Easter and the Literal Resurrection

Our Easter Celebration yesterday was excellent. The young men showed extra reverence while breaking, blessing, and passing the sacrament. Our Bishop gave a powerful talk/sermon on the themes of justice and mercy in the Gospel and the Atonement of Jesus Christ, reminding us that through the Atonement, the repentant find mercy and the unrepentant find justice, for mercy cannot rob justice. Later in the day, we enjoyed a wonderful dinner with family and friends.

Because our day was full of worship and the company of family, I couldn’t be bothered to post an Easter message, although that shouldn’t be taken to mean that I, or other Latter-day Saints, do not put due emphasis on Easter in their devotion. I believe that Latter-day Saints have a unique view on this–shared only by the primitive Christian Church. One day late, therefore, I offer some of my thoughts from the Archives (Easter 2005) about LDS beliefs in the literal (and not symbolic or figurative) resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ on that first Easter:

I don’t begrudge people around the Bloggernacle lamenting that Latter-day Saints don’t follow the liturgical calendar. I myself would love to follow it–because I think it would be fun and it would help some of us to be more reverent or invite some solemnity into our completely deconstructed lives. But the fact that the Church lacks the liturgical calendar is a testimony to the Church’s effort to focus on doctrine rather than tradition for tradition’s sake. Instead, Latter-day Saints focus on the Atonement of Jesus Christ, and Christ’s Resurrection as an unconditional aspect of that Atonement for its own sake and not by virtue of the liturgical calendar. This brings some of Hugh Nibley’s words to mind:

We have suggested that Latter-day Saints might be said to accept certain traditions common to the whole Christian world more wholeheartedly and with less reservation than most Christians do inasmuch as they take as literal what the rest of the world accepts in a rather vague, symbolic, or sentimental sense. Easter furnishes as good an illustration as any of what we mean by this. (Hugh Nibley, "Easter and the Prophets," in The World and the Prophets (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1987) (1954), p. 154.)

Indeed, the Resurrection qua Resurrection, on the one hand an indescribable miracle in its physics (at least to our finite minds), is on the other hand an integral part in the Plan of Salvation–a generous gift of the Lord to his children, but a gift with strings attached. True, the Resurrection is in itself salvation to the posterity of Adam and Eve. Latter-day Saints believe the true doctrine of the Resurrection: that all people, whether good or evil, will be resurrected. Alma the Younger explains why:

But God ceaseth not to be God, and mercy claimeth the penitent, and mercy cometh because of the atonement; and the atonement bringeth to pass the resurrection of the dead; and the resurrection of the dead bringeth back men into the presence of God; and thus they are restored into his presence, to be judged according to their works, according to the law and justice.

This bolded portion illustrates the dual nature of the Resurrection: salvation of a kind to all but also a very functional gift–we are resurrected so that we can be brought to justice in the flesh for our works, whether they be good or evil, during mortality. Jesus himself taught this truth when he visited his followers in the Americas after his death and resurrection in Jerusalem to show them his resurrected body and teach them this aspect of the Gospel. All people are resurrected to stand before the judgment seat of Christ to be judged according to their works:

If they be good, to the resurrection of everlasting life; and if they be evil, to the resurrection of damnation; being on a parallel, the one on the one hand and the other on the other hand, according to the mercy, and the justice, and the holiness which is in Christ, who was before the world began.

So Christ literally resurrected in the flesh. It wasn’t symbolic or merely a "spiritual resurrection." We know this not only from the scriptures, but also, and more importantly, because Joseph Smith saw the resurrected Savior and Heavenly Father, two separate beings with physical bodies. In that one moment, Joseph Smith gained more knowledge about the nature of God and Jesus Christ, and the Resurrection, than eighteen hundred years of philosophy and theology had been able to figure out.

