The 2013 LDS Priesthood and Relief Society manual, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Lorenzo Snow, features a lesson, “The Grand Destiny of the Faithful” (Chapter 5) in which one of President Snow’s most famous teachings makes a fresh appearance. Often referred to as “The Couplet,” it states: “As man now is, God once was: As God now is, man may be.”Encountering this teaching in an official Church publication has been surprising to many Church watchers who have noticed in the past couple of decades a dramatic drop off in LDS comfort levels with the teaching that we human beings are on a progression path that God once traveled, and that with continued growth and development of divine qualities we can one day become Gods ourselves. So what’s going on? Why was this teaching de-emphasized? Does its appearance in the manual signal a shift from recent preferences to publicly emphasize similarities between Mormon thought and that of mainline Christianity to a willingness to more explicitly embrace differences? And, for that matter, are teachings about theosis or divinization actually all that unusual when one considers the entire arc of Christian teaching?
In this episode, panelists Danielle Mooney, Charley Harrell, and Tom Roberts join Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon for a thorough look at this teaching within Mormonism, as well as the wider Christian world, especially in Eastern and Greek Orthodox Christianity and the writings of early thinkers who provided the impetus for the directions they took separate from what became Roman Catholicism. Fascinating, rich stuff! The panel explores the history of “couplet” theology, including one of the early forms it took in Brigham Young’s teaching about Adam as God, and discuss possible reasons for its fall from the public sphere and recent reappearance. It also takes a strong look at black Latter-day Saints and women, for whom the ideas expressed in couplet (or, at least the contexts in which it rose and were commented on by Church leaders) have been particularly problematic. Can the doctrine of theosis be separated from the difficult assumptions that have been linked to it?
Parts 1 and 2 (#166 & #167) present an historical overview of the couplet and divinization teachings in Mormonism and Christianity.
Parts 3 and 4 (#168 & #169) examine it in concert with the Adam-God Theory, teachings about blacks and women (in particular the close tie with ideas entailed in polygamy theologies), and comparisons and contrasts between Mormon teachings about the eternal and uncreated nature of all things and the idea of creation ex nihilo held to by much of the Christian world, though not so thoroughly in Eastern Christianities.
We look forward to you listening and then sharing your thoughts in the comments section below!
Father Tom Roberts, “Sacral Kingship of Christ,” Facebook page with links to his various writings, videos, etc.
I listened to this podcast on Theosis twice. I was fascinated with the discussions. I particularly enjoyed Tom’s contributions. I hope to hear more on this topic in the future.
You might be interested in reading some of Dr. Tom Robert’s blog-posts for rationalfaiths.com. Here’s his most recent.:
Thanks to all four of you for a delightful podcast. One of the things I took from it is the importance of our becoming like God or, if there is no God, of at least learning to live by the principal of love. One of the repeated observations that is reported by those who have had near-death experiences is the pervasive feeling of love that exists in the spirit world and the realization that this love emanates from God. The pervasive presence of love is also reported by many of those spirit beings who have communicated their experiences of the spirit world through various mediums. One communication that seems to have application in the context of this podcast is that of the entity Meslom through the medium Mary Mc Evilly in the early 20th century. This is because of its emphasis on intelligence and love. Following are some excepts from that communication:
There is an underlying and universal law
governing the life of the universe. God is
an infinite spirit, or intelligence, emanating
life and love. Intelligence includes, as it
is infinite, all that ever was or will be. Each
emanation of that infinite intelligence is
necessarily a part of the divine center and
partakes of its essence. One of the attri-
butes of intelligence is liberty. Each emana-
tion of that infinite intelligence, when
expressed, is endowed then with liberty of
development and with godlike possibilities.
There are many spheres and all eternity
in which to perfect this tiny ray of the great
We understand that love and life are
attributes of divine intelligence; that God, the
great creative Spirit, is intelligence, and every
outpouring of that mind forms an individual,
partaking of His essence and sustained by the
love this divine life has generated.
Remember that God is infinite. Try to
understand this. If He is infinite, nothing can
exist except in and of Him. The use of the
pronoun “Him” is misleading. God is not a
person, and much of our misapprehension
comes from this faulty conception. God is a
spirit, all-pervading, all-intelligence, all-good-
ness, and love.
St. John said: “In the beginning was the
Word, and the Word was with God, and the
Word was God. In Him was life, and the
life was the light of men.” Repeat this often
and try to grasp its meaning. Try to under-
stand that each ray of that divine light will
shine for ever. Try to realize that it really
exists in each individual, even on earth. Try
to help each and every one you come in con-
tact with to clear away the cobwebs of igno-
rance and error which dim the light of this
divine ray. The ray is the immortal soul. For
all eternity it will shine. If you help, even
infinitesimally, to permit this ray to penetrate
the earthly envelope you are doing the work
of the Saviour. Never doubt its existence.
Never fear that the love you give in thought
and deed will be lost.
As I understand this, we are each an intelligence (consciousness) that had its origin in, and as an expression of, Divine Intelligence. Having been once one with God our yearning is to return to that oneness. We can achieve this only through perfecting ourselves in love.
There seems to be a singular exception to the theology encapsulated by this couplet. It has to do with the Christ. Apparently, He is the only one twice conceived by a god – once as a spirit child of resurrected parents and then as some manner of demigod child of the same resurrected father and a mortal mother.
This seems to imply that a righteous LDS couple can aspire to heavenly parenthood despite never achieving the status of one endowed with the mission and power of atoning for sins and resurrection. Furthermore, it implies that an exalted man can father a son endowed with powers he never himself possessed.
