Parley Pratt and the Cultivation of Human Affections

By July 9, 2009

[What follows is an extract from a section of my paper presented at the 2009 Pratt Summer Seminar, titled “‘Here Was an End to Mysticism’: Divine Embodiment, Human Corporality, and Parley Pratt.”]

With Mormonism’s radical exaltation of the body came the need to redefine bodily affections and impulses. Following the New Testament injunction that ?the flesh lusts against the spirit and the spirit against the flesh? (Galatians 5:17), Christianity largely held that bodily desires and spiritual promptings were always at odds. One of the ?enduring themes? of Western thought, writes one religious scholar, was that the body must be ?adequately controlled and regulated? in order to overcome its ?unruly, ungovernable, and irrational passions, desires, and emotions.?[1] Contemporary Thomas Kempis wrote in his highly influential Treatise on the Imitation of Christ, ?blessed is that man [who] violently resisteth nature, and through fervour of spirit crucifieth the lusts of the flesh.?[2] Even Ralph Waldo Emerson, the Transcendentalist who spent his life fighting against orthodoxy and tradition, wrote that ?our senses barbarize us,? and that it is ?the savage [who] surrenders to his senses; he is subject to paroxysms of joy and fear; he is lewd and a drunkard.?[3] Whether for religious or pragmatic reasons, bodily senses were to be rejected or, at the very least, controlled.

One example of this ideology was the Catholic rite of ?Extreme Unction,? where the near-death patron is anointed ?with a little oil [on] the chief seat of the five senses,? meant to represent forgiveness towards all carnal desires throughout life.[4] Juxtaposed to this was Mormonism?s Nauvoo temple ritual where the exact same senses were anointed, yet not as a penance for their functions, but rather as an act of sanctification and enlargement.[5] The temple served as a coronation of the body, a holy ceremony where the patrons re-enact all aspects of embodiment: the plan of the pre-mortal council, the reception of a tabernacle on earth, and the eventual exaltation of human corporality. In these rituals, the body was not overcome, but hallowed; the apotheosis attained was an imminent exaltation of both the individual soul and its physical structure.

Parley Pratt expounded on this view in his 1844 pamphlet ?Intelligence and Affection,? written after his temple experience,[6] where he argued that natural bodily impulses were to be cultivated and amplified instead of restricted. ?Our natural affections are planted in us by the Spirit of God, for a wise purpose,? Pratt wrote. He taught that persons who understood ?our natural affections? as ?the results of a fallen and corrupt nature,? those who believed that these impulses are ?carnal, sensual, and devilish,? and therefore ought to be ?resisted, subdued, or overcome as so many evils which prevent our perfection, or progress in the spiritual life?have mistaken the source and fountain of happiness altogether.? Instead, the apostle claimed that any attempt to repress these inclinations ?are expressly and entirely opposed to the spirit, and objects of true religion.?[7]

Center to Pratt?s claims was the differentiating between ?natural? and ?unnatural? desires. The true duty of mankind, he wrote, was to learn to decipher between these two urgings: ?Learn to act in unison with thy true character, nature and attributes; and thus improve and cultivate the resources within and around thee.? The goal of life was not to suppress impulses rooted in the flesh, but to amplify them.

Instead of seeking unto God for a mysterious change to be wrought, or for your affections and attributes to be taken away and subdued?pray to him that every affection, a tribute, power and energy of your body and mind may be cultivated, increased, enlarged, perfected and exercised for his glory and for the glory and happiness of yourself, and of all those whose good fortune it may be to associate with you.[8]

When Pratt wrote his Key to the Science of Theology a decade later, he returned to this theme in relation to the progress of exaltation: ?The very germs of these Godlike attributes, being engendered in man, the offspring of Deity? he reasoned, ?only need cultivating, improving, developing, and advancing by means of a series of progressive changes, in order to arrive at the fountain ?Head,? the standard, the climax of Divine Humanity.?[9] Thus, when man?s body is redeemed and exalted, his affections and affinities are perfected with him.

