Tag Archives: Orson Pratt

New Release: “Scrap Book of Mormon Literature” vol. 1

Are you pathetically ignorant of early Church pamphlets? Or, getting past pathetic ignorance into more of an ashamed, repentant ignorance, maybe you have thought “Hmmm, based on the importance of pamphlets in early Church history, I wish there was a selection of them that I could read. Ideally it would be chosen by someone early enough in Church history to be close to the pamphlet tradition, but who lived late enough to have a broad selection to choose from. I’d also want the person choosing them to have a boots-on-the-ground perspective on real missionary pamphlet usage and which pamphlets were effective or worth reading. Basically I really wish I could get a mission president in perhaps the early 1900s to select a few dozen pamphlets for me to read, and get them on my Kindle.”

Well, President Ben E. Rich of the Eastern States Mission has got you covered, and the first volume of his Scrap Book of Mormon Literature (first published 1911) is now available on Project Gutenberg. It contains 38 pamphlets by the likes of B. H. Roberts, Orson Pratt, Lorenzo Snow, George Q. Cannon, Orson Hyde, Charles W. Penrose, John Morgan, etc. etc. Volume 2 has been available for a while too (e-book, post on its contents).

Thanks to Renah Holmes for proofreading this one.

Now releasing…all the pamphlets!

Not quite all the pamphlets, but Scrap Book of Mormon Literature vol. 2, now on PG, contains an embarrassment of riches. It includes about 45 selections from authors including:

  • Brigham Young
  • Joseph Fielding Smith
  • Heber J. Grant
  • B. H. Roberts
  • Parley P. Pratt
  • George Q. Cannon
  • Orson Pratt
  • Orson Hyde
  • Orson F. Whitney

Obviously that’s a pretty good cross section from the first century of Church writing, thanks to mission president and compiler Ben E. Rich. He included materials originally published everywhere from the Liverpool to Japan.

And if you’re wondering…you didn’t miss the release of volume 1; it’s just still in progress. Stay tuned. Fortunately the volumes work independently of each other.

New release: Orson Pratt debates polygamy with the Senate Chaplain

This is the all-star game of polygamy debates, folks. Orson Pratt was Brigham Young’s point man for explaining and defending polygamy, and the Rev. Dr. J. P. Newman, Chaplain of the U. S. Senate, sounds like a worthy opponent. In 1870 they publicly debated the question “Does the Bible sanction Polygamy?” for three days, and that debate is reproduced in The Bible and Polygamy, now available free on Project Gutenberg. It also includes discourses on polygamy by George A. Smith, George Q. Cannon, and Pratt himself. It’s thus a cross-section of both Mormon and non-Mormon thought on polygamy in the middle of the pre-Manifesto Utah period. Have a look.

Key Free Doctrinal Works: A Reading List from the Encyclopedia of Mormonism

I recently stumbled on the Encyclopedia of Mormonism’s list of books that “have made significant contributions to the understanding of doctrine.” It’s an interesting reading list–if you want a thorough grounding in Mormon doctrine through the ages, these are the books–and naturally it lines up well with what people have chosen to get up on Project Gutenberg.

Here’s the pre-1923 (i.e. out of copyright) portion of that list, with links to PG for the works we’ve completed:

Read these books!

Double new release: “Kingdom of God” and “Divine Authority” by Orson Pratt

Orson Pratt is something of a colorful character in church history, and his writings prove his color. If he had a blog, he’d probably be something like Matt Walsh and a BYU religion professor put together. Both of these pamphlets, published in Great Britain, address two moving themes that particularly concern Latter-day Saints: Joseph Smith’s authority, and where, exactly, is the kingdom of God, and what does it entail?

Using logical arguments, Orson Pratt explores what might stipulate that God has again called a prophet and is working to establish His kingdom on the earth, in “Divine Authority.” Citing Biblical examples, prophecies, and stipulations, he shows that Joseph Smith truly was called and ordained of God to be His prophet, and to work to establish His church on the earth. “Kingdom of God” expands on his thoughts about what the Kingdom of God is and why it’s been missing for a long time. Again, he uses logic and some powerful statements to make his arguments and to strengthen his proclamations:

 “I will now tell you the reason why the King has kept silence so long. It is because he has had no subjects to converse with; all have turned away from him and advocated other governments as being the rightful and legal authority. . . . They have introduced a “God without BODY, PARTS or PASSIONS.” They have had the audacity to call this newly-invented god by the same name as the God of the ancient Saints, although there is not the least resemblance between them. . . . It is not to the true and living God that they send forth petitions, but it is to this imaginary being. No wonder that they have received no communication from him! no wonder he has not honored them with a visit. As he has no “PARTS,” he could neither be felt nor seen if he should visit them. Such a being could not speak, for he has no “parts” to speak with” (Kingdom of God)

