Friday, August 31, 2012

The Key to the Science of Theology

We live in a world that is, to one degree or another, obsessed with progress, science and technology.  The mere mention of the words evokes images of wonder, fascinating fields of discovery, innovation and advancement.  The past few centuries has been a time of unprecedented growth in the means of transportation, communication, and production.  Gutenberg might now blush at the vision of a laptop computer; DaVinci might gaze for hours speechlessly at modern aircraft in flight.  Henry Ford might heartily enjoy cruising around in an F-150, while in the passenger seat, Alexander Graham Bell patiently typed out his first text.  But discoveries and inventions such as these are only the beginning.

Early in the 19th Century there lived a man who promised to revolutionize the world.  His friend and pupil, Parley P. Pratt, absorbed his teachings like a sponge, and recorded what he considered to be the key to all of the aforementioned innovations and so much more.  The last book that Pratt published before his martyrdom in 1857 contained what he considered to be "The Key to the Science of Theology."

Pratt's purpose in writing was simple:

"If the work proves an introductory key to some of the first principles of the divine science of which it treats; if it serves to open the eyes of any of his fellowmen, on the facts of the past, the present, and the future; if it leads to investigation and inquiry, and calls public attention to the greater and more particular truths which have been, or are about to be, revealed as a standard by which to unite the people of all nations and of all religions upon the rock, the sure foundation of divine, eternal, uncreated, infinite and exhaustless Truth, it will have accomplished the end aimed at by the author."

Whether or not this work accomplishes its end is to be determined by the reader, but my purpose in reviewing it is to give the author a chance to accomplish his goal by introducing the work to those who have never heard of it, or to those who have heard of it, but never read it.

If the title is not sufficiently provocative, consider some of the topics addressed in the seventeen short chapters of the book: The definition of theology, the decline and loss of theology among different peoples, keys of the mysteries of the Godhead, origin and destiny of the universe, the key of knowledge, power and government, and intercommunication of the inhabitants of different and distant planets, and the laws of marriage and procreation.  So put down your National Geographic, or Popular Science, or Wired magazine just for a moment, and pick up a copy of Pratt's The Key to the Science of Theology.  

Pratt possessed a unique ability to articulate truth.  If his friend and mentor Joseph Smith knew how to touch hearts with his clear and concise teaching, Pratt understood how to render that teaching into a pleasing poetic form.  He understood that he lived in an age of progress of all the sciences, yet the science that undergirded them all went largely unnoticed:

"While every science, every art is being developed; while the mind is awakened to new thought; while the windows of heaven are opened, as it were, and the profound depths of human intellect are stirred—moved from the foundation on all other subjects, religious knowledge seems at a stand still."

To remedy this, Pratt recorded a "general view of the Science of Theology, as gathered from revelation, history, prophecy, reason and analogy," and he began to record this view with a poem:

"Eternal Science! who would fathom thee
Must launch his hark upon a shoreless sea.
Thy knowledge yet shall overwhelm the earth;
Thy truth to immortality give birth,
Thy dawn shall kindle to eternal day,
And man, immortal, still shall own thy sway."

The Key to the Science of Theology is, in a prose definition, "the science of all other sciences and useful arts, being in fact, the very fountain from which they emanate.  It includes philosophy, astronomy, history, mathematics, geography, languages, the science of letters; and blends the knowledge of all matters of fact, in every branch of art, or of research.  It includes, also, all scientific discoveries and inventions-agriculture, the mechanical arts, architecture, shipbuilding, the properties and applications of the mariner's compass, navigation and music.  All that is useful, great, and good; all that is calculated to sustain, comfort, instruct, edify, purify, refine or exalt intelligences; originated by this science, and this science alone, all other sciences being but branches growing out of this-the root."

Pratt gives another definition of this "root" in the fifth chapter of his book: "The key to the science of theology is the key of divine revelation. Without this key, no man, no assemblage of men, ever did, or ever will know the Eternal Father or Jesus Christ."  Pratt was certainly concerned (and he would be even more so today) that while branches of knowledge were growing rampantly, the root was being neglected.  But he was hopeful and optimistic that the key could be taught and learned by average people:

"Is't possible! A sinful man like me,
A candidate for heaven's mystery!
May I approach the gate and enter in,
Be wash'd and cleans'd from all my former sin,
Renew'd in spirit, and partake the power
of bless'd Theology from this good hour."

One of the ironies of our time is that we can probe the planet Mars for signs of life without having thoroughly probed our own human nature.  We may discover the Higgs Boson without discovering who we are, and why we inhabit this planet we call earth.  We may even introduce the next revolutionary technology to the world before we are introduced to the God that created us.  If someone has presented a key that opens doors to truth, knowledge, wisdom and joy, why not use it?

Pratt was truly progressive in his thinking and truly liberal in his desire to lead people to the truth.  If you would like to enjoy the power of "bless'd Theology from this good hour," pick up a copy of Pratt's The Key to the Science of Theology.  You won't be disappointed.