This exaltation of human affection is remarkably unique among Mormonism?s contemporaries.[10] Pratt took Joseph Smith?s teachings concerning the importance of embodiment to unprecedented heights, claiming that in mankind?s physical body was not just power, but the seed for eternal felicity and glory. When he wrote his autobiography a decade later, this principle was preeminent among the doctrines he expanded from Smith:

It is from him that I learned that the wife of my bosom might be secured to me for time and all eternity; and that the refined sympathies and affections which endeared us to each other emanated from the fountain of divine eternal love?that we might cultivate these affections, and grow and increase in the same to all eternity.[11]

He progressed the theology one step further and in a slightly different direction from his religious mentor: for the Mormon Prophet, marriage, sealings, and physical connections were focused on nobility, kinship, and dynasty; for the Mormon apostle, it was about the literal physicality of love, affections, and even intimacy.[12]


[1] Bryan Turner, ?The Body in Western Society: Social Theory and its Perspectives,? in Religion and the Body, Sarah Coakley, ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 20.

[2] Thomas A Kempis, The Christian?s Pattern; or, a Treatise on the Imitation of Christ, abridged by John Wesley (Halifax: Printed and Published by William Milner, 1845), 115.

[3] Ralph Waldo Emerson, ?The Senses and the Soul,? The Dial 2 (January 1842): 378.

[4] Joseph Faa Di Bruno, Catholic Belief: or A Short and Simple Exposition of Catholic Doctrine (London: Burns and Oates, 1878), 96.

[5] Representative of the bodily blessings given in accordance with the Nauvoo temple was Brigham Young?s Second Anointing received under the hands of Heber C. Kimball. See ?Book of Anointings?Wives to Husbands,? 11 January 1846, in The Nauvoo Endowment Companies, 1845-1846: A Documentary History, Devery S. Anderson and Gary James Bergera, comp. and ed. (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2005), 397.

[6] Pratt participated in the endowment for the first time on 2 December 1843, and received his Second Anointing on 21 January 1844 (Joseph Smith Journal, in Scott H. Faulring, ed., An American Prophet?s Record: The Diaries and Journals of Joseph Smith [Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books in association with Smith Research Associates, 1989], 429, 442). Pratt later dated this essay as being written towards the beginning of 1844. Parley P. Pratt, Jr., ed. The Autobiography of Parley Parker Pratt, One of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Embracing his Life and, Ministry and Travels, with Extracts, in Prose and Verse, from his Miscellaneous Writings (New York: Russell Brothers, 1974), 367.

[7] Parley P. Pratt, ?Intelligence and Affection,? in Parley P. Pratt, An Appeal to the Inhabitants of the State of New York, Letter to Queen Victoria (Reprinted from the Tenth European Edition,) The Fountain of Knowledge; Immortality of the Body, and Intelligence and Affection (Nauvoo: John Taylor, Printer, 1840), 37-38.

[8] Pratt, ?Intelligence and Affection,? 38-39.

[9] Parley P. Pratt, Key to the Science of Theology: Designed as an Introduction to the First Principles of Spiritual Philosophy; Religion; Law and Government; As Delivered by the Ancients, and as Restored in This Age, For the Final Development of Universal Peace, Truth and Knowledge (Liverpool: F. D. Richards, 1855) , 32.

[10] One noted exception is Emmanuel Swedenborg. For the Swedish theologian?s deification of the senses, see Leigh Eric Schmidt, Hearing things: Religion, Illusion, and the American Enlightenment (Cambridge, Massachusetts, and London, England: Harvard University Press, 2000), 211-221.

