Was Milton a Mormon?
|Seriously, I'm starting to wonder... In the wake of Mitt Romney's speech on faith today in Texas, I trolled around a bit in the sub-basements of the blogosphere and internets, where you can find some serious hostility to Mormonism (or LDS, as they like to be called now). Not from the "religion of secularism" as Romney terms it, of course, but from Protestants, largely from evangelicals. What fascinates me is how certain debates never go away in Christianity. For instance, this from a site called Probe Ministries:|
According to the Mormon view, Jesus is not unique from the rest of mankind. He is simply the firstborn spirit child. ... Mormon doctrine deviates significantly from the Bible, which teaches that Jesus is eternal and not procreated. Although Mormons teach that Jesus is eternal, what they mean is that He existed as a spirit child prior to His incarnation. Being an offspring of Elohim means He was created at some point in time.Those of you up on your classic Christian heresies--and I know our readers are--will recognize this as an oldie but goodie, the first major doctrinal heresy: Arianism. Most scholars have traditionally seen Milton as an Arian based on some of his statements in Christian Doctrine and Paradise Lost (e.g., "Thee next they sang of all Creation first, / Begotten Son" from Book 3).
Then there's this from the same anti-Mormon site; I have no idea if it's true but it's kind of amazing:
Mormonism teaches that Jesus and Lucifer were involved in planning mankind's eternal destiny. In order to attain godhood like our heavenly parents, the spirit children needed to leave the presence of their heavenly Father, inhabit a physical body, and live a worthy life. Elohim knew that mankind would sin and thus require a savior to pay for sin and show us how to return to our heavenly father. At the heavenly council, Jesus and Lucifer proposed their plans. Lucifer offered to go to earth and be the savior but he wanted to force everyone to be saved and do everything himself. Jesus desired to give man the freedom of choice. The Father chose Jesus' plan. Angered by the decision, Lucifer persuaded one third of the spirit children to rebel and a war in heaven took place between Satan's forces and Jesus and His followers.What a take on the war in Heaven! Consider it alongside Milton's view that Satan's rebellion begins because he is "fraught / With envie against the Son of God, that day / Honourd by his great Father, and proclaimd / Messiah King anointed..." (Book 5), and his depiction of the Father's query to the assembled angels in Book 3:
"Which of ye will be mortal, to redeemFor Milton too, there's a moment of choice in Heaven, and the possibility that someone other than the Son might have taken up the duty of becoming mortal to save mankind. And for Milton too, I think, this possibility is left open precisely so as to emphasize the free choice, not simply of human beings, but of the Son himself ("Such I created all the Ethereal Powers / And Spirits, both them who stood and them who failed; / Freely they stood who stood, and fell who fell"). The intriguing bit about Lucifer and Jesus proposing alternative plans aside, this leads to another of the attacks on Mormonism from the evangelical Protestant community (at least as I read it): "Lucifer offered to go to earth and be the savior but he wanted to force everyone to be saved and do everything himself. Jesus desired to give man the freedom of choice."
Thus another site, "What is Mormonism?", decries this LDS belief:
The Jesus of the Bible taught that salvation is a free gift anyone can receive by accepting Him as your personal Savior, not by works (Ephesians 2:8,9; Romans 4:6 & 11:6; Philippians 3:9). The LDS Jesus taught that your level of exaltation was based on faith plus works determined by men. Thus, the Jesus of the Bible and the LDS Jesus can't be the same Jesus, as they taught mutually exclusive doctrine.(Mormonism here seems to be subsumed into a traditional bit of anti-popery.) As one person who I think is LDS himself puts it: "Mormons often get lumped in with Pelagius, although I do think there are some important differences between the Pelagian view of Grace and the LDS view of Grace."
So, we have Mormons accused of both Arianism and Pelagianism. Milton would have felt right at home. (Well, his cosmology may have differed just a tad, but that's another can of worms...) When you think about it, in at least this respect, Mormons seem to be as traditional as Christianity gets, since you can't claim a more traditional lineage than being lumped in with those two hoary old heresies.
But does anyone out there know if this story about the alternative plans proposed by Lucifer and Jesus is an accurate representation of Mormon beliefs? It's amazing. What I love is that Lucifer's plan seems to be demonic only in that he wants to force people to be saved, rather than giving them freedom to choose salvation or damnation. (This sort of sounds like one of Satan's temptations in Paradise Regained, actually, doesn't it?)
The problem for evangelicals is that the LDS-Lucifer's demonic belief that he can "do everything himself" and must force humans to be saved (presumably because they can't/won't do it themselves) is perilously close to the view of God's "irresistible grace" that dominates in the more radical version of Protestantism that most evangelicals espouse and that they trace back to the Synod of Dort, a nice early modern place to end.
Sometimes I feel like we are living in 1618.
INSTANT UPDATE: I just realized that the LDS scriptures are online, and with a nice search function too. The story about Lucifer seems to derive from the Book of Moses, which is described as "An extract from the book of Genesis of Joseph Smith’s Translation of the Bible, which he began in June 1830." I don't quite know what that means, but maybe others out there do. Anyway, here is Moses 4:1-4
1 And I, the Lord God, spake unto Moses, saying: That Satan, whom thou hast commanded in the name of mine Only Begotten, is the same which was from the beginning, and he came before me, saying—Behold, here am I, send me, I will be thy son, and I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost, and surely I will do it; wherefore give me thine honor.Wow. Satan "sought to destroy the agency of man, which I, the Lord God, had given him." There must be some interesting research out there into the debates around Pelagianism and Protestant doctrines of irresistible grace during the time of Joseph Smith ...