It was not only Joseph Smith’s testimony that he saw and spoke with the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ that provoked and still provokes such animosity from the rest of Christianity; rather, what Joseph Smith learned about the Resurrection itself also greatly dismays Christianity, because it runs contrary to the neo-platonic philosophy on which Christian "theology" is founded. Hugh Nibley again comes to mind here:

The only real justification for the Christian Easter is the proposition that the resurrection of Jesus Christ actually took place–not as a symbol, a myth, a hope, a tradition, or a dream, but as a real event. The Lord himself after the resurrection took the greatest care to impress the literalness of the event on the minds of all his followers. Having risen from the dead, Christ came to his disciples and found them confused, perplexed, incredulous. He "upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen" (Mark 16:14), and showed them in detail how the ancient prophets had actually predicted what had happened. He ordered them to feel him and see for themselves that he was not a spirit, but that the flesh had been resurrected; he ordered food to be brought and ate it in their presence, inviting them to dine with him. He told them that whenever they met after his departure they should continue to eat real bread and drink real wine to remind them that he had been with them in the flesh. There was need to make this lesson perfectly clear, for men have always been relunctant to believe it. . . . The Apostles had to rebuke members of the church who simply would not believe in the resurrection, and John noted with alarm that "many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh" (2 John 7). "Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead," writes Paul to the Corinthians, "how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?" (1 Corinthians 15:12). ("Easter and the Prophets," 156-57.)

Hugh Nibley proceeds to analyze the shift after the death of the Apostles in the Christian church and the "sway of philosophy" over the doctrines of the Church. Thus, "the writings of the Apostolic Fathers, the oldest texts to survive after the time of the Apostles, show the spreadening and deepening of the anti-resurrection trend in the church" (Ibid, 157). Ignatius, for example, one of the early Apostolic Fathers, writes passsionately in defense of a physical resurrection (Ibid.). But this phase of apologetics in defense of a literal, physical resurrection would soon cease as well:

The sorrows and alarms of the Apostolic Fathers were followed by the perplexities of the doctors. Most of the early doctors of the church were ardent Hellenists or Neoplatonists, and there was no place in such schools of thought for a God who contaminates himself by contact with the physical or limts himself by taking the form of a man.

This neo-platonic view might seem eminently reasonable even to a Christian philosopher or theologian reading this right now; in fact, such a person would likely use the categorical rejection of such philosophy by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which is Jesus Christ’s restored Church on earth today, as evidence that the Church cannot be Christ’s true church. But that is exactly the point: these philosophers took a truth of God and because it didn’t make sense to them rationally, they rejected it sua sponte (i.e. absent guiding revelation) on the basis of the influence of the philosophies of men and, mingling such philosophy with New Testament scripture, fundamentally altered the doctrine to which the liturgical calendar now looks emptily. Hugh Nibley focuses on Origen and St. Augustine for this scepticism towards the physical resurrection.

Nibly describes the musings of Origen, "perhaps the most influential of all Christian philosophers next to Augustine himself" (Ibid., 158):

"We are stunned with the greatest amazement that this the most eminent of all natures, putting off its state of majesty, should become a man. . . . It is utterly beyond human comprehension that the Word of the Father . . should be thought of as confined within that man who appeared in Judea. But that the Wisdom of God should have netered the womb of a woman, and been born a baby, and cried and wailed just like other crying babies, and then suffered death and said that his soul was sorrowful unto death, and been led off to the most undignified of all deaths . . seeing such things the human intellect is stopped in its tracks, so stunned with amazement that it knows not where to turn. . . . It is far beyond our powers to explain. I suppose it even goes beyond the capacity of the Holy Apostles; nay, it is quite possible that the explanation of this sacrament is beyond the powers of all the celestial beings." Not only does Origen not know what to think about the Lord’s physical presence on earth; he does not even know what to believe about it, and in his explanations is careful to specify that he is presenting only his "suspicions rather than any manifest affirmations." (Ibid., 158 (quoting Origen, Peri Archon II, 6, 2, in J.-P. Migne, Patrologiae Cursus Completus . . . Series Graeca (Paris: J.-P. Migne, 1857-1866), 11:210)).

Nibley provides the following commentary on Origen’s musings: "Note the vanity of the schoolmen in Origen’s remarks: What he cannot conceive of because of his limited experience must necessarily be beyond the grasp of Apostles, angels, and all celestial beings! It is this sublime confidence in the adequacy of one’s own knowledge and the finality of one’s own experience that makes the resurrection of the flesh the principal thorn in the incorporeal minds of the schoolmen" (Ibid., 159). This is a cogent and useful observation, and it reminds us of the limits of our knowledge when we base it on our experience, or when we claim that we can only know things from our experience.

