Power From On High
by Gregory A. Prince
[p.149]From 1831 to 1836 several distinctive ordinances emerged in Mormon practice having less to do with everyday religious experience—what one might expect from Sunday worship—and more with extraordinary circumstances and other-worldly expectations. These included raising the dead, prophetic blessings, ceremonies of eternal marriage, and washing one’s feet and anointing one’s body with oil. Although the context, objectives, and procedures of such ordinances have changed since their inception, the earliest impulses were forerunners to today’s versions.
Raising the Dead
Except for his own resurrection, Jesus’ crowning miracle was raising Lazarus from the dead. Similarly, the Book of Mormon prophet Nephi raised his brother from the dead (3 Ne. 7:19), and after the resurrected Christ visited the Nephites they too demonstrated this extraordinary power (4 Ne. 1:5). Although the first Mormon elders were promised great spiritual gifts, power over death was not among them. For example, a December 1830 revelation stated: “They shall cast out Devils; they shall heal the sick; they shall cause the blind to receive their sight, and the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak, & the lame to walk.”1 But as the June 1831 endowment approached, it [p.150] became apparent that the elders’ expectations now included this power.2 Ezra Booth, a participant at the June conference, wrote that the elders tried without success to revive “a dead body, which had been retained above ground two or three days.”3 None of the other participants confirmed the report, although three years later an unsympathetic author wrote: “That an attempt was made to raise the child, is denied, of course, as every other attempt has been, after its entire failure was obvious to all.”4
Regardless of whether an attempt was actually made to raise the dead, reports show that the elders persisted in believing they possessed this power.5 A Vermont newspaper stated: “It is said they believe their leader to be the real Jesus, and that both he and his disciples have infinite power to work miracles, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out devils.”6
These claims may have been put to the test early in 1832. While serving a proselyting mission in Vermont, Joseph Brackenbury died suddenly. A local newspaper, in reporting his death, stated: “In confirmation of their doctrines and divine mission, they professed to have power to heal the sick and raise the dead… . The company of Brackenbury attempted also to heal him, and since his disease [decease], to raise him from the dead.”7 Similar reports were published in New York and Ohio.8 Although it may be that these non-Mormon sources exaggerated the truth, a letter written two decades later by a Latter-day Saint apostle lends support to their claim. In compiling the official history of the church, Apostle George A. Smith wrote to Elizabeth Brackenbury for details regarding the death of her husband, including [p.151] the question, “What were the circumstances of his death, burial, and attempted resurrection?”9
If attempts were made in these early years to raise the dead, none were successful. A non-Mormon neighbor wrote that “several of them, however, have died, but none have been raised from the dead.”10 The expectation of such a miracle was revived in February 1835 when the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles was first organized. In ordaining men to the apostleship, the three witnesses to the Book of Mormon “predicted many things which should come to pass, that we should have power to heal the sick, cast out devils, raise the dead, give sight to the blind, have power to remove mountains, and all things should be subject to us through the name of Jesus Christ …”11
At about this time Joseph Smith, Sr., began to give patriarchal blessings to church members.12 In blessing Apostle Orson Pratt, he reaffirmed the promise “that thou shalt raise the dead, if needful, to accomplish thy mission.”13 By the following year, as the Kirtland House of the Lord neared completion, the confidence in this promise again attracted the attention of the non-Mormon press: “They assure you, with the utmost confidence, that they shall soon be able to raise the dead …”14 Indeed, a patriarchal blessing given five days before the [p.152] dedication promised that “thou shalt receive all the power of the holy priesthood; power to raise the dead …”15
Over the next few years the promise was periodically repeated, generally through a patriarchal blessing and always to men. For example, in December 1836 Lorenzo Snow was promised, “If expedient the dead shall rise and come forth at thy bidding, even those who have long slept in the dust.”16 Four years later, Arnold Stephens was told, “Thou shalt have great power even to raise the Dead …”17 The final known promise of this power was included in a revelation in January 1841 in which it was said of William Law, “And what if I will that he should raise the dead, let him not withhold his voice.”18 It is not known how many attempts to fulfill this promise may have been made during Smith’s lifetime. But in 1891 Apostle Snow revived a young girl who apparently had died several hours earlier—a remarkable event witnessed by several people.19
Two related promises, while not considered ordinances, bear inclusion in this section. The first was that an individual, rather than being raised from the dead, would not die. Unlike the power to raise the dead, this promise was given both to women and men. For example, Oliver Harmon was told that “thou Shalt have power over death & the grave & not sleep in the dust,” 20 while Betsy Smith was promised that she would “not see death.”21 In spite of these promises, both died.
[p.153]Another promise involved the slain prophet and patriarch, Joseph and Hyrum Smith. One week after their death, Apostle Parley P. Pratt addressed “a great congregation consisting of thousands” upon the subject of the martyrs. He encouraged the Saints to complete the Nauvoo temple so “that when done we might meet our beloved Prophets at the time of the inducement [endowment] of the faithful.”22 Within weeks, apparently in an exaggerated response to this sermon, a report published in the St. Louis New Era and reprinted in Iowa and New York stated that: “A Mormon has arrived in this city who reports that Joe Smith has risen from the dead, and has been seen in Carthage and Nauvoo, mounted on a white horse, and with a drawn sword in his hand.”23
While such accounts quickly vanished, reports that Smith would return at the dedication of the temple persisted through September. The Burlington [Iowa] Hawkeye stated that “the Temple is progressing very rapidly as the leaders tell the people that when it is finished Joe will appear and dedicate it.”24 Similar accounts were published in Illinois, Iowa, and Ohio,25 and a national periodical reported that “the Temple is going ahead with astonishing rapidity, all hands being employed at it; it is said, in full faith that Joseph will re-appear at its dedication.”26 No account is known to exist which describes such an appearance either at or prior to the dedication.
One of the early accounts of a blessing ordinance occurred at the June 1831 general conference. After Joseph Smith and Lyman Wight ordained several men to the High Priesthood, Bishop Edward Partridge “then proceeded and blessed the above named and others by [p.154] the laying on of hands.”27 In 1834 when the first high council was organized:
After much good instruction, Joseph, the president, laid his [hands] upon the heads of the two assistant presidents and pronounced a blessing upon them, that they might have the wisdom to magnify their office, and power over all the power of the adversary. He also laid his hands upon the twelve counsellors and commanded a blessing to rest upon them, that they might have wisdom and power to counsel in righteousness upon all subjects that might be laid before them. He also prayed that they might be delivered from those evils to which they were most exposed, and that their lives might be prolonged on the earth.28
A year later, the three witnesses of the Book of Mormon were “blessed by the laying on of the hands of the Presidency,” whereupon they proceeded to select the members of the first Quorum of Twelve Apostles.29
Blessings were sometimes combined with other ordinances. For example, when Wilford Woodruff was ordained a seventy in 1837 Zebedee Coltrin added words of blessing which were not related to the ordination: “President Z. Coltrin ordained me as a member of the first Seventy & Pronounced great blessings upon my head by the Spirit of Prophecy & Revelation.”30
Occasionally a blessing was pronounced on an individual or group without physical contact between officiator and recipient(s). For example, an 1832 revelation directed missionaries that “in whatsoever house ye enter, and they receive you, leave your blessings upon that house.”31 In the course of preparing for the 1836 endowment, Smith [p.155] blessed “each quorem in the name of the Lord,”32 and later the same month “pronounced a blessing upon the Sisters for the liberality in giving their servises so cheerfully to make the veil for the Lord’s house also upon the congregation and [then] dismissed [them].”33
Infrequently a blessing was bestowed on an inanimate object. For instance, the Book of Mormon recorded that Alma “blessed the earth for the righteous’ sake.”34 Although there is no record of a similar blessing by Smith, Apostle Heber C. Kimball took literally the blessing of land:
Do you not see the propriety of our blessing the earth—the earth that we inhabit and cultivate? If you do not see the propriety of it, for heaven’s sake do not bless the sacrament again. Do not take a bottle of oil to the prayer circle to be blessed, when you do not believe the earth can be blessed.
