Friday, May 26, 2023

"Russian-reversal" consecration revisited

Last night I was listening to some music on YouTube, and discovered this recently uploaded (May 20) performance by the Petersens of the hymn "How Firm a Foundation":


This surprised me because the Petersens are Protestants, and I had always thought that this was an exclusively Mormon hymn. I had assumed this because of the opening lines -- "How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord, / Is laid for your faith in his excellent word" -- in which saints is used to refer to all believers, implicitly including even those who may be struggling with their faith. I had always thought that this was a distinctively Mormon use of that word, that in the larger Christian world a "saint" was always an extraordinary person of exemplary holiness, and that our giving ourselves the title "Latter-day Saints" must sound incredibly pretentious to outsiders, as if we had dubbed ourselves "heroes" or "geniuses" or something.

Well, that just goes to show how little I really know about non-Lutheran Protestantism. Here's Wikipedia setting me straight:

In many Protestant churches, the word saint is used more generally to refer to anyone who is a Christian. . . . The use of "saint" within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) is similar to the Protestant tradition.

I suppose this shouldn't surprise me. Mormonism grew up in a Protestant milieu and would naturally express itself in a Protestant-derived idiom.

One question I haven't been able to find the answer to: Do the less-Catholic branches of Protestantism (excluding Anglicans, Lutherans, and Methodists) use saint as a title, as in St. Peter, St. Paul, etc.? Mormons don't, but I had always assumed that most other Christians do -- based, for example, on references to "St. Peter" in bluegrass music, Negro spirituals, etc. If any of my readers happen to be of the Protestant persuasion, perhaps they can enlighten me.

But this post isn't really about the use of the word saint. As the title indicates, it's a revisiting of my November 2022 post "In Mormon Russia, the Lord consecrates things unto YOU." In that post, I noted that in the Bible, people always consecrate things to the Lord, while in the Book of Mormon, the Lord always consecrates things to people. The one exception is a single reference, which appears in both books (Micah 4:13, 3 Ne. 20:19), to the Lord consecrating things to himself. Well, like the broad use of saint, this turns out not to be as distinctively Mormon as I had thought. Here is the third verse of "How Firm a Foundation":

"When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of sorrow shall not overflow;
For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless,
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress."

The whole verse is in quotation marks because it is meant to be the Lord speaking -- saying that he will sanctify to you, Christian, your deepest distress. This is very close to the language of the Book of Mormon: "thou knowest the greatness of God; and he shall consecrate thine afflictions for thy gain" (2 Ne. 2:2).

The word used is sanctify, not consecrate, but these are more-or-less synonymous. Checking all occurrences of forms of sanctify in the Bible, I find that it is generally used without a preposition, but when things are sanctified to someone, that someone is always the Lord. (See Ex. 13:2, Lev. 27:14-22, Num. 8:17, Deut. 15:19, 2 Chr. 30:17.) In the Book of Mormon, things are always sanctified by the Lord to people. (See Jacob 4:5, Moro. 4:3, Moro. 5:2). This is the same pattern I found with consecrate.

"How Firm a Foundation" -- which first appears, with an anonymous author, in a 1787 Baptist hymnal -- follows, or rather foreshadows, the Mormon usage.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Protestant prayers like "Lord bless this food to our use and us to Thy service, and make us ever mindful of the needs of others. Amen." are clearly using "bless" similar to "sanctify."

No Longer Reading said...

The impression I get is that if it is an old saint, especially from after the Apostolic period or around the Middle Ages, then Protestants will sometimes use saint in front of the individual's name. For instance, Thomas Aquinas.

I think it's less common with people from the Apostolic era, but I'm not sure when that started. I would suspect there are differences among denominations.

But for those that do say saint, I think it's usually because the usage has become customary.

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

That’s somewhat surprising, Kevin. One would think a sola scritura Protestant would be more inclined to ascribe sainthood to biblical figures than to medieval Catholics. That said, even my secular Jewish philosophy professors tended to say “St. Anselm,” “St. Augustine,” etc., because that’s just what those figures are called — just as we might refer to Mahatma Gandhi or Maharishi Mahesh Yogi without otherwise acknowledging mahatmas or maharishis as valid categories. Thomas Aquinas was less often sainted by the secular, perhaps because he has a surname.

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

Good point, anon. I believe the Bible contains many instances both of God blessing people and of people blessing God, though perhaps not of anyone blessing anything “to” anyone. I’ll have to check.

Do Catholics ever speak like this, or is it a Protestant and Protestant-adjacent thing?

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

As I thought, nothing is ever blessed "to" anyone in the Bible, but God does bless things to people in the Book of Mormon (1 Ne. 17:35, Moro. 4:3, Moro. 5:2).

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

"And that which made me the more afraid of this, was, because I had seen some, who though when they were under wounds of conscience, would cry and pray; yet seeking rather present ease from their trouble, than pardon for their sin, cared not how they lost their guilt, so they got it out of their mind: now, having got it off the wrong way, it was not sanctified unto them; but they grew harder and blinder, and more wicked after their trouble. This made me afraid, and made me cry to God the more, that it might not be so with me."

(John Bunyan, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, 1666)

No Longer Reading said...

"that’s just what those figures are called — just as we might refer to Mahatma Gandhi or Maharishi Mahesh Yogi without otherwise acknowledging mahatmas or maharishis as valid categories."

That's what I think is happening as well.

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