Review of Charles, John D. Endowed from on High: Understanding the Symbols of the Endowment.

Charles, John D.  Endowed from on High: Understanding the Symbols of the Endowment.  Salt Lake City: Horizon, 1997. [Mormon/Symbolism/Ritual/Liturgy/Worship]

The Editor’s Preface is about as interesting as the book.  I think this is the only time I have ever read of a publisher praying about whether or not to publish a book.  After seeking the guidance of the Spirit, he says, “We came away satisfied that the work is pleasing to the Lord and that it will prove a blessing to many Saints.” (p. 12).  This alone should alert the reader to the possibility that there may be things in this book about sacred Mormon temple ordinances that are questionable–they apparently were for the publisher.   A publisher of course, has the freedom and responsibility for what he decides to print.  But a Mormon publisher should realize it is not his purview to decide what is appropriate to publish about the temple.  The editor was misguided and self-serving in implying the book was approved by the Spirit. The title points up the problem.  It is the prerogative of the Lord and the Brethren who preside over the Church to explain the meaning of the Endowment and associated symbols, not John D. Charles or Horizon Publishers.

Moreover, the author says the book is “not written to describe or depict sacred principles or procedures which, by covenant, endowed temple attenders have pledged not to discuss outside of the temple.” (pp. 15-6) This nod to the notion of confidentiality does not dispel concern because he and the editor made a serious misjudgment about what things are permissible to discuss in public.  I have identified at least dozen pages in this small book of 106 pages where things were said about the temple ordinances that were unnecessarily explicit and that I believe would displease the Brethren and the Lord.   A young author might be excused for over stepping his bounds, but more mature editors and publishers should have caught these things and left them out, as well as redirected the direction of the book and its title.

I, of course, am not the final word on what is appropriate to publish about the temple.  Readers will have to decide for themselves.  But I am not ignorant on the issue either.  My beliefs about what is appropriate are based on several years of serious study about the temple and my experience as a temple ordinance worker and member of the Logan Temple presidency.  In both I have paid close attention to what the brethren say about what is appropriate to discuss outside of the temple.  I have learned that there is very little that they feel should be discussed or written about explicitly, especially symbolisms related to the endowment.  I know from personal experience that President Hinckley considered what transpired in the temple, whether directly related to the meaning of the temple or not, as out of bounds for discussion outside of the temple.

The editors go on to praise the young author and speak of the “profound insights” he provides in this small book, which he says is intended for those who have been to the temple.   There are some helpful insights perhaps for those who have been endowed relatively recently, but for a well seasoned Saint the “profound insights” to be gained from this work will be relatively few if any.

On an another issue, in at least two critical places the Charles reads into a text what he wants to see, or what he believes it means based on his understanding of the temple today.  The most notable example, which the editors should have caught, concerns his treatment of Revelation 1:5-6, the relevant portion of which reads: 5)…Unto him that loved us and washed us from our sins in his own blood, 6) And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his father….”  Five times in the subsequent discussion the author says nearly this same thing: “By describing the saints as having been anointed ‘kings…unto God,’ John….”  (p. 53, see also 54.)  While it is very possible, perhaps even likely that this refers to an anointing, the fact is that the text does not use the word anoint or speak of an anointing, but Charles does not acknowledge this.  On the third iteration of this idea he adds yet another mistake when he says “John invokes the image of a priest as the one authorized to enter God’s presence.” (p. 53) However, only the High Priest was permitted to enter into the Holy of Holies, which represented “God’s presence” and only on the Day of Atonement.

Another disappointing aspect of the book is the rather lengthy recital of the story of the Creation and the Fall, using primarily the account in Moses, with some help from D&C 76.  The insights the author elicits from this recital are even fewer than elsewhere in the book.

Despite the content of the book and its purpose, an even larger issue is the possible effect that this and other books like it may have on encouraging other authors to make similar explanations of the meaning of the temple and its symbolism.

One thought on “Review of Charles, John D. Endowed from on High: Understanding the Symbols of the Endowment.

  1. Robert F. Smith

    I have not read the book under review here, but would always suggest that those Mormons wishing to publicly discuss modern temple covenants and symbolism restrict themselves to the specific comments and quotations by the Brethren in books, Conference Reports, and Church magazines over the last century. I think that this should also include the comments by Hugh Nibley on modern LDS temple practices. In one particular case I know of, Nibley’s report on such matters was vetted by the Brethren, and they are the only ones in possession of Nibley’s unexpurgated version. Of course the expurgated version is available for public scrutiny.
    On that basis, a good deal more can be said of the modern temple than most imagine. The Brethren have said a great deal publicly, and have usually accompanied their comments with wonderful photographs. Not everything is restricted.
    Perhaps a nice start could be made by recounting what our docents tell non-Mormons during the pre-dedication phase of the opening of an LDS temple. That might help break the ice. Does anyone have a sample script of what such docents are instructed to say? We do need to be sensitive, but also informative. Is this possible?


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