[11] Pratt, Autobiography, 329. I say that Pratt ?expanded? this principle from Joseph Smith because we have no teachings from the Mormon prophet that seem to show that he held this view of the eternal cultivation of sympathies, though he did constantly speak of the eternal importance of friendship. Rather, it appears that Parley is reading back into Smith the theological innovations he himself induced from the Prophet?s teachings.
It is also interesting to note that the wife Parley seemed to be implying to in this passage (that is, during his 1840 trip to Philadelphia), had left him over the principle of celestial marriage by the time he was writing this segment of the autobiography.

[12] For Joseph Smith?s ?dynastic? view of sealing and, especially, plural marriage, see Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1997), chapter 1; Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling, 439, 443-446; Brooke, Refiner?s Fire, 255-258. This focus on creating a religious dynasty led to the theological development of attaching every family to a hierarchical figure. See Gordon Irving, ?The Law of Adoption: One Phase of the Development of the Mormon Concept of Salvation,? BYU Studies 14, no. 3 (1974): 291-314. It should be noted that Parley Pratt was hesitant enough about this practice that he was not a participant in any of the adoptions performed prior to the trek west (I appreciate Jonathan Stapley for sharing his statistics on Nauvoo adoptions).

Article filed under Categories of Periodization: Origins Cultural History Intellectual History Theology


  1. Nicely done, Ben. Was there not, still, some rhetoric about overcoming the “natural man” which came not from outside religionists, but from the BoM? How did people like Pratt deal with that idea?

    Comment by Jared T — July 9, 2009 @ 2:58 pm

  2. Very nice. Thanks.

    Comment by Edje Jeter — July 9, 2009 @ 3:03 pm

  3. Jared: Thats the thing. The rhetoric is only found in the BoM, but this is just more evidence that Pratt and others did not base their theology on that text. He used it to speak of the millennium and gathering of Israel, sure, but they (early Mormons) largely ignored the BoM when it came to theology.

    Comment by Ben — July 9, 2009 @ 4:13 pm

  4. early Mormons largely ignored the BoM when it came to theology


    Comment by SC Taysom — July 9, 2009 @ 5:08 pm

  5. So what is the concept of the millennium, the gathering of Israel, and the identification of the Native Americans if not part of the theology. I see (very) early Mormon theology closely tied to the BoM text. They simply moved past many parts of it to the point that Nauvoo-era theology widely differed from the text.

    Comment by Robin Jensen — July 9, 2009 @ 6:16 pm

  6. But Robin, you don’t need the BoM text to get to those ideas in early Church theology – all of those were extremely popular themes. How often was the BoM cited or even used in advancement of those themes? My guess is not very much.

    Comment by Steve Evans — July 9, 2009 @ 6:24 pm

  7. Robin: I can agree with that, though I don’t see much that they are taking from the BoM in those early (early) years that they couldn’t really get elsewhere, save the focus on Lamanites. To me, I see them using the BoM passages as an amplification for their already millenarian views. That’s, at least, how Pratt always used it.

    But that is besides the point of this post. As it relates to the topic at hand, Pratt (and others) either ignored or, as you put it, “simply moved past” it in their Nauvoo theology.

    Comment by Ben — July 9, 2009 @ 6:27 pm

  8. er, what Steve said.

    Comment by Ben — July 9, 2009 @ 6:27 pm

  9. But doesn’t the fact that they just “moved past it” speak to the very question of the theological weight (or lack thereof) of the Book of Mormon?

    Comment by SC Taysom — July 9, 2009 @ 6:49 pm

  10. Christianity largely held that bodily desires and spiritual promptings were always at odds.

    I am not sure I completely agree with this statement. The Puritans held that sexual relationships between a husband and wife were a foreshadowing of the bliss that a soul experienced when reunited with God (See William Godbeer’s Sexual Revolution in Early America). It’s also important to remember that in the early modern and medieval periods, the spirit of God often manifested itself bodily. Mystics reported rivers of blood flowing from noses and eyes, intense pain felt throughout the limbs and organs, and fragances – sweet and pleasant – emanating from strange places (See Susan Juster, “Mystical Pregnancy and Holy Bleeding, William and Mary Quarterly, April 2000).

