From a foundation ‘swept away’ to a ‘foundation of apostles and prophets, with Christ as the chief capstone’ (Eph. 2:20), Jeremy Christiansen finds truth in the faith of the apostles.
The following story appeared in the January 13 Idaho Catholic Register.
By Gene Fadness
Many converts from the Latter-day Saint faith to Catholicism, like myself, will easily relate to Jeremy Christiansen’s conversion story, recounted in “From the Susquehanna to the Tiber: A Memoir of Conversion from Mormonism to the Roman Catholic Church.” (The Susquehanna, by the way, is a river in Pennsylvania where Joseph Smith, the first Mormon prophet, was "baptized". The Tiber is the much more well-known river that runs through Rome and central Italy.)
Christiansen’s book, published by Ignatius Press, carries themes many converts will recall in their own journey: his discovery of contradictions in Mormon history and changes in its theology; his attraction to the beauty and reverence of Catholic architecture; his study of early Church history with worship that resembles a Catholic Mass infinitely more than a Mormon sacrament service. All these were true to my story as well, though my conversion to evangelical Christianity happened in 1981 and to Catholicism in 1999, while his was in 2018, when, thanks to the internet, it was much easier to research early Mormon history.
A sad truth about those in the Mormon faith whose worldview is shattered when they discover the historical inconsistencies and contradictions that Christiansen elucidates with great detail in his book, is that most Mormons abandon faith altogether.
Indeed, Christiansen, who grew up in Blanding, Utah, in a Mormon family, was near the point of that abandonment. “I found myself not infrequently crying in my bed in the middle of the night, agonizing over what to make of my life. Was God there? What did that even mean anymore? I felt completely adrift, utterly alone in my life and nothing seemed to fill the gap … My very foundations had been swept away and I was alone.”
Latter-day Saints who discover the history of their church is not what they had been led to believe, feel betrayed and lied to, and, hence, mistrust all religion.
But Christiansen, burdened by one question, “How can I be forgiven of sin?” writes that he did two Google searches: “Newman apologia” and “can a non-Catholic go to Confession?” He can’t recall how Saint John Henry Newman “got on my radar,” but he discovered his book, “An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine.” He bought a Catechism along with Newman’s “Apologia”
Then, like so many of us, he discovers the Church Fathers, primarily through a multi-volume Protestant series. Christiansen said he wanted to study apostolic fathers particularly because his Mormon faith had taught him that the Church Fathers had corrupted the Church almost immediately after the death of the apostles. He read the “Didache” and the works of St. Clement and St. Polycarp. When he read St. Ignatius’ “Against Heresies,” packed with Eucharistic themes, he writes, “I thought I had a very big problem on my hands – a Catholic-sized problem.”
Christiansen was also moved by St. Justin Martyr’s “First Apology” written in about 155. He came to the conclusion that transubstantiation, while a term not used until the 16th century, was “already believed by the church by the end of the first century A.D. If I was going to call myself a Christian, I had to accept this belief. And I knew that this belief was held – not exclusively, but quite famously – by the Catholic Church.”
Early Church Fathers writings about the Eucharist invariably led to early Church teaching about the Trinity, which is not the same view of trinity as held by the Latter-day Saints. Christiansen writes about current Mormon Apostle Russell Ballard, second in line to become president and prophet of the LDS Church, who told this to an audience in Argentina: “If people have a Catholic background, they don’t know who God is. They don’t know who the Savior is. Nor do they know who the Holy Ghost is.”
Another contemporary Mormon apostle, Jeffrey Holland, told a conference of LDS mission presidents in 2013 that the Athanasian Creed was “pagan-influenced.” Mormons are “very comfort-able, frankly, in letting it be known that we do not hold a fourth- or fifth-century pagan-influenced view of the Godhead, and neither did those first Christian Saints who were eyewitnesses of the living Christ,” Holland said.
Christiansen then spends the next several pages, refuting Ballard and Holland by pointing to first- and second-century Church fathers affirming the Trinitarian belief that Jesus is God.
Christiansen, who kept meticulous journals during his Mormon years, spends nearly all of his book writing about Mormon historical problems: the relationships between early 19th century folk magic, treasure digging and the founding of Mormonism; Book of Mormon translation issues; the origins of the Book of Abraham papyri (which is part of the Mormon scripture book called The Pearl of Great Price); evolving Mormon theology on the nature of God; the different versions of the Joseph Smith’s First Vision; the introduction of a hierarchal priesthood in the Mormon Church years after the church was organized; the retroactive changes to their scripture to accommodate a priesthood; polygamy and polyandry in early Mormonism; and the still-current view of polygamy in the hereafter.
Readers may get bogged down in these pages waiting to get to the good part: How does he find Catholicism? That doesn’t come until the final chapter. It’s worth the wait. And in the meantime, you’ll learn much Latter-day Saint history and theology.
The book is available through Reilly’s Church Supply in Boise, Ignatius Press and Carmel Communications.
Remember, always, to consider your local Catholic bookstore first when searching for favorite books.
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