Mormon – Gnostic Connections

It’s hard not to see Mormon undertones in the description of Gnosticism in Pelikan’s “The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition.” First is the belief in preexistence:

Implicit in many Gnostic statements about the cosmological descent of man was a doctrine of the preexistence of man or of his soul; thus according to the Sethian-Ophites, “Adam and Eve previously had bodies that were light, clear, and, as it were, spiritual, as they were at their creation; but when they came into this world, these changed into bodies more opaque, gross and sluggish.”

Second is the idea of having to use passwords to ascend through the spheres of the cosmos and back to the highest heaven.

As the Ophites ascended, they spoke the appropriate passwords at each stage, including this one: “And thou, Ialdabaoth, first and seventh, born to have power with boldness, being ruling Word of a pure mind, a perfect work for Son and Father, I bear a symbol marked with a picture of life, and, having opened to the world the gate which thou didst close for thine eternity, I pass by thy power free again. May grace be with me. Father, let it be with me.”

These ideas are very old and Smith was repackaging them for a new context. Incidentally, there are many Islamic ideas about Christ on the Cross in Gnosticism.

It’s All Ours

Jaroslav Pelikan writes about the common “plunder the Egyptians” attitude of the church fathers:

The attitude of the church fathers toward classical thought contained a somewhat analogous judgment of its historic role. “Whatever things were rightly said among all men,” wrote Justin, “are the property of us Christians.” Christianity laid claim to all that was good and noble in the tradition of classical thought, for this had been inspired by the seminal Logos, who became flesh in Jesus Christ. This meant that not only Moses but Socrates had been both fulfilled and superseded by the coming of Jesus.

I’d add that as Classical Protestants, this can be our attitude towards the riches we can find in Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox writings. Not all of their thoughts are dross, after all, and the careful reader can harvest both good and bad from them, or any other baptized Christian.