Monthly Archives: April 2014

New Release: “The Mormon Doctrine of Deity” by B. H. Roberts

This 296-page 1903 book, now available on Project Gutenberg, presents a debate originally published in the Improvement Era between B. H. Roberts and the Catholic Rev. Van Der Donckt regarding the titular subject, along with some related material. As the editors of the Improvement Era wrote:

In the first two numbers of the present volume of the Era, an article on the Characteristics of the Deity from a ‘Mormon’ View Point, appeared from the pen of Elder B. H. Roberts. It was natural that ministers of the Christian denominations should differ from the views there expressed. Shortly after its appearance, a communication was received from Reverend Van Der Donckt, of the Catholic church, of Pocatello, Idaho, asking that a reply which he had written might be printed in the Era. His article is a splendid exposition of the generally accepted Christian views of God, well written and to the point, and which we think will be read with pleasure by all who are interested in the subject. We must, of course, dissent from many of the deductions with which we cannot at all agree, but we think the presentation of the argument from the other side will be of value to the Elders who go forth to preach the Gospel, as showing them what they must meet on this subject. It is therefore presented in full; the Era, of course, reserving the right to print any reply that may be deemed necessary.—Editors.

Roberts in fact wrote a lengthy reply. The original Roberts article, Rev. Van Der Donckt’s rebuttal, and Roberts’ reply form chapters one, two, and three, with a combined length of 170 pages. The balance of the book consists mostly of selected other discourses, including another lengthy Roberts lecture entitled “Jesus Christ: The Revelation of God”; extracts from Joseph Smith’s King Follett Sermon; and talks by Brigham Young, Orson Pratt, and Joseph F. Smith.

The debate, especially Roberts’ rebuttal of the ‘sectarian’ doctrine of deity, is the most interesting part of the work. He quotes scripture, philosophy, and ecclesiastical history (showing himself to be very well-read) to demonstrate the Greek origin and self-contradictory implications of the ‘sectarian’ doctrine and the merits of the ‘Mormon’ doctrine. He’s surprisingly candid and unashamed of the Gospel, espousing a belief in the “plurality of Gods” with confidence. An excerpt from Roberts’ reply to Mr. V (as he calls the Rev. Van Der Donckt) shows a bit of his engaging, adversarial style of debate:

After thus [in the preceding quote from Herbert Spencer’s “First Principles”] running to absurdity the prevalent conceptions of the “Infinite,” the “Absolute,” the “Uncaused,” Mr. V.’s “Most simple or not compound” “Being,” the churchman does what all orthodox Christians do, he commits a violence against all human understanding and good sense—he arbitrarily declares, in the face of his own inexorable logic and its inevitable deductions, that, “it is our duty to think of God as personal; and it is our duty to believe that he is infinite;” that is, it is our duty to think of the infinite as at once limited and unlimited; as finite and infinite—”which,” to use a phrase dear to Mr. Van Der Donckt, “is absurd,” and therefore not to be entertained.

The other discourses presented in the later part of the book serve to further flesh out the Mormon doctrine and demonstrate that it’s been uniform throughout the history of the Church. In summary, Mormon Doctrine of Deity offers a brilliant writer’s authoritative treatment of the topic, an engaging debate, and extracts from a who’s who of early Church leaders and thinkers. It’s well worth a read.

Excerpt: John Taylor on socialism and French philosophy

The Icarians, a French socialist group, established a commune in Nauvoo after the departure of the saints. On his mission to France, John Taylor discussed the gospel with one of their leaders and took a rather dim view of both socialism and French philosophy in general. B. H. Roberts, in The Life of John Taylor (which we recently released on Project Gutenberg), writes the following:

Shortly after the discussion Elder Taylor left Boulogne for Paris, where he began studying the French language, and teaching the gospel. Among the interesting people whom he met there was M. Krolokoski, a disciple of M. Fourier, the distinguished French socialist. M. Krolokoski was a gentleman of some standing, being the editor of a paper published in Paris in support of Fourier’s views. Another thing which makes the visit of this gentleman to Elder Taylor interesting is the fact that it was the society to which he belonged that sent M. Cabet to Nauvoo with the French Icarians, to establish a community on Fourier’s principles. At his request Elder Taylor explained to him the leading principles of the gospel. At the conclusion of that explanation the following conversation occurred:

M. Krolokoski.—”Mr. Taylor, do you propose no other plan to ameliorate the condition of mankind than that of baptism for the remission of sins?”

