Teaching the Reformation

October 19, 2008 | 34 comments
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Just as I went to publish this post, I saw Ben’s post about the conference on Mormons and Evangelicals. It’s a nice coincidence. As are the recent posts by Kent and Marc on labeling and categorizing.

I was already scheduled to attend another conference this week, an annual conference for historians of the Reformation (surely you knew about it), where I’ll be part of an ongoing panel devoted to issues in teaching. This year’s issue is “Defining Protestantism,” as everyone is rightly concerned about labels we impose on people. Five or six scholars make up the panel, and we all get about 10 minutes to reflect on our particular experience with that issue. I’m supposed to talk about teaching the Reformation to Mormon students, both in general and in regard to defining Protestantism, as some of the panelists are wondering how Mormons fit or not.

I’m planning to touch on some of the following, but would be happy to hear what T&S readers have to add.

Like most students at American universities, Mormon students know little about religious history, outside of their own, and even that they usually know superficially. To a Mormon kid, religion really begins with Joseph Smith, and oh yes that ancient church was around very briefly too. They have a vague notion that Protestants were the good guys, but Catholics are a complete mystery. Of course this is generalization (as are most observations below), but it’s held up pretty well over the years.

I know that generalization not only from experience in teaching, but because it’s how I grew up too. I remember taking a trip with my family to Salt Lake when I was around 12, and going to the visitors’ center, where there was a brief display on Christian history (all geared toward the Restoration). First came an image of some churches in ruins, shrouded in mist, with a few hooded figures walking around outside them, heads down. Obviously the bad times. Then came the Protestant Reformers bathed in light, saying things (in quotes) about the then-current state of religion that would obviously resonate with Mormons. A smaller version of this presentation was also on display in my home ward in California for many years. It really got my attention; even though I forgot about it for awhile, when I overcame adolescence and got interested in History again, I went right back to studying that subject.

Imagine my surprise, after a few years of study, when I began to realize that Mormons (at least the present version) had more in common with Catholics than they did with the good-guy Protestants. On about ten major issues of the Reformation (grace and works, scripture and church authority, the need for sacraments or ordinances, form of worship, confession, free will, works for the dead, church and state, etc.), present-day Mormons were more like Catholics on all but one. The only exception I saw was form of worship, or liturgy (which mattered a lot), but even that was only if you didn’t count temple rites. (The book How Wide the Divide does a nice job of showing commonalities between Mormons and some Protestants, but even this effort, not to mention the upcoming conference at UVU, implies that real similarities are to be sought with Protestants, not Catholics.)

That’s how it looked to me anyway. Maybe earlier versions of Mormonism were indeed more like Protestants, especially the radical sort of Protestants (in fact one presenter has already told me that he’d always thought of 19th-century Mormons as the last bloom of the Reformation’s radicals). But not the version of Mormonism I knew. This realization didn’t turn Protestants into the bad guys for me, but it certainly changed my image of Catholicism. It also made me more interested in seeing what we have in common with all traditional Christians: growing up, or as a missionary, the differences were always harped on, over and over.

Then onto defining Protestantism. One of the presenters is going to note that the term Protestant isn’t very useful at all, as only a couple of non-Catholic streams identified themselves that way. Another presenter envisions five streams moving away from Catholicism (Lutherans, Calvinists, Church of England, Zwinglians, and Radicals such as Anabaptists and Spiritualists), rather than a single Protestant stream. I think Mormon students would consider Mormonism at least a sixth stream, that went underground soon after the apostles then reemerged in the 19th century. Thus to Mormon students the definition of Protestantism just doesn’t matter much: the religious world is divided into Mormons and non-Mormons, and all the worries my colleagues have about what a Protestant is, so as not to offend their students, seem unimportant. The recent court decision mentioned on T&S, that Mormons don’t count as Protestants, probably doesn’t offend many Mormons. (Of course more sensitive is whether Mormons are Christian, but even there Mormons should take heart: many Catholics and Protestants today engage in warm ecumenical dialogue and services, but during the Reformation they flung all sorts of non-Christian labels at each other.)

