This speech was not my idea, and that's a good thing, because if it was my idea, my talk would be very stiff. I'm supposed to talk about something I've already talked about before, and that I refuse to do. Also, I see the sponsors have stretched the time out to an hour and a half, in a futile attempt to slow me down. That won't succeed. Don't think I don't try to slow down, but things just come out chaotically, in all directions. If I'd talked on this subject before, I would be interested in talking about it now, and yet you'll excuse me if you recognize a lot of old, familiar territory on the "terrible questions."
Last week I received two letters that introduce us very well to the "terrible questions." One was from a gentleman in Colorado, a long, long, extremely indignant letter with ninety-eight questions. He labored very hard on the letter, copies of which he has sent to the First Presidency and all members of the Council of the Twelve, challenging them to answer him.
He places the questions in various categories. And if the Brethren don't answer these, he writes, it shows that the Mormon Church has no quality at all. "Don't you have any officials that answer these questions?"
He doesn't realize that he has put his finger on one of the greatest strengths of the Church: We don't have a professional clergy—a paid ministry that gives official interpretations of the scriptures—as we've always said we don't. There's no office in the Church that qualifies the holder to give the official interpretation of the Church. We're to read the scriptures for ourselves, as guided by the Spirit. Joseph Smith himself often disagreed with various of his brethren on different points, yet he never cracked down on them, saying they'd better change this or that, or else. He disagreed with Parley P. Pratt on a number of things, and also with Brigham Young on various things. Brigham said that Joseph didn't know a thing about business.
Joseph rebuked Parley P. Pratt for things said in the newspaper Parley was editing, but he didn't remove him from the editorship. "The paper is not interesting enough. You're not putting the right things in it." Still he left it entirely up Parley what to do. This has always been the policy in the Church—a lot of degree of differences. It should not worry us.
In questions on epistomology our correspondent asks fifty-four questions. For example, "If God is a junior god in the universe, and there are more senior gods, why shouldn't I put my faith in a senior god?"
Next are questions on ontology, the nature of being. For example, "How is Mormonism different metaphysically from ancient pagan concepts?" (We could write a long book on that question!) "What about autonomy of the human will, and free agency?"
Then come eighteen questions on ethics, or "ethica," as he calls it. "How would you respond to Gordon Clark and his Religion, Reason, and Revelation, that such a thing as free will cannot save your God from being responsible?"
The author of the ninety-eight questions concludes with: "And I will be looking for the 'official' response to these questions." I won't read my responses, though I do tell him in answer to his book-length letter that I've already treated many of these questions in things I've published, which I recommend to him. "There is much more," I concluded, "for as certain primitive Christians remark during the preliminaries of the glorious Nicene Council, it's a question of which is more miraculous, to make a stone speak or a theologian shut up?"1
Theologians can talk about these things until the cows come home. It is inexhaustible; they keep themselves in work forever talking about these things. If you visit a divinity school, that's what you hear.
The other letter is equally profound. It comes from a worried inmate at the Point of the Mountain (the Utah State Penitentiary), who has been having some talks with Mark Hoffman in the exercise yard of the prison. Hoffman is out to demolish this man's testimony. You'd think the smart Mark Hoffman, with all his resources and his know-how, would be able to come up with something better than three questions which "absolutely demolish Joseph Smith": the Kinderhook Plates, no horse bones found in South America, and Adam-God—the old anti-Mormon chestnuts. I'm sending the inmate some things on these topics.
You do see how feeble the approaches of these attacks are, how irrelevant. What does any of this have to do with the eternities, with eternal life? What does any of this have to do with anything that interests me at all? There is only one question, the sole question for religion, the only reason for religion existing at all. Religion alone is supposed to answer it, and if religion can't, then religion can't do anything—let us forget religion. I don't worry about tomorrow's football scores; I don't worry about all these questions concerning the nature of God. We have at Brigham Young University literally thousands of volumes of theological discussions on these questions down through the centuries.
If these questions were the right ones, it would take but two minutes to answer them. Why the thousands of volumes? Why can't they come up with answers? Are they evading the question? Yes, they are. They only talk all around it.
There is only one justification for religion, one sole question, so let us not talk about the endless, abstract problems (for example, the nature of God) that obsessed the church Fathers, who always come out the same door wherein they entered.2 It's presumptuous, even wicked, to investigate the nature of God; he is so totally different from us, you can't discuss him at all. So they write hundreds of volumes on the subject. Chrysostom is a good example: he wrote seventeen volumes on the nature of God, after saying it was a crime even to mention the subject.
In the hereafter, what difference will these questions make? The real question, of course, is, Is this all there is? This is what everybody wants to know, the only question that bothers us. If you can answer that definitely, then our troubles are over; there is nothing left to worry about. The person who leads a happy life approaches that question, and it's a question being asked today, in a poignant manner. "Must life end so soon?" the happy person asks. "I've barely started with life. With all this ability, are we going to just cut life off? Why does it have to stop here?" And if you've led a miserable life, you have the same question: "I've not even had a chance yet, and you're going to cut it off here? Don't I get a break? Can't I have a year more or so?" Of course that's the theme of much drama—of Faust, of The Devil and Daniel Webster: Give me a chance, an extension.
It's the answer to that question that satisfies us, and everything else we can forget about. Who cares about how politics turn out? Or the economy? Or even the military threat? We're going to die anyway, what difference do any of these things make? Religion exists to answer that question, none others. Of course there are side issues—for example, the study of God. But why study him? He is the only one who has the knowledge and power to guarantee that we will go on. But if we exist only to drop into a sea of Nirvana, a sea of nothing—if we are to vanish entirely, we don't care whether there's one god or thousands; whether he's fierce and ferocious, or kind and loving. It makes no difference to you at all; you won't be there. You won't be anything. Yet this is what people commonly believe.
Brigham Young puts it this way: "The greatest gift that God can bestow upon the children of men [you have to admit] is the gift of eternal life; that is, to give mankind power to preserve their identity—to preserve themselves before the Lord."3 That is what it is.
There's something very much out of kilter in our enormous overkill in our mental capacities. Arthur Henry Wallace used to drive Darwin crazy about becoming bitter over it. Wallace actually did more for evolution than Darwin did, yet he used to needle Darwin with this issue: We have developed our various gifts and capacities and organs and dimensions, etc., as a challenge to survival. When we need a sharp smeller, we develop one; when we need fast legs, we develop them; and so we survive, and the faster we are, the better we survive? All these things are necessary to survival, and we maintain them to the point at which we need them, a point of adequacy. Why on earth did God give us a brain that wasn't necessary for survival at all. Creatures with no mentality at all are very good at surviving, much better than man is, as a matter of fact. Though not particularly bright, they swarm over the earth. And when the climate knocks them out, everybody gets knocked out. (You can't do anything about the dinosaurs, whether it's meteorites4 or something else. There was nothing we could do about the Yellowstone forest fires. When these times come, they come.)
So why all this overkill? Why do we have a thousand times more brain power than we ever needed to survive? It must have developed in a situation in which we did need such power, Wallace said to Darwin. What could that situation have been when we developed such an enormous mental capacity? At least it must be in reserve for something we can really put to use, because we never develop an organ we're not going to have to use. It would atrophy. Maybe that's why our brains have atrophied. Darwin would simply try to explain it away by saying, because that is how things work.
If we are not using our brain, if we don't need a brain, then why have one? And the fact is, no one is using but a small fraction of the brain. The dilemma has been expressed in various poignant ways; we can quote the poets. It is the issue that gets closest to people, the theme of tragedy—the "black night."
Oedipus is the most tragic figure of all tragedies. In Oedipus at Colonus, the chorus asks, What is going to happen to Oedipus? His life is so tragic. He's gone through so much. He's going to die5—which fate is going to happen to all of us. What is so tragic about Oedipus? So we come to the big issue: no one can escape Oedipus' fate.
Brigham Young also said that the great and grand secret of salvation, which we should continually seek to understand through our faithfulness, is the continuation of lives—carrying on, going on. If life is not an ongoing thing, if it's going to be cut off, then who cares?
Today we are doing what Catullus described the Romans as doing, in his famous Fifth Ode: "Vivamus, mea Lesbia, atque amemus" (Let's love and live it up, my darling Lesbia); "rumoresque senum severiorum omnes unius aestimemus assis" (and consider all the severe censures of the moralists around us as not worth one penny, because) "soles occidere et redire possunt" (the sun goes down and the sun comes up again) "nobis cum semel occidit brevis lux" (and once our sun goes down) "nox est perpetua una dormienda" (we have nothing remaining but one long night). Everybody believed that. So, continues Catullus, "Let's get into it. Give me a thousand kisses and a thousand more. Let's live it up and have sex.6 What else is there to look forward to?
