Fides quaerens Intellectum:
The Scholar as Disciple

Half a lifetime ago, as an eager undergraduate at Brigham Young University, I volunteered my services as an aide to the university’s student vice-president of academics. One of our areas of responsibility was the “Last Lecture” series, where invited speakers would present addresses as though they were the final lectures they would give. Topics of these lectures were remarkably uniform: Zion, discipleship, saintliness. In view of a recent “significant life event,” in which my life was providentially spared, my contribution to this volume is much like a “Last Lecture”: an appeal to discipleship coupled with scholarship, an affirmation of belief seeking a context, of “faith seeking reason” (Latin: fides quaerens intellectum).

What is the role of the disciple-scholar? To provide the historical context for understanding the faith, to furnish a backdrop for further discussion. Writing about C. S. Lewis, Austin Farrer noted: “Though argument does not create conviction, lack of it destroys belief. What seems to be proved may not be embraced; but what no one shows the ability to defend is quickly abandoned. Rational argument does not create belief, but it maintains a climate in which belief may flourish.”1 The glorious burden of the disciple-scholar is fides quaerens intellectum, faith seeking—and finding—a “reason of the hope that is in [us]” (l Peter 3:15).

This volume was proposed as a collection of “testimonies of scholars.” Why not “testimonies of intellectuals”? After all, are we who engage in the adventure of ideas, who live the life of the mind, not “intellectuals”? Perhaps, but perhaps not. A writer for the Salt Lake Tribune quoted one LDS writer who self-assuredly claimed that “the LDS intellectual community is almost unanimously outraged at the censure of some of its own.”2 But as BYU professor Ralph Hancock states, “Mormon ‘intellectuals’ . . . are those who are embarrassed by the Church’s resistance to what they regard as progressive trends in the larger society.” Further, Hancock points out, this “intellectual” is a foster child of Enlightenment philosophies: “This new intellectual ambition, characterized in the philosophical and social movement known as the ‘Enlightenment,’ discarded the time-honored belief that man is subject to law ordained by a source higher than his own understanding.”3 While the “intellectuals” define themselves into an informal community, others “head for the exits.” A well-known Latter-day Saint writer, addressing a group of freshman students in BYU’s Honors Program, insightfully stated that the “intellectuals” who were recently disciplined were not “the smartest, just the proudest.”4 Scholarly research should be done with insight and care, but also with humility and a sense of humor. At the crossroads of mind and spirit, the path of discipleship should be followed. Adventurousness in the realms of mind is not an invitation to adventurism.

In my green and zealous youth, I developed a passion for understanding languages and history. I wanted desperately to learn Latin, but was obliged to wait until my eighth year in school to begin. Before entering the university as a freshman, I started studying classical Greek at the University of California at Berkeley, only a few blocks away from my high school. My mind was set on fire by reading some of the works of Hugh Nibley (who has remained a profound influence in my life), including Lehi in the Desert and The World and the Prophets. In the former volume, Nibley outlines and demonstrates an ancient Near Eastern setting for the Book of Mormon. In the latter, he revisits the setting of the early Christian church and shows how the doctrines of the Restoration are redolent of the first Christian teachings. If time has vindicated the prophets (the original popular title of Nibley’s Sunday evening presentations on KSL radio), it has also vindicated Nibley’s thesis in a number of different and important ways.

In what follows, I contrast the teachings of normative Christianity with doctrines of the Restoration, and compare them with the teachings of the ancient Church. My colleague Daniel C. Peterson and I addressed some of these issues—the doctrine of the Trinity, the belief in anthropomorphism, teachings on human deification, the doctrine of creation and belief in prophets—in a book about how anti-Mormons play word games to attack Latter-day Saints.5 These concepts also form the basis of a longer forthcoming study on the relationship between teachings of the restored Church and the doctrines of ancient Christianity.


Traditional Christianity’s belief in the Trinity is summarized in the first part of the Nicene Creed:

We believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of all things visible and invisible;

And in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten from the Father, only-begotten, that is, from the substance of the Father, God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made, of one substance with the Father, through Whom all things came into being, . . .

And in the Holy Spirit.6

By contrast, Joseph Smith expressed the Restoration’s radical departure from normative Christianity’s doctrine of the Trinity in his history: “I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air” (Joseph Smith–History 1:17).

