This blog has seen far too few updates of recent. I’ve been extremely busy starting a couple small businesses, while working two other jobs, all while serving as an assistant stake clerk, a husband, and friend.
I recently stopped working on another blog, and expect to shuffle up the job situation in the near future (hopefully Heavenly Father agrees).
On top of this, a friend I haven’t been in contact with for several years, asked me about a quote I used once in a lesson in church. I found it after a little searching and was surprised and intrigued to become reacquainted:
“Vice is a monster of so frightful face, as to be hated needs but to be seen; but seen too often, familiar with her face, we first endure, then tolerate, then embrace.” – Alexander Pope (An Essay on Man)
Then just the other day I ran across a related quote from C.S. Lewis:
“We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” (The Weight of Glory)
These, combined with other things in my life have encouraged me to recommit to studying the scriptures and the gospel, not just reading talks and scriptures. For me a true study only reaches a climactic plateau when I have written about it. I take what I have learned in this round of study, organize and present it. Even if only for myself to read later, it makes the study exponentially more valuable for my personal understanding of the subject.
This recommitment should mean more activity on this blog. The 2nd half of Church as an Aaronic Priesthood Temple is long overdue, as are several other topics that have been in my head for greatly varying amounts of time, such as: children learn best through methods akin to repetitive symbolism, our bodies as symbolic temples goes much deeper than we normally think, and what is Priesthood?
I challenge anyone who reads this to make a recommitment to studying the gospel, if needed. And if your studies result in writing you think may be appropriate for this blog, please let me know. I would love to have others contribute articles, even if its only a one time thing.
The Washington Bible
Both to include something in this post other than my own repentance, as well as to make good on it, I’d like to share a little interesting part of American History, that has sacred and symbolic ties to the gospel.
My wife and I have been watching the amazing HBO mini-series John Adams,1 based on the book by David McCullough (for which he won a second Pulitzer). This has rekindled some of my appetite for American History, which had previously waned purely from exhaustion and joy of completing my degree in history.
I was reading a fictional book that talked about something called the Washington Bible and researched it further to find out how much of it was true. Most of it was, here’s the story:
When General George Washington was elected the first President of the United States, he traveled from Mt. Vernon to New York City. Towns and cities all along his route were decorated and celebrated as he passed through. Upon arrival at Federal Hall on Wall Street (the nation’s capitol at that time), the ceremonies commenced. Washington was dressed in a plain brown suit and wore a ceremonial sword.2 Suddenly somebody realized that in spite of all the preparations, a Bible for the first President to be sworn in on, had been overlooked.
Robert R. Livingston, Chancellor of New York, was also a Grand Master Mason.3 He knew that just down the road in the St. John’s Lodge (a meetinghouse for Masons) a Bible was sitting on the podium. Someone was sent, and the Bible was retrieved shortly before it was required. The Bible was opened to the page that contained the end of Genesis 49 and the beginning of 50. The Library of Congress website states that the Bible was randomly opened to this page, “because of haste.” However, it also names specifically Genesis 49:13 as the scripture the bible was opened to.4 The two facts don’t seem to agree with one another. Either way, Washington placed his hand on that page and with his right arm raised, followed Robert Livingston’s lead in the Oath of Office.
Other Presidents have since used the same Bible, including some with it open to the same page. Today, only Presidents are allowed to touch the Washington Inaugural Bible without gloves on, due to its age.
Upon completing the oath, Washington ad-libbed “So help me God” at the end, then leaned over and kissed the bible; something most Presidents have done ever since. I thought at first it was just a nice touch to solemnize and show the sincerity of his oath. However, with a little further research, it appears that this phrase and the action of kissing the bible after swearing on it, were something Washington would have learned as part of the ritual oaths of Masonry. Unfortunately most sources that describe any Masonic ritual are anti-Masonic sources, as Freemasonry keeps the specifics of their ritual sacred. However, it does appear that both ending the oath with “So help me God,” and kissing the Bible are a part of at least one Masonic oath-rite, and similar things are included in others.5
Washington was reportedly pleased that it was a Masonic Bible as Mason’s are a brotherhood and not a religion. Thus it avoided the controversy of seeming to endorse any one religion by using a Bible from a particular denomination. Since that time, Masonry has had some extreme ups and downs in popularity in America. Even to the point that many were persecuted.
I find several things very interesting about this little historical tidbit:
- Joseph Smith was a Mason and probably received revelation regarding temple covenants and rituals in answer to questions that arose as the result of his participation in the local Masonic lodges/chapters of the Nauvoo area. It seems he joined for civic reasons, but almost surely questioned if these rituals had ties back to Solomon’s Temple as the Masonic teachings suggested.
- Genesis 49 is Jacob (Israel) giving Patriarchal blessings to his 12 sons shortly before he died. It takes place in Egypt, but many of the prophecies are regarding events that will take place in the Holy Land (e.g. the birth of Christ) and the new world (Joseph’s seed to “run over the wall”).
- According to Cleon Skousen, the Founding Fathers saw themselves as the intellectual progeny of the Greek and Roman democracy and republics, but also as the literal inheritors of the traditions and representative government of the Angles and Saxons, whom they believed to be among the lost tribes of Israel.
