Joseph Smith and the Mormons

The Mormons, who style themselves “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” could, with very little investigation, discover the fantastic foundations on which their title rests. For even were we to wink at their assuming the unusual privilege of self-canonization, we cannot concede to them the claim of being “The Church of Jesus Christ.” The simple reason is that the Church founded by Our Lord Jesus Christ is a continuous reality throughout history. Even the enemies of the Church must grant as much, for they certainly know how to look for their villain in every age. They may reject the divine promise that it shall never be overcome, but they cannot deny the fact that it has been with us till this very day. Evidence for the existence of the Catholic Church – the One True Church of Jesus Christ – in all times can be found in the histories of every continent, of every great nation, and of monumental cities, even if some of them are now in ruins. The Mormons, on the other hand, could more easily defend the claim of having a new version of the religion of Mohammed.

As a matter of simple fact, Mormonism was founded by a man – Joseph Smith, born in 1805. No one who ever lived before the nineteenth century ever heard of his church, by name or in substance. In vain do we search the Scriptures or the records of history for signs and prophecies, pointing to the advent of this man or his religion. And yet in 1830, at age twenty-five, Smith had convinced a few followers, perhaps even himself, that the world had been waiting all this time for him to give it a true religion!

If the world lasts long enough, people one day will be asking, “What exactly were the Mormons?” as they do today about Montanists, the Manicheans, and the Pelagians. There will be very few to give the answer. But in our time there are about two and one-half million of them.

And how did Joseph Smith come by his message? When the boy was ten years old – in 1815 – his family left Vermont to live in Ontario County, New York, a region infested at the time with competing fanatical sects of the artful revivalist type. Five years later, having been exposed to one revivalist experience after another, Joseph, at last, began to experience some mysterious “visions” of his own. We learn from his writings that he once saw a pillar of light over his head, and two figures before him. One of them addressed the boy by name and, pointing to the other, said: “This is my beloved Son; hear him.” (This makes young Smith the first mortal man ever to see the face of the Eternal Father in life, a privilege not even granted to Moses. But should we begin to account for all the precedents established in the proto-Mormon, we would have no end.) Joseph then asked which of all the sects was the true religion. The answer was that he should join none, for all were wrong. So, apparently, in 1820, the true faith was not to be found!

The next significant vision took place on a night in September, 1823, when an angel called Moroni, “a messenger sent from the presence of God,” appeared to Smith and announced that the young man was called to restore the Church of Jesus Christ, said to have been many centuries dormant. Moroni further informed him of a hiding place where he’d find certain “golden plates,” engraved not only with the hitherto unknown history of early inhabitants of this continent, but also with the teachings of Christ, who appeared in America after His Resurrection. It was four years later when Smith reported his having dug up the plates from an Indian graveside near his home in Palmyra, New York. He also claimed to have unearthed with the plates a pair of supernatural spectacles made of two crystals set in a silver frame. The names of these crystals were Urim and Thummim , and the spectacles were necessary to decipher the plates, inscribed of course with mysterious characters. Being unable to read or write fluently, however, Smith obtained the assistance of a schoolteacher named Oliver Cowdrey to record the seer’s translation. While Cowdrey dutifully scribed, Joseph translated the contents of his plates, hidden from view by a curtain. The resulting composition was called the Book of Mormon and it was published in1830.

The Book of Mormon is a fantastic story, purporting to be an abridged account of God’s dealings with two races of pre-historic Americans: the Jaredites, who were led from the Tower of Babel at the time of the confusion of tongues, and the Nephites, who came from Jerusalem just prior to the Babylonian captivity. According to this revelation, America is the “land of Zion” where the new Jerusalem will be built by a gathering of the scattered Israel before the second coming of the Messiah.

The book’s preface contains testimony from three witnesses who say they had “mystically seen” the original golden manuscript. They may count themselves fortunate, for, not surprisingly, the plates were quickly made unavailable to the skeptical. The angel Moroni, says Mr. Smith, called for them . . . and he has them to this day . . . .”

Having received a divine command “to organize the Church,” the latter-day prophet founded his Mormonry in 1830 at Fayette, New York, with six followers. That same year, another “revelation” came to Joseph, wherein he was pronounced an ordained seer, translator, prophet, apostle of Jesus Christ, and elder of his Church.

