Christian Platonism is simply the thought and practices of Christians who drew on Plato either deliberately or who drew upon the long tradition of those who had done so. Christian Platonists believed in philosophia perennis, the perennial philosophy of God’s wisdom that was found in many sources including Plato, that often manifested itself as prisca theologia or ancient truth that originated with the patriarchs and had spread through many civilizations. They viewed Jesus as the ultimate locus of Wisdom but believed that Christ’s truth had many precursors and that Jesus had manifested himself many generations prior to his coming. Plato and others could be a reservoir of the Word in the same way the Old Testament was. Christian Platonism had a number of tenets including pre-existence of the soul, deification, utopianism, marriage in heaven, universal or near-universal salvation, post-mortal progression, and marital experimentation. Christian Platonists tended to believe in an animated universe with powers of an unseen world and in the superiority of that unseen world which was usually immaterial. There were many varieties of Christian Platonism, and, as there was no Christian-Platonist church, the varieties differed from person to person. Christian Platonists could embrace some of these tenets while seeing others as heretical or impractical. Early Mormonism embraced all of these tenets except for the notion of spirit over matter, but even the importance of matter gained ascendency in a number of Platonic traditions including Kabbalah. (more…)
Now that I have my dissertation filed, I thought I’d post some parts of the introduction. Here’s the beginning.
“Mormonism is truth, the First Fundamental principal of our holy religion is, that we believe that we have a right to embrace all, and every item of truth, without limitation or without being circumscribed or prohibited by the creeds or superstitious notions of men.” Joseph Smith, letter to Isaac Galland, March 22, 1839.
“Those real sages … who were sick of those arrogant and contentious sects, which required an invariable attachment to their particular systems. And, indeed, nothing could have a more engaging aspect than a set of men, who, abandoning all cavil and all prejudices in favour of any party, professed searching after the truth alone, were ready to adopt, from all the different systems and sects such tenets as they thought agreeable to it.” Johann Lorenz von Mosheim, discussing Alexandrian Platonism in the first centuries C.E. and its influence on Alexandrian Christianity, Ecclesiastical History, 1:138.
“[If the] Presbyterians [have] any truth, embrace that. Baptist. Methodist &c. get all the good in the world, [and] come out a pure Mormon.” Joseph Smith, sermon, July 23, 1843.
“These sages were of opinion that true philosophy, the greatest and most salutary gift of God to mortals was scattered in various portions through all the different sects; and it was, consequently, the duty of every wise man, and more especially of every Christian doctor to gather it from the several corners where it lay dispersed.” Mosheim discussing early Alexandrian Christians including Clement of Alexandria, Ecclesiastical History, 1:139.
“I cannot believe in any of the creeds of the different denominations, because they all have some things in them I cannot subscribe to though all of them have some thruth [sic]. but I want to come up into the presence of God & learn all things but the creeds set up stakes, & say hitherto shalt thou come, & no further.—which I cannot subscribe to.” Joseph Smith, sermon, October 15, 1843.
“They were to raise above all terrestrial things, by the towering efforts of holy contemplation, those souls whose origin was celestial and divine … that thus, in this life, they might enjoy communion with the Supreme Being, and ascend after death, active and unencumbered, to the universal Parent, to live in his presence for ever.” Mosheim, discussing Alexandrian Christian Platonist Ammonius Saccus and his Neoplatonic followers, Ecclesiastical History, 1:142.
Comparing statements from Joseph Smith to the views of early Christian Platonists in Alexandria, particularly one named Ammonius Saccas (c. 175-250), as discussed in Mosheim’s Ecclesiastical History, a popular book that Smith likely owned, highlights important themes in this dissertation. Smith, like the early Christian Platonists described by Mosheim, said that he sought the truth from eclectic sources and also stated his motivation for such a quest: to come into the presence of God. (more…)
Sorry for the hiatus. Let’s get to the links from the past week!
