Lorenzo Snow couplet theology

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Lorenzo Snow, the fifth president and prophet of the mainstream sect of Mormonism, is famous both in and outside of Mormonism for his couplet:

"As man is God once was, as God is man may be."

This short sentence summarizes the traditional understanding of what Joseph Smith taught in the "Sermon in the Grove"[1] and, most famously, in the "King Follett Discourse"[2].

Snow's sister notes that:

"Being present at a 'Blessing Meeting,' in the Temple, previous to his baptism into the Church; after listening to several patriarchal blessings pronounced upon the heads of different individuals with whose history he was acquainted, and of whom he knew the Patriarch was entirely ignorant; he was struck with astonishment to hear the peculiarities of those persons positively and plainly referred to in their blessings. And, as he afterwards expressed, he was convinced that an influence, superior to human prescience, dictated the words of the one who officiated.
"The Patriarch was the father of Joseph, the Prophet. That was the first time Lorenzo had met him. After the services, they were introduced, and Father Smith said to my brother that he would soon be convinced of the truth of the latter-day work, and be baptized; and he said: ‘You will become as great as you can possibly wish—EVEN AS GREAT AS GOD, and you cannot wish to be greater.’ " (Eliza R. Snow, Biography and Family Record of Lorenzo Snow, Salt Lake City: Deseret News Co., 1884, pp. 9–10.)

This theology became foundational to early, post-Nauvoo Mormon theology. Indeed, Smith claimed in the King Follett Discourse that:

"It is the first principle of the gospel to know for a certainty the character of God, and to know that we may converse with Him as one man converses with another, and that He was once a man like us; yea, that God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ Himself did... Here, then, is eternal life: to know the only wise and true God; and you have got to learn how to be Gods yourselves, and to be kings and priests to God, the same as all Gods have done before you-namely, by going from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great one; from grace to grace, from exaltation to exaltation, until you attain to the resurrection of the dead, and are able to dwell in everlasting burnings, and to sit in glory, as do those who sit enthroned in everlasting power." (emphasis added)[3]

Modern Mormonism has truncated that which what Smith considered "the first principle of the gospel" and obfuscated what he considered "eternal life". It is not uncommon to hear a Mormon say about the theology of either half of the Lorenzo Snow couplet (especially the first): "I don't know, and I don't care, because it isn't relevant to my salvation."

Preferring more palatable and generalized language than what Joseph Smith and historic Mormon authorities have used, modern Mormons speak of the doctrine of the second half of the couplet using such phrases as:

The same can be said for the first half of the couplet. Today, God the Father is sometimes spoken of as a "glorified and exalted Man"[4], but the forthrightness earlier used has been abandoned.

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[edit] Is it doctrinal?

Since the very idea and language of "canon" and "doctrine" is problematic in Mormonism, plagued with multiple definitions and rhetorical flexibility, it is best instead to ask: Was Lorenzo Show couplet theology authoritatively taught? Has it historically been accepted as authoritative teaching? Does it have continued life in Mormonism? Has it ever been authoritatively repudiated? Does it still find expression in Church-published literature and curriculum?

"[T]his doctrine is accepted and taught by the Brethren... It is clear that the teaching of President Lorenzo Snow is both acceptable and accepted doctrine in the Church today." -Hoyt W. Brewster Jr. (now serving as an LDS Seventy), "I Have a Question," Ensign, Feb. 1982, 38 [5]
"Each one of you has it within the realm of his possibility to develop a kingdom over which you will preside as its king and god. You will need to develop yourself and grow in ability and power and worthiness, to govern such a world with all of its people." (Spencer W. Kimball, “. . . the Matter of Marriage” [address delivered at University of Utah Institute of Religion, 22 Oct. 1976], 2. Quoted in Doctrines of the Gospel Institute manual).
"I bear you my witness that God the Father lives, a glorified and exalted Man. He is the Father of our spirits. He and His Beloved Son, both resurrected and glorified, appeared to the boy Joseph Smith in a grove of trees in New York." Henry B. Eyring (Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles), "Gifts of the Spirit for Hard Times". CES Fireside for Young Adults. September 10, 2006.[6]

In a 1994 Ensign article, Gordon B. Hinckley wrote:

