Are Mormons Henotheists?

In the OrthodoxWiki entry on “Theosis,” the author makes the following statement:  “The Mormons are clear promoters of henotheism, and the Church Fathers have absolutely no communality with their view.”

The entry in Wikipedia on “Henotheism,” in part, reads:  “Henotheism is the belief and worship of a single god with accepting the existence or possible existence of other dieties.”

A subset of Henotheism is Monolatrism:

” . . . which is also the worship of one god among many.  The primary difference between the two is that Henotheism is the worship of one god, not precluding the existence of others who may also be worthy of praise, while Monolatry is the worship of one god who alone is worthy of worship, though other gods are known to exist.”

The reasons why members of the LDS Church are referred to as Henotheists and/or Monolatrists are two fold:

  • Mormons are non-Trinitarians, they believe that God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost are separate entities.
  • Mormon belief in theosis, that man and God are the same species, and that man can achieve godhood.

    Joseph Smith Sees Two Distinct Images: The Father and the Son

So, I would agree that Mormons are Henotheists, but I would prefer to be categorized as Monolatrist.

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21 Responses to Are Mormons Henotheists?

  1. Mormons are not Henotheists, though some Mormons have suggested this solution. None of the other “gods” in Mormon theology, whoever they may be are the “prime mover” and thus don’t meet the classical definition of godhood. The truth is, we simply don’t have terms for these entities. Most Mormon theologians use “gods” little “g” but it’s a thorny area.

    Also, saying that Mormons aren’t Trinitarians because we believe that the members of the Godhead are three separate persons misunderstands both traditional Christian theology and Mormon doctrine. All Trinitarians believe that the members of the Godhead or hypostases are separate persons, but one God. That’s the mystery of the Trinity. Three persons who are unique individuals who none-the-less constitute one God. When Christ speaks to the Father on the cross he is NOT speaking to himself. No Catholic or Orthodox theologian believes that the persons are not separate. The idea that they are all the same with different roles or masks is the idea of modalism and is a condemned heresy and has been since the fifth century. The believe that these three separate persons or hypostases are one essence or being is the center of the mystery of the Trinity. All of us believe in three persons in one God. The distinction is the precise mechanics of the the unity of the trinity.

    Whether Mormons believe the same depends on who you ask. Many Mormons use the “one in purpose” formula, that suggests that it is the office that provides unity, but that doesn’t seem to meet the requirement of many other Trinitarians that insist on one essence. Futhermore, D&C 84, 88 and 93 suggest a far more unified relationship than one of sharing an office. Mormons reject the homoousian description as unscriptural, but a deeper unity that preserves the individuality of the persons is still possible. If we accept the one in purpose model, that would make us simple economic subordinatist social Trinitarians.

    Truth is, Mormons really don’t have a firm doctrine of the Trinity. We simply haven’t ever hammered out either the metaphysics or dialectics to describe it. That’s the advantage of fighting over the precise definition over centuries and 7 ecumenical councils.

    • rogerdhansen says:

      Hi Travis, If you reject the idea of Mormons being Henotheists, would you accept the idea that Mormon’s are Monolatrists?

      Your description of Mormons as “simple economic subordinatist social Trinitarians” is fascinating. Could you please explain what you mean by that expression? I understand “social Trinitarian,” but the rest leaves me scratching my head. Roger

      • On Monolatry, That depends. The question is what is the status of these divine god like beings that have been elevated or exalted by the person we know as Heavenly Father.

        Is he the “first” Heavenly Father? or just one in a long generation of gods? This is an unanswered question in Mormonism.

        The Greeks eventually decided that Zeus was just a link in a long chain of gods and that somewhere at the root of all this, there was a first god and that only that god really could hold the title of “God” as he is the only one that could really be considered eternal. Mormonism has a similar problem. And we’ve never really dealt with it. If our Heavenly Father is THE God, the prime mover, then all the other “gods” are really something more like the angels of classical Christianity. So who are we worshipping?

        There is a possible solution…if we originate with the Iintellegences, and those are co-eternal with God, it’s possible that all the gods are THE God in some metaphysical way we don’t understand. I think that’s why the intelligences are introduced. They explain how the members of the Trinity can be one and still separate, and how we can receive the fulness of the Father while still saving our individuality.

        I just don’t know, but we haven’t really teased out the possibilities.

        On the issue of simple economic subordinatist. There’s a huge debate between the orthodox and the Catholic on the nature of the relationship between the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. This was a major cause of the schism in the eleventh century. In simple terms, the Orthodox argued that the Father provided the will, and that the Son and the Holy Ghost were subordinate to him. This is obvious from scripture. Christ defers to the Father and says he will send the Comforter. To the Catholics this was tantamount to suggesting that Christ was less than one or fully divine with the Father. So to combat this, they suggested that the subordinatism was “simple” and “economic.” That is the son defers to the Father as part of his role, but that he is still equal to the father and the same goes for the Holy Ghost as far as their “essence” is concerned.

        It’s a pretty nitpicky distinction but when you were fighting Arians who were sticklers for semantics and dialectics you had to do something to close all the loopholes.

        Mormons more or less accept the same idea, that the Father and Son are equivalent in all things, but you could argue our insistence on the corporeal existence of the Father and the Son, and the lack of the physical body of the HG, exempts us from this, and that the H.G. is in fact less that fully divine.

