Statements on Heavenly Mother

September 15, 2011 | 27 comments
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Lange - Migrant MotherI thought a good companion to Jonathan’s recent post would be a list of quotations by church authorities on Heavenly Mother found in Paulsen’s & Pulido’s recent BYU studies article, “A Mother There.” I do not list them in the same order as they’re found in the article, nor do I list all of the quotations found in their article (not to mention the hundreds more that they’ve accumulated) – but let me be clear about the fact that I’ve culled them directly from the article. The quotes themselves are clearly in the public domain, but it still feels a bit like plagiarism. All credit goes to them. Nonetheless, it seems an extremely valuable resource to actually have before us at least a small sampling of what church authorities have said from then til now when we discuss this important doctrine.

And now the quotes:

“All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny. Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.” (“The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” Ensign Nov. 1995: 102)

“We were created . . . in the image of our father and our mother, the image of our God.” (Brigham Young, Discourses of Brigham Young, ed. John A. Widtsoe, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1954: 51)

“God is a married Being, has a wife . . . [and] we are the offspring of Him and His wife.” (George Q. Cannon, “Mr. Canon’s [sic] Lecture,” Salt Lake Daily Herald 14, April 15, 1884, 8.)

“Our theology begins with heavenly parents. Our highest aspiration is to be like them.” (Dallin H. Oaks, “Apostasy and Restoration,” Ensign 25 (May 1995): 84)

“There is radiant warmth [in the] thought that . . . [we have] a mother who possesses the attributes of Godhood.” And “since we have a Father, who is our God, we must also have a mother, who possesses the attributes of Godhood.” (John A. Widtsoe, “Everlasting Motherhood,” Millennial Star 90, May 10, 1928: 298; and A Rational Theology: As Taught by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1937: 69)

“It doesn’t take from our worship of the Eternal Father, to adore our Eternal Mother, any more than it diminishes the love we bear our earthly fathers, to include our earthly mothers in our affections. . . . We honor woman when we acknowledge Godhood in her eternal prototype.” (President Rudger Clawson, “Our Mother in Heaven,” Millennial Star 72, Sept. 29, 1910: 619–20)

Logic and reason would certainly suggest that if we have a Father in Heaven, we have a Mother in Heaven. That doctrine rests well with me. . . . The fact that we do not pray to our Mother in Heaven in no way belittles or denigrates her.” (Gordon B. Hinckley Ensign Nov. 1995: 102)

“Implicit in the Christian verity that all men are the spirit children of an Eternal Father is the usually unspoken truth that they are also the offspring of an Eternal Mother. . . . This glorious truth of celestial parentage, including specifically both a Father and a Mother, is heralded forth by song in one of the greatest of Latter-day Saint hymns[,] O My Father by Eliza R. Snow.” (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 516–17; note that the original title of Sister Snow’s hymn was “Invocation or the Eternal Father and Mother”)

“The theological conception of a Mother in heaven as well as a Father lends dignity to motherhood and wifehood.” (John Henry Evans, A Short History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ed. Gordon B. Hinckley, Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1938: 163.)

“It is marriage, sanctified and God-sanctioned, upon which a glorified home is founded—that blesses, happifies, exalts, and leads at length to companionship with our Heavenly parents, and to eternal, united life, and increase.” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith, Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of LDS, 1998: 181)

“The home is patterned after the heavenly dwelling of our Divine parents.” And, “The divine Mother, side by side with the divine Father, [has] the equal sharing of equal rights, privileges and responsibilities.” (Susa Young Gates, History of the Young Ladies’ Mutual Improvement Association of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1911: 234; and “The Vision Beautiful,” Improvement Era 23, April 1920: 542. Sister Gates was the Corresponding Secretary of the Relief Society Presidency when this article was written.)

“It is left for us to infer this from what we see and know of all living things in the earth including man. The male and female principle is united and both necessary to the accomplishment of their being, and if this be not the case with our Father in heaven after whose image we are created, then it is an anomaly in nature. But to our minds the idea of a Father suggests that of a Mother. . . . Hence when it is said that God created our first parents in His likeness—‘in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them’—it is intimated in language sufficiently plain to my understanding that the male and female principle was present with the Gods as it is with man.” (Erastus Snow, in Journal of Discourses, 26: 214, May 31, 1885)

“‘What,’ says one, ‘do you mean we should understand that Deity consists of man and woman?’ Most certainly I do. If I believe anything that God has ever said about himself . . . I must believe that deity consists of man and woman . . . there can be no God except he is composed of the man and woman united, and there is not in all the eternities that exist, or ever will be a God in any other way.” (Erastus Snow, Journal of Discourses, 19:269–70, March 3, 1878)