    The connection of body and soul became less common in the late eighteenth and nineteenth century when dissection and anatomical drawings changed the way that people perceived the body. These precise, fixed drawings allowed people to separate themselves from their bodies in ways difficult before (For an excellent account of this transition, see Barbara Duden’s The Woman Beneath the Skin).

    It is also important to remember that while there are passages in the Bible that separate the body and the soul and emphasize the necessity of overcoming bodily desires in the quest for spirituality. The bodily resurrection of Jesus, with its emphasis on the wounds in his hands and feet, can serve as a counter narrative of sorts, reminding us of the importance of the body. Christians could always ask themselves, “If the body is unimportant, why the need for a resurrection?”

    Parley Pratt’s theology was indeed different from the mainstream Christianity of his day but it isn’t a complete innovation. The emphasis on the importance of the body to spirituality has been a strain that runs throughout Christianity, even if in many traditions, it was submerged in favor a theology that emphasized the dichotomy between body and soul.

    Comment by Amanda H. — July 9, 2009 @ 9:49 pm

  11. Thanks very much, Amanda, for your call for a more nuanced approach (and an especial thanks for the W&M article reference and Godbeer’s work–I will go check that out ASAP).

    You are probably right that my rhetoric became a little too hyperbolic. I do make a more nuanced presentation in the larger paper (I know that is always a lame excuse–but it does have a hint of truth 🙂 ). Especially reading Coakley’s edited volume Religion and the Body, one sees that this spectrum is often in flux and is not as black-and-white as many (me?) would like to think.

    Thanks again for your comment and critique–it’s advice like that that made me want to post a section of my paper here.

    Comment by Ben — July 9, 2009 @ 10:02 pm

  12. This topic of BoM influence on Mormon theology deserves a full treatment and I don?t want to threadjack and take away from Ben?s great work.

    As I read the early sources I see many references to the BoM, prompting an influence in theology. In addition, the BoM caused Mormons to act on their religion in many different directions. But then the influence of Smith’s revelations–both written and oral–and the bureaucratic hierarchical committees, conferences, and quorums took the theology in yet other new directions overshadowing the theology in the BoM (but not its symbolism as modern-day revelation).

    More anon (perhaps).

    Comment by Robin Jensen — July 9, 2009 @ 10:22 pm

  13. Ben,

    Another wonderful Pratt post.

    I would side with you on the Book of Mormon and its use in the early church. But I have to admit I am taken back a bit by Robin’s comment since I respect his opinion highly. Do we have evidence for post Book of Mormon publishing thru pre-Nauvoo teachings that follow the Book of Mormon when it comes to the natural man or affections? I think the Nauvoo doctrine moves quite far from the Book of Mormon.

    Orson Pratt in “The Seer” vol. 1 no. 9 pages 135-136 is interesting in that it follows your comment about Smith’s theology of dynasty, government, glories, and kingdoms.

    When I first read your post earlier today I thought of sex. Not sure if you want to go down that road, but I have some interesting observations of Pratt and his natural affections.

    I would like to thank the wonderful person who found the Codex Sinaiticus website. It is incredible.

    Comment by Joe Geisner — July 9, 2009 @ 10:46 pm

  14. How early are you defining “early Mormonism”? I’m drafting a post about liking Brigham Young because he was so familiar with the Book of Mormon text and took it so seriously and literally, at least by the 1850s. I’ve always been mystified by claims that the Book of Mormon was not read or used in those first generations except as an artifact demonstrating Joseph’s status as a prophet.

    Comment by Ardis Parshall — July 9, 2009 @ 11:14 pm

  15. Sorry. I now see the rest of the comments labeling this a threadjack. Ignore.

    Comment by Ardis Parshall — July 9, 2009 @ 11:15 pm

  16. Robin: I’d love to see what you have on this topic. *caugh* guest post *caugh* To be honest, I am not too well read on early (as in, pre-1835) Mormon theology, so I could be easily molded on this point. But, I would nevertheless agree with you that JS’s organizations, revelations, etc. took it in another direction.

