Joseph Smith and the Ways of Knowing

Dr. Truman G. Madsen

Few human beings have ever claimed to know as much of religious significance as did Joseph Smith, the America Prophet. To the Harvard professor who asked, “But did this Smith write anything?” one might well have answered, “Name any ten men who have contributed to present religious discussion. In the sheer volume and originality of his product, in the prophetic assurance with which he taught and lived, and in the versatility of his other achievements, there are few to compare.”

Look only to his mental product: the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price number 830 pages. His own journal history, including briefs of discourses, meeting minutes, and other documents, totals over 3200 pages. His biblical translations, letters, personal counsels, instructions, promises, predictions, blessings, are so extensive as to be beyond the grasp of any present historian. Though he drew a line between what he spoke as a man and what he said as a prophet, he said of the latter during the final week of his life, “I intend to lay a foundation that will revolutionize the whole world.”(1) This man, who would have been remembered for his impact on the nineteenth century even if he had never written a page, was in his grave before he turned thirty-nine years of age, half the age of many ranking theologian s!

This essay proposes to examine one thing he claimed to know about: about knowing, viz. about the primal ways in which man may apprehend, relate, and verify religious truth.

I propose to stress some unique elements in this facet of his teaching: (1) by placing Joseph Smith in the context of contemporary views of religious awareness, (2) by quoting predominantly the Prophet’s comments about the sources of religious conviction rather than the recorded accounts of his own experiences. It goes without saying that such a study will be somewhat elementary, sketchy, and incomplete.

Two Preliminaries

First, there is no systematic work on epistemology from the pen of Joseph Smith. He never wrote one and it is likely he never read one. Almost all of his sermons and writings are sparks from a moving wheel, arising’ out of his variegated life. They came as commentaries on a cumulative experience, much of it public, shared, and recorded with unusual rigor by himself, his appointed historians, and even his critics. (2)

For some this is to say that Joseph Smith had no painstaking, analytic view of knowing. This, if intended as a criticism is actually, from his vantage at least, a commendation. For Joseph Smith, one does not know about knowing in general unless he first knows something in particular. Or to put it anoth er way, generalizations about the nature, scope, and limits of knowing which are dubbed “epistemology” arise if legitimate out of experience, out of particular cases of perception and/or revelation. Many philosophical, theological and scientific decisions about what is possible or actual in knowing have been dogmatically affirmed not in the presence of experience but in its absence. This was Joseph Smith’s most constant indictment both of the Christian world and of the disciples of Christ within the Church. Lacking knowledge they yet “set up stakes” and presumed to “know” that no one can know.

Second, Joseph Smith may not be counted among those whose knowledge-claims were esoteric. The world has seen many who claimed isolated individual access to special realms reserved for the few. But Joseph Smith was not in this sense a Gnostic. Though his life and privileges set him apart–and there was something unfathomable in his suffering as well as his understanding–and though he was to his people in a generic sense “Prophet, Seer and Revelator,” yet no note is more frequent in his private and public statements than that each can come to know for himself. Second-had assent, even to him as prophet, was, he said, a form of ignorance. In the Church and community established through him all have or seek the testimony of Jesus, all have rights of revelation and reflection, all have callings to minister both the truth and the power of Christ, and even to voice scripture. The recurrent Mormon phrase “fullness” applies both to all worthy people and to all worthy knowledge. As he put it:

Reading the experience of others, or the revelation given to them can never give us a comprehensive view of our condition and true relation to God. Knowledge of these things can only be obtained by experience through the ordinances of God set forth for that purpose. (Italics his.)

Even of that realm of insight associated with temples, the Prophet wrote:

And there was nothing made known to these men but what will be made known to all Saints of the last days, so soon as they are prepared to receive. (3)

The Context

Limiting our comparisons and contrasts to present Western Christian bodies, there are six basic appeals made in answer to the questions, “How do you know?” Whether one is talking about the sources of knowledge, the criteria of decision between truth and error (or appearance and reality), or about the mode of verification, these answers are held to be appropriate. (4) They are age-old, though their present refinements and stresses are somewhat novel. These are:

  1. Revelation
  2. Mystical Immediacy

III.        Reason

  1. Sense-Perception
  2. Pragmatic Efficacy
  3. Authority
  1. Revelation

All religious bodies advocate a form of encounter with the Divine or the ultimate or, for the Humanist, the ideal. But there is radical disagreement on its nature. “Revelation” as understood in our time by major segments of Christianity has three main significances.

  1. Revelation as Event. This view held in some form by most Christian groups focuses on the Divine Act, usually the Incarnation. It is all summed up in the statement “God was in Christ.” To grasp this in a faith-state is the substance of revelation. The view denies that “revelation” is a transmittal of information whether regarding man, or the cosmos, or God. It is not a set of ideas conveyed from someone “Beyond” to someone “here.” It is rather an absolute appearance: God came among men. Such a view, clearly, de-emphasizes the “informational” hardenings of doctrine, or dogma, and tends to look upon scriptural language, even the recorded utterances of Christ, as at most suggestive, allegorical; not as a set of divinely endorsed truths.

Revelation in this sense is “once and for all'” viz., final. (5

  1. Revelation as Power. This view, sometimes called the dynamist view, emphasizes the impact of a Divine influence upon man. . . grace,” “sacramental power,” the Spirit, “the holy.” Interpretations range from tent-meeting enthusiasm to the adoration of high mass or the directions of one’s daily walk. But the point is that rather than God presenting or communicating truths to man, he moves or motivates, individually and socially, the directions man takes. No propositions are “handed down” but men are directed toward higher ends. In a word, God does not instruct the mind, but he does inspire the heart. (6)
  1. Revelation as Self-awareness. This `new, common especially among writers influenced by recent depth-psychology and existential literature (and incidentally by the Western interest in Zen Buddhism) stresses introspection. What happens in the “revelatory” experience is that one “finds” himself in his deeper levels. Worship, prayer, ritualistic and aesthetic methods are all contributive to this. Again, no discursive knowledge is sought or gained. There comes instead a new harmony or integration or adjustment within. (7) (See Item 3, under V.)

Now Joseph Smith includes, in a measure, but also transcends these views. In one sense the beginning and the end of his message is the singular and all-important mission and ministry of Jesus the Christ. He surely did not affirm that “continual revelation” involved further incarnations of Jesus. But be presents to the world records and promises of other personal ministrations of Jesus Christ in other times and places, including our own. He is in agreement that revelation involves both an accession of personal power and a deepening of self-awareness. But “revelation” for him was profoundly more than these. We shall let him speak for himself regarding ten basic characteristics of revelation:

  1. Revelation is perceptual. It brings one into contact with a perceivable, though refined, materiate order, including God, Jesus Christ, the Holy Ghost, angels, spirits; and with the “life, light, spirit and power” that -proceed forth from and through Them to “fill the immensity of space.” (8)

It is the first principle of revealed religion to know for a certainty the character of God and that a man (as Moses) may converse with him as one man converses with another. (9)

  1. It is (in one sense) “innate”. Man’s uncreate intelligence and Divinely-sired spirit had an infinity of experience in a prior unembodied realm. (10) The memory of this premortal condition is temporarily veiled. But revelation may come by the Spirit of God to the spirit of man “precisely as though we had no bodies at all.” (11) Human spirits are in various degrees of receptivity. The organization of spiritual and heavenly worlds, and of spiritual and heavenly beings, was agreeable to the most perfect order and harmony: their limits and bounds were fixed irrevocably, and voluntarily subscribed- to in their heavenly estate by themselves. I assure the Saints that truth, in reference to these matters, can and may be known through the revelations of God and in the way of His ordinances and in answer to prayer. (12)
  1. Its reception is three-fold. Whatever its modes, genuine revelation has, typically, three kinds of effect: The mind or intelligence of man is “enlightened.” (13) The spirit of man is “quickened.” (14) The body of man permeated or “Filled.” (15)
  1. It is cognitive. Revelation instructs. (16) It expands the mind, enlightens the understanding, stores the intellect with present knowledge. (17) It demonstrates the truth to the understanding. It conveys “the present truth.” (18)

A person may profit by noticing the first intimation of the spirit of revelation; for instance, when you feel pure intelligence flowing into you, it may give you sudden strokes of ideas, so that by noticing it, you may find it fulfilled the same day or soon (i.e.) those things that were presented unto your minds by the Spirit of God, will come to pass; and thus by learning the Spirit of God and understanding it, you may grow into the principle of revelation, until you become perfect in Christ Jesus. (19)

It may speak about anything and everything.

  1. It is conceptual and communicable. Revelation, whether the “whispering of the still, small voice” or a direct beholding of the Divine realm, can to a degree be grasped by the mind in concepts or images formulated in language and transmitted. But it can be fully understood in its spoken and written forms only when illumined by the same Spirit.

That which cometh from above is sacred, and must be spoken with care, and by constraint of the Spirit; and in this there is no condemnation. .. (20)

Faith comes by hearing the word of God, through the testimony of the servants of God; that testimony is always attended by the Spirit of prophecy and revelation. (21)

  1. It is functional. Revelation has impact on the “inner man.” It “edifies.” (22) The recurrent terms for this experience include fire, e.g., “the burning of the bosom” (23), “light”, e.g., “the light which shineth”; (24) fountain, “I will pour out my Spirit upon you… which shall flow unto you.” (25) It is intimately associated with subtle and deep responses of warmth, love, kinship:

The Spirit … will yield the fruits of the kingdom. They can tell the Spirit of the Lord from all other spirits; it will whisper peace and joy to their souls; it will take malice, strife and all evil from their hearts, and their whole desire will be to do good, bring forth righteousness and build up the kingdom of God. (26)

  1. It is universal. All mortal men are endowed at birth with “the light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world.” And “the Spirit enlighteneth every man through the world that hearkeneth to the voice of the Spirit.” (27) It may increase or decrease according to one’s responses. It may grow … . brighter and brighter until the perfect day,” (28) or it may be withdrawn,… . my Spirit shall not always strive with man.” (29)
  1. It is adaptive. Revelation is given “unto my servants in their weakness, after the manner of their language.” (30)

The Lord deals with this people as a tender parent with a child communicating light and intelligence and the knowledge of his ways as they can bear it. (31)

All have not every gift. (32)

If he comes to a little child he will adapt himself to the language and capacity of a little child.(33)

  1. It is self-sustaining. Whatever we may do to apply or conFirm or relate revelation to other kinds of awareness, (34) it is its own ultimate sanction.