This indifference toward what makes a Protestant is precisely why most of the Mormon kids don’t much identify with traditional Christianity, in any of its various forms. Yet I’ve also seen that because Mormon kids are interested in religion, they are willing to learn and get over their vague images and prejudices. They begin to appreciate the connections they have not only with Catholics, but Protestants too. They realize not only that there are far more similarities than they imagined or had learned, but that when they know the similarities they are in a better position to see the differences—real differences rather than imagined ones. I think they also begin to realize that you can only hold to the usual and non-nuanced Mormon view of Christian history if you don’t bother to study what actually happened, or what Christians actually believed. And that we need a new view of the Reformation, indeed of all of Christian history, along the lines of what Jonathan has been trying to do here on T&S. One that will give us new concepts and labels and perspectives. We ought to worry every bit as much about how we label others as we do about how they label us.

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34 Responses to Teaching the Reformation

  1. Christopher Smith on October 19, 2008 at 2:32 pm

    The Protestants-as-good-guys perspective comes, I think, from 1 Nephi 14. That passage also supports the narrative of the Protestant founding of America. At this point in Mormon history, of course, Mormonism *was* basically Protestant. Later it took on some more Catholic overtones.

    But actually, the closest Reformation-era analogue to early Mormonism was the Anabaptists. There are many, many parallels between Mormonism and Anabaptism, and a good-sized bibliography has developed on the subject.

  2. Kevin Barney on October 19, 2008 at 2:56 pm

    Funny, when I saw the caption on MA I assumed this was a post on teaching the Mormon Reformation!

    This sounds like it will be a terrific presentation.

    I wish we could have a course of study at Church on general Church history, not just the modern stuff we touch on briefly during the D&C curriculum year. A little more perspective would be a good thing for our people, I think.

  3. Craig H. on October 19, 2008 at 4:54 pm

    I Nephi 14 may well be the root of all such views, but to me there are too many problems involved to read it in that way. Anabaptism did indeed have many parallels to early Mormonism, but some crucial differences too, such as less need for ecclesiastical authority and sacraments than Mormons had.

  4. Jonathan Green on October 19, 2008 at 5:16 pm

    Craig, could you say a little more about the conference? I’m very badly informed about where people just a little bit outside my period and discipline congregate.

    One of the more difficult hurdles in learning about the Reformation is finding heroes to root for from the Mormon section of the stadium. Once you get past a reflexive attitude of Luther-good-Catholics-bad and pay attention to what various Reformation figures actually taught and did, it’s hard to find someone who doesn’t have appalling attitudes towards, say, Jews or women or peasants, or who doesn’t take advantage of state power to have their enemies imprisoned, exiled, or killed, or who actually moved towards what we would think of as Mormon teaching or outlook. History doesn’t require heroes to be true, but the lack of Mormon heroes is one thing that might hurt the motivation of Mormon students to keep learning about it.

  5. Craig H. on October 19, 2008 at 6:52 pm

    It’s just the annual Sixteenth Century Society meeting, this year in St. Louis, next year in Geneva. You could probably find troubling elements in the ideas (or alleged ideas) of just about every major religious figure, as you say, but if they’re studied in context you can find plenty of moving ideas. I spent one summer in a convent reading devotional literature from the late middle ages and 16th century, and it was one of the most moving things I’ve ever done.

  6. Kylie Turley on October 19, 2008 at 9:36 pm

    Craig, I agree with the need to see the similarities as well as differences. I’m wondering how you work with students to keep it from dissolving into a sort of simplistic “A-HA! They are like me!” attitude. As you mention, we often hold the “usual and non-nuanced view” of religions–both in what we assume we agree about and disagree about. How do you promote a nuanced view . . . in, say, Sunday School?

