Liberating the captives at the National Gallery

I spent the day in Washington D.C sight seeing and going to various museums. I went to the National Gallery for the first time which was exciting because I’d heard a lot about their vast collection. I must say, that I am probably spoiled from the vast quality and quantity on display in European museums, because I was less impressed with the museum than I expected. One painting really stuck out for me–not so much on an aesthetic level, but on a theological level.

Christ in Limbo

Benvenuto di Giovanni
Christ in Limbo, probably 1491

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about baptism for the dead and the work that we do for those in spiritual prison. In the next few weeks, I am going to be doing the temple work for my mother and so the topic is pressed especially strongly on my mind. I recently read Hugh Nibley’s incredible article on Baptism for the Dead in Ancient Times. Still, it was pretty encouraging and powerful to see clear evidence that this idea of liberating the captives is not just some new idea invented by Joseph Smith in the 1830’s, but is an authentic take on an ancient practice that lingered in memory although perhaps in distorted form.

1 Peter 3:19 By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison;
20 Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.

I am so happy that we are living in the dispensation of the fullness of times, where we as members and priesthood holders can participate in this divine act of redemption. It is so enriching to have a deeper understanding of what exactly christ did when he descended and harrowed the prison.

D&C 138 is especially rich with wonderful details that illustrate how Christ’s church operates on the same eternal principles in this life and the next. Missionary work is transformed into an eternal and spiritual phenomena and human agency emphasized.

“But behold, from among the righteous, he organized his forces and appointed messengers, clothed with power and authority, and commissioned them to go forth and carry the light of the gospel to them that were in darkness, even to all the spirits of men; and thus was the gospel preached to the dead.”

Most importantly, later revelation shows that this act of liberation is fundamentally an act of generations and family. Thus, each living person is responsible for those that preceded him. This beautiful revelation really creates reciprocal relations with those that have come before us and those that will come after us as well.

Hebrews 11: 40 “God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.”

The other thing that seeing this painting made me reflect on, is that Catholics often get a bad unnecessarily among Latter Day Saints. I’ve come to realize that the Catholic church likely should be viewed as a force heroically struggling to preserve truly doctrines even after the apostasy, rather than a cause of that apostasy. Indeed, this is apparent by the fact that so many of our restored doctrine are reflected in the Catholic tradition but lost in mainline protestantism. Thus, the very idea of a spiritual prison remained in the unbiblical notion of Limbo, the notion of priesthood and authority was preserved in the papacy even as it lost spiritual authority and marriage was preserved as an eternal sacrament even if the notion of sealing was not properly understood. One could think of probably tens of other ways in which Catholic orthodoxy preserved bits of our faith that may have been otherwise totally lost to time. We owe an enormous debt to the work of the Church for the fact that we had as much correct knowledge of Christ as we did before the restoration.

I think we can do more to reach out with appreciation. Certainly, we need to get rid of the orthopraxy view that equates Catholicism with the church of abomination. This is not only unscriptural, it is dangerous, deceitful and antithetical to the truth.


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