In support of the idea that the doctrines contained in the Book of Mormon must have been from a divine source because they were not taught in Joseph Smith’s contemporary Christianity, Tad Callister argued:
… contemporary Christianity taught that the Fall was a negative, not a positive, step forward, as taught in the Book of Mormon (see 2 Nephi 2).
LDS scholar Robert Millet also argued that Joseph’s teaching of the fortunate Fall was unique (at least in some unspecified manner) (see first two minutes).
An analysis of the pre-1830’s literature convincingly demonstrates that many Christians were teaching the idea of a “fortunate fall”.
Presence in literature before the 1830s
Before the 1700s
The theological concept of felix culpa (or “blessed fall”) was embodied in the ancient Catholic Paschal Vigil Mass Exsultet and favored by Ambrose, Augustine, and Aquinas.1 John Wycliffe, often doted upon by LDS scholars, spoke of the fortunate fall in multiple sermons, and wrote:
it was a fortunate sin that Adam sinned and his descendants; therefore as a result of this the world was made better
Since the 1700s
…mankind in general have gained, by the fall of Adam, a capacity of attaining more holiness and happiness on earth than it would have been possible for them to attain if Adam had not fallen
Closer to Joseph Smith’s time, Leibniz refers to felix culpa in his well-known work Theodicy, and John Milton includes a stanza clearly articulating a fortunate fall in Paradise Lost, a hugely influential book of the time. This connection was made in an Ensign article from 1976, a portion of which is quoted below:
The Fortunate Fall
The poem is overridingly positive. In spite of the rebellion of angels, the evil designs of Satan against man, Adam’s disobedience, mankind’s foreseen history of bloodshed and sin, good triumphs over evil. In fact, more good will eventually result from the Fall than could have been possible without it. Realizing this near the end of the poem, Adam cries:
O goodness infinite, goodness immense!
That all this good of evil shall produce,
And evil turn to good; more wonderful
Than that which by creation first brought forth
Light out of darkness! full of doubt I stand,
Whether I should repent me now of sin
By mee done and occasion’d, or rejoice
Much more, that much more good thereof shall spring.
To God more glory; more good will to Men
From God, and over wrath grace shall abound.
Could not the Almighty’s power, display’d,
Of man a different being made?
Why did he not prevent the fall,
And thus immortalize us all?
Then man in uncorrupted state,
Had shun’d these desperate shafts of fate;
**And free from every human wo,
Had liv’d forever, here below.
Could he, if all his art were spent,
A being like himself invent?
Or can his boasted skill create
An insect of the smallest rate?
And when created has he power
To furnish life, or breath an hour?
If not, why then attempt to scan
The wisdom of that God who can?
It so falls out, that death and sin
Have since the fall of Adam been:
That all the human race must die:
For what? the universal cry.
Say not, that but for Adam’s sin,
Your race had all immortal been;
And ever shun’d life’s dreadful curse;
But say perhaps your lot were worse
Than now it is: for ‘tis inferr’d,
That this event had ne’er occurr’d,
Had not the Great Eternal All,
Foreseen it best that man should fall:
How then were men a happier race,
Had no derangement e’er took place. [p. 33 ends]
Knows man what would of course befel,
Were he not suffer’d to rebel?
Knows he, that earth’s stupenduous [sic] frame,
Had ever in existence came?
Or that his now important rank,
Were not an everlasting blank?