Cultural Encounters: A Journal For The Theology Of Culture Volume 11 Number 1 (Winter 2015) - Page 98

RESPONSE TO CRITICS - Webb many theophanies that can be found in the Old Testament. Did Ezekiel see Jesus in his vision of “something that seemed like a human form” (Ez 1:26)? If he did, was that form completely different from the human nature into which he later was born? The Incarnation, for me, is an intensification or completion of Christ’s identity, not a radical alteration of it. But let me put this question back on classical theists. Metzger asks what it would mean to think about God as a material being. I want to ask why classical theists do not treat all beings other than God as hylomorphic compounds. For example, why are angels not considered to be material? The problems that Thomists create by insisting on the immateriality of angels are so incredibly complex and overwhelmingly disheartening that one suspects that something else is going on here. My suspicion is this: if actual beings like angels cannot be conceived in immaterial terms, then it will be very hard to make the case for God’s immateriality. Hylomorphists thus hold the ground and draw the line at angels because they do not want to retreat all the way back to God. If prime matter is the ghost that haunts classical metaphysics, then esotericism is its evil twin. I am grateful to John Morehead for his insightful remarks about this much neglected theological tradition and its relationship to Mormonism. I also want to defend my own interpretation of this set of issues.3 First, I am critical of attempts to tie Joseph Smith directly to esoteric literature and practices. But I am not critical of attempts to show how Smith was aware of and profited from indirect knowledge of esotericism as a philosophical tradition through magical practices and beliefs. I am cautious in analyzing this issue due to the tendency of Mormon critics to tar Smith with a broad esoteric brush. Second, I think the more important issue is how Mormon metaphysics helps us to reconsider esotericism. In my book, Mormon Christianity, I trace the origin of the decline in a magical or enchanted worldview to a fork in the Platonic road. More specifically, theologians beginning with Augustine chose (and then reinforced) a nontheurgic form of Neoplatonism in order to sequester Greek wisdom from its pagan practices.4 What would have happened if a theologian of the caliber of 3. For more on my position, see Stephen H. Webb, “Healing the Divide between Christianity and the Occult,” OUP Blog, September 21, 2013, 4. Ancient philosophy survives after Christianity by being stripped of its spiritual practices. The question is whether Christianity absorbed the implications of theurgy as fully as it absorbed the teaching of the forms. This disjunction reverberates in the modern world. Notice for example how Emanuel Swedenborg was always seeking 97