Moving on to St. Augustine, Nibley emphasizes that belief in the resurrection is the core of being Christian, and, through Augustine’s own observations, throws the deep irony of a Christian rejection of the physical resurrection into stark relief.

According to St. Augustine, the resurrection of the flesh is the one thing that the pagans cannot take, it is the one thing with which the philosophers have no patience, and is above all the one thing that distinguishes a Christian from a non-Christian. Since it is the one doctrine that makes Christians Christians, it is alarming to learn from St. Augustine that in his day "in nothing is there so much conflict and controversy among Christians themselves as on the subject of the resurrection of the flesh." "On no other matter," he writes, "do they disagree so vehemently, so obstinately, so resolutely, or so contentiously as on the subject of the resurrection of the flesh. For as fas as the immortality of the soul is concerned many a pagan philosopher too has argued about that and bequeathed us vast heaps of writings to the effect that the soul is immortal. But when it comes to the resurrection of the flesh they won’t argue, but dismiss it out of hand as impossible, and that on the grounds that it is impossible for this earthly flesh to aspite to heaven." (Ibid.)

At this point, Hugh Nibley makes one of his most useful observations about the posture of Latter-day Saints towards the literal resurrection of the flesh as compared with the posture of much of the rest of Christianity, as inherited by such philosophers, on this doctrine: "I cannot resist noting here," states Nibley "that the objection of the pagans to the resurrection is not a physical or a biological but a philosophical one, and it is the very same objection which the Christian world today makes against the Latter-day Saint conception of God: that there can be nothing of a bodily nature in the celestial. Yet the resurrected Christ was God. Is it any wonder that the Christians could never agree among themselves on this, the central doctrine of their religion?" (Ibid.)  But the Apostles themselves did not dispute the literal resurrection, or the resurrection of the flesh. The doubting Thomas’s own skepticism was put to rest when he saw the Lord and felt his resurrected flesh with his own mortal flesh. Thus, concludes Nibley very powerfully:

No matter how wildly improbable or paradoxical or utterly impossible a thing may seem to the cleverest people on earth, only by witness and not by reason, theory, or speculation may its truth be ultimately established, whether the truth be scientific or religious. "This is the testimony . . . which we give of him: That he lives! For we saw him . . . and we heard the voice bearing record that he is the Only Begotten of the Father" (D&C 76:22-23). Compare this testimony of modern prophets with that of the ancients: "That which was from the beginning, which he have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; . . . That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you." (1 John 1:1, 3.) After all, it is the testimony of the prophets that gives us the real Easter. (Ibid., 162).

I am grateful for the testimony of the true prophets of the literal resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. I add my testimony to Hugh Nibley’s that the words of these prophets give us the real Easter, and not, I would add, any liturgical calendar or mere tradition that serves as cultural myth, symbol, or sentimental fallback.

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15 Responses to Easter and the Literal Resurrection

  1. Greg says:

    I enjoy reading this blog a lot, but since I’m not LDS, I prefer to refrain from commenting and just lurk. But I feel like I need to speak up about this post, because it is inaccurate in regard to the doctrine of non-Mormon Christianity.

    I’d like to appeal to an anecdote in last December’s First Presidency message:

    Once while riding in a plane, I engaged in conversation with a young man who was seated beside me. We moved from one subject to another and then came to the matter of religion. He said that he had read considerably about the Latter-day Saints, that he had found much to admire in their practices, but that he had a definite prejudice concerning the story of the origin of the Church and particularly Joseph Smith. He was an active member of another organization, and when I asked where he had acquired his information, he indicated that it had come from publications of his church. I asked what company he worked for. He proudly replied that he was a sales representative for an international computer company. I then asked whether he would think it fair for his customers to learn of the qualities of its products from a representative of its leading competitor. He replied with a smile, “I think I get the point of what you’re trying to say.” [emphasis mine]

    Long story short, if you want to know what the other churches teach, don’t rely on Hugh Nibley. Read their own literature.

