Periodicals; Mormons; Religious thought; Philosophy and religion
Independent national quarterly established to express Mormon culture and examine the relevance of religion to secular life. It is edited by Mormons who wish to bring their faith into dialogue with human experience as a whole and to foster artistic and scholarly achievement based on their cultural heritage. The journal encourages a variety of viewpoints; although every effort is made to insure accurate scholarship and responsible judgment, the views expressed are those of the individual authors and are not necessarily those of the Mormon Church or of the editors.
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Dialogue: Vol 15 No 1
OSTLER: Pre-Existence I 61 that man pre-existed "ideally" as a particular of the necessary and all-encompassing truth entertained in God's infinite foreknowledge.10 Such an interpretation is consistent with the contemporary usage of the word "spiritual," implying only a conceptual or intellectual creation.X1 The treatment of the first chapter of Genesis as a "conceptual blue-print" formulated by God before creation, was a popular means of resolving the seeming contradiction between Genesis 1:26-27 and 2:4 as Joseph had done in the Book of Moses.12 Such a doctrine was not foreign to the absolutist orientation of thought prevalent at the time. For example, Georg Hegel, Joseph Smith's contemporary, formulated a philosophy known as Absolute Idealism in which persons were considered as differentiations of the Absolute Spirit (Geist) or the Truth of Totality perceiving itself.13 Long before the philosophical Idealism prominent in the early 1800's, Gregory of Nyssa suggested that "in the power of God's foreknowledge ... all the fullness of human nature had pre-existence (and to this the prophetic writing bears witness, which says that God 'knoweth all things before they are'), and in the creation of individuals . . . the heavenly view was laid as their foundation in the original will of God."14 Progressive Pluralism: 1835-1844. Several facets of Mormon thought combined to develop a theological climate conducive to the idea of man's necessary existence. First, as early as 1835 the persons of the Trinity were distinguished and, as a result, the ultimate basis of existence was defined in pluralistic terms.15 Second, Joseph Smith began his work on the Book of Abraham concurrent with the study of Hebrew in the School of the Prophets.16 Third, the idea that humans could become gods allowed for the possibility that they were ultimately like God— uncreated.17 Fourth, reality was bifurcated into two fundamental types of matter: spiritual or "purified," invisible matter and more coarse, visible matter.18 As a result of this philosophical materialism, that which existed spiritually or "ideally" also existed "really" (ontologically mind-independent). By 1839 Joseph Smith had publicly rejected the notion of creatio ex nihilo and introduced his seemingly well developed concept of the necessary existence of man. He stated simply: "The Spirit of Man is not a created being; it existed from Eternity and will exist to eternity. Anything created cannot be eternal, and earth, water &c—all these had their existence in an elementary state from Eternity."19 To support the doctrine of the necessary existence of man, Joseph often cited a statement of the earliest Christian neo-Platonists: "That which has a beginning will surely have an end. ... If the soul of man had a beginning it will surely have an end."20 While the Christian apologists used such logic to oppose man's necessary existence, Joseph affirmed man's eternal existence in both past and future. Ironically, both apologists and Joseph Smith adopted identical statements to affirm diametrically opposed views.