Symbolism in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

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Bern Switzerland Temple statue of Angel Moroni

Symbolism in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) is the process whereby objects or actions have been invested with an inner meaning expressing church ideas. The LDS Church and its membership have adopted a number of symbols that differ from those typically used in Christianity.

Common symbols[edit]

Replica of Thorvaldsen's Christus in Temple Square visitors' center

Because of the central role the Angel Moroni played in the restoration, an image of the angel Moroni blowing a trumpet is used as an unofficial symbol of the LDS Church. Moroni is commonly identified by Latter-day Saints as the angel mentioned in Revelation 14:6, "having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people". Moroni appears on the cover of some editions of the Book of Mormon, on USVA headstones, and statues of the angel stand atop many LDS temples. In 2007, the LDS Church claimed that an image of the angel Moroni in an advertisement violated one of the church's registered trademarks.[1]

In 1994, church president Howard W. Hunter encouraged church members to "look to the temple ... as the great symbol of your membership."[2] Images of temples, especially of the Salt Lake Temple, are commonly used in LDS media as symbols of the faith. Additionally, church leaders have encouraged members to hang pictures of temples on the walls of their homes,[3][4][5] and it has become a common cultural phenomenon described even in publications intended for children.[6] The architecture of many church temples contain symbols and symbolic motifs.

A 3.4 m replica of Bertel Thorvaldsen's Christus is on display in the Temple Square North Visitors' Center in Salt Lake City.[7] There are additional replicas of this statue in several other LDS Visitors' Centers, including those at the Mesa Arizona,[8] Los Angeles California,[9] the Washington D.C.,[10] New Zealand,[11] and Laie Hawaii temples.[12] The LDS Church commonly uses images of the statue in official church media, such as the Internet site lds.org.

A CTR ring is a common symbol of the Church.

Members of the church may wear a ring with the Choose the Right shield on a daily basis, to remind them to be righteous. Other symbols in Mormonism include the tree of life (also representing the love of God and eternal life, 1 Nephi 11:8–22), the iron rod (the word of God, 1 Nephi 11:25), the tame and wild olive trees (the House of Israel, Book of Mormon Jacob 5), a tree seed (the word of God planted in one's heart, Alma 32:28), the sword of the Spirit and the shield of faith (Ephesians 6:16–17), and the many symbols of Christ and his mission as the Savior of mankind (for example, Isaiah 53:7, 55:1, John 6:35). Wheat grain on the stem is a symbol traditionally used by the women's Relief Society, as a historic reminder of their efforts to foster self-sufficiency.

When questioned on the subject of symbols, church president Gordon B. Hinckley said that Latter-day Saints themselves are the best symbols of their religion.[13]

Sacred symbols[edit]

See also: Temple garment

The church teaches that its ordinances are symbolic.[14] Some of these ordinances are held in common with other Christian churches. For instance, in the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, bread represents the body of Jesus and water represents his blood.[14] In baptism by immersion, the water represents purification and cleansing from sin, and immersion in water represents the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.[14]

Ordinances performed in church temples differ from those practiced by other Christians. The church teaches that because "almost every aspect of [its] temple ceremony is symbolic ... each person should prepare to be as spiritually sensitive as possible to [its] symbolic nature".[15] The symbolic elements involved in the temple ceremonies are considered sacred by members and are not generally discussed publicly by Latter-day Saints. Two symbolic aspects of temple practices are commonly referred to openly:

  • Members who enter the temple change into white temple clothing to remind them of leaving outside the cares of the world, and of becoming one with each other by being dressed in similar clothing that symbolizes purity and cleanliness.
  • Each temple includes a baptismal font patterned after the "molten sea" described in Solomon's Temple (1 Kings 7:23–26). The font is placed below ground level, signifying a place of symbolic burial of the carnal individual and a renewal of life as a "born again" individual who has covenanted and become clean through the atonement of Jesus. The font being placed below ground level also symbolizes that it is to be used for baptism for the dead—of people who have been buried. The font is placed on twelve oxen, three facing each direction, symbolizing the twelve tribes of Israel whose descendants are scattered throughout the earth. The church teaches that the dead person being baptized by proxy may accept the ordinance in the Spirit world and thus be joined with the House of Israel in an eternal covenant with Jesus.[16]

Mormons who have participated in the endowment ceremony wear temple garments as underclothes. Wearing the garment is viewed as "an outward expression of an inward commitment" to follow Jesus.[17] The garments contain four embroidered marks over the breasts, the navel, and the right knee, each of which has symbolic meaning to serve as reminders to the wearer of covenants made as part of the endowment.