    The doctrine of a physical resurrection, both of Jesus on Easter morning, and of all of mankind at the Last Judgment, has always been taught and believed by Christians, and is still believed by all mainstream Christian groups. Have you ever read the Nicene Creed? A large portion of it relates Christ’s bodily ministry, his birth, suffering, death and resurrection. The ancient creeds included these points specifically to answer the tendency of some Christians, influenced by Greek philosophy and mystery cults, to deny that Jesus was a human like us in all ways including materiality.

    And as far as I know, all Christians believe that everyone will be resurrected, not just the saved. I’m frankly a little puzzled as to how you could have gotten the idea that Mormons are unique in this regard.

    That said, in the spirit of Pres. Hinckley’s advice, here are some quotes from official statements by the Catholic Church (to which I belong) and some of the classic Protestant statements of faith:

    * From the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

    From the beginning, Christian faith in the resurrection has met with incomprehension and opposition. (Cf. Acts 17:32; 1 Cor 15:12-13.) “On no point does the Christian faith encounter more opposition than on the resurrection of the body.” (St. Augustine, En. in Ps. 88,5:PL 37,1134.) It is very commonly accepted that the life of the human person continues in a spiritual fashion after death. But how can we believe that this body, so clearly mortal, could rise to everlasting life?

    How do the dead rise?

    What is “rising”? In death, the separation of the soul from the body, the human body decays and the soul goes to meet God, while awaiting its reunion with its glorified body. God, in his almighty power, will definitively grant incorruptible life to our bodies by reuniting them with our souls, through the power of Jesus’ Resurrection.

    Who will rise? All the dead will rise, “those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment.” (Jn 5:29; cf. Dan 12:2.)

    How? Christ is raised with his own body: “See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself”; (Lk 24:39.) but he did not return to an earthly life. So, in him, “all of them will rise again with their own bodies which they now bear,” but Christ “will change our lowly body to be like his glorious body,” into a “spiritual body” (Lateran Council IV (1215): DS 801; Phil 3:21; 2 Cor 15:44.):

    But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” You foolish man! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body which is to be, but a bare kernel. . . . What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. . . . The dead will be raised imperishable. . . . For this perishable nature must put on the imperishable, and this mortal nature must put on immortality. (1 Cor 15:35-37,42,52,53.)

    * From Luther’s Large Catechism:

    Meanwhile, however, while sanctification has begun and is growing daily, we expect that our flesh will be destroyed and buried with all its uncleanness, and will come forth gloriously, and arise to entire and perfect holiness in a new eternal life.

    * From the Thirty-Nine Articles (Church of England):

    Christ did truly rise again from death, and took again His body, with flesh, bones, and all things appertaining to the perfection of man’s nature, wherefore He ascended into heaven, and there sitteth until He return to judge all men at the last day.

    * From the Heidelberg Catechism (Dutch Reformed):

    Q. What comfort does the resurrection of the body offer you?

    A. Not only shall my soul after this life immediately be taken up to Christ, my Head, but also this my flesh, raised by the power of Christ, shall be reunited with my soul and made like Christ’s glorious body.

    * From the Westminster Confession of Faith (Presbyterian):

    At the last day, such as are found alive shall not die, but be changed: and all the dead shall be raised up, with the selfsame bodies, and none other (although with different qualities), which shall be united again to their souls forever.

    The bodies of the unjust shall, by the power of Christ, be raised to dishonor: the bodies of the just, by His Spirit, unto honor; and be made conformable to His own glorious body.

    In your post you are taking issue with a straw man that bears no resemblance to (non-LDS) Christianity as it really is. For instance, you quote Nibley, “there was no place in such schools of thought for a God who contaminates himself by contact with the physical or limits himself by taking the form of a man,” and then you say, “This neo-platonic view might seem eminently reasonable even to a Christian philosopher or theologian reading this right now…

    No, actually it would not seem reasonable to a Christian philosopher or theologian. It certainly doesn’t seem reasonable to me, a Catholic layman. It negates one of the fundamental concepts of Catholic theology, the Incarnation: God became a human being. This was one of the doctrines the Church stood up for against those misguided Christians who tried to water down the truth to make it more palatable to the worldly mind. Gnosticism, Arianism, Nestorianism and Monophysitism all object to the Incarnation in one fashion or another – largely due to the influence of philosophical ideas – and were for that reason rejected by the Church.