Every word that proceedeth from the mouth of Jehovah has such an influence over the human mind–the logical mind–that it is convincing without other testimony. Faith cometh by hearing. If ten thousand men testify to a truth you know, would it add to your faith? No. Or will ten thousand testimonies destroy your knowledge of a fact? No. I don’t want any one to tell me I am a prophet, or attempt to prove my word. (35)

Every man whose spirit receiveth not the light is under condemnation. (36)

  1. It is lawful and has irrevocable channels. The increase of revelation requires harmony with irrevocable laws, principles and ordinances as well as the concentration and total response of the self.

We are only capable of comprehending that certain things exist, which we may acquire by certain fixed principles. (37)

The Melchizedek High Priesthood [is] the Priesthood of the Son of God; there are certain ordinances which belong to the Priesthood from which flow certain results…. It is also the privilege of any officer in this Church to obtain revelations so far as relates to this particular calling and duty in the Church. All are bound by the principles of virtue and happiness, but one great privilege of the Priesthood is to obtain revelations of the mind and will of God. (38)

Then knowledge through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is the grand key that unlocks the glories and mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. (39)

All the ordinances, systems, and administrations on the earth are of no use to the children of men, unless they are ordained and authorized of God; for nothing will save a man but a legal administrator; for none others will be acknowledged either by God or angels. (40)

The things of God are of deep import. And time, and experience and careful and ponderous and solemn thoughts can only find them out. Thy mind, O man, if thou wilt lead a soul unto salvation must stretch as high as the utmost heaven and search into and contemplate the darkest abyss and the broad expanse of eternity. Thou must commune with god. (41)

Underlying all of this is, to speak technically, epistemological and metaphysical realism. (42) Let us attempt now some further comparisons.

  1. Mystical Immediacy

An acceptable definition of mysticism is difficult. But one central theme is this: a direct, immediate encounter with the Divine is available to man. This may underlie a whole life as Otto’s “numerous feeling” or Jung’s “collective unconscious,” or Rufus Jones’ “radiance,” or it may be a supreme culmination of a life or discipline. There are Catholic contemplatives and mystics, both Franciscan and Dominican, and among Protestants, the Society of Friends, who cultivate the “inner-light”, Christian Scientists, and various science-of-mind groups. Sometimes any who claim an “original” or ecstatic insight, or even that man may have certainty in religious awareness, are called “mystics.”

Four characteristic tendencies are apparent in contemporary Christian mysticism:

  1. The experience is “ineffable” viz., no concepts nor words can be offered to define it. One returns to the world of ordinary experience and can at most gesture or use words evincing feeling. (43)
  1. The mystical method is one of individual denial, asceticism, and world renunciation. (44)
  1. The experience diminishes or dissolves the subject-object distinction. A “union” is achieved. (45)
  1. There is a disparagement of the worth and even the reality of the natural world and particularly a despising of soma or body. (46)

Now it is obvious that these tendencies in the mystical way of knowing as defined cannot be squared with Joseph Smith’s teaching.

He surely affirmed a direct cognitive relation with God and Christ and the Spirit. And his writings underline repeatedly the sacredness, solemnity, profundity, and sublimity of this. But he distinguished the presence and the power of God. All have immediate access to a measure of His immanent power–“the light and the life, the Spirit and the power.” The full presence of God follows the lawful reception of those powers i is literally person-to-person. One may commune and ultimately converse with God.

On the four tendencies, mentioned Joseph Smith contradicts and even inverts mysticism.

  1. The experience is not beyond conceptual or linguistic formulation. Language may accurately refer to and characterize what is known, whatever its inadequacies in rhapsodizing one’s feeling-states. Often, of course, there are aspects both of the reality known and of the self knowing which “defy all description,” “neither is man capable to make them known.” (47) But when Joseph Smith recorded, sometimes conjointly with those who shared them, his visions, dreams, manifestations and presentiments, he did so in statements. These, he insisted, were incomplete, but were susceptible to written and spoken communication. He denied any radical discontinuity between word-making for the gross natural world and word-making for the refined realm of the Divine. He even taught of an ideal “perfect” language. (48) This thesis of propositional religious knowledge contradicts not only the mystics but also several cherished Christian dogmas in the world today. (49)
  1. The method of attainment does involve concentration, and a path of surrender and obedience; the “First Principles and Ordinances” involve heed, diligence, and becoming “sufficiently pure.” The Holy Ghost, with its spiritual gifts, fruits, and powers is revelatory. (50) But it too, cultivated, leads to yet higher modes of revelation until one is prepared for “face to face” knowledge. But though Joseph Smith taught without qualification that such spiritual fulfillment requires absolute dedication and persistence–indeed, the “sacrifice of all earthly things”–it is also clear that the process is not one of escape, but one of refinement, not a negative renunciation of perception and thought but a heightening and deepening of them. And the “world” that is opened up is not utterly unlike this world. It is a spatio-temporal realm.
  1. The subject-object distinction remains intact. God and the self always were and always will be two, not one. Identity remains absolute however one may be permeated by powers “shed forth” from God. (51) One does not move up a mystical ladder losing contact with objects of sensation, then of reflection, to be finally “absorbed.” For Joseph Smith the self is more freely and fully conscious of itself under the spirit of revelation than at other times.
  1. As for the disparagement of perception and the body, Joseph Smith taught the exact contrary. Not having, but lacking a body, is damnation. To have a body whose powers of knowing, responding and creating is limited is to fall short of human destiny. God, Himself, the Supreme Knower, is himself embodied. Only through a resurrection of like glory as that of the Father and Jesus Christ can one attain unto a fullness of truth. (52) In a word, for the mystic one can only have the highest insights and joys by withdrawal from or the annihilation of his body; for Joseph Smith by its purification and everlasting possession. All self-discipline, e.g., fasting and restraint, is toward the end of increasing one’s total sensitivity, body and spirit.

III.        Sense-Perception

This leads us to perception. Few in the history of Christian thought have maintained that the realm of the Divine is sense-perception. The early surroundment of the Hebrew-Christian religion with Platonic premises on immateriality and the Aristotelian emphasis on reason made this all but impossible. (53) With the rise of modern science and technology and the refinement of empirical method, Protestant Christianity sometimes opposed and sometimes tried to combine with the advocates of sense-experiment. During the early decades of this century, the era of dogmatic natural science, much talent was devoted to showing that, after all, Christian theology is “an empirical science”: that in findings, method, attitudes, and objectives the two were not only compatible but twins. (54)

  1. Experience as the impact of the Biblical word. Karl Barth, Emil Brunner and the Niebuhrs in America, along with certain fundamentalist writers, put all the emphasis on the “encounter” with the Biblical word. (55) This is confirmatory rather than originative. One does not gain new ideas directly from the Divine, but comes to be “grasped” or “led into conviction” usually of sin or dependence. Sometimes this view is allied with the dogma of the all-sufficiency and only-sufficiency of the Bible. It may involve Biblical literalism or, as for the neo-orthodox, elaborate symbolic re-interpretation. (56) The Wesleyan idea of the “witness of the spirit” is likewise associated.
  1. Experience as faith. Many contemporary writers have the view that faith is a kind of knowledge. Faith, 50 it is argued, is not derived from sense-experience yet it is a part, perhaps the most vital part, of “experience” broadly defined. It is sui generis, peculiar to itself, and cannot be traced to a supernormal “faculty” such as intuition, nor to reasoning, nor to any ordinary sources. It is sometimes defined so as to be separate from “belief,” since that term suggests judgments about a perceptual order. In an extreme form this view maintains that faith is a genuine “leap,” and some admit, a leap in the dark. To those who ask how such a view can be distinguished from self-deception it is pointed out that all human structures of knowledge, including mathematical and scientific, rest upon arbitrary or un-evidenced assumptions. (58)
  1. Experience as consciousness of value. Most Protestant writers since Kant, and in our time especially those in the idealistic and personalistic schools, such as Brightman, Flewelling and Knudson, have held that when one values something one is expressing his deep-most awareness of God. (59) God is the ally, even the Source, of our value-judgments and aspirations. Hoffding, for example, defined God as a value-conservationist. The complex “axiological” arguments cannot be sketched here. But the point is that for such writers the essence of religious experience is not sensate but valuational. The inner value-judgment that, as Montague once put it, the things that matter most (e.g., personality, love, beauty) ought not ultimately to be at the mercy of the things that matter least (matter, blind force) is a kind of God-consciousness. (60) Science, it is then often held, deals with facts and religion with values. Both have a proper province.

It will be noticed that each of these views is an effort to separate rather than unite religion and science, and this is generally typical of our time. The trend is to emphasize differences even to the point of denying that religion has anything factually true to say. (61) It is also clear that none of the three appeals to “experience” is an appeal to the sense-modalities of sight, sound, or touch.

Now for Joseph Smith there is an important kernel in each of these views. But again: He includes these kernels and transcends them.

  1. There are spiritual experiences that are confirmatory of written words. But one must treasure up the living as well as dead oracles. Indeed, “You may hug up to yourselves the Bible. But unless through faith in it you can get revelation for yourself, the Bible will profit you but little.” (63) (See VI. Authority. His approach to Biblical interpretation is beyond the scope of this paper.)
  1. There is faith. But genuine faith is in something or someone, not just an inner concern or desperation-leap. To have faith presupposes prior awareness of something not itself based on faith. Faith, close in this usage to active trust, both originates and culminates in belief or knowledge. To follow the metaphor, faith is not whistling in the dark but responding to the light, singing to a revealed melody. It is trusting in God or in Jesus Christ whom one has apprehended or is seeking to apprehend in response to the reports or testimonies of others. (64) (See VI. Authority.)
  1. There is value-awareness. But aspiration is not inspiration. Hunger, even the refined hungers for beauty of justice or fulfillment, does not evidence the existence of food. The Divine and objective element in our valuations is rooted for Joseph Smith in “the light of Christ.” (65)

But religious perception includes much more.

