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The Endowed Quorum 

          Besides those Latter-day Saints who were secretly practicing polygamy, there were two other special groups of Church members in Nauvoo whose existence was also shrouded in silence.  One such assembly involved individuals who had received endowment ordinances under the direction of Joseph Smith.  Prior to his death, the Prophet administered to selected Church members, all of the sacred ordinances that are usually performed only in temples.  LDS scriptures explains that when no temple was available, certain temple rites may be performed in other locations and still be “acceptable to me, only in the days of your poverty, wherein ye are not able to build a house unto me” (D&C 124:30).  Accordingly, Joseph Smith secretly provided those ordinances and instructions outside temple walls.

          By the time of prophet’s death, thirty-seven men and twenty-nine women had received their endowments.[1]  This group held special status within the Church community.  Though technically not a “council” or “quorum,” the group of men and women would sometimes be referred to by many different names including “Holy Order,” “Anointed Quorum,” “Quorum of the Priesthood,” “Holy Quorum,” “Council of the Priesthood,” “the Priesthood,” “Order of Priesthood,” and “Patriarchal Priesthood.”[2]  However, most commonly it was called simply the “Quorum.”

          This group first met over two days, 4-5 May of 1842 in a room over Joseph Smith’s red brick store.  Journals reveal that additional locations in Nauvoo such as the Mansion house, the “Old Homestead,” and Brigham Young’s home were also used to accomplish sacred ordinance work.[3]  The Prophet taught that the ordinances presented would eventually be made available to “the weakest of saints” making it obvious that such ordinances did not convey the right to preside:  “The communications I made to this council were of things spiritual, and to be received only by the I spiritual minded: and there was nothing made known to these men but what will be made known to all the Saints of the last days, so soon as they are prepared to receive, and a proper place is prepared to communicate them, even to the weakest of the Saints; therefore let the Saints be diligent in building the Temple.”[4]

          The “Endowed Quorum” or council was different from normal priesthood quorums as described in the Doctrine and Covenants in two significant ways.  First, women were an active element.  Though sisters were not part of the initial group who received their endowments in 1842, they were eventually admitted and given all of the highest priesthood ordinances available on earth.

          The second and important difference from other priesthood quorums stemmed from the fact that they were not, by design, a presiding quorum.  That is, receiving the temple ordinances did not endow the recipient with the right to preside as a priesthood leader or a Church leader.  However, their reception did signify a level of superior knowledge when compared to individuals who had not been thus favored during the life of Joseph Smith.

          The ordinances received by members of the Endowed Quorum were considered to be extremely sacred by their recipients.  Consequently, they could not be recorded or written down.  Heber C. Kimball received his endowment with the first group on 4 May 1842.[5]  The following month he wrote to fellow apostle Parley Pratt who was still in England presiding over the missionary work there.  Elder Kimball referred to the specific keys given in the endowment saying “I can not give them to you on paper fore they are not to be riten [sic].  So you must come and get them fore your Self.”[6]  Brigham Young referred to the sacred ordinances he received saying “there are keys that the written word never spoke of, nor never will.”[7] 

          Even though the Endowed Quorum was never a presiding body, it played an important role after the death of Joseph Smith for several reasons.  Nine of the twelve apostles were members and had received from the prophet all the highest priesthood ordinances available.[8]  Although Joseph Smith taught that these ordinances are specifically for an individual’s personal exaltation, they also include teachings that help receiving divine answers to prayer.

          The different ordinances of the temple provide Church members with great priesthood blessings including a “fullness of the priesthood.”  Joseph Smith explained:  “If a man gets a fullness of the priesthood of God he has to get it in the same way that Jesus Christ obtained it, and that was by keeping all the commandments and obeying all the ordinances of the house of the Lord.”[9]  In August, 1843 prior to any person receiving all the temple ordinances, Brigham Young observed: “If any in the Church had the fullness of the Melchisedec Priesthood, he did not know it.”[10]  What was required?  “For any person to have the fullness of that priesthood, he must be a King and a Priest,”[11] through ordinances available in the Holy Temple.

          What was the relationship of those who had secretly received their endowments to those who were secretly living the principle of plural marriage?  Of the thirty-seven endowed men, sixteen (or forty-three percent) were polygamists.  Undoubtedly members of the Endowed Quorum were expected to accept of the principle, but over fifty-seven percent of them were monogamists.[12]   Of those who had received a “fullness of the priesthood,” forty-seven percent were monogamists (nine of nineteen).  D. Michael Quinn observed: “These men and women of the Holy Order [Endowed Quorum] were a select group, a religious elite within the Church, yet plural marriage was a minority practice among them...  During the lifetime of Joseph Smith, polygamy was only an appendage ‘to the highest order of the priesthood’ established on 28 September 1843.”[13]

[1]  Devery S. Anderson, “Anointed Quorum in Nauvoo,” 152.  Ehat lists 36 names,  “Introduction of Temple Ordinances,” 107.

[2]  Ehat, “Introduction of Temple Ordinances,” 101.

[3]  Ibid., 109.

[4]  HC 5:1-2.  Italics added.

[5]  Ibid.

[6]  Heber C. Kimball to Parley Pratt, 17 June 1842, CHD.  In Ehat, “Introduction of Temple Ordinances,” 41-42; Ehat, “Who Shall Ascend,” 49.

[7]  Times and Seasons 5:666-67.

[8]  Heber C. Kimball, Journal, 26 December 1845.  In Ehat, “Introduction of Temple Ordinances,” 147, en 428.

[9]  TPJS 308.

[10]  HC 5:527. This account was taken from Wilford Woodruff's Journal, 6 Aug. 1843,  Compare Orson Pratt's sermon, 24 May 1845, Times and Seasons 6 (1 June 1845): 920.

[11]  HC 5:527.

[12]  Devery S. Anderson, “Anointed Quorum in Nauvoo,” 152.

[13]  Quinn, “Latter-day Saint Prayer Circles,” 88.