Monday, April 2, 2012

Do Mormons Believe in the Trinity After All?

If you ask any lay member (or general authority) of the church if they believe in the Trinity, they will unequivocally say no. But is that point of view justified? To answer this question, I will analyze the doctrine of the Trinity, compare it to that of the LDS Godhead and see how different they really are.

First, consider the LDS Godhead. We are taught that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are separate and distinct beings. Pay attention to the words in italics. In my experience, the words "separate and distinct" are thrown around a lot when discussing this issue. In fact, if you were to pick any phrase to characterize the LDS beliefs concerning the Godhead, "separate and distinct" would be it. Now, considering the idea of the Godhead's commonly perceived opposition to that of the Trinity, you'd think that "separate and distinct" would not apply to Trinitarianism. And yet...
This diagram is an illustration of mainstream Christianity's idea of the Trinity, called the Shield of Faith, or Scutum Fidei. The first things I noticed when seeing this image were the outside links, forming a triangle. They read "is not". The Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is not the Father. Imagine that. While we've been going around thinking that we're unique while claiming that the members of the Godhead are separate and distinct, mainstream Christians have been doing it for centuries. And this is not merely an aberration. In fact, if you were to ask any mainstream Christian to defend the doctrine of the Trinity, they will cite various verses in the Bible that defend the separateness of the Trinity's persons.

But the reader may protest: what about the "is"s? The diagram says that each person of the Trinity is God, which must mean that they have some shared essence. That is true. But it would be a mistake to claim that Mormonism doesn't believe in this as well. Consider this passage from the Book of Mormon's introduction:

"And honor be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, which is one God."

And this one, from 2 Nephi 31:

"And now, behold, this is the doctrine of Christ, and the only and true doctrine of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, which is one God, without end."

It would seem that in LDS theology the members of the Godhead are all one God. Thus, at least in the most basic sense, they must have some shared essence.

As far as the specific relationships between the members of the Trinity go, it is mostly compatible with the doctrine of the Godhead.

First, the persons of the Trinity are supposed to be "mutually indwelling", which means that each person reciprocally contains each other person. This is in fact compatible with LDS doctrine, as D&C 50 says "The Father and I are one. I am in the Father and the Father in me" .

Second, in Trinitarianism the Holy Spirit is supposed to "proceed" from the Father. Though it may seem opposed to LDS doctrine, this idea can be found in scripture. Consider the following, from John 15: "But when the comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me".

Third, the doctrine of the Trinity states that the Son is "eternally begotten" of the Father, meaning that the Father's begetting of the Son does not happen at any specific time, but throughout all time. I consider this a half and half when it comes to doctrinal compatibility. While Christ was begotten on earth at a specific time, you can make the argument that Christ's spiritual birth happens throughout all time. Essentially, this argument rests upon the notion that God resides outside of time (see D&C 130; the quote is at the top of this page), while Christ as a pre-mortal spirit resides in time. Naturally, if such a temporally transcendent being begets a temporal being, it would make sense for that begetting to happen at all points along its timeline. If it were to happen at the beginning to the timeline only, that would mean that God would at that moment reside in time, which we know he does not.

Now of course many of these comparisons assume a different interpretation of the Trinitarian doctrine that Trinitarians actually use. For example, Trinitarians assume that a "person" merely means a sphere of independent action, while Mormons know that it involves some sort of body. Furthermore, this means that the "shared essence" of the various persons is less literal (though still not entirely figurative) for Mormons than mainstream Christians. But I would hazard that these differences in interpretation have something in common. To see this, read this scripture from D&C 88:

"The light [the Light of Christ] which is in all things, which giveth life to all things, which is the law by which all things are governed, even the power of God who sitteth upon his throne who is the the bosom of eternity, who is in the midst of all things."

This scripture talks about the divine essence we have discussed, only in a Mormon context. But the amazing thing here is that this essence is not limited to members of the Godhead - it permeates everyone. Next, consider the end of the verse for the above quote from D&C 50: "The Father and I are one. I am in the Father and the Father in me; and inasmuch as ye have received me, ye are in me and I in you". This continues the trend. Instead of mutual indwelling being unique to the members of the Godhead, it can apply to all people. And finally, since we are both spirit children of the Father, my logic for Christ being "eternally begotten" can apply to us as well.

In short, these instances indicate a great truth: the only real difference between the doctrines of the Trinity and those of the Godhead is that in the latter they apply to us as well. This is in my opinion a wonderful reason why we emphasize God having a body. It lets us know that we are the same type of being as him, and can ultimately be like him.

No comments:

Post a Comment