In 1831 he moved his little community to Ohio and joined up with Sidney Rigdon, a local Baptist preacher, thus raising the sect’s number to over a thousand. Under the inspiration of continued revelations, Smith directed his followers to consecrate all their property to God and start a bank. The apostle installed himself as the bank’s president, and the locality soon became flooded with worthless notes. The result was that, in 1837, both he and his fellow saint, Rigdon, were tarred and feathered, and the divinely instituted bank failed. Joseph Smith promptly fled to Missouri and then to Illinois, where he and his followers, now numbering about 15,000, founded the city of Nauvoo.

Still another revelation was given to the Mormon prophet, by which he was commissioned to introduce polygamy into his church. Thereafter, the Latter-day Saint took to himself some twenty wives. This caused no small dissension both within and without his community; a serious schism arose, and Smith’s powerful position began to deteriorate. The head of Mormon used force to put down the opposition, but his high-handed tactics in suppressing dissent and his autocratic rule only further divided his followers. In June, 1844, he and his brother Hiram were arrested and jailed in Carthage, Illinois. On June 27th some two hundred men forced their way into the jail and killed the Smith brothers. The leadership of the church then passed to Brigham Young, who led the remnant community to the Great Salt Lake in Utah, where the headquarters remain to this day.

The early success of Mormonism primarily was due to the ingenuity and captivating personality of Joseph Smith. But the perverse nature of this man, had he lived, would certainly have brought a decisive end to the sect. His death, however, presented the Mormons with a martyr and allowed more able hands to assume a leadership that would assure longevity.

The religion conceived and developed by Smith is based upon thirteen articles of faith. In these, many of the historic heresies long considered dead and buried are brought back to life. And so, without any apparent continuity on the human plane at least, the Mormons resume in days the work of Arius, Pelagius, and Montanus, by reviving their ancient heresies.

But the errors of the Mormons do not stop there. They cheerfully admit that they are neither Catholic nor Protestant, and therefore they will feel no grief and should take no offense when we point out that almost every one of their beliefs has been condemned by the One True Church. To give just one example, Mormony denies the doctrine of Original Sin and, in opposition to the Catholic practice, it forbids infant baptism. God only knows how many millions of conquests over souls the devil has won on account of this one glaring deviation form Christian tradition.

The baptism of an infant brings the redemptive mercy of God infallibly to the soul of the child, sanctifying it and, in the case of early death, bringing it directly to the Beatific Vision. This is true even where Baptism is properly administered by a person who is himself a non-believer or heretic. This is why the Church repeatedly has condemned in the strongest language any doctrine leading to the neglect of infant Baptism. This sacred tradition was reaffirmed by the Council of Trent in the following words:

If anyone denies that newly born infants are to be baptized, even though they may have been born of baptized parents, or say that they are indeed baptized for the remission of sins but that they don not contract from Adam any Original Sin that must be expiated in the bath of regeneration to obtain life eternal . . . let him be anathema

Now neither the doctrine of Original Son nor the dogma of the universal necessity of Baptism are matters of the natural order that could be settled by rational argument or any amount of sentimental considerations. Rather, they are supernatural matters to be decided strictly by the judgment of God and to be determined by the authority He gave to His Holy Church. And when the Church speaks from the height of her supreme authority, as she did in the Council of Trent, we recognize the voice of God, for Our Lord said, “He that heareth you heareth Me” (Luke 10:16).

No one can be saved who rejects such teaching (see Unam Sanctam in this issue). We recall these eternal truths, therefore, not merely to defend the Faith of Catholics, but also for those Mormons of good will, who may not fully be aware of the implications of their religious commitment or of the judgment rendered against their doctrines by the Church – a Church scornfully attacked by Joseph Smith – but upheld by the great saints and martyrs of every age in an unbroken tradition.

Saint Augustine, like any other Father or Doctor of the true Church, would have known nothing about the angel Moroni, the prophet Nephi, or the Jaredites. But he would most certainly recognize the Mormons’ rejection of the doctrine of Original Sin and their tampering with the consubstantial unity of the three Persons of the Trinity. And, for that, and for rejecting the authority of the magisterium established by Christ, he would have done battle against them.