    Just for the record, I consider myself to be among those who don’t have a nearly enough nuanced view. A small detour into Victorian death ritual convinced me that I don’t know nearly enough–that some of our oft-repeated truisms are simply not true (for instance: I just heard last week in class again how we are the only ones who believe in a continuation of relationships in heaven. I can’t speak for other religions today but many Victorian-era faiths believed in celestial relationships, even a continuation of romantic relationships–”love to last forever.”).

  7. matt b on October 19, 2008 at 11:02 pm

    I suspect that much of our present attitude toward the Reformation stems from our roots in evangelical Protestant America, with a healthy dose of nineteenth century semi-religious nationalism stirred in. Interestingly enough, we’ve had a few detours along the way – BH Roberts’s Outlines of Ecclesiastical History makes a lot of the same points Craig does about Mormon and Catholic theology, and concludes that the Reformation hurt more than it helped. There’s a few other examples also.

    On a slight tangent, I’ve been fascinated to watch William Tyndale join CS Lewis in the Hall of Honorary Mormons over the past few years.

  8. Ben Huff on October 20, 2008 at 12:29 am

    One taxonomy I looked at distinguished a group called Restorationists from other Protestants. It’s one thing to protest against various aspects of Catholicism and go in your own direction (the Lutheran case is classic here), and another to see yourself as starting over. The Seventh-day Adventists, Shakers, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Disciples of Christ all thought in terms of a restoration. It sounds like there are some who thought a restoration was necessary (e.g. Campbellites, predecessors of today’s Church of the Brethren), and others who thought one had happened (e.g. Shakers). The Anabaptists had a lot of similar beliefs and tendencies and experiences to ours (see, e.g. my “Faith and Irony at Menno-hof”), but if we’re taxonomizing, the differences in how groups claim authority seems to me pretty key.

    Since some of these groups, particularly the Shakers and Jehovah’s Witnesses, are kind of far out in some of their beliefs and practices (sound like something people would say about us?), Mormons may not be too thrilled to compare themselves most closely with this cadre, but the Seventh-day Adventists and Disciples of Christ (maybe Quakers count?) are arguably attractive comparisons. The way I remember it, the Baptists arguably fell into this group at the beginning, although later they started to seem more like ordinary Protestants. I got my take on this from Wikipedia, for what it’s worth. I’d be interested to hear what you think of this angle, Craig.

  9. Ben Huff on October 20, 2008 at 12:37 am

    I’ll just add: When you hear “sola scriptura”, that sounds like a significant step in the direction of Restorationism. Most of those who use the phrase, of course, still carry a lot of historical baggage, but the intent is sort of right. So anyway, I thought the issues the Wikipedia article focused on in identifying Restorationism seemed really illuminating, though I would go to some other sources for backup before relying on it for an academic presentation!

  10. Seth R. on October 20, 2008 at 12:59 am

    As usual, both Mormons and Protestants pretend like the Eastern Orthodox don’t even exist.

    A shame too… Especially when you look at Eastern Orthodox teachings like “theosis.” Orthodox sermons on theosis are a literal grab bag of powerful scriptural references and arguments for Mormon notions of godhood. But we tend to ignore the Orthodox, and thus miss out.

  11. Adam Greenwood on October 20, 2008 at 8:29 am

    Fascinating, Craig H. Keep us posted on how it goes.

  12. Craig H. on October 20, 2008 at 9:55 am

    Kylie, I don’t focus the course on showing differences and similarities. The focus is on trying to understand religion as much as possible through the eyes of the actors, and the differences and similarities inevitably emerge (though sometimes you have to draw them out or they won’t seem them). If you study ancient and medieval and reformation Christianity through the lens of what’s acceptable and what’s not, you distort things; you have to study their entire spiritual world to see how things fit. I don’t know how you’d do this in Sunday School where there’s less time for such treatment, except to encourage people to study it and give them some samples. I think what happens as you study more is that you become much less reluctant to make sweeping claims, and I think that’s a good thing. I mentioned the summer I spent in a convent library, reading devotional literature, and what stunned me as a young 30-year-old was that they offered the sorts of answers which I thought only my religion had, and that they had questions and answers I had never considered.

