find one. In 1984, “plan of salvation” was used a lot, and “plan of happiness” was not. Also in 1989 and, perhaps, in 2000. But overall, it seems to me that if the speakers use one phrase, they also use the other. If there is a preference for “plan of happiness,” it seems to me that it began in about 2000. However, except for the blip in October Conference, 2003, that preference doesn’t seem to have continued. The 80s also show some preference for “plan of salvation.” As far as I can tell, the numbers for earlier years don’t look much different: sometimes one, sometimes the other.

  33. KLC on May 20, 2005 at 5:53 pm

    Jim, I’ll have to go back and dredge up that old lesson. I was running purely on memory…looks like it let me down again.

  34. KLC on May 23, 2005 at 3:53 pm

    Jim, not that anyone cares anymore but I went back to my old lesson and found that I had mistakenly combined the results for two different searches when I made my original comment.

    “Plan of Salvation” continues to be a popular phrase used in conference but the use of “plan of happiness” is relatively recent and has greatly outpaced the use of “plan of salvation” in the last 20 years.

    I used the conference infobases commercially available for the years up to 1978. I used an infobase of conferences from ’79 to ’01 that was compiled privately by scanning in conference reports because the church had not yet put the conferences on lds.org at the time I gave the lesson. I went to lds.org and updated for the years ’01 to ’05.

    1897-1978 “plan of happiness” 3, “plan of salvation” 446
    1979-1992 “plan of happiness” 15, “plan of salvation” 85
    1993-2005 “plan of happiness” 154, “plan of salvation” 83

    These numbers differ from yours, I could not reconcile your numbers with search results at lds.org. If you used lds.org be aware that each conference talk has added titles and sub titles as well as an addendum which directs the reader to similar topical guide subjects. A mention of “plan of happiness” will send you to “plan of salvation” in the topical guide and that, as well as the titles, will show as a hit for “plan of salvation” in the raw search data, even though the phrase was never used in the actual talk. Even accounting for that I could not get the large numbers of hits for either phrase that you posted.

    The second search that my memory combined with the above was the usage of “free agency” vs “agency”.

    1897-1992 “free agency” 682, “agency” 620
    1993-2005 “free agency” 4, “agency” 116

    It seems that the change in usage for both sets of phrases is largely due to the influence of two general authorites. In a talk in April 1992 conference Elder Packer pointed out that “free agency” is not found in the scriptures. Usage of “free agency” plummeted and has essentially disappeared since then. Starting in the late 80s Elder Scott repeatedly and frequently began using “plan of happiness” instead of “plan of salvation” and the great majority of hits using that phrase come from him. But it appears that other general authorities are now following his lead and using that phrase much more frequently, whereas 30 or more years ago that would invariably have used “plan of salvation”.

  35. Jim F on May 23, 2005 at 4:17 pm

    KLC: You’ve obviously done more careful research than I on this one, so I’m happy to accept the result of your work. I did my search using the LDS Infobases product, and I think they don’t include the headings, etc. that you find on lds.org, but I could be wrong about that. In the interest of time, I only looked at the totals for each conference, not at articles by individuals.