The Mormons, we can be absolutely certain, are not “the Church of Jesus Christ.” Epistle of St. Jude 1:4

  • I would like to preface my comment by expressing my respect and admiration for the Roman Catholic Church, which I consider a great bastion for good in the face of increasingly diabolical and aggressive forces for the disintegration of the traditional family and morality as the foundations of our society. I feel that there is a great deal of common ground in both goals and theology between the Catholic Church and mine, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I wish that had been more evident in the article to which I am responding.
    One must be careful when assuming that an entire religion and theology can be insouciantly swept aside without anything more than a superficial investigation that apparently included no primary sources. The author of this article marvels that anyone would believe such an obviously fraudulent religion. I marvel that he has had this thought and yet not doubted the accuracy of the portrayal of Mormonism upon which he relied.
    He has spent his life studying Catholicism, not Mormonism. For example, consider that he cites the membership of the Church as 2.5 million instead of 13.5 million–his information is apparently out of date. Understandably, a Catholic is used to a religious institution that is very large, very old, and does not grow very much. That framework makes for some inaccurate assumptions about Mormonism, a religion based on the belief that although the church that Christ established became corrupted shortly after the death of the original apostles, that Jesus Christ has restored His priesthood and his Church through modern prophets, and continues to guide that Church by revelation.
    Consider, for example, what this article would look like if written by a Pharisee regarding the second-century Christian church. The Pharisee would likely also reject Christian efforts to canonize new scripture. The Pharisee’s account might look very much the same, after we interpolate a few names. “As a matter of simple fact, Christianity was founded by a man – Jesus of Nazareth, born in the 27th year of the reign of Caesar Augustus. No one who ever lived before the previous century ever heard of his church, by name or in substance. In vain do we search the Scriptures or the records of history for signs and prophecies, pointing to the advent of this man or his religion. And yet at age thirty-two, Jesus had convinced a few followers, perhaps even himself, that the world had been waiting all this time for him to give it a true religion!”
    Of course, that would be incorrect. No doubt the Pharisees did not consider Jesus Christ the subject of Isaiah’s Messianic prophecies. And no doubt the author of this article never thought of Joseph Smith when reading Isaiah 11:1, Isaiah 29:12, Acts 3:19-23, etc. That does not mean that there are none who so read the prophecies.
    Joseph’s visions were not “mysterious” any more than those of Peter or Stephen. They were straightforward revelations from various heavenly messengers, all of whom clearly stated their purpose.
    Throughout the article, the author seems to rely on this line of reasoning: 1) God has given the Catholic Church, which is the One True Church, authority to decide doctrinal issues. 2) The doctrine of the Catholic Church differs from that of the LDS (or “Mormon”) Church in some crucial ways. 3) Therefore the Mormon Church is false.
    But of course, that is hopelessly circular reasoning. If we take it as a premise that the Catholic Church is true, then of course the Mormon Church is false. And if we take it as a premise that the Mormon Church is true, then the Catholic Church will be shown to be full of errors.
    The Urim and Thummim is a device used by the high priest of ancient Israel, mentioned repeatedly in the Bible as a legitimate means of receiving inspiration from God. Our author omitted this point—perhaps to make Smith’s story seem more implausible.
    The quotation marks around the phrase “mystically seen” suggest that this is how the Three Witnesses described seeing the Book of Mormon plates. But those are not their words; they are the words of a non-Mormon commentator. Apparently the author of this article has not actually turned the pages—not even the introductory pages—of the Book of Mormon himself.
    There were about thirty present at the organization of the Church in 1830. Only six were registered as members of the Church at the moment of its inception, however, as that was the number required by the laws of the state of New York. Many more than that were baptized in the days following.
    The article then does a fast-forward in search of something condemnatory, passing over the restoration of the priesthood, important doctrinal and organizational developments, the construction and dedication of the Kirtland Temple, and so forth, and pauses to give a brief and highly distorted version of the events surrounding the collapse of the Kirtland Safety Society, a banking institution founded by Joseph Smith. The distortions in this version of events are akin to describing the story of the Exodus thusly: “After fleeing the royal household for murder, an Egyptian named Moses claimed to be the ‘prophet’ of the Israelites, despite no one ever having heard of him before. He promptly fled with his followers into the desert, promising that they would receive God’s law and an inheritance in a ‘promised land.’ He received a revelation instituting such practices as polygamy and animal sacrifice. This caused such dissension among his followers that they rejected his supposed visions and worshiped a golden calf. The schism was so severe that Moses’ followers could not take possession of their ‘promised land’ for another forty years. Even then, Moses himself was barred from entrance, due to his sins and perverse character. His religion was left to the more able hands of Joshua.”