    Ben, there were many Restorationists, as you point out; sola scriptura does not necessarily suggest Restorationism, however, as that was the watchcry of what became mainstream Protestantism. More radical groups, such as Spiritualists, regarded scripture as only one manifestation of God’s will, and the holy spirit as a higher manifestation. Mormons aren’t sola scriptura either. And you’re right that the claims to authority matter, but changes in the form of religion, over time, matter as much.

    Seth R., you’re right that the struggle over “true” Christianity in the west often left out the Eastern Orthodox, or Eastern Catholics if you will (why Roman Catholics call themselves Roman, as I’m sure you know). That’s because it usually was a foreign world to westerners, even though many similarities continued and can still be found.

  13. Toria on October 20, 2008 at 11:51 am

    Interesting that while some may view 19th century Mormons as the “Reformation\’s radicals”, others may argue that Mormonism has more in common with the Catholic church that the Reformers were moving away from than it has in common with other Protestant streams.
    This might contribute to why so many LDS people, who often get a watered down version of Christian history and even of Mormon history, just gloss over other religions and find it easy to accept a Mormon vs non-Mormon world view. When we (as LDS) do not know where to position our own religion it is hard for us to find a reference point from which we can branch out.
    In addition, I’ve noticed that a lot of LDS students don’t know how to identify which unique ideas and doctrines are at the core of their own religion let alone how to identify what other religions consider to be at their core. Without being able to identify this, LDS students will spin in circles always coming back to their own religious views and making it difficult to understand the depth of other religions and of religious history (further validating a Mormon/non-Mormon mentality).

    I’m not sure how you get at this in a Sunday School class, but it would be interesting to see an undergraduate class where the first half of the class was focused on why Mormonism should be positioned as say a Protestant religion (or whatever the instructor chooses) and in the second half of the class students would be assigned a paper in which they are to argue why Mormonism should be positioned elsewhere on the religious spectrum/in history. The remaining time in class would be focused on helping students do the research for this final exam paper. This might not help students learn specifically about the Reformation and how to view it, but it would give the students the skills to develop their own, more in depth view of the Reformation.

  14. Craig H. on October 20, 2008 at 1:31 pm

    Interesting idea Toria. I still think the first thing to be done, however, is to study a religion first as much as possible on its own terms. When that’s understood, then the comparisons to Mormonism will be deeper and better informed than if you simply went through and picked out what you wanted to begin with.

    I think you’re right too that it’s hard to feel connected to Christian history (at least after the ancient church) if you feel it doesn’t have much to do with you. Thus if you suppose that whatever you have in common with other Christians is simply because a few bits from ancient Christianity managed to survive the centuries in other churches, and these bits were also part of what was restored to Mormonism. Rather than because maybe Christian history after the apostles had something to do with shaping Mormonism too. The way to overcome such a supposition is, as usual, to study a little closer. Take prevailing Mormon views of Sunday, for instance. These do not match up well with how Sunday was viewed and practiced in the ancient world. You can make a pretty good case that the Mormon view of Sunday as Sabbath came largely from the Puritan environment of the northeastern US, where Joseph Smith was born, not from the ancient Christian church, which called Sunday the Lord’s Day, and mostly thought of it as a day that had nothing to do with the Sabbath. During the 16th century, Puritans in England developed the idea that Sunday was the Sabbath and ought to be celebrated in Sabbath-like fashion, and those who moved to the new world took the idea with them. It came to prevail in the northeastern US. I’m sure other examples could be explored too.

  15. Todd Wood on October 21, 2008 at 12:27 am

    Man, guys!