“To [the Saints] this great truth is most precious, precious to contemplate, and it is an inexpressible privilege to be able to draw nigh unto Him and say ‘Our Father’ in simplicity and faith, knowing that He is indeed our Father and that we are His children. And [as soon as] this great truth is impressed upon our minds, we very naturally begin to associate with it the idea of mother. This is a natural result of our knowledge and experience of human affairs; that earthly tabernacles owe their origin to mother as well as to father; that the two principles are associated together, and that by the union of the two principles, male and female, God has ordained an increase, not alone to his children but to all other branches of the animal kingdom . . . the two principles going hand and hand together. Without the two principles being thus united there is no increase. Further, we are taught that things on earth are organized after the pattern of heavenly things. Need it, therefore, be a marvel and a wonder to the world that we should irresistibly be carried forward to this conclusion—that if we have a Father in heaven we have also a Mother there.” (Erastus Snow, “Discourse by Apostle Erastus Snow,” Deseret News October 22, 1884: 2)

“Neither of the sexes is complete in itself as a counterpart of Deity. We are expressly told that God is the Father of spirits, and to apprehend the literalness of this solemn truth we must know that a mother of spirits is an existent personality.” (James E. Talmage, A Study of the Articles of Faith, Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1982: 443)

“The only one I know of who has been resurrected and had children—that I know of—is my Father in heaven and my Mother in heaven. You could not have a Father in heaven without a Mother in heaven . . . our Father in heaven must have gone through a life of mortality and become resurrected, and we have to have a Mother in heaven, because we could not have a Father without a Mother at any time, in any life. We were their children born after their resurrection.” (Eldred G. Smith, “Exaltation,” in Brigham Young University Speeches of the Year, 1963–64, Provo: Brigham Young University, 1964: 6; at the time, he was Presiding Patriarch of the church)

“We are part of a divine plan designed by Heavenly Parents who love us.” (M. Russell Ballard, When Thou Art Converted: Continuing Our Search for Happiness, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2001: 62)

“Our heavenly parents provided us with a celestial home more glorious and beautiful than any place on earth. We were happy there. Yet they knew we could not progress beyond a certain point unless we left them for a time. They wanted us to develop the godlike qualities that they have. To do this, we needed to leave our celestial home to be tested and to gain experience.” (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Gospel Principles, Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1978: 13–14)

“Wherever there have been intelligences . . . fundamental principles . . . have existed . . . constitut[ing] . . . the laws of eternal truth. Our Heavenly Parents have through aeons of time . . . applied in Their lives an untold number of these everlasting laws. As They learned these verities and how to operate them, these laws thereby became subject unto Elohim.” (Milton R. Hunter, The Gospel through the Ages, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1945: 4. Hunter’s work was written and published under the direction of the General Priesthood Committee of the Council of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.)

“Influences beyond the veil can help us. Sometimes we [forget] there are loved ones beyond our sight who are thinking about us and our children. We forget that we have a Heavenly Father and a Heavenly Mother who are even more concerned, probably, than our earthly father and mother, and that influences from beyond are constantly working to try to help us when we do all we can.” (Harold B. Lee, “The Influence and Responsibility of Women,” Relief Society Magazine 51, February 1964: 85)

Concerning the glory of our celestial homecoming: “such a regal homecoming [could not] be possible without the anticipatory arrangements of a Heavenly Mother.” (Neal A. Maxwell, “The Women of God,” Ensign 8 (May 1978): 10)

“[W]e, as parents, give an account to our Father and Mother in heaven of the manner in which we have conducted ourselves toward the precious souls entrusted to us . . . .” (Elder James G. Duffin, in The 79th Annual Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1909) 24)

“[K]nowing how profoundly our mortal mothers have shaped us here, do we suppose Her influence on us as individuals to be less if we live so as to return [to heaven]?” (Spencer W. Kimball, “The True Way of Life and Salvation,” Ensign 8 (May 1978): 6 )

“Sisters, I testify that when you stand in front of your heavenly parents in those royal courts on high and you look into Her eyes and behold Her countenance, any question you ever had about the role of women in the kingdom will evaporate into the rich celestial air, because at that moment you will see standing directly in front of you, your divine nature and destiny.” (Glenn L. Pace, “The Divine Nature and Destiny of Women,” devotional address, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, March 9, 2010, available at http://speeches.byu.edu.)

