Garment (di)Strict

August 9, 2006 | 29 comments
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The current issue of BYU Studies publishes for the first time a very interesting letter from one of the first Hawaiian converts, Jonathan (Ionatana) Napela, to the Prophet Brigham Young. In 1869, seventeen years after his baptism, Napela realized a long-anticipated plan to visit Utah and meet the leader of the church into which he had invested so much time and talent. During his stay, Napela met the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve and observed the Salt Lake City July 24th celebration with them; he also received his own endowment (the first known Hawaiian to do so) and was baptized as proxy for King Kamehameha I. In the April 11, 1871 letter, Napela recounts to President Young his report to King Kamehameha Vof the events of his visit.

The entire document, originally written in Hawaiian, is a fascinating exercise in hybridizing, translating, and interpreting disparate cultures. One sentence in particular, however, got me wondering. Napela wrote:

I informed my King about your counselors, G.A.S. [George A. Smith] & D.H.W. [Daniel H. Wells], and the quorum of twelve, and so forth including all the levels of leaders, and about the one special garment and explained the significance of that garment. It is something so a person will not have base desires, but does not punish the conscience of a people. (emphasis mine)

What does Napela mean in this last sentence? In particular, what does he mean when he says that the garment “does not punish the conscience of a people”? Napela was educated at a Protestant school in Lahaina, and perhaps there he learned (a distorted version, most probably) of the various Catholic penitential practices of mortifying the body, practices that Protestants reject. Could he here be distinguishing Mormon practice from Catholic? What does “conscience” have to do with it? Does his remark tell us anything about the ways early Mormons understood the garment? Is his understanding substantially different from our own?

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29 Responses to Garment (di)Strict

  1. DHofmann on August 9, 2006 at 2:30 pm

    My guess is that “punish the conscience” means to punish a person for his or her thoughts or desires. Not having base thoughts procludes one from being punished for them, which makes the garment’s job much easier. “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

  2. Eric Nielson on August 9, 2006 at 2:37 pm

    Could it mean something along the lines of being washed from the sins of this generation, or something to that effect? Blind guess.

  3. Christian Y. Cardall on August 9, 2006 at 2:43 pm

    Along with specific Catholic mortification practices, he may have been referring to the view of man’s depravity common to many Protestants as well as Catholics. The garment, in its general wearing and in its specific symbology, reminds us to keep desires within bounds; but within this Mormonism affirms those desires as divine rather than depraved.

  4. Christian Y. Cardall on August 9, 2006 at 2:51 pm

    I missed an opportunity to self-servingly link the word divine in the previous comment…

  5. Wilfried on August 9, 2006 at 3:19 pm

    Could the Hawaiian original have possible different meanings and could the translation be twisted? What other translations would be possible? Or could the original contain an imagery or connotations we do not grasp in English?

  6. Wilfried on August 9, 2006 at 3:38 pm

    One more thing. I don’t know if this would help, but the expression “punish the conscience” is found in Augustine’s City of God, XX, chap 26, in this context. “And the apostle says, ‘The thoughts accusing or else excusing, in the day in which God shall judge the hidden things of men, according to my gospel in Jesus Christ’ (Rom 2:15-16). Thus, then, shall the Lord be a swift witness, when He shall suddenly bring back into the memory that which shall convince and punish the conscience.” (in the original Latin: “unde conuincat puniatque conscientiam”). You find the expression in various Augustinian contexts. E.g. “Poterant enim leges delicta punire, conscientiam punire non poterant.”

    DHofmann (1) understood it in this sense, right?

    The “but” in the quoted sentence is somewhat disturbing. Without that opposition, and taking Augustine’s meaning, you could read it: “It is something so a person will not have base desires, and so [it] does not punish the conscience of a person.”

  7. j.a.t. on August 9, 2006 at 5:34 pm

    “Napela was educated at a Protestant school in Lahaina, and perhaps there he learned (a distorted version, most probably) of the various Catholic penitential practices of mortifying the body, practices that Protestants reject.”

