FAIR has a service called “Ask the Apologist” where people can write in with questions about the Church. Volunteers, including myself, try to answer as many as we can. It’s actually fun and sometimes a challenge.
A few months ago the following question came in:
Do we know the name of the Catholic Theologian that came to Salt Lake City to study the Mormons and gave the comments that “You Mormons are all ignoramuses; you don’t even understand the strength of your own position…” It was quoted by Elder Richards in his book “A Marvelous Work and A Wonder”. If someone could let me me know ASAP it would be most appreciated.
I was of course familiar with the story, but I don’t think I had ever actually heard the name of the Catholic theologian. I did a fair amount of googling, and came up empty. I queried people on lists I am on, and again, nada. So this is the response I wrote:
Elder Richards’ proximate source for that story was a pamphlet published by Elder Orson Whitney, entitled “The Strength of the Mormon Position.” Below I have quoted what appears to be the earliest source, also from Elder Whitney, from 1921. In none of these sources is the name of the Catholic divine given. I have tried searching the internet and have queried some friends who are heavy into LDS history, without success.
That doesn’t mean that his identity is unknown, but it is not commonly known. You might try querying someone at the LDS archives. I would start with [Intentionally omitted].
Good luck and best wishes,
Orson F. Whitney, *Saturday Night Thoughts, Part 3,* (Salt Lake City:
Deseret News Press, 1921), 63-64.
A Catholic Opinion.–Many years ago there came to Salt Lake City a learned
doctor of divinity, a member of the Roman Catholic Church. I became well
acquainted with him, and we conversed freely and frankly. A great scholar,
with perhaps a dozen, languages at his tongue’s end, he seemed to know all
about theology, law, literature, science and philosophy, and was never weary
of displaying his vast erudition. One day he said to me: “You Mormons are
all ignoramuses. You don’t even know the strength of your own position. It
is so strong that there is only one other tenable in the whole Christian
world, and that is the position of the Catholic Church. The issue is between
Catholicism and Mormonism. If we are right, you are wrong; if you are right,
we are wrong; and that’s all there is to it. The Protestants haven’t a leg
to stand on. If we are wrong, they are wrong with us, for they were a part
of us and went out from us; while if we are right, they are apostates whom
we cut off long ago. If we really have, as we claim, the apostolic
succession from St. Peter, there was no need for Joseph Smith and Mormonism;
but if we have not that succession, then such a man as Joseph Smith was
necessary, and Mormonism’s attitude is the only consistent one. It is either
the perpetuation of the Gospel from ancient times, or the restoration of the
Gospel in latter days.”
Well, just moments ago I heard again from the original questioner with the answer. A friend of his worked with someone at the LDS Historical Library, and after much effort they found it. The Catholic theologian’s name is John A. Reiner. The source is Orson F. Whitney’s autobiography, Through Memory’s Halls: The Life Story of Orson F. Whitney, as Told by Himself (Independence, MO: Zion’s Printing and Publishing Company, 1930), 222-23. [If you want to buy a copy of the book, be forewarned that it is long out of print; the cheapest one I saw on the internet was $325.]
This was such hard-won knowledge that I didn’t want to let it languish, but I wanted to put it out there where others would have a chance to find it. I remember having the same question myself in the past, but never pursued it to this extent before.
Does anyone know anything more about this John A. Reiner and his interaction with the Saints in SLC?