Did revelation cease?

February 14, 2008 | 35 comments
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It seems to me that Mormon discourse has two mutually contradictory ways of talking about revelation during the Middle Ages, and that neither view takes much notice of actual medieval views on the matter.

1. The first narrative, the one to which I am less sympathetic, holds that the heavens were closed and revelation had ceased. On the one hand, this view makes it easy to dismiss as falsehoods all the medieval accounts of visions, revelations, or appearances of Christ or angels or other members of the heavenly panoply. On the other hand, since we do not make a radical distinction between personal inspiration and divine revelation, this view would require us to believe that God spent the better part of 2000 years not answering prayers, which seems a bit petty for a loving God.

2. The second, contradictory narrative holds that of course revelation did not cease, but rather that everyone believed that revelation had ceased, and they were too stubborn to believe otherwise. According to this view, the First Vision contradicted the prevailing notions, and therefore Joseph Smith was subjected to special persecution. One drawback of this view is that it then has to explain what the saints, mystics, and prophets thought they were doing for the previous 1700 years (or what more recent visionaries thought they were doing at the time), if not receiving revelation.

It would be easy to find both notions wrong and somewhat embarrassing, the result of excessive belief in Mormon uniqueness or a misguided assumption of medieval benightedness, were it not for the fact that there is a precedent for the same discussion during the Middle Ages.

St. Birgitta of Sweden (1303-1373) was a pious and, after the death of her husband, a religious woman who went on pilgrimage to Jerusalem, founded a monastic order, and had visions from the time she was a child. The first chapter of the extracts from her revelations known as the Onus mundi addresses the question of why Birgitta was receiving revelation in the first place:

Christ also showed to the archbishop of Uppsala the reason why God had spoken anew in these revelations. For the aforementioned archbishop wondered and said, “God has spoken enough through the prophets of the Old Testament and then after that through himself in the Gospels, and therefore there is no need for him to speak again….” Now when Christ wanted to show the reason for it to the archbishop, he spoke to Birgitta in a special revelation: “Say to the bishops when they meet for my sake and especially to the archbishop, ‘You wonder why I speak my words. Open your eyes and see, listen with your ears and note, open your mouth and ask, how I, Christ, have been driven out and scorned by all people, and see how no one desires to have me in their hearts.…You should not wonder that I speak, for if the wisest man in the world could recognize how many souls go to Hell each day, he would understand that there were more of them than sands of the sea or stones in running water. Therefore I have spoken again to see if anyone would repent and abandon sin, so that the number of the damned might be lessened and my flock increased.’” (Excerpted and translated from Ulrich Montag, Das Werk der heiligen Birgitta von Schweden in oberdeutschen Ãœberlieferung, 1968, pp. 257-261.)

Now, the relationship between transcribed, translated, and redacted words on a page and Birgitta’s original intent is a particularly thorny problem, but the passage does at least indicate that one real problem faced by fourteenth-century prophetic voices, or by those who chose to associate with them, was the belief that no further revelation was necessary after the Old and New Testaments. This belief was not by any means universal, but it was present and could be used by existing religious authority to suppress a would-be prophet. (Birgitta’s answer is a matter of spiritual utility: if someone listens to her revelations, his or her chance of going to Hell decreases.)

The equivalent passage from Joseph Smith is JSH 1:21

Some few days after I had this vision, I happened to be in company with one of the Methodist preachers, who was very active in the before mentioned religious excitement; and, conversing with him on the subject of religion, I took occasion to give him an account of the vision which I had had. I was greatly surprised at his behavior; he treated my communication not only lightly, but with great contempt, saying it was all of the devil, that there were no such things as visions or revelations in these days; that all such things had ceased with the apostles, and that there would never be any more of them.

I don’t think it makes sense for us to adopt the attitude of the preacher, that there was no revelation, nor do we need to dismiss Joseph Smith’s autobiographical account as a bit of self-important posturing; there really were and are important people who see continuing revelation as superfluous or even diabolical. Instead, Joseph Smith and the Methodist minister, like Birgitta and the archbishop of Uppsala, were each taking part in a long and ongoing and often contentious conversation about prophetic and ecclesiastical authority.

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35 Responses to Did revelation cease?

