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Of Wise Guys and Angels’ Wings

By: Ardis E. Parshall - December 22, 2008

Ziff at ZD has an interesting discussion going about those picky little bits of doctrine that we somehow thought were absolutely central to Mormonism when we were children. Not surprisingly, perhaps, a lot of the suggestions have to do with Christmas, and especially our insistence that “angels don’t have wings, goldurnit!”

This is too long for a comment at ZD so I’m posting it here: Alvin R. Dyer’s 1968 personal notes and abhorence toward the merest suggestion of angels with wings [shudder] in a Mormon building [conniption fit]:


(Glass Doors for Entrance of Anteroom)

Later, John Wallace came over to discuss the physical characteristics of hanging the glass doors which he desired to make a gift to the Church in the entrance to the anteroom of the council room of the First Presidency. It was determined that some of the marble framework and lintel would need to be sawed away in order to get them in, but that this would not be serious.

I looked at the photograph or the cut supposedly representing the characters on the glass door and it appeared to me that it was distinctly Catholic and that the background of the two figures who were assumedly angels who held one hand in an upward fashion and the other clutched to a bell and that the background of the figures was completely of feathers indicating the winged status of an angel or the symbolism of wings for an angel. This bothered me to some extent and I pulled President Tanner aside and mentioned this fact to him. He said openly to brother Wallace that inasmuch as I had raised some question about it that the matter had better be settled before Brother Wallace went ahead and purchased these in order to make the gift to the Church. I suggested to Eldon that he might ask some of the brethren about it so that there wouldn’t be any criticism to him and to the Church for having hung them even though he had told me he had discussed the matter with President McKay and President McKay had approved the receiving of the gift.

Later President Tanner called me and stated that he had talked to Brother Harold B. Lee, Marion G. Romney and Mark E. Petersen, Joseph Fielding Smith and one other, (I don’t just remember who the other one was) but that each of them said that they saw no offense in the feature structure of the design in the glass and that it was not offensive to them. He said that Brother Lee had suggested that inasmuch as I had raised an objection, that he should probably take it back to the First Presidency and get final approval before they went ahead.

President Tanner said that he had gone back to President McKay. He did not invite me. I don’t know whether any of the other members of the First Presidency went, but I did not go. He said that President McKay stated again that it would be all right to place these glass doors in the place that has been mentioned. I told President Tanner that since this was apparently the wish of President McKay and Brother Lee and others had felt that it was all right, that I would withdraw my objection.

(Comment:)

The withdrawing of my objection, of course, means that I will not cause any disturbance with regard to the placing of the glass doors there but, personally and inwardly, I still feel that it is an offensive thing to place such things as this that are so distinctly Catholic, symbolizing the wings on an angel in a Latter-day Saint structure, but I am obedient to the will of