Its really an amazing bit of symbolism when you stop and think about it. We know from scripture that Heavenly Father guided the hand of the Founding Fathers, to establish a land wherein the Church could be restored. But he doesn’t just tell us that in the scriptures. There are many symbolic connections between the establishment of the United States, and the truths of the Restored Gospel, such as:
- As the first President of US is sworn in, he uses words and action that later contribute to Joseph Smith receiving the highest and holiest orders and ordinances of the Priesthood.
- Washington also places his hand on the prophecy concerning Joseph’s “branches running over the wall.” George Washington, as well as many early Americans, and members of the church, were probably a literal fulfillment of that prophecy, as descendants of Ephraim. They were a later branch in the Americas, while Lehi and others–descendants of Manasseh–would have been earlier ones.
- The Founding Father’s use patterns and ideas from their forefathers, whom they believe to be the literal descendants of Israel, to create a country wherein the final fulfillment of Israel’s prophecies in Genesis 49-50, can begin to take shape.
When Alma says: “all things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator” (Alma 30: 44), he really means it. I believe God also puts symbolism in all things, if we just look for it. Its an operative testimony to be found and studied out, if we really “see with [our] eyes, and hear with [our] ears, and understand with [our] heart” (2 Ne. 16:10).
Here is the Washington Inauguration faithfully recreated in John Adams: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JgCQDZdlMdc
- Though the John Adams series is very good, I don’t recommend it for anyone under 17 or 18. Most episodes contain at least one part that is intended to help the viewer understand the reality of the situation, but could be seen as offensive or inappropriate for those not mature enough to understand the intention correctly. ↩
- Souvenir and official programme of the centennial celebration of George Washington’s inauguration…, Ed. John Alden, pp. 269 ↩
- For a brief overview of Masonry/Freemasonry I recommend the George Washington Masonic Memorial website. ↩
- Library of Congress website cites: Bowen, Clarence W. The History of the Centennial Celebration of the Inauguration of George Washington, N.Y. 1892, p. 72, Illustration. ↩
- Because of the historical nature of one source, published at a time when there was a very strong Anti-Masonic movement (including a political party), I have included it as proof: Catalogue of books on the Masonic institution,: In public libraries of twenty-eight states of the Union; anti-Masonic in arguments and conclusions…, Unnamed Compiler, 1829. ↩
Edward enjoys the John Adams series as well. I enjoy reading your posts as always! Thanks!
Excellent thoughts about 'the General'. My wife and watched the John Adams series and we both really enjoyed it.
Tevya, you need to know that inspite of what was portrayed on the HBO mini series John Adams, based on the book with that name by David McCullough, there is no contemporaneous or subsequent firsthand account which tells us that George Washington added the extra constitutional phrase, "So help me God," to his presidential oath. Furthermore, if a person does the research, one will find out that, at present count, most presidents are not known to have appended anything to their oath of office.
When it comes to Washington's laying his hand on the Masonic Bible and kissing it after completing the oath, he did not include that protocal during his second inauguration.
Thanks for the feedback Nancy, Eric, and Ray.
Eric also let me know that the same team who brought John Adams to us, is now working on a TV adaptation of McCullough's 1776. I'm excited for that!
Ray, thanks for pointing out that most presidents don't append anything to the oath of office as Washington did. One source I read suggested there have been many who followed Washington's lead, but you're right, that's not true.
As for no contemporary sources for his adding "So help me God," I'm sure you're familiar with David H. Fischer's book Historians Fallacies, in which–among many other things–he shows that a lack of evidence is not counter-evidence. This being true, I went with the best evidence we have available. Thanks for keeping me thorough though.
Tevya, your article should cite sources other than Bowen and the Library of Congress, because they do not provide a contemporaneous or subsequent firsthand account for George Washington having added "so help me God: to his oath. Did you read the 1/9/09 USA Today article that's posted at http://www.usatoday.com/news/religion/2009-01-07-… or click to the website attached to my name?
By your reasoning, according to Fischer's book, we should credit George Washington with cutting down his father's cherry tree. Parson Weems was, at least, a house guest at Mount Vernon, whereas Bowen is not known to have ever met Washington during his earthly existence.
Ray, thank you for sharing that article. And pointing out that there are a lot of experts who believe that Washington never added those words. I read it the article, and had previously looked at the site attached to your name. My article was not meant to be a formal treatise of the subject. But, I maintain that oral history and tradition are evidence as well, however inaccurate they often prove. When we are able to know all truth, I will not be one bit surprised to find out that Washington did not say those words. However, I won't be a bit surprised if we find out that he did, in fact, say them. Either way, I'm no expert on the subject and don't care to debate it.
As for accepting the cutting of the cherry tree, you're taking my very simplified explanation of a more complex concept and work, and using it out of context. I have no argument with you. The good historian takes all available evidence into account. Tradition is evidence, no matter how you look at it. In some–albeit rare–cases, tradition has proven more accurate than a contemporary account. I weighed the evidence available, and like many, many others, concluded the words were spoken. To me its not a terribly important point either way. But just as a suggestion, you might consider that we don't know what sources were available to the writer of the 1880 (or whenever it was) account of the inauguration. He may well have been looking at an eye-witness account, that has since been lost to us. We just don't know. In the case of the cherry tree, we have stronger counter-evidence to negate the fictional story.