  1. Russell Arben Fox on February 14, 2008 at 8:55 am

    What if the basic issue isn’t how to account for revelations given the apostacy, but the apostacy itself? What if God had been speaking to Birgitta (and who knows how many hundreds or thousands of others, all throughout the MIddle Ages if not earlier as well) with the intention of continuing His revelatory work…aiming to effect a “restoration,” as it were? What if the “apostacy” wasn’t really at all about widespread unbelief and confusion and wickedness on the part of humankind, but rather simply about a thousand or so years of cultures and institutions that co-opted or crushed all those to whom God “had spoken anew”? What if Joseph Smith wasn’t so much unique and specially chosen, but just the one to whom God spoke who finally happened to live in an open enough social milieu for those revelations to work themselves out (mostly) free of violence and interference?

    Just asking. Thanks for another great find, Jonathan.

  2. Ray on February 14, 2008 at 10:06 am

    The Priesthood isn’t necessary for revelation. That much is patently obvious – or, at least, it should be to believing Mormons. Therefore, the first view seems patently false – especially if we define revelation in its Bible Dictionary sense as the working of the Holy Ghost teaching things to mankind. The Book of Mormon account of Columbus and the Pilgrims being moved upon by the Holy Ghost alone makes it obvious that such revelation was present before the Restoration.

    I think the confusion is about the reasons why the Restoration had to happen. Revelation being available to humanity wasn’t one of them.

  3. TMD on February 14, 2008 at 10:30 am

    I think it’s hard to argue that revelation ceased in the period prior to the restoration; certainly, the hymnal, which includes ‘inspired’ works by among others St. Bermard of Clairvaux and St. Francis of Asissi, Charles Wesley, and Isaac Watts is testimony against that view.

    But the key difference, to my mind, was the kind of revelation: was it private revelation, the kind that is directed towards individuals and particularly to the living of a better life, or was it what might be called public revelation, the kind upon which institutions are built and through which keys, authority, and the ordinances and doctrines of the temple (etc.) could be brought forth? It seems to me that the former continued, but the latter is what distinguishes the latter.

  4. Wilfried on February 14, 2008 at 10:36 am

    Thanks, Jonathan. There is also the following view: “The great religious leaders of the world such as Mohammed, Confucius, and the Reformers, as well as philosophers including Socrates, Plato, and others, received a portion of God’s light. Moral truths were given to them by God to enlighten whole nations and to bring a higher level of understanding to individuals” (Statement of the First Presidency regarding God’s Love for All Mankind, 15 Feb. 1978 – an idea also found in talks of previous Church leaders). To what extent this is “revelation” is probably matter of nuance and debate, but Mormonism does not believe in a total “the heavens were closed”. That opens the avenue for much more we may not know about…

  5. Adam Greenwood on February 14, 2008 at 10:38 am

    Food for thought, Jonathan G. Thanks. Good comments, all. TMD preempted mine.

  6. Matt Evans on February 14, 2008 at 11:10 am

    I think TMD gave the “Mormon answer” — during the apostasy no one had stewardship to receive general revelation. Only for themselves. And because Mormons believe receiving the Holy Ghost is necessary for some kinds (degrees?) of private revelation, that would have been missing, too.

  7. Swint on February 14, 2008 at 11:15 am

    Two thoughts:

    1. Inspiration is not revelation. Certainly inspiration of the spirit existed during the Apostacy, the church even fully acknowledges this.

    2. In the event there was revelation (which I believe there was), in that Christ did indeed show himself to people. It is highly doubtful that this revelation was for the world as a whole, the revelation was likely for the benefit of the individual or a small group of people. The fact remains, between the exile of John on the Isle of Patmos and the restoration through Joseph, there was no revelation received that was for all mankind to partake of. Indeed, Joseph\’s revelation was the first of these, since the loss of the Apostles.

    3. All of this may be moot anyway, the apostasy was not based upon the loss of revelation anyway, it was based upon the loss of Priesthood authority. So regardless of whether or not revelation occured, the Church\’s definition of the Apostasy is fully valid, the Priesthood was not found on the earth [with 4 exceptions :) ] . The apostasy was not defined by revelation, but by Priesthood authority. Thus the entire premise upon which this post was written is flawed.