According to biblical commentator J. R. Dummelow,

although the exact theological definition of the doctrine of the Trinity was the result of a long process of development, which was not complete till the fifth century or even later, the doctrine itself underlies the whole New Testament, which everywhere attributes divinity to the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, and assigns to them distinct functions in the economy of human redemption.7

Many of the early church fathers—including Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, and Hippolytus—held views that the Father and the Son were separate and equally divine.8 The period of transition from a belief in three separate and equal deities to orthodox trinitarianism was long and painful. In the view of Maurice Wiles, Dean of Clare College, Cambridge:

To generations of Christians the description of the Son as “of one substance” with the Father has served as a joyous affirmation of the faith in a creed sung at one of the highest moments of Christian worship. Yet that is very far from being the way in which it found entrance into the vocabulary of Christian doctrine. Rather, it was admitted with reluctance as being the only available means of excluding Arianism.9 [Arianism was a heretical Christian movement named after the Alexandrian priest Arius, who maintained that Christ was of like substance (Greek: homoiousios) with the Father and subordinate like him.]


Related to the doctrine of the Trinity are the concepts of anthropomorphism and anthropopathism—the teachings that Deity is endowed with parts (anthropomorphism) and passions (anthropopathism) similar to those of man. In contrast to the view of historical Christianity, the Doctrine and Covenants asserts that “the Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s; the Son also; but the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit. Were it not so, the Holy Ghost could not dwell in us” (D&C 130:22).

In fact, the early Christians believed in a corporeal deity, as the German church historian Adolf Harnack notes: “God was naturally conceived and represented as corporeal by uncultured Christians, though not by these alone, as the later controversies prove (e.g., Orig[en] Contra Melito; see also Tertull[ian] De Anima).”10

The church father Melito also accepted an embodied God, which Origen notes with some dismay.11 Origen and Augustine reluctantly admit that before Platonic thought was introduced to Christianity, belief in a corporeal God was widespread. Origen wrote, “I am aware that there are some who will try to maintain that even according to our scriptures God has a body,” and they had maintained it for generations before his own time.12 Christianity, made “finer and nobler” with a Platonic overlay, would brook no such anthropomorphic crudities (anthropomorphism, by the way, is generally modified with adjectives such as crude, crass, vulgar, and primitive). The result of Origen’s “rigorous investigation” was that Deity is incorporeal. His conclusions permit his critique of Platonist Celsus’s second-century attack on Christianity. In Celsus’s view, in comparison with the assumptions of Plato’s philosophical theology, the corporeal Deity of Christianity was found wanting. Seven decades later, when Origen responded to Celsus (whose Platonic assumptions he had accepted), rather than defend Christianity’s anthropomorphic God, he claimed that no one else he knew believed it, either.

Augustine, the man most deeply influenced by Platonism, felt himself nearly convinced by arguments for the corporeality of Deity until, “under the influence of Bishop Ambrose, he became acquainted with Latin translations of Platonist writings and with the possibility of God’s being a purely ‘spiritual,’ i.e., totally immaterial, invisible and incorporeal being.”13 Greatly relieved that this “stumbling block” to his faith was now removed, Augustine accepted baptism in A.D. 386, at age thirty-two. But with the conversion of Augustine the hinge of fate had turned, with disastrous consequences for the development of Christian doctrine. Augustine represented the reconciliation of Classical Antiquity and Christianity.14 In fact, however, this “reconciliation” meant the refraction of the doctrines of earliest Christianity through the distorting lens of Platonism—Christianity had thus been Platonized. Thereafter, nothing was to be the same again.

While the church accepted and incorporated Augustine’s teachings with relief, they were a cause of distress to individual Christians. Typical of this was the experience of the fourth-century Christian monk Abba Sarapion. According to John Cassian, Abba Sarapion believed God to be like a man; since Adam was created in his image, he pictured an embodied God as he prayed. When the deacon Photinus visited, he was asked concerning the teaching that Adam was created in the image of God. Photinus replied by saying that this was to be interpreted “spiritually” and not “literally” (“non secundum humilem litterae sonum, sed spiritualiter”). Sarapion was eventually persuaded to give up imagining an anthropomorphic Deity during his devotions. Yet he was devastated. Sarapion exclaimed despairingly that “they have taken my God from me, and I have now none to behold, and whom to worship and address I know not.”15

Human Deification: Theopoiesis

Shortly before Joseph Smith introduced him to the doctrine of human deification in Nauvoo, a verse couplet came to Lorenzo Snow’s mind intimating this doctrine:

As man is now, God once was, As God is now, man may become.