27 Responses to Statements on Heavenly Mother

  1. Julie M. Smith on September 15, 2011 at 6:43 pm

    I’m wondering if you’d comment on your choice of photo?

  2. clark on September 15, 2011 at 9:05 pm

    I was expecting a picture of Rosie the riveter.

  3. Trudy Lundy on September 16, 2011 at 9:34 am

    I find this interesting and so very helpful…thank you.

  4. Jettboy on September 16, 2011 at 10:05 am

    The earliest one I see listed is Erastus Snow, March 3, 1878. What is the earliest mention of Mother in Heaven assuming this isn’t the earliest known?

  5. James Olsen on September 16, 2011 at 11:31 am

    Julie: Well, the picture was the only statement I wanted make in the post – I really do want the statements to simply be there for everyone to see and interpret, which is also why I ought to simply ignore your question. But I couldn’t help using that picture, and I suppose I’m too weak willed to resist answering your question.

    First, the most immediate and conspicuous aspect of the picture is that she’s a mother. Second, it’s vaguely familiar to all of us – even if we can’t point at it and say, “Oh yeah, that’s Lange’s famous photo that many feel is the archetypal image of the Great Depression.” I believe the same could be said of our Heavenly Mother and Her presence in both our lives and our doctrine. But the main reason I used it is because it seems such a powerful photo for what it says. The reason it’s the archetypal image of the Great Depression is because it shows so clearly the tragedy, if not the downright injustice, of allowing a woman who radiates such strength, beauty, and competence – one who could so obviously contribute to society (and who even in her marginalized state does so by raising up those children) – allowing such a great and noble one to be cast out, marginalized, unused, forgotten. We’ve done no less to our own Mother.

  6. James Olsen on September 16, 2011 at 11:41 am

    Jettboy: The encyclopedia of Mormonism claims that contemporary accounts in 1839 claim Joseph Smith teaching about a Mother in Heaven (but I don’t have the citations). Eliza – who wrote the hymn O My Father at the time of Joseph’s death in 1844 – claimed that she learned about this truth from Joseph. Zina D.H. Young claimed that Joseph taught her about this doctrine after the death of her own mother. Susa Young Gates claims it was common knowledge in her day that the doctrine had been taught by Joseph. But the earliest quote above is Brigham Young – I unfortunately don’t have my copy of the DBY, so I can’t look the reference up to tell you when the sermon was given. He first began to teach the Adam God theory (which was also the Eve God theory) in 1852 or 1853. Those are the earliest references I know.

  7. J. Stapley on September 16, 2011 at 11:46 am

    I believe the earliest reference is a reference to the “Queen of
    Heaven” by Phelps in a hymn sung in the winter of 1844. ERS’s “Oh My Father” was shortly after. As much as I love Zina et al., I’m not sure that we can take 50 year old reminiscences as definitive.

  8. Manuel on September 16, 2011 at 1:06 pm

    Very interesting.

    It is also important to note that early statements such as Erastus’s and Eliza’s were made under the understanding of diety according to the Adam God doctrine; therefore, the Mother they talk about is most likely Eve, the same woman who partook of the fruit of knowledge of good and evil in the Garden of Eden. I don’t know if BYU studies would make any mention of this or even recognize that the possibility exists.

  9. H.Bob on September 16, 2011 at 1:22 pm

    The BY quote is from a talk given in the SL Bowery, June 22, 1856 (JD, 3:365).

  10. Mike H. on September 16, 2011 at 10:23 pm

    “There is radiant warmth [in the] thought that . . . [we have] a mother who possesses the attributes of Godhood.”

    So, this was from John A. Widtsoe, yet BYU’s Rodney Turner taught something about women could be Queens & Priestesses to their husbands, but not Goddesses.

  11. James Olsen on September 16, 2011 at 11:30 pm

    Manuel – We obviously have to consider BY’s quote in this light, but recognize that BY believed there was an extended, familial pantheon. Claiming Eve as our divine parent didn’t mean that there wasn’t another Mother in Heaven to whom Eve looked. Also, A/G was never well accepted, even in its hey-day. I don’t know if Erastus or Eliza ever accepted it; they might have; but there were plenty of church leaders who never did. It’d take a historian far more competent than myself to make plausible interpretations along these lines.

  12. Cameron N on September 17, 2011 at 4:15 pm

    I like the last quote from Elder Pace. I think most incomplete doctrines can be resolved simply through the spirit and a little imagination/vision. There was a quote that I’ve been looking for for months by Elder Perry or Ballard or an apostle that talks about how being able to understand/visualize heaven can help us be more obedient/understand better. I wish I could find it.

