The Da Vinci Code puzzle: Reaction in Salt Lake
Several of Dan Brown’s conspiracy theories have a special resonance with Mormons.
For one thing, the LDS Church teaches that essential truths of Christianity were lost over the centuries and needed to be restored by Mormon founder Joseph Smith. That parallels Brown’s claim that the Roman Catholic Church corrupted some of Jesus‘ teachings and practices, especially when it came to women and marriage.
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Many Mormons also believe that Jesus was married. After all, they believe marriage is essential in heaven and even God has a wife, Heavenly Mother.
In the 19th century, several LDS Church leaders joined many British clergy in believing that Jesus had children who were brought to England by Joseph of Arimathea. The Mormon twist? Jesus’ progeny were the ones most likely to join the LDS Church and immigrate to Utah.
Speaking in the Salt Lake Temple to a select group of church leaders on July 2, 1899, George Q. Cannon of the LDS First Presidency said, as mentioned in an April 30 Tribune column by Pat Bagley: “There are those in this audience who are descendants of the old 12 Apostles, and shall I say it, yes, descendants of the Savior himself. His seed is represented in this body of men.”
But none of these ideas are canonized in LDS scriptures.
The belief that Jesus was married “has never been official [LDS] Church doctrine,” church spokesman Dale Bills said this week. “It is neither sanctioned nor taught by the church. While it is true that a few church leaders in the mid-1800s expressed their opinions on the matter, it was not then, and is not now, [LDS] Church doctrine.”
Some fourth- or fifth-generation Mormons accept that Jesus was married and think all other church members do as well, but there’s a generation of Mormon converts who know nothing of this idea and would be as offended by the idea as any other Christian, says Richard Holzapfel, professor of church history and doctrine at Brigham Young University.
Whether official doctrines or just folk beliefs, these ideas have had a long history among the Mormon faithful.
In 1909, LDS Apostle James E. Talmage wrote The Great Apostasy, in which he detailed the ways in which Christianity became entwined with Greek philosophy and paganism. Talmage pointed to the creation of the Nicean creed, liturgical calendar and decline of baptism by immersion and the addition of infant baptism as one more evidence that Smith needed to bring back pristine Christianity, freed from centuries of tradition.
Many Mormons saw the Roman Catholic Church as the primary culprit in destroying the faith.
That was just rampant anti-Catholicism of the times, said Holzapfel, one of the authors of the recent What Da Vinci Didn’t Know: An LDS Perspective.
What was lost at the death of Jesus’ original apostles was “priesthood authority,” he said. “The basic truths of Christianity survived and were passed down by Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Protestants, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists and other Christians.”
It is time for Mormons to stop demonizing the Catholics, Holzapfel said. “There are times in history when Catholics didn’t live up to their ideals. But I don’t see them as the bad guys.”