    You also summarize Nibley’s narrative of a shift in the early Church from a stress on the physicality of the Resurrection (e.g. Ignatius of Antioch) to a tendency to spiritualize it and discount its physicality under the influence of Greek philosophy. This is simply not accurate. It is true that there were some early Christian writers, most notably Origen, whose beliefs were influenced by Greek ideas. Their ideas were later rejected because they weren’t consistent with the teachings of Scripture and Tradition.

    You give a quote from Nibley that Origen was “perhaps the most influential of all Christian philosophers next to Augustine himself”. That may be true up to a point (although I think it’s a little exaggerated), but it’s important to remember that some of Origen’s teachings were condemned at the Second Council of Constantinople in 553. And unlike most of the Church Fathers, he was never regarded as a saint, precisely because his ideas were so unorthodox. Contrary to what Nibley claims, the Church didn’t follow Origen’s example in Hellenizing our doctrine.

    As for Nibley’s quotation from St. Augustine, I find it very ironic. St. Augustine is simply arguing that there really was a physical resurrection. How does this help Nibley’s argument? Augustine is the great Church Father, the most important theologian in the Western Church, and it’s his faith in the physical resurrection, and not his opponents’ dismissal of it, that the Catholic Church continues to uphold. Where is this supposed rejection of the bodily resurrection and “shift” to neo-Platonism? It turns out to be a rhetorical phantom. Origenism was discredited, and Augustine taught (and the Church continues to teach) the same bodily resurrection that Ignatius and the Apostles taught.

  2. Catherine (Weston's wife) says:

    John,
    Nibley appears to have overstated the absence of Christian belief in a literal resurrection. That doesn’t mean he was all wrong, though.
    I noticed on my mission in a Catholic country that although the Catholic doctrine says there will be a bodily resurrection, many faithful Catholics didn’t really believe in a literal bodily resurrection. They seemed to think that they would have some sort of spiritual existence, like one woman who envisioned herself with a future spent as a “candle in the presence of God”. I’m not a theologian and I have a limited knowledge of what’s contained in the theology books of other religions, but I think I can safely state that the doctrine of the Trinity creates confusion as to whether the bodily resurrection of Christ was real. The concept of the Trinity raises the question of how the resurrected Christ is to be conceived of as a being with an eating, drinking, touchable body if at the same time He is one of three manifestations of a divine being that is present everywhere? No matter how many times you’re told that Christ took His body up again, it’s going to be hard to believe that He remains united with that tangible body if you’re also hearing that that Christ and the Holy Spirit are indivisible in being.
    This confusion was removed by the First Vision of Joseph Smith. It showed that God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit are one in purpose and mission, but that they are individual in being. Thus, the literalness of Christ’s resurrection no longer conflicts with the ability of God to act everywhere through the the Holy Ghost. Heavenly Father can send the Holy Ghost to inspire multiple souls while at the same time Jesus Christ can eat loaves and fishes.
    As an aside, does this mean that maybe we LDS aren’t strictly monotheistic? Perhaps, but the Godhead we worship consists of 3 beings completely united in purpose, mission and action, with God the Father presiding over all. It’s not at all like the polytheism of ancient Egypt or Greece or modern Hindu. And it feels like monotheism in practice. We pray to Heavenly Father (only), through Jesus Christ, and receive inspiration through the Holy Ghost; in doing so, we believe and feel that They all three love us and that They are in complete accord as to Their purposes and answers for us.
    Thanks for the Easter post and the opportunity to meditate on this subject.

  3. john f. says:

    Greg:

    Thanks for the pointers. I am very open to what you say, and I certainly hope that you are right that your fellow Catholics (and their eccelsiastical leaders, of course) believe in a literal physical resurrection. I have no reason to assume you are wrong, so this does make me happy.

    Do you and your fellow Catholics believe that Jesus Christ, right now at this moment, has a literal physical body that you could grab on to if you were in his presence? Do you believe that if he were to appear to someone right now (or in 1820) he would be in the same perfected, physical resurrected body that he ascended with after his post-resurretion ministry in Jerusalem?

    Catherine, great to hear from you! Thanks for your insight. Say hi to Weston for me.

  4. john f. says:

    By the way, Greg, check out another recent post I have written that touches on some of these subjects: Wresting the Scriptures.

