Saturday, November 23, 2002

I made an exciting discovery earlier this week. It seems that Adam-God lives on in the pages of the current LDS hymnal. I write, of course, of that well loved favorite, “Sons of Michael He Approaches,” hymn 51. It was written by Elias L. T. Harrison who lived from 1830 to 1900 and would have been alive right at the height of the Adam-God teachings during the middle of Brigham Young’s administration. Thus, while the language of the hymn does not include explicitly those claims that have made Adam-God so controversial down through the years – Adam is the father of Jesus Christ, Adam is the God of this world, etc. – there is certainly reason to think that Adam-God teachings and the interest in the status of Adam and Michael of which it is a part forms the theological backdrop for this hymn. Certainly, the vision of Adam-Michael as the deified patriarch of the human race and holder of the ultimate priesthood authority of this world is a wonderfully distinctive Mormon image and one that led Brigham into his flights of speculation and radical preaching. Included here are the lyrics to “Sons of Michael, He Approaches” for the edification of all:

Sons of Michael, he approaches! Rise, the ancient father greet.
Bow, ye thousands, low before him; Minister before his feet.
Hail the patriarch's glad reign, Spreading over sea and main.

Sons of Michael, 'tis his chariot Rolls its burning wheels along!
Raise aloft your voices million In a torrent pow'r of song.
Hail our head with music soft! Raise sweet melodies aloft!

Mother of our generations, Glorious by great Michael's side,
Take thy children's adoration; Endless with they seed abide.
Lo! to greet thee now advance Thousands in the glorious dance!

Raise a chorus, sons of Michael, Like old ocean's roaring swell,
Till the mighty acclamation Thru rebounding space doth tell
That the ancient one doth reign In his Father's house again!

Interestingly, the current hymnal indicates the text has been altered from the original. My curiosity is piqued. I need to find out what it originally said…
During our discussion, I braught up the issue of the Word of Wisdom. If we look at the language of the revelation it forbids "hot drinks." I think that if you are looking for a ratio iuris of this prohibition the best explination can be found in pre-modern medicine. The idea goes back to Galen, and it is that the body is regulated by a proper balance of the humors and their qualities. Hot drinks are bad because they upset the balance, overheat the body, and threaten one's health. Given the language and context of the original text, this seems like a very plausible reading. Then in the first half of the twentieth century, John A. Widstoe reinterprets this prohibition in terms of modern medicine (see A Modern Interpretation of the Word of Wisdom). Now "hot drinks" refers only to caffine and coffee, and the ratio iuris of the prohibition is the negative effects of the chemical caffine. Chemicals replace humors, and chemical properties replace the old categories of hot, cold, moist, and dry. What seems interesting about the example is that it bridges the pre-modern and the modern more explicitly than does Mormon cosmology. On its face, the cosmological passages in Mormon scripture seem quite consistent with Newtonian cosmology, which continues to be the dominant cosmology of lay people. However, given the ease with which Widstoe's reinterpretation has been accepted, I am wondering how much we need to worry (a la our scientist) about putting together theological interpretations that try to harmonize with science. It seems that we have the capacity to abandon one interpretation and find another one when the old interpretation no longer serves. I suppose that one interested in attacking Mormonism might see such flexibility as unprincipled intellectual opprotunism. However, if we see our interpretations pragmatically as ways of solving particular intellectual problems that have particular salience at particular points in time for particular, historically contingent reasons, we could see this as a virtue.
Last week we discussed the metaphysics of modern science and its relationship to Mormon theology. The concensus was that at least as it has been formulated in the past, Mormonism has a fairly modernist cosmology -- infinite space, worlds without number, no heavenly spheres, etc. Our scientist didn't think this was such a hot idea, as he thinks science tends to be unreflective, imperialistic, and spiritually dangerous. Our historian thought that it was just fine since it is all about stories and their importance. The big thing is to construct a paradigm that works for the time it is in. If B.H. Roberts can synthesize LDS theology and Newtonian cosmology more power to him. It works (or worked). However, now we get to do something new. Our literary critic opined that the strange nesting of Newtonian cosmology within a prophetic religion illustrated the way in which Mormonism bridges the pre-modern and the modern and suggests the possiblity of transcending them both in a new discourse based on an all-inclusive welding of discourses. And me, the lawyer, enjoyed the show and tried to figure out if this would make a difference in the way that I think about cramdown in Chapter 11 reorganizations. The jury is still out on that one...