    Perhaps to distinguish it from the Carmelite/Sevrite or lay-person’s scapular? (Either the shoulder covering or necklace with a scratchy piece of wool or burlap which is worn under one’s clothes to chaff against the skin.)
    http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/13508b.htm

  8. Jack on August 9, 2006 at 10:44 pm

    Unlike Hester’s “A,” the garment is worn underneath.

  9. Sheri Lynn on August 10, 2006 at 12:09 am

    Perhaps Br. Ionatana understood the endowment the way I do: to indulge in certain sins one would have to lay hands upon the garments to remove them, a Saint regards that kind of act with such horror that to commit it is unthinkable. I won’t get myself into the position where I can be tempted to do so.

    The outer layers of clothing will not come off to expose the garments to anyone who ought not see them. I don’t get close to having the base desires, myself. But my endowments, my covenants with the Lord concerning them, do nothing to affect the outside world. They are not punished for not keeping the covenants I keep. They aren’t accountable for them, for they don’t understand a bit of it. There is no punishment for them, and it does not trouble their consciences when they do those things that I would not.

    *shyly waves at annegb*

  10. Rosalynde Welch on August 10, 2006 at 12:45 am

    Thanks to you kind souls charitable enough to respond to a post that, in re-reading, isn’t especially well-framed or perhaps even very interesting! I always feel vaguely humiliated when a post of mine languishes with less than a handful of comments.

    Interesting glosses, all. Wilfried, you’re right, of course, that without the original Hawaiian and a knowledge of the context, we might not get very far. The Augustine quotation is very interesting: in scholastic thought, conscientia is frequently presented as the punisher of sin, not the punished, so this passage represents something of a variation. It’s possible that the phrase “punish the conscience” migrated from Augustine to Napela (or his translator) by means of his Protestant education.

    It’s interesting that he seems to understand the garment as having a collective effect on a “people” rather than merely on individuals, which is where Eric’s comment is pertinent; he also seems to suggest that conscience itself is a communal. I wonder whether this represents an earlier Deseret understanding of the garment (and of the conscience). On the other hand, he suggests that it prevents “a person”—ie an individual—from having base desires, a sort of spiritual protection against lust. This could be related to the folk doctrine about the garment’s supernatural physical protection of the body from accident and injury. The switch from singular (” a person”) to plural (“a people”) is suggestive and puzzling.

  11. Sheri Lynn on August 10, 2006 at 8:18 am

    When I saw a well-known, temple-sealed Latter-day Saint on a television program, I immediately noticed that she could not possibly be wearing garments under her dress. She was out of uniform, and any Saint who saw her knew it and probably judged her for it. We know what is required of us!

    Of course the garments make one people out of us. They fail, of course, to make us all righteous. However, it is understood that those of us who abide by our covenants are not tempting one another to do wrong.

    On the other hand–raise that hemline, drop that neckline, or wear something a little too sheer or spaghetti-strapped, and the W. of B. is ready to go to work. Open the gin, put on the R-rated movie, spend the tithe money on smokes & strip club cover charges. Cuss. Shop on Sunday. Spurn the apple cider, try the cappacino at Starbucks. The doorway to the Outer Darkness stands open….

  12. Christian Y. Cardall on August 10, 2006 at 9:11 am

    Rosalynde (#10) he also seems to suggest that conscience itself is a communal

    As I described (here and here) on another thread of yours related to conscience, I like to hijack the original etymology to describe the mechanism of conscience as inherently relational—an emotional ‘knowing with’ other people that follows directly from our instinct for ‘fellow feeling,’ rather than a rational ‘knowing with’ some disembodied abstract set of principles ‘out there’ somewhere. Hence, while conscience is an individual faculty, it is one that exists to fit us for community—either by aligning oneself with an existing community (‘follower mode’) or motivating one to establish a new and better community (‘leader mode,’ typically also thought of by the leader as being in ‘follower mode’ to God).

  13. Rosalynde Welch on August 10, 2006 at 9:55 am

    Sheri Lynn, interesting thoughts in #11. I think you’re right that garments do work practically in the present to set the Saints apart (and to give them ammunition against one another, from time to time). But do you think they worked that way in Nauvoo and Deseret? It was my understanding that the first garments were very much like the normal underclothing of the period, with the addition of the symbols.