    The distortions in that version are outrageous, yet it is the equivalent what this article does to Mormon history. Continuing with the misrepresentations:
    “The head of Mormon [sic] used force to put down the opposition…” Not true. Joseph Smith was at the height of his influence at the end of his life, and despite having the Nauvoo Legion at his command (an armed force one-quarter the size of the U.S. Army), he declined to use it to defend himself. Instead, he willingly submitted to arrest, despite his acknowledgment that he was going “like a lamb to the slaughter.” Perhaps the use of force referred to is the destruction of the libelous newspaper “The Nauvoo Expositor,” which destruction was an action of the Nauvoo City Council after taking careful legal counsel. (Seventeen Mormon printing presses had previously been destroyed by mobs with no public outcry; our writer takes no note of these.)
    “The ingenuity of Mormonism primarily was due to the ingenuity and captivating personality of Joseph Smith.” Never mind that the vast majority of converts to Mormonism in the early days of the Church accepted the faith without ever having met the Prophet. “His death, however, presented the Mormons with a martyr and allowed more able hands to assume a leadership that would assure longevity.” Smith was a true martyr. Surely you don’t mean to suggest that the murderers of Joseph and “Hiram” [sic] Smith were justified! What if I tried to suggest that Peter’s martyrdom was the result of the understandable indignation of Jews, since Peter had allowed the gospel to be preached to Gentiles, and that he got what was coming to him? And anyone familiar with the incredible amount accomplished by Smith in everything from theology to city-building in his short life would hesitate to refer to him as less capable than his successors.
    “The religion conceived and developed by Smith is based upon thirteen articles of faith.” No, the thirteen Articles of Faith were a description of Mormonism that Smith provided in a letter to John Wentworth, editor of the Chicago Democrat. They are a description—not the basis—of the religion. The basis of the religion is the principle of continued revelation.
    “[The Mormons] cheerfully admit that they are neither Catholic nor Protestant, and therefore they will feel no grief and should take no offense when we point out that almost every one of their beliefs has been condemned by the One True Church.” Of course Mormon beliefs are not the same as Catholic beliefs. That should be obvious. Many Catholic beliefs have also been condemned by Mormonism—the practice of baptizing infants, for example, is strongly condemned in the Book of Mormon, in Moroni, chapter 8. I don’t suppose either of these facts gets us any closer to determining which of the two claims is legitimate.
    In reference to this last doctrine, I strongly suggest that the reader consult Moroni’s account—it is available online; search for “LDS scriptures”—in order to hear our perspective on those souls whose “sins are forgiven [them] for [Christ’s] name’s sake” (1 John 2:12).
    To say that “almost every one” of our beliefs is opposed to Catholicism is a gross exaggeration. We share a much closer affinity to Catholicism than to Protestantism in our view of faith and works, of the need for a single church structure with priesthood authorization, and of the Protestant doctrine of “sola scriptura,” to name a few. On many other points, such as the central doctrine that mankind may be saved through the Atonement of Jesus Christ and the status of the Bible as the Word of God, we agree with Catholics and Protestants alike.
    “We recall these eternal truths, therefore, not merely to defend the Faith of Catholics, but also for those Mormons of good will, who may not fully be aware of the implications of their religious commitment or of the judgment rendered against their doctrines by the Church – a Church scornfully attacked by Joseph Smith – but upheld by the great saints and martyrs of every age in an unbroken tradition.” I must say that this is a bit presumptuous. For one who errs in so many easy points of fact and relies upon such a dubious and distorted version of Mormon history to think that perhaps those members of our faith, who have devoted their lives to understanding Mormon doctrine and history, are not as “fully aware of the implications” of their religion as he is, is hard for me to hear.
    There is also irony in the charge that Joseph Smith “scornfully attacked” the Catholic Church. What is this article but a “scornful attack” both on our doctrine and on Smith’s character? Furthermore, although Joseph Smith occasionally denounced those points of Catholicism that were in conflict with Mormon doctrine, he did not focus his ministry on attacking Catholicism or claiming that the papacy is the Antichrist, the way that other reformers of his day did. In fact, he made statements to the effect that Catholicism is worth more than all the Protestant denominations, since to whatever degree Catholicism had become corrupted, the Protestants, being offshoots of the Catholic Church, can have no greater claim to legitimacy.
    There are points of very important doctrinal difference between Mormonism and Catholicism. These include the nature of the Godhead vs. the Trinity, man’s fallen nature vs. Original Sin, and the concept of dispensations and restorations vs. the continuity of the Catholic Church and its self-identification as the original church of Christ. Unfortunately, this article did not deal with any of these issues at their root.
    Most concerning is the final call to do “battle” with Mormonism. As I noted at the beginning, Mormons have much in common with Catholics. We find ourselves on the same side of the crucial issues that threaten the sanctity of the family, of marriage, of life, and of religious liberties. We should acknowledge our differences, but we must not allow divisiveness to compromise our ability to unite against common enemies.

