This was in a priesthood lesson, using the Gospel Topics essay on “Are Mormons Christian.” I did say some things, I probably made more comments than anybody else, but I was left with more things I didn’t say to address problems in the way the lesson material was presented.
“Emperor Constantine (the Great) decided to become a Christian.”
This is an exaggeration at best. The only sources claiming he was baptized were the priests in his bed chamber when he died, and they certainly had a vested interest in seeing to it that the rest of the world saw him as a Christian. What Constantine clearly decided was that the Roman Empire should be Christian, and he did his best to build the Church into the Empire during his reign, and to root out any tools of oppression and persecution of Christians on the part of the Roman Government. His mother was a Christian. But I don’t accept the argument that he himself was Christian because he had a very long time to have publicly become one had he wanted to, and he didn’t. And I’m not a believer in death-bed conversion, even if that story is true, which I’m not persuaded of.
This is a widely misunderstood event. The problem arose that a presbyter (elder) named Arius proclaimed that Jesus was created by God, and was not co-eternal with God the Father. This led to a slogan to the effect that “There was a time that the Father was, and the Son was not.” Arian and proto-orthodox priests, elders and bishops gathered at Nicea to address the problems Arianism was causing throughout the Empire. They fought about this inside the Council, while other monks chanted slogans and occasionally scuffling with staves, until Constantine the Great came into the counsel, proclaiming the proto-orthodox position to be correct, the Arian position to be anathema, and told everybody to go home and burn their Arian writings.
The reason this was such a big deal that Constantine felt motivated to intervene was that Constantine was looking at Christianity as a way to build some stability and cohesiveness into an increasingly unstable and disunited Empire. Even when Christianity became the state religion, that didn’t mean that everybody was Christian. Having Arian ideas like that Jesus was created left believers in traditional Roman religion (aka “pagans.”) free to say “Sure. I believe Jesus is god, but so is Jupiter, and he was around a lot longer.” Which was an untenable position for this would-be unifying force.
The Nicene Creed
The Nicene Creed constituted a statement of faith that all orthodox Christians could memorize and agree with. The business parts of the Creed (imo) are as follows:
We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible.And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father [the only-begotten; that is, of the essence of the Father, God of God,] Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father;
The payload of this section is the last part of the quoted material above. The part about the Father, Son and Holy Ghost being “of one substance.” Elsewhere, this is translated as “consubstantial.” The Greek word being translated thus is ?????????, which very clearly means “one substance.” This clearly states that the Arians were wrong, wrong, wrong, but, in case that wasn’t clear, the last section nails that down as well:
[But those who say: ‘There was a time when he was not;’ and ‘He was not before he was made;’ and ‘He was made out of nothing,’ or ‘He is of another substance’ or ‘essence,’ or ‘The Son of God is created,’ or ‘changeable,’ or ‘alterable’— they are condemned by the holy catholic and apostolic Church.]
Constantine also ordered all Arian materials to be burned. There clearly was no respect for those of diverging opinions on display here.
Many believe that Mormonism isn’t Trinitarian, but that’s based in a misunderstanding of what the Trinity means. Many Mormons believe that it means that Father, Son and Holy Ghost are trapped in one body, which becomes whichever of them is needed at any point in time, but this is actually a heresy known as Modalism, which Catholics dislike approximately as much as they do Arianism. The Trinity doesn’t require its members to be in the same set of substance, and is commonly described as “God in three bodies.” The sticky point of Trinitarianism is that, although there is a three-ness going on, there is only one god, so as to avoid polytheism. This is a bit tricky to understand, and I suspect that most people who claim to believe in the Trinity have no great understanding of the details of how the doctrine of the Trinity is seen to work. Also, there are places in the Book of Mormon which sound quite Trinitarian, like Ether 3:14, 1 Ne. 11:21, and Mosiah 15:3. However, I will posit that the Mormon concept of the Godhead does not differ significantly from the Orthodox concept of the Trinity. Where the problem comes in is with the notion of bodies among the members, particularly the Father. Mormons believe that Father and Son both have physical bodies which are tangible and exhalted, while the Holy Spirit is, as the name implies, a Spirit which enables him to do things which a body would make more difficult to go along with his missions as Comforter, Prompter and Revelator. Trinitarians believe that the Father is a being of spirit (what is to have happened to Jesus’ body after his resurrection, I do not know), as well as the Holy Spirit. This would be the most direct conflict as to the nature of the Godhead of which I am aware.
“We are just like the early Christians.”
This one really isn’t sustainable. What would work more honestly would be “We see ourselves as being a continuation of the original Christians, prior to what we call the Great Apostacy.” Because we do see ourselves that way, but the only way we could live up to the claim in the quote would be if we spent significant time studying the writing of the Early Church Fathers and showing how what they believed and taught was at all similar to what we believe and teach. But I’ve never even heard that idea suggested in my whole life in the Church. We tend to take a very oversimplified and presentist approach to the past. We think that things that were written 2000 years ago are sooo ancient, and that none of them could have survived, but that’s really not the case. To a classicist, or an historian of the ancient world, the beginning of the Christian Era (aka, when we used to measure dates as Anno Domini, aka AD, now designated as CE in the world of historians, designating “Christian Era,” or “Current Epoch,” or some combination of words to produce the acronym) is not some inconceivable period that is so long ago as to be incomprehensible — those working with the history of Ancient Egypt, for example, work with periods going back to 10,000 BCE (Before CE).
The Great Apostacy
This is a very slippery concept. It’s usually taught that, after the death of Jesus, there existed a single Christian Church (as we have denominations and churches today) that was administered by his chosen Apostles, possibly with Peter acting as the President of this Church, but essentially a mutatis mutandis Mormon Church in structure and doctrine. Over time, as the original apostles died off and weren’t able to be replaced (due to inadequate transportation and communication technology of the day) until there was no longer God’s authoritative structure, and so the priesthood was withdrawn from the Earth until the early 19th Century restoration via Joseph Smith, a time period we call the Great Apostacy, or the Dark Ages. However, we fail to account for which event in history we can use to designate when the Great Apostacy began. Since we explicitly teach a very literalist view that John the Revelator was also John the Evangelist and John the Beloved/Apostle, and that, in the personage of John the Beloved, he was promised that he would not die, we can’t really stick to the idea that there was a point that all the Apostles were dead, since John must be alive even yet. So, although I heard several times in the lesson that “The Apostacy had already started,” I don’t know what authority the teacher was invoking to make that claim. I also would suggest exploration of the book The God Who Weeps by Teryl and Fiona Givens that points to many beautiful and inspired works produced during this time, and challenges many of the assumptions about this so-called Dark time.
And, for those lacking historical background, Dark Ages refers to a time with a lack or absence of written records. Not particularly to a time when things were really evil or bad.