On the other hand, there was reference in this discussion to Joseph saying the power of resurrection resides in the Priesthood. But this seems to diminish Christ’s role – or at least suggest the question, “Why is Christ essential in this scheme?” This element of Mormon theology isn’t the only one that diminishes the status of Christ- or god(s) generally. The tension many might feel with Mormonism is that it’s difficult for mortals to elevate themselves without de-elevating god.
But there is a bright side to future gods not having to be a Christ. They avoid the agony of Gethsemane and crucifixion. On the other hand, they will still have to stand back and watch billions of their children brutalize and kill each other, or suffer from famine, disease, and other trauma, in near total ignorance of the true order of things.
Admittedly, these are merely the impressions of non-theologian. Perhaps they serve best to illustrate Tom Robert’s point about Mormonism needing the input of professional theologians.
Dr. Robert’s does a weekly blog-post (on Tuesdays) over at rationalfaiths.com. Here is the first post he did:
Great podcast. During the discussion about icons and iconography I was waiting for someone to make the connection with the BoM scripture, “have you received his image in your countenance.” Loved this one.
Typical mormon drivel. You people are total wingnuts.
Mormons are not wingnuts .just because a denmination has peculiar beliefs outside mainstream orthdoxy does not make them wingnuts otherwise you sound like the roman catholics when martin luther broke off from catholicism and posted 95 theises.
I must say that i was very impressed by these intense detailed.meticulous historical information on the doctrine of theos of becoming Gods i did not know the historical side of this doctrine. All the speakers from both sides mormon and non mormons points of view were very well documented with documentation and valuable points i was very pleased to see both sides,go into the past historical history og the church coming from the eastern orhodox churches and other churches in christianity. I come from a roman catholic protestant evangelical christian background so i was very familiar with the past church history particularly the post apostolic church fathers that everyones familiar with im glad this doctrine is being discussed from both sides truth comes from all angles of life
Overall i was fascinated and impressed with the lengthy discussions on this doctrine of theoises. Im glad ecumenically that all partied aretogether discussing this doctrine hopefully.more people who are not mormon would listen to these great discussions and.dialogue.great discussions and dialogues is veru healthy to stimulate the intellectual mind.God gave us all intelligence and a brain to use
My favorite image of God comes from William P. Young’s novel The Shack. In the novel the protagonist gets a letter from God asking for a meeting at a shack in the woods. When he gets their he discovers God in the form of a middle age woman In the story God chooses this form because it was a man that sexually abused and then murdered the protagonists daughter.
I like the image of God as a strong mother type. God is willing to take the form that most nurtures a conversation with us. God in her female form she guides Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit in healing the spirit of this broken man.
Later in the story as the protagonist begins to heal God takes on the male form, to lead
the next portion of the journey. I could not tell from reading the story if this is Gods male form or her husband, either image is beautiful to me.
Do you think Joseph Smith ever saw New England colonial gravestones, and if so, do you think he ever saw this (supposedly) common verse which bears some strikingly similarities to the couplet?
Remember me as you pass by,
As you are now, so once was I,
As I am now, so you must be,
Prepare for death and follow me.
All Christians consider Mormon theology as heresy, but put in more simple terms it is total bull shit.
I really enjoyed the podcast. I especially enjoyed the “outside” perspective that Tom brought and his academic theological perspectives from more mainstream Christianity.
As you spoke of uncreated intelligences Dan, I was reminded of something I read recently. I have been studying a bit on eastern religious teachings within Hinduism and Buddhism and read the book “Autobiography of a Yogi” (it can be found on Project Gutenberg: http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/7452/pg7452.txt). I was surprised when I read something that, though using different terminology, fit very well with my Mormon theology. In Chapter 43, Yoganada’s guru is teaching him and mentions this:
“You have read in the scriptures,” Master went on, “that God encased
the human soul successively in three bodies-the idea, or causal,
body; the subtle astral body, seat of man’s mental and emotional
natures; and the gross physical body. On earth a man is equipped with his physical senses.”
Some of the details that follow I may or may not agree upon, but the description of the causal body seems to be the uncreated intelligence, the astral body being what we term the Spirit Body, and then of course our physical body. I found it interesting to find such teaching in the Hindu traditions. I believe it was Brigham Young taught that truth is found everywhere. I loved hearing the commonalities that Tom shared in this podcast and I love seeing the commonalities is diverse places such as the Indian traditions.
I really enjoyed the podcasts, but thought there was a qualitative difference in what Tom and Charley brought to the discussion and Danielle’s contributions. She seemed more interested in grinding the typical feminist axe rather than having anything useful to add to the greater conversation, and was not nearly as well informed as the other guests. Other than that, great job on the podcast as usual.
Glad you enjoyed the podcast. Re Danielle’s participation and
your sense of her comments mostly being feminist axe grinding, I have to say I disagree–big time! I know I’m always grateful to be reminded of how gendered my mind and experiences are, and to be awakened to feminist consciousness and see ideas through those lenses. And I always love Danielle’s way of presenting these
ideas: never are the critiques or feminist lenses suggested as being totalizing, and her commentary always rides on top of deep study and immersion in LDS theology and history.
Hi, I’ve listened to a number of the Mormon Matters podcasts in the past week or two. This one on theosis was by far my favorite, and the one on NDEs was a close second. I really appreciated how they were framed in a faith promoting way that added deeper perspective to our religious views.