    Ardis: I think you see a lot more readings from the Book of Mormon once they reach Utah, and i would definitely take your word on whatever takes place after the trek west.

    Let’s hope we get another thread in the not-too-distant-future that explores this topic more.

    Comment by Ben — July 10, 2009 @ 12:10 am

  17. Joe: I see Orson following JS’s view in this regard as well. One of the interesting divergences between the Pratt brothers.

    Regarding sex…I actually think that is a major underlying message being sent throughout “Intelligence and Affection,” to be honest. But I decided to just discreetly hint at it exactly like he did.

    Comment by Ben — July 10, 2009 @ 12:12 am

  18. Thanks for sharing this, Ben. Good work. I was glad to see that Loyd Ericson has posted his paper, as well.

    These will all appear in BYU Studies, you say?

    Comment by Reed Russell — July 10, 2009 @ 12:47 am

  19. Reed: Where has Loyd posted his paper? His wad definitely outstanding.

    All of the papers will be eventually published in a collection together, but I am not aware of a time table on that. In the meantime, we are all free to find other venues for publication.

    Comment by Ben — July 10, 2009 @ 7:08 am

  20. At his blog.

    Comment by Reed Russell — July 10, 2009 @ 8:18 am

  21. Ardis — I’m with you on being mystified.

    However, it does make nice apologetic points to argue that Joseph Smith wasn’t even that knowledgeable about what the Book of Mormon contained (as part of an argument that he therefore didn’t or couldn’t have written it).

    It’s interesting to see some of Parley P. Pratt’s thoughts analyzed but were they normative of what Mormons believed or were supposed to believe? Also, is it a false dichotomy to say that these thoughts of Pratt conflict with what the Book of Mormon has to say about the natural man? Because it seems like you’re saying that the Book of Mormon takes a Calvinistic view of the inherent depravity of man with its references to the natural man but I’m not sure that references to the natural man in the Book of Mormon have this meaning.

    Comment by john f. — July 10, 2009 @ 9:05 am

  22. it does make nice apologetic points to argue that Joseph Smith wasn?t even that knowledgeable about what the Book of Mormon contained (as part of an argument that he therefore didn?t or couldn?t have written it).

    I agree that this is a strong piece of information, and it’s a case that is fairly easy to make. Smith very rarely referenced the Book of Mormon in his sermons–not what one would expect if he had created the book himself. He probably only read it when he was preparing new editions. In any case, he was clearly much more comfortable using the Bible. I think it may lose some appeal for apologists given the centrality of the Book of Mormon in LDS life over the past 60 years or so. In other words, it may be more work than it’s worth in an apologetic context to make the case that the Book of Mormon is supremely important while simultaneously arguing that Joseph Smith was not that familiar with it.

    Comment by SC Taysom — July 10, 2009 @ 9:44 am

  23. John: Thanks for the comment. Interestingly, Parley Pratt actually engages the Book of Mormon a lot more than almost all other early Mormons. Several of his pamphlets give detailed outlines of the contents of the text–something you rarely see anywhere else during the period (of course there are a few exceptions). However, as I mentioned above, when it came to theology he only used it to amplify his millenarian message and nothing else. Grant Underwood has an excellent article on early Book of Mormon usage, and of course Givens’s By the Hand of Mormon presents the same thesis. I can trust Rob that in the early few years the BoM might have led them in certain paths, but they definitely did not feel tied down to it as time progressed.

    Concerning the BoM’s teaching of “natural man”–Mosiah gives a pretty depraved view of man, at least rhetorically. To be honest, I think our highly optimistic view of the body can be squared with the BoM, but it is safe to say that at least rhetorically the scripture is pretty limiting when it came to speaking of the flesh, no?

