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The Oneness of the Godhead


mpschmitt

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This has been on my mind for a while and I thought it might make an interesting thread. Many times I notice that when discussions arise about the doctrine of the Godhead as it compares to the traditional notion of the Holy Trinity, we seem to place a great deal of emphasis on the "distinctness" and "separateness" of the members of the Godhead in LDS theology. Perhaps this arises out of some need we feel to promulgate the view of the Godhead described in LDS doctrine as distinct from the conclusions derived from the creeds of early christian councils, which creeds are in our view man-made and not revealed truth. In our apologetic efforts, we sometimes miss an opportunity to testify of one of the most beautiful and scriptural aspects of the nature of God in all of our revealed writings. We have a tendency to emphasize one aspect of the nature of the Godhead while at the same time obscuring a far more important and noteworthy attribute of Father, Son and Holy Ghost; namely their unity and total undivided unanimous commitment to the loving and salvation of the human race.

Father, Son and Holy Ghost are completely united in all things, except their physical beings, we are often taught, and yet for some reason we feel the need to focus our attention on that fact about their physical nature while lightly passing over what is a far greater object lesson for us in Them for the way we ought to conduct ourselves. Father, Son and Holy Ghost are the models of what it means to be a member of something. The oneness they share is meant to be exemplary to us of how we should conduct our family life, quorum lives, membership in the church, friendships, etc, etc...I would suggest this attribute is much needed in our perspectives as members of the Church. Paul spoke of us as members of one body, and yet so often we offend or take offense at the slightest provocation, only to find ourselves on the road to apostasy over a pint of cream...

Consider for examples of this unity the following scriptural descriptions and quotes of general authorities as a starting place for this discussion:

Alma 11:34

Now, this restoration shall come to all, both old and young, both bond and free, both male and female, both the wicked and the righteous; and even there shall not so much as a hair of their heads be lost; but every thing shall be restored to its perfect frame, as it is now, or in the body, and shall be brought and be arraigned before the bar of Christ the Son, and God the Father, and the Holy Spirit, which is cone Eternal God, to be judged according to their works, whether they be good or whether they be evil.

Mosiah 15:1-6

1 And now Abinadi said unto them: I would that ye should understand that God himself shall come down among the children of men, and shall redeem his people.

2 And because he dwelleth in flesh he shall be called the Son of God, and having subjected the flesh to the will of the Father, being the Father and the Son

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The trinity is something that keeps sticking it's head up in religious discussions, but it's been more than adequately covered here.

God is ONE. How? Jesus said it when he prayed concerning the apostles: "...that they may be ONE, even as we are ONE." How simpler could it be? The members of the Godhead are one in the same way and fashion that the apostles were one.

What's the mystery?

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One other thought I just had. Many have no trouble understanding that "one Church" could be composed of many members united in a single purpose. Yet as a collective body it is known as "one Church" When similar language that applies to the Godhead is used, I would say it is safe to suggest that the same meaning is intended, or at the very least to allow that as a possible meaning. Thus we may safely say that we believe in One God the Father, and in His Son Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost, or in another context Father, Son and Holy Ghost are One God, or in another context the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God without any contradiction whatsoever.

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Thanks, Gillebre. MPSchmitt also raised a good point about "one church." Yes, we are expected to be "one." We also have a "quorum" of Twelve Apostles that is expected to be "one." One quorum and twelve members. Such concepts don't require any metaphysical mumbo jumbo to be understood. The only reason it's not understood by men is because the writers of scripture were not consistent, but relied on contextual understanding.

In the New Testament, many writers spoke of "God" and "Jesus" as being separate. Stephen saw Jesus on the right hand of "God." And others spoke of God as sending Jesus Christ. If one does not understand the contextual constraints, it can become confusing. Even the early Book of Mormon contained references to Mary being the mother of God. Any Latter-day Saint knows the context, but early editors slipped in "Son of" to avoid possible confusion. It didn't change a thing, yet it's been criticized by our detractors whose job it is to obfuscate and confuse.