These are the third and fourth Orson Pratt pamphlets we’ve made available (we released his “Interesting Account” and “Absurdities of Immaterialism” earlier this year), so a bit of biographical information about him is in order. Pratt was born in Hartford, Washington County, New York in 1811, descended from Anne Hutchinson, a famous woman of history for being religiously tolerant in very intolerant times. He went to school sporadically throughout his life, and at the age of 18 began to very earnestly pray about his salvation. Two missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints appeared in his neighborhood in September of 1830 and held meetings, which Orson and his older brother Parley P. Pratt attended. Orson was baptized on September 19, 1830, his nineteenth birthday. He then traveled independently to meet the prophet Joseph Smith. In a revelation given him by Joseph (D&C 34), he learned of his mission, to preach the gospel, and went on to serve several missions for the church. In 1836, Orson Pratt was called to the first Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in the newly restored dispensation. In his words,

“From 1836 to 1844, I occupied much of my leisure time in study, and made myself thoroughly acquainted with algebra, geometry, trigonometry, conic sections, differential and integral calculus, astronomy, and most of the physicial sciences. These studies I pursued without the assistance of a teacher.”

He became responsible for surveying land as the saints traveled west, measuring altitude and latitude, and is credited with helping to invent the odometer. He was also among the first to enter Salt Lake Valley. He made repeated trips across the country, using his travels to perform scientific research on the land the companies passed through. He continued his service as a member of the quorum of the Twelve, working for the kingdom and in his scientific pursuits, serving missions, presiding over branches of the church, and presenting in front of presidents and legislatures.

He was the last surviving member of the original quorum of the Twelve when he died in 1881, leaving behind a large family, a great body of mathematical research work, and a legacy of tireless service to the Kingdom of God. These pamphlets are part of his larger body of work, using logic and reasoning to discuss Joseph Smith’s calling as a prophet, what the Kingdom of God really entails, and what people can do to find the truth.

Both pamphlets and this blog post were produced by Heidi Billy, MTP Intern.

A prior version of this article incorrectly stated that Orson Pratt was born in Hartford, Washington, and was a native of Great Britain. He was actually born in Hartford, Washington County, New York. Apologies, and thanks for the comment that identified this.

New Release: “Absurdities of Immaterialism” by Orson Pratt

In this pamphlet (available at PG here), Orson Pratt claims to be more scientific, more philosophical, and more religious than the “atheistical idolators” who worship an “immaterial god” or “deified Nothing,” i. e., basically every non-Mormon Christian.

With that introductory sentence, perhaps now is a good time for a disclaimer–Orson Pratt was a brilliant intellectual, but also a doctrinal loose cannon. Brigham Young officially condemned some of his doctrine, including much of what he proposes in this pamphlet. So, this should all be taken with a hefty grain of salt.

This pamphlet was a refutation of “The Materialism of the Mormons or Latter-Day Saints, Examined and Exposed,” which condemned the Church for its materialist belief. The relevant doctrine is stated in Doctrine and Covenants Section 131:7-8:

There is no such thing as immaterial matter. All spirit is matter, but it is more fine or pure, and can only be discerned by purer eyes; We cannot see it; but when our bodies are purified we shall see that it is all matter.

This is obviously conflicts with the typical view that God is a completely immaterial spiritual being without body, parts, or passions. It also seems to have some philosophical significance regarding the nature of reality. Spirits, since they are “material,” seem to be more similar to material human beings (bound by laws, composed of a more or less fixed set of components, characterized by layers of complexity) than to, say, platonic forms (ineffable, ideal philosophical concepts). This doctrine also seems to be relatively compatible with a worldview based in the scientific method and incompatible with a worldview based in Plato, the Nicene Creed, etc.

Orson Pratt is fun because he is completely unafraid of all this. He’s enthusiastic about how compatible his beliefs are with the science of his day and the best related philosophy, and he’s prepared to grapple with what it all means. For example, he considers what “no immaterial matter” means for the Holy Spirit:

All the innumerable phenomena of universal nature are produced in their origin by the actual presence of this intelligent all-wise and all-powerful material substance called the Holy Spirit. It is the most active matter in the universe, producing all its operations according to fixed and definite laws enacted by itself, in conjunction with the Father and the Son. What are called the laws of nature are nothing more nor less than the fixed method by which this spiritual matter operates. Each atom of the Holy Spirit is intelligent, and like other matter has solidity, form, and size, and occupies space. Two atoms of this spirit cannot occupy the same space at the same time. In all these respects it does not differ in the least from all other matter. Its distinguishing characteristics from other matter are its almighty powers and infinite wisdom, and many other glorious attributes which other materials do not possess.

Is this true? Who knows. Is it established doctrine? Obviously not. Should anyone ever publish anything remotely like this in a public or missionary setting? No. But it’s refreshing to see how Orson Pratt was unafraid to take the best science and philosophy of his day and let it strengthen and work with his faith. He was intellectually humble enough to accept knowledge from all quarters and curious enough to poke at the boundaries, and arguably began a tradition of scientific faith later continued by Talmage, Widtsoe, Henry Eyring, and others to the present day.

So, in summary, “Absurdities of Immaterialism” is significant because it’s part of the great tradition of reconciling Mormonism with science and philosophy, and it’s worth reading not so much to see what Orson Pratt thought as to see how he thought.