    And although I don’t hear them talked about in this way very much anymore, I think your understanding of the garments in #9 is probably very common. Napela certainly did seem to see a special relationship between the law of chastity and the sacred clothing.

  14. Rosalynde Welch on August 10, 2006 at 10:10 am

    By the way, your road to perdition made me laugh—Starbucks being the final way station before the gates of hell gape wide! Interesting that most of the infractions are violations of LDS-specific standards. Those do represent a special kind of betrayal of one’s community, which is no small matter, morally speaking. But I’d guess that, you know, failures of charity would set up shop somewhere along the way, too…

    (What’s W. of B., incidentally?)

  15. M L on August 10, 2006 at 10:52 am

    Perhaps the choice of words is intended to reflect the private and individual nature of the covenant. The garment reflects a personal commitment and provides protection against “base desires”, but it is intended to be a personal commitment, not flaunted in the face of society, thus “punish[ing] the conscience of a people.”

    Instead of serving as a condemnation or means of judging those who do not wear the garment, it serves to protect the individual who has made the covenant. I know some will not like this analogy, but it could be compared to Scotchguard for a new sofa. Some people choose to get the extra protection against stains, etc., while others do not. No one, other than the individual purchaser and the furniture store salesperson, usually knows whether or not you got the Scotchguard. So you have the protection, without punishing the conscience of anyone who comes to visit.

    If only wearing the garment was likewise such an unknown. It would avoid a number of judgmental pitfalls, like looking for garment lines at BYU or judging the worthiness of other members based on whether they are wearing garments or not.

  16. Christian Y. Cardall on August 10, 2006 at 10:57 am

    Rosalynde (#10, again) he seems to understand the garment as having a collective effect on a “people�

    On this point I offer a manual trackback.

    By the way… The curiosities of conscience being the punished rather than the punisher, and the shift of voice from individual to collective: while these have provided interesting springboards for discussion, I think their notice is more a testament to Rosalynde’s ability to draw conceptual subtlety from Brother Napela’s semantic imprecision than anything else. I doubt there’s any significant historical conceptual shifts at work here.

  17. lamonte on August 10, 2006 at 12:20 pm

    \”In particular, what does he mean when he says that the garment “does not punish the conscience of a people\”?\”

    It seems to me that one of the reasons for the garment is to serve as a reminder of our covenants and promises to God. We may have less than wholesome thoughts in our minds but our garments, at least in some cases – perhaps the worst cases, will stop us from acting upon those thoughts. Thus, the garment \”does not punish the conscience\”, it simply informs the conscience and ultimately saves us from transgession.

  18. Anita on August 10, 2006 at 12:39 pm

    But having garment lines as a community identifier can be very helpful! Easy way to spot other Mormons at Disneyland :-) And it does make for neighborhood speculation here in Sandy, Utah, where I am mystified at the sporadic wearings by some of my endowed ward members. I think it is interesting that the Nauvoo era garments extended beyond the clothing so that the collar was visible (which may have been similar to normal underclothing then, I don’t know).

  19. Rosalynde Welch on August 10, 2006 at 1:56 pm

    Very interesting, Anita, about the visible collar in Nauvoo. Much more like a priest’s vestment, then, than like the scapular that j.a.t. mentions.

    On garment-sightings in Sandy, I’m of two minds. On the one hand, if folks are going to reap the benefits of membership in a dynamic and resource-rich community, I’m not too sympathetic to their cries of “mind your own business!” when the community takes an interest in their behavior—particularly behavior that acts as a particular marker of loyalty. On the other hand, it does seem like choices in garment-wearing in and of themselves really don’t have any effect on one’s neighbors, so perhaps this matter would be a good candidate for rigorously “judging not.” I don’t know.

  20. Mark Butler on August 10, 2006 at 2:05 pm

    There is a general theme in the scriptures about the Lord requiring certain things of his people so that his name is not polluted among the Gentiles (unbelivers). For example:

    But I wrought for my name’s sake, that it should not be polluted before the heathen, among whom they were, in whose sight I made myself known unto them, in bringing them forth out of the land of Egypt.