In short, our understanding of deity is based solely on our being able to understand context and doctrine. (Look how many times it pops up here, but evangelicals would do well not to push it too far, as the Bible itself has the same issues.) They call us polytheists and, well, the Jews and Muslims call them polytheists.

.

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I think the concept of "perichoresis" holds great promise for Christian unity, perhaps even including the LDS concept of "unity in purpose". I meant to start a thread on this topic, but this seems a good place to start.

Perichoresis

When referring to the concept of perichoresis, we are still primarily referring to a relational ontology. However, it may also be said that we are specifically referring to an over-arching notion of divine oneness, inter-relation and inter-penetration of both the Trinity and creation. By way of brief background, Catherine La Cugna states the following:

The idea of perichoresis emerged as a substitute for the earlier patristic notion that the unity of God belonged to the person of God the Father. When the doctrine of the Father's monarchy was attenuated by the Cappadocian doctrine of intradivine relations, the idea of perichoresis took its place. Effective as a defense both against tritheism and Arian subordinationism, perichoresis expressed the idea that the three divine persons mutually inhere in one another, draw life from one another, 'are' what they are by relation to one another.(4)

Liberation theologian Leonardo Boff adds to this by stating that the Greek term perichoresis (Latin: circumincessio) used by the Cappadocian theologians and St. John of Damascene, was a technical term for expressing "'the intimate and perfect inhabitation of one Person in the other.' The Three divine Persons are reciprocally inter-penetrating."(5) We also observe the etymology of the word closely related to the word "to dance" (i.e., "perichoreo" which signifies "cyclical movement or reoccurance"). Here, both LaCugna and Boff convey a meaning of a "divine dance" comprised of interaction and intercourse of fluid motion of encircling, encompassing, enveloping and outstretching. This includes a complete circulation and perfect co-equality between the Persons, without any anteriority or superiority of one over the other.(6)

Catherine LaCugna defines perichoresis as "being-in-one-another, permeation without confusion. No person exists by him / herself or is referred to him / herself; this would produce number and therefore division within God. Rather to be a divine person is to be by nature in relation to other persons."(7) We notice two aspects of this definition: permeation without confusion, and divine "person" by nature, as relational.

The concept is essentially part of what is known as "social Trinitarianism", which I think is very compatible with "unity in purpose"

A God who can hear and answer the prayers of his children must be relational and changing.

And I find the sense of the "dance" fascinating when overlaid with Nibley's view of parts of the temple ordinances including "sacred dance".

Unity in the purpose of bringing to pass the eternal life of man and the attendant interaction necessary can be seen as modeling a divinely unified "family" including all of us, and as such, I think, mirrors both the LDS conception and the "social trinity".

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The trinity is something that keeps sticking it's head up in religious discussions, but it's been more than adequately covered here.

God is ONE. How? Jesus said it when he prayed concerning the apostles: "...that they may be ONE, even as we are ONE." How simpler could it be? The members of the Godhead are one in the same way and fashion that the apostles were one.

What's the mystery?

In my mind, there is no mystery.

Every instance that I can find in the Bible that speaks of groups of individuals being 'one' makes the reference to a figurative or literary unity...not the trinitarian form.

A husband and wife.

The members of the Church being of one heart and one mind.

Paul and his fellow minister being one.

There are no examples of oneness of substance as imagined in the Trinity.

Six

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The notion of "substance" came out of Neoplatonic philosophy pure and simple and has no scriptural base whatsoever.

It is related to alchemy, which taught that it would be theoretically possible to turn lead into gold, because they had the same underlying "substance". Too bad it didn't work. With today's price of gold..... we could achieve peace on earth by turning bullets into gold!

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mfbukowski, on 14 December 2009 - 07:23 PM, said:

The notion of "substance" came out of Neoplatonic philosophy pure and simple and has no scriptural base whatsoever.