  8. Russell Arben Fox on February 14, 2008 at 11:19 am

    The fact remains, between the exile of John on the Isle of Patmos and the restoration through Joseph, there was no revelation received that was for all mankind to partake of.

    You mean, that we know of.

  9. Swint on February 14, 2008 at 11:32 am

    No, I mean what I wrote. That is what I firmly believe. In order for one to represent God to the masses, that person MUST be given the authority to do speak in his name. The Priesthood was not found on the earth between about 96AD and ~1830AD, thus no one was authorized to receive revelation for the entire earth. I certainly believe that people received revelation of one kind or another, but it was not for the whole. Another example is that I am entitled to receive revelation for my family as a father. Whether that revelation comes from a vision or I am just inspired while reading scripture, that is for me and my family, but that revelation is not for all. I have no authority to receive that revelation, currently the only one that does is President Monson.

  10. Ardis Parshall on February 14, 2008 at 11:47 am

    Priesthood was not found on the earth between about 96AD and ~1830AD

    You ignore the American continent, where priesthood was present much later than 96AD.

    And I’m not sure what it means, in any context before the modern era, to say that revelation was “for the entire earth” — the Nephites didn’t have the revelations given to the Jews for a very long period, and vice versa.

    But I think I can agree with you on the principle that for a very long time, no one had general stewardship to say “thus saith the Lord,” although the inspiration/revelation/guidance given to some few had widespread consequences (Columbus and the American founding fathers being the classic Book of Mormon examples, but I’m inclined to include many, many more, especially those whose life work led in any way to the progress of mankind and the creation of a space in this world where the Restoration could occur).

  11. Eric Boysen on February 14, 2008 at 11:53 am

    I wonder if some other individuals did not receive the priesthood in that time without the direction to go out into the world and reestablish the church. Probably not, but with God no respecter of persons you think someone might have been worthy. I have often wondered about Jan van Leiden and his revolution in Muenster: His claim to be King of the Latter-days, restoration of priesthood keys, etc–an abortive restoration?

  12. J. Stapley on February 14, 2008 at 12:01 pm

    The restoration is an exercise in relationship building – with God and with each other. All the salvific rituals are aimed at creating relationships. Now, because of doctrines like baptism for the dead, we tend to think that our proxy ministry is liberating souls from hell/spirit prison. It is uncertain to me how tenable that sort of perspective is when you have Jesus turning to the criminal on the cross and declaring that they would be together in Paradise. It would seem to me that there is a strong case for some that don’t have these retuals to yet enjoy paradise. In this fashion, then churches and charismatic prophets can and have done a great work for millennia.

    Where the sacraments come into play is at the resurrection.

    …of course there is also a lot of belief in the Church that those with out proxy-baptism languish in hell, as well.

  13. Swint on February 14, 2008 at 12:04 pm

    “You ignore the American continent, where priesthood was present much later than 96AD. ”

    I did indeed, thanks for the correction.

    I also think you make a valid point about the revelation for the nephite’s and the Jews. I should have worded it differently, I was thinking in today’s “small world” terms. You are correct about the “thus saith the lord” thing in the middle ages. No one was authorized to speak for God to “their” world. I firmly believe that there have been prophets speaking for God throughout the world when mass communication was not available. Hence why there were prophets in the Palestine and prophets in the America’s, I also believe that there were prophets in other parts of the world that we don’t know about yet (even the BOM tells us that in 2nd Nephi). Further, to continue to contradict my previous statement, it is possible that revelation was on the earth in other regions of the world, prophets called to their specific people. However, there was no one in the Western world (in Europe or in Jewish circles) called as prophets or given authority. But one thing I have often speculated about is what if Mohammed really was a prophet for his people. I have read the Koran and find the first quarter-half to be eerily similar to Christian/Mormon teachings, but it seems to trail off as it continues. What if Mohammed was a Prophet called to lead his people, who later became a fallen prophet??