If you have got half-an-acre, you can bless it, and dedicate it, and consecrate it to God, and ask him to fill it with life. Well, then, if you can bless half-an-acre, why can you not bless a whole acre? And if you can bless an acre, why can you not bless all this Territory?35
One of the central doctrines of the Restoration is “sealing,” which today is used primarily to join spouse to spouse, child to parent(s) for eternity. However, such context was the last of several to develop during Joseph Smith’s ministry. Because the single term, “seal,” implied so many different concepts, and because these often existed simultaneously, it is important to distinguish among definitions being used at any given time.
The earliest use of the concept occurred in 1830 and drew upon precedents from the Bible and the Book of Mormon. A revelation that September spoke of Smith’s special ability to penetrate ancient “seals”: [p.156] “And thou shalt not command him who is at thy head, and at the head of the church, for I have given him the keys of the mysteries and the revelations which are sealed, until I shall appoint unto them another in his stead” (BC XXX:6). Another revelation three months later reinforced the notion that Smith had special powers to decipher hidden things: “I have given unto him the keys of the mystery of those things which have been sealed” (BC XXXVII:19).
In this context the verb “to seal” means to hide or to remove from access, as employed in a passage from Isaiah which became an important proof text of Smith’s divine calling: “And the vision of all is become unto you as the words of a book that is sealed, which men deliver to one that is learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I cannot; for it is sealed” (Isa. 29:11).
In this scripture the “book” is a metaphor for a vision which, though presented to “one that is learned,” is incomprehensible to him. Stated another way, the book is accessible to him but the meaning is not. This passage is referred to in the Book of Mormon, but the book is depicted as a reality—that is, the gold plates which formed the basis of the Book of Mormon—and not as a metaphor:
And behold the book shall be sealed; and in the book shall be a revelation from God, from the beginning of the world to the ending thereof… .
But behold, it shall come to pass that the Lord God shall say unto him to whom he shall deliver the book:
Take these words which are not sealed and deliver them to another, that he may show them unto the learned, saying: Read this, I pray thee.
And the learned shall say: Bring hither the book, and I will read them… .
And the man shall say: I cannot bring the book for it is sealed.
Then shall the learned say: I cannot read it (BM, LDS, 2 Ne. 27:7, 15, 17-18).
In this passage there is a slightly different meaning than in Isaiah, for now it is not merely the meaning which is inaccessible to the learned man, but the book itself.
Several other biblical passages employ a similar usage. In some cases the object is concrete: “And I saw in the right hand of him that sat on the throne a book written within and on the backside, sealed with seven seals” (Rev. 5:1). In others cases the object is abstract: “And he said, go thy way, Daniel: for the words are closed up and sealed till the [p.157] time of the end” (Dan. 12:9). In the case of the Book of Mormon the object is always concrete, as in the Book of Ether: “And behold, when ye shall come unto me, ye shall write them and shall seal them up, that no one can interpret them” (3:22). Obviously, this use of “seal,” which predominated prior to 1831, cannot be considered an ordinance, although subsequent uses during Smith’s ministry were.
The highlight of the June 1831 general conference was the ordination of several elders to the Order of Melchizedek (or High Priesthood) prior to their journey to Missouri to dedicate a temple site. Upon their return to Kirtland, “Br. Joseph Smith jr. said that the order of the High-priesthood is that they have power given them to seal up the Saints unto eternal life. And said it was the privilege of every Elder present to be ordained to the Highpriesthood.”36
When Smith made this statement the High Priesthood was an order of elders and referred neither to the office of high priest nor to an umbrella organization encompassing several offices. With the passage of time, however, High Priesthood became synonymous with the office of high priest (late 1831) and eventually with Melchizedek Priesthood (1835), a term encompassing five offices. Statements made after 1835 assigned the sealing power to the Melchizedek Priesthood in general and not to a single office within that priesthood. For example, an editorial in 1841 stated: “The power and authority of the Higher, or Melchizedek Priesthood was to hold the keys of all the spiritual blessings of the Church, as Jesus said, `I give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven—whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven,’ etc.”37 Similarly, Smith wrote to James Arlington Bennett in 1843 of “the sealing power of the Melchizedek priesthood.”38 Indeed, all known examples of sealings during Smith’s ministry involved men who had been ordained to offices in the Melchizedek Priesthood.
The most common form of sealing was in the context of “certifying” or “validating.” The object of such was either impersonal or personal. In each instance, ample scriptural precedent existed. An [p.158] example of the former occurs in Isaiah, which describes the validation of the law by God’s servants: “Bind up the testimony, seal the law among my disciples” (8:16). This passage was quoted without change in the Book of Mormon (2 Ne. 18:16) and was the basis of commandments to LDS missionaries whose labors effected the sealing of the law and testimony: “Therefore tarry ye, and labour diligently, that you may be perfected, in your ministry to go forth among the gentiles, for the last time, as many, as the mouth of the Lord shall name, to bind up the law, and seal up the testimony, and to prepare the saints, for the hour of judgments.”39
More common than sealing a concept was validating or certifying an ordinance. For instance, the impetus for the endowment doctrine was the idea that authority and power were not necessarily connected, that the pronouncement of intent, even though performed by one having authority, did not guarantee effect. Similarly, it became common practice to seal or validate an ordinance to assure that it would be recognized by God, both in this life and, where applicable, in the life to come.
In some cases the sealing was part of the ordinance, while in others it was a separate ritual following the ordinance it validated. Although neither the Bible nor the Book of Mormon mentions the sealing of an ordinance, both make clear that the disciples of Jesus were given power whereby whatever they “bound” or “sealed” on earth would be recognized and sanctioned in heaven. In the biblical case Jesus said first to Peter and later to the other disciples, “Whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matt. 16:19, 18:18). The Book of Mormon contains a nearly identical injunction: “Whatsoever ye shall seal on earth shall be sealed in heaven” (Hel. 10:7).
The earliest known instance of sealing an ordinance occurred at a general conference in January 1832: “At this conference, the Prophet Joseph was acknowledged President of the High Priesthood, and hands were laid on him by Elder Sidney Rigdon, who sealed upon his head [p.159] the blessings which he had formerly received.”40 Four types of ordinances were often sealed. It was optional for ordinations and blessings and was mandatory for anointings preceding the late Kirtland (i.e., 1836) and Nauvoo endowments and the “second anointing” which began in 1843.
A revelation in March 1832 first mentioned the use of seals for ordinations:
Q. What are we to understand by sealing the one hundred and forty-four thousand, out of all the tribes of Israel—twelve thousand out of every tribe?
A. We are to understand that those who are sealed are high priests, ordained unto the holy order of God, to administer the everlasting gospel; for they are they who are ordained out of every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, by the angels to whom is given power over the nations of the earth, to bring as many as will come to the church of the Firstborn (DC, 1921 77:11).
The following year Smith referred to himself as “him who is ordained and sealed unto this power.”41 In 1835 the Kirtland High Council, in blessing Elisha Groves, stated, “We seal the blessings of the High Priesthood upon the[e] which thou has already received.”42
With the advent of patriarchal blessings, several men had their previous ordinations sealed, as in the case of Lyman Wight (“I seal upon thee thine ordination, which ordination is after the order of Melchezedek”43, and the unusual case of James Newberry who was both ordained and sealed: “You are bless’d with the holy priesthood which I confer upon you, and seal it with a sealing blessing upon your head, even that which is after the order of Melchizedek.”44 In spite of these examples, however, there is no evidence that the sealing of ordinations became a common practice.
More common was the sealing of blessings, usually pronounced as [p.160] part of the blessing. An early example is the 1833 blessing of George A. Smith by his father who concluded by saying “all these blessings shall be yours and I seal them upon your head in the name of Jesus Christ.”45 The most common form occurred with patriarchal blessings, where the majority contained a statement by the patriarch sealing the blessing(s) pronounced therein.46
While the sealing of ordinations and blessings was done informally and usually as part of the ordinance being sealed, anointings relating to endowment were sealed in a separate, formal ordinance. During the winter of 1835-36, as the House of the Lord neared completion, the elders prepared for the endowment by being washed and anointed. On 28 January 1836 Smith met with the Quorum of the Twelve and the Quorum of the Seventy to seal the anointings:
I proceeded with the quorum of the presidency to instruct them [the twelve] & also the seven presidents of the seventy Elders to call upon God with uplifted hands to seal the blessings which had been promised to them by the holy anointing. As I organized this quorem with the presedincy in this room, Pres. Sylvester Smith saw a piller of fire rest down & abide upon the heads of the quorem as we stood in the midst of the Twelve.
When the Twelve & the seven were through with their sealing prayers I called upon Pres. S. Rigdon to seal them with uplifted hands & when he had done this & cried hosannah that all [the] congregation should join him & shout hosannah to God & the Lamb & glory to God in the highest.47
Throughout the remainder of the winter church leaders met periodically with men who had been washed and anointed to seal the anointings. Multiple sealings were suggested by the patriarchal blessing of Jonathan Crosby, Jr., who was told, “I seal all former blessings, even the blessing of the holy anointing, which thou has received.”48 Al-[p161]though the purpose was primarily to assure the recipient of the validity of the ordinance, the elders remained open to further assurances, as indicated by Smith in the dedicatory prayer of the House of the Lord: “Let the anointing of thy ministers be sealed upon them with power from on high.”49
After the Saints left Ohio and were expelled from Missouri, they settled in Illinois and began to build the temple in which they anticipated another endowment. Although the Nauvoo endowment was more developed and structured, it retained the same washings and anointings, including the sealing the of anointing. One of the nine original initiates, Heber C. Kimball, wrote, “I was aniciated into the ancient order[,] was washed and annointed[,] and Sealled.”50 Sealing the anointing continued as part of the endowment ritual through the remainder of Smith’s life.
In 1843 another ordinance was added to those which would be practiced only in temples. Known as the “second anointing,” it conferred a higher level of confidence to recipients of their ultimate exaltation. Although details of this ordinance were not commonly recorded, contemporary records confirm that the recipients received a sealing of their additional anointing.51
Whereas the above examples relate to the certification of ordinances, another form of sealing, unrelated to another ordinance, carried the assurance of eternal life (or, in some cases, eternal damnation). It was the earliest form of sealing in the Restoration that could be considered an ordinance. Biblical antecedents come from the New Testament and deal with an assurance of salvation, as seen in the Epistle to the Ephesians: “And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption” (4:30; see also 2 Cor. 1:21-22, Eph. 1:13, Rev. 7:2-4, 9:4). Similarly, the Book of Mormon speaks of assured salvation: “Therefore, I would that ye should be steadfast and immovable, always abounding in good works, that Christ, the Lord God Omnipotent, may seal you his, that you may be brought to [p.162] heaven, that ye may have everlasting salvation and eternal life” (BM, LDS, Mosiah 5:15). The essential difference between these scriptural precedents and the practice of the Latter-day Saints was that the actual sealing in the former instance was done by Jesus, the Holy Spirit, or Angels, whereas in the latter case any elder holding the High Priesthood could “seal up the Saints unto eternal life.”52
The week after the October 1831 conference, two revelations confirmed this power. Divine approval was required: “And of as many as the Father shall bear record, to you shall be given power to seal them up unto eternal life.”53 In addition, “To them [the elders] is power given, to seal both on earth and in heaven, the unbelieving and rebellious; yea, verily, to seal them up unto the day when the wrath of God shall be poured out upon the wicked” (BC I:2, 1 Nov. 1831). This new power was reminiscent of that spoken of in the Book of Mormon: “For behold, if ye have procrastinated the day of your repentance even unto death, behold, ye have become subjected to the spirit of the devil, and he doth seal you his” (Alma 34:35).54
Within days of the October 1831 general conference, elders holding the High Priesthood began to exercise their newly conferred authority and sealed entire congregations to eternal life. During the month of November, for instance, Reynolds Cahoon recorded three such instances:
tuesday came to shalersville held a meting in the Evning with the Br[ethren]. and after labaring with them some length of time Br. David seeled them up unto Eternal life… .
Thurs. 17 Nov[.] held a meting … Broke bread with them[,] sealed up the Church unto Eternal life …
Sateurday Evening held a Met with the Brth at Mr. Reevs & Blest the Children in the name of the lord & sealed the Church unto eternal life.55
Although Cahoon gave no details concerning how the sealing was to be done, Jared Carter described such a sealing in early 1832:
[p.163]During my labors in Benson I witnessed many manifestations, both in spirit and miracles, a few of which I will mention. The first instance of god manifesting his power to the Church was on the last day I held meetings with them. While I, in the commencement of the meeting, was praying, I was directed to pray most earnestly that God would grant unto us sealing grace. After this I felt directed by the spirit to declare unto the brethren that that day was a sealing time with them, as I had prayed in faith, that they might be blessed. My communication to them caused some of the brethren to tremble, for this was something that they had never before experienced; but I exhorted them to call more earnestly on the Lord. We then began to pray, but the spirit, as I viewed it in my mind, was not yet poured out; therefore, I again arose and devoted a few minutes to call upon the Lord with one accord. Accordingly, all of us lifted our voices to God, and while we were praying, the Spirit rested down upon us. We then administered the Sacrament and it appeared to me that the Church of Christ in that locality was sealed up to the Lord, and it was likewise made plain to me that every one of us present should meet again in Zion. I then felt as though I could leave them without fear, for I had a testimony that God would keep them.56
Other instances of group sealings occurred in April 1832 (performed by Joseph Smith57 and in August and September 1833 (performed by Lyman Johnson).58 By this time the practice of sealing individuals rather than groups had begun, and while no instances of group sealings have been found after 1833, individual sealings increased dramatically. The first known instance occurred in January 1833 at the opening of the School of the Prophets. Entry into the school required the ordinance of washing of feet, which, at least in this setting, constituted the sealing of the recipient to eternal life:
The President said after he had washed the feet of the Elders, as I have done[,] so do ye[,] wash ye therefore one anothers feet pronouncing at the same time that the Elders were all clean from the blood of this generation but that those among them who should sin wilfully after they were thus cleansed and sealed up unto eternal life should be given over unto the buffettings of Satan until the day of redemption.59
[p.164]No further instances were recorded during the two years between September 1833 and September 1835, at which time Elizabeth Ann Whitney received a patriarchal blessing from Joseph Smith, Sr., declaring, “I seal thee up unto eternal life.”60 This statement soon became a commonplace part of patriarchal blessings, and half (66 of 131) of the available blessings given between 1835 and 1844 contain declarations of sealing to eternal life.61
While patriarchal blessings appear to have remained the most common vehicle for this type of sealing, Wilford Woodruff, as an exception, recorded his simultaneous ordination and sealing to eternal salvation in 1836: “Spent this 31st DAY of MAY at Br Fry [at] Eagle Creek and found it to be the most interesting, important & instructive day of my LIFE. For on this Glorious DAY I was ordained unto the High Priesthood and also as one of the Second Seventy & sealed up unto Eternal LIFE under the hands of my Beloved Brethren, VIZ Elder’s David W Patten & Warren Parrish.”62 Another vehicle was an 1842 wedding ceremony in which Smith and his plural wife, Sarah Ann Whitney, were instructed, “let immortality and eternal life henceforth be sealed upon your heads forever and ever.”63
While these examples have in common the assurance of eternal life, occasionally one was sealed against the effects of evil. Three patriarchal blessings, all given by Joseph Smith, Sr., express this sentiment. Phoebe W. Carter was told: “I lay my hands on thy head & place a seal on thy forehead and if thou art faithful and keep the commandments of God NO power shall take it off it shall be a seal against the destroyer.”64 To Benjamin C. Ellsworth, Father Smith said, “I place a seal on thee that the Enemy may not have power over [p.165] thee.”65 And Marinda Nancy Hyde was told: “I seal thee against the Destroyer.”66 In all three cases, the recipient was also “sealed unto eternal life,” so it is not clear if sealing against evil was considered an independent ordinance. Despite the diversity of forms and vehicles, with different vehicles predominating at various times, one sees a single intent in these sealings: the assurance that God accepted the recipient and guaranteed eternal life.67
The final form of sealing (and the one most prevalent in the Latter-day Saint church today) was the linking of one person to another such that a familial relationship was assured not only in this life but after the resurrection. Two forms of person-to-person sealing gradually developed. In the first, husband and wife were joined to each other. In the second, which was outlined by Smith but apparently not put into practice until after his death, child and parents were linked to each other. While there is no direct scriptural antecedent, the latter practice developed from the promise that what was bound on earth would be bound in heaven.
Smith’s innovations with respect to marriage began as early as 1831, allegedly involved relationships outside his marriage to Emma Smith as early as 1835, and culminated in formal plural marriages as early as 1841.68 While the specific nature of the wedding ceremony prior to 1842 is not known, the exact wording of Smith’s July 1842 marriage to Sarah Ann Whitney was given by revelation.69 It is clear [p.166] that the purpose of the ceremony was to create a marriage which would survive death (“you both mutually agree … to be each others companion so long as you both shall live … and also through out all eternity”), though no use of the word “seal” was made with respect to the marriage ordinance itself. The ceremony concluded with the statement, “let immortality and eternal life henceforth be sealed upon your heads forever and ever,” a statement consistent with the decade-old practice of sealing people to eternal life.70
Nearly a year later, in conversation with William Clayton and Benjamin F. Johnson, Smith discussed marriage for eternity and used the word “sealed,” though in reference to Clayton’s prior “sealing to eternal life” not to the marriage bond:
Addressing Benjamin says he “nothing but the unpardonable sin can prevent him [Clayton] from inheriting eternal glory for he is sealed up by the power of the Priesthood unto eternal life having taken the step which is necessary for that purpose.” He said that except a man and his wife enter into an everlasting covenant and be married for eternity while in this probation by the power and authority of the Holy Priesthood they will cease to increase when they died (ie. they will not have any children in the resurrection) but those who are married by the power & authority of the priesthood in this life & continue without committing the sin against the Holy Ghost will continue to increase & have children in the celestial glory.71
A careful reading of Clayton’s diary entry shows that by entering eternal marriage, Clayton would be “sealed up unto eternal life.” That is, rather than being sealed to his wife, Clayton would himself be sealed. While this explanation may seem like a distinction without a difference, it is an important one, for although this form of marriage eventually evolved into the sealing of one person to another, which had no direct scriptural precedent, the earlier form (in which the recipient was sealed to eternal life rather than to a person) was in obvious continuity with scriptural precedents and other Latter-day Saint usages of “sealing” already discussed in this section.
[p.167]On 12 July 1843 the revelation authorizing plural, as well as everlasting, marriage was committed to paper. Two passages in this revelation used the word “sealed” in relationship to marriage, and in both cases it is the ordinance of marriage which is sealed (or certified in heaven), not the people to each other. That is, the ordinance of marriage itself promised the eternal union of husband and wife, while the sealing served to validate that ordinance in the same manner in which the other heretofore mentioned ordinances were sealed:
If a man marry a wife, and make a covenant with her for time and for all eternity, if that covenant is not by me or by my word, which is my law, and is not sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, through him whom I have anointed and appointed unto this power, then it is not valid neither of force when they are out of the world …
If a man marry a wife by my word, which is my law, and by the new and everlasting covenant, and it is sealed unto them by the Holy Spirit of promise, by him who is anointed … [it] shall be of full force when they are out of the world; and they shall pass by the angels, and the gods, which are set there, to their exaltation and glory in all things, as hath been sealed upon their heads (DC, LDS 132:18-19).
A later passage reaffirms that it is the ordinance, not the couple, which is sealed: “Whatsoever [not whosoever] you seal on earth shall be sealed in heaven” (v. 46). When Wilford and Phebe Woodruff were united eternally several months later, Wilford recorded that Hyrum Smith “sealed the marrige Covenant between me and my wife.”72
This form of marriage was available not only to those church members who previously had been married only for “time,” but was extended to the dead so that their marriage unions also would be in force in the afterlife. In referring to this, one church member wrote to his daughter that “many of the members of the Church have already availed themselves of this privilege, & have been married [not sealed] to their deceased partners.”73
Later the same month Woodruff recorded what is apparently the first use of the term “seal” in direct reference to the binding together of husband and wife: “Br Joseph said now what will we do with Elder P. P. Pratt. He has no wife sealed to him for Eternity. He has one [p.168] living wife but she had a former Husband and did not wish to be sealed to Parly, for Eternity. now is it not right for Parley to have another wife that can.”74 Thereafter, this use of the term became standard, as in a patriarchal blessing the same month which promised Susanah Bigler that “if thou desirest thou shalt be sealed to thy companion for all Eternity.”75
The final form of sealing during Smith’s ministry involved the perpetuation of the parent-child relationship in post-mortal existence. As with sealing of spouses, this began to develop under different terminology, which gradually shifted towards the use of the term “seal.” The development had its genesis in the prophecy of Malachi: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to the fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse” (4:5-6).
Although an 1835 revelation (DC, 1835 XXIX:2) and the 1836 vision of Elijah (DC, LDS 110:16) repeated Malachi’s prophecy, the theology of the relationship between parent and child did not begin to develop until 1839 when Smith indicated that that relationship extended to the dead.76 The ordinance of baptism for the dead was initiated in 1840, implicitly turning the hearts of the children to their parents as they performed the ordinance in behalf of their deceased ancestors. Two years later Smith made explicit the connection, using the term “welding link” rather than “seal”:
It is sufficient to know in this case, that the earth will be smitten with a curse, unless there is a welding link of some kind or other, between the fathers and the children, upon some subject or other, and behold, what is that subject. It is the baptism for the dead. For we without them cannot be made perfect; neither can they without us be made perfect. Neither can they or us, be made perfect without those who have died in the gospel also; for it is necessary in the ushering in of the dispensation of the fulness of times; which dispensation is now beginning to usher in, that a whole, and complete, and perfect union, [p.169] and welding together of dispensations, and keys, and powers, and glories should take place, and be revealed, from the days of Adam even to the present time.77
In other words, as of 1842 the linkage of parent to child in fulfillment of the prophecy of Malachi was to occur through the ordinance of baptism for the dead. Neither the word “seal” nor any additional ordinance was yet part of Latter-day Saint theology.
The most important step in the development of parent-child theology occurred a year later. In the course of a funeral sermon Smith made the first known statement linking Elijah with the concept of sealing and moved closer to the concept of sealing child to parents by promising that the salvation of children could be assured if parents had a “seal” placed on them. The sermon began with an emotional description of the horrors Smith foresaw in an afterlife without familial relationships:
There is a thought more dreadful than that of total annihilation. That is the thought that we shall never again meet with those we loved here on earth. Suppose I had some Idea of a resurection and glory beyond the grave which God and angels had secured and yet had not any knowledge [or] intelligence of any law[,] of any order by which it is to be obtained. Well you lose a friend [and] you come up in the resurection hoping to [meet] him again but find yourself separated from them to all eternity and become aware of the fact that through ignorance of the principles of the resurection and reunion you will never behold that dear friend nor ever enjoy his society. this thought I say of being disappointed in meeting my friend in the resurection is to be more dreadful than of ceasing to suffer by a cessation of being.78
Smith juxtaposed one Old Testament and one New Testament scripture to demonstrate how the generations might be guaranteed a bond which would connect them in the afterlife. First he quoted Malachi’s prophecy about the turning of hearts, then moved to the Book of Revelation: “Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads” (7:3). [p.170] He proceeded to explain the verse: “It means to seal the blessing on their heads[,] meaning the everlasting covenant[,] thereby making their calling & election sure. When a seal is put upon the father and mother it secures their posterity so that they cannot be lost but will be saved by virtue of the covenant of their father.”79
For the first time, then, Smith indicated that the sealing of parents to eternal life would also save their children, or as one account of the sermon recorded, the “doctrine of Election[,] sealing the father & children together.”80 In other words, there was not yet an indication of a specific ordinance for the purpose of binding child to parent; rather, such binding came as a byproduct of sealing parents to eternal life. Furthermore, while the effect would endure past death, it did not yet extend to deceased progenitors, for it flowed only from parent to child, not vice versa.
The final development in this doctrine, which for the first time spoke of the direct sealing of children to parents and made the flow bidirectional to include deceased ancestors, occurred in a sermon the following year, three months prior to Smith’s death:
What is this office & work of Elijah, it is one of the greatest & most important subjects that God has revealed, He should send Elijah to seal the children to the fathers & fathers to the children. Now was this merely confined to the living to settle difficulties with families on earth, by no means, it was a far greater work. Elijah what would you do if you was here[?] [W]ould you confine your work to the living alone. No. I would refer you to the scriptures where the subject is manifest, i.e., without us they could not be made perfect, nor we without them, the fathers without the children nor the children without the fathers. I wish you to understand this subject for it is important & if you will receive it this is the spirit of Elijah that we redeam our dead & connect ourselves with our fathers which are in heaven & seal up our dead to come forth in the first resurrection & here we want the power of Elijah to seal those who dwell on earth to those which dwell in heaven[.] [T]his is the power of Elijah & the keys of the Kingdom of Jehovah.81
Perhaps because of the late date of this sermon, only weeks before [p.171] Smith’s death, the sealing of children to parents did not begin until after his death.
The relationship of Elijah to sealing necessitates a postscript because of the generally accepted teaching among Latter-day Saints that Elijah restored the sealing power to Joseph Smith in 1836.82 As has been shown, the power to seal was bestowed upon the elders in 1831, five years before the vision of Elijah, and while the forms embodied by the concept of sealing evolved throughout the rest of Smith’s ministry, all later forms were in continuity with the earliest form, and there is no point along the continuum where one can detect the influence of angelic ministration. Furthermore, no contemporary account of the 1836 vision of Elijah used the term “seal” with reference to his mission. Indeed, Smith himself made no explicit connection between Elijah and sealing until 1843—seven years after the vision—and the connotation of sealing most commonly used today by Latter-day Saints did not develop until 1844. What, then, is one to make of the Latter-day Saint claim that Elijah restored the sealing power in 1836?
The answer appears to devolve from a model which recognizes Latter-day Saint revelation as primarily process rather than event. This means that doctrines and ordinances during Smith’s ministry developed gradually. The two most dramatic examples were endowment and sealing, both of which showed continual development from 1831 to 1844. Yet though each showed continual development, punctuated by several key changes of greater magnitude, in no case was a key change attributable to angelic administration. Thus the theology of Elijah began as early as 1830 and showed accelerated development in the mid-1830s and again in the early 1840s. The theology of sealing began in 1831 and developed on a different trajectory, with the two intersecting no earlier than 1843. The developing theology eventually proclaimed that all ordinances and all priesthood came through the auspices of Elijah. The explicit linkage of Elijah and sealing in 1843 therefore formalized what was already implied and accepted. The prominence given Elijah and sealing during the final year of Smith’s life overshadowed Elijah’s role in other ordinances, and thus one may [.172] understand the special significance still accorded the relationship between Elijah and sealing in the Latter-day Saint church today.
In the autumn of 1832, while several elders were on proselyting missions, Joseph Smith received a revelation requiring that the brethren return to Kirtland for further preparation “to go forth among the gentiles for the last time.”83 The additional preparation would occur in a School of the Prophets, enrollment in which would require a new ordinance not previously practiced or mentioned in the Restoration but drawing on the precedent established by Jesus. The revelation read:
And ye shall not receive any among you, into this school save he is clean from the blood of this generation: and he shall be received by the ordinance of the washing of feet; for unto this end was the ordinance of the washing of feet instituted.
And again, the ordinance of washing feet is to be administered by the president, or presiding elder of the church. It is to be commenced with prayer; and after partaking of bread and wine he is to gird himself, according to the pattern given in the thirteenth chapter of John’s testimony concerning me (DC, 1835 VII:45-46).
The school opened on 23 January 1833, the minutes reading as follows:
Conference opened with Prayer by the President [Smith] and after much speaking praying and singing, all done in Tongues[,] proceded to washing hands faces & feet in the name of the Lord as commanded of God[,] each one washing his own[,] after which the president girded himself with a towel and again washed the feet of all the Elders wiping them with the towel …84
As Smith washed the feet, he pronounced the elders clean from the sins of the world and sealed them to eternal life.
Subsequent entrants into the school went through the same process, as Orson Pratt recorded when he was admitted the following month.85 The ordinance was otherwise not performed for over two years, at which time preparations were being finalized for dedication [p.173] of the Kirtland House of the Lord. In October 1835 Smith met with the Quorum of Twelve Apostles to inform them of the preparatory ordinance necessary prior to the endowment. He wrote: “Also [told them to] attend this fall the Solemn Assembly of the first Elders for the organization of the School of the Prophets and to attend to the ordinence of the washing of feet and to prepare ther hearts in all humility for an endowment with power from on high.”86
A month later Smith again met with the twelve and in giving further instructions regarding the endowment reemphasized the necessity of the preparatory ordinance: “The house of the Lord must be prepared, and the solemn assembly called and organized in it, according to the order of the house of God; and in it we must attend to the ordinance of washing of feet.”87
The evening of the dedication, 27 March 1836, Smith met with church officers “and instructed the quorums respecting the ordinance of washing of feet which we were to attend to on wednesday following”88 a solemn assembly. On the first day of the assembly church officers were instructed to “cleans our feet and partake of the sacrament that we might be made holy before Him, and thereby be qualified to officiate in our calling upon the morrow in washing the feet of the Elders.”89 The following morning the First Presidency began washing the feet of the several hundred men present. Erastus Snow recorded the scene:
And it came to pass that all the Lords anointed assembled in the Lords house & recieved the ordinance of the washing of feet & they continued there meeting from morning untill evening & from evening untill morning & the angels of the Lord apeared unto them & cloven tongues like fire sat upon many of them & they prophecied and spake with other tongues as the spirit gave them uterence.90
As some elders were absent, the endowment was repeated several times over the following month, once in 1837 and once again in 1839. [p.174] In each instance the washing of feet was the final preparatory ordinance.91
Although Hyrum Smith suggested in a general conference talk in April 1842 that the Nauvoo endowment would be the same as its Kirtland predecessor,92 the ceremony which Joseph Smith introduced the following month did not include the washing of feet. Indeed, there is no record of this ordinance being performed between 1839 and 1843, when the second anointing was introduced by Smith. Thereafter, the washing of feet was resumed as part of this new ordinance, although in a different format, as the wife washed the feet of her husband. Although few recipients left accounts of the procedure, Heber C. Kimball suggested in his diary account of 1 April 1844 that it drew on the precedent of Mary washing the feet of Jesus prior to his crucifixion: “I Heber C. Kimball recieved the washing of my feet. and was anointed by my wife Vilate fore my burial. that is my feet head Stomach. Evan as Mary did Jesus. that she mite have a claim on him in the Reserrection.”93
As he approached the end of his life, the Old Testament patriarch Jacob gathered his sons and grandsons and gave each a prophetic blessing (Gen. 49:1-28). Similarly, the final recorded act of Book of Mormon prophet Lehi was to bless his sons and daughters (BM, LDS, 2 Ne. 4:5-12). From these precedents came the Latter-day Saint ordinance of the patriarchal blessing, one of the most common and prominent yet personal of all ordinances.
The first predecessor appears to have occurred in January 1833 in connection with the opening of the School of the Prophets. In the course of washing the feet of the Elders, Joseph Smith asked a blessing of his father, “which he obtained by the laying on of his fathers hands; [p.175] pronouncing upon his head that he should continue in his Priests office untill Christ come.”94
Four months later, John Smith, brother of Joseph Smith, Sr., conferred “a Fathers blessing” on his son, George A. Smith, the text of which has evidently been preserved in family records.95 Although neither the office of patriarch nor the concept of a patriarchal blessing had yet been mentioned in the Restoration, the blessing pronounced by John Smith was typical of subsequent blessings in commenting on the recipient’s pre-mortal existence (“God hath looked upon thee even before thou wast born”), the nature of his mortal mission (“thou shall be an instrument in the hands of the Lord in bringing thousands to the knowledge of the truth … you shall do mighty miracles in the name of the Lord”), and the reward awaiting him in the afterlife (“thy name is written in Heaven and sealed by the finger of God, never to be blotted out, and you shall have the blessings of the Celestial worlds”).
On 18 December 1833, in a reversal of roles, Joseph Smith, Jr., gathered his family and gave blessings to his parents and siblings. In blessing his father he said he “shall be numbered among those who hold the right of patriarchal priesthood.”96 Then in blessing his older brother Hyrum, he established the tradition of primogeniture to be associated with the office of presiding patriarch: “He shall stand in the tracts of his father and be numbered among those who hold the right of patriarchal priesthood, even the evangelical priesthood and power shall be upon him, that in his old age his name may be magnified on the earth.”97
The first patriarchal blessings given by an ordained patriarch98 [p.176] occurred within the Young family rather than the Smith family. In 1873, shortly after Brigham Young ordained twenty-six new patriarchs in one day,99 he explained how he and his brother Joseph Young had consulted Smith in the summer of 1834 about the propriety of their father giving them blessings. Smith ordained Father Young a patriarch, who then gave father’s blessings to his children.100 Smith then authorized his father, previously ordained a patriarch, to give blessings to his family. Although there is no earlier record to verify Young’s statement, the chronology he described is consistent with the historical record. The first known patriarchal blessings of Joseph Smith, Sr., were given to his children on 9 December 1834. At that time he said, “I desire, and for a long time have, to bless my children before I go hence.”101
Within four months Joseph Smith, Sr., began giving blessings to church members outside the Smith family, and the ordinance, though never held to be essential, became popular. Thousands received blessings from Joseph Smith, Sr., and other patriarchs prior to Joseph Smith Jr.’s death in 1844.102 While it appears that patriarchal blessings were originally intended to have been given by one’s own father,103 it [p.177] soon became the practice of a patriarch to bless any church member who requested it.
An analysis of patriarchal blessings before mid-1844 yields valuable insights into the nature of the ordinance and into the organizational and doctrinal developments within the larger church community during this period.104 One-hundred-thirty-one blessings (seventy-six to males, fifty-five to females), given between 1835 and 1844, have been analyzed. One-hundred-sixteen were given by presiding patriarchs (Joseph Smith, Sr., sixty-two; Hyrum Smith, thirty-eight; John Smith, thirteen; Joseph Smith, Jr., three), and fifteen by local patriarchs. Topics represented in the blessings included lineage, apocalyptic promises, promises of special powers and endowment, and the right to preach to the dead as well as occasional unique or unusual promises.
Pronouncement of the recipient’s genealogical lineage through an Old Testament figure occurred infrequently until 1837 when this became a standard part of most blessings. Of sixty-one blessings in which lineage was stated, most were said to be of the Hebrew tribe of Ephraim or of his lineal ancestors (Abraham, Jacob or Joseph). Four were said to be of the tribe of Manasseh, four of Caleb, one each of Zebulon and Benjamin, and two of Melchizedek.
Two types of promises were given regarding the end of the world. The more common was the assurance that the recipient would not die before the second coming of Christ, although this occurred only in one blessing given by a patriarch other than Joseph Smith, Sr., who himself included it 37 percent of the time. Since all twenty-four recipients subsequently died, the nature of the promise is problematic.105
[p.178]Five additional blessings mentioned that the prolonging of life was contingent on the recipient’s desire to live until the Second Coming, making it possible, though improbable, that the recipients chose not to exercise the option. But half of the twenty-four blessings in question contained no qualifiers. Since the promise was unconditional, one is left to conclude that the patriarch, presumably with the best of intentions, promised things which simply were not to be. The fact that twenty-three of the promises of prolonged life were made by Joseph Smith, Sr., suggests that the personality of the patriarch influenced the content of the blessing. The possibility that a patriarch might promise too much was in fact acknowledged occasionally by church leaders. The most dramatic example of this came in the priesthood session of the October 1905 general conference when church president Joseph F. Smith warned: “Patriarchs are extravagant in their promises to the people. Keep within legitimate bounds and be careful that promises are dictated by the Lord.”106
Another explanation for failed promises was the suggestion that all blessings, regardless of qualifying language, are conditioned upon righteousness. This issue was raised in 1835 by Edward Partridge, presiding bishop of the church, who wrote to his wife: “You inform me that you and the children were sick, I was somewhat disapointed at this inteligence as I had fondly anticipated that you would be blessed with health in my absence, from what was in my [patriarchal] blessing, but all blessings are conditional, and perhaps if none of you have been unfaithful I may have been.”107 While this explanation was more [p.179] commonly applied than the alternative,108 its underlying logic is at odds with such instances as blessing sick infants or the continual tendency, seen most vividly in the case of the second anointing, to provide recipients with promises of unconditional assurance.
The second type of apocalyptic promise, which extended only to men, pertained to the description in the Book of Revelation, Chapter 7, of 144,000 men who would participate in the “winding up” scene. Between 1835 and 1844, fourteen men (18 percent) were promised membership in this group. Lorenzo Barnes’s 3 May 1835 blessing read: “Thou shalt stand when wickedness is swept off from the Earth even with thy brethren the hundred & forty & four thousand sealed out of the Twelve Tribes of Israel.” Unlike the promise of prolonged life, which ceased with the death of Joseph Smith, Sr., in 1840, the promise of membership with the elect continued through 1844.
Three types of unusual power were promised to recipients of patriarchal blessings: healing, raising the dead, and self-translocation. Although it was the privilege of all priesthood bearers to administer to the sick, nine men (12 percent) were given special healing powers, notably Lorenzo Snow (“thy shadow shall restore the Sick; the diseased shall send to thee their aprons and handkershiefs and by thy touch their owners may be made whole”—15 December 1836) and Heber C. Kimball (“thou shalt have the gift of healing greater than thou has hitherto had, even to the anointing and opening of the eyes of the blind”—14 April 1840). In addition, five women (9 percent) were promised power to heal, although three of these recipients were also told that their power was to be used only in the absence of their husbands or “the Elders.” Four men (Orson Pratt, Ethan Barrows, Lorenzo Snow, and Arnold Stephens) were promised power to raise the dead, all in blessings given by Joseph Smith, Sr.
The most unusual special power promised was the ability to transport oneself from one place to another by miraculous means. Because of the unusual nature of such promises, all six are listed below, in chronological order (note that all are men):
Jonathan Crosby, Jr. (21 February 1836): “Thou shalt go from land to land, and preach in large ships of the ocean, and have power over the winds and waves. Be wafted from place to place, by the power of God. Be caught up to the third heavens, and behold unspeakable things, whether in the body or not… . And when thy mission is full here, thou shalt visit other worlds, and remain a Priest in eternity.”
Ethan Barrows (22 March 1836): “Thou shalt have power to translate thyself from land to land and from country to country, from one end of heaven to the other, and when thy work is done thou shalt translate from earth to heaven.”
Oliver B. Huntington (7 December 1836): “Thou shalt have power with God even to translate thyself to Heaven, & preach to the inhabitants of the moon or planets, if it shall be expedient.”
Lorenzo Snow (15 December 1836): “Thou shalt have power to translate thyself from one planet to another; and power to go to the moon if thou so desire.”
William Jackson (6 February 1844): “Thou shalt waft thyself from place to place on the wings of the wind to accomplish thy mission speedily.”
George Washington Johnson (13 August 1844): “Thou shalt have power to go from land to land and from sea. From island to island and from Planet to Planet.”
At the same time patriarchal blessings were first being given, the Saints were preoccupied with completing the Kirtland House of the Lord so that the elders could receive their endowment. Only one Patriarchal Blessing prior to the 1836 endowment promised such to its recipient, Lorenzo Barnes: “Thou shalt be endowed with power from on high” (3 May 1835). The next blessing to contain a similar promise did not occur for another six years. The summer following announcement of the construction of a temple in Nauvoo, church leaders indicated that an endowment of the elders would occur in the new building.109 Three months later Levi Gribble’s patriarchal blessing stated “then shall you be a chosen vessel having received the anointing, and the enduements, in the Lord’s House” (4 October 1841). Five additional blessings given between this time and May 1842 (when the Nauvoo endowment was first given) contained the same promise. All were given to men, and all noted that an anointing would accompany [p.181] the endowment—something not contained in Lorenzo Barnes’s 1835 blessing. In September 1843 Emma Smith became the first female to receive an endowment. The following month the endowment was first promised to a woman, Ann Eliza DeLong, in the context of a patriarchal blessing (16 October 1843).
Until Smith’s vision of the Celestial Kingdom in January 1836,110 the Latter-day Saint theology of afterlife presumed that the fate of the dead was finalized at death. While baptism for the dead accommodated the new vision, the baptisms did not begin until 1840. In the interim the first theological shift to accord with the 1836 vision drew on 1 Peter 3:18-20 and 4:6, which described Jesus’ preaching in the world of spirits following his crucifixion. The first known reference to this doctrinal shift came in a patriarchal blessing to Stephen Post on 26 March 1836, only two months after Smith’s vision: “Thou shalt preach to people of other planets, and thou shalt preach to spirits in prison.” The Patriarchal Blessing of Lorenzo Snow (15 December 1836) also promised that he would have “power to preach to the spirits in prison.” The clearest delineation of the doctrine came three weeks later when Wilford Woodruff was ordained a seventy by Zebedee Coltrin and promised “that I should visit COLUB & Preach to the spirits in Prision & that I should bring all of my friends or relatives forth from the Terrestrial Kingdom (who had died) by the Power of the Gospel.”111
Unusual features found in some patriarchal blessings included ordinations to the offices of elder112 and high priest,113 a promise that the plates of the Book of Mormon would “be brought into the bosom of the church” during the recipient’s lifetime,114 and promises of special leadership positions for the recipient or offspring.115
[p.182]The patriarchal blessing is an ordinance unique to the Mormon Restoration. Ideally, the blessing is literally the word of God to the recipient. In some cases, such as promises of high leadership positions to Wilford Woodruff and Bathsheba Bigler on behalf of her future son, the predictions were accurate. In others, such as the promise of living until the Second Coming, the failure was obvious, leaving one to conclude that either God did not speak the truth, that the recipient was unworthy, or that the patriarch was excessive. In spite of failed blessings, the confidence of Latter-day Saints in patriarchal blessings remains high, with the blessings serving both to reassure and to provide a blueprint for one’s future activities.
Although traditional marriages were always encouraged in the Restoration, and an 1831 revelation (BC LII:16, Mar. 1831) even condemned those who forbade marriage, it appears that none were performed by Latter-day Saint officials for the first five years of the church’s existence. A statement on marriage, dated 17 August 1835, in the collection of revelations published that year, first authorized the performance of marriages by church officials while still recognizing the validity of those performed by others:
We believe, that all marriages in this Church of Christ of Latter Day Saints, should be solemnized in a public meeting, or feast, prepared for that purpose: and that the solemnization should be performed by a presiding high priest, high priest, bishop, elder, or priest, not even prohibiting those persons who are desirous to get married, of being married by other authority. We believe that it is not right to prohibit members of this church from marrying out of the church, if it be their determination so to do, but such persons will be considered weak in the faith of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (DC, 1835 CI).
In spite of the statement’s tolerance of marriages performed by “other authority,” Joseph Smith suggested the priority of Latter-day Saint vows when he performed his first marriage on 24 November 1835, stating “that it was necessary that it should be Solemnized by the authority of the everlasting priesthood.”116
[p.183]Although plural marriages may have occurred as early as 1835, and certainly by 1841,117 there is no record of the wording of the ceremonies, and hence no indication if the initiation of plural marriages brought changes in the theology of marriage other than plurality. However, the text of the 1842 marriage ceremony of Smith and Whitney, designated as a revelation, did signal a theological change in that it implied that marriage would survive death.118
The following year Smith added a dimension to eternal marriage by stating that it enabled post-mortal procreation:
He said that except a man and his wife enter into an everlasting covenant and be married for eternity while in this probation by the power and authority of the Holy priesthood they will cease to increase when they die (ie. they will not have any children in the resurrection[)] but those who are married by the power & authority of the priesthood in this life & continue without committing the sin against the Holy Ghost will continue to increase & have children in the celestial glory.119
The same day, Smith told Benjamin F. Johnson and his wife that they must be “re-married” to qualify for the indicated blessings. Johnson later wrote: “I thought it was a joke, and said I should not marry my wife again, unless she courted me, for I did it all the first time. He chided my levity, told me he was in earnest, and so it proved, for we stood up and were sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise.”120
On 28 May 1843 Joseph and Emma Smith were sealed to each other.121 Two months later a revelation which authorized plural marriage formalized this new type of marriage which underwent no further changes during Smith’s lifetime:
And again, verily I say unto you, if a man marry a wife by my word, which is my law, and by the new and everlasting covenant, and it is sealed unto them by the Holy Spirit of promise, by him who is anointed, unto whom I have appointed this power and the keys of this priesthood; and it shall be said unto them–Ye shall come forth in the first resurrection; and if it be after the first resurrection, in the next resurrection; and shall inherit thrones, kingdoms, principalities, [p.184] and powers, dominions, all heights and depths–then shall it be written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, that he shall commit no murder whereby to shed innocent blood, and if ye abide in my covenant, and commit no murder whereby to shed innocent blood, it shall be done unto them in all things whatsoever my servant hath put upon them, in time, and through all eternity; and shall be of full force when they are out of the world; and they shall pass by the angels, and the gods, which are set there, to their exaltation and glory in all things, as hath been sealed upon their heads, which glory shall be a fulness and a continuation of the seeds forever and ever.
Then shall they be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue; then shall they be above all, because all things are subject unto them. Then shall they be gods, because they have all power, and the angels are subject unto them (DC, LDS 132:19-20).
Washing and Anointing
As finishing touches were applied to the Kirtland House of the Lord, Joseph Smith and other members of the First Presidency participated in the ordinance of washing and anointing, a hitherto unmentioned ordinance.122 Smith described the event as follows:
At about 3. oclock P.M [21 January 1836.] I dismissed the school and the presidency, retired to the loft of the printing office, where we attended to the ordinance of washing our bodies in pure water, we also perfumed our bodies and our heads, in the name of the Lord at early candlelight, I meet with the presidency, at the west school room in the Chapel to attend to the ordinance of annointing our heads with holy oil—also the councils of Kirtland and Zion, meet in the two adjoining rooms, who waited in prayer while we attended to the ordinance,—I took the oil in my left hand, father Smith being seated before me and the rest of the presidency encircled him round about.—we then streched our right hands to heaven and blessed the oil and concecrated it in the name of Jesus Christ–we then laid our hands on our aged fath[er] Smith, and invoked, the blessings of heaven,—I then annointed his head with the concecrated oil, and sealed many bles-[p.185]sings upon him, the presidency then in turn, laid their hands upon his head, beginning at the eldest, untill they had all laid their hands on him, and pronounced such blessings, upon his head as the Lord put into their hearts—all blessing him to be our patraark [Patriarch], and to annoint our heads, and attend to all duties that pertain to that office.—I then took the seat, and father annoint[ed] my head, and sealed upon me the blessings, of Moses, to lead Israel in the latter days, even as moses led him in days of old,—also the blessings of Abraham Isaac and Jacob.—all of the presidency laid their hands upon me and pronounced upon my head many prophesies, and blessings, many of which I shall not notice at this time, but as Paul said, so say I, let us come to vissions and revelations,—The heavens were opened upon us and I beheld the celestial Kingdom of God, and the glory thereof, whether in the body or out I cannot tell,—I saw the transcendant beauty of the gate through which the heirs of that Kingdom will enter, which was like unto circling flames of fire, also the blasing throne of God, whereon was seated the Father and the Son,—I saw the beautiful streets of that Kingdom, which had the appearance of being paved with gold—I saw father Adam, and Abraham and Michael and my father and mother, my brother Alvin that has long since slept …123
Although none of the accounts of this event describe the new ordinance as essential for the endowment, such a link was made three days later when the First Presidency “conversed upon the time of, and preparation and sanctification for the endowment.”124 The following evening the quorums of the priesthood met with the First Presidency “to receive instructions relative to washing and annointing.”125
On 28 January the quorums met in the upper floor of the House of the Lord and began to wash and perfume their bodies and anoint them with oil in preparation for the endowment, with several participants reporting visions in association with the event.126 Washings and anointings continued in the House of the Lord throughout the remainder of the winter, up to the day prior to the solemn assembly when the endowment occurred. Thereafter the ordinance was performed sporadically, and only in preparation for the endowment of those who had not participated in the earlier assembly.
[p.186]A revelation in January 1841 which detailed the proposed Nauvoo temple raised again the subject of initiatory rites and mandated that they be performed only in the temple (DC, LDS 124:37-39). On 4 May 1842 the Nauvoo endowment was first given, preceded the same day by the purification of washings and anointings.127 Whereas these ordinances had occurred throughout the winter in Kirtland in anticipation of an endowment, those given in Nauvoo throughout the remainder of Smith’s life would occur on the same day as the endowment ceremony for a person receiving it. In both cases, the function was the same: preparation of the recipient for the endowment.
1. Painesville Telegraph, 17 Jan. 1832; also A Book of Commandments, for the Government of the Church of Christ, Organized According to Law, on the 6th of April, 1830 (Independence, MO: W. W. Phelps & Co., 1833), XXXVII:10; hereafter cited in the text as BC.
4. E. D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed: or, A Faithful Account of that Singular Imposition and Delusion, from its Rise to the Present Time (Painesville, OH: Printed and Published by the Author, 1834), 190.
9. George A. Smith to Elizabeth Brackenbury, 29 Aug. 1855, Henry Stebbins Collection, Library-Archives, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Independence, Missouri (hereafter RLDS Library-Archives).
11. Stanley B. Kimball, ed., On the Potter’s Wheel: The Diaries of Heber C. Kimball (Salt Lake City: Signature Books in association with Smith Research Associates, 1987), 207; see also B. H. Roberts, ed., History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Century I (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1971), 2:188-89 (hereafter cited as HC).
13.Patriarchal Blessing of Orson Pratt, given by Joseph Smith, Sr., 29 Apr. 1835, Patriarchal Blessing Book A, 21, archives, Historical Department, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah (hereafter LDS archives), typescript in my possession.
27. John Whitmer, “The Book of John Whitmer,” chap. 7, in F. Mark McKiernan and Roger D. Launius, eds., An Early Latter Day Saint History: The Book of John Whitmer Kept by Commandment (Independence, MO: Herald House, 1980), 70.
31. Doctrine and Covenants of The Church of the Latter Day Saints: Carefully Selected from the Revelations of God (Kirtland, OH: F. G. Williams & Co., 1835), LXXXVII:3 (25 Jan. 1832); hereafter cited in the text as DC, 1835.
32. Scott H. Faulring, ed., An American Prophet’s Record: The Diaries and Journals of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books in association with Smith Research Associates, 1987), 128, 1 Feb. 1836.
39. Revelation dated 27 Dec. 1832, in “Kirtland Revelations Book,” 41, LDS archives; also DC, 1835 VII:23. Note that this revelation reversed the order described in Isaiah, sealing the testimony, while Isaiah sealed the law. The dedicatory prayer of the Kirtland House of the Lord in 1836 reverted to Isaiah: “Enable thy servants to seal up the law, and bind up the testimony” (DC, LDS 109:46).
46. Of 131 patriarchal blessings given between 1835 and 1844, of which I have copies, 103 (79 percent) contain language which seals the blessings. It is likely that other forms of blessing were commonly sealed, but the fact that most were not transcribed makes it impossible to determine the incidence.
51. See entries of 27, 28, 30, and 31 Jan. and 2, 4, and 26 Feb. 1844, Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 2:343-52; also entries of 28, 30, and 31 Jan. 1844, “Brigham Young Manuscript History,” LDS archives.
61. The patriarchal blessing of Sarah Mackley, given by Joseph Smith, Sr., on 14 May 1836 went one step further: “These blessings I seal on thy head and of thy children after thee and seal them up to eternal life” (emphasis added; typescript of blessing in RLDS Library-Archives).
65. Patriarchal blessing of Benjamin Clopson Ellsworth, given by Joseph Smith, Sr., 15 July 1837, RLDS Library-Archives. Note that in this and the preceding example “seal” is used as a noun, rather than a verb.
67. While this concept was appealing to Latter-day Saints in general, some considered it offensive, even blasphemous. William and Wilson Law, who had been prominent church leaders prior to their disaffection, wrote in 1844 of Joseph Smith: “He’ll SEAL YOU UP, be damned you can’t/ No matter what you do–/ If that you only stick to him,/ He swears he’ll take you through” (Warsaw Message, 7 Feb. 1844).
82. For example, see two of the most influential works on Latter-day Saint doctrine: Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1955), 2:111-12; and Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966), 683.
91. Charles C. Rich diary, 12-16 Apr. 1836, LDS archives; Kirtland Elders’ Quorum Record, 30 Apr. 1836; Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 1:131-36, 6 Apr. 1837; and Manuscript History of Brigham Young, 17 Nov. 1839.
93. Heber C. Kimball Diary, 56, under entry entitled “Strange Events.” Similarly, Wilford Woodruff wrote in his diary on 5 May 1844: “Phebe washed my feet that I might be clean every whit” (Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 2:393).
97. Ibid. Although Smith blessed his other brothers at the same time, he made no such promise to them. To his mother, he said, “She is a mother in Israel, and shall be a partaker with my father in all his patriarchal blessings.”
98. On two occasions in 1834 fathers gave their sons blessings in the same manner that John Smith had the previous year. In February, following organization of the Kirtland High Council, Joseph Smith, Sr., blessed Joseph Jr. and John Johnson blessed Luke Johnson (Kirtland Council Minutes, 19 Feb. 1834). In July, following organization of the Missouri High Council, Peter Whitmer, Sr., blessed David, John, and Christian Whitmer and Joseph Knight blessed Newel Knight (Far West Record, 71-73, 7 July 1834).
102. The earliest non-Smith blessing I have been able to identify is one pronounced by Orson Pratt on 29 April 1835. No exact count of the total number of blessings is available, due both to the archival policy of the LDS church restricting access to its early patriarchal blessings books and the fact that some early blessings were given to recipients in written form but no written copy was maintained by the church. For example, the William Smith patriarchal blessings book (RLDS Library-Archives) contains not only the blessings given by William in 1845 but also several given years earlier by Joseph Smith, Sr., then in the possession of the recipients.
103. Orson Pratt’s blessing, for example, stated that it was “to secure unto thee the blessings which thou oughtest to claim at the hands of thy natural father, but inasmuch as his mind is not perfectly strong, in consequence of infirmities, and is also abscent from this place, that thou mayest rejoice in the assurance of the blessings of the Lord, I therefore confer them upon thee” (29 Apr. 1835). Thirty percent of the available thirty-seven blessings given prior to November 1836 mention the recipient’s status as an “orphan”–either literally or because a living father was unable to confer such a blessing, while none of 94 given between November 1836 and 1844 mentions such status.
105. One explanation of the outcome might be that the blessing was conditional, and that the death of the recipient was ipso facto proof that he or she had failed to conform to the conditions attached to the blessing. Indeed, seven blessings did attach conditions to the promise. Even in these instances, however, one may wish to withhold judgment, inasmuch as one such blessing was given to Apostle Willard Richards who, it may be argued, led an exemplary life.
106. Anthony W. Ivins diary, 9 Oct. 1905, Utah State Historical Society, Salt Lake City. A poignant, and rare, acknowledgement by an officiator came from Abraham H. Cannon, a member of the First Council of Seventy, who wrote that a woman “told me that when I was here last in blessing her new born babe I had promised it should live to manhood. Several weeks thereafter it was taken sick with pneumonia and while in this condition the Elders who administered to it promised it continued life. Yet it died, and being their first and only son out of several children the blow was a severe one. I could not account for the failure of our promises that it should live except that sympathy instead of the Spirit of God prompted the utterances” (Abraham H. Cannon diary, 25 July 1891, LDS archives).
108. For example, an 1851 editorial in the Deseret Weekly News stated: “All blessings promised by the Priesthood, which has come down from the heavens, are conditional, no matter whether expressed or implied” (27 Dec. 1851).
115. Wilford Woodruff (15 Apr. 1837) was promised he would be a “special witness.” He was subsequently ordained an apostle (26 Apr. 1839). Bathsheba Bigler (7 Feb. 1839) was told she “shalt have a Son who shall be … a prophet and Seer.” She later (1841) married George A. Smith, and their son, John Henry Smith, rose to the positions of apostle and counselor in the First Presidency, both of which include the titles of “Prophet, Seer and Revelator.”
122. Although Smith made no reference to the origins of this ordinance, Oliver Cowdery wrote that they “were annointed with the same kind of oil and in the man[ner] that were Moses and Aaron” (“Oliver Cowdery’s Kirtland, Ohio `Sketch Book,’” Brigham Young University Studies 12 : 416, entry for 21 Jan. 1836), thus establishing an Old Testament precedent.