It is related to alchemy, which taught that it would be theoretically possible to turn lead into gold, because they had the same underlying "substance". Too bad it didn't work. With today's price of gold..... we could achieve peace on earth by turning bullets into gold!

And the way the word "consubstantial" found it's way into official conciliar vernacular was at Nicea and is described this way by Paul Johnson in his tour de force "A History of Christianity" (which I highly recommend by the way)...

It was a far cry from the days of the 'pillars' and the Council of Jerusalem. Constantine, in fact, may be said to have created the decor and ritual of Christian conciliar practice. He tried also to set the tone of debate: eirenic, conciliatory, urbane. It was he who insisted, as a formula for compromise, the insertion of the phrase 'consubstantial with the Father' in the credal agreement. 'He advised all present to agree to it,' says Eusebius, 'and to subscribe to its articles and assent to them, with the insertion of the single word "consubstantial" which moreover he interpreted himself.' (A History of Christianity, 2005 edition, page 88)

This is in many ways the real crux of the issue between LDS theology and "traditional" Christian theology - A word that was inserted around 300 years after the ministry of Jesus. If this question had been settled in traditional Christian theology from the outset, if God really were always known by those in the know (a.k.a Apostles and prophets) that God was triune and of one substance, what would be the need for that clarification? If there were no debate, why would the Emperor have insisted on it? And by what authority does an Emperor presume to resolve such a deep theological question anyway? Is that the way theological disputes were settled in the eras of the biblical writers? No, it was always by revelation to prophets, not by the dictates of secular royalty.

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...Which leads me to my next thought...

God the Father reveals himself. He holds himself responsible for making his nature and the nature of the other members of the Godhead through whom his revelations flow known to mankind. He is perfectly capable of doing so. He wants us to understand the unity he enjoys within the Godhead that we might strive to be one as He is one. That is why the oneness of God is so emphasized in scripture. That is why Jesus stated over and over again that we must be one in that same way. Not one in substance but one in harmony - complete and all-consuming.

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And the way the word "consubstantial" found it's way into official conciliar vernacular was at Nicea and is described this way by Paul Johnson in his tour de force "A History of Christianity" (which I highly recommend by the way)...

This is in many ways the real crux of the issue between LDS theology and "traditional" Christian theology - A word that was inserted around 300 years after the ministry of Jesus. If this question had been settled in traditional Christian theology from the outset, if God really were always known by those in the know (a.k.a Apostles and prophets) that God was triune and of one substance, what would be the need for that clarification? If there were no debate, why would the Emperor have insisted on it? And by what authority does an Emperor presume to resolve such a deep theological question anyway? Is that the way theological disputes were settled in the eras of the biblical writers? No, it was always by revelation to prophets, not by the dictates of secular royalty.

I think one of the greatest unknowns within Traditional Christianity, is that the Trinity came from these very councils. From this very time when an Emperor sought that his empire would be one, to be unified (hah :P).

To me, the most obvious reason makes the most sense. If one was to say, 'My wife and I are one' or 'my family and I are one' you wouldn't assume they share some mystical substance. The obvious meaning is unity. Not 'consubstantiation'. What a silly idea.

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...Which leads me to my next thought...

God the Father reveals himself. He holds himself responsible for making his nature and the nature of the other members of the Godhead through whom his revelations flow known to mankind. He is perfectly capable of doing so. He wants us to understand the unity he enjoys within the Godhead that we might strive to be one as He is one. That is why the oneness of God is so emphasized in scripture. That is why Jesus stated over and over again that we must be one in that same way. Not one in substance but one in harmony - complete and all-consuming.

...And think of it for a moment. What would that kind of unity be like? What would our families be like, or our societies, or our nations, if we had that kind of unity? Is it not worth striving for? Albeit imperfectly?

In the Millenium, we will surely enjoy a greater taste of it, but why not look for it now? And pray for it now? Pray that we might not be obstacles to such unity and harmony being fostered in our midst, wherever we are?

"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the Children of God" ~Matthew 5:9

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