Restrictions[edit]

By policy, no pictures or icons are depicted in the chapel within LDS Church meetinghouses, in order to avoid an image becoming the focus of worship. However, images such as paintings of Christ and photographs of LDS Church leaders and temples are common in other parts of church buildings.[18]

Unlike many other Christians, the LDS Church does not use the cross, crucifix or ichthys as symbols of faith. Mormons view crucifixion-related symbols as emphasizing the death of Jesus rather than his life and resurrection.[19] The early LDS Church was more accepting of the symbol of the cross,[20] but after the turn of the 20th century, an aversion to it developed in Mormon culture. In 1957, church president David O. McKay institutionalized the cultural uneasiness regarding the cross, stating that wearing cross jewelry is not appropriate for Latter-day Saints, and that the use of the cross is a "Catholic form of worship".[21]

The LDS Church strongly discourages tattoos, including those which incorporate LDS symbols promoted in other art forms.[22] Likewise body piercing, even if they include symbols that would otherwise be acceptable, are discouraged.[23]

Examples[edit]

Picture Symbol Name Description
Salt Lake Temple East Side Center Spire Top Detail All-seeing eye Appears on the Salt Lake Temple exterior and on other early LDS buildings.
Engel Moroni Bern Tempel.JPG Angel Moroni Final author of the Book of Mormon and the person who revealed location of the golden plates to Joseph Smith.
Beehive House South Temple Street.jpg Beehive From the Book of Mormon; refers to deseret, meaning "honeybee." Appears on the Utah state flag, Utah state seal, Brigham Young's Beehive House, Salt Lake Temple, Utah state highway markers, etc.
Clear.gif Handclasp Appears on Salt Lake Temple exterior. One modern adaptation is the "Helping Hands" logo on t-shirts worn by LDS members when performing community service (see also: right hand of fellowship).
Clear.gif Iron rod Originates with the Book of Mormon; symbolizes the "word of God," meaning the scriptures, the words of the living prophets, or the gospel of Jesus Christ generally that leads one to the Tree of Life.
Crossing the Mississippi on the Ice by C.C.A. Christensen.png Pioneer wagon Emblem often appearing in Pioneer Day celebrations; evokes connection of living members to deeds of the Mormon pioneers. Variations often include a handcart.
Sego lily cm.jpg Sego lily Image appearing in several temples, due to its importance to early Mormon pioneer settlers in Utah as a source of sustenance. As a result of its importance in early LDS Church (and, thus, Utah) history, it also appears on the Utah state flag and is also the official Utah state flower.
Nauvoo Temple Sunstone 2003.jpg Sunstone Appeared on original Nauvoo Temple.
Tree of life Symbolic element featured prominently in the beginning portion of the Book of Mormon; symbolizes the love of God.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Andrew Adams, "Angel Moroni at the Center of Controversial Ad Campaign", KSL Radio, March 23, 2007.
  2. ^ Hunter, Howard W. (November 1994), "Exceeding Great and Precious Promises", Ensign: 8 
  3. ^ Monson, Thomas S. (May 2011), "The Holy Temple—a Beacon to the World", Ensign 
  4. ^ Nelson, Russell M. (March 2002), "Prepare for Blessings of the Temple", Ensign 
  5. ^ Hunter, Howard W. (February 1995), "A Temple-Motivated People", Ensign 
  6. ^ Pingel, Shari (April 2013), "A Picture of the Temple", The Friend 
  7. ^ "Temple Square North Visitors' Center", Places to Visit: Visitors' Centers, LDS.org, LDS Church 
  8. ^ "Mesa Arizona Temple Visitors' Center", Places to Visit: Visitors' Centers, lds.org, LDS Church 
  9. ^ "Los Angeles Temple Visitors' Center", Places to Visit: Visitors' Centers, lds.org, LDS Church 
  10. ^ "Washington D.C. Temple Visitors' Center", Places to Visit: Visitors' Centers, lds.org, LDS Church 
  11. ^ "New Zealand Temple Visitors' Center", Places to Visit: Visitors' Centers, lds.org, LDS Church 
  12. ^ "Laie Hawaii Temple Visitors' Center", Places to Visit: Visitors' Centers, lds.org, LDS Church 
  13. ^ Hinckley, Gordon B. (April 2005), "The Symbol of Our Faith", Ensign 
  14. ^ a b c David A. Edwards, "What Do You See?", Liahona, July 2014.
  15. ^ "Lesson 5: Learning from the Lord through Symbols", Endowed from on High: Temple Preparation Seminar Teacher's Manual (Salt Lake City, Utah: LDS Church, 2003) pp. 21–25.
  16. ^ "Baptisms for the Dead", Gospel Topics, lds.org, LDS Church, retrieved 2013-12-11 
  17. ^ Handbook 1: Stake Presidents and Bishops (Salt Lake City, Utah: LDS Church, 2010) § 3.4.
  18. ^ "21.2.1 Artwork", 21.2 Policies on Using Church Buildings and Other Property, Handbook 2: Administering the Church, LDS Church, 2010 
  19. ^ "Cross", Gospel Topics, lds.org, LDS Church 
  20. ^ Gaskill, Alonzo L. (2013), "Michael G. Reed's Banishing the Cross: The Emergence of a Mormon Taboo [Book Review]", BYU Studies Quarterly, 52 (4): 185, What Reed shows, rather convincingly, is that Mormonism has not always been uncomfortable utilizing the cross as one of its symbols... 
  21. ^ Reed, Michael (2012). Banishing the Cross: The Emergence of a Mormon Taboo. Independence, Missouri: John Whitmer Books. pp. 67, 122. ISBN 978-1934901359. OCLC 844370293. 
  22. ^ "Tattooing", Gospel Topics, lds.org, LDS Church 
  23. ^ There is an exception for "one modest pair of earnings" for female members; see: "Body Piercing", True to the Faith, LDS Church, 2004, p. 27 

References[edit]