  14. Doc on February 14, 2008 at 12:04 pm

    There is a fascinating little nugget on this in the Journal of Discourses from John Taylor,

    I have a great many misgivings about the intelligence that men boast so much of in this enlightened day. There were men in those dark ages who could commune with God, and who, by the power of faith, could draw aside the curtain of eternity and gaze upon the invisible world[,] . . . have the ministering of angels, and unfold the future destinies of the world. If those were dark ages I pray God to give me a little darkness, and deliver me from the light and intelligence that prevail in our day (JD 16:197)

    It seems view #1 was disputed even prior to the beginning of this century.

  15. CraigH on February 14, 2008 at 12:05 pm

    Interpretation 1 is hard to believe when you study the religious history of the Middle Ages and beyond. There was all kinds of activity going on that Mormons would recognize as revelation or spiritual gifts, although I still talk to people who believe these must have all been slightly off or fake or something. But if you read them yourself you very well may come to different conclusions. Interpretation 2 needs a little nuance: Birgitta’s bishop reacted in the classic ecclesiastical way when confronted with news of visions, miracles, or other supernatural activities: he was skeptical. But the story continued and Birgitta was recognized as legitimate, including by the hierarchy, and so it went with every saint you can think of. The fact that plenty of church leaders were skeptical didn’t mean that they disbelieved in revelation, etc., just that they were careful. Also note that the people Joseph Smith confronted who told him that all revelations ceased seem to have been Protestants. Are there any Catholics mentioned? And if there were, they would have used the same thinking as Birgitta’s bishop: not certain disbelief, but skepticism. Disbelief in miracles and such did become a view of most Protestants after the Reformation, thus that miracles ceased with the New Testament. This was partly because of Protestant distaste of current Catholic miracles, and Protestant attempts to distance themselves from the existing dominant church. Yet Protestants developed “miracles” of their own, such as paintings of Luther that did not burn when touched by fire, and so on. And of course some Protestant groups (actually Radicals, whom many Protestants denounced), such as Quakers and Spiritualists and Anabaptists and more, believed strongly in gifts of the spirit. That was the root of modern Pentecostalism and charismatic Protestantism. My point is, once you start studying the period between the ancient church and Joseph Smith, it is all more complicated than typically portrayed. And we might do well to rethink Mormon understanding of the whole time period. As it is, we tend to speak about revelation and the Holy Spirit like they work in a flow chart, rather than listing with the breeze, in unexpected places.

  16. CraigH on February 14, 2008 at 12:44 pm

    #11. I wouldn’t think Jan van Leiden a good candidate for being in secret receipt of the priesthood. He certainly thought of himself as such: he called Munster, the town which he and his followers took over, a new Zion. He also eliminated private property, said he was reinstituting polygamy as in the Old Testament (he took 16 wives, and had one of his wive’s alleged lovers beheaded in public as a warning to all), crowned himself king, executed anyone who opposed him, and behaved in what even we Mormons might consider bizarre ways. Depends on how you view polygamy, I guess, or private property, or expelling opponents. Some might see those as rather inspired….

  17. Christopher on February 14, 2008 at 1:02 pm

    Nice post, Jonathan. It’s important to note that Methodism in the 1810s and 1820s was experiencing a transition from an enthusiastic, visionary worldview to a more refined, mainline Protestant approach, and if JS’s description of the Methodist preacher’s response is accurate, it certainly isn’t respresentative of all of Methodism at this time. The debate of visions and revelation was perhaps at its climax among evangelicals in antebellum American precisely at the time JS experienced his vision(s).

    For more on the changing LDS conceptions of the Great Apostasy, see Eric Dursteler, “Inheriting the ‘Great Apostasy’: Medieval and Renaissance in Mormon Thought,” Journal of Mormon History, 28 (Fall 2002): 23-59.

    Regarding the notion that “in order for one to represent God to the masses, that person MUST be given the authority to do speak in his name.” … Things get complicated when we come across someone who did believe he (or she) was speaking in God’s name and founded a church, religious movement, etc. Especially when those persons and their church actually did some good, and in some cases, a lot of good.

  18. matt b on February 14, 2008 at 1:09 pm

    Exactly, Christopher, on your last paragraph.

    Prophecy is not a priesthood faculty. It’s a gift of the Spirit. (Both Paul and Moroni agree on this.) Thus, it requires no formal authority other than a call from God.