  13. Manuel on September 18, 2011 at 1:26 am

    I agree for the church in general the notion of Eve being “the” Mother in Heaven was probably not standard, nor did it ever became standard. I mentioned Eliza specifically because I remember that was the strong impression I got after reading Eliza R. Snow: The Complete Poetry, by Derr and Davidson. I don’t recall the specific poems, but I do recall it became very clear to me she fully embraced the doctrine.

    I agree it wasn’t well accepted even in its “hey-day,” yet it was definitely accepted and taught by the man sustained as President of the Church: Brigham Young (also the husband of Eliza Snow by the time her poem was published).

    Brigham taught it as official doctrine in General Conference of 1852 and while he later minimized it a bit while facing scrutiny, he never abandoned it. The doctrine was abandoned by the Church after Brigham’s death in 1877. Nevertheless, Brigham had made sure the doctrine was included in the lecture at the veil of the temple endowment and predicted the inability to accept it would be the demise of those who reject it.

    The Saints had to be acquainted with the doctrine as it was taught in General Conference and it was taught at the climax of one of the most sacred temple ceremonies which is intended to endow members with knowledge. The “hey-day” lasted a quarter of a century, so not just a momentary glitch.

    I do believe when it comes to Eliza, the mother she refers to is Eve, “the mother of all living.”

    You are very right that claiming Eve as a divine parent didn’t mean there wasn’t another Mother in Heaven, since Brigham Young himself taught Eve was but one of the wives “Heavenly Father Adam” had, yet, she is the one He chose for the children of “this earth.”

    But you are right, it is a subject that would have to be better studied. I was just noting that the readers need to know this possibility exists, and that some of the statements may have been made in that light. Therefore, it could be inaccurate to simply assume the Mother in Heaven they talk about is the same we talk about in our day.

  14. Cameron N on September 18, 2011 at 12:59 pm

    Good points Manuel. In a way, the two beliefs are similar, since Heavenly Mother and Eve are individuals at different places on the continuum to exaltation, and since she got a head start in mortality, it is feasible that she’s currently as close to that role as any woman who experienced mortality on this earth.

  15. Robert on September 19, 2011 at 12:00 pm

    @J. Stapley: true, hearsay isn’t always compelling, but as an ancestor of many, many pioneer families, as well as the Huntington clan, I would be quicker to rely on ZDHY’s word. I’ve always been impressed with her vision/understanding. A vigorous study wouldn’t dismiss her insights.

  16. Jonovitch on September 19, 2011 at 3:22 pm

    Reading through all this, I want to believe it’s true, but I can’t help notice that so many quotations are simply hopeful extrapolations and inferences (the “it only makes sense” argument). Or they are just a repeat of someone else’s extrapolations and inferences. There seems to be lacking a definitive, authoritative source to this “beta-doctrine.”

    Unless I missed something, it seems we don’t have a true source for it. The earliest mentions look like after-the-fact recollections from one person or another, which may be from reputable people, but “the prophet told me about this” is different from the prophet teaching everyone about it.

    All the later statements appear to be either the “thinking out loud” that early Church leaders are famous for, or a simple recitation of an earlier statement.

    Even President Hinckley, the latest prophet to say anything about it didn’t go any farther than “logic and reason would certainly suggest.”

    The closest official statement by the Church that I can think of is from the Proclamation to the World: “Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents.” It comes so close to actually voicing the two words together — “Heavenly Mother” — but resists. And that leaves me asking “why?”

    In the end, it still feels like “beta-doctrine” to me. And until someone discovers a definitive, official statement (or until a contemporary prophet receives new revelation and makes a definitive, official declaration), it seems to me this will remain a beta-doctrine — something that so many believe inside (from the lowest levels up) but that is not actually taught out loud (from the top levels down).

  17. Jonovitch on September 19, 2011 at 3:47 pm

    Side note: Gordon B. Hinckley’s quotation in the main list was from the October *1991* conference, while he was still First Counselor under Pres. Benson, not from the October 1995 conference when he was president of the Church. In my mind, that’s a substantial (if small) difference (the one title carries more weight and authority than the other), and the citation should be corrected above. (Sorry about the pickiness, but I was a source checker for a while in college, and little things can sometimes make big differences.)

  18. Manuel on September 19, 2011 at 5:22 pm

    “It comes so close to actually voicing the two words together — “Heavenly Mother” — but resists. And that leaves me asking “why?””