    Comment by Ben — July 10, 2009 @ 10:21 am

  24. The Mormon Times has a nice write up about Ben’s paper.

    Ben, are you moving to Scotland? I think you will love the country. My wife was on her mission in Scotland and loved it.

    Reading the article makes you paper sound much more dogmatic than you excerpt above. My guess is your paper is much too sophisticated to be cut down to a short article. I hope you are able to make the entire paper available.

    Amanda’s comments seem to be on target in looking at the environment Smith and Pratt developed these ideas about man and God. I appreciate her thoughts.

    If you want to send me a private email I would be happy to send you the information on Pratt and his affection.

    Comment by Joe Geisner — July 10, 2009 @ 12:21 pm

  25. Joe: I felt the same about the write-up (that it was a lot more dogmatic than I thought the paper was). But, it would probably be difficult to make a short summary and write it for a general audience, so I understand.

    Oh, and I am moving to Scotland in September for a one-year program; should be fun.

    Comment by Ben — July 10, 2009 @ 12:48 pm

  26. Thanks for your post, Ben. I am really interested in reading all the papers from the Pratt Summer Seminar.

    If you don’t mind, I’d also like to see the info Joe has. Your post is strongly related to the topic of a post that I’ve been dreaming up, so now I’m curious about the effect Parley’s body-sanctification beliefs may have had on a particular population of LDS.

    Also, although Amanda has argued that Parley’s beliefs weren’t as game-changing as your excerpt originally suggested, I wonder if Mormons are the last large American religious group that shies away from the mainstream Christian view you summarized above without collapsing into something more like hedonism.

    Comment by Ben Pratt — July 10, 2009 @ 6:36 pm

  27. Ben Pratt,

    My email address is rbssman(AT)gmail(DOT)com. I will be more than happy to send what I have.

    One of the exciting things for me is to see you young scholars working on Mormon History with such enthusiasm. I would love to see you, Ben, Amanda or Loyd continued work on the Pratt’s and place it within the larger American setting. Rick Grunder’s “Mormon Parallels” is a invaluable resource for finding what was being said and written in and around the Smith’s and Pratt’s environment. As Rick has written, to look at this information takes nothing away from Smith or other early Mormons. When we study Jesus or the other writers of the New Testament how can we understand them with out a knowledge that Jesus was quoting the teachings of the prophets before him or John of Revelation was using imagery from ancient Hebrew accounts of the creation?

    I can give you examples from “Mormon Parallels” of the Onieda community defending their sexual practices in almost the same language the Mormons used in explaining polygamy. The ideas of eternal matter, positive take on the body, spirits in the beginning with God, and Christ spirit with God from the beginning are all ideas that were available to the Pratt’s and Smith.

    This is a wonderful time to live in when we have works like Rick Grunder’s available or the Codex Sinaiticus online. We now have an opportunity to take our studies to a higher level.

    Comment by Joe Geisner — July 11, 2009 @ 11:41 am

  28. Heh (#27) . . . “works like Rick Grunder’s . . . or the Codex Sinaiticus . . .” I just knew I’d make it big, one day, Joe. But my vote goes, instead, to the aforementioned “young scholars” who have the ability to explore and to synthesize from the increasingly broad data which become available to all of us as time and technology continue.

    Comment by Rick Grunder — July 11, 2009 @ 12:19 pm

  29. I am not a Mormon by religion, but a Christian – Orthodox. I didn’t know about Mormons until I visited America. The most surprising thing for me was the fact that the religion allowed multiple simultaneous marriages! And it was amazing how they all got along! 🙂

    Comment by Eugen Célibataire Endurci — July 13, 2009 @ 1:19 am

  30. I suppose someone will compose a reply to Eugen that’s more comprehensive than I feel like writing now — it may be relevant to know that his signature translates to ‘Eugen, confirmed bachelor.’

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 13, 2009 @ 8:28 am

  31. I just assumed he was a time traveler and visited America in 1880.

    Comment by SC Taysom — July 13, 2009 @ 10:22 am


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