Shakespeare takes up the same theme: "The weariest and most loathed worldly life that age, ache, penury, and imprisonment can lay on nature is a paradise to what we fear of death."7 The worst life is better than anything, even death. In Measure for Measure, when Isabella's brother tries to avoid being executed for somebody else, he says, "Ay, but to die, and go we know not where; to lie in cold obstruction, and to rot; this sensible warm motion to become a kneaded clod."8
That's it. What else is there? You can't depict anything worse than death, and you can't escape it. Hence the terrible question, Is there anything more?
Now let us start our story. The situation is best illustrated by a favorite story of mine, the story of the young Clement of Rome. Very probably Clement is the first of the apostolic Fathers. After the New Testament, the oldest Christian writings we have are the seven apostolic Fathers, and the first and oldest of them is First Clement, then Second Clement, Ignatius, etc. This is First Clement.
His autobiography is very interesting. Unlike other early writings, it contains nothing miraculous, no hokum. We could call it the first Christian romance;9 but if it's a romance, it's very autobiographical; everything in it is highly veristic—no miracles, no supernaturalism, but containing the very sort of thing that was happening in the church.
It belongs to the literary genre recognitiones (recognitions), the "recognition type." In the Roman empire at that time, things were very insecure. Things were becoming desperate. At the great public festivals, children would be stolen and sold as slaves, as good business, just as children are often kidnapped today. There's a market for children. So the theme is this: this child is stolen, then is recognized later, when the family members are brought together. Shakespeare uses the theme in Comedy of Errors.10
Clement's parents had been lost at sea, and the family was reunited in Palestine at a council of the Church; they had all joined the Church independently. It's a very happy ending.
The story of Clement is in the first volume of the Patrologia, after the Apostolic Constitutions, because it's presumably the first Christian writing we have after the New Testament. This is what Clement, residing in Rome, says: "Ego Clemens in urbe Roma natus, ex prima aetate pudicitiae studium gessi" (I Clement was born in Rome, and from the earliest age, I was devoted to chastity). I was constantly bothered by one question: "dum me animi intentio velut vinculis quibusdam sollicitudinis et moeroris a puero innexum teneret" (while the bent of my mind held me bound from childhood or with chains of care and anxiety), a question that wouldn't let go of me at all. It was the condition of my mortality. These were the questions that were constantly going through my mind: "utrumne sit mihi aliqua vita post mortem an nihil omnino postea sim futurus" (whether there would be a life for me after death or whether I wouldn't be anything at all afterward).11 He is living in pagan Rome, the center of all studies; he has a very good education; the chief men and great philosophers all resided there. He had made it a point to visit all of them.12 His parents had been very rich.
This led inevitably to the other question that kept turning about in my heart: "si non fuerim antequam nascerer" (I wondered . . . if I didn't exist before I was born—preexistence). "Vel si nulla prorsus vitae huius erit post obitum recordatio, et ita immensitas temporis cuncta oblivioni ac silentio dabit, ut non solum non simus, sed neque quod fuerimus, habeatur in memoria" (or if there won't be any recollection of this life after death and the boundlessness of time will consign everything to oblivion and silence so that we not only will not exist, but also that which we were, will not be held in memory).13
As I've said, this is the question that religion answers, and which no theologian will touch with a forty-foot pole. The skill with which they evade it is remarkable. We'll come back to that point. And then, if we're to live hereafter, will we have any memory of what we've done here? Of what we did during our lifetimes? Will we retain that? This leads to other questions. If I lived before I came here, before I was born into this world, then there must be this question: "Quando factus sit mundus vel antequam fieret, quid erat, aut vero semper fuerit" (when was this world made, or what was there before it was made, or did it always exist?). Then he goes into the plurality of worlds, into cosmology, which you can't avoid. All the early Christian and Jewish writers go into this, though the Fathers from the third century on won't approach it at all. They love abstractions and things like that.
Now to his fifth question: Or, if the world was made at all, "nam certum videbatur, quod si esset factus, esset et profecto solvendus, et si solvatur, quid iterum erit?" (for it appeared certain that it had been made, and if it does dissolve what will there be afterward?).14 And if it passes away completely, then what will be left after that? Will there be other worlds?
He asks all the basic questions, which everybody avoids. Scientists, of course, won't touch them. The religious should handle them; that is why they are there, to give us comfort. But they won't touch the questions either.
And then finally, a very good question, "Nisi forte oblivio cuncta et silentium teget, aut forte aliquid erit" (unless by chance all things shall be buried in oblivion and silence, or will there perhaps be something)—could there be something like a singularity? Some condition or state hereafter, "quod nunc sentire mortalium non potest mens" (that mortal minds can't possibly conceive of now?) Which could be real, but we just don't conceive it?15 That's what black holes and quasar stars are, singularities—real, yet nobody can describe them, or even conceive of what they are like. Still they are there, they are measurable. After all, he leaves the door open to a singularity. There may be another explanation after all.
He was a pretty smart kid. So he decided to see if he could find an answer to his questions. He went everywhere. He visited his friends. He visited the many schools in Rome, consulting with top professors. He could afford it. But he got nothing from them but "endless propositions put forth or refuted in clever disputations and skillful syllogisms. They argued and discussed the subject. When one celebrated philosopher would prove definitely that the soul was immortal, I was elated. Then another would come along and prove just as definitely that the soul was not immortal."16 That would send him into a deep depression. And this went on and on.
"Along with this, I brooded on such things as when the world was made."17 He claims he was driven nearly crazy by these concerns; in fact, he became physically ill—losing weight, causing concern among his family. They tried to take his mind off things with various pleasures. But he couldn't escape it.18 "Immortalitatis cupido" (desire of immortality; nothing could satisfy my yearning for life).19
"It was all a matter of definitions and opinions," he explains.20 Remember the ninety-eight questions I just talked about—do we have to answer them? Are they any of our business? Has anybody ever answered any of those to anyone's satisfaction? No, we could debate them forever. It's a philosophical sinecure; you'll never have to worry about answers to those questions. It's a closed shop, like the Bureau of Reclamation, which has built enough dams to dam the Pacific Ocean. It's time to stop, but the bureau has to stay in business, so they go on building dams, which they will probably do forever, in your backyard, before you know it—wherever they can find a place.
So the clergy argue about these things, as is evidenced in the religious journals that come out. The English journal The Expository Times reviews all the important articles that come out, so you can keep up to date. The writers simply go round and round. Recently a Swede wrote a resumé of all the great advances that have been made in church history study in the last fifty years (I was teaching at Claremont, Pomona, and Scripps colleges fifty years ago, talking about religion in humanities courses I was teaching, and getting people upset all the time). His conclusion is that the scholars are exactly where they started; there has been no progress whatever.
From time to time there is a review of the literature on New Testament criticism. It's back to the problems and answers of seventy years ago, so here we go again. There will be no answers, and this is what bothered Clement.
"They had nothing tangible to offer," Clement continues.21 To put his mind at ease, he tried to rationalize to himself about the problems. "I can forget about them. If I am not to exist after death, there is no point in getting all worked up about it. There is nothing I can do about it."22 One can get drunk and forget about it, but as A. E. Housman says, "The troubles of our proud and angry dust are from eternity, and shall not fail. Bear them we can, and if we can we must. Shoulder the sky, my lad, and drink your ale. Could man be drunk for ever with liquor, love or fights, lief should I rouse at morning and lief lie down of nights. But men at whiles are sober and think by fits and starts and if they think, they fasten their hands upon their hearts."23 You can't avoid the confrontation; it will catch up with you every time.
This happened to Clement. He tried to have some fun, but of course it's the mummy at the banquet "memento mori" (remember to die). You remember, the emperor at the peak of his triumph had a slave at his right side, whispering in his ear, "Remember, you are human. You are temporary here too." That was to bring him down to earth.
It was part of the Roman temperament (though not of the Italian) to brood on subjects of death. They always celebrated a person's death, not the birth. There is still in Italy a great obsession with graveyards; they are the biggest thing in town, where people go for celebrations. That is why Clement broods on the subject; it's part of the culture. "If there is one life, then why should I spend this life worrying about the remote possibility of various hells?"24
By going back to tradition, to the poets, to various rites and religions, the doctors of the schools were able to give him all sorts of pictures of the hereafter, for example, the Phlegethon, or the Nekyia, the eleventh book of the Odyssey, where Odysseus goes down to hell.25 There are all sorts of visits to the underworld, through the gate of ivory, or the gate horn, of the Aeneid. And of course in the mysteries one was introduced to a foretaste of the other world. It was dramatized; a big thing was made of it. You were to worry about the other world, because that is where you were going.