Teachings in the Doctrine and Covenants join celestial marriage with deification: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob “have entered into their exaltation, according to the promises, and sit upon thrones, and are not angels but are gods” (D&C 132:37). Further, at the end of his life Joseph “seems to have regarded himself as revealing a wonderful mystery” in teaching that God was once a man:16 “God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! That is the great secret. . . . We have imagined and supposed that God was God from all eternity. I will refute that idea, and take away the veil, so that you may see.”17 No other teaching of the Restoration has been more repugnant to normative Christianity than the belief that man can attain to God’s glory. And yet it is richly attested in earliest Christianity. Christ taught his disciples in the Sermon on the Mount, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit,” Paul wrote to the Romans, “that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together” (Romans 8:16–17). Irenaeus (d. 180 A.D. 180) wrote, “For we cast blame upon Him, because we have not been made god from the beginning, but at first merely men, then at length gods.”18 In the view of Clement of Alexandria, who died in A.D. 215, “By thus receiving the Lord’s power, the soul studies to be God.”19 The idea of deification is vital to Athanasius.20 According to the German Protestant church historian Ernst Benz:

One can think what one wants of this doctrine of progressive deification, but one thing is certain: with this anthropology Joseph Smith is closer to the view of man held by the Ancient Church than the precursors of the Augustinian doctrine of original sin were, who considered the thought of such a substantial connection between God and man as the heresy, par excellence.21

Creation Ex Nihilo

The teaching of normative Christianity affirms creation ex nihilo. By implication, the Hebrew verb bara’ refers to ex nihilo creation as well. Not so the teachings of the Restoration. The Doctrine and Covenants affirms that “the elements are eternal” (D&C 93:33). Joseph Smith, in his sermon at the funeral of King Follett,

You ask the learned doctors why they say the world was made out of nothing; and they will answer, “Doesn’t the Bible say He created the world?” And they infer, from the word create, that it must have been made out of nothing. Now, the word create came from the word baurau which does not mean to create out of nothing; it means to organize; the same as a man would organize materials and build a ship. Hence, we infer that God had materials to organize the world out of chaos—chaotic matter, which is element, and in which dwells all the glory. Element had an existence from the time he had. The pure principles of element are principles which can never be destroyed; they may be organized and re-organized, but not destroyed. They had no beginning, and can have no end.22

The doctrine of creatio ex nihilo was not so in the beginning of Christianity. According to Jonathan Goldstein, “medieval Jewish thinkers . . . held that the account of creation in Genesis could be interpreted to mean that God created from pre-existing formless matter, and ancient Jewish texts state that he did so.”23 Indeed, again according to Goldstein, “We have to wait until the second half of the second century to find unambiguous Christian statements of creation ex nihilo.”24 In his history of the Christian teaching concerning ex nihilo creation, Gerhard May notes with some surprise (and dismay) that this doctrine was introduced only at the end of the second century, and only then by the Gnostic Basilides.25 At root, this orthodox Christian doctrine may have been a Gnostic heresy! Indeed, in recent years many scholars have begun reassessing their position on ex nihilo creation. “The verb br‘ used in the very first sentence of the creation story,” states Assyriologist Shalom M. Paul, “does not imply, as most traditional commentators believed, creatio ex nihilo, a concept that first appears in II Maccabees 7:28, but denotes, as it does throughout the Bible, a divine activity that is effortlessly effected.”26


In explaining “why prophecy ceased,” a distinguished Jewish scholar recently showed that the rabbis claimed that prophecy ended with Malachi at the close of the Old Testament. This claim was intended to, first, undercut Christian claims to prophetic authority and, second, support the claims to authority by the rabbis themselves.27 The fate of the early church was the same: when the prophets disappeared after the apostolic era, the prophetic office was placed “under restraint” by the religious authorities (the famous Amt/Geist “Office/Spirit” controversy in the early church), and the mantle was transferred to the schools—the “driving engines of the apostasy”—which Platonized Christianity. The prophets succumbed, and self-perpetuating schools rose, insisting that students be trained in their philosophical theology to gain their seal of approval. Augustine is an outstanding example of the perils that result from the loss of the prophetic, as Nibley points out:

We couldn’t ask for a better case to prove it than that of St. Augustine, precisely because he is such a good and great man. The better man he is, the better he illustrates the point, which is that no man, no matter how good, wise, hard-working, devoted, and well-educated he may be, can give us certainty without revelation. In Father Bligh’s opinion, time has not vindicated Augustine’s opinions. It has shown that we can trust only the prophets.28

In the final analysis, the loss of the prophets was truly fateful for the ancient Church. Without prophets—without authority—the gates were unbolted and thrown open to the whirlwinds of scholarly second-guessing and one-upsmanship. Without prophets, scholars assumed for themselves the mantle of authority, creating a trajectory of their own choosing. The Protestant Reformation was a revolution in church organization and in the matter of personal accountability and “grace,” but nothing changed—even to the present—in the Reformation’s views of the doctrines I have just discussed. Recapturing the teachings of the earliest church required a restoration, not a reformation.

