Date of Award

5-2018

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Departmental Honors

Department

History

First Advisor

Norm Jones

Second Advisor

Susan O. Shapiro

Abstract

Explanations of the nature of humanity, God, and the purpose of life have a direct influence on the daily lives of the adherents of a given religious tradition. In the early third century, Origen of Alexandria proposed doctrines of preexistence, subordinationism, and theosis, which were dismissed in the early Church to various degrees. Some sixteen hundred years later, members of the upstart Latter-day Saints movement, such as Orson Pratt, would maintain strikingly similar positions about the nature of the soul, the godhead, and the final cause of humanity. These concepts represent essential aspects of the worldviews of these traditions; so why and how do they arise in such different times and contexts?

Both Origen and Pratt expounded the idea that each human soul existed before its physical birth, and that during its preexistent life, it acted with free will; these actions have an influence on the physical life of the incarnate soul. The two men also argued that, within the godhead, the person of the Son derives his authority and power from the Father in such a way that the Son is not coequal with the Father. Finally, both men maintained that the ultimate goal of human existence is to become like God, through a process of learning and purification, in this life and the next.

This essay, however, through examination of the immediate contexts of the two authors, makes the case that the opinions expressed by Origen and Pratt are, in some ways, demonstrably distinct. In studying how these ideas differ, underlying values of ancient Christians and early Mormons can be discussed, allowing the observer to gain a greater understanding of the major concepts which motivate adherents of these traditions. These include the underlying concept of material-naturalism in Mormonism, and the importance of reason and knowledge within some forms of Christianity.

As regards the similarities, the study argues that there is no need for a direct connection between these two thinkers, either natural or supernatural. Rather, these common ideas appear throughout Christian history due to common themes found in Christian scripture and to constant problems of the human condition, with which all religious thinkers must contend. Additionally, these doctrines serve functional purposes, such as the legitimizing concept of the preexistent soul, which are useful for these traditions to maintain.

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