In 1843, Joseph Smith taught, “If a man gets the fulness of God, he has to get [it] in the same way that Jesus Christ obtain[ed] it & that was by keeping all the ordinances of the house of the Lord.” Here Smith suggested that Jesus had undergone the same rites that would be performed in the Nauvoo Temple. Again, Morton Smith and others have argued that Jesus did perform some kind of higher rite and that such continued to be performed, particularly in late second-century Alexandria. Such a rite likely had elements in common with rites described in Judeo-Christian apocalypses, mysteries (particularly Eleusis), and Platonism, and pieces of the rite may have had echoes in parts of the Catholic liturgy (particularly baptism) and theurgy. So if Joseph Smith attempted to piece together this lost rite based on all these elements (apocalypses, mysteries, Plato, Catholic rites, and theurgy), he would have been on the right track.
 June 11, 1843, Words of Joseph Smith, 212.
 A forthcoming dissertation claims that the endowment had these elements.
Here I continue this series that discusses the possibility of a higher rite of initiation in early Christianity that may have had similarities to the apocalypses, the mysteries, and perhaps some Plato. Clement of Alexandria gave a number of hints in these directions. Alexandria also gave rise to Neoplatonism and Christian Platonists and Neoplatonists were often in the same circles. For instance, Plotinus, considered the founder of Neoplatonism, had the same tutor as Origen, a man named Ammonius Saccas. Furthermore, the Neoplatonists would begin to practice their own secret deifying rite: theurgy. Dominic O’Meara defines theurgy as “a process for making man god.” (more…)
Ben S.’s post at Times and Seasons about expanding the missionary library and the subsequent discussion made me wonder what other missions were like in terms of what kinds of texts were available. I ask because there wasn’t a whole lot available in my mission beyond the mission library. The Work and the Glory was somewhat popular but even that was eventually discouraged by the mission president. I heard about Nibley but I wasn’t aware of any missionaries reading him. Some Skousen made the rounds (tapes and books). Extra reading material seemed to consist of Mormon Doctrine and Lectures on Faith and a few pamphlets. Those who wanted to do extra study would study that stuff. To make it through Talmage was considered a bit of a feat. Truman Madsen’s Joseph Smith lectures didn’t even circulate on my mission.
I did like to study but focussed on the scripture and Talmage. I wasn’t too impressed with the Skousen that I got ahold of and I developed the opinion that a lot of the “extra” stuff was problematic (I viewed McConkie in the same light). My favorite area in terms of reading was my last. The missionaries had converted a Jehovah’s Witness and he gave them his library of stuff, about 10 books. I really liked learning about other religions, so that was fun. Also in that area, we tracked into a Muslim who gave us a book explaining Islam. I really liked that. Other than some books my folks sent me for refuting anti-Mormon augments, not much else.
So what did you read on your mission and what was the culture like for passing around texts? What kinds of texts circulated? If you read a lot of extra stuff, how did you get a hold of it?
My apologies to my blogger mates for a post that has nothing to do with Mormon history, but all the talk about missionaries coming home for psychological stuff and mission stories sort of made me want to share this.
My depression problem kicked in at the beginning of my junior year of high school. I first started noticing it at church (though I didn’t think of it as depression at the time). I would get very sad and I didn’t know why. So as I would walk home from church I would try to figure out why I was sad and examine my life to see what was wrong with it. Doing so I figured that various trivial things were really very important which made me more and more sad. Over the months I went into a downward spiral. After school every day I would hide in the bathroom and cry for about an hour (I tried my best to keep all this hidden, boys crying? shameful!). It got worse and worse and I became more and more fixated on suicide. (more…)
The latest issue of the Journal of Mormon History arrived in subscribers’ mailboxes recently. Here’s a brief rundown of the articles:
- “The Curious Case of Joseph Howard, Palmyra’s Seventeen-Year-Old Somnium Preacher,” by Noel A. Carmack
- Carmack compares Joseph Smith’s method of translation through seer stones with two New York “somnium preachers,” Rachel Baker and Joseph Howard, who delivered devotional and theological messages while appearing to be asleep or entranced. Carmack argues that Baker and Howard provided a context within which to place JS’s “subconscious religious exhortations taken down by dictation–one of which occurred only blocks away from the reflective, developing boy prophet.”