Clement had gotten a big dose of that: Tartarus, Sisyphus, Tityus, and the tortures hereafter and other horrible things. Why should Clement worry about hell?26 Long before Christianity, the Romans were worrying about a hell, which is exactly what the Church adopted later on, but it is not found in the scriptures at all. "I decided that all this stuff was only fables of the philosophers, but that didn't relieve my anxiety. If it's all so uncertain, why not live it up and enjoy the pleasures of the flesh?"27
None of these arguments pleased him. He got worse and worse. "What should I do?"28 There was only one way that remained. Since he had never heard of revelation, he told himself, "I will go to Egypt, where I'll gain the confidence of some hierophants, or priests or prophets, administering in one of the temples or shrines there [of which there were many—colleges that engaged in these exercises very diligently], and for a fee get him to bring up a spirit from the other world," and show me, once and for all, that there is an afterlife, no matter how terrible it might be. Just so there's something there. That's all I want to know. Just bring up one ghost.29
Clement had a friend who was a philosopher, who warned him not to go to Egypt for two reasons. One, if the spirit doesn't appear, then you'll be in deeper trouble than ever. You'll be in dumps you'll never get over; you'll be sure there is nothing there, yet still go on wondering anyway that perhaps it was a misfire. Second, that thing is exosum, something to be avoided.32 It's morbid, unclean; it doesn't leave you feeling well. It is like our saying, "Don't get yourself psychoanalyzed"; avoid it if you can—as you avoid going to court.
Dallin Oaks was in my priesthood quorum for years, and he always used to tell us that the worst settlement out of court is better than the best settlement in court. So before you go to see a psychoanalyst, or a spiritualist, or to court, look for an alternative. Brother Oaks was very emphatic about avoiding court if at all possible: Stay out of court, whatever you do! You're in trouble if you go to court.
So it is when you start fiddling around with spirits. I myself know people in Hollywood, where I lived many of my days, and still have many friends; among them was the president of the Fordham Society, Fred Keating, a famous high-class magician. When I was at Claremont, the gang would get in a bus and come out for a seance and to get drunk. It isn't a good thing, though it is a way to try to escape reality. These people are afraid. As T. S. Eliot says, "I have seen the eternal footman hold my coat, and snicker, and in short, I was afraid."33 Eliot was a very calm, sophisticated, well-educated modern man, but he was scared stiff. You can't get away from it.
So Clement decided not to go to Egypt. While he was going down a street in Rome, he heard a street meeting going on. Somebody was speaking in a heavy Levantine accent; it was near the school, and there were many students around, heckling the speaker. It was Barnabas, who had come as a missionary from Palestine, to preach in the streets of Rome. The students were making fun of his accent and were also asking questions: "They wanted to go into syllogisms and questions. If you are so smart in religion, why did God make a little gnat (culex) with six legs and wings, and a great big elephant with only four and no wings. That proves there's no god."34 These are the sort of arguments you get.
Barnabas gives a good answer: "I'd love to argue with you. Being a Jew, I could out-talk you anyway. But I'm not sent here for that. I'm sent here as an ambassador. I have a specific message to deliver, and I must deliver it. That's all. But, what I tell you is this [and this is what stopped Clement cold in his tracks], I can only tell you what I have seen and what I have heard."35 Clement writes, "The first thing I noticed about him was that there was nothing of the dialectical artifice in the man. He set forth simply and without the slightest rhetorical dramatics, or anything like that, the things which he had seen and heard about the Son of God."36 And that's what Clement had been looking for, and what none of the Doctors of the schools could give him. This was something specific, the first time he had an indication that he might get an answer to the terrible questions.
Things got pretty nasty. The students started throwing things. Clement ran up and grabbed Barnabas, pulling him down a side-alley to his home.37 Barnabas was very depressed. His mission to Rome had not been a success at all. This story is not your typical Christian myth that starts emerging in the fifth century, like the infancy gospels and the Golden Legend. This is the sort of thing that actually would have happened.
Clement dragged Barnabas to his house. They were exhausted. Barnabas felt he had failed, but he had to return to Palestine, because the church was having a general conference and Barnabas had to be in attendance. Clement, becoming interested, said he would like to go too, but he had some business affairs to settle. He took Barnabas down to the harbor in Ostia and saw him off, taking his baggage aboard the boat, and said that he would follow as soon as he had settled his own business affairs.38
Clement arrived in Caesarea, in the midst of great excitement over the conference. Peter was hard to see, so Clement met Zacchaeus.39 Peter was involved in major preparations, and there was a crowd around him all the time. Incidentally, the picture of Peter is very appealing: he has a hot temper, but a terrific sense of humor. As an ex-fisherman, he loves to go swimming. He jogs on the beach every morning, takes a cold swim, then gets ready for breakfast and the conference.
When Barnabas and Clement met, they threw themselves into each other's arms: "You did come after all!" Barnabas exclaimed. "I can get you an introduction to Peter."40
Amid the bustling crowds at the conference, he was finally able to interview Peter, and the first questions Clement asked are the main and terrible questions he had been asking himself. "The first and foremost thing I would especially like to know is if the earth was created, and for what purpose, and whether it will pass away, and whether it will be dissolved or renewed to something better, or if there won't be anything else after this world. And without making a longer list, can you give me a clear answer to those and all sorts of questions like them."41 "Stop, stop. I get the idea," Peter replied.
That repetition showed that Clement really was sincere, so Peter gave him the answers. And interestingly, they were very different answers from what the schoolmen had given in Rome—and very different, by the way, from what he would have gotten a century later from the Christian schoolmen at Rome, or from the bishops anywhere in the big cities of Christendom. Those bishops had all become orators.
The terrible questions are terrible because they can't be answered. To those whose business it is to give the answers, not having them becomes a terrible dilemma, calling for all kinds of indirection and subterfuge. Here we are referring to the clergy, but it applies to science as well. In the nineteenth century, as Loren Eiseley now writes, "science . . . [itself was beginning] to ask . . . 'the terrible questions.' . . . [They had avoided them, because they were the business of religion, not science.] They had involved the nature of evil, the age of the world, the origins of man, of sex, or even of language itself."42 Of course the scientists came up with the answers: the answer is no to everything. From the days of the Miletians, Lucretius, Xenophanes and the Sophists, the object of science was to escape the terrible questions and put the fears and dreams and fancies and childish misgivings of men behind them. This was the idea of Anaxagoras: there are no evil forces out there, no heaven, no hereafter, no goblins, nothing to worry about. Of course, that left people more frightened than ever. I'd sooner think there are goblins out there than nothing at all, "nox est perpetua una domienda," the "perpetual black night."43 We learned in high school in my day, from the sophisticate Omar Khayyam, the tent maker who wrote the famous Rubaiyat, that this life is it. I memorized the Rubaiyat in its entirety (we used to do things like that in high school).
Note, too, the day when H. L. Mencken was really crowing, trying to get rid of all our Christian superstitions and beliefs—heaven and hell, and everything else. It was "hick from the sticks" stuff; we're too sophisticated for that. Of course we know of his own tragic and pathetic last days; he wasn't happy about those at all.
Many verses from the Rubaiyat are relevant; "One Moment in Annihilation's Waste"—that's us. Though Fitzgerald didn't translate the poem correctly, he did write good English; the Rubaiyat was a good excuse for writing good poetry, and it certainly caught the spirit of the times, the Victorian "enlightenment." "One moment, of the well of Life to taste, The Stars are setting and the Caravan Starts for the dawn of Nothing—Oh, make haste!"44 You're going nowhere, says the last verse: "And when Thyself with shining Foot shall pass Among the Guest Star—scatter'd on The Grass, And in thy joyous errand reach the Spot Where I made one—turn down an empty Glass."45
It's not because of old age that I'm brooding on these things. I learned them all in high school. I was brought up on those things. These were the terrible questions, and we crowed and laughed about them and made fun of them. Then suddenly things got very serious, because it meant that if there was nothing there, that was more scary than anything else.
If people don't answer the questions, then what happens? Here's how you can avoid the terrible questions.
First, you assume you have the answer, and simply despair. That's what science does. We've had George Gaylord Simpson, the great geologist from Harvard, visit us; and Shapley, the astronomer; and Röhmer, the geologist. All have come to Brigham Young University to lecture on the same thing. They couldn't leave the topic of religion alone: we should grow up, become mature and adult, leave off these religious superstitions, and be willing to face reality, the truth. They were even evangelistic about it. They didn't come to teach geology or astronomy; we already knew that part of it. They came to tell us—because we were a religious school—to get rid of childish preconceptions and prejudices; and face the cold, scientific facts. But that is the answer of despair.
