Mantic v. Sophic
Hugh Nibley has observed, "Greek writers speak of two ways of viewing the world, which can be designated as Mantic and Sophic. A like dichotomy characterizes modern thought. Sources in Liddell and Scott's Greek-English Lexicon under 'mantic' (mantikos) use that word as indicating what is inspired, revealed, oracular, prophetic, or divinatory. The word sophic, used to signify that which men learn by their own unaided wits, though attested, is very rare, but we shall use it in place of its common synonyms 'sophistic' and 'philosophic' to avoid the confusing connotations which cling to them. 'Philosophy had two beginnings,' writes Diogenes Laertius, the one represented by Anaximander, the other by Pythagoras; the former sought to explain everything by investigation of the physis, the physical universe alone, the latter held on the other hand that only God really knows what is what, the philosopher being merely his messenger. 'One man,' said Solon, wisest of the Greeks, 'receives from the Olympian Muses the gift of inspired sophia that men strive for, and another from Apollo the mantic gift of prophecy,' making the same distinction as Empedocles: 'True reason is either divine or human; the former is inexpressible, the latter available to discussion,' i.e., Mantic and Sophic respectively."1
These opposing world views form the backdrop of the modern debate between science and religion. When we say we have received a testimony, we are coming down decidedly on the Mantic side of this debate. We believe that there are truths about ourselves and about the universe that we cannot discover with our unaided reason or through the observation of the senses. Believing is not always the result of seeing. Paul explained:
"But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." (1 Corinthians 2:9-14.)
Notice how he insists that eyes, ears, and the heart of man are not enough. There is knowledge to be had that cannot be obtained without divine help.
What and How?
Joseph Fielding Smith defines testimony as "a convincing knowledge given by revelation to the individual who humbly seeks the truth. Its convincing power is so great that there can be no doubt left in the mind when the Spirit has spoken. It is the only way that a person can truly know that Jesus is the Christ and that his gospel is true."2
How do we obtain a testimony if not without our own reason or observation? Bruce R. McConkie suggests we seek the gift of testimony by humility, desire, faith, study, prayer, and practice.3 He notes that this process "is not be confused with sign-seeking" because "those so seeking do so in the way the Lord has ordained."
Alma asked his listeners to "awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words" (Alma 32:27). While we cannot discover spiritual knowledge on our own, we must prepare ourselves to receive communication from the spirit.
Salvation Is Administered by Testimony
However, even a heart well-prepared cannot receive a testimony if there is no communication system. Paul noted that "faith cometh by hearing" and posed the question, ""How shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?" (1 Cor. 10:14, 17). The Book of Mormon teaches clearly that a critical aspect of the Father's plan for his children entailed a way to communicate spiritual things to his children. Mormon outlined the Father's strategy:
"God knowing all things, being from everlasting to everlasting, behold, he sent angels to minister unto the children of men, to make manifest concerning the coming of Christ . . . . And God also declared unto prophets, by his own mouth, that Christ should come. And behold, there were divers ways that he did manifest things unto the children of men, which were good; and all things which are good cometh of Christ; otherwise men were fallen, and there could no good thing come unto them. Wherefore, by the ministering of angels, and by every word which proceeded forth out of the mouth of God, men began to exercise faith in Christ. . . . My beloved brethren, have miracles ceased? Behold I say unto you, Nay; neither have angels ceased to minister unto the children of men. For behold, they are subject unto him, to minister according to the word of his command, showing themselves unto them of strong faith and a firm mind in every form of godliness. And the office of their ministry is to call men unto repentance, and to fulfil and to do the work of the covenants of the Father, which he hath made unto the children of men, to prepare the way among the children of men, by declaring the word of Christ unto the chosen vessels of the Lord, that they may bear testimony of him. And by so doing, the Lord God prepareth the way that the residue of men may have faith in Christ, that the Holy Ghost may have place in their hearts, according to the power thereof; and after this manner bringeth to pass the Father, the covenants which he hath made unto the children of men" (Moroni 7:22-32).
Notice how Moroni says that without revelation "there could no good thing come unto them." Joseph Smith echoed this statement: "Salvation cannot come without revelation; it is in vain for anyone to minister without it. . . . Whenever salvation has been administered, it has been by testimony."4 Salvation is administered by testimony because salvation comes by faith and "faith cometh by hearing."
The Covenants of the Father
Another important phrase in Moroni's description is his concluding statement: "After this manner bringeth to pass the Father, the covenants which he hath made unto the children of men." A covenant is a promise binding two parties together. God fulfilled his covenant with us by providing a way for us to get spiritual knowledge through the Holy Ghost. However, if we want that vitalizing knowledge to remain with us, we have to covenant with him. Joseph Smith provided this insight: "Cornelius received the Holy Ghost before he was baptized, which was the convincing power of God unto him of the truth of the Gospel. . . . Had he not taken this sign or ordinance [baptism] upon him, the Holy Ghost which convinced him of the truth of God, would have left him."5
When we make a covenant, we have the privilege of retaining our testimony through the gift of the Holy Ghost. If we break covenants, we drive out the spirit and lose the testimony. In other words if we want to keep our testimonies, we need to keep our covenants.
Grace for Grace
In a way, this explains the doctrine of receiving a fullness grace for grace. We obtain a testimony and in turn make and keep a covenant. When we keep the covenant, the Lord pours out further light and knowledge and invites us to make higher covenants, such as those made in the temple. If we make and keep the higher covenants, we are given greater light and knowledge, and so forth. For example, Abraham "desiring also to be one who possessed great knowledge, and to be a greater follower of righteousness, and to possess a greater knowledge" sought ordination to the priesthood and its attendant oath and covenant (Abr. 1:1-2). The greatest knowledge we can have is the sure word of prophecy. Joseph Smith taught:
"Though they had heard an audible voice from heaven bearing testimony that Jesus was the Son of God, yet [Peter] says we have a more sure word of prophecy, whereunto ye do well that ye take heed as unto a light shining in a dark place. Now, wherein could they have a more sure word of prophecy than to hear the voice of God saying, This is my beloved Son. Now for the secret and grand key. Though they might hear the voice of God and know that Jesus was the Son of God, this would be no evidence that their election and calling was made sure, that they had part with Christ, and were joint heirs with Him. They then would want that more sure word of prophecy, that they were sealed in the heavens and had the promise of eternal life in the kingdom of God. Then, having this promise sealed unto them, it was an anchor to the soul, sure and steadfast. Though the thunders might roll and lightnings flash, and earthquakes bellow, and war gather thick around, yet this hope and knowledge would support the soul in every hour of trial, trouble and tribulation. Then knowledge through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is the grand key that unlocks the glories and mysteries of the kingdom of heaven."6
Having one's calling and election made sure is a culminating revelation, a final testimony, and comes as a result of making and keeping covenants.
1. Hugh Nibley, The Ancient State: The Rulers and the Ruled,
edited by Donald W. Parry and Stephen D. Ricks (Salt Lake City and Provo:
Deseret Book Co., Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1991),
2. Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, 5 vols. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1957-1966), 3: 31.
3. Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2d ed. (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966), 715.
4. Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 vols., introduction and notes by B. H. Roberts (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1932-1951), 3: 389 - 390.
5. Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, selected and arranged by Joseph Fielding Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1976), 199.
6. Ibid., 298.