  5. john f. says:

    (I’d love to hear your insights on that too.)

  6. Greg says:

    I’d say most priests and bishops believe in a physical resurrection, and they all teach it. If one taught differently, I think he’d be sanctioned, like being moved to a non-pastoral post or something. But you know there’s always the odd pastor who doesn’t believe this or that teaching of the Church, like transubstantiation or the immorality of contraception or things like that.

    I don’t have much time to comment right now, because I’m leaving to go out of town early tomorrow morning. This’ll be brief. I’ll try to say more late next week.

    Do you and your fellow Catholics believe that Jesus Christ, right now at this moment, has a literal physical body that you could grab on to if you were in his presence? Do you believe that if he were to appear to someone right now (or in 1820) he would be in the same perfected, physical resurrected body that he ascended with after his post-resurrection ministry in Jerusalem?

    Yeah. And we believe he has appeared to certain people through the ages. Whether they actually grabbed onto him I don’t know, but they could have. This is part of the whole gospel that gives us hope. His resurrected body is the first fruits, as Paul says, of everyone’s resurrection. He took on human nature (which involves a union of the body and the spirit) so that we could share in his divine nature.

    This also touches on one of the things we believe about Mary: that she has a perfected physical body right now, that she was taken physically into heaven (perhaps right after she died, or perhaps without dying). This is called the Assumption, and is celebrated on August 15. The capital of Paraguay was founded on this day, which is how it got its name.

    This is sort of a rough-and-ready answer, so I apologize if it’s a little disjointed. Hopefully next week I’ll have the chance to write more coherently.

  7. Greg says:

    One more thing — I don’t mean to diminish how widespread bad catechesis is in the Church. By that I mean poor training in Church morality and doctrine. There are plenty of Catholics who don’t believe what the Church teaches on a lot of issues. It’s like the Mormon saying: the members aren’t perfect, but the Church is.

  8. john f. says:

    Excellent! Thank you very much for those comments — they have been very uplifting and insightful.

  9. Greg says:

    I don’t really have much to add to what I wrote last week, but I thought you might be interested in what some other Catholics have said about it, so you don’t have to take my word for it.

    Here are a couple of short sermons by a Catholic priest in Northern Virginia: Life after Death in Christian Teaching and The Way of All Flesh.

    Here’s a detailed discussion on a Catholic blog as to why the resurrection of the body is an indispensible part of Catholic teaching: An Epistle on Resurrection.

    Here’s another Catholic blogger: The Resurrection of the Body.

    You asked about ecclesiastical leaders, so I found this sermon by Pope John Paul II given in November 1998: He Is Not God of the Dead, but of the Living.

  10. Dave Keller says:

    Looks like I am a little late to this discussion.

    Greg,

    Wow! It looks like you have completely vindicated Catholicism of the charge of not believing in a literal resurection. I whole heartedly agree with the desirability of allowing a religion to represent their own current beliefs through their most official sources and thanks for using some current, correlated LDS teachings to remind us of that.

    With that said, I think the characterization of Nibley was a little unfair, given that you have only seen selected bits of it (I assume). The part you correctly object to about modern Christianity seems to be a misreading by John F., who I hope will vouch if my new proposed reading makes more sense. The key text is:

    “I cannot resist noting here that the objection of the pagans to the resurrection is not a physical or a biological but a philosophical one, and it is the very same objection which the Christian world today makes against the Latter-day Saint conception of God [the Father]”

    I inserted the bracketed text. Wouldn’t you concur with this modified assesment?

    I agree that Nibley should have documented modern non-LDS Christian objections better or at least clarified. Had Nibley developed this idea more it would have greatly strengthened his argument. So instead of misusing ancient sources in this case, Nibley underused them. David Paulsen wrote an article in a professional journal about Father’s embodiment which represents the state of the art for current LDS scholarship. Combining Paulsen and Nibley lead to an intriguing idea, both Father’s and Son’s embodiment came under attack from the same influences, but the Son stayed in tact due to a decision to take the Bible literally in this instance.

    What Nibley is scandalized by, is the fact that Son’s bodily resurection was even questioned. Augustine and Jerome are skating on thin ice by believing that the original resurrected bodies transform into noncorporeal spirit.