For Joseph Smith, God, Christ, the spirit world, are in principle observable and, for some at least, in fact observed. They are materiate. The very organs that the psychologist calls our “apperceptive mass,” including visual, auditory and tactual sensation, are capable of such observation.

He would immediately add that his own “visions,” e.g. were not seen by the unaided or “naked” eye. A camera in the upstairs room of the Johnson home would not have recorded the Vision of Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon. As they put it, “By the power of the Spirit our eyes were opened … we saw … and heard.

and -wrote] while we were yet in the Spirit.” (66) To the Johannine statement “No man has seen God at any time in the flesh” a modern revelation adds, “except quickened by the Spirit of God.” (67)

Joseph Smith taught that the revealed God has primary qualities, mass, shape, spatial and temporal location, as well as such secondary qualities as color and texture. Beyond these qualities in which man himself literally shares, He was and is a personality endowed supremely with glory, light, power, dominion which “surpass all present understanding.” (68) “Nevertheless, the day shall come when you shall comprehend even God, being quickened in him and by him.” (69) The knowability of God the Father likewise applies to Jesus Christ, to the Holy Ghost as a person, as likewise its space- filling emanation; to spirits whether unembodied, disembodied, or re-embodied (resurrected). All the furniture of the universe in earth, heaven or hell is perceivable, though only by “purer eyes.” “When our bodies are purified we shall see that it is all matter.” (70)

Moreover, man’s normal senses “unquickened” may yet detect by tangible contact certain aspects of this subtler realm. Joseph Smith left on record not only descriptions of what it is, but also many poetic symbols of what it is like in relation to our sense-spectrum. For example:

Sight: A person undergoing what Joseph Smith called “a new creation by the Holy Ghost” actually changes, in course of time, in physical appearance, apparent to all who see him. (71) One who speaks in the demonstration of the power of God is genuinely radiant. “His face shone like amber, his countenance truly like lightning.” (72)

Sound: The outpouring of the Spirit, on such occasions as the Kirtland Temple dedication, was accompanied by a sound “like the rustling of silken robes” or as a “rushing mighty wind,” (as on the day of Pentecost) audible even to the disinterested observers. (73) Some impressions are near vocal; one hears actual words. This a voice declared unto me.” (74)

Touch: One may touch and tangibly feel the hand of a resurrected personable, though not of a spirit. (75) The burning of the bosom is close to ordinary sensations of feelings of warmth. The Prophet sometimes describes the influence of the Spirit “like fire in my bones.” (76)

Taste: In the climatic discourse of his life, the Prophet said, “I can taste the principles of eternal life and so can you. They are given to me by revelations of Jesus Christ; and… you taste them… you are bound to receive them as sweet, and rejoice more and more.” (77)

It is not going too far to say that for Joseph Smith revelation is perception, not of grosser objects but of the more refined personalities and events that surround us, as also the communicated influences of a God who speaks. Just as we can only see proximate objects when there is sufficient light, so we can only behold the heavenly order when engulfed in the light of the Spirit. This insistence on direct, first-hand, objective perception John Henry Evans calls the “Copernican revolution” in Joseph Smith’s theory of religious knowledge. (78)

The Prophet said:

Men of the present tune testify of heaven and hell and have never seen either. And I will say that no man knows these things without this. (79)

The accumulated millions of theological books were either speculative expansions on original revelations, or glorified guesswork:

If you could gaze into heaven for five minutes you would know more than all the books that were ever written on the subject. (80)


The best way to obtain truth and wisdom is not to ask it from books but to go to God in prayer and obtain divine teaching. (81)

Books, authorities, witnesses were instrumental to revelation, not a superior replacement for it. (See VI: Authority.)

How all this relates to the methods and findings of present-day scientific inquiry is a large topic. Here I only note that it opens up a radically different perspective than that of traditional and contemporary Christianity. (92) Theoretically it points to a unity of truth beyond the present conflicts and tensions of science and religion. (93) More, it recommends investigation into a realm, only hinted at in recent parapsychology, (84) to which science has some, if limited, actual experimental access.

  1. Reason

Human reason is, again, difficult to define. It has meant at least three things traditionally: (1) a faculty to abstract or conceptualize ideas, (85) (2) an a priori apprehensive power of “clear and distinct” principles, (86)

and (3) a changing mental framework of logical and mathematical rules. (97)

In our time there are three main attitudes toward reason in relation to religious knowing.

  1. Anti-reason. The tremendous upheavals of recent decades have, with other less obvious factors, given birth to two major anti-rational movements. One is Christian existentialism beginning with Soren Kierkegaard. (See V. 2.) The other is neo-orthodoxy or crisis-theology beginning with Karl Barth and Emil Brunner. There are also fundamentalists who on somewhat different grounds attack reason.

Now these writers do not escape the laws of thought in their own writing. But their dual emphasis on the utter transcendence of God and the utter corruptness or finitude of man has lead them to maintain that reason (which, for Niebuhr, is one of the roots of human arrogance) must be flouted or violated or as Kierkegaard put it “crucified” before the impact of the Biblical message is real. Reason, it is held, in tinctured with sin and fallibility. Moreover in religion it is too cold, detached, removed from what Marcell calls “participative knowledge,” too foreign to Pascal’s “reasons of the heart.” (88)

  1. Reason as demonstrative. Roman, Greek and Anglican Catholicism as well as some branches of Lutheran theology are oriented to reason as the primary basis of religious knowledge. For St. Thomas, still officially the philosophical saint of Rome, Aristotelian categories and logical progression yield “proofs” of the existence and something of the nature of God, the authenticity of the Scriptures, and even the ex cathedra utterances of the Pope. This tendency is nowhere more explicit than in the view, stoutly opposed by writers in Group I, that there is such a thing as “natural theology,” a set of demonstrable truths that are available to the human intellect without revelation, grace, or conversation. (89)

An all-important illustration is the Cosmological Argument which purports to establish rationally the existence of necessary being, or First Cause as the only explanation short of an intolerable infinite regress for “contingent” reality. Only God, the argument says, has aseity or self-derivation. To deny that motion or causal effects prove the existence of the Prime Mover or First Cause is irrational. One need not have a Christian conscience but only “natural reason” to be logically convinced. (90)

  1. Reason as a corrective of excess. This third use of the term “reasonable” would be advocated by humanists, some non-mystical branches of Catholic and Protestant thought, and by s~called liberals and modernists. It is more an outlook than a doctrine. In general it is opposed to extensions of dogma, and manifests hostility to any presumed religious extremes, emotional, mystical, or authoritarian. (91)

What of Joseph Smith here?

(1) First, there is no irrationalist campaign in Joseph Smith. Paradox or contradiction were clues to error, not to “divine truth.” He taught neither that the Divine was “above” the laws of thought nor that man is most approved when he is least logical. He, no less than the crisis-theologians, was aware of the blindings of pride, of those “too wise to be taught,” (92) who are “puffed up with correct though useless knowledge.” (93) All must “become as a little child” in order to be taught by the Spirit of God. (94) But Joseph Smith could see only mock humility in the advocacy of high- sounding contradiction or the disparagement of our cognitive powers, however limited they presently are.

Penetratingly Joseph Smith pointed up the inconsistencies, sometimes among those who professed to exalt reason, of prominent “orthodox” ideas. Here were divines who espoused an all-powerful all-knowing God with whom nothing was impossible who yet solemnly claimed that, since Biblical timers, He had not, would not, should not, and could not convey a single scrap of revealed knowledge to me. “Have ye turned revelators?” he asked. “Then why deny revelation?” (95) Logic would require either the admission of ignorance, or the self-contradiction of saying that by revelation they knew there was no revelation. He pointed to the logical paradoxes of “beginnings”; the absurdity of “ex nihilo creation”; of holding man free and responsible for action when it is “blasphemous” to say God is not the total cause of all events, human or otherwise; (96) of saying God is mysterious, beyond disclosure and description, combined, as it usually is, with a refusal to abandon a great number of specific traditions and beliefs about His (its?) nature. (97) He found contradictions in the Bible. But instead of “glorying in paradox,” he sought by resort to linguistic study, historical examination and inspiration to make corrections. (98) On the basis of logical inference… “If this then this.

“…he reached conclusions later confirmed by revelation. Thus, for example, he concluded while translating the Gospel of John, that if men were judged according to their works, sectarians must be mistaken in the dogma of only a two-fold division hereafter. (99) The Vision” was the revealed confirmation and expansion of this inference.

Conversely he often appealed to “reasonableness and consistency” as arks of the revealed truth. Thus, for example, he taught of the depth, intensity, and fullness of the “spiritual gifts” but added that they are to be accepted scripturally and reasonably and not according to the “wild vagaries and foolish notions and traditions of men.” (100) If intelligence was not associated with them, one could conclude they were counterfeit and vain. (101) He likewise cited the reasonableness of the doctrine of universal justice–salvation for the dead. (102) He had no fear of the appeal to reason, “Let them bring forth their strong reasons.” On the contrary, it was, he said, “the logical mind” that would honor the word of Jehovah. (103) Of the deeper things, “time, and experience, and careful, and ponderous, and solemn thoughts can only find them out. (104)

(2) As for the claim that natural reason can arrive at conclusive proofs about God, Joseph Smith’s though repudiates the contents both of the premises and the conclusion. Primarily his case against the scholastics was not on the ground that they utilized logical categories, but that they made non-Christian and materially false assumptions.