  19. Jonovitch on February 14, 2008 at 1:42 pm

    I’m a right-place right-time person. I believe the United States in the early/mid-1800s was the only place/time that was hospitable in the long-term for a major new religion. I’ve tried to find another place/time combination in the world/history, but have fallen short.

    Certainly no-where in Europe, Africa, the Middle-East, East Asia, or South/Central America. New Zealand seems friendly, but a bit out of the way — plus that whole English monarchy thing. No other place/time in history seems to have offered enough ideological freedom and economic opportunity for the Church to survive and then thrive in the long term.

    Even now, in the free-est country on earth in 2008, Mormons still get pushed around quite a bit.

    That said, I solidly believe that good people across the world and throughout the Middle Ages were receiving revelation (or at the very least inspiration — semantics can be debated elsewhere). If God can direct Nephi to build a boat, then why could he not plant in the mind of Johannes Gutenberg the thoughts that would arise in the invention of the printing press? Or help Martin Luther to avoid the oppressive religious authority of the time while assisting in his translation of the Bible into the people’s language? Or guide George Frideric Handel in composing the complete Messiah oratorio in under a month?

    And this short list says nothing of the inventions, politics, artwork, science, etc. of Da Vinci, Michaelangelo, and Ben Franklin, all of which appear to be so super-human as to almost require the acknowledgment of the Divine. Not to mention the mathematicians and physicians of the ancient Middle-East, or the great philosophers of old, from which we derive much of our modern models.

    Did revelation cease? By no means. The organization of God’s church crumbled, to be sure, and the authority to sustain such an organization in his name disappeared for a while, which meant that ordinances performed were no longer authorized and new doctrine was no longer official.

    So to put it simply, God stopped talking to the church, but I don’t believe he ever stopped talking to his children.

    Jon

  20. CraigH on February 14, 2008 at 1:58 pm

    If ideological freedom and economic opportunity (I don’t get that one, like Mormons were capitalists?) were the prerequisites for Restoration, a lot of places could fit the bill. Including the Dutch Republic of the 17th century. That’s why the Pilgrims, and a whole lot of other religious refugees, went there first. The Pilgrims left because, ironically, the Dutch Republic had TOO MUCH religious freedom. The pilgrims didn’t want religious freedom per se, they wanted it for themselves. The only thing the Dutch Republic didn’t have was a whole lot of space. And there are other candidates too. As for Luther and the Bible, he wasn’t the first to translate into the vernacular, or even into German, only the best. There were a lot of other vernacular translations.
    And so on. My point is not to be pedantic, but to repeat that it’s easier to make big claims about the period between the ancient church and Joseph Smith when the details are not well or widely known.I think it’s safest to learn as many details as possible first, then come up with the big schemes. And my bet is, the more details you know, the less exclusive (thus the less restricted to Mormonism) the resulting big scheme will be.

  21. Russell Arben Fox on February 14, 2008 at 2:16 pm

    Eric,

    I wonder if some other individuals did not receive the priesthood in that time without the direction to go out into the world and reestablish the church. Probably not, but with God no respecter of persons you think someone might have been worthy. I have often wondered about Jan van Leiden and his revolution in Muenster: His claim to be King of the Latter-days, restoration of priesthood keys, etc–an abortive restoration?

    Yes, this is exactly what I was thinking of in my first comment. Why assume that the apostacy was all about the absence of God’s formal presence? If there was revelation, why wouldn’t there have been doctrine-correcting revelations, or church-founding revelations? Maybe there were, but Satan had managed to create a world (for a time, he ruled from seas to the ends of the earth, remember) in which all would be crushed (or, more usually, co-opted) before they could really take shape?

    Craig,

    If ideological freedom and economic opportunity (I don’t get that one, like Mormons were capitalists?) were the prerequisites for Restoration, a lot of places could fit the bill. Including the Dutch Republic of the 17th century. That’s why the Pilgrims, and a whole lot of other religious refugees, went there first. The Pilgrims left because, ironically, the Dutch Republic had TOO MUCH religious freedom. The pilgrims didn’t want religious freedom per se, they wanted it for themselves. The only thing the Dutch Republic didn’t have was a whole lot of space. And there are other candidates too.