  2. Dear Tired Road Warrior, it is clearly beyond doubt that the religion espoused by the Book of Mormon and other doctrinally formative texts of the Latter Day Saints is henotheistic. It is not so much the case that Mormonism is a non-Trinitarian faith. Judaism and Islam are non-Trinitarian and are not henotheistic. Nor is it the case that Mormonism advances the idea that gods and men are of the one species. It is more the case that Mormonism holds to the belief that there are many worlds and many gods and that here on this particular world they are called to worship the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It is this belief which sets Mormonism apart from Christianity (as expressed in by the Patristic Fathers and the Creeds). There can be no doubt that this is a religious expression of faith, but one which has little relationship with Monotheistic Christianity, Judaism and Islam. I hope that this was of some help. Thank you.

    • rogerdhansen says:

      I think it is a basic teaching of Mormonism that God and man are of one species. We are his literal spirit children. Robert L. Millet, professor emeritus of religion at BYU, has written widely and is quoted frequently on this subject.

  3. Neither captures Mormon theology well for me. I worship a community of gods, which are God.

  4. rogerdhansen says:

    Travis, as an undergraduate student many years ago, I studied Medieval History (mainly social). Which 11st-century “heresy” are you refering to?

  5. The schism in the 11th century was largely about the filoque doctrine, which is, to Mormons, a very subtle distinction. Does the HG emanate from the Father alone or the Father AND the Son? The east rejected the filoque doctrine which suggested that it emanated from the Father AND the Son.

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  7. kuri says:

    I’ve heard many Mormons describe themselves as henotheists, and it’s never made sense to me. Mormons believe in the existence of many gods and worship two, Elohim/Heavenly Father and Jehovah/Jesus Christ, with no pretense that they are only one god.

    Mormons are therefore obviously polytheists (“bitheists”? “bilatrists”?), not henotheists or monolatrists (both of which indicate the worship of only one god). It appears to me that Mormons reject the accurate label purely out of cultural prejudice against polytheism.

    • rogerdhansen says:

      So Kuri, how would you deal with the issue of man’s potential to be a god? Doesn’t that leave Mormonism with gods in addition to Elohim and Jehovah? Doesn’t that move us past bitheism? Isn’t Jehovah largely a conduit to Elohim?

      • kuri says:

        I don’t know of a term that would specifically describe Mormon polytheism. The problem with calling Mormons henotheists is that henotheism is “worship of one god among many,” but Mormons worship two gods among many. I suppose one would need to coin a term such as “bi-henotheism” to be strictly accurate.

        I’ve heard some Mormons making the henotheism argument claim that they don’t worship Jesus Christ, but I find that unconvincing. True, as far as prayer is concerned he may be only a conduit, yet Mormons consider him their creator and savior and the one who suffered and died for him. They sing of him (a form of worship), they speak of him, they name their church after him, they call themselves Christian. When Mormons think of their version of Heaven, Jesus Christ is the god with whom they imagine tearful meetings and so on. So Mormons don’t pray to Jesus, but they certainly think of him as “worshipfully” as members of any other religion think of their gods.

        Besides, 2 Nephi 25:29 explicitly commands Mormons to worship Jesus, so if they’re not, something is very wrong in Mormondom. 😉

    • Mormons worship the persons of the Father and the Son in the Trinity. If by that definition we are polytheists that so are all Christians, which incidentally, is exactly what Muslims and Jews think about Christians. To all the other monotheists, all the christian claims of monotheism rest on foundations of sand and semantics.

      Even if we accept that Polytheism is what Mormons believe it doesn’t get us off the hook.

      There are much stronger statements of God’s immutable oneness in the D&C and the BoM then there are even in New Testament. What do we do with these?

      Even if Mormons wanted to throw up their hands and say “Fine, we’re polytheists!” and be done with the debate, we can’t. Our source texts won’t allow it.

      In this way many Mormons are too dismissive of the hard philosophical underpinnings of the seven ecumenical councils. They took a long time to figure this out. Frankly, we never have. God is one and God is three. The homoousian or Athanasian solution is not my favorite, but it is at least a solution, however unsatisfactory. Mormons have never come up with a precise formula. I guess we should ask the question about whether we even should try to come up with one, of it it’s just impossible.

      The truth is, WE don’t know what we are. We go shopping for terms like monolatrous or henotheist, but those don’t fit, and the other Trinitarians have no better answers. How do three beings make one God? When most answer this question they lapse into modalism or worse. This isn’t a Mormon problem. It’s a Christian problem. And all you believe in the one in Three God claim they understand it, but none of them do, and the current athanasian formula is only accepted out of habit IMO.

      The Mormons question is complicated even further by the possible inclusion of multiple divine entities outside of these, who are god-like, but don’t meet the ontological requirements of the one God. Are these “gods” part of the essence of the one God or not? The bodies and persons of the Godhead are separate in Mormonism, and most assume the essence as well, suggesting that the one God is merely an office, but this is purely an assumption and doesn’t jive with either D&C 93, 88, or 84.

      It’s a mess. Frankly, rationally, Islam makes much more sense.

  8. roger hansen says:

    The one issue that has been missing from this discussion is the role of women or goddesses. Mormons acknowlege a Mother in heaven, but are told not to worship or pray to Her. In defining Mormonism, how does this impact our description?

  9. david says:

    Bottom line, Mormonism is contrary to historical Christian beliefs. Sadly, Mormonism has invented a Christ NOT of historical Christianity.

  10. Eloise says:

    We believe in God the eternal Father and in his Son Jesus Christ and in the Holy Spirit . That they are 3 seperate beings with the Same purpose . Just like Husband and Wife are to become as One ,yet they are to seperate individuals . Same goals

  11. rogerdhansen says:

    Eloise, I’m not sure what your point is. I count multiple gods and potential gods, but one God. And how about God’s and Christ’s spouses? I think we Mormons need to admit that we are not monotheists in the strict sense of the word.

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