Take the Cosmological Argument. Joseph Smith’s teaching rejects the major premise: that reality may U divided into two classes, contingent-caused and necessary-uncaused. All matter, including man’s premortal identify, is self- existent. (105) Nor could Joseph Smith agree with another essential part of Thomas’ argument; that an infinite regress is unacceptable. There are no limits to matter, space, or time–forward or backward. There are no beginnings or endings to intelligence, or law. (106) To argue from two false assumptions to a true conclusion, viz., that God exists, only shows that validity is not the same as truth. But strictly the “God” found in the conclusion is not the God–Father of Jesus Christ, not a personal being, but the Aristotelian Prime Mover “whose substance is that of an idol, which waxeth old and shall perish in… Babylon.”

In a word, reason may help to order and relate our knowledge of God. It cannot of itself apprehend Him, nor in any genuine way “infer” Him except as He manifests Himself. The world or cosmos observed by -finite men only “witnesses” or

“testifies to Him if one already has the light of the Spirit. In such a case one sees evidences of the loving God everywhere. When the light is dim, he sees him nowhere. (108)

(3) As for the corrective power of reason there are interesting checks and balances in Joseph Smith which might be called “reasonable” ways of avoiding excess and fanaticism.

Thus, for example, he taught and promised the right to certainty, objective and subjective, in one’s knowledge of primary truths and persons,–most importantly one’s relationship to Jesus the Christ. He taught that without this more sure word,” this “knowing, nor believing only,” this “anchor to the soul, sure and steadfast,” (109) one could not overcome the trials nor fulfill the purposes of life. (110) On the other hand he pointed up the limits of our understanding, warned against declaring what one had not obtained, (111) and emphasized the unavoidable toil of learning the truth “line upon line, precept upon precept,” (112) the crucial value of experience, including “opposites,” (113) and the necessity of “searching deeper and deeper.” (114)

On the one hand he taught the all-importance of the “inner man,” the soul conditions of heart and spirit that lead to the fruits of “joy and rejoicing,” peace, love. (115) “That which doth not edify is not of God.” (116) On the other he counseled against “diabolical acts of enthusiasm,” (117) against “too much warmth in debate,” (118) against words or actions that were indecorous, unnatural, ostentatious (119) and the hypocrisy of separating thought, feeling, (120) and action. (121)

On the one hand he made such other-worldly statements as The Savior has the words of eternal life. Nothing else can profit us.” (122) And, “I desire the wisdom and learning of heaven alone.” (123) On the other hand he advocated uncompromisingly this-worldly education–its methods, its importance in mastery of environment, (124) effective participating in cultural endeavor, and a balanced program for the unifying of the whole man. (125)

On the one hand he exacted total obedience and even sacrifice to uphold the truth against the ravages of persecution. On the other hand, he advocated tolerance of everything except coercive intolerance, condemning all forms of intellectual, creedal or political compulsion. (128) Latter-day saints might be among the persecuted, but never the persecutors

Many have maintained that in religion one cannot have both the claim to certainty and respect for growth, emphasis on the inner life combined with activistic problem-solving, a resort to feeling combined with the appeal to rationality and intelligence, other-worldliness and this-worldliness, official dogma and genuine tolerance of others. Joseph Smith theoretically reconciled these and many other assumed dualisms. (But he arrived at these views, he insisted, not solely on the basis of ratiocination, but under the direction of the Almighty.)

In sum, Joseph Smith neither disparaged nor defied reason. Rationality and consistency are prerequisites to truth, but not final guarantors. Reason, if necessary, is not sufficient.

  1. Pragmatic Efficacy

Pragmatism is less a theory of the source of human conviction than a theory of truth and verification. But it is part of its outlook that ideas are organically related to practical conflicts and problems. Their usefulness, workability, actional impact is their truth. Ideas are tools. The “true” is the good and the good is what, in action, is instrumental or operational in resolving human needs. (129)

Now In religion the pragmatic or functional approach likewise focuses on the question, “What differences does it make?” The question is not, e.g., “Is there a God?” but rather, “What practical effects follow from acting as if there were?” Now this approach has influenced the theology and educational theory of most Christian groups, but more among Protestants than Catholics. Its emphasis on individual need and expression, on action as part of religious confirmation, its forward-looking rather than tradition-oriented spirit, and its reconciling, on practical humane grounds, otherwise opposed views, have made their mark. (130)

In our time many Protestants tend to argue, as James did, that any religion that “works” is therefore “true” and that the long run will weed out the more foolish faiths. (131) Humanists and modernists argue, as Dewey did, that classical religions (at least those infected with supernaturalism) are spurious, their effects destructive. They plead for total rejection, salvaging only the religion attitude, vii:., volitional attachment to ideals. (132) Still others argue that religions, though illusory and false are yet fruitful; and that the results that follow depend not on their being true, but only on their being firmly believed. (133)

Now there are two contemporary trends which tend to add plausibility to this latter thesis. They have molded a widespread attitude that has interesting effects on the whole question of religious knowledge.

  1. The merger of depth-psychology and Christianity. Depth-psychology following Freud, Jung, Adler and in our time such men as Sullivan, Rogers, and Rollo May has uncovered the non-rational and irrational aspects of personality; it has deepened awareness of the sources of human motivation. It has shown, as an ally of religion, the actual presence of guilt and need for reconciliation at all levels. It has shown, as a challenge to religion, that some religious conviction is pathological, and that real bases of awareness are often unknown to the person. Belief may be make-belief. Some psychotherapists seek to harmonize with the Christian framework. But strictly, psychotherapy does not aspire to the traditional religious goals of “conversion,” or “salvation” in any one religious tradition. It seeks to discover the patient to himself, to reduce barriers to sanity and the acceptance of reali ty and the self. Its theory and practice are in this sense “pragmatic.” (134)

One sees the merger in the flood of religious “how to” books dealing with fears, frustrations, conflict; in the tendency of much present Christian apologetics to begin with the self, to replace the pulpit with the couch the widespread union of “positive thinking” and Christianity; in the extensive replacemen t of a Biblical with a psychological terminology, e.g., from “fall, sin, grace, atonement, redemption” to “anxiety, frustratio n, therapy, adjustment, and integration.” Finally the trend is apparent in evidence that the motivation of many church-goers is quite indifferent to the truth-content (in the realistic sense of “truth”) of Christianity, but concerned rather with good to be derived from attendance: “peace of mind,” “aesthetic satisfaction,” etc. (135)

  1. Christian existentialism. This term labels a group of writers, mostly European, who have reacted against superficial scientific or rational methodology, especially in religion. Paralleling introspective psychology they have returned to Augustine’s “inner experience,” and the “depth self.” They have rediscovered the “abyss,” a symbol for man’s internal encounters with mood, suffering, guilt, meaninglessness, and dread. (126) This is “the lost dimension” of religion. The sole access to the meaning of Christianity is through “existential intuition”; a level of awareness that goes deeper than any form of the subject-object relationship; where all our aesthetic and ethical and superficial seekings turn into the ashes of despair and enter the level or dimension of religion. If there is a “verification” or “truth” in becoming a Christian, it is radically different than ordinary scientific or logical structures. It is subjective rather than objective; a matter of existing as, rather than believing about. (137)

Bultmann’s project of “demythologizing” the New Testament, Marcel’s efforts to relate Roman Catholicism to “participative” awareness, Tillich’s symbolizing of God, faith, revelation and religion itself as “ultimate concern,” Berdyaev’s inward approach to Greek orthodoxy all have the same center. They are following Kierkegaard who, a century ago, opposed the official religion of Denmark with “the concept of dread,” “sickness unto death,” “either/or” and “fear and trembling.” This is a kind of introspective mysticism that shrouds the Divine in total darkness. (138)

Now to superimpose Joseph Smith upon these contemporary movements many seem artificial and forced. But because they are in one sense “new names for old ways of thinking” three reactions are appropriate.

(1)   The built-in ambiguity of pragmatism hinges around the meaning of “works” or “effects.” Every, idea, religious or otherwise, has consequences of some sort. Upon what basis does one select either the ends or the means of his action?

For Joseph Smith the truth, viz., human acceptance and application of it, has definite, even tangible, results. But truth is at most confirmed by the fruits, not created nor established by them. Many falsehoods, illusions, expectations get “results” when tried, depending on the objectives sought, and the full implications of truth remain to be seen. More, one can only act “as if” there were a God if he knows or believes something specific about the nature of “God” and what courses of action are appropriate. If we “invent” one, subconsciously or not,” … every man walking in his own way after the image of his own God” (139) we may get certain results. But our expectations will be vastly modified by discovery of the reality as it is–the truth. The constant need for expanding knowledge both of the ends and means of man’s progressive development is the basis of Joseph Smith’s central teaching of continual revelation. “A man can do nothing for himself unless God direct him in the right way, and the priesthood is for that purpose.” (140)

Nevertheless there is in Joseph Smith basic agreement with the pragmatic notion of the import e of action in matters of verification. Before and after the high moments of enlightenment or revelation the `lust be genuine human initiative and effort. Perhaps rarely in religion have two opposite views been so firmly entrenched: man dependent upon God’s continual revelation, and man dependent upon his own continual “working out,” utilizing the totality of his experience, in relation to his needs and problems–with almost complete responsibility.

Thus, for example, to seek revelation is not to make a passive request. It is to abide the light one already possessed, draw together the threads of one’s own powers, inquire and evaluate and then ask Divine confirmation and guidance. (141) The philosophy of mortality that underlies Joseph Smith’s revelations, e.g., the need for trial and experience, justifies active struggle “if it must needs be, by the things which they suffer.” (142) The same book that says “Look unto me in every thought,” (143) says also “You must study it out in your mind; then… ask me if it be right.” Once received the requirement is total response–becoming “anxiously engaged in a good cause.” (144)

(2)   The careful scrutiny of the self, whether psychological or existential would, for Joseph Smith, only be ultimately rewarding and releasing in the context of one’s understanding of God. He taught as literally true what, a century later, Henri Bergson wrote as the last sentence of his classic book on religion: “The essential function of the universe [is] … a machine for the making of gods.”