- “The Upper-Room Work: Esotericism in the Church of Jesus Christ (Cutlerite), 1853-1912,” by Christopher James Blythe
- Blythe continues his ongoing investigation of Cutlerite history with an investigation of the role of esotericism (basically, the practice of “secret” rituals) in the development and persistence of Culterite identity in the face of competition from RLDS and other Restoration groups. (more…)
Just a quick note to turn your attention to two fine documentary articles published in the latest issue of BYU Studies Quarterly:
The secret ritual that Jesus used to initiate his followers, argues Morton Smith, may have been “limited to a few, shut away from the rest by special requirements, and at last quietly forgotten.” Both Morton Smith and Scott Brown argue that Clement of Alexandria may have taken Secret Mark with him when he fled Alexandria during the Severus persecution of 200 CE. Origen who was a teenager at the time of the persecution and who may have been Clement’s pupil, says nothing of Secret Mark and had a very different notion of the secret tradition than did Clement. For Origen, the secret teachings were found hidden in the scriptures—one just had to know how to find them—rather then being a secret initiation. Since Origen was a teenager when Clement left, he likely would have been too young to be initiated before Clement left, and if Clement took the letter with him, perhaps the higher initiation was no longer performed in Alexandria after Clement left. (more…)
Our friends at BYU’s Department of Church History and Doctrine are looking for another recruit. Full information and application here. Relevant details can be found below.
Position Title: Faculty Church History & Doctrine
Beginning Date: Fall 2015
Qualifications: PhD or equivalent degree completed prior to application from an accredited institution of higher learning, preferably in history, religious studies, or other related field; Special emphasis on ability to teach and research mid-to-late nineteenth and twentieth century Church history; show evidence of training and skill in research and scholarly writing, preferably with a record of peer-reviewed publications in high quality academic venues; show evidence of ability to teach Doctrine and Covenants and Latter-day Saint history (CES courses); previous university-level teaching experience; be a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and observe standards of conduct consistent with qualifying for temple privileges.
Duties/Responsibilities: Teach assigned classes in Church History & Doctrine, especially the Doctrine and Covenants (8-10 credit hours per semester, 4 credit hours per spring or summer term). Classroom instructions must be both intellectually rigorous and spiritually strengthening and consistent with acceptable academic standards. Mentor students; serve on university, college, and/or department committees or other assignments in professional or academic associations. Be a contributing and collegial team player. Continually engage in scholarly research and writing, as evidenced by regular publishing in high quality top-tier venues.
Special Instructions to Applicants: Please complete an online faculty application and attach a cover letter, current curriculum vitae, two article-length writing samples (either previously published or accepted for publication), contact information for at least three professional references, and two statements (no more than 500 words each) describing: (1) your research agenda, and (2) your philosophy regarding the integration of faith and reason in your scholarship and teaching. (President Spencer W. Kimball charged BYU professors to “become ‘bilingual’ in speaking the language of scholarship and the language of the spirit.” Your second statement should explain the role of faith and reason in your own academic experience and outline how you plan to integrate the “language of the Spirit” and the “language of scholarship” in your role as a BYU religion professor.)
Deadline: August 31, 2014
The apostles, said Origen “saw better than Plato … what things were to be committed to writing, and how this was to be done, and what was by no means to be written to the multitude, and what was to be expressed in words, and what was not to be so conveyed.” With this statement, Origen seemed to suggest that Christ’s secret teachings had things in common with Platonism. Platonism was linked to both the apocalypses and the mysteries. Martha Himmelfarb describes 2 Enoch’s creation description as “a blend of biblical creation and popular Platonism.” Of the apocalypses, John Turner says, “One can scarcely think of a more apt Jewish equivalent to Plato’s description of the intense light of the ultimate Goodness and Beauty awaiting anyone who would risk the ascent out of the cave of illusion.” (more…)
This article is a few months old, but the recently founded Polynesian Football Hall of Fame has found a home at the Polynesian Cultural Center (PCC) in Hawai’i. “PFHF honors the sport’s greatest players, coaches and contributors from Polynesia.” This is an interesting development considering the history of the PCC and Mormonism throughout the region.