"On the other hand, the whole design of the gospel is to lead us onward and upward to greater achievement, even, eventually, to godhood. This great possibility was enunciated by the Prophet Joseph Smith in the King Follet sermon (see Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp. 342-62; and emphasized by President Lorenzo Snow. It is this grand and incomparable concept: As God now is, man may become! (See The Teachings of Lorenzo Snow, comp. Clyde J. Williams, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1984, p. 1.)
"Our enemies have criticized us for believing in this. Our reply is that this lofty concept in no way diminishes God the Eternal Father. He is the Almighty. He is the Creator and Governor of the universe. He is the greatest of all and will always be so. But just as any earthly father wishes for his sons and daughters every success in life, so I believe our Father in Heaven wishes for his children that they might approach him in stature and stand beside him resplendent in godly strength and wisdom."[7]

Gospel Principles, a book the Mormon Church actively uses as curriculum, reads as follows:

"Those who receive exaltation in the celestial kingdom through faith in Jesus Christ will receive special blessings. The Lord has promised, "All things are theirs" (D&C 76:59). These are some of the blessings given to exalted people:

1. They will live eternally in the presence of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ (see D&C 76).
2. They will become gods.
3. They will have their righteous family members with them and will be able to have spirit children also. These spirit children will have the same relationship to them as we do to our Heavenly Father. They will be an eternal family.
4. They will receive a fulness of joy.
5. They will have everything that our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ have--all power, glory, dominion, and knowledge. President Joseph Fielding Smith wrote: "The Father has promised through the Son that all that he has shall be given to those who are obedient to his commandments. They shall increase in knowledge, wisdom, and power, going from grace to grace, until the fulness of the perfect day shall burst upon them" (Doctrines of Salvation, 2:36).[8]

The currently used, correlated and church-published manual Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young contains the following:

"The doctrine that God was once a man and has progressed to become a God is unique to this Church. How do you feel, knowing that God, through His own experience, 'knows all that we know regarding the toils [and] sufferings' of mortality?"[9]

[edit] Modern equivocation

[edit] Gordon B. Hinckley's public equivocations

President Gordon B. Hinckley with Don Lattin, the San Francisco Chronicle religion writer. The article was dated Sunday, April 13, 1997 [10]:

Q: There are some significant differences in your beliefs. For instance, don't Mormons believe that God was once a man?
A: I wouldn't say that. There was a couplet coined, "As man is, God once was. As God is, man may become." Now that's more of a couplet than anything else. That gets into some pretty deep theology that we don't know very much about.

Time magazine of August 4, 1997, in an article titled "Kingdom Come," page 56 [11]:

Q: Just another related question that comes up is the statements in the King Follet discourse by the Prophet.
A: Yeah
Q: ... about that, God the Father was once a man as we were. This is something that Christian writers are always addressing. Is this the teaching of the church today, that God the Father was once a man like we are?
A: I don’t know that we teach it. I don’t know that we emphasize it. I haven’t heard it discussed for a long time in public discourse. I don’t know. I don’t know all the circumstances under which that statement was made. I understand the philosophical background behind it. But I don’t know a lot about it and I don’t know that others know a lot about it.
See main article: Gordon B. Hinckley interviews

[edit] Modern hedging[12]

When asked about this issue of theology, many Mormons will give responses like:

When pressed, one finds either that the Mormon has a position but wishes not to disclose it, or is simply disinterested in taking any position on the issue at all.

[edit] Modern retraction (developed by Blake Ostler)

There are some, albeit very few, Mormons who believe that God the Father was always God as he is now. The most notable and influential proponent of this position is Blake Ostler. His position is that, "While God, the Father of Jesus, did condescend to become a mortal on one of the innumerable previous inhabited planets, he is the ultimate Celestial Monarch and has no 'Eternal Father' of his own. Further, Blake holds that the Father was not a Savior to the world to which he condescended."[13] Essentially, Ostler believes that God was not first a man and then became a God. Instead, he believes that God has been God from all eternity, but that the Father became incarnate just as the Son did. "... the Father was divine before his mortal sojourn and underwent a form of kenosis or emptying of himself of the divine status for a time just as did Christ." [14] Ostler relies heavily on Smith's statement that "God was once a man like us; yea, that God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ himself did..." [15] This interpretation involves a significant misreading of Joseph Smith's King Follet Discourse and Sermon in the Grove[16], as Smith was clear on the matter:

"If Jesus Christ was the Son of God, and John discovered that God the Father of Jesus Christ had a Father, you may suppose that He had a Father also. Where was there ever a son without a father? And where was there ever a father without first being a son? Whenever did a tree or anything spring into existence without a progenitor? And everything comes in this way. Paul says that which is earthly is in the likeness of that which is heavenly, Hence if Jesus had a Father, can we not believe that He had a Father also? I despise the idea of being scared to death at such a doctrine, for the Bible is full of it."

