Tag Archives: James E. Talmage

From the Salt Lake Temple capstone: “Compendium”

You know the granite sphere that the Salt Lake Temple Moroni stands on? It’s hollow, and inside there’s something of a time capsule that includes a handful of key Church books. A Compendium of the Doctrines of the Gospel by apostle Franklin D. Richards and co-author James A. Little, published in 1882 and now available free on Project Gutenberg, is one such book. It was sufficiently authoritative that James E. Talmage, listing it among the capstone’s contents, can refer to it as just Compendium. It’s also one of only seven works from the 19th century that makes the Encyclopedia of Mormonism’s list of doctrinally significant books.

So what’s the big deal? Compendium is the first reasonably comprehensive, topically organized doctrinal exposition the Church ever produced. It took 74 key gospel topics and provided a succinct statement regarding each, along with key scriptural and other references establishing the stated doctrine. Think the Topical Guide, Bible Dictionary, Index, and True to the Faith all rolled into one, released for the first time ever.

Today, anyone who wants to know the Church’s doctrine on baptism or spiritual gifts or the second coming can Google it, look it up in any number of books, check the various study helps in the scriptures, etc. But lest we forget, the Topical Guide and Bible Dictionary date back only to 1979. The Book of Mormon itself first received an index in Talmage’s 1920 edition, and Reynolds’ Complete Concordance of the Book of Mormon was only published in 1900. In the earliest days of the Church, you had the text of the scriptures (if you were lucky enough to have access to the Pearl of Great Price or its constituent works) and some periodicals or pamphlets.

So if, in 1881, you asked “what is the Church’s doctrine on [insert basic topic], and what are the key scripture reference, talks, etc. establishing that doctrine?” you were courting a substantial research project. But with the 1882 publication of Compendium, for the first time in Church history, that information was at any reader’s fingertips.

As a default source of such information for decades, with reprints as late as 1925, the importance of Compendium as a doctrinal standard can hardly be overstated (although it may seem I’m doing my best). It’s one of those books I can hardly believe no one’s heard of. So go read it. And someone please publish a brilliant paper on its doctrinal impact, and let me know when you do.

Katie Liston, one of our summer 2015 interns, proofread and produced Compendium–many thanks to her!

New Release: “The Vitality of Mormonism” by James E. Talmage

Turns out Talmage wrote two works with this title: the pamphlet subtitled “An Address”, which we’ve previously released and discussed, and the book subtitled “Brief Essays on Distinctive Doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints”, which we’ve just released on Project Gutenberg. They don’t seem to be related by much other than Talmage’s enthusiasm for the title.

Talmage states in his preface: “The short essays following have been published at weekly intervals through two years; they number therefore one hundred and four. Concise rather than exhaustive treatment has been attempted.” They treat a variety of gospel topics. Frankly, this is another one where other people did all the proofreading and I haven’t been able to read it yet, but it’s Talmage and that alone is a pretty good recommendation.

With this, Project Gutenberg has a pretty complete collection of Talmage’s out-of-copyright original religious books. (His scientific works are a bit outside our typical scope, so don’t hold your breath on that front.) Pat on the back to all the volunteers involved, both ours and those from Project Gutenberg Distributed Proofreaders (responsible for Jesus the Christ and Articles of Faith).

New Release: “The Vitality of Mormonism: An Address” by James E. Talmage

This is a short, but spectacular LDS pamphlet written by James E. Talmage, better known for Jesus the Christ and his other book-length works. Get it on Project Gutenberg.

The address was originally “delivered by invitation at a meeting of the Denver Philosophical Society, at Denver, Colorado, December 14th, 1916” and was later re-printed in pamphlet form. It runs to only 45 pages, and provides a brief, but complete explanation of the important beliefs of Mormonism. Talmage divides his remarks under three headings: “facts attesting the vitality and virility of the Church,” “some causes thereof,” and “some of the results,” and he discusses the restoration, growth, and beliefs of the church through both the 13 Articles of Faith and a brief discussion of scriptures.

It’s similar to “The Story of Mormonism” and “The Philosophy of Mormonism” in that it’s an example of Talmage explaining the Church to educated non-members. His style shows:

“Mormonism” affirms that the “everlasting Gospel” has been restored to earth in the manner specified, that is by angelic ministration. The necessity of a restoration postulates the prior removal of the thing restored; and the restoration of the Gospel is proof of the precedent apostasy of mankind. But, it may be asked, had not we the Holy Bible, the scriptural repository of the Gospel record? The letter, yes. But surely the Gospel is more than a book. The Holy Bible prescribes administrative ordinances as essential to salvation baptism by water and the bestowal of the Holy Ghost by the authoritative imposition of hands, the rebirth of water and of the Spirit, without which, unless the Lord Christ spoke to Nicodemus falsely, no man can enter the kingdom of God. Who will venture to affirm that a possession of a copy of the Holy Bible, or even a letter-perfect memorization of the contents thereof, can give to men the right to administer in the ordinances therein prescribed?

Happy reading!


Special thanks to Emma Cahoon, who as part of her Mormon Texts Project internship proofread this pamphlet, produced it for Project Gutenberg, and contributed to this blog post. She was the first intern to finish the program, and she did great work, especially considering her patience as our first experimental intern. Her other project, History of the Church vol. 2, should be available on Project Gutenberg soon.