Elder Taylor.—”This is all I propose about the matter.”

M. Krolokoski.—”Well, I wish you every success; but I am afraid you will not succeed.”

Elder Taylor.—”Monsieur Krolokoski, you sent Monsieur Cabet to Nauvoo, some time ago. He was considered your leader—the most talented man you had. He went to Nauvoo shortly after we had deserted it. Houses and lands could be obtained at a mere nominal sum. Rich farms were deserted, and thousands of us had left our houses and furniture in them, and almost everything calculated to promote the happiness of man was there. Never could a person go to a place under more happy circumstances. Besides all the advantages of having everything made ready to his hand, M. Cabet had a select company of colonists. He and his company went to Nauvoo—what is the result? I read in all your reports from there—published in your own paper here, in Paris, a continued cry for help. The cry is money, money! We want money to help us carry out our designs. While your colony in Nauvoo with all the advantages of our deserted fields and homes—that they had only to move into—have been dragging out a miserable existence, the Latter-day Saints, though stripped of their all and banished from civilized society into the valleys of the Rocky Mountains, to seek that protection among savages—among the peau rouges as you call our Indians—which Christian civilization denied us—there our people have built houses, enclosed lands, cultivated gardens, built school-houses, and have organized a government and are prospering in all the blessings of civilized life. Not only this, but they have sent thousands and thousands of dollars over to Europe to assist the suffering poor to go to America, where they might find an asylum.

“The society I represent, M. Krolokoski,” he continued, “comes with the fear of God—the worship of the Great Eloheim; we offer the simple plan ordained of God, viz: repentance, baptism for the remission of sins, and the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost. Our people have not been seeking the influence of the world, nor the power of government, but they have obtained both. Whilst you, with your philosophy, independent of God, have been seeking to build up a system of communism and a government which is, according to your own accounts, the way to introduce the Millennial reign. Now, which is the best, our religion, or your philosophy?”

M. Krolokoski.—”Well, Mr. Taylor, I can say nothing.”

“Philosophy” has always been a passion with the French; but Elder Taylor seems not to have had a very high regard for what he saw of it among them. He held it in the same esteem that Paul did the “science” of the Greeks—he considered it a misnomer—philosophy, falsely so called.

One day in walking through the splendid grounds of the Fardin des Plantes with a number of friends, one of the party purchased a curious kind of cake, so thin and light, that you could blow it away, and eat all day of it and still not be satisfied. Some one of the company asked Elder Taylor if he knew the name of it. “No,” he replied, “I don’t know the proper name; but in the absence of one, I can give it a name—I will call it French philosophy, or fried froth, which ever you like.”

B. H. Roberts reviews John Taylor’s “Mediation and Atonement”

B. H. Roberts’ The Life of John Taylor, which we just released, contains this discussion of Taylor’s An Examination Into and an Elucidation of the Great Principle of the Mediation and Atonement of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (available on PG). The rest of this post consists of an extract from Chapter 42 of the former:

In the main, it is a collection of scriptural passages bearing upon the subject, brought together from both ancient and modern revelations, and arranged in such manner as to develop the necessity, sufficiency, efficacy, glory, power and completeness of the atonement made by Messiah, for the sins of the world. It is not a work ambitious of displaying literary skill, or written with a view to meet the shallow and trifling objections urged against this great, central fact of the gospel by glib-tongued infidels and repeated without thought by their apish followers. It was the object of the author to bring together all the testimonies to be found in holy writ on this subject, as well in modern as in ancient scripture; and most admirably did he succeed, linking the testimonies together with such remarks as make their meanings and bearings clear, and increase the value of the original passages. The student of the great subject of the atonement, will find in President Taylor’s work a most valuable collection of material for his consideration.

