Modern Mormon use of patristic sources to validate the Utah-Mormon Church

Chris Welborn, Marquette University


Mormonism is an early nineteenth-century restorationist movement that is convinced it is the preeminent Christian form. Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, emerged on the local religious scene in northern New York declaring that God told him that all other Christian forms were wrong, their creeds were an abomination, and their professors were corrupt. Because of this strong message, Smith had to simultaneously provide justification to insiders and outsiders as to why Mormonism was true and why all other churches were untrue. Initially, justification took the form of self-declarations of divine communication as well as biblical texting. As Smith's movement grew, other arguments developed that could be used to assert divine validity. One of these arguments was the use of extra-biblical patristic literature. Mormons have sought patristic differences and similarities to their current beliefs. They argue that similarities show a pure strain of Christianity (proto-Mormonism) which disappeared as mainstream patristic Catholicism (reflected through patristic differences to Mormon belief) pushed it into marginalization and eventual extinction. The use of extra biblical ancient literature in comparison to Mormonism has developed into a significant construct in Mormon claims of self-validation. Mormon scholarship in patristic study has deepened and significantly grown in twentieth-century Mormon and non-Mormon contexts. Despite this growth, a continuing apologetic agenda informs Mormon patristic work, generating a faulty methodology in examining ancient sources, causing frequent misinterpretations of sources, and often producing questionable patristic validation of modern Mormonism. Most non-Mormon patristics scholars seem unaware of either the energetic apologetic motive of modern Mormon patristic scholarship, or how this has influenced various interpretations that Mormons have advanced. This dissertation argues that Mormons entered the field of Patristics in the late nineteenth-century to apologetically validate their denomination. Prior to this time, they did not recognize patristic material as advantageous to their church. Despite possessing scholars who have received appropriate degrees at reputable institutions in the post WWII era, most Mormon work in the field uses a distorted methodology and faulty logic, and has manipulated evidence to produce unnatural or incorrect conclusions.

Recommended Citation

Welborn, Chris, "Modern Mormon use of patristic sources to validate the Utah-Mormon Church" (2006). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI3210979.