Here is a marvelous passage from C. P. Snow, who wrote his novels about life in Cambridge, England, in the 1930s—a life he knew very well, because he was himself teaching there. I asked I. E. S. Edwards (who was teaching there at the same time and who was at Brigham Young University recently) about C. P. Snow. Edwards said that Snow was very bitter about everything and everybody, and so turned everyone against him.
In any event, here is how Snow observed science in the 1930s:
The tone of science at Cambridge in 1932 was the tone of Rutherford. Magniloquently boastful, creatively confident, generous, argumentative and full of hope. Science and Rutherford were on top of the world. Worldly success—he loved every minute of it: flattery, titles, the company of the high official world. He was superbly and magnificently vain as well as wise, and he enjoyed his own personality. He enjoyed a life of miraculous success. But I am sure that even late in life he felt stabs of sickening insecurity. . . . Does anyone really believe that Bertrand Russell; G. H. Hardy [the great mathematician], Rutherford, Blackett, and the rest were bemused by cheerfulness as they faced their own individual state? In the crowd they were leaders; they were worshipped. But by themselves, they believed with the same certainty that they believed in Rutherford's atom that they were going after this life into annihilation. Against this, they had only to offer the nature of scientific activity, its complete success on its own terms. [You do enjoy it while it's going on—it is invigorating.] In itself it was a source of happiness. But it is whistling in the dark when they are alone.46
You can avoid the issue by talking about related issues, the way this man wants to—philosophy, ethics, aesthetics, morality, etc. This assures us all along that we are working on the problems. This is what members of the clergy do—they talk about these problems, and the problems are related to the real problem. But to entertain an illusion, after all these centuries, that they are approaching a solution to the problem shouldn't fool us at all.
You can also build a stately institution and barricade the problem, as the Roman Catholic Church has done—with the last rites, etc., since the last Vatican Council. They realize now that the last rites were not a sacrament of the ancient church, though they are pleasing and satisfying to the mind. The forms and observances, for example, the candles, do help (although the Council of Elvira in A.D. 404 forbade the use of candles in the church altogether, because they were nothing but pagan). The candles do build up the feeling that there is something you can lean back on. So people in their old age panic at the thought of death and become Catholic—a common happening.
Wilfred Griggs tells the story of a vicar and archaeologist in England by the name of William H. C. Frend, now retired, who became a Roman Catholic, not because he believes in it, but because the tradition—what's back of it all—gives him some assurance. Such a barricade can make you feel secure and comfortable, but only for a while. You'll panic in the end.
There is also comfort in numbers, as we see in evangelism and mission work. It masks one's emptiness by partisan passion, by building up your faction, by having big arguments, as the TV evangelists. They talk about success in life, and friendship, and the wickedness of the world, or of this or that politics, and money—around and around it all. But it's just more or less whistling in the dark, working to keep the mind off the real questions. It's an empty sort of thing: the evangelists walk back and forth, they sweat, they work on a sentence for five minutes—yet it means nothing at all.
You can turn to the occult—to UFOs, to space visitors, to other various California fads. They have always flourished there. "There must be something else, or there wouldn't be UFOs."
Or you can emphasize the cosmetic matters.
The Hermetic literature does deal with real issues. That's its great attraction: it got close up to such issues, but just as you get to the edge, it always fizzles out and goes into abstractions—avoidance of any crass physical interpretations, because it claims to be a higher, spiritual, even ghostly, sort of thing. So you are let down gently, and that ends it. The hermetic tradition does not solve the real problems.
Consider Clement's questions. I have reduced these to five, which I will answer by telling you how the early Christians answered them, and then how the Christian Doctors later shifted their positions and the councils changed things; what the official statements of the churches are today; and finally, the tendency to return to the old literalism. The churches are creeping back to the old interpretations, because they are nervous; they don't feel safe in their views. The new handbooks of the 1980s take up the questions that were always avoided. They have to consider them now since they are essential to religion, even though we've always avoided them.
Clement's first concern was his dissatisfaction with philosophy. He wanted some real answers, not philosophy and allegory. He followed Barnabas because Barnabas said he had "seen." And Peter convinced Clement of many more things. So the first issue is revelation. The early church did insist that there be revelation, and they did have it. Basil, one of the "eight Doctors" of the Church (whose philosophy became the foundation of the theology of the church), prayed that they might not lose the power of prophesying "the way the Jews did."49 Jerome reported that to break the painful lack of revelation, all sorts of fakers and pretenders had begun to appear.50 Methodius, like Basil, pities the poor, neglected Jews, left with scriptures alone to guide them, "like a moth trying to gather honey from leaves. . . . They weave their airy fantastic structures as if the scriptures belonged and applied to them."51 They do the best they can, but have no real revelation. "Let's not fall into the same conditions as the Jews," the Doctors said. But that's exactly what happened. When John Chrysostom (one of the Greek Fathers) tells us, "If we no longer have revelation, we have something better, the bodies of the martyrs, which the demons fear."52 But was that something better?
Chrysostom adds, "Heavenly things, being incorporeal, are seen only by the intellect. The coming of the Lord can never be visible. This whole thing is only to be spiritual from now on."53
Thus we have the position of the churches today; for example, this quote from the first volume of The American Anthropologist (1899), a scientific analysis of Mormonism, reads: "A portentous danger-sign, . . . [a] monstrosity, born of deceit and bred in falsehood, . . . [a] monster of iniquity and deceit. [Its] teachings and precepts are not in themselves immoral, [we are assured.] . . . There is nothing immoral in the Book [of Mormon, but] . . . its adherents have discovered a most dangerous weapon against the moral world in this doctrine of 'a continuing revelation.' "54 That was the one thing unforgivable in Joseph Smith. And so the churches stand today: You don't forgive the doctrine of revelation.
In 1897, the League for Social Service, which included some of the most famous of Americans—Jane Addams, the Choate family, Reverend Edward E. Hale, Margaret Sangster, and others—published a Declaration of Ten Reasons why Christians cannot fellowship the Mormon Church.55 The first three reasons are: First, Mormons teach that they have the only true gospel.56 Second, revelation is still possible.We cannot fellowship people who believe that—such is the stance of the Christian world.57 Third, Joseph Smith was a prophet of God.58
So the Christians lost revelation, and they regret it now. Paul Tillich has declared, "It is among the tragedies of Christian history that this [prophetic] tradition was actually lost from the time that the official church achieved ascendancy."59 They admit they lost it, but now they regret it. Others say they are glad they got rid of the tradition, because it was something, according to Augustine, that couldn't be controlled. So ceremonies and ordinances replaced revelation, because they can be controlled, and hence are far superior to revelation for building a church.
We read now in McCasland and others, "The return to ideas of inspiration and revelation may be put down as one of the marked trends of our biblical scholarship of the last decade"60—or twenty years. The scholars are beginning to talk about the theme seriously.
The banning of the literal, by people who wanted to be spiritual and not literal about things, began with the first Christian apologist, Aristides, who wrote that the early Christians simply would not accept any allegorical explanations: "They are just myths and nothing else."61 But he is followed by Justin Martyr, a convert and a Doctor of the schools, who always wore his sophist's robe in school—he had grown up in the schools. He argued that it was not the Christians but the Greeks who tainted their allegory with suggestions of physical reality.
The early apologist Athenagoras insisted that life would be utterly wasted without the resurrection; it is the resurrection which gives everything in human life its meaning.62 Yet Rufinus tells us that "after the resurrection, all will be spirit—no bodies."63 But, says Hilary, there must be a physical resurrection. The scriptures say it's so. But it can only be for the wicked. Only they deserve that kind of punishment.64 That's certainly a desperate twist. Gregory of Nyssa, one of the four great Greek fathers, said if you must "gape after sensual enjoyment, and ask . . . 'Shall we have teeth and other members [after the resurrection?],' . . . the answer is yes, since the scriptures [won't allow us to deny it—they] are perfectly clear, we shall have all our members—but we will not make use of them."65 Jerome himself says yes, our bodies will be resurrected, but since we have no further need of bodies, the minute we are resurrected, we will start to dissolve; and "all matter will return to the nothing (nihilum) from which it was once made"—back to Nirvana.66 But is that satisfaction? I ask.
Epiphanius says there were actually Christians in the early days who believed that "in his image" actually referred to Adam's body.67 Eusebius himself applauds the nobility and good taste of the Greeks and Romans for interpreting their own deities allegorically, the way all deities should be interpreted.68
There is a lot of talk today about Christ's descensus—Christ's descending to the spirits in the underworld. No passage of scripture has been such a riddle and such an annoyance to the Christian mind in general, especially to Protestants. The policy of the theologians has been a general "hands off."
