7 Weeks After
CES Letter, Page 107
Freemasonry in Nauvoo offers too little, too late to serve as the starting point and principal source of inspiration for the major doctrines and teachings relating to priesthood and temple ordinances.
Joseph Smith encouraged Nauvoo Masonry at least in part to help those who would later receive temple ordinances. For instance, Joseph Fielding, an endowed member of the Church who joined Freemasonry in Nauvoo, said: “Many have joined the Masonic institution. This seems to have been a stepping stone or preparation for something else, the true origin of Masonry” — i.e., in ancient priesthood ordinances (Cited in A. F. Ehat, “They Might Have Known,” p. 145).
One aspect of this preparation apparently had to do with the general idea of respecting covenants of confidentiality. In addition, the rituals of the Lodge enabled Mormon Masons to become familiar with symbols, forms, language, and patterns they would later encounter in the Nauvoo temple.
Although Freemasonry is not a religion and, in contrast to Latter-day Saint temple ordinances, does not claim saving power for its rites, threads relating to biblical themes of exaltation are evident in some Masonic rituals. For example, in the ceremonies of the Royal Arch degree of the York rite, candidates pass through a series of veils and eventually enter into the divine presence. Such language echoes New Testament teachings (e.g., Hebrews 6:18–20; Revelation 1:6, 3:21, 5:10).
Joseph Smith’s revelations contain many unmistakable references to significant components of priesthood and temple doctrines, authority, and ordinances. Many of these date to the early 1830s, a decade or more before the Prophet began bestowing temple blessings on the Saints in Nauvoo.
Eminent Yale literary critic Harold Bloom asserted that Smith’s “religion-making imagination” was of the “unfolding” rather than the evolving type, that his religious system did not transform so much by the incorporation of others’ ideas but by the progressive outworking of his original vision.
The Nauvoo temple ordinances should not be regarded as a new and surprising development so much as the full-fledged blossoming of ideas and priesthood authority that had already budded in Kirtland — or even, arguably, when Joseph Smith experienced his First Vision, which Don Bradley sees as Joseph Smith’s initiation as a seer and as constituting a kind of heavenly endowment.
Given Joseph Smith’s reluctance to share the details of the most sacred events and doctrines publicly, it is certainly possible he received specific knowledge about some temple matters even earlier than can be now documented. These matters include: 1) the narrative backbone, clothing, and covenants of the modern temple endowment, especially as described in the book of Moses (1830-1831); 2) the sequence of blessings of the oath and covenant of the priesthood described in D&C 84 (1832); and 3) priesthood keys and symbols expressed in keywords, names, signs, and tokens (from 1829).