Joseph Smith’s visions shattered the distorting lens of Platonized Christianity and again blazed the trail to the beginnings of the Church in the meridian of time. The LDS disciple-scholar gifted with such faith (fides) and endowed with such insights is to seek—and share—an understanding (quaerens intellectum), a reason, a link, a context for what was so in the beginning: to seek—and find—”a reason for the hope that is in [us]” (1 Peter 3:15).


1. Austin Farrer, “The Christian Apologist,” in Light on C.S. Lewis, ed. Jocelyn Gibb (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1965), 26.

2. Peggy Fletcher Stack in Salt Lake Tribune, September 1993; cited by Ralph C. Hancock in “What is a ‘Mormon Intellectual?’ ” This People (Fall 1994): 21.

3. Ibid., 23, 25.

4. Orson Scott Card, an address delivered in the spring of 1994.

5. Daniel C. Peterson and Stephen D. Ricks, Offenders for a Word (Salt Lake City: Aspen Books, 1992).

6. Cited by J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Creeds (New York: David McKay Company, 1972), 215–16.

7. Commentary on the Holy Bible, ed. J. R. Dummelow (New York: Macmillan, 1927), cxiii.

8. Justo L. Gonzales, A History of Christian Thought (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1970), 1:108, 205–6, 239–40; W. H. C. Frend, Martyrdom and Persecution in the Early Church (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker, 1981), 358, 376.

9. Maurice Wiles, The Making of Christian Doctrine (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1967), 33.

10. Adolf von Harnack, History of Dogma (New York: Dover, 1961), 1:180 n. 1.

11. Origen, Selecta in Genesim, in J. P. Migne, Patrologiae Graecae (Paris: Garnier, 1857–66), 12:94; cf. Origen, Commentarius in Epistolam b. Pauli ad Romanos, I, 19, in Patrologiae Graecae 14:870–71.

12. Origen, De Principiis II, 4, 3.

13. David L. Paulsen, “Early Christian Belief in a Corporeal Deity: Origen and Augustine as Reluctant Witnesses,” Harvard Theological Review 83, no. 2 (April 1990): 115.

14. Charles Norris Cochrane, Christianity and Classical Culture: A Study of Thought and Action from Augustus to Augustine (New York: Oxford University Press, 1977), 376–84.

15. Cited in “The Anthropomorphites in the Egyptian Desert,” in Georges Florovsky, Aspects of Church History, vol. 4 of Collected Works of Georges Florovsky (Belmont, Massachusetts: Nordland, 1975), 89, 96, cited in Paulsen, 116.

16. Peterson and Ricks, Offenders for a Word, 89.

17. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, comp. Joseph Fielding Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1961), 345.

18. Irenaeus, Against Heresies IV, 38, 4, in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1981), 1:522.

19. Clement of Alexandria, The Stromata, VI, 14, in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, 2:506; cf. Philip L. Barlow, “Unorthodox Orthodoxy: The Idea of Deification in Christian History” Sunstone 8 (September-October 1983): 13–18.

20. Keith Norman, “Deification: The Content of Athanasian Soteriology” (Ph.D. dissertation, Duke University, 1980), 77–106.

21. Ernst W. Benz, “Imago Dei: Man in the Image of God,” in Relfections on Mormonism: Judaeo-Christian Parallels, ed. Truman G. Madsen (Provo, Utah: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1978), 215–16.

22. Joseph Smith, “King Follett Discourse,” in Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 350–52.

23. Jonathan Goldstein, “The Origins of the Doctrine of Creation Ex Nihilo,” Journal of Jewish Studies 35 (1984): 127.

24. Ibid., 132.

25. Gerhard May, Schöpfung aus dem Nichts: Die Entstehung der Lehre von der Creatio Ex Nihilo (New York: Walter de Gruyter, 1978), 53–55.

26. Shalom M. Paul, “Creation and Cosmogony in the Bible,” Encyclopaedia Judaica (Jerusalem: Encyclopaedia Judaica, 1972), 5:1059.

27. Frederick E. Greenspahn, “Why Prophecy Ceased,” Journal of Biblical Literature 108, no. 1 (Spring 1989): 37–49.

28. Hugh W. Nibley, The World and the Prophets (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1987), 97; Father John Bligh is a learned Jesuit theologian.