    I think you answer your own question, if you expand the whole “right-place-right-time” theory to also include a “right-context-right-people” element to it. One could argue that the Dutch Republic of the 17th century would have been a good place for a restoration of all things to be conceived, but that the Puritans (who, bless their hearts, had nonetheless been warped by a couple of generations of struggles with authoritarian governments and church leaders) weren’t the right people to do the conceiving. Smith didn’t just happen to have the relative political freedom and social space become a religious radical, he was also young enough, unformed (and uninformed) enough, yet also ambitious enough, as well as pious enough, to put the whole package together. Not that such is a knock-down argument, but it’s one way of responding to the issue.

    My bet is, the more details you know, the less exclusive (thus the less restricted to Mormonism) the resulting big scheme will be.

    I think some of that is already happening in the church, Craig. And hopefully, in years to come, more of it will happen still.

  22. DavidH on February 14, 2008 at 2:37 pm

    President Packer seems to be of the more “liberal” view about God’s continuing to speak to His children even during the apostasy. Boyd K. Packer, “The Light of Christ,” Ensign, Apr 2005, 8–14

    “Then the shadow of apostasy settled over the earth. The line of priesthood authority was broken. But mankind was not left in total darkness or completely without revelation or inspiration. The idea that with the Crucifixion of Christ the heavens were closed and that they opened in the First Vision is not true. The Light of Christ would be everywhere present to attend the children of God; the Holy Ghost would visit seeking souls. The prayers of the righteous would not go unanswered.”

  23. CraigH on February 14, 2008 at 2:45 pm

    Fair enough on changing views, Russell, but I guess my point is that when you delve into the period a little more it’s harder to make such statements as “Satan had managed to create a world” in which all revelations or church-foundings were crushed. I guess that’s the kind of big-scheme statement which I think needs rethinking. It also raises an issue that came to mind when traditional explanations of blacks and the priesthood were advanced (thus that the race was cursed, etc.)—we’re not punished for Adam’s transgressions, but somehow Cain’s descendants were, and so were the descendants of the apostates? Why would God punish his children for 800 or 1800 years after the original sin (no pun meant). I’m not saying exactly how that belief applies broadly (of course you can trot out scriptural examples of “cursed to the third generation”, not all scripture is consistent after all) but it at least raises the question in my mind that the time period needs to be seriously rethought, beyond merely granting private revelations here and there, or that people had “portions” (how much? it usually suggests a little) of the truth.

  24. Adam Greenwood on February 14, 2008 at 2:51 pm

    It also raises an issue that came to mind when traditional explanations of blacks and the priesthood were advanced (thus that the race was cursed, etc.)—we’re not punished for Adam’s transgressions, but somehow Cain’s descendants were, and so were the descendants of the apostates?

    I think you need to make a distinction between punishment and consequences here. I don’t think God targets the innocent for punishment, but I do think he allows them to suffer the consequences of other’s evil actions.

  25. DavidH on February 14, 2008 at 3:16 pm

    I personally think that God’s influence permeates the world and His children. I personally think that God speaks to His children regularly, inside and outside of the Church, and has always done so. I personally have no doubt that God cares greatly about what happens in other faith traditions, not just mine, and that He influences and inspires the leaders and followers of those faiths accordingly. If people and leaders in the middle ages claimed to receive visions and revelations, I see no reason to doubt that.

  26. JonW on February 14, 2008 at 3:53 pm

    Two thoughts come to mind with this discussion.

    First is the line in Isaiah 10:4
    Without me they shall bow down under the prisoners, and they shall fall under the slain. For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still.

    To me it is the last phrase that applies. He hand was still stretched out, appealing for people to come to him. Whether he did this with prophets, restoration or through the spirit, I am unsure. I could easily accept that he would allow people an earlier opportunity to re-establish his church but with all knowledge he would also know on JSJ would be able to do it.

    But to say he was not wanting it, or allowing a restoration earlier because it was not “planned” for that period I think is short sighted.

    Second point comes from my readings of later Creedal Christians in the “dark” ages like Gildas.

    Gildas lived in Roman Britian, he saw it falling to Saxons, Angles and Jutes and he decried them in his The Destruction of Britain.
    He calls out some of the leaders of the people in a fairly straightforward, prophetic manner. Some writers saying he was lifting largely from Jeremiah.