    You are getting me all excited . . . the Protestant Reformation . . . Anabaptists . . . William Tyndale . . . . Geneva . . . . American Puritan theology.

    Love it.

    BYU-Idaho sends students on a regular basis to observe the Sunday services at my brother-in-law’s little church in Rexburg, Idaho. I wish a whole van load could commute to Sunday services in Ammon each Sunday. Craig, I would love to share with the students a whole series on why I love LDS religious trappings because of the Reformation and Puritan roots.

  16. Craig H. on October 21, 2008 at 10:16 am

    Interesting to hear about those visits Todd. Another thing to be gained by Mormons from understanding Christian history is that if they want to start bridging the gap between them and those who don’t regard them as Christians, it might help to learn better what they do have in common, and to see that they speak a lot of the same language. The sorts of visits those BYU-I students are making probably help.

  17. CS Eric on October 21, 2008 at 12:24 pm

    There are some posts that I wish came with a bibliography. This is one of them. For those of us without any background, do you have any suggestions where to begin?

  18. Craig H. on October 21, 2008 at 1:02 pm

    Regarding Mormon views about the post-apostolic church, you have Eric Dursteler, “Inheriting the Great Apostasy: The Evolution of Mormon Views on the Middle Ages and the Renaissance,” in Journal of Mormon History, Fall 2002 (Vol. 28: No. 2). After that it’s probably best to read stuff on the Middle Ages and Reformation directly. Maybe start with Peter Brown, The Rise of Western Christendom, or just about anything else by him, to realize what a different sort of thing ancient Christianity was from modern. For the Reformation, Heiko Oberman’s book, Luther, is one of the best things I’ve read, but R. Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther, has long been a popular favorite, especially among Lutherans, as it’s very sympathetic to him; it is very readable and has valuable information. Also interesting is to read works from the time, such as Loyola’s autobiography, or Teresa of Avila’s autobiography, or Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, or most fun of all Erasmus, Ten Colloquies (or Dialogues). Thomas More’s Utopia (which some see as an inspiration for Mormon communal experiments) is what hooked me first to the period. No single book will do it, it’s a cumulative effect, and so one thing leads you to the next. The stuff on Sunday that I mention in #14 I took from my own book on the history of Sunday, simply called Sunday. If you want something comprehensive, keep your eye open for Diarmaid MacCulloch, Christianity: the First Three Thousand Years, which I’m reading right now in manuscript and which will probably appear at the end of next year. He is a master synthesizer. If you like more specific and meaty things, there are all sorts of “microhistories” which introduce you to specific characters and events, such as Carlo Ginzburg, The Cheese and the Worms, which gets you into the religious mind of a Catholic peasant. A good textbook of the Reformation is De Lamar Jensen, Reformation Europe. If you want more theology, see C. Lindberg, The European Reformation.

  19. Nate Oman on October 21, 2008 at 1:44 pm

    Craig: It seems to me that we need to make a distinction between what for lack of better terms I would call theological protestantism and historical protestantism. It is pretty clear, I think, that Mormonism is not theologically protestant, not only because of some of the specific Catholic-ish theological claims but also because of our understanding of the relationships between the Restoration and the “Great Tradition.”

    On the other hand, I do think that it makes sense to understand Mormonism as historically emerging from Protestantism. We have a whole series of ideas that seem to have identifiable protestant pedigrees, even if we end up shifting the meaning and interpretation of these ideas. Not only were virtually all of the early Mormon converts protestants, but Mormonism defines itself initially in terms of a number of intra-protestant sectarian fights. I am extremely sympathetic, for example, to the claims put forward by Val Rust and John Brooke that Mormonism ought to be seen as growing out of the English wing of the Radical Reformation, even if I am not ultimately persuaded by the details of their particular interpretations — especially Brooke’s.