Works of James E. Talmage

James E. Talmage is interesting in that several of his works were actually commissioned and explicitly approved by the Church. Five of his works are now available on Project Gutenberg; we’ve discussed The House of the Lord elsewhere and will discuss the others here. Talmage’s theological influence is immense, and these works are classics.

Jesus the Christ

This is consistently, by far, the most-downloaded LDS book from Project Gutenberg. It’s one of only four books outside Preach My Gospel and the standard works that missionaries are allowed to read. It is authoritative: in Talmage’s words,

The author of this volume entered upon his welcome service under request and appointment from the presiding authorities of the Church; and the completed work has been read to and is approved by the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve. It presents, however, the writer’s personal belief and profoundest conviction as to the truth of what he has written. The book is published by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

In this work, Talmage synthesizes the standard works and modern scholarship to produce a comprehensive treatment of Christ’s life that reflects the best of the Church’s understanding. It’s sort of like reading a heavily annotated harmony of the gospels. Though the book is obviously old, very little has changed since its publication; it’s an enduring classic.

The Articles of Faith

Talmage’s preface explains this one pretty well:

The lectures herewith presented have been prepared in accordance with the request and appointment of the First Presidency of the Church. The greater number of the addresses were delivered before the Theology Class of the Church University; and, after the close of the class sessions, the lectures were continued before other Church organizations engaged in the study of theology. To meet the desire expressed by the Church authorities,—that the lectures be published for use in the various educational institutions of the Church,—the matter has been revised, and is now presented in this form.

The author’s thanks are due and are heartily rendered to the members of the committee appointed by the First Presidency, whose painstaking and efficient examination of the manuscript prior to the delivery of the lectures, has inspired some approach to confidence in the prospective value of the book among members of the Church. The committee here referred to consisted of Elders Francis M. Lyman, Abraham H. Cannon, and Anthon H. Lund, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles; Elder George Reynolds, one of the Presidents of the Presiding Quorum of Seventy; Elder John Nicholson, and Dr. Karl G. Maeser.

The lectures are now published by the Church, and with them goes the hope of the author that they may prove of some service to the many students of the scriptures among our people, and to other earnest inquirers into the doctrines and practices of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The Great Apostasy

This book gives a history of the titular subject, with detailed consideration of its hows and whys. It considers the establishment of the Church, predictions of its a general apostasy, external causes of the apostasy such as Roman persecution, internal causes of the apostasy like doctrinal corruption related to Greek philosophy, and finally a discussion of the Reformation and ultimately the Restoration. As in Jesus the Christ, Talmage’s familiarity with the relevant history and extensive citations make it an authoritative work that has aged well.

The Story and Philosophy of Mormonism

Here’s a 1922 blurb about this one (source):

The Story and Philosophy of “Mormonism” – 146 pages. comprising “The Story” as told in addresses at Cornell and Michigan Universities and elsewhere, followed by an address delivered at the Panama-Pacific Exposition, entitled, “The Philosophical Basis of ‘Mormonism.’”

As a compilation of two talks aimed at non-members, this work is shorter and goes into less depth than the others. It’s interesting as a sample of how Talmage explained the Gospel to non-members and as a short historical and doctrinal summary.

New release: “The House of the Lord” by Talmage

The House of the Lord is the definitive work on temples; our ebook is based on the first edition (1912) and includes the original images of the interior of the Salt Lake Temple. Turns out it was written in response to an attempt to blackmail the Church; I’ll talk a bit about that and about its contents.

According to a helpful article from the Maxwell Institute, the Salt Lake Temple underwent renovations in 1911, and during that time photographs were secretly taken of the interior. The individuals responsible attempted to blackmail the Church, requiring $100,000 to not publicize the photos. When word of this got out, Talmage (then acting president of the University of Utah, but not yet an apostle) wrote to the First Presidency and proposed that they should pre-empt the blackmail attempt by releasing a book containing high-quality photos as well as a discussion of what goes on inside the Temple. Talmage was ordained an Apostle while he was writing the book, and the title page says it was “Published by the Church,” making it pretty authoritative.

Skipping to the end first, the appendix of pictures is probably the coolest part of the book; it includes pictures of the Celestial Room, which apparently used to have rocking chairs; the Holy of Holies, which to my knowledge has never been pictured before or since; the various council rooms on the third floor; the lecture halls; etc. Anyone who has been to the Salt Lake Temple in the last few decades will note that a handful of things have been re-arranged, but much has also stayed the same. It’s worth checking out the list of plates (link to that point in the online html version of the ebook) and scrolling through them.

The eleven chapters discuss the history of temples, their modern necessity, temple ordinances, the Salt Lake Temple (including chapters on its history, interior, and exterior), and the other pre-1912 modern temples. To this day, quotes from Talmage’s text are widely used in other Church temple literature; he essentially provided what is still the canonical method and framework for non-temple discussion of temples.

Some works that MTP has done are basically just fun stuff for Church history buffs or faith-promoting material for those who’ve already read widely. The House of the Lord is not one of those works; it’s an enduring, foundational classic. If you haven’t read it, you should. Now it’s free, so no excuses.