So the Fathers and the Doctors of the Church call the issue both ways. "I believe the resurrection to be the transition from this physical gnosis to incorporeal contemplation (theoria)," says Basil.69
"The most learned of the Fathers, by a very singular condescension, have imprudently admitted the sophistry of the Gnostics. Acknowledging that the literal sense is repugnant to every principle of faith as well as reason, they deem themselves secure and invulnerable behind the ample veil of allegory," wrote Gibbon.70
Classical rhetoric gave a great boost to the Christian mysteries: " 'To be rapt away from matter'—that is the longing of the Christian Greek"; it is Ambrose's "cup of the spirit, 'which from heaven is held out to the earth.' "71 It becomes all allegory: "If one resorts to that easy, if self-contradictory, expedient of denying that the manifold of finite things has any existence, all problems disappear at a stroke."72 In other words, just say it is spiritual, and you have explained everything.
One of the first things Peter says to Clement in their conversation is, "We affirm absolutely that there is nothing evil in matter."73 That's quite a different message from that of the later scholars, for example, Lactantius, the first of the Latin Fathers, and the best Latinist of them all: "Whoever desires the highest good, let him desire to live without a body, for all matter is evil."74 They shifted completely over to the new notion.
The great Reinhold Niebuhr states the situation neatly when he says that biblical eschatology must be taken "seriously but not literally."75 For example, M. Jack Suggs contends that we are really resurrected when we believe in the Lord of Life.76 That's how he defines resurrection. Then after World War II, the theologians discovered that the Jesus of history had nothing of the supernatural about him. That was Albert Schweitzer's Leben Jesu.
"Ten years later, [this view] had been not only abandoned but discarded with contempt." Today, only twenty years after that, the doctrine is that "materials in the Gospels had survived only as an expression of faith, not as historical data. . . . [There's nothing historical in the gospel.] Jesus had become 'a mere saving event' and ceased to be a person."77 This in an article by a devout Protestant minister.
That's how the clergy and scholars speak today, while at the same time they creep back to the literalist view. J. Alberto Soggin takes note of this: "The story of salvation only exists when we are dealing with reality, and not with later artificial workings over. . . . As Hesse says, 'Only what actually happened interests us, everything else not at all or only incidentally.' "78 Why not be honest about it, he asks. We've got to face the terrible question, so who do we think we're kidding? The other questions interest us not at all, or only incidentally. Such persons as F. Hesse and J. Alberto Soggin, very eminent men, talk that way now.
On the subject of the restoration of visions, among the scholastic philosophers today, a Catholic theologian writes, "Man must be forever grateful to matter[!] and to the cosmos because matter has brought man to the verge of the supernatural. . . . The universe and matter are so sacred thereby, that God must be in and with it through an incarnation."79 So since Christ was incarnated, then matter must not be damned at all; it must be sacred. This is a new view, in contrast to the assertion that all matter is evil.
The study of cosmology and the stars has connection with the Pearl of Great Price. We Latter-day Saints are involved in such subjects. R. H. Charles was disgusted with Enoch for preferring cosmology to ethics in all Enoch's writings. Ethics is religion, Charles claimed, not cosmology.80
The Talmud tells us four things which the Jewish student would never be allowed to think about: What is above, what is below, what is before, and what is behind. In other words, the whole cosmic scenario. Gregorius Thaumaturgus, Gregory the Great, tells how Origen "first taught him rhetoric," then "holy mathematics, incontrovertible geometry and astronomy"—what was taught originally. Origen was the last Father with a foot in the old church, and he was divided between the old and the new. These topics set "us a ladder to the things of Heaven." "When finally by the grace of God the saints shall reach celestial places, then shall they comprehend all the secrets of the stars; God will reveal to them the nature of the Universe."81 It was for doctrines like this that Origen never became a saint.
Arthur McGiffert in discussing Augustine says, "Astrology he wholly lost confidence in, and his intellectual development reached the point where much of the boasted wisdom of the Manichaeans seemed only folly and pretense. After a protracted period of indecision, he finally broke with them altogether."82 But later on, he decided that since astronomy could not save a soul, he has nothing but contempt for it.83 He finally settles for rhetoric, an abstraction, while admitting that what was taught was vain, superstitious, and without content.84
The early church was steeped in cosmology. But later, when Origen left Egypt, he set out to achieve "perfect knowledge, purged of all that is physical and corporeal," and recommended Philo of Alexandria to the student since he used the same approach: he spiritualized the entire Old Testament. Everything became symbolic—whether Moses, or the twelve sons of Israel, or whatever. They stand for things of an abstract or philosophical nature. And the Jews went for it, and the Christians went for it. According to Origen, the scriptures are silent on the exact nature of the heavens.85
Thomas Aquinas had a better idea: For him, the "planets were regarded as being composed of a special sort of matter which was radically different from all terrestrial matter."86 Florovsky today says that Origen's ambivalence "led [him] into insuperable difficulties in Christology. . . . His 'aberrations' were in fact the birth-pangs of the Christian mind. His own system was an abortive birth."87 The Christian mind he refers to had to give up cosmology. Father Lagrange says all the apocalyptic literature "gives the impression of a gigantic effort in the void, or of a tedious dream, with a few flashes of good sense in this sick man's nightmare."88 Charles Torrey said in the 1930s that it was "unquestionably a small survival from an extensive literature," well lost, "that product of unbridled imagination called the 'apocalypse.' "
The great W. Bousset said we should counter that opinion. "We must energetically renounce the idea" that the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha are an "uncontrolled (freischaltende), wondrous, and grotesque fantasy."89 It's what the early church actually taught.
The celebrated New Testament scholar Rudolph Bultmann declared the New Testament itself to be nothing else but a blending of two mythologies—gnosticism and Jewish Apocalyptic. Arthur Lovejoy (author of that famous book The Great Chain of Being) spiritualized everything in Genesis and called it the pseudo-Dionysius. But they will not let us deny a real universe, concluding, "consequently the language of acosmism . . . is never to be taken too literally,"90 although everybody uses it. Forget the cosmos; it has no place in religion. According to G. Van der Leeuw, "A general human inclination, also found in Christianity, is to base trust in salvation on the cosmic. . . . Only when the human suffering of the divine savior has a cosmic background does salvation seem sufficiently assured."91 It has to be real and solid.
The doctrine of the plurality of worlds was a very basic doctrine in the early church. We can actually begin with the Greek Xenophanes, of the early Milesian school, who found it only reasonable to assume "there are boundless suns and moons, and all of them have the same substance as this earth."92
Back to our friend Origen:
[Some] assert that worlds sometimes come into existence which are not dissimilar to each other, but in all respects equal. . . . If . . . a world [is] similar in all respects (to the present), then it will come to pass that Adam and Eve will do the same things which they did before. . . . It seems to me impossible for a world to be restored for the second time, with the same order and with the same amount of births, and deaths, and actions; but that a diversity of worlds may exist . . . for some unmistakeable reasons better (than this), and for others worse, and for others intermediate. But what may be the number or measure of this I confess myself ignorant, although, if any one can tell it, I would gladly learn.93
This he said when arguing with the pagan Celsus, who makes fun of Christian beliefs, arguing that there is nothing scientific about them. "Yes," Origen continues, "we might believe two worlds,"94 but he doesn't know. If Origen didn't know it, then nobody did. It was lost to the early church, yet it was what the brethren taught; but, says Origen, we don't teach those things today.
Jerome said that Origen solved the problem by accepting an infinite number of worlds, but he avoided the pagan cosmology by having them exist not all at once, but in succession, one after another95—so there was just one world at a time. That was one way to get around the issue. Plato's idea of perfection led the later Jewish and Christian thinkers to pleniarism (the notion that God, being good, must have done as much good as he possibly can; if the world is a good thing, then there should be as many worlds as possible—God shouldn't stop creating).
In the Lord's statement, "I am not of this world," Origen sees a clear implication that there must be other worlds. According to him, it was alien to Christians of his time "to speak of an incorporeal world existing in the imagination alone, or in the fleeting world of thoughts (mundum incorporeum dicere, in sola mentis phantasia . . . consistentem). . . . There is no doubt, however, that something more illustrious and excellent than this present world is pointed out by the Saviour." So he has no satisfactory answer. "And I just don't see how we are to explain it, when the Savior is inde (out-there), or the Saints go up hither."96 They must be going somewhere. Since the scriptures tell us nothing definite about how many heavens there are, Origen recommends consulting Philo on the subject.97 Of course Philo is not scripture, but that's where the Doctors went for insight.
The common doctrine of the Jews and the Mandaeans, at an early time, was that God creates and destroys worlds, and you too will be able to create worlds and to destroy. So this was a prominent doctrine among the Christians, from which they afterwards shifted, turning to Philo.