Until one grasped this truth, until one “stretched… searched into… contemplated… communed with God” and found lodgment within for the articulate answers to the greatest questions of life: man’s origins, man’s present meaning, man’s potential destiny, his “self-knowledge” would be foreshortened and limited. One’s predicament is tied intimately to eternity, to three stages of existence. The principles and powers whereby to overcome it are likewise eternal.

It follows that the present diagnosis of man’s ills and needs, whether rooted in physiology or psychology, can lead to helpful techniques of therapy that are part of what man can and should do for himself. The modern search for the authentic self, for self-mastery, for self-realization, must lead finally to revelation. Joseph Smith put it in one sentence: “A man who does not comprehend the character of God does not comprehend himself.”‘(146)

(3)   As for “existential intuition,” one may conclude in the spirit of Joseph Smith that too often it fails to emerge from the subjective circle at all. A dogma of religious awareness which begins and ends with despair; which asserts paradoxically that nothing can be known about God except that nothing can be known is simply religiously-phrased atheism. A view which starts out to glorify God and minimize man may end by destroying both.

There is much in the writings of Joseph Smith that is compatible with the existential approach to the “inner side” of religious awareness. But for every passage one can find in Kierkegaard or Jaspers or Tillich that brilliantly portrays the guilt, anguish, care, concern, and “encounter with nothingness” of man, one can match passages in Joseph Smith on the relief, the unity, the power, the creativity, the transformation that may genuinely become part of the very existence of the human soul. His teachings on revelation, reason, perception, and authority are reconciled with the “dark night of the soul” so much in the forefront of the attention of these writers. There is a robust healthy-mindedness about Joseph Smith (remarkable when one considers the turbulence of his life) which brings together what William James called the religions of the once-born and twice-born-man–the sick soul and the healthy-minded. (147) Of his ten characterizations of revelation (see I.) not one would be acceptable to the existentialists. (148)

In sum, two prime elements in the pragmatic, psychological and existential approaches are part of Joseph Smith’s teaching: First, that religious awareness, whatever its sources, ties to the deeps of the self, to feeling, motivation, projection and the whole inner welter. Second, that one crucial (but not the only) test of the true or the good in religion is what it does, the changes it brings about the acts that grow out of it. But most importantly (and this is the heart of the existential approach) religion is to be tested by what it does to the self in its actual present condition.

But Joseph Smith would deny that these “ties” or “tests” are to be used to exclude the remaining and equally crucial aspects of religion: its objective truth, its foundation in reality beyond the self, its ultimate answers to man’s ultimate questions which reach to an infinite past and future.

  1. Authority

We turn finally to authority as a source of knowledge.

The appeal to authority is simply the acceptance of the word of others, in religion, e.g., the canonized statements of sacred books or traditions, priests or prophets, the “official” figure. (149)

Now one may accept authority on various grounds, in various ways, and from various motives. As a practical matter, a high percentage of what we believe, in all fields, is dependent upon the word of others. But aside from appeals to intrinsic trustworthiness, or prestige or veneration, one may justify his credulity in authority by appeal to the other sources of knowledge. (150) Thus, e.g., the word of authority may eventually square with one’s own intuition, or with the results of observation, or with examination for consistency finally base their claim on “I say so. Asked for   credentials, they eventually turn not simply to another authority, but to sense-experience, reason, etc. Authority is in this sense secondary to the other sources.

The “ways” of acceptance may range from hasty, superficial, or blind to the searching and enlightened. Motives may range from escapism and irresponsibility to the mature motive of profiting as profoundly as possible from the cumulative experience of the race.

Today the two major traditions of Christianity have conflicting conceptions of authority. We offer a two-sentence characterization of them on five issues: (1) the locus of authority, (2) its status for the layman, (3) attitudes toward dissent, (4) its conferral, (5) challenges.

  1. For Catholicism the locus of authority is papal. His ex cathedra utterances are binding on the faithful, but he is himself dependent on the Bible Council Decision, “sacred tradition.” (151)

For Protestantism there need be no intermediary between man and God except the Biblical revelation. The scriptures, in one or another versions, are held either as “The Word” or as our most reliable guide. (152)

  1. The Catholic layman is subject to the hierarchy in all official matters of faith and morals, including interpretation of sacred writ. Acceptance of all that bears the “nihil obstat” is his obligation. (153)

The Protestant layman is held responsible primarily to his “own conscience” in interpreting the word. And be is historically jealous of the right to say “No” to anyone or anything. (154)

  1. Dissent in the wings of Catholicism is condemned; the claim to inerrancy justifies censorship, suppression, a “Index” to what is not to be read or seen or heard, and parochial indoctrination. In theory, error may justifiably be met with force and even capital punishment. (155)

Protestantism holds sacred the right to resist, to oppose, to say “No” and to arrive at one’s own majority by alternatives. Education involves individual conversion. But violent condemnation of dissidents is also part of its history.

  1. Conferral of authority in Catholicism is by succession of ordination. A sharp line separates priest and layman; once given the priesthood cannot be withdrawn; spiritual and moral status are irrelevant to its reception and transmission. (157)

For Protestantism one becomes an “authority” by his faith (the doctrine of the “priesthood of all believers”). The line between minister and layman is blurted; who receives and retains grace is controversial but “ordination” is not held requisite in many instances. (158)

  1. The primary challenges to the Catholic position are that it is too restrictive, hostile to genuine inquiry, past-oriented, and conducive to blind acceptance, fear, force, and intimidation.

The primary challenges to the Protestant position are that it is too subjective, too buffeted by its environment, without a unifying basis (as the recent ecumenical movement shows) and conducive to sectarianism on the one hand and superficiality on the other.

Joseph Smith, once again, both reconciles and revises these theses:

  1. There is one man only who holds the “keys.” He is “prophet, seer, revelator,” and his word is to be received “as if from mine own mouth.” He alone may speak under inspirations or revelation for the whole Church. (Each may speak to and for his own province, even if this extends no farther than his own family.) He, as living oracle, respects past oracles (and these have produced four times the volume of the Bible.) Every appointment in the Church is to involve both Divine and human approval or common consent. He has counselors and quorums whose specific duties are made clear. (159)
  1. The Mormon layman is subject to the hierarchy but is himself, literally and by ordination, part of it. The same rights of revelation and administration accrue to him within the limits of his call. But the ultimate decision as to their inspiration requires his own. The mind, will, voice, power of God are manifest unto all who seek His Spirit. Such expression is “scripture” … no more and no less than the utterances of ancient Peter, or John, or Paul.

Neither the Prophet nor the lay-member can claim “infallibility.” But neither are there limits to the topic, or time, or place, of revelation. The Spirit gives and confirms to all who seek or have it. (160)

  1. Dissent and opposition may be met by persuasion but the certainty revelation never justifies coercion of another person. One who seeks to exercise control or dominion in any degree is stripped of his power which is inseparably connected to the “powers of heaven.” He is officially also stripped of his authoritative ministry. The method of administration as defined in modern revelation is “persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness.” (161)
  1. The conferral of authority is by ordination. All may receive it and various callings within it. The priesthood and the gift of the Holy Ghost operate together. The authority of a “legal administrator” and the faith of the person are both factors. Neither are sufficient. The condition of conviction, and harmony with the inner and outer elements of discipleship, are also requisites. One’s appointments are tied ultimately to the “inspiration” of those who minister. (162)
  1. These sketchy contrasts hint at the ways in which Joseph Smith’s established patterns of authority relate to the “challenges” above mentioned. They show combined respect for both past and future, for both Divine guidance and human investigation and application, for both a supreme authority and the authority of the may, each finding their mutual sanction in revelation. It emphasizes both the need for legal, successive ordination and for individual worthiness and response. It makes prerequisite both a well-ordered hierarchy in the Church and the individual and collective roles of the total community. It draws unqualified lines of doctrine and administration, but negates absolutely the use of force in their promulgation or in the suppression of their alternatives.


Was, then, Joseph Smith a revelationist, a mystic, an empiricist, a rationalist, a pragmatist, an authoritarian? Enough has been said to show that there is a sense in which he was none of these, and a sense in which he was all of them. His view of religious knowing is thus both distinctive and inclusive. If the question be asked, which of the sources, since all are held to have a role, is ultimate or primary, the obvious answer is “Revelation.” But we have shown that the Prophet’s account of Divine revelation, both its reception and application, involves the use of, or at least compatibility with, “the other sources,” “direct” awareness (including self-awareness), sense-perception, reason, pragmatic trial and error, and authority. In some of its aspects, revelation infuses and underlies all of these; in others it is achieved through them.

Let us close this analysis with one more glimpse, this time using a pair of glasses which reduces the six sources to three. One might say that in espousing or defending a religious position there are three basic approaches, often thought to be separable.

  1. The Intellectual Approach. Here the dominant emphasis is on sensation and reflection. Broadly the concern is for the scholarly way. It leads to the “intellectual life.5
  1. The Aesthetic Approach. Here the emphasis is on intuition, feeling, the introspective. The greatest respect is for mystic immediacy or revelation. It leads to the “devotional life.”
  1. The Activist Approach. Here the emphasis is on pragmatic effectiveness. The greatest respect is for practical skills, for results and performance. It leads to the “active life.”

Where does Joseph Smith as man and teacher fit on this scheme?

I submit that he does not fit predominantly into any one of the three. His makeup, his life, his mission, teaching give resounding emphasis to all three together, and to a suffusion of all with the life-giving power that is at the root of all religious knowing: The Spirit of God and His Christ. In short, his life manifested a conviction which his lips witnessed, his pen wrote, and his blood sealed: That the apprehension of truth increases and deepens as one’s intelligence and spirit and body come into an ever-deeper awareness of Jesus the Christ.

He that ascended up on high, as also he descended below all things, in that he comprehended all things, that he might be in all and through all things. the light of truth. (164)


Note: TPJS refers to Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, ed. by Joseph Fielding Smith, Salt Lake City, Deseret News Press, 1938. The first numeral refers to the page number. The number after the dot refers to the 1st, 2nd, or 3rd level of the page: e.g., TPJS 133.1 means page 133 at the top third of the page.