    For Jerome’s take see: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf206.htm

    The hero that seems to set the path back to orthodoxy is Gregory the Great with the help of the Roman emperor. The Catholic encyclopedia bio covers the episode briefly.

    Perhaps what lead to misreading Nibley is his opening paragraph:

    “We have suggested that Latter-day Saints might be said to accept certain traditions common to the whole Christian world more wholeheartedly and with less reservation than most Christians do inasmuch as they take as literal what the rest of the world accepts in a rather vague, symbolic, or sentimental sense.”

    Note this is highly qualified statement that covers a lot of possibilities for Christianity. I think we can start to see the fruits of less than whole-hearted literalism at least on a popular level for non-LDS and non-Catholic Christians. For example see this poll:

    http://www.dispatch.com/news/religion/faith-story.php?story=dispatch/2006/04/07/20060407-D3-02.html

    The blame may be that other denominations aren’t emphasizing it enough. However the Easter Mass I attended and wrote about on the Mormons and Catholics blog certainly did.

  11. john f. says:

    Dave, thanks for your contribution. Yes, that qualification makes a difference. I would be interested to hear Greg on that point.

    By the way, I went to your blog and it looks like a great project.

    In your introductory post over there, you mentioned Holy Envy as something you hoped people would leave room for in their discussions there. You might be interested in a post here not too long ago titled From the Pope, or A Study in Catholic Envy.

  12. john f. says:

    In case any readers are interested, Greg has posted a response to this post and a broad criticism of Hugh Nibley’s scholarship on his own blog, which doesn’t seem to allow for comments.

    Greg: I’m not so sure that the example you use indicates Nibley’s manipulation of sources and readership, as you suggest. Don’t forget, that was an oral speech delivered by Nibley in a series of radio addresses. An ambiguous antecedent does not mean intellectual dishonesty, especially when it is up to the listener to supply the most suspect interpretation possible.

    As to your charge there that Latter-day Saints are “intellectually isolated,” I suppose by that you mean that if one reads and enjoys Hugh Nibley, he or she is intellectually isolated (because, obviously, if one is reading Hugh Nibley, he or she is reading nothing else). As to whether you are intellectually isolated on the topic of Latter-day Saint beliefs or not, I would just ask whether you have read the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants. If not, how can you make a statement either way on the beliefs of Latter-day Saints?

  13. Greg says:

    With that said, I think the characterization of Nibley was a little unfair, given that you have only seen selected bits of it (I assume). The part you correctly object to about modern Christianity seems to be a misreading by John F. . . .

    I’ve only read some articles from the collected works series (published by FARMS?). I read three or four articles in the volume on Early Christianity and one article in Approaching Zion. The essay in Approaching Zion didn’t have anything I found objectionable (it was the one about having a free lunch) but as I recall, each article I read in the other volume had bad scholarship. Maybe it’s unfair to say he was manipulating his sources on purpose; he could simply have been letting what he wanted to see cloud his scholarly vision. I’m willing to admit I may have misread him, and that what I read wasn’t representative.

    While I haven’t read the article John quoted, I’m not convinced it was just a misreading on John’s part. Take for example the first blockquote in John’s post, taken from Nibley’s article:

    We have suggested that Latter-day Saints might be said to accept certain traditions common to the whole Christian world more wholeheartedly and with less reservation than most Christians do inasmuch as they take as literal what the rest of the world accepts in a rather vague, symbolic, or sentimental sense.

  14. Greg says:

    “I cannot resist noting here that the objection of the pagans to the resurrection is not a physical or a biological but a philosophical one, and it is the very same objection which the Christian world today makes against the Latter-day Saint conception of God [the Father]”

    I inserted the bracketed text. Wouldn’t you concur with this modified assesment?

    The Catholic objection is not a philosophical one. It’s a revelational one. (Is that a word?) In other words, our belief about the nature of God is part of the revelation we have received. It isn’t something that developed after revelation was finished. So I would say that with your modification, I still disagree with the statement.

  15. Greg says:

    Dave: Combining Paulsen and Nibley lead to an intriguing idea, both Father’s and Son’s embodiment came under attack from the same influences, but the Son stayed in tact due to a decision to take the Bible literally in this instance.