    Hence, I think that there is an over simplification in simply asserting the Mormons aren’t protestants, especially as a historian rather than a theologian…

  20. Seth R. on October 21, 2008 at 2:16 pm

    Nate, I think it may make a lot of sense to view Mormonism as “historically emerging from Protestantism.” But I think it makes even more sense for Mormonism to knock it off, if that’s what it is doing.

  21. Craig H. on October 21, 2008 at 3:59 pm

    Thanks Nate, I think your distinction is a good one. I wasn’t simply saying that Mormons aren’t Protestants, but rather simply how struck I was that Mormonism in my lifetime is even more like Catholicism than it is like various Protestant or Radical movements. There’s no doubt that the early Mormons styled themselves something along the lines of the latter groups, unconsciously or not, in such things as form of worship, Sunday observance, and various bits of theology. Mormon views of the post-apostolic era to the 19th century, for instance, came largely from Protestant sources, as did a lot of Talmage’s Jesus the Christ. And again, all the efforts to find common points of ground with current Protestantism suggests that Mormons look there, if they look anywhere, to find commonalities. They are there. But we also need a How Wide the Divide for Catholicism, and that divide would be smaller. The main point is to realize that we’ve been influenced by historical Christianity, and when we realize that we might have more motivation to seek out stronger connections, or feel strong affinity, to it. There’s no need to knock it off, as Seth suggests, if we think the things we have in common are good.

  22. Ben H on October 21, 2008 at 5:13 pm

    There’s no need to knock it off, as Seth suggests, if we think the things we have in common are good.

    If the things we have in common actually are good, then there’s no need to knock it off. I think the big problem is that we assume that the things we have in common are good because they’re familiar; for many of them, that’s how they got into Mormonism in the first place. Honestly, I think the Church is still under condemnation, as recent prophets have continued to remind us, for not sufficiently taking to heart the message of the Book of Mormon, and part of why is that we are too stuck in other ideas that are actually coming from elsewhere, from the very traditions that we claim are apostate.

    I would like to know more about the history of “sola scriptura”, because I think it is more complex than its current usage suggests, and it sounds like the Baptists at one point were more interesting and more obviously different from, say, the Lutherans, than they are today. Did Luther talk about “sola scriptura”?

  23. Craig H. on October 21, 2008 at 5:45 pm

    Luther insisted on sola scriptura. It pretty much means what it says, scripture is the only authority. It could get more complicated as church hierarchies grew, even in Protestantism, but those hierarchies were supposed to be based on scripture too.

    It’s been the desire of believers since day 1 to separate out pure religion from mere tradition, but it’s not as simple as it might appear. Your true religion might be my tradition, and vice versa, and opinions vary from one person or generation to the next, including among leaders of churches. For instance, if you believe there was an apostasy before 200, then you necessarily believe that the church which created the canon of Christian scripture was apostate. Same for the church that created the idea of Sunday as Sabbath, which emerged after about 400. Can you really call the New Testament into question, or the idea that Sunday is the Sabbath, without upsetting some things? Tradition becomes pure religion, pure religion becomes tradition, and sorting them out is a bit like trying to rip some threads from a whole piece of cloth; you might end up wrecking more than you meant to. And how do you identify the pure cloth, since religions are founded in specific moments and cultural contexts? This isn’t to say that it’s not worth trying to find the essentials of religion, or to identify cultural elements in any religion, but rather that even if you identify them are you really willing to rip them out? Luther, for instance, didn’t exactly love images in churches, but he believed that it would do more harm than good to remove them, as some more radical reformers did.

  24. Seth R. on October 21, 2008 at 8:00 pm

    I think we are getting to the point in our history, as a religion, where our Protestant affinities are holding us back more than they are helping us.

  25. Craig H. on October 21, 2008 at 11:05 pm

    There are many sorts of Protestants and Radicals, and many things that Mormons have in common with various of them, so I don’t really know what you have in mind. I can think of various “affinities” that are worth hanging onto.