    Wherefore I caused them to go forth out of the land of Egypt, and brought them into the wilderness. And I gave them my statutes, and shewed them my judgments, which if a man do, he shall even live in them.

    Moreover also I gave them my sabbaths, to be a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the LORD that sanctify them.
    (Ezekiel 20:9-12)

    So will I make my holy name known in the midst of my people Israel; and I will not let them pollute my holy name any more: and the heathen shall know that I am the LORD, the Holy One in Israel.
    (Ezekiel 39:7)

    Then of course there is the doctrine that we are members of the body of Christ:

    Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ? shall I then take the members of Christ, and make them the members of an harlot? God forbid.

    What? know ye not that he which is joined to an harlot is one body? for two, saith he, shall be one flesh. But he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit.

    Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body.

    What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?

    For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.
    (1 Cor 6:15-20)

    The thought comes to mind of taking the music to Michael McLean’s song “You’re not alone…” and substituting “You’re not your own…”

  21. Mark Butler on August 10, 2006 at 2:21 pm

    I agree though that one should never judge a stranger for the bare fact of not wearing garments, provided they are reasonably modest otherwise, unless perhaps one is considering marrying them. Immodesty is a sin in the public at large, garment non-wearing is not. Of course if the person is an endowed member of the Church, certainly covenant breaking signifies something pretty serious, like despising their inheritance, if you ask me.

  22. Costanza on August 10, 2006 at 5:16 pm

    The old garments used to have ties that some members would let hang out of their shirt fronts between the button holes. When Simon Bamberger, a Jew, ran for Utah governor around 1916, he was advised to affix a string to his shirt and non-chalantly finger it at public events so that some would think he was Mormon. I’m not sure how well it worked because most people already knew he was Jewish, but it is an interesting use of boundary markers.

  23. Kaimi Wenger on August 10, 2006 at 5:43 pm

    Garments are ultimately underwear, aren’t they? I have to wonder why we would find it acceptable to start a conversation “you wouldn’t believe what I noticed about Sister Jones’s underwear yesterday . . .”

  24. Sheri Lynn on August 12, 2006 at 12:56 am

    “I’ll take things I can’t bring myself to say directly for $100, Alex.”
    “This is expression literally means, the painted lady of the evening who walked the streets in an ancient Mesopotamian City.”


    “Nobody? Umm…..”
    (cut to commercials…Mrs. Trebek apparently used Prell Shampoo for that word, too.)

    Seriously, the garments do remind me of my covenants. Sometimes I wish I had a great big heavy iron temple hammer, too, that would hit me on the head when I’m about to be uncharitable in word and deed. Chastity gets easier as the years go by, but charity never faileth…to challenge some of us.

  25. It's Not Me on August 12, 2006 at 11:41 pm

    There are endowed members who don’t wear their garments, then there are endowed members who wear their garments as a t-shirt. Without an outer shirt. In public. It’s hard not to chuckle.

  26. It's Not Me on August 12, 2006 at 11:42 pm

    There are endowed members who don’t wear their garments, then there are endowed members who wear their garments as a t-shirt. Without an outer shirt. In public. It’s hard not to chuckle.
    (By “public” I don’t mean going to the mailbox. I mean miles from their home)

  27. grego on August 13, 2006 at 7:31 am

    Don’t know if this helps, but…
    A man once said: seeing a wife in garments was very nice; seeing any other woman in garments, brought an immediate and complete loss of sexual desire.

  28. Keszaya on August 13, 2006 at 11:18 pm

    #22. Two years ago one of the attorneys I worked with in Chicago told me he had been advised to wear low round necked t-shirts under translucent buttondown shirts on any business trips he had in Utah.

  29. Stevie on August 14, 2006 at 4:09 pm

    How about another try at understanding this strange phrase about conscience. Temple marriage was closely related to plural marriage then. Plural marriage was important, and was referred to as the “new and everlasting covenant.” Is it possible that the reference is to the fact that those who entered into plural marriages were doing something that would normally assault their conscience, but the the temple garmet reminded them that they had entered into righteous and therefore blessed multiple unions?

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