In chapter XXIII he will also find a most valuable reference to the doctrine of evolution as believed in by the Darwinian school of philosophers–a school of philosophy which professes to trace living phenomena to their origin, and which, if it were true, would at once destroy the doctrine of the Atonement.

In the appendix to the work, also will be found some interesting information in relation to the ideas of a general atonement and redemption entertained by the ancient heathen nations, traces of which may still be found in the traditions of their descendants. From these facts some noted infidel writers have sought to make it appear that the Christian doctrine of the atonement was derived from the heathens; but President Taylor clearly proves that the heathens originally derived their knowledge of these things from the earlier servants of God, and have preserved those truths, though in a mutilated form, in their traditions. “Exhibiting,” as President Taylor writes, “that the atonement was a great plan of the Almighty for the salvation, redemption and exaltation of the human family; and that the pretenders in the various ages, had drawn whatever of truth they possessed, from the knowledge of those principles taught by the priesthood from the earliest periods of recorded time; instead of Christianity being indebted, as some late writers would allege, to the turbid system of heathen mythology, and to pagan ceremonies.”

New release: B. H. Roberts’ “The Life of John Taylor”

Get it here on Project Gutenberg,. Here’s a contemporary blurb from the back of the 1895 first edition of A New Witness for God, also by Roberts:

LIFE OF JOHN TAYLOR.

Third President of the Church of Jesus Christ, in the Dispensation of the Fullnes of Times, is a handsome volume of four hundred and sixty-eight pages, and containing ten illustrations finely executed, and the portrait of President John Taylor as the frontispiece. These are all well executed, and the steel engraving of the subject of the work is a striking and pleasing likeness.

Deseret News:–“The literary ability displayed in the book is to be highly commended. The volume is from the pen of Elder B. H. Roberts, and he has treated his theme in an able manner. The interest of the readers is maintained throughout. The life of President Taylor abounded with incidents of uncommon import. They are presented in forcible and pleasing style. The language is simple yet eloquent, and not overloaded with rhetoric.” Price, full cloth, $2.50; half leather, $3.00; full leather, $4.00; Morrocco, extra gilt, $5.00.

Sadly, no Morrocco extra gilt for you guys, but at least the price is right, and the book really is remarkable. John Taylor too often ends up known as “the one after Brigham Young,” but as Roberts says in his preface,

Justice to the character and labors of John Taylor demanded that his life be written. The annals of the Church could not be recorded without devoting large space to the part he took in her affairs; but no notice of his life and labors, however extended in a general history, could do justice to his great career: for of course there is much in that career peculiar to himself, and of a character, too, to make it worthy of a separate volume.

It really is a great book. I’ll be posting a some fun excerpts over the next few weeks, including stuff related to communism, Indian attacks, and the Relief Society.

News: Gearing up for an exciting summer

Intern recruiting for summer 2014 is now complete; we have a group of eight interns for this summer, and I’m excited to see what they’ll accomplish. They’re signed up for different numbers of hours depending on their credit needs, but on average each will be putting in something like 100 hours of work spread across the summer, so they could easily do a couple of books each.

Our volunteer base is also expanding, in significant part thanks to friendly press like the piece Meridian ran this week on LDS Great Works and MTP. We recently experimented with using Google Docs to do multi-user proofreading, and it didn’t work especially well. People get psychological fulfillment from having and completing specific responsibilities, especially complete books, and in the attribution-free multi-user environment the opposite was true. So, from here on out volunteers are being assigned specific projects and often complete books. This means that our project slate is expanding and that progress is likely to come in fits and starts. (Having all our interns start at the same time may also contribute to this.) That said, it looks like between interns and volunteers we could hit 50 LDS books on PG by the end of August. At the start of the year we were at 21 and now we’re at 31, so 50 is an exciting prospect.

Meridian has proposed that I write up a post with an excerpt from one of our books every couple of weeks, so keep an eye out for that. I’ll post links as they become available.

Finally, there will be a Conference weekend book release this Friday. Stay tuned.