    Yes it does. But when it comes to the term “heavenly parents,” and in the context of other well established doctrines, I think the statement is beyond the “it only makes sense” argument. Perhaps the word “mother” is not spelled out, but how else would you define “parents” if not “mother and father”?

    Is the use of the word parents really intended to ommit the use of the word mother? I also think that being too exclusive of the term mother in the term parents is also quite a bit of speculative etymology, and quite a bit unfounded, since we don’t really have an alternative definition of the word “parents” in the context of our religious beliefs and well established doctrine.

    I also think the argument of parental diety cometing with trinity diety is a bit bogus in the context of our ultra-patriarchal religious culture. We don’t have a problem with members of a priesthood presidency having wives, but we would in the scenario of trinity diety? I think the argument is rather weak.

  19. Manuel on September 19, 2011 at 5:23 pm

    parental diety *competing*

  20. Robert on September 19, 2011 at 7:29 pm

    @ #5 James Olsen: what about other Lange photos, perhaps not as familiar, but slightly more apropos?

    http://is.gd/X5RdIv

    http://is.gd/S2uf4H

    :)

  21. Brent Hartman on September 20, 2011 at 1:04 pm

    This is from Eliza R. Snow’s “The Ultimatum of Human Life”.

    “Adam, your God, like you on earth, has been
    Subject to sorrow in a world of sin:
    Through long gradation he arose to be
    Cloth’d with the Godhead’s might and majesty.
    And what to him in his probative sphere,
    Whether a Bishop, Deacon, Priest, or Seer?
    Whate’er his offices and callings were,
    He magnified them with assiduous care:
    By his obedience he obtain’d the place
    Of God and Father of this human race.
     
    Obedience will the same bright garland weave,
    As it has done for your great Mother, Eve,
    For all her daughter on the earth, who will
    All my requirements sacredly fulfill.
    And what to Eve, though in her mortal life,
    She’d been the first, the tenth, or fiftieth wife?
    What did she care, when in her lowest state,
    Whether by fools, consider’d small, or great?
    ‘Twas all the same with her-she prov’d her worth-
    She’s now the Goddess and Queen of Earth”

    This is from Eliza’s “To Mrs. ______”

    “Adam, our father-Eve, our mother,
    And Jesus Christ, our elder brother,
    Are to my understanding shown:
    My heart responds, they are my own.
    Perfection lifts them far from me,
    But what they are, we yet may be,
    If we, tho’ slowly, follow on,
    We’ll reach the point to which they’ve gone.”

  22. Marc D. on September 23, 2011 at 11:58 am

    All men and women are in the similitude of the universal Father and Mother, and are literally the sons and daughters of Deity.
    (First Presidency statement entitled “The origin of Man” in 1909)

  23. Michael on October 7, 2011 at 6:54 pm

    “The closest official statement by the Church that I can think of is from the Proclamation to the World: ‘Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents.’ It comes so close to actually voicing the two words together — ‘Heavenly Mother’ — but resists. And that leaves me asking ‘why?'”

    Probably because it never would have occurred to them that they needed to be more specific than they were about a doctrine that is so generally understood by the general membership of the Church. I know that if I had been the one making the statement, it never would have occurred to me that I might need to be more specific than that.

  24. chris on October 19, 2011 at 10:58 pm

    For the record we need to add another statement on Mother in Heaven from Brandon Flower’s “Only the Young”

    http://youtu.be/uBENjCPS8LI

    “Mother it’s cold here, Father thy will be done”

  25. Robert on October 20, 2011 at 8:37 am

    How do I “like” a comment? @Chris: like.

  26. Marco on October 26, 2011 at 10:10 am

    With regard to Eliza R Snows Poem above referring to Eve in het probation state (before the Garden of Eden) to be perhaps the fifteenth wife.

    I wonder if the statements from church leaders that said God was a polygamist should not be included in the list of LDS references to Heavenly Mother(s)?

    In stead of Christ and Satan being brothers, they might be half brothers. That would lessen the pain of conservative christians a bit.

  27. Marco on October 26, 2011 at 10:39 am

    Some quotes from Brother Brigham:

    “When our father Adam came into the garden of Eden, he came into it with a celestial body, and brought Eve, one of his wives with him,”
    Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, vol. 1, p. 50.

    “In the pre-mortal spirit life Jesus, Lucifer, and all of us were the spirit children of God and His wives” (Gospel Through the Ages, pp. 15, 93-99; BY Journal of Discourses, Vol. XI, p. 122).

    The Scripture says that He, the Lord, came walking in the Temple, with His train; I do no know who they were, unless His wives and children…
    Brigham Young –
    Journal of Discourses 13:309