  26. Todd Wood on October 21, 2008 at 11:39 pm

    The Radicals . . . ahhh, the thread is getting even warmer.

    One of the first movies I watched while barely out of high school was the Radicals by Gateway films.

  27. Todd Wood on October 22, 2008 at 12:36 am

    And btw, Seth, did you know that next year is the big 500 for Calvin?

    President John Adams once said, “Let not Geneva be forgotten or despised. Religious liberty owes it much respect.”

    Try to hold off on the knocking off.

  28. DavidH on October 22, 2008 at 3:16 pm

    I recently finished reading The Division of Christendom: Christianity in the Sixteenth Century by Hans J. Hillerbrand, which deals with the Reformation and other developments in western Christianity during the 16th Century.

    I concur with Craig that the divide is not much between Roman Catholicism and Mormonism. This may stir things up, but in some ways I think the Protestant movements were more “apostate” than Roman Catholicism. I think Luther’s deepest disputes with Roman Catholicism would have applied even had there been no apostasy before.

  29. Craig H. on October 23, 2008 at 10:54 am

    I’m not sure that I’d categorize Protestant movements as necessarily more apostate. I think they simply relied more on Paul, who had a different vision of the early church than did James, brother of Jesus. Thus even at the start there was variation, which is probably a better way to understand the development of Christianity rather than as being pure and uniform at a certain moment and then suddenly corrupting. To say that Mormons currently have more in common with Catholics is not to say that Protestants are therefore more wrong.

  30. DavidH on October 23, 2008 at 1:07 pm

    Craig,

    I agree with you. I was raised, however, to believe that Protestants were closer to “the truth” than Catholics. My point is that one could argue that the reverse is true. At the end of the day, I do not think it matters. And, in fact, I think all religions that I have studied have more in common with Mormonism (“truth”) than difference. As I have stated before, I think God is very much involved in assisting and inspiring our brothers and sisters of other faith traditions.

  31. Agellius on October 23, 2008 at 6:02 pm

    Craig writes, “To a Mormon kid, religion really begins with Joseph Smith, and oh yes that ancient church was around very briefly too. They have a vague notion that Protestants were the good guys, but Catholics are a complete mystery. Of course this is generalization (as are most observations below), but it’s held up pretty well over the years.”

    It seems to me that the reason Mormons generally have considered themselves closer to Protestants than to Catholics, was because almost all of the earliest Mormons were Protestants, and the nation as a whole at that time, and for a good while afterwards, was generally Protestant and prejudiced towards Catholicism. I would guess it wasn’t until 1925 or so that American attitudes towards Catholicism started to become more tolerant.

    Also, perhaps because Catholicism and Mormonism are so similar, Catholicism is seen more as a rival to Mormonism than Protestantism is. Mormonism took up positions that the Protestants had no interest in, i.e. a modern-day prophet, sacraments and ordinances that were necessary to one’s eternal destiny, a priesthood, etc. The main tenets of Protestantism — sola scriptura, sola fide — the Mormons rejected more or less in their entirety.

    Protestantism made no rival claims to being God’s very own church, possessing God’s very own priesthood, whereas the Catholic Church did. Thus the Catholic Church was more of a fake and a counterfeit and therefore more evil.

  32. Raymond Takashi Swenson on October 23, 2008 at 6:51 pm

    The Catholic Church today is not the same Catholic Church that Luther protested against. To a great extent, the practices that Luther protested against were the product of a secular emphasis within the Catholic hierarchy that was radically revised in the Counter-Reformation, which reacted to the Protestant schism by putting more emphasis on spiritual concerns rather than secular power. Other changes have happened since. For example, Vatican II opened the way for celebrating the Mass in the vernacular language rather than in Latin, and for congregational singing. I met a Catholic priest who had converted from a Protestant denomination, who said that he did not think he could have done that if the Catholic Church had not been changed by Vatican II.