    Can you refer me to Paulsen’s article?

    In order for your hypothesis to move beyond speculation, we’d need to see certain things in the sources: evidence that there were Christians who believed both Father and Son have bodies (this could be in the form of an apologetic work defending the belief in the face of rising Apostasy, or a polemic work attacking this belief and helping lead to Apostasy) and evidence that early Christians made arguments why the doctrine regarding the Father should be changed while that of the Son remains (again, in the form of works pro or works con, or both). I’d be interested to see in the sources: who made the decision, why they made it, and how they got the rest of Christianity on board.

    What Nibley is scandalized by, is the fact that Son’s bodily resurection was even questioned.

    Why would this be scandalous? I mean, I think it’s scandalous too that people thought (and still think) that, even within the Church. But what conclusion are we to arrive at by it?

    Let’s take a different example: John mentioned his post on the Pope’s essay on Europe. The Pope railed (as has every pope since Pius IX) against the spiritual sickness of communism. Yet there are Catholics who are communists. Should we conclude that the Church has abandoned its historic opposition to communism?

    Augustine and Jerome are skating on thin ice by believing that the original resurrected bodies transform into noncorporeal spirit.

    Can you cite something for this? The link you provided took me to a page containing the entire book.

    “We have suggested that Latter-day Saints might be said to accept certain traditions common to the whole Christian world more wholeheartedly and with less reservation than most Christians do inasmuch as they take as literal what the rest of the world accepts in a rather vague, symbolic, or sentimental sense.”

    Note this is highly qualified statement that covers a lot of possibilities for Christianity. I think we can start to see the fruits of less than whole-hearted literalism at least on a popular level for non-LDS and non-Catholic Christians. For example see this poll:

    http://www.dispatch.com/news/religion/faith-story.php?story=dispatch/2006/04/07/20060407-D3-02.html

    I’m doing this really quickly, and I didn’t notice I was quoting the same passage a couple comments up that you quote here. If you’ve read the essay itself, perhaps you could clarify this for me. Is Nibley arguing that the widespread lack of belief in a literal resurrection on the part of non-Mormons derives from the Great Apostasy? Is he implying that the present lack of belief has predominated in the Church since at least the time of Augustine, or perhaps earlier? This is the point that I’m objecting to.

    The present widespread lack of belief in a literal resurrection, as I understand, is much more recent. It started in the revolution in thought in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries that rejected supernaturalism and revelation. This sentiment trickled down to the masses in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Coupled with this was a widespread religious indifferentism and anti-clericalism in Western civilization over the same period that led to a secularization of culture. This has resulted in a widespread ignorance of religion in general, not just as regards the doctrine of the resurrection, but also other basics like biblical literacy.

    If Mormons have been preserved from this, it’s probably because of two factors: their past history of relative cultural isolation in the Great Basin, and their present “Mormon culture”. There is no “Presbyterian culture” or “Methodist culture”. As for Catholics, I think it’d be accurate to say that there are a lot of Catholic cultures, not just one. (For example, Irish, Polish, Italian, Mexican, Filipino…)

    It’s this distinctive Mormon culture that I was thinking of when I mentioned (off thread) that Mormons can be intellectually isolated. In the sense that there are a lot of Mormons (but by no means all) whose free time is based around church activities and their social contacts are mostly people from church. I would venture to say that many Mormons’ only contact with Catholic or Protestant beliefs is when it is refuted in LDS publications or from casual conversation with non-LDS acquaintances.

    John: As to your charge there that Latter-day Saints are “intellectually isolated,” I suppose by that you mean that if one reads and enjoys Hugh Nibley, he or she is intellectually isolated (because, obviously, if one is reading Hugh Nibley, he or she is reading nothing else).

    No, I didn’t mean that. But I deleted that sentence from my blog post, since it wasn’t clear what I meant and one could take offence to it.

    As to whether you are intellectually isolated on the topic of Latter-day Saint beliefs or not, I would just ask whether you have read the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants. If not, how can you make a statement either way on the beliefs of Latter-day Saints?

    Yes, I’ve read them. But you make a valid point: how much do we need to read of another group’s literature before we’re qualified (for lack of a better term) to make statements about others’ beliefs? I don’t know the answer to that. A lot, anyway.

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