  • Sheen T. Kottkamp

    The Mormon doctrine is emotionally and spiritually destructive to its members whether they see it or not. I feel a great deal of empathy for them. Banter all you want about Mormon interpretation of scripture, the reality is the Mormon “strives” for perfection by works…never doing enough for the church…always striving…no peace to be found in that type of environment, a church without peace, silence to the soul, sanctuary. It is about continuous striving for perfection. No wonder many of the Mormons I meet as I’ve said, appear restless…worried, concerned they are not doing enough. Most significantly, the church silences any member who questions its doctrines, they literaly “stifle” dissent among members. Look at the evidence of this discussion board and how we; non-Mormon Christians or so confronted when we question the validity of Their Doctrines, Their teachings, Their beliefs. They move to excommunicate any informed intellectual member such as the archeologists I referenced in earlier posts from expressing the truths they have discovered…an abomination. They adamantly claim they are Christian yet preach and teach a contradictory doctrine, Mormons speak of the necessity of men (priests) of their church to carry out ordinances; provide salvation for their members. Christ is the only one who saves men. It is a system of man made expectations and requirements for salvation were by MEN judge whether or not you “are doing enough for salvation”. It is spiritual abusive in my thinking. No Book of Mormon…it is a 1900th century religious fiction, no Lamanites,therefore, no visitation from Christ to the Americas, no further need for any additional “Man-Made: Doctrines supposedly “givin” by God, No Mormon church. My hope is that our Mormon friends grasp the Holy Bible esp the very words of Christ in the New Testament so that they may see the falseness of this faith. It is man-made to serve MAN, and leads others away from the true Christ…”eternal progression” to eventually become a God oneself…tremendous deception. I feel great empathy for any member for whatever reason can not live up to the church’s expectations of them…how sad for them to be seen, judged as less than. This faith is corrupt in the teachings about works and deeds to gain Gods favor. See gentlemen, it is not about deeds and works to serve the poor, the needy, but for continuous “exaltation”/ progression of the individual MAN they are concerned with. Again, the Book of Mormon is fiction, it is the foundation of the church. That is why the truths of its origins and content are so vehemently defended by the Mormon faithful despite the mountain of contradictory evidence conveniently ignored. Argue all the scripture you wish, irrelevant. God is Spirit (beyond ones comprehension), Christ was God in human form…he was of Mary as well, that is why he prayed to God the father…he was in human form at the time. Not difficult to comprehend if you can accept that God is not flesh and bone, an exalted man, the Holy Spirit is the spirit, the essence, the being of God himself. Trinity. Father, son, and Holy Spirit, one God. Thank God for the one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, universal, now…in the beginning, and will be in the end.

  • Annonymous

    The Mirmon Church is False Religion, A Fraud, and An Occultic Cult. You wasted your typing. The Catholic article owed you Mormons. Wow! Jesus showed me to love Catholics in a dream. Catholics are True Christians. Thank you!

  • Grant Guthrie

    @6f8a6e3cb47fe8103ba95ef9550024b5:disqus thanks for your post. I know you might not even see this because you posted this about 4 years ago, but It’s a good read and I respect your arguments. I’m a Roman Catholic, and I think Mormonism is a very interesting topic, one that I have been studying recently because religion intrigues me. I think the Book of Mormon is a fascinating story and have actually just ordered a 1830 1st ed. Replica. Yes, I think this article did not live up to the orthodox expectations on factual accuracy. It’s fascinating you mentioned that the Urim and Thummim were used by the high Jewish priests of old, and mentioned in the bible! Wow! I’ll have to look into that, I did’t know that connection.

    Something I would encourage you to do would be to look more in depth into the ancient Christian church. During the era, after the last Apostle of Jesus Christ died; when the church was just getting on it’s feet. As Catholics, of course, we don’t believe in the “Great Apostasy”, believing instead that as imperfect people with problems of our own and heresies arising along the way, the Holy Ghost stayed with his church on earth and lead us through the ages protecting us and guiding us. The Church instead of conforming to heresy, battled it and took it on. In many instances we actually completely destroyed some. Jesus Christ knew the church would be attacked by evil, so he stayed with the Bishops and clergy through an un-broken line of succession.

    I truly respect Mormonism and think there should be a better relationship between our churches, united in morality against the evil of this present age. Our theology might be different, but our hearts are the same on many issues. I guess the Light of Christ can shine down on us all, illuminating what is of himself.

    God Bless

  • packerfansam

    I have to pray and hope that people receive the guidance to do the right things about the various controversial subjects brought up on this page.