  1. TPJS 366.1
  1. It has often been noted that though his insights came “piece by piece” a systemic harmony is discernible through the whole. See Lowell L. Bennion, “Joseph Smith’s Mind,” Chapter XVII, Religion of the Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, 1940. Compare the statement of B. H. Roberts, “In it I feel the presence of a marvelous system of truth, a philosophy that gives unity to all history and proper relationship to all existing things; that fills life with real meaning and makes existence desirable. And if I could only intelligently grasp these great truths in the presence of which I feel I am standing when I contemplate Mormonism and reduce them to some orderly system which I am sure they are capable of, I would account myself most happy.” Improvement Era; Volume 9, p. 844.
  1. See TPJS, 324.3 and TPJS 237.2
  1. There are of course many influential negative theories of religious awareness derived from or allied with naturalism, e.g., psychological, sociological, and anthropological reductions, and logical positivism, agnosticism, aestheticism. To relate Joseph Smith to these views is a vast topic, beyond the scope of this paper.
  1. See H. Richard Niebuhr, The Meaning of Revelation, New York, Macmillan, 1941. Charles Clayton Morrison, What is Christianity? Chicago: Willett, Clark & Co., 1940.
  1. A concise statement of this view is in Edgar Sheffield Brightman, A Philosophy of Religion, New York: Prentice-Hall, 1940, pp. 176-178.
  1. This view of revelation, compatible of course with the first two named, is presented in Paul Tillich’s Systematic Theology, Vol. I, University of Chicago: Chicago Press, 1951, pp. 132-153.
  1. Doctrine and Covenants 50:27,88:6-13. Hereinafter cited as D&C.
  1. TPJS 345.3
  1. TPJS 352.1-353.2
  1. TPJS 355.2
  1. TPJS 325.1,2
  1. See, for example, D&C 6:15; 11:13; 99:11. “Yea, behold I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart.” (D&C) 8:2. Many passages speak also of the mind becoming darkened, e.g., D&C 10:2; 84:54; 95:12; “as darkened as they were previously enlightened.” TPJS 67.2.
  1. Moses 6:65 records that Adam after his baptism and reception of the Spirit of God “became quickened in the inner man. A modern revelation says: “And every man whose spirit receiveth not the light is under condemnation. For man is spirit.” (~ 93:32,33.) B. H. Roberts comments on this passage as follows: “For man is spirit,” meaning by that there is a power in man by which he may intuitively recognize truth. His spirit is native to the inspiration of God, and as two flames when brought nearly together seem to leap forward each to meet the other and blend in one blaze so the spirit that is in man, being native to the truth, and the inspiration of God from without bringing to him report of the truth–the spirit in man and the inspiration from God leap forward to unite and bear witness of that truth.

“A man thus cognizes truth. A man is under condemnation when he does not permit his spirit to leap forth and join with the inspiration of God in-perception and revelation of truth. Man is under condemnation when he rejects the truth, for man is spirit, and that spirit’ by its own nature, possesses the power to cognize truth when it is declared.” B. H. Roberts in Liahona. the Elders Journal, Vol. 20, No. 23, May 8,1923. “Modern Revelation Challenges Wisdom of Ages to Produce More Comprehensive Conception of the Philosophy of Life,” p. 437.

  1. “And if your eye be single to my glory, your whole bodies shall be filled with light, and there shall be no darkness m you; and that body which is filled with light comprehendeth all things.” D&C 88:67. The faithful are … sanctified by the Spirit unto the renewing of their bodies.” D&C 84:33.
  1. TPJS 11.3; 12.1
  1. D&C 63:64
  1. TPJS 148.3,94
  1. TPJS 151.2
  1. D&C 63:64
  1. TPJS 148.3. Elsewhere the Prophet says, “All are to preach the Gospel by the power and influence of the Holy Ghost and no man can preach the Gospel without the Holy Ghost.” TPJS 112.2. Compare D&C; sections 50 and 100, and TPJS 149.1.
  1. D&C 50:22,23
  1. The higher order of beings is “enveloped in flaming fire.” TPJS 326.2 “God Almighty Himself dwells in eternal fire.” TPJS 367.3. “Immortality dwells in everlasting burnings.” TPJS 367.3.
  1. “The light which shineth, which giveth you light, is through him who enlightened your eyes, which is the same light that quickeneth your understandings; Which light proceedeth forth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space–“, D&C 88-11,12.
  1. See such phrases as, e.g., “flow unto you” D&C 111:8; “distill upon thy soul,” D&C 121:45; “pour out my Spirit upon you,’ D&C 19:38.
  1. Brigham Young records this statement of the Prophet Joseph Smith in the Journal History for February 23,1847. Compare Journal of Discourses, Vol. 21:318.
  1. D&C 88:45,46
  1. D&C 59:24
  1. D&C 1:33; TPJS 95.2
  1. D&C 1:24


  1. TPJS 305.1


  1. D&C 46:11


  1. TPJS 162.1


  1. The Prophet teaches that one may “test” revelation by further revelation, as well as relating it to the other sources of knowledge as far as they are relevant. See, for example, his editorial, Try the Spirits,” TPJS 202-215


  1. Documentary History of the Church, Vol. V, p. 526. (Italics added.) Hereinafter cited as DHC.


  1. D&C 93:32


  1. TPJS 324.3


  1. TPJS 3-162.1


  1. TPJS 278.3; 297.1


  1. TPJS 274.3. This statement was written during the Prophet’s six-month incarceration in Liberty Jail, Liberty, Missouri.


  1. TPJS 173.2


  1. Joseph Smith is realistic in holding that God and the universe exist independent of all percipients, that knowledge is intentional, that the term “truth” applies both to that which is, and to correct judgments about it, that the difference between things as they are, and things as they are perceived or conceived is not sufficient to justify any form of subjective idealism or phenomenalism. Perhaps Thomas F. O’Dea has these aspects in mind when he says that Joseph Smith’s “common sense realism” is reminiscent of Thomas Reid and the Scottish school. See his working papers of the Study of Mormon Values, Church Historian’s Office, Salt Lake City, Chapter IV. Parts of this study are included in his The Mormons, University of Chicago: Chicago Press, 1957.


  1. See W. T. Stace, Time and Eternity, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1952. See criticisms of Immediacy and Ineffability in Peter Bertocci, Introduction to Philosophy of Religion, New York: Prentice-Hall, 1952, pp. 90-103.


  1. Even Rufus Jones, who is a “mild mystic” and a competent historian and interpreter of classic Christian mysticism argues for asceticism. See Harry Emerson Fosdick, (ed.), Rufus Jones Speaks to Our Time, New York: Macmillan, 1951, p. 143-147.


  1. Plotinus anciently and Oriental mystics today advocate this “flight of the alone to the alone.” William James held that one outcome of mysticism was “monism,” the view that reality including the self is “one” and not “many.” But mysticism is compatible with pluralism. For a representative sampling of Christian mystics see Thomas S. Kopler, (ed.), The Fellowship of the Saints, New York: Abingdon, Cokesbury, 1948.


  1. See quotations on this in Macintosh, The Problem of Religious Knowledge, New York: Harper’s, 1940, Chapter II, III, e.g., “By persistent commerce with mystic visions, leave behind sensible perceptions.” (Dionysius.) “Matter has no real being.” (Scotus Erigena.)


  1. See account of the First Vision. Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith 2:15-20. The latter quote is from D&C 76:116.


  1. The “Adamic” language, spoken under the “gift of tongues” at various times in the history of the Church, is a “perfect” language. An early instance involved Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. DHC, Vol. I, p. 297, and note.


  1. No “Trend” is more obvious than the present movement toward symbolic, metaphorical, or nonliteral interpretation of religious utterances. The ancient AIexandrian school is being outdone by moderns. See my “Three Theories of Religious Language,” BYU Studies, Vol. II, No. 2 (Spring-Summer 1960.)


  1. On the First Principles see TPJS 148.1-2. “No man can receive the Holy Ghost without receiving revelations. The Holy Ghost is a revelator.” TPJS 328.2. The spiritual gifts are inevitably associated, “A man who has none of the gifts has no faith and he deceives himself if he supposes he has.” TPJS 270.2.


  1. Paul’s “whether in the body or out of the body I cannot tell” is repeated in some instances. TPJS 323.3, 326.2. But “the spirit” and “the intelligence” are not “transcended” this would be a self-contradiction for Joseph Smith.


  1. D&C 93:26-28. “And no man receiveth a fullness unless he keepeth his commandments.”


  1. St. Thomas summarizes these Greek influences in the following passage: “It is impossible for God to be seen by the sense of sight, or by any other sense or power of the sensitive part of the soul. For every such power is the act of a corporeal organ…. But God is incorporeal, as was shown above. Hence, He cannot be seen by the sense or the imagination, but only by the intellect.” “How God is Known by Us,” Question XII. Introduction to Saint Thomas Aquinas, “Modern Library, New York, pp. 70-96.


  1. This “empirical movement in theology” (also seen in The Nature of Religious Experience, New York: Harpers, 1937, ed. I. S. Bixler) is symbolized by D. C. Macintosh in Theory as an Empirical Science, New York: Macmillan, 1919. But Macintosh admits areas of “surmise” and “speculation” which, though requisite to religion, lie beyond the method of science. Henry Nelson Wieman is a contemporary writer who seeks to mediate the supernatural and the natural, primarily around value theory. See The Source of Human Good, Chicago, 1947.


  1. See, e.g., Barth’s early “Strange New World Within the Bible,” in Contemporary Religious Thought, 1941, ed. by Thomas S. Kepler, p. 131. Also Brunner’s `Truth and Revelation,” same volume.


  1. See discussion, “Can Theology be Reduced to Mythology,” Review of Religion, January 1940, which poses the scientific liberal approach of Macintosh against the mythological approach of Reinhold Niebuhr.


