book review and related links for “The Mysteries of Godliness: A History of Mormon Temple Worship” by David John Buerger

book review and related links for “The Mysteries of Godliness: A History of Mormon Temple Worship” by David John Buerger

If you are only going to get one book on the history of Mormon temple worship then this should be it. Unlike the works put out by the Tanners and others on the subject, this one is quite fair (and far more in depth). Buerger goes through the entire history from the days in Kirtland, to a brief review of freemasonry, to the endowment given by Joseph Smith in Nauvoo which was afterwards substantially modified by Brigham Young.

The book also goes into the 20th century modifications and possible future changes. Much of the material covered deals with the evolution of the second endowment (which most temple Mormons know little if anything about). The book goes into great detail on a variety of issues. You can even find out the actors’ names who appear in the temple films (which you can also now find on the internet).

The only thing that I would have like to have seen added is a deeper look at the relationship between Masonry and Mormonism. He does go over it, but not in the depth and detail it deserves. He may have done this to not offend or shock LDS readers or because others (like the Tanners, Homer, and Quinn) have already done much on the similarities.

This is a book that nobody interested in the LDS temples should be without. Temple-going members will learn more about the temple from this book than they have going through countless sessions.

Providing a fascinating chronology of developments associated with Latter-day Saint temples and temple ordinances, this source book discusses the origins of the temple concept, comparative rituals, and changes in ceremonies. Buerger charts the abandonment of the adoption sealing which once linked unrelated families and examines the near disappearance of the second anointing, once considered the crowning ordinance of the temple.

Mormons attend neighborhood chapels on Sundays. But on special occasions, they don ceremonial robes and worship at access-restricted temples, of which there are 47 world wide with about half of them located within the United States. Initiates are sworn not to discuss their experience either with outsiders or even among themselves. God’s secrets, they are told, were first revealed to ancient Judaism and then to Mormon founder Joseph Smith and his succesor prophets of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The Mormon ceremony developed gradually over two decades with borrowings from several sources. The first rites performed in 1833 in Ohio consisted of feet-washing and a sacred supper, both based on New Testament models.

David Buerger documents the expansions in the ceremony in 1836 which drew from Old Testament themes of purification and anointing. Buerger demonstrates from contemporary sources how Mormons embraced Freemasonry in Illinois in the 1840s. Along with robes, symbols, and other Masonic trappings, additional innovations were made in Illinois. Large tubs were installed to allow 3-5 people to be washed at a time, segregated by gender. After Smith’s death, his successor Brigham Young expanded the dramatic portion of the ceremony which rehearses the creation myth. The washing and anointing were simplified to a representative dabbing of water and oil on the forehead and limbs. In the 1930s a number of changes were implemented to soften the ritual’s treatment of women, non-Mormon clergy, use of Masonic elements, and penalties for disclosing secrets.

Worshipers still wear Masonic-like robes, aprons, caps, and (for women) veils. The Mystery of Godliness: A History of Mormon Temple Worship is the most definitive work available on the evolving role of temple worship within the context of the Mormon religion and concepts of spirituality.

more from the publisher:
A veil of secrecy surrounds Mormon temple worship. While officially intended to preserve the sacredness of the experience, the silence leaves many Latter-day Saints mystified. What are the derivation and development of the holy endowment, and if these were known, would the experience be more meaningful? Modern parishioners lack context to interpret the arcane and syncretistic elements of the symbolism.

For instance, David Buerger traces the evolution of the initiatory rites, including the New Testament-like foot washings, which originated in the Ohio period of LDS history; the more elaborate Old Testament-like washings and anointings, which began in Illinois and were performed in large bathtubs, with oil poured over the initiate’s head; and the vestigial contemporary sprinkling and dabbing, which was begun in Utah. He shows why the dramatic portions of the ceremony blend anachronistic events–an innovation foreign to the original drama.

Buerger addresses the abandonment of the adoption sealing, which once linked unrelated families, and the near-disappearance of the second anointing, which is the crowning ordinance of the temple. He notes other recent changes as well. Biblical models, Masonic prototypes, folk beliefs, and frontier resourcefulness all went into the creation of this highest form of LDS worship. Diary entries and other primary sources document its evolution.

David John Buerger, a Brigham Young University graduate, is a past editor-in-chief of Communications Week and now an independent consultant in the computer industry. His research on Mormon history in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought netted him a Best Article Award from the Mormon History Association. He is the author of The Mysteries of Godliness: A History of Mormon Temple Worship and a contributor to Line Upon Line: Essays on Mormon Doctrine. He and his wife live in Berkeley Lake, Georgia.