Later on, Justin Martyr, the first convert-martyr, said to his students, "If you follow me, I can promise you unlimited and beautiful worlds (aidiois . . . kosmois)," but then with him you never know how literally to take it.98 Later, it was only the heretics who still clung to the old belief "that the worlds (mundos) are infinite and innumerable, according to the silly opinions of some philosophers." After all, Genesis 1:1 says plainly "that the world is one, and from one source."99 Yet Methodius, referring back to the cosmologies of the Egyptians and Chaldaeans, argues that if the sun, moon, and "other stars are divine and greater than man, they must necessarily have better life than ours and greater peace, justice, and virtue."100
It was Aristotle who insisted that there could only be one world, and the Doctors had to follow him. It was for the express charge of teaching a plurality of worlds that Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake in Rome.101 He preached all sorts of things, but the specific doctrine for which Clement VIII put him to death was preaching that there were many worlds.
Later the Church did accept it. In the seventeenth century, P. Borel's idea of "habitable celestial bodies, with creatures more or less like ourselves," enjoyed great popularity. His writings were put on the Index of Forbidden Books. Borel's Discours nouveau prouvant la pluralité des mondes (New Discourse Proving the Plurality of the Worlds) called attention to mountains on the moon and recalled that Pythagoras called the earth a moon and that Campanella believed the sun was inhabited by beings far superior to ourselves.102 By the early sixteenth century, the theory of plurality of systems and inhabited worlds of infinite number, and the infinite extent of the universe was already a topic of discussion. Just after his death, Bruno would have been perfectly safe, because it was a popular doctrine. The great Isaac Newton was very strong on that particular subject: "In God's house (which is the universe) are many mansions, and he governs them by agents which can pass through the heavens from one mansion to another. For if all places to which we have access are filled with living creatures, why should all these immense spaces of the heavens above the clouds be incapable of inhabitants?"103
By combining Democritus and Newton, the immortal Kant also concluded that the cosmos must be infinite because of the infinite power of God; and he develops it into an infinite hierarchy of island universes—the spiral nebulae.104
The atheists fought the idea. Richard Bentley, the famous classical scholar at Oxford, who argued with Dr. Arnold, maintained that all bodies were formed for the sake of intelligent minds. The atheists replied, "What indeed can be the usefulness of these innumerable stars that are not even seen by us?"105 If we don't see them, if they are not known to us, what good can they do? This is similar to Ingersoll's argument: Why does God rain on the seas? That proves there is no God, because it rains on the ocean, where it isn't necessary. If there were a God, he wouldn't waste his rain that way.106
In our own times, it has been widely assumed that the discovery of life on other worlds would be an end to a belief in God. Mormons believe just the opposite: such life would be an additional evidence for the existence of God. In 1955, one astronomer described the dramatic reversal and outlook on the subject of life outside the earth, and predicted that in the 1960s many astronomers will prove conclusively and to their own satisfaction that inhabited planetary systems are quite common.
In 1964, an astronomer, addressing scientists regarding a project designed to send and receive messages to other worlds, wrote, "This is a subject that we would not have dared discuss on this kind of a platform even as recently as two years ago."107
When I myself went to school, if you talked about many worlds, everybody would have laughed at you and thrown you out of the room. The notion was deemed science fiction—romantic and wishful thinking. It had no place in real science. And the astronomers would become very emphatic and angry if you brought the question up.
But consensus was never complete; it shifted back and forth. Leibniz defines "monde" (a world) as one of a system of worlds that could exist, but of which only a single one has been effectively realized. There he had to drop the question, because he didn't want to offend official Christian doctrine. He also had to bring it up because "an infinite, immutable, and sempiternal God could not be conceived . . . as limiting His creative action to a small stretch."108 Descartes said the same thing: "To suppose that the power of the Creator is so imperfect that no such stars can exist"109—he could make them, he just didn't want to.
Today, Arthur Clarke (of TV fame) says it will never be possible to converse with anyone on another planet, because of the time lapse between galaxies. The whole business should not concern us at all. "Any form of control or administration over other islands [in space] would be utterly impossible, and all parallels for our own history thus cease to have any meaning."110
A statement by Jerome gives us a good idea of how everything was mixed up in a common stew. Jerome asks whether all created things
have come down from the heaven as the Pythagoreans, all the Platonists, and Origen think; or are all things part of God as the Stoics, Manichaeans, and Priscillians think? Or are they drawn from a treasury once established by God [in the preexistence], as some stupid churchmen think? Or are they created daily and sent into bodies . . . (John 5:17)? Or are our bodies created from other bodies or spirits from other spirits as Tertullian, Appollinaris, and most of the Eastern Christians believe?111
These represent quite a roster of eminent early Christian Fathers and saints, and a tremendous spread of opinion as to how to answer the terrible questions—which none were ever able to answer.
With regard to a premortal existence, Clement said, "Well, if I live after, I must have lived before. Doesn't that follow?"112 The idea of "the memory of all former births" and of "Buddha-lands innumerable"113 is akin, in its appeal, to the individual ego of Plato's anamnesis and its elaboration by Plotinus. They believed in it. In other words, it's an idea older than the Jews and Christians, an ongoing belief from very early times. Iamblichus, commenting on Pythagoras, notes that it was the story of Euphorbus and the Phrygian in Homer which offered a key to the recollection of one's premortal existence; and even finds the genius of Homer to lie in his power to stir such intimations of immortality—a sense of other world, in all of us.114 Plotinus, one of the greatest of the Christian Neoplatonists, argues that the recognizable differences in children at their very birth shows that each must bring something with him into this life from another one115 (as anyone who has had a lot of children recognizes).
R. H. Charles, commenting on 2 Enoch 23:4 says: "For all souls are prepared to eternity, before the foundation of the world," and he notes that "the Platonic doctrine of the pre-existence of the soul is here taught. We find that it had already made its way into Jewish thought in Egypt. . . . This doctrine was accepted and further developed by Philo [De Somniis i:22]. . . . This doctrine of the pre-existence of the soul was, according to Josephus, . . . held by the Essenes. . . . It became a prevailing doctrine in later Judaism,"116 and is still taught by the Hasidic Jews who join the Church, one of the reasons they accept the gospel. They firmly believe in the doctrine.
Origen, following the teaching of the early brethren (an interesting explanation of why people are born so unequally), explains these inequities on the grounds that the soul had a previous existence in a life of its own, where even as in this life it was given its free agency by the Creator: such souls as grew weary in doing good entered this life at a disadvantage, having passed the test less satisfactorily.117
The Pastor of Hermas (c. A.D. 120), in one of the earliest postapostolic writings we have, says, "All flesh which is found undefiled and unspotted, wherein the Holy Spirit dwelt, shall receive a reward."118 Clement of Alexandria, in the second century, writes, "God knew us before the foundation of the world, and chose us for our faithfulness even at that time. . . . Now we have become babes to fulfill the plan of God."119
Clement of Rome, whom Barnabas converted, tells us that "cujus interna species est antiquior," that the Earth was created and prepared for man, whose real nature, though he came last of all, is older than any of it. And Clement's Second Epistle to the Corinthians tells us of "the first church, the spiritual [one, (spiritum) which] was created before sun and moon." He says he got the doctrine from "The Book of the Apostles."120 Man existed before the creation of the world—a doctrine that Peter taught him.
The Dead Sea Scrolls bring up much of this creationism material. In the Odes of Solomon, for example, one of the early Christian hymns, we read, "For I know them," says the God of the Saints, "and before they came into being I took knowledge of them, and on their faces I set my seal. . . . By my own right hand I set my elect ones."121 The famous poet of The Pearl said the same thing.
Thanks to the Patrologia, a collection of the writings of all the Christian Fathers, in chronological order, which grows all the time, we literally have hundreds of volumes of writings; and the first volumes say more on this subject than any others, because Christians depart from the doctrine after that. In these volumes the editor, J.-P. Migne, speaks of the four different positions on the subject. "For some taught that the spirit was before the body, others that it came after, still others, that they came into existence together, while others are not willing to make any assertion. Along with these opinions should be mentioned the errors of the Pythagoreans, Platonists, Gnostics, and Origenists."122 The later Doctors still could not make up their minds. "Under the influence of the prevailing philosophy, many Christian thinkers asked themselves," writes H. de Leusse, "in the third and fourth centuries, if it was permissible to think of a pre-existence of souls."123 Augustine believed the doctrine firmly up until the year A.D. 410; after that, he hesitates, and does not cease to hesitate between traducianism (the idea that the spirit enters the body at the moment of conception, and didn't exist before, but was "traduced" into the body at the moment of conception) and infusionism (the idea that the spirit existed before). . . . He repeats endlessly that he has not made up his mind. In short, Augustine "truly does not know, . . . and it is perhaps temerity to want to penetrate a mystery reserved to God himself."124 So the first of the great Latin theologians, who got nearly all of his doctrines from Origen, anyway, could never resolve the problem for himself.