  1. This position seems to be the direction of John Baille in Knowledge of God, Scribners, New York, 1939.


  1. Raphael Demos in “Are Religious Dogmas Cognitive and Meaningful?” argues that faith in God is no less and no more arbitrary than faith in scientific induction. See article and criticisms by C. J. Ducasse in Symposium American Philosophical Association, Proceedings, Eastern Division, II, 1951. Ritschl and Lotze elaborated this position. See Vergilius Ferm, First Chapters in Religious Philosophy, New York: Round Table Press, 1937, pp. 94-126.


  1. See also Edgar Sheffield Brightman, A Philosophy of Religion, New York: Prentice-Hall 1940, Chapter III. Compare A. C. Knudson, The Validity of Religious Experience, New York: Abingdon Press, 1937.


  1. See William Pepperell Montague, Belief Unbound-New Haven: Yale University Press, 1930.


  1. This view, encouraged both by negation-oriented theologians and by the rise of scientific positivism, can be seen in the article “Religion as the Inexpressible” in New Essavs in Philosophical Theology, ed. Hew and Macintyre, New York, 1955. Compare Rudolph Otto’s classic Idea of the Holy, Oxford University Press, 1923, with Herbert Feigl’s “Empiricism Theology” in A Modern Introduction to Philosophy, 1957, ed. Edwards and Pap, pp. 533-539.


  1. The Prophet himself found new illumination in the scriptures after his baptism and the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost. See Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith 2:74. “Our minds being now enlightened, we began to have the scriptures laid open to our understandings, and the true meaning and intention of their more mysterious passages revealed unto us in a manner which we never could attain to previously, nor ever before had thought of.”


  1. This is a reported statement of the Prophet. See Juvenile Instructor George Q. Cannon, ed., Vol. 27, p. 173. The Prophet says elsewhere: “What constitutes the kingdom of God? Where there is a prophet, a priest, or a righteous man unto whom God gives His oracles, there is the kingdom of God and where the oracles of God are not, there the kingdom of God is not.”


  1. This approach to faith underlies much of the Prophets’s writings. See, for example, the Lectures on Faith, p. 123, where it is taught that faith rests on the knowledge of (1) the existence of God the Father, (2) his nature and attributes, and (3) knowledge that `the course one pursues is “according to his mind and will.” Republished in Discourses on the Holy Ghost, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1959. See especially “Lecture Third,” pp. 119 ff.


  1. Typical of the Book of Mormon teaching on this is Moroni 7:16, “For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil.” See also D&C 88 and 93.


  1. D&C 76:12,23,80.


  1. D&C 67:11. On condition of genuine humility “the veil shall be rent and you shall see me and know that l am not with the carnal neither natural mind, but with the spiritual.” D&C 67:10.


  1. D&C 76:11~119.


  1. D&C 58:49.


  1. D&C 131:7,8.


  1. This “visible effect upon the body” is more obvious, the Prophet taught, for one who is not actually of the seed of Abraham. TPJS 149.2.


  1. This is Wilford Woodruff’s description of the “peculiar transparency” which so many of the Prophet’s associates noted in his sermons and counsels. See e.g., the affidavits quoted in Succession in the Presidency by Joseph Fielding Smith, Deseret News Press, pp. 17 ff. The second statement is the Prophet’s, relating his first interview with Moroni, P of GP, Joseph Smith 2:32. Yet he writes of spiritual gifts “all the gifts of the spirit are not visible to the natural vision or understanding of man; indeed very few of them are.” TPJS 244.2.


  1. DHC, Vol. 2.428. “The people of the neighborhood came running together (hearing an unusual sound within and seeing a bright light like a pillar of fire resting upon the Temple) and were astonished at what was taking place.”


  1. D&C 130:13,14,15.


  1. D&C 129:5,8. The same section refers to the statement of Christ, after his resurrection, “Handle me and see for a spirit hath not flesh and bones as ye see me have.”


  1. The Prophet uses this expression as characteristic of testimonies in the Kirtland period. It shows up in the journals likewise of Brigham Young and Wilford Woodruff. See Mathias Cowley, Wilford Woodruff, Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1909, p. 152.


  1. TPJS 355.1.


  1. John Henry Evans, Joseph Smith. An American Prophet, New York: Macmillan, 1946. “Joseph Smith’s Theory of Religious Knowledge,” pp. 431-438. After the First Vision, he says (overstating the point), “Joseph Smith never went to any book, not even the Bible, when he sought for spiritual knowledge; any more than Galileo went to Aristotle or some other philosopher when he was looking for accurate knowledge about natural phenomena.


  1. TPJS 160.1.


  1. DHC, VI, p. 50-52. See also Historical Record, VII, (January 1888), p. 514.


  1. TPJS 191.3.
  2. Dr. Sterling M. McMurrin says “In Mormon thought there has never been a commitment to rationalism, empiricism or intuition as a primary method of knowledge. On the contrary, there has been instead a tacit and uncritical respect for all three as ways of knowing. The Mormon view can perhaps best be summarized as commitment to the methods of science, which effect a conjunction of reason and sensory experience, and to revelation. The Philosophical Foundations of Mormon Theology, Monograph, University of Utah Press, 1959, p. 9. The statement leaves out of account authoritarian and pragmatic elements.


  1. The writings of Orson and Parley P. Pratt, James E. Talmage, John A. Widtsoe, and B. H. Roberts have asserted a closer relationship between Mormon and scientific thought than have typical Christian works on the same topics. Widtsoe, for example, in his A Rational Theology, (6th edition, Salt Lake City, 1937, p. 6) attempts to show that the Mormon “How We Know” is a matter of sense data. Religious apprehension, Widtsoe says, is primarily through the “sixth” sense which he does not define but ascribes to prophets, poets, men of faith and vision.


  1. J. B. Rhine’s The Reach of the Mind is an accredited study based upon laboratory techniques of such phenomena as clairvoyance, telepathy, and precognition which were considered commonplace in the life of Joseph Smith. Theoretically, many of the recorded experiences of the Prophet, and of his living successors, might be subjected to the same scientific scrutiny.


  1. This is the view of reason advocated by Aristotle and St. Thomas.


  1. Descartes and the Continental rationalists advocated the “lumen naturale” (the natural light) of reason and held that metaphysical truths were self-evident, clear, and distinct, without strict dependence on sense perception. 87. Modern scientific thought is a “compromise” between empiricism and rationalism. In combination with pragmatism this view yields the position of John Dewey and C. I. Lewis. It denies any “a priori” forms of thought to which subject matter is accommodated; “logical forms and structures are distinctions within the process of reflective and experimental inquiry.” (Montague, op. cit., p. 135.) The development of non-Euclidean geometries, of formal or symbolic logic, and a general “formalistic” movement have further contributed to this view of reason.