Those who hold to the neo-orthodox position hold that how the Lorenzo Snow couplet has traditionally been understood is in some important senses wrong. God was not once as we are now inasmuch as that means he was at one point, like us, never a god, but then progressed and proved this worthiness unto exaltation and godhood. Likewise, man will not be as God is, inasmuch as that means that God the Father became a god by submitting to his god. We will become gods, but never as God the Father is, since he has always been God, has no father-god himself, and is the ultimate father-god of all gods.

In opposition to Blake's position, Geoff Johnston writes:

"The notion that God came to be God is certainly the understanding that Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Eliza R. Snow, Lorenzo Snow, and seemingly all of [Joseph Smith's] companions in church leadership shared. For Blake’s position to be accepted, we have to accept that this was a colossal misunderstanding and that none of the top leaders of the church bothered to confirm what the prophet actually meant in the nearly three months after this astonishing sermon was given."[17]

[edit] The doctrine and church-published literature

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[edit] Was the Father a redeemer on a previous world?

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"All that Father Adam did upon this earth, from the time that he took up his abode in the Garden of Eden, was done for his posterity's sake and the success of his former mission as the savior of a world." Joseph E. Taylor, 1888[18]

[edit] Did Elohim sin in the past?

"We are precisely in the same condition and under the same circumstances that God our Heavenly Father was when he was passing through this, or a similar ordeal." - Joseph F. Smith[19]

The Mormon hierarchy takes no official position on whether or not God the Father once sinned before being resurrected and exalted unto godhood. It is open for members to believe or disbelieve. Since LDS leaders continue to teach that God the Father was resurrected and exalted, one of three positions by Mormons are usually taken or held to be possible:

  1. God the Father died and was resurrected because he was a fallen and sinful human being. He at some point repented and proved his worthiness unto exaltation and godhood.
  2. Since God the Father played a savior-type role (citing John 5:19) his death and resurrection were because of his sacrificial mediation (i.e. he did not die because of his own sins).[20]
  3. God the Father died and was resurrected, but it is possible this happened for entirely different reasons than are assumed the case here on this world. God the Father may not have been a savior, and on other worlds death may not be a consequence for the fallenness or sinfulness of humanity.

Some Mormons are open to believing either way, lean toward one view, but don't feel they can be confident about taking a position with certainty yet:

"If you take note, it is not the same as man, but the same as Jesus Christ. We believe that Jesus Christ was sinless. If God the Father dwelt on earth the same as Jesus Christ, then God the Father's earthly ministry was also a sinless one. I am not proclaiming that it is LDS doctrine that God the Father once served as a savior to previous generation of spirit children, his brothers and sisters. I am not saying that it is completely impossible that God was a mortal man who sinned and made mistakes before his exaltation. I am simply saying that the doctrine does not necessarily indicate that God sinned at some point."[21]

Others find it very probable that the first position is the case:

"My opinion is yes, not only is what you suggested [that God the Father sinned] possible, I think we have to believe it probably. For, if we do not assume that, we must assume that we'll never become gods ourselves. Sure, someone like Jesus will become a God and never have sinned, etc. But according to the Church's soteriology, you and I are also seeking to become a god. Thus, Jesus would be the exception. Most deities would be people who lived mortal probations and then became gods through relying upon an atonement of a messiah provided them by their messiah." - Alonzo L. Gaskill, BYU Assistant Professor of Church History and Doctrine (1/24/2007, e-mail dialogue with Aaron Shafovaloff)

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[edit] Is there an eternal regression of gods?

Those who hold to the traditional view of God the Father's origin usually believe, as Brigham Young taught, in an eternal regression of gods.

"But if God the Father was not always God, but came to his present exalted position by degrees of progress as indicated in the teachings of the prophet, how has there been a God from all eternity? The answer is that there has been and there now exists an endless line of Gods, stretching back into the eternities, that had no beginning and will have no end. Their existence runs parallel with endless duration, and their dominions are as limitless as boundless space." - B. H. Roberts, New Witnesses for God, 3 vols., 1:, p.476

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[edit] Can we become gods as God the Father is a god?