In A.D. 523, the African bishops agreed that "we should either leave the question in silence or consider it without contention"; since "the holy scriptures give us no clear statement, it should be investigated with caution. The more so since it's possible for the faithful to ignore it without any particular disadvantage (detrimento) to their faith."125
Brigham Young said that more Saints apostatized because of the doctrine of premortal existence than any other doctrine—more than polygamy, more than tithing, more than jealousies, or anything else. Over it, people left the Church in droves, yet today, everybody accepts the doctrine as the most natural thing in the world. Eliza R. Snow, as well as Wordsworth, taught it. When Augustine's personal friend Jerome read in Revelation 4:6 about the familiar animals around the throne of God—the same types of beasts found on earth—and asked whether this didn't imply a premortal existence, he rejected the idea, because such literalism destroys the allegorical value of the scriptures.126 If you take it literally, you can't use it as an allegory.
In the interest of time, and my failing voice, my roaring, flaming, flaring peroration will have to be omitted. I apologize that I talked too fast and didn't say very much. Yet a few points should be made: There are the terrible questions, and it's marvelous how few people will touch them, or even think about them. They've been ruled out of Christian theology. And this was what Joseph Smith was put to death for—for bringing these unforgivable questions up, especially the issue of revelation. The learned people of the century could not forgive that—the most dangerous doctrine you could have,127 according to the one source.
How do I myself find an answer to the terrible questions? Well, many of us have received particular answers, though we don't talk about them. We have seen and heard, and it is that direct impact that counts as testimony. Seeing and hearing short-circuit all the other questions and issues—that enormous computer board with all its relays and smoking wires and the smells of rubber—all the playing around with incidentals, while never addressing the simple, safe question, which is borne from testimony.
I wish to testify that I know that the gospel is true, which I do in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
1. Cf. Sozomen, Ecclesiastical History I, 18, in PG 67:917.
2. Clementine Recognitions I, 3, in PG 1:1208; cf. Omar Khayyam, Rubaiyat XXVII, tr. Edward Fitzgerald (London: Harrap, 1985).
3. JD 6:333.
4. Boyce Rensberger, "Death of Dino," Science Digest (May 1968): 28-35, 77-78; cf. Kenneth F. Weaver, "Invaders from Space," National Geographic (September 1986): 405, 416-18.
5. Sophocles, Oedipus at Colonus, 228-550; for a discussion of Oedipus Tyrannus, cf. Hugh W. Nibley, "Three Shrines: Mantic, Sophic, and Sophistic," in The Ancient State, CWHN 10 (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and F.A.R.M.S., 1991), 343-51.
6. Catullus, The Poems of Catullus V; for an English translation, see F. W. Cornish, tr., The Poems of Gaius Valerius Catullus (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1950), 6-8.
7. William Shakespeare, Measure for Measure, act III, scene i, lines 128-31.
8. Ibid., lines 117-20.
9. See Thomas Smith, "Introductory Notice to the Recognition of Clement," in Ante-Nicene Fathers, 10 vols. (Grands Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1951), 8:73.
10. William Shakespeare, The Comedy of Errors, act I, scene i (the family is split up); act V, scene i (they are reunited).
11. Clementine Recognitions I, 1, in PG 1:1207.
12. Ibid., I, 3, in PG 1:1208.
13. Ibid., I, 1, in PG 1:1207.
16. Ibid., I, 3, in PG 1:1208.
17. Ibid., I, 1, in PG 1:1207.
18. Ibid., I, 2, in PG 1:1207.
20. Ibid., I, 3, in PG 1:1208.
22. Ibid., I, 4, in PG 1:1208.
23. A. E. Housman, Last Poems IX-X, in Complete Poems of A. E. Housman (New York: Holt, 1959), 108-9.
24. Clementine Recognitions I, 4, in PG 1:1208-9.
25. See J. Edward Zimmerman, Dictionary of Classical Mythology (New York: Harper and Row, 1964), 173.
26. Clementine Recognitions I, 4, in PG 1:1209.
28. Ibid., I, 5, in PG 1:1209.
30. William Shakespeare, Macbeth, act III, scene iv; act IV, scene i.
31. Ernest Newman, "Der Freischütz" (act II), in Stories of the Great Operas and Their Composers (Philadelphia: Blakiston, 1930), 535-36.
32. Clementine Recognitions I, 5, in PG 1:1209.
33. T. S. Eliot, "The Love Song of J. Albert Prufrock," in Complete Poems and Plays (New York: Harcourt and Brace, 1952), 2, 6.
34. Clementine Recognitions I, 8, in PG 1:1211.
36. Ibid., I, 7, in PG 1:1211.
37. Ibid., I, 10, in PG 1:1212.
38. Ibid., I, 11, in PG 1:1213.
39. Ibid., I, 20, in PG 1:1217.
40. Ibid., I, 12, in PG 1:1213.
41. Ibid., I, 14, in PG 1:1214.
42. Loren Eiseley, The Unexpected Universe (New York: Harcourt, Brace, and Jovanovich, 1969), 125.
43. Catullus, The Poems of Catullus V, 6.
44. Omar Khayyam, Rubaiyat XXXVIII.
45. Ibid., LXXV.
46. [Nibley cites C. P. Snow several times in this volume, but we have been unable to locate the source.]
47. Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1939).
48. Eugene O'Neill, The Iceman Cometh (New York: Vintage, 1957). The ice-man represents the termination of life—the animation of death. Curiously, fire and ice often appear together in this context in a physical or psychological setting, see Nigel Calder, The Restless Earth (New York: Viking, 1972), 125; scientists acknowledge a destruction by ice: "The ice retreated to its present lairs only 6000 years ago. There is no reason to suppose the series of ice ages has finished; rather, we are in one of the 'interglacial' periods which, on past evidence, last for 100,000 years or more." Cf. Joseph W. Krutch, "If You Don't Mind My Saying So," American Scholar 34 (1965): 17: "Consider the case of what might be called the orthodox eschatology of science. . . . Sir James Jeans . . . was making the Second Law of Thermodynamics as fashionable a topic of intellectual conversation as 'alienation' is today, and we all took it as proved fact that increasing entropy would inevitably extinguish all life in a universe where no difference in temperature between one place and another could exist. Yet Jeans was hardly safe in his grave when his biographer, the late Professor E. Milne, ended his book with a beautiful British understatement: '. . . I am now convinced that an unconditional prediction of a heat-death for the universe is an over-statement.' That was published in 1952, and now we are being assured that the real end of the world will be by fire not by ice. . . . The white dwarf stars are now supposed to represent a late stage in the life of a sun that has fallen in on itself. Our own little private sun is still in its youth, but someday it will turn into a white dwarf and be so hot that everything on earth will be quickly consumed. If the literary mind believes incompatible theories simultaneously, the scientific mind accepts them successively, and I am not sure that that is anything to boast about. It was a poet [Robert Frost] who observed: 'Some say the world will end in fire, some say in ice' ": Cf. Robert Frost, "Fire and Ice," Complete Poems of Robert Frost (New York: Holt, 1949), 268: "Some say the world will end in fire / Some say in ice. From what I've tasted of desire / I hold with those who favor fire. But if it had to perish twice / I think I know enough of hate / To say that for destruction ice / Is also great / And would suffice." We see this same theme portrayed in other literature—the extremes of hell. Cf. Dante Alighieri, Inferno, Canto III: The Vestibule of Hell, tr. John D. Sinclair (New York: Oxford University Press, 1979), 44; Dante describes hell as "the other shore, into eternal dark into fire and ice," see line 87; or cf. psychological extremes as in A. E. Housman, "A Shropshire Lad XXX," 30, stanza 4, in Complete Poems of A. E. Housman, 47: "And fire and ice within me fight beneath the suffocating night." In religion, we have the purification of the earth by fire when it's again raised to its paradisiacal glory. So here we have the two hands of the destroying angel—fire and ice. Annihilation of life as we know it is predicted to occur by the extremes of energy states—either by too little heat or energy, or too much heat or energy.
49. Basil, Commentarius in Isaiam Prophetam (Commentary on Isaiah) III, 100, in PG 30:281.
50. Jerome, Liber de Viris Illustribus (Book on Noted Men) 40, in PL 23:690.
51. Methodius, Convivium Decem Virginum (Banquet of the Ten Virgins) 36, in PG 18:177.
52. Cf. Marc Lods, Confesseurs et Martyrs; successeurs des prophètes dans l'Èglise des trois premières siècles (Neuchatel: Delachaux and Niestle, 1958).