    I look back (I beseech thee) and come to Christ (for thou labourest, and art pressed down to the earth with this huge burden), and he himself, as he said, will give thee rest. Come to him who wisheth not the death of a sinner, but that he should be rather converted and live. Unloose (according to the prophet) the bands of thy neck, O thou son of Sion. Return (I pray thee), although from the far remote regions of sins, unto the most holy Father, who, for his son that will despise the filthy food of swine, and fear a death of cruel famine, and so come back to him again, hath with great joy been accustomed to kill his fatted calf, and bring forth for the wanderer, the first robe and royal ring, and then taking as it were a taste of the heavenly hope, thou shalt perceive how sweet our Lord is.

    I think there are many other examples but as I have only read a few of those authors from that period it is harder to pick up a common thread. However I think everyone should revise their opinions of the “dark ages” as the elightenment propaganda I think has been a little too strong.

  27. CraigH on February 14, 2008 at 3:59 pm

    DavidH said what I’ve been trying to say, but better. I think God cares about all, in every time and place, and interacts with them all the time, rather than in fits and starts or exceptionally. I guess that’s the big conclusion I’ve come to in studying religious history, more than all the details you learn along the way. I began as rather an exclusionist in regard to Mormonism, and an exceptionalist in regard to other faiths and times; then I spent a summer in a Catholic monastery reading in devotional books from the middle ages, in order to understand the mental world of monks and nuns (about whom I was then studying). I began in rather condescending and purely intellectual fashion—in other words, congratulating myself for making the effort to understand them on their own terms, and sure that it would be mostly an intellectual exercise, that I would have nothing to learn in a spiritual sense. Then I was bowled over, reading questions and answers that I thought exclusive to my own faith tradition, and finding still more that I had never considered. It was more a spiritual than intellectual experience, and it changed everything.

  28. Hans Hansen on February 14, 2008 at 4:34 pm

    #19. “If God can direct Nephi to build a boat, then why could he not plant in the mind of Johannes Gutenberg the thoughts that would arise in the invention of the printing press? Or help Martin Luther to avoid the oppressive religious authority of the time while assisting in his translation of the Bible into the people’s language? Or guide George Frideric Handel in composing the complete Messiah oratorio in under a month?”

    Martin Luther: I’m sure that having the protection of the German Electoral Princes who sided with him against the Catholic Church assisted Luther in being able to work on his translation of the Bible

    Handel: Yes, he put together “Messiah” in 24 days but he didn’t “compose” it entirely during that time period. Like many of Handel’s compositions, it borrows liberally from earlier works, both his own and those of others. For example, three of the choruses are arranged from Italian love-duets which Handel had written thirty years before. And the music written for “For Unto Us A Child is Born” is borrowed from an earlier chorus written for a secular cantata. Still a remarkable work of music, although I really like the choruses in Handel’s “Israel in Egypt”.

    Columbus and others: I’d really like to put in a good word for Leif “The Lucky” Erikson, son of Erik “The Red” Thorvaldson. He was commissioned by the King of Norway, Olaf Tryggvason, (ca. 1000 AD) to bring a priest with him to Greenland to convert the Norse Greenlanders. According to “Erik’s Saga”, he was blown off course and ended up in modern day Newfoundland, and perhaps, New England. This was perhaps the first “mission” to the New World, aka “Vinland the Good”.

  29. larryco_ on February 14, 2008 at 5:42 pm

    One of my favorite reads from the middle ages is Thomas a’ Kempis’ “Imitation of Christ”. It reads a bit like parts of the D&C, where Kempis goes back and forth between his own comments and those coming directly from Jesus. I find it very inspiring, and raises the question of who can be called a prophet? Moses: check. Isaiah: check. Nephi: check. Paul: check. Agabus: probably check? Mohammad: ?. Robert Mason (who prophesied of Wilford Woodruff’s rise in the Kingdom of God prior to the Restoration): ?. St. Theresa of Avila? St. John of the Cross?…

  30. Drew on February 14, 2008 at 6:32 pm

    I believe that if one studies the collective statements of general authorities from the organization of the Church up until the current leaders you will find the overall view was that while the Priesthood was not on the earth during the Apostasy God was still guiding others through prophecy and revelation.