"Then will they become Gods, even the sons of God; then will they become eternal fathers, eternal mothers, eternal sons and eternal daughters; being eternal in their organization they go from glory to glory, from power to power; they will never cease to increase and to multiply, worlds without end. When they receive their crowns, their dominions, they then will be prepared to frame earths like unto ours and to people them in the same manner as we have been brought forth by our parents, by our Father and God." - Brigham Young[22]
"Mortal persons who overcome all things and gain an ultimate exaltation will live eternally in the family unit and have spirit children, thus becoming Eternal Fathers and Eternal Mothers. (D. & C. 132:19-32.) Indeed, the formal pronouncement of the Church, issued by the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve, states: "So far as the stages of eternal progression and attainment have been made known through divine revelation, we are to understand that only resurrected and glorified beings can become parents of spirit offspring." (Man: His Origin and Destiny, p. 129.)" - Bruce R. McConkie[23]
"So far as the stages of eternal progression and attainment have been made known through divine revelation, we are to understand that only resurrected and glorified beings can become parents of spirit offspring. Only such exalted souls have reached maturity in the appointed course of eternal life; and the spirits born to them in the eternal worlds will pass in due sequence through the sever al stages or estates by which the glorified parents have attained exaltation." (A Doctrinal Exposition by the First Presidency [Joseph F. Smith, Anthon H. Lund, Charles W. Penrose] and the Twelve, “The Father and the Son,” Improvement Era, June 1916. Quoted in Achieving a Celestial Marriage Student Manual, p. 129-132)[24]

[edit] Quotes


[edit] Notes

  1. Text available online here: http://www.newcoolthang.com/index.php/joseph-smiths-sermon-in-the-grove/
  2. Text available online at LDS.org here: Part 1, Part 2. Paraellel account of known texts of th discourse available here: http://www.boap.org/LDS/Parallel/1844/7Apr44.html
  3. Joseph Smith, "The King Follett Discourse". Delivered by Joseph Smith, on April 7th 1944, at the funeral for King Follet:
  4. Henry B. Eyring, "Gifts of the Spirit for Hard Times". Fireside address given on September 10th, 2006. Available online: http://speeches.byu.edu/reader/reader.php?id=11468
  5. Gerald Lund, "I Have a Question," Ensign, Feb. 1982, 38. Under the section entitled, "Is President Lorenzo Snow’s oft-repeated statement—'As man now is, God once was; as God now is, man may be'—accepted as official doctrine by the Church?." Available online here.
  6. URL: http://lds.org/broadcast/ces/CESFiresideEyring00941000.pdf
  7. Gordon B. Hinckley, “Don’t Drop the Ball,” Ensign, Nov 1994, 46
  8. Gospel Principles, chapter 47. Available online here: http://www.lds.org/library/display/0,4945,11-1-13-59,00.html
  9. "Chapter 4: Knowing and Honoring the Godhead," Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, 29. Available online here.
  10. http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/1997/04/13/SC36289.DTL&type=printable
  11. http://www.lds-mormon.com/time.shtml
  12. Dictionary.com defines hedging as: "to avoid a rigid commitment by qualifying or modifying a position so as to permit withdrawal". URL: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/hedging
  13. Geoff J, "Yes, God the Father does have a Father". URL: http://www.newcoolthang.com/index.php/2006/05/the-father-has-a-father/253/
  14. Osterl, Exploring Mormon Thought: The Attributes of God, p. 79
  15. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 346
  16. See History of the Church, Vol. 6, p. 473-479. See also Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp. 369-376. Available online here and here.
  17. Geoff Johnston in "Did God "come to be God" or not?. Available here.
  18. From a discourse given in the Logan temple in 1888 by Joseph E. Taylor, a counselor in the Salt Lake Stake presidency. See Brian Stuy's Collected Discourses, Volume 1.
  19. Gospel Doctrine: Sermons and Writings of Joseph F. Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret, 1986), 64.
  20. Also appealed to is the Lectures on Faith, wherein "the Prophet Joseph makes it clear that one cannot have 'faith unto salvation/ if one cannot trust that God is perfect and free from all error and sin." (W. John Walsh) The Lectures on Faith, however, were decanonized and contain many teachings more consistent with traditional theism. It is anachronistic to appeal to them for support of post-Nauvoo Mormon theology, since they were written and taught at a time when Mormonism had not yet abandoned traditional monotheism.
  21. http://theboard.byu.edu/index.php?area=viewall&id=20391
  22. Journal of Discourses, 26 vols., 18:, p.259 - 260. URL: http://www.journalofdiscourses.org/Vol_18/JD18-257.html
  23. Mormon Doctrine, 2d ed., p.517
  24. See: http://www.schoolofabraham.com/fatherandson.htm
  25. [1]
  26. [2]
  27. Available here and here.
  28. Available here.
  29. Milton R. Hunter, Conference Report, October 1948, First Day—Morning Meeting. Available online here.
  30. Truman G. Madsen (BYU professor), Eternal Man, p.56. Available online here.
  31. Milton R. Hunter, The Gospel through the Ages (1946 Melchizedek priesthood curriculum), p. 104. Available online here.
  32. http://gospelink.com/library/document/1714?highlight=3#

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

[edit] Non-Mormon

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