Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Sealings by proxy

This is text of an e-mail I wrote to a correspondent that lays out in brief my thoughts about Elvira and how her interaction with Joseph may have been the catalyst for the sealings of spouses across time.

FWIW, given that you do have attitudes on the subject (versus ladies who somehow have not realized it ever happened), I thought you'd be interested in Elvira Annie Cowles.

Compton has a whole chapter on Elvira in his "In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith." She was Relief Society treasurer and the nanny to the Smith household in Nauvoo. Compton chose to ignore the family histories (that she was Joseph's wife and only became Jonathan's wife after Joseph's death) because there was not contemporary documentation and they conflicted with documented fact (that Joseph performed the civil marriage ceremony between Jonathan and Elvira in Dec 1842, six months before she claimed she had been sealed to the prophet (bless Brother Jenkins for compiling these affidavits while they could still be had)).

What I belief happened was that Elvira was the first (and apparently only) early woman to accept the New and Everlasting Covenant who deferred to Emma. So, I believe she accepted the Covenant in her heart, but refused to enter into it with Joseph until after Emma had done so. This would explain all the extant facts as well as the family history. This would also make Jonathan Holmes the first man to be promised reunion with his deceased wife in eternity. Though Jonathan and Elvira never explicitly explained this, there was a later and parallel situation that was documented (between Sarah Ann Whitney and Joseph C. Kingsbury in what Brother Kingsbury called a "pretended marriage" [Compton, p. 351]). If only the walls of the Mansion House could speak. We would then hear of the whispered confidences between Elvira and Eliza Snow, that led to the first poem about the New and Everlasting Covenant:

September 18, 1842

Conjugal, to Jonathan and Elvira

Like two streams, whose gentle forces
Mingling, in one current blend -
Like two waves, whose onward courses
To the ocean's bosom tend -

Like two rays that kiss each other
In the presence of the sun -
Like two drops that run together
And forever are but one,

May your mutual vows be plighted -
May your hearts, no longer twain
And your spirits be united
In an everlasting chain.

Jonathan (assuming I am correct) would be so unified with his beloved Marietta, dead from a mob attack on Nauvoo in Aug 1840 (the same month Joseph revealed the doctrine of baptism for the dead).

Elvira would some day be so unified with the Prophet Joseph (she was sealed to Joseph in life just one week after Emma entered into the New and Everlasting Covenant).

[These relationships were solemnized in the Nauvoo temple in 1846.]

While Joseph lived, the public marriage of Jonathan and Elvira was (I believe) understood by them to be merely the formalization of the levirate promise Jonathan had made Joseph - to care for Elvira after Joseph's death. Elvira (notably fertile, based on later evidence) appears to have honored six months mourning after Joseph's death before consummating the levirate marriage to Jonathan.

As Compton notes, "Elvira's story stands out from those of most of Smith's other wives... Elvira's experiences with polygamy were not traumatic, as far as is known" [p. 557]. Perhaps this is because she alone, of all the outstanding and faithful women who helped birth the New and Everlasting Covenant into the world during the Nauvoo era, obeyed the law of Sarah and deferred to Joseph's first wife.

It is fitting that Elvira's grand-daughters, Eliza Roxie Welling and Rhoda Welling, were the women whose 1901 polygamous marriages to Apostle John Whittaker Taylor (himself a third generation polygamist) were the focus that led to the final 1904 disassociation of plural marriage from the New and Everlasting Covenant.

Three new apostles were called 1906, of whom David O. McKay was the most junior. It's not even clear the men he and his fellows were called to replace were John W. Taylor, Matthias F. Cowley, and Abraham O. Woodruff (in order of seniority: all were post-manifesto polygamists). He probably replaced Marriner W. Merrill (polygamist, died Feb 1906). So it would be a stretch to explicitly state that David O. McKay was called to John Whittaker Taylor's spot. But Elder McKay certainly exemplified the modern era of the New and Everlasting Covenant.

Thank you for your response. I hope this information is interesting to you.

Meg Stout
Annandale, VA

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Development of the Theology of Eternal Marriage

I read time and again how Joseph Smith received revelation on the New and Everlasting Covenant in 1831. In the naive view of church history, people seem to suppose that the 14-year-old Joseph understood every principle and doctrine from his vision in the grove in 1823.

I posit that Joseph didn't understand what God was asking him to do in a sufficient way until near the end of his life. Joseph's great legacy is the binding of the entire family of mankind together through temple covenants. This is the work foretold since the time of Adam, and specifically mentioned by Malachi 4:5,6. (The parable of the olive grove which touches on this from Jacob 5 is clearly known to Paul per his discussion in Romans 11:16-24).

Recall that Joseph didn't even understand and preach baptism by proxy on behalf of the deceased until August 1840. I put forward that he did not comprehend the proxy sealing of deceased spouses into the covenant until fall 1842.