    The primary benefit of the Protestant Reformation was that it created religious pluralism within European civilization, which evolved into a separation of church and state in the United States that provided enough religious liberty that the Restoration could occur without government squelching it from the get-go. a secondary aspect of the Reformation was translating and publishing the Bible in the vernacular, which allowed “the boy who guides the plow” (as Tyndale said, prefiguring for Mormons Joseph Smith Jr.) to read the Bible for himself and make up his own mind about what he believed. Without Bible literacy, it is hard to see how people would have recognized the Book of Mormon as being in the class of scriptural books.

    So it was not Protestant doctrines per se that laid the foundation for the Restoration, it was the simple fact that the single church of Western Europe lost its hegemony. A lot of the rhetoric about the Catholic Church among early Mormons was simply based on the fact that most of the people they knew and the literature they read was under Protestant influence. In European countries where the Catholic church held sway, it was difficult for Mormon missionaries to preach and operate, as demonstrated by the fact that real missionary work in Spain and Italy was almost impossible until the 1970s. In countries with a single dominant church, belonging to that church is as much nationalism as it is religion, and the thought of joining the Mormons is almost treasonous.

  33. Craig H. on October 23, 2008 at 11:42 pm

    Agellius, I trust your last line is simply stating the once prominent Mormon view, rather than your own.

    Raymond, you’re right that the Catholic church isn’t the same. So I could be more specific in what I’m comparing to. I’m not sure what you mean by a secular emphasis though, as we could define anything we don’t like as secular, I suppose. Before and after the Reformation, the Catholic Church was concerned about secular power, as long as it was used the way they thought was right, but they would have seen many such efforts as primarily spiritual. As for Vatican II, I met even more people who quit because of it, rather than the other way around, so I’d say there are mixed feelings about it. The scheme you set out about religious pluralism and what the Reformation means is neither provable nor unprovable, but a statement of faith, and that’s fine; but I simply think the better we learn the history of the time the better of a scheme that we’ll develop. As for the bible, plenty of translating was going on before the Reformation, and the Reformation simply encouraged better translations–and not for people to take home to read, but for the preacher to use in sermons. Not even Luther wanted all believers to have access to the Bible, contrary to popular belief. The vast majority of people still couldn’t read anyway and probably didn’t need to. I’m not saying all this to be pedantic, but simply to point out that what you’ve presented is a fairly common point of view in our culture, but our culture’s knowledge of the period after the apostles is extremely thin and full of grand schemes that aren’t necessarily connected to what actually happened. If the focus were more on learning what actually happened, some of our big schemes might be more convincing, but we’ve got far to go in simply learning what happened.

  34. Agellius on October 24, 2008 at 1:29 pm

    Craig writes, “Agellius, I trust your last line is simply stating the once prominent Mormon view, rather than your own.”

    Correct. : )

    Craig writes, “Before and after the Reformation, the Catholic Church was concerned about secular power, as long as it was used the way they thought was right, but they would have seen many such efforts as primarily spiritual.”

    I agree. In some ways there was a clear dividing line between secular and spiritual, but the Church was also concerned that conditions in the secular world be conducive to living a good spiritual life. Thus for example no business was to be conducted and no wars fought on Sundays and holy days, etc. Today this would be seen as an intrusion of the spiritual into the secular, but back then it was a matter of ensuring that the latter didn’t interfere with the former, which after all was the more important.

    Craig writes, “As for Vatican II, I met even more people who quit because of it, rather than the other way around, so I’d say there are mixed feelings about it.”

    I agree here too. Both progressives and traditionalists quit as a result of the effects of Vatican II: the former because it started to seem like you could do whatever you want anyway, so why submit yourself to the Church; and the latter because it started to seem like you could do whatever you want anyway, and that’s not the way it’s supposed to be in the Church. Although most traditionalists didn’t really quit in the sense of excommunicating themselves, they just went off on their own in order to follow the stricter practices which the Church seemed no longer to be enforcing.

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