53. John Chrysostom, De Perfecta Caritate, de Mercede Operum pro Merito Tribuenda, deque Compunctione (On Perfect Charity) 6, in PG 56:286-87.
54. Perry B. Pierce, "The Origin of the 'Book of Mormon,' " American Anthropologist 1 (1899): 694.
55. A pamphlet entitled "Christian Fellowship: Ten Reasons Why Christians Cannot Fellowship the Mormon Church" (Salt Lake City: League for Social Service, 1897).
56. Ibid., 2-5.
57. Ibid., 5-6.
58. Ibid., 4-6.
59. Paul Tillich, "Die Wiederentdeckung der prophetischen Tradition in der Reformation," Neue Zeitschrift für systematische Theologie 3 (1961): 237.
60. S. V. McCasland, "The Unity of the Scriptures," Journal of Biblical Literature 73 (1954): 6. Treated at length in Hugh W. Nibley, "The Return of the Prophets," in The World and the Prophets (Salt Lake City: Deseret, 1974), 258-72; reprinted in CWHN 3:284-98.
61. Aristides, Apologia 13, in J. Armitage Robinson, ed., Texts and Studies (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1967), 1:1:109.
62. Athenagoras, De Resurrectione Mortuorum (The Resurrection of the Dead) 19, in PG 6:1012-13.
63. Rufinus, Apologia (Apology) I, 24, in PL 21:562.
64. Hilary, Tractatus super Psalmos (Tractate on the Psalms) LV, 7, in PL 9:360.
65. Gregory of Nyssa, quoted in Letters of Severus 96, in PO 14:187-88.
66. Jerome, cited in Origen, Peri Archon (De Principiis) II, 3, 2, in PG 11:189.
67. Epiphanius, Adversus Hareses (Against Heresies) III, 1, 2, in PG 42:341.
68. Eusebius, Praeparatio Evangelica (Preparation for the Gospel) II, 8; III, intro, in PG 21:148-49, 152, 156.
69. Basil, Epistulae (Letters) I, 8, 7, in PG 32:257.
70. Edward Gibbon, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, 3 vols. (New York: Heritage, 1946), 1:356.
71. Hugo Rahner, "Earth Spirit and Divine Spirit in Patristic Theology," Spirit and Nature (New York: Princeton University Press, 1972), 145-46.
72. Arthur O. Lovejoy, The Great Chain of Being (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1942; reprinted in 1978), 92.
73. Clementine Recognitions IV, 23, in PG 1:1324.
74. Lactantius, Divinae Institutiones (Divine Institutes) VII, 5, in PL 6:756.
75. M. Jack Suggs, tr., "Biblical Eschatology and the Message of the Church," Encounter 24 (1963): 19.
76. Ibid., 30: "[Paul] declares that we have already been raised with Christ to a newness of life. It is by Christ's resurrection from the dead that he is designated Lord of life. Therefore, to believe in him is to submit to the lordship of him who has conquered death. And this means that 'I no longer live,' having already died, surrendering the insecure securities of temporal existence; but 'he lives in me,' opening before me a future filled with the 'possibility of newness of life.' "
77. A. W. Hastings and Reverend E. Hastings, eds., "Notes of Recent Exposition," The Expository Times 75 (1963): 2.
78. J. Alberto Soggin, "Geschichte, Historie und Heilsgeschichte im Alten Testament," Theologische Literaturzeitung 89 (1964): 729.
79. Leo A. Foley, "Cosmos and Ethos," The New Scholasticism 41 (Spring 1967): 152.
80. APOT 2:169: "The sole aim of his book [1 Enoch] is to give the laws of the heavenly bodies. . . . Through all these chapters there is not a single ethical reference. The authors interest is scientific."
81. Origen, De Principiis II, 11, 7, in PG 11:246.
82. Arthur C. McGiffert, A History of Christian Thought, 2 vols. (New York: Scribner, 1933), 2:75.
83. Stillman Drake, tr., Discoveries and Opinions of Galileo (New York: Doubleday/Anchor, 1957), 184-85.
84. Franz X. Eggersdorfer, Der heilige Augustinus als Pädogoge und seine Bedeutung für die Geschichte der Bildung (Freiburg i/B: Herder, 1907), 44, 13.
85. Origen, Contra Celsum (Against Celsus) VI, 21, in PG 11:1321.
86. John L. Russel, "St. Thomas and the Heavenly Bodies," Heythrop Journal 8 (1967): 27-28.
87. G. Florovsky, "Eschatology in the Patristic Age," in Texte und Untersuchungen 64 (1957): 243-44.
88. M. J. Lagrange, Le Messianisme chez les Juifs (Paris: Gabalda, 1909), 39.
89. Wilhelm Bousset, "Die Beziehungen der ältesten jüdischen Sibylle zur chaldäischen Sibylle und einige weitere Beobachtungen über den synkretistischen Charakter der spätjüdischen Litteratur," Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft 3 (1902): 49.
90. Lovejoy, Great Chain of Being, 93.
91. G. Van der Leeuw, "Zum Mythus und zur Gestalt des Osiris," Archiv für Orientforschung 3 (126): 11. "Erst wenn die menschliche Passion des Heilandgottes einen kosmischen Hintergrund hat, scheint die Seligkeit genugsam verbürgt."
92. Xenophanes, cited in Heinrich Ritter and Ludwig Preller, Historia Philosophiae Graecae (Hildesheim: Gerstenberg, 1975), 84. Cf. Hippolytus, Refutatio Omnium Haeresium (Refutation of All Heresies) I, 14, in PG 16:3037-40.
93. Origen, De Principiis II, 3, 4 in PG 11:193.
95. Jerome, Epistolae (Epistles) CXXIV, 5, in PL 22:1063.
96. Origen, De Principiis II, 3, 6, in PG 11:195.
97. Origen, Against Celsus VI, 21, in PG 11:1324.
98. Justin Martyr, Apology II, 11, PG 6:461. This phrase may also be rendered "everlasting and precious graces."
99. Philastrius, Liber de Haeresibus (On Heresies) 115, in PL 12:1239.
100. Methodius, Banquet of the Ten Virgins VIII, 15, in PG 18:168.
101. Lovejoy, Great Chain of Being, 116.
102. J. S. Spink, French Free Thought from Gassendi to Voltaire (London: Athlone, 1960), 53-54.
103. Oskar Piest, Newton's Philosophy of Nature (New York: Hafner, 1953), 67.
104. William Hastie, ed. and tr., Kant's Cosmogony (Glasgow: Maclehose and Sons, 1900), 138-39; and Milton Munitz, "One Universe or Many?" Journal of the History of Ideas 12 (1951): 249.
105. Alexandre Koyré, From the Closed World to an Infinite Universe (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1982), 188.
106. Robert G. Ingersoll, The Works of Robert G. Ingersoll (New York: Dresden, 1919), 58.
107. Walter Sullivan, "Is There Intelligent Life beyond the Earth?" Brigham Young University Speeches of the Year (20 February 1964): 2.
108. See Koyré, From the Closed World to an Infinite Universe, 275.
109. See Lovejoy, Great Chain of Being, 123.
110. Arthur Clarke, Profiles of the Future (New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1984), 131.
111. Jerome, Epistle CXXVI, 1, in PL 22:1085-86.
112. Clementine Recognitions I, 1, in PG 1:1207.
113. Joseph Campbell, Mystic Image (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1974), 222.
114. Iamblichus, De Vita Phythagorica 14 (63).
115. Plotinus, Ennead II, 3, 10; cf. English translation, in A. H. Armstrong, tr., Plotinus, 6 vols. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1966), 2:76.
116. 2 Enoch 23:5; see n. 5 in APOT 2:444; cf. Wisdom of Solomon 8:19-20, in ibid, 1:549.
117. Origen, De Principiis I, 8, 4, in PG 11:179; and ibid., II, 9, 6-8, in PG 11:230-32.
118. Pastor of Hermas, Similitudo (Similitudes) III, 5, 6, in PG 2:962-63.
119. Clement of Alexandria, Paedagogus I, 7, in PG 8:321.
120. Clement, Epistola II ad Corinthios (Second Epistle to the Corinthians) 14, in PG 1:329.
121. Odes of Solomon 8:16, 21; see English translation in J. Rendel Harris, tr., The Odes and Psalms of Solomon (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1909), 99-100.
122. Clementine Recognitions I, n. 20, in PG 1:1222-23.
123. H. de Leusse, "Le Problème de la préexistence des âmes chez Marius Victorinus Afer," Recherches de science religeuse 29 (1939): 197.
124. Ibid., 236-37.
125. Ibid., 237.
126. Jerome, Epistle XCVIII, 8, in PL 22:798-99.
127. Pierce, "The Origin of the 'Book of Mormon,' " 694.