    I am sure there are statements to the contrary here and there, but overall I have felt the general consensus among leadership was that the Apostasy was the loss of Priesthood not prophecy and revelation.

  31. m&m on February 14, 2008 at 8:10 pm

    Preach My Gospel, chapter 3, might be a worth a read if you haven’t read it recently. It describes the apostasy as the period of time when there was no presiding priesthood authority, when unauthorized changes were made to Church organization and ordinances, when human wisdom was used to interpret scripture/principles/ordinances, and consequently, false teachings about God, Jesus Christ, and principles & ordinances abounded.

    It also talks about how “truth-seeking” people sought for “greater spiritual light” leading toward reformation, which laid the foundation for the Restoration.

  32. Visorstuff on February 14, 2008 at 8:31 pm

    #9 – Swint you wrote that “”I have no authority to receive that revelation, currently the only one that does is President Monson.”

    The authority President Monson has is to “excercise all priesthood keys” that we have on the earth. Rather it is his right to recieve revelation for the entire church (and earth).

    The rights and authority ARE inseperably connected, but they are two different things. :)

  33. Jonovitch on February 15, 2008 at 1:37 am

    CraigH (20), long term, it’s all about the long term. Sure the Dutch Republic might have been great in the 17th century, but look at Battlefield Europe over the next three centuries and I think you’ll find it was less than hospitable. Besides, I don’t think downtown Amsterdam is the place you want to headquarter a major religion these days. ;)

    Regarding Luther and Handel, et al., I never thought my short list would be taken as being exclusionary. In fact, the point I was trying to make (which apparently some people missed) with the very few listed examples (supplemented by even more examples, and followed up with a rather blanket-like statement), was exactly what so many others here have said: God revealed himself to many people in many ways and in many places throughout the Middle Ages. We’re just lucky enough today to have the official organization to go along with it.

    Jon

  34. mlu on February 15, 2008 at 4:11 am

    I agree with what many have said: “God revealed himself to many people in many ways and in many places . . .” And not just in Christendom.

    Though I believe Mormon teachings about Priesthood, the Restoration, and all that, I also feel disposed to believe Chief Plenty Coups of the Crow Indians received divine revelation and gave his people a prophetic vision that served them well as their homeland was overrun with settlers from a new culture.

    I also tend to believe the many testimonies that have come down among the tribes I’m a little familiar with that they regularly received instruction from the Great Spirit about healing illnesses and finding food (and also that these gifts seemed to depart as the people turned to imported technologies to solve their problems). Some of these testimonies seem a little shaky and contradictory, but maybe not more so than what I’ve heard at some Fast and Testimony meetings.

    I also find it easy to believe that much of the real story remains as hidden from us today as the Book of Mormon stories were from everyone in 1800, and that certainty that we have cornered the market on knowledge of God’s dealings with the people of the past is probably folly.

    I also note with considerable interest that I’ve learned things that seem good and true but that aren’t present in a very developed form in Mormonism from reading writers in the Buddhist and Hindu traditions (particularly on the nature of consciousness).

    I’m grateful for the Church and it’s home base and I would reject teachings that contradicted its revealed truths. But I think the light of Christ is everywhere, going by many names.

  35. denebug on February 15, 2008 at 10:13 am

    I rather like the idea that there were aborted attempts at restoration during what we call the great apostasy, but I wonder if that idea is compatible with 2 Ne 3 in which Lehi recounts Joseph of Egypt’s prophecy concerning the coming forth of the Book of Mormon through Joseph Smith. Surely if the church had already been established, the uncovering of an entirely new scriptural text would have been an incredible and possibly schismatic event.

    On another line of thought, it seems as though there were more heavenly visitations (angels, resurrected beings) during the middle ages than there are today. The early history of our restored church was flooded with visions, revelations and charismatic activity, but there hasn’t been much dramatic action since John Taylor. We have proclamations. They are nice but read as though written by committee. Other scriptural revelation have the power of coming through a particular voice; the word of God conveyed by the poetry or prose of an individual.

    Rachel