Primarily targeted at pioneer stock Mormons, this microsite “is FamilySearch’s attempt at comparing the list of pioneer companies to those listed in your Family Tree. We recognize that it may not be comprehensive or completely accurate historically. We hope you enjoy this information.” I’ve included a screen grab of my results for those who likely won’t have many connections:
The secret tradition may have been connected to Judeo-Christian apocalypses and the rites described in those texts, but Clement’s Letter to Theodore made numerous allusions to Greek mystery rites, the Eleusinian mysteries in particular. There were a number of Greek mystery cults that allowed individual to be initiated in the hopes of attaining a better afterlife, the most famous of which was at Eleusis a few miles from Athens. In the fall, Greeks could perform rites at Eleusis that, according to Cicero, taught people “how to live in joy, and how to die with better hopes.” (more…)
Happy Pioneer Day, readers! Thank you for your patience with us lately — we know things have been slow around here (they tend to get that way during the summer), but we have some exciting things planned moving forward and hope you’ll keep checking in, reading, and commenting moving forward.
In recognition of Pioneer Day, I’ve culled from the Juvenile Instructor’s archives links to several previous posts treating Mormon Pioneers in one sense or another. In hopes that they’ll prove interesting to those who missed them the first time around (and to those, like me, interested in revisiting them), here we go: (more…)
For your Sunday perusal:
Our own Amanda Hendrix-Komoto writes about the excommunication of Kate Kelly (and Mormon feminism?) on the Nursing Clio blog.
Pauline Kelly Harline writes about female Mormon bloggers and the long tradition of writing that exists in Mormon culture.
Joseph Spencer recaps the Mormon Theology Symposium that recently wrapped up in London here.
A whole host of qualified people (including JI-ers Andrea Radke-Moss and Rachael Givens) weigh in on the question of equality, gender, and priesthood here on a panel at Patheos.
Is the Mormon moment finally over? Find out here.
On the complexities of Mormon identities, being a gay Mormon, and going from being a missionary to playing one on a stage.
On the intersection of politics and religion when it comes to popular opinion.
Emmeline Wells is highlighted by the National Women’s History Museum here.
The Deseret News reports on the third new temple film to come into rotation in the span of twelve or so months.
And finally, the Annual Summer Seminar on Mormon Culture is holding its symposium on July 22, 23, and 25. The program can be found here. In the neighborhood? Come listen to Natalie Rose on Tuesday!
Anything we missed? Leave your contributions in the comments!
Morton Smith argued that secret Mark suggested an initiation ritual that was an ascent to heaven and that Jesus had undergone the same process. Knowing exactly what secret things Jesus might have done is highly speculative, but there is evidence for some kind of secret teaching or ritual in early Christianity. Smith argued that the context for the ascent were the Enochian apocalypses particularly 1 and 2 Enoch in which Enoch ascends to heaven and in 2 Enoch he becomes an angel. 1 and 2 Enoch also described Enoch undergoing a heavenly temple liturgy. Says 2 Enoch,
And the Lord said to Michael: Go and take Enoch from out of his earthly garments, and anoint him with my sweet ointment, and put him into the garments of My glory. And Michael did thus, as the Lord told him. He anointed me, and dressed me, and the appearance of that ointment is more than the great light, and his ointment is like sweet dew, and its smell mild, shining like the sun’s ray, and I looked at myself, and I was like one of his glorious ones.
After this transformation, God then tells Enoch, “Hear, Enoch, and take in these my words, for not to My angels have I told my secret, and I have not told them their rise, nor my endless realm, nor have they understood my creating, which I tell you today.” God then proceeds to show Enoch the creation.
We’re pleased to announce the Fifth Biennial Faith & Knowledge Conference, to be held at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville on February 27 and 28, 2015, and to post the Call for Papers below. Please note that, unlike previous years, the conference is now officially open to LDS graduate students and early career scholars in religious studies and related academic disciplines interested in the intersections of scholarship and religious faith. Three members of this year’s committee (Rachael Givens Johnson, Joseph Stuart, and Christopher Jones) are all bloggers here at the Juvenile Instructor; please contact us if you have any questions.
THE FIFTH BIENNIAL FAITH AND KNOWLEDGE CONFERENCE
University of Virginia
February 27-28, 2015 (more…)
The stirring conclusion of our conversation with Dan Belnap on ritual in Mormon Studies. For those new to the conversation, refer to Part 1.
One of the challenges faced by theorists of practice and ritual is defining precisely what these categories are and what they encompass. Do you have any opinions on the scope of Mormon ritual studies or, for that matter, on the boundaries of Mormon liturgy?