  1. William Barrett’s Irrational Man chronicles the movement with unusual clarity. See also Kurt F. Reinhardt, The Existentialist Revolt, Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Company, 1952.
  1. Thomas’s “Five Ways” of demonstrating the existence of God are in Part I of the Summa Theoloeica reprinted in Introduction to St. Thomas, cited above. See also G. H. Joyce, The Principles of Natural Theology, New York: Longmans, Green, 1951.
  1. For critical exposition and analysis of this argument see J. C. C. Smart, “The Existence of God,” and F. C. Copleston “Commentary on `The Five Ways’ of Aquinas,” in A Modem Introduction to Philosophy, Glencoe, Illinois: Free Press, 1957.
  1. See, for example, excerpts from Cohen , Whitehead, Fromm, Clifford in Approaches to the Philosophy of Religion, ed. by Bronstein and Schulweis, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1954.
  1. TPJS 309.3.
  1. TPJS 287.3.
  1. TPJS 12.3.
  1. TPJS 308.3,161.3.
  1. TPJS 353.2. “Is it logical to say that the intelligence of spirits is immortal, and yet that it had a beginning? The intelligence of spirits had no beginning, neither will it have an end. That is good logic.”
  1. TPJS 373.2. The Prophet opposed with logic the Trinity as “one God.” “I say that is a strange God any how–three in one and one in three! It is a curious organization.”
  1. See for example TPJS 278.1,310.2,328.1.
  1. TPJS 11.1.
  1. TPJS 243.2.
  1. TPJS 204. … . animation is frequently entirely suspended; they consider it to be the power of God, and a glorious manifestation from God–a manifestation of what? It there any intelligence communicated?”
  1. TPJS 218-221. See also TPJS 180.1. “You will undoubtedly see its consistency and reasonableness; and it presents the Gospel of Christ in probably a more enlarged scale than some have imagined it.”
  1. See note 35. Compare D&C 71:7-10.
  1. See note 40. “Man was created to dress the earth and to cultivate his mind and glorify God,” Journal History, Vol. 15, p. 259.
  1. This is one of the revolutionary doctrines taught in the King Follett discourse, TPJS 351-354.
  1. “The first step in salvation of man is the laws of eternal and self-existent principles.” TPJS 181.2. “The elements are eternal.” TPJS 181.1. “The mind or the intelligence which man possesses is co-equal with God himself.” TPJS 353.1. (Roberts interpolates that “coequal” here means “co-eternal.” See footnote.)
  1. D&C 1:16.
  1. Compare Moses 6:63,” … all things are created and made to bear record of me, both things which are temporal, and things which are spiritual… “, and D&C 88:45-49, “Nevertheless… the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness   comprehendeth it not;…”
  1. Compare TPJS 298.2 with D&C 131:5. Elsewhere the Prophet says, “Why be so certain you comprehend the things of God when all things with you are so uncertain?” TPJS 320.2. And elsewhere, “Knowledge does away with darkness, suspense and doubt; for these cannot exist where knowledge is.” TPJS 288.1.
  1. “All the saints of whom we have account, m all the revelations of God which are extant, obtained the knowledge which they had of their acceptance in his sight through the sacrifice which they offered unto him; and through the knowledge thus obtained their faith became sufficiently strong to lay hold upon the promise of eternal …. . and to combat the powers of darkness, contend against the wiles of the adversary, overcome the world, and obtain the end of their faith, even the salvation of their souls.” Lectures on Faith, ~. cit., p. 144. Such conviction “requires more than mere belief or supposition that he is doing the will of God; but actual knowledge.” p. 143.
  1. Seek not to declare my word, but first seek to obtain my word.” D&C 11:21.
  1. It is not wisdom that we should have all knowledge at once presented before us; but that we should have a little at a time; then we can comprehend it.” TPJS 297.1. “A man is saved no faster than he gains knowledge.” TPJS 291.1,2. D&C 42:61 speaks of “knowledge upon knowledge,” and D&C 93:12 of “grace for grace.”
  1. Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 2:11-16. D&C 122. TPJS 297.2. “Search deeper and deeper.” TPJS 364.1.
  1. TPJS 364.1., 366.3.
  1. His doctrine of the “second birth,” of fulfilling the celestial law and receiving the transforming power of a celestial spirit all hinge on the inner condition of the self: “Intelligence cleaveth unto intelligence; wisdom receiveth wisdom; truth embraceth truth; virtue loveth virtue; light cleaveth unto light….” D&C 88:40.
  1. D&C 50:23.
  1. DHC, Vol. I, p. 326.
  1. “I discovered in this debate too much warmth displayed, too much zeal for mastery, too much of that enthusiasm that characterizes a lawyer at the bar, who is determined to defend his cause right or wrong.” DHC, Vol. 2, pp. 317-318.
  1. TPJS 205,209,214.
  1. “A fanciful and flowery and heated imagination beware of….” TPJS 137.2.
  1. Thus he publically reprimanded an elder who addressed a meeting for two hours on the Sabbath “as pharisaical and hypocritical and he was told he had not edified the people.” Wilford Woodruff, ~. cit., p. 154.
  1. TPJS 364.1,331.2,348.1,354.1,2,3.
  1. DHC VI:57.
  1. “Seek learning even by study… words of wisdom out of the best books.” D&C 109:7,14. The Prophet’s philosophy of education has been sketched by Daryl Chase in Joseph the Prophet, Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1944, pp. 89ff.
  1. The temporal achievements of Mormonism are widely recognized. It is symptomatic of the “wholeness” of the Prophet’s view that it includes recreational needs, both in theory and practice. Hence a Methodist writes, “Positively, indeed, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints seems to have done a better job of providing wholesome recreation under religious auspices than has almost any other religious community.” George Hedley, The Superstitions of the Irreligious, New York: Macmillan, 1952, pp. 129-130.
  1. TPJS 308.1,2,3, and 264.2.
  1. The creeds set up stakes and say `hitherto shalt thou come and no further,’ which I cannot subscribe to.” TPJS 327.1. “We should gather all the good and true principles in the world and treasure them up, or we shall not come out true `Mormons’.” TPJS 316.3,327.2.
  1. “If it has been demonstrated that I have been willing to die for a `Mormon’ I am bold to declare before Heaven that I’m just as ready to die in defending the rights of a Presbyterian, a Baptist, or a good man of any other denomination; for the same principle which would trample upon the rights of the Latter-day Saints would trample upon the rights of… any other denomination who may be unpopular.” DHC V:498.
  1. John T. Wahlquist wrote, for use in Mormon Sunday Schools, a book called Teaching as the Direction of Activities, which is pragmatic in approach.
  1. See D. C. Macintosh on “Religious Pragmatism” in his Problem of Religious Knowledge, ~. cit. Also the more recent book by John Herman Randall, Jr., The Role of Knowledge in Western Religion, anticipated by his symposium contribution in Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 51, pp. 158-163.
  1. See James, Some Problems of Philosophy, Longmans, Green, 1911.
  1. See Dewey’s A Common Faith, briefed in John Dewey’s Philosophy, ed. by Ratner, Modern Library Grant, p. 1004, ff.
  1. C. J. Ducasse summarizes this view thus: “That religious beliefs because diverse cannot all be true is not important for their psychological efficacy depends not on their being true but only on their being truly firmly believed.” Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 51, p. 170.
  1. See the international symposia, Psychiatry and Religion, No. 3, especially essays by Glasner, Lowrey, Schneiders, and Franzblau, MD Publications, New York, 1956.
  1. Gordon Allport, in his The Individual and His Religion, New York, Macmillan, 1950, says,… . what has been called `functional revelation’ seems to be more common than is `cognitive revelation.’ That is to say, apparently more people report an access of strength and power than claim clarifying knowledge.” pp. 139-140. 136. A brief, if difficult, account of the rise of existentialism and its relevance to Christian theology is Tillich’s Systematic Theology, University of Chicago, Chicago Press, 1957, VoL II, pp. 19-27.
  1. See David E. Roberts, Existentialism and Religious Belief’, New York, Oxford University Press, 1959. Also, J. M. Spier, Christianity and Existentialism, Philadelphia, Presbyterian Publishing Company, 1953.
  1. As one writer puts it, for the neo-orthodox and the existentialists “revelation comprehended would not be one.” See the treatment of this and related themes of the movement in Dorothy Emmet’s The Nature of Metaphysical Thinking, Chapter VI, “Revelation and Faith,” London, Macmillan, 1949. It is easy to conclude that “God” for such writers is simply a name for “proliferations of feelings in face of the completely unknown.” p. 116.
  1. D&C 1:16.
  1. TPJS 364.1.
  1. D&C 9.
  1. D&C 105:6.
  1. D&C 6:36.
  1. D&C 58:27.
  1. The Two Sources of Morality and Religion, Tr. Andra, New York, Holt, 1935, p. 306.
  1. TPJS 343.2.
  1. James says on the Mormon concept of revelation in his Varieties of Religious Experience, “In the case of Joseph Smith (who had prophetic revelations innumerable in addition to the revealed translation of the gold plates which resulted in the Book of Mormon), although there may have been a motor element, the inspiration seems to have been predominantly sensorial.” He speaks of the “peep stones” and quotes in a footnote a letter on continual revelation. Modern Library Edition, New York, p. 472.
  1. This can be shown by comparing the ten theses listed under “I. Revelation” with any account of “revelation” in Tillich, Buber, Jaspers or Marcel.
  1. The “authoritarian personality” is a much-analyzed phenomenon at present, as the work of Erich Fromm and other psychotherapists illustrate.
  1. Montague’s account of “Authoritarianism” in The Ways of Knowing, Long, Allen and Unwin, Ltd., 1948, is still a classical philosophical treatment. (See Chapter l.) He offers an analysis of the criteria of prestige, number, and age and then relates authority of the other sources in a “Federation of Methods.”
  1. See Dictionary of Papal Pronouncements, Leo XIII to Pins XII (1878-1957), compiled by Sister M. Claudia, New York, P. J. Kennedy and Sons, 1958. Also The Papal Encyclicals, Ann Freemantle, ed., Mentor Series, 1955. 152. See Dillenberger and Welch (eds.), Protestant Christianity, New York, Scribner’s 1954. Here it is pointed out that the “light of the Word of God” is a principle of protest and criticism as well as of witness and creativity, pp. 313-315.
  1. The Profession of Faith of a Catholic convert includes a statement of consent to the Sacred Scriptures, the Apostle’s Creed, ecclesiastical tradition, the Councils (especially Trent which defined the primacy and infallibility of the Roman Pontiff), and of the Scriptures this promise: “I shall never accept or interpret them, except according to the unanimous consent of the Fathers.” See Our Catholic Faith, Arthur W. Terminiello, Pensacola, Florida, Pastor’s Fireside, 1956, pp. 133-135.
  1. This is what Tillich calls “the Protestant Principle,” the rejection of all finite claims to ultimacy, including that of any Protestant denomination. See the Protestant Era; tr. James Luther Adams, University of Chicago: Chicago Press, 1948.
  1. See Catholic Dictionary (16th Edition), Addis and Arnold, St. Louis, 1957, articles, “Inquisition,” p. 447, “Index” p. 44, “Propositions Condemned,” p. 684, and “Heresy,” p. 399.
  1. See “Religious Education” in Protestant Thought in the 20th Century, ed. Arnold Nash, New York, Macmillan, 1951, pp. 225-246.
  1. Ordination is “indelible.” “Ordination cannot be repeated and a return to the lay state is absolutely impossible.” Catholic Encyclopedia, New York, Encyclopedia Press, 1913, p. 417, Volume 12. See Also “Pope. 158. See Protestant Christianity, op. cit., p. 319 f.   –
  1. “The fundamental principles, government and doctrine of the Church are vested in the keys of the kingdom.” TPJS 21.2
  1. D&C 68:4. “And whatsoever they shall speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be scripture, shall be the will of the Lord, shall be the mind of the Lord, shall be the word of the Lord, shall be the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation.” The revelation is “unto all those who were ordained unto this priesthood.” D&C 68:2. Compare D&C 50:26,27,28.
  1. D&C 107,121:41.
  1. See John A. Widtsoe, Priesthood and Church Government. Also Joseph Smith. Seeker After Truth. Prophet of God, Salt Lake City, Deseret News, 1951, Chapters 19-21.
  1. D&C 88:6.

2 Responses to Joseph Smith and the Ways of Knowing

  1. NobodySpecial says:

    Thanks for sharing this! I am a scientist and for years have been fascinated with philosophy as that is the root of science. As a practicing Latter-Day-Saint, I have been fascinated with the breadth of knowledge that Joseph had and how his knowledge opened new doors to understanding that past great masters in philosophy and science never even considered. And yet his revealed philosophy was not anti-traditional philosophy so much as enhancing traditional philosophy in new and important ways. All of this from a man with very little education or classical training. A hick by any standard. Yet wise beyond his years or experience. To me the only explanation is the one claimed: He was a prophet of God who actually communed with God.

    “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Joseph and I agree with that statement, but add the hope of a loving God and Savior to help us make power and change in that examination. Our potential is limitless. Thank you Joseph for teaching us this truth.

    I am glad you posted this, more deep thinking, rational, educated people need to be exposed to a new way to understand and consider the world.


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