I'll grant that Joseph knew in 1831 that this work must be accomplished - somewhat the way a young child comprehends that they must someday learn a profession, marry and become a responsible citizen or in the way Lewis and Clark understood there were mountains and large bears while the were still living in the east, before their cross-continental journey.

Joseph saw a vision in the Kirtland temple in 1836 where he saw his brother Alvin in the celestial kingdom. This was clearly a vision of some future time, since he also saw his parents in the vision, and they had not yet died. If you read the account of that vision (D&C 137), there is no mention of proxy baptism on behalf of the dead. There is merely a confirmation that those who died without being baptized in this life can still somehow attain celestial glory.

In 1840 the apostles were, for the most part, in Europe. In August of that year, Joseph preached at the funeral of one of the saints and proclaimed the doctrine of baptism for the dead, a doctrine Paul incidentally alluded to in his defense of the literal resurrection of the dead in 1 Cor 15 (see verse 29). Most modern saints think of Nauvoo prior to Joseph's death as a peaceful haven, mosquitos and malarial fever notwithstanding. But in August 1840 the saints in Illinois were attacked. Of particular interst to this discussion is the destruction and burning of several homes to the south of the Nauvoo business district during a savage rain storm.

Jonathan Harriman Holmes, a shoemaker and dear friend of Joseph (wasn't every saint so regarded?) returned home to find his wife, Marietta, and children, Sarah (3) and newborn Mary Emma, being sheltered by neighbors. The Holmes dwelling had been burned to the ground. Marietta and Mary Emma died a few days later.

When Joseph learned of the tragedy, he invited his friend, Jonathan, to live in the Smith home - a two-story log cabin. Jonathan took on additional duties as one of Joseph's bodyguards. Little Sarah did her part as well by running to the prophet when she spied a stranger approaching, as would all the children of the household. In addition to Joseph's own parents, wife, and children, the household included a variety of individuals Joseph and Emma had taken on or taken in. Two such were Elvira Annie Cowles, the children's nanny, and Jane Manning, the cook. Elvira was 26 and the daughter of Austin Cowles, a counselor in the Nauvoo stake presidency. Jane Manning was a black teenager who had walked to Nauvoo from Connecticut after joining the church.

Direction to construct a temple in Navuoo temple was revealed in January 1841, "For I deign to reveal unto my church things which have been kept hid from before the foundation of the world, things that pertain to the dispensation of the fulness of times." [D&C 124: 41] It seems highly probable that the first person Joseph would have talked to about the New and Everlasting Covenant would be his own wife, Emma. But there is no extant documentation of how persuasive his teaching was on what was probably the first instance in words. Certainly Emma did not accept the New and Everlasting Covenant before 1843. It was in the spring of 1841 that Joseph taught Louisa Beaman about the New and Everlasting Covenant and invited her to accept the covenant.

8 Oct 2005 - Thoughts

My husband, Bryan, loves to research on detailed topics. For example, a recent passion has been the solar satellites beyond Neptune such as "planet X" and the kuiper belt. Since we live near GMU and since I am a GMU alumna, we get an annual library card which he can use to check out books on arcane topics, to supplement what he can find at the county library and the web. (He doesn't yet spend entire days at the Library of Congress - perhaps after the children are grown.)

In his pile of books borrowed from the library I found "Mormons and the Bible," an interesting but self-consciously scholarly work by Philip Barlow. Therein (p. viii) I found the following comment by A. Leland Jamison, "The historical evolution of the Mormons furnishes the most thrilling chapter in the whole chrinicle of American religion. By comparison, the adventures of the settlers in New England seem tame." [Smith, James Ward and A. Leland Jamison, eds., The Shaping of American Religion, p. 213, 1961]

So, in this thrilling chapter, where are the women? Surely, more women explicitly populate the Mormon historical landscape (proportionally) than do the pages of the Book of Mormon. (I look forward some day to finding out from Mormon why that is.) But there is not a well-developed ethnography of Mormon womanhood that spans the decades from 1930 to today. There are delightful efforts here and there. "Women of Covenant," an history of Relief Society, covers much ground in the 3 inches of papes between the covers. But despite intriguing footnotes, it is a tad too scholarly and hagiographic for my tastes.

I set about putting my ladies' stories on paper the first time in 2001 before the planes hit in September. Their stories, even green and naive as my understanding was, gave me perspective and hope in a world suddenly transformed by grief and horror. In the years since that time, I have been able to put more meat on the bones of their stories and have had time to contemplate what undocumented events could account for the extant record. I have had the satisfaction I have often experienced in my profession (I'm a physicist) of putting forward a theory and then finding the validation (in this case, documents) that showed I was right.

During this time I've also had the privilege of being the Gospel Doctrine teacher in my congregation. This has given me the opportunity to be forced to research key dates and happenings. So many things have illuminated my understanding - things it might never have occurred to me would relate to my own family history.

So - time to start writing, neh?

About Me

Mother, Physicist, Manager, Author, Genealogist