Joseph Smith and Rosicrucianism: The Idea of “Spirit”: Contrasting Esoterica Compared
Joseph Smith and Rosicrucianism: The Idea of “Spirit”: Contrasting Esoterica Compared
Though the modern Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has dumbed down, if not downright ignored discussing or analyzing, let alone attempting to explain the mysteries, it also doesn't bother anymore with anything much beyond simplistic faith promoting truisms, in as simplistic a manner as possible. By contrast, in Joseph Smith’s day there was a rather fascinating brou ha ha concerning spiritualism and materialism.
One of Joseph Smith’s most famous comments which actually made it into Mormon scripture is found in Doctrine & Covenants 131:7 - “All spirit is matter, but it is more fine or pure, and can only be discerned by purer eyes.” The occasion when he said this was a discussion he had with Willard Clayton after they had listened to a Methodist preacher, and Joseph Smith to him “There is no such thing as immaterial matter. All spirit is matter but it is more fine or pure and can only be discerned with purer eyes. We can’t see it but when our bodies are purified we shall see that it is all matter.” That was on May 17, 1843, when he corrected the preacher, a Mr. Samuel A. Prior, who indicated Joseph Mildly corrected him after his sermon, without indicating they were debating, but he was more or less just attempting to make sure good doctrine was taught. It impressed Mr. Prior how gentlemanly Joseph Smith had been about it all.
Due to this teaching making it into LDS scripture, one LDS apostle/scientist wrote in the early 1930’s “The so-called spiritual world is but a special manifestation, probably the most fundamental of our one universe.” Widtsoe then quotes Smith’s statement and notes “if that be so, the world of ‘spirit’ may be known by man if he possess the necessary aids, comparable to the radio tube… the unseen world exists and is explorable in all of its divisions by suitable instruments.” In 1908, Widtsoe stubbed his toe tying in Joseph Smith’s ideas of some kind of substance filling the immensity of space and the notion that spirit is a finer substance, yet still matter, with the ether, which science later refuted. In early Mormonism several of the leaders tried their mightiest to set controversial ideas of Mormonism on a scientific footing with the revelation of Joseph Smith’s ideas, something today’s Mormonism leaders shun like the plague. Parley P. Pratt declared that many subtle invisible influences were in the universe, and one such “substance” he identified was “The Holy Spirit.”
Parley’s brother and fellow Apostle in Joseph Smith’s church hierarchy, Orson, was ever the more adamant about the literal materialism in Mormonism theology as directly opposed to immaterial spirit. “A fleshly body and a spiritual body are entirely different things. One is a body of material flesh, the other is a body of material spirit, they are entirely different kinds of matter.” J. P. Moreland has noted the main problem with Pratt’s materialism. “Most dualists would characterize a spirit as an immaterial (i.e., at least unextended without solidity and incapable of division into separable parts) substance with the formal characteristics of a substance in general and with the ultimate potentialities of sensation, emotion, thought, free action for a purpose, belief, moral awareness, and so forth. Not only does Pratt’s thesis of thinking matter render the notion of an immaterial spirit vacuous, it also seems to imply that his notion of spiritual matter is just an immaterial substance by another name. Note that Pratt clearly has a dualism of spirit and gross matter. His characterization of the difference comes perilously close to the dualist distinction between material and immaterial substances. Indeed, in one place Pratt admits that his notion of an atom of spirit matter is merely a verbal difference in the name he uses in comparison to the traditional notion of an immaterial spirit (7).”
In B. H. Roberts, a prominent historian/Mormon General Authority in the early 1900’s, analysis of the current scientific findings of Einstein as the implications were dawning on people, were showing him trying to reconcile the spirit and matter ideas of Joseph Smith. He used Einstein’s idea that matter changing to energy and back was not destroyed, just changed, hence eternal, like spirit. What Roberts was attempting to do was join both spiritualism and materialism into a cooperating enterprise. But his emphasis was following Joseph Smith in presuming all is matter first, even though it has various grades. It is known that throughout its existence thus far, in spite of various problems with the idea, “Mormonism teaches a strict numerical dualism of the spirit and body; though they are both material, they are two different entities… the only reality is matter.”
In fact, D. Michael Quinn, one time BYU historian, noted how Richard F. Burton, the famous Arabist who traveled to Mecca in the 19th century, after having read about Joseph Smith’s materialism described how he discovered “Mind and spirit, therefore, are real, objective, positive substances, which, like the astral spirit of the old alchymists, exists in close connection with the component parts of the porous material body.” Quinn further notes that Smith’s idea of spirit being finer material is also reflected in “occult tradition going back to Neo-Platonism that tended to blur the difference between matter and spirit making matter spiritual and spirit material. Its emphasis was on a matter almost alive, permeated with the divine, filled with secret Sympathies and antipathies.”
Van Hale, a sleuthing Mormon author demonstrated throughout his teachings Joseph Smith ended up muddying various concepts as synonyms like “spirit,” “Intelligence,” “Mind,” and “soul,” through inconsistent use and explanations. The doctrine of Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother actually fathering and mothering our spirits as well as progenituring our bodies was taught by various authorities as well. Whether the “eternal intelligences,” of the Book of Abraham, another LDS scripture in the Pearl of Great Price, were ever separate from “spirits” has never been solved either. In Smith’s theology “spirit” was also further associated with light. “Joseph Smith reportedly taught ‘that light or spirit and [gross] matter are the first great primary principles of the universe or of being… light is the radiance of the truth that exists within spirit… this truth shineth. So the truth within the light of truth shines.” Parley P. Pratt in July 1839 affirmed the idea that “matter and spirit are the two great principles of all existence. Everything animate or inanimate is composed of one or the other, or both of these eternal principles.”
Paul Foster Case has presented the singular most comprehensive view of Rosicrucianism in print, and while making my way through this incredibly fascinating deposition, I was struck at how it contrasted with what Joseph Smith had taught and his followers had elaborated on. In the spirit of contrasting contraries in order to give us a basis for thinking through things, I shall now present the Case version of Rosicrucian philosophy of “spirit.” Of course, I cannot pretend to being exhaustive, but there is enough here for an instructional looking into in contrast to where Joseph Smith landed in relation to this interesting and worthwhile subject.
Midway through the grade of Philosophus, in the section of the twenty seventh path, Case begins describing a cosmological idea that made me sit upright. The lightning flash occurs in symbolism when the ten sephirot of the Kabbalah Tree of Life manifest themselves all together. There is so much power of these attributes (powers?) of God, when they all manifest together lightning streaks. The energy from infinity and eternity have been drawn downs in steps until our universe can handle it for the developing of life. With this lightning flash “The idea of speech, or the Creative Word, is bound up with this lightning flash… the idea that the whole cosmic activity is a continuous expression of that Word, from beginning to end…”
For Rosicrucians, “when the Bible says again and again, ‘The mouth of Jehovah has spoken it,’ and when the same book tells us in Genesis, ‘The Elohim said,’ this same idea of the creative power expressed in the Word is implied. On the 27th path in the initiation then, “...there is a definite connection between consciousness that forms itself into speech, and the electric energy that is the substance of every physical form. The Sefer Yetzirah opens with “And He created His universe with three books (Sepharim), with text (Sepher), with number (Sephar) and with communication (Sippur).” That communication Rosicrucians interpret to be God’s voice speaking while creating, indeed, creating through that voice, that vibration which gives form to substance.
“The occultist accepts all that the physicist has learned concerning the electrical constitution of the physical universe but adds that the real nature of that mysterious energy the physicist labels ‘electromagnetism’ is consciousness. Occult [secret, not public, is the meaning of this word, don’t let it freak you out] philosophy maintains that all activity, all motion, all energy is basically the activity, motion, and energy of consciousness. It sees in the universe a continuous utterance of the Word of Life. This interpretation of experience runs counter to generally accepted opinions… The basis of this false science is the notion that forms are built from a separate substance called ‘matter,’ which is moved by ‘force’ and perceived by ‘mind.’ But “the matter or substance of all things is the motion of an energy that is essentially mental, or conscious. That energy, working on itself, produces all things out of itself - or rather, within itself. ‘Matter,’ ‘force,’ and ‘mind’ are three aspects of One Reality. This One Reality is the exciting cause of all manifestation throughout the universe. From it is formed the spirit or inner essence of every creature. From it proceeds the motion or activity to which they are subject.”
Where we run into problems is not recognizing a fundamental principle. “The world of appearances is not in itself a world of deception. The delusions arise from our own tendency to take things at their face value… there is no adversary but ignorance, no antagonist but human misconception of the various ways in which the Life Power presents itself to us through the medium of sensation. When we take our sensations at face value we suppose ourselves to be competing with our fellowmen. When we permit ourselves to be deceived by appearances, we suppose that our neighbor’s real interest may clash with ours. When we look at the outsides of things only, we believe ourselves to be separated from other persons, physically and psychically. Under the spell of this delusion we entertain the notion that the universe holds two sets of antagonistic causes. We believe there is a fight between spirit and matter.”
When we really stop to think about it, Einstein’s famous equation E=MC actually unites matter and energy (spirit?). “Everything in our environment is so much solidified sunlight.” “Rosicrucianism does not fall into the ancient error of setting the spiritual against the material. It does not seek escape from the material into the spiritual. Rather it seeks to expose the lie that there is any ‘material’ whatever apart from the substance of pure Spirit. At the same time, though it denies there is a reality (matter) opposed to another reality (spirit), Ageless Wisdom finds useful and accurate the distinction between the terms physical and metaphysical. The ‘physical’ is that range of spiritual activity that man perceives through his ordinary senses. The ‘metaphysical’ is that range of spiritual activity that lies beyond ordinary sensation.”
So I got to thinking, the way Rosicrucianism would see Einstein’s famous equation is that Energy (consciousness) = matter (solidified sunlight, which is also consciousness)c which is the speed of light squared, which is electromagnetism, which is consciousness. Therefore, matter is slowed down energy in scientific parlance. Solidified sunlight as Case noted. Yet, the ultimate underlying perception is that it is consciousness doing all this, so consciousness - consciousness x consciousness! It’s not matter, nor is it spirit, it is consciousness which is causing all this stuff we call the universe. From our human slowed down perception it appears as matter to us, which is our interpretation of how consciousness appears when it is powered down and slowed down. It is matter from our interpretation, yet ultimately it is all consciousness.
Mormonism, following Joseph Smith, emphasize the materials aspect as the basic reality, Rosicrucianism emphasizes the immaterial consciousness aspect.
1. Bruce A. Van Orden, “Items of Instruction: Sections 130 and 131,” in “Hearken O Ye People, Discourses on the Doctrine and Covenants,” Sperry Symposium, 1984: 243-244.
2. John A. Widtsoe, “The Articles of Faith, The Unity of the Universe,” in “The Improvement Era,” August 1937: 476. Cf. Widtsoe, “Rational Theology,” Signature Mormon Classics, 1997: 10-11.
3. John A. Widtsoe, “Joseph Smith as a Scientist, A Contribution to Mormon Philosophy,” (1908), Eborn Books 1990: 25. He ironically and quite incorrectly later said “Progressive science has steadily confirmed and is confirming the claims of religion… it cannot gainsay them, but only fortify them.” On the contrary! By now he certainly knew the ether was a disproven theory which he had tied Joseph Smith’s revelations directly to. See “Evidences and Reconciliations,” Vols. 1-3, arranged by G. Homer Durham, Bookcraft, 5th printing, 1967: 175.
4. Parley P. Pratt, “The Key to the Science of Theology,” Classics in Mormon Literature, Deseret Book, 1979: 24-25. He elsewhere said that “spiritual matter” was always in the likeness and “pattern of the fleshly tabernacle,” p. 79.
5. Orson Pratt, “The Absurdities of Immateriality,” in “Orson Pratt, Writings of an Apostle,” Mormon Heritage Publishers, 1976: 22-23. Pratt’s Hermeticism of an absolute intelligence inhabiting matter as a holy fluid ended up challenging the Mormon idea of a materialistic God and the doctrine of procreated spirits coequal with God according to John L. Brooke, “The Refiner’s Fire, The Making of Mormon Cosmology, 1644-1844,” Cambridge University Press, 1994: 275.
6. J. P. Moreland, “The Absurdities of Mormon Materialism, a Reply to the Neglected Orson Pratt,” in “The New Mormon Challenge,” edited by Francis J. Beckwith, Carl Mosser, Paul Owen, Zondervan, 2002: 258. Erich Robert Paul, “Science, Religion, and Mormon Cosmology,” University of Illinois Press, 1992: 129 discusses how Orson Pratt was trying very hard to justify the Mormon idea of the Holy Ghost with a physical basis for his ontological interpretation of the Cosmos and God.
7. See the discussion by Truman G. Madsen, “Philosophy,” in “The Truth, the Way, the Life, An Elementary Treatise on Theology,” by B. H. Roberts, edited by John W. Welch, BYU Studies Monographs, 1994: lxxxi - lxxxii.
8. Sterling M. McMurrin, “The Theological Foundations of the Mormon Religion,” Signature Books, 2000: 6.
9. D. Michael Quinn, “Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, Revised and Enlarged, Signature Books, 1998: 214.
10. Quinn, “Early Mormonism and Magic World View,” p. 226.
11. Van Hale, “The Origin of the Human Spirit in Early Mormon Thought,” in “Line Upon Line, Essays on Mormon Doctrine,” edited by Gary James Bergera, Signature Books, 1989: 115-125.
12. Hyrum L. Andrus, “God, Man, and the Universe,” Bookcraft, 4th printing, 1973: 148-149.
13. Charles R. Harrell, “This is My Doctrine, The Development of Mormon Theology,” Greg Kofford Books, 2011: 233.
14. Paul Foster Case, “The True and Invisible Rosicrucian Order,” Weiser Books, 1st paperback, 1989: 202. Hereafter cited as “Rosicrucians.”
15. “The Sefer Yetzirah,” Aryeh Kaplan, Revised edition, Samuel Weiser, 1997: 5.
16. Case, “Rosicrucians,” p. 202.
17. Case, “Rosicrucians,” p. 216-217.
18. Case, “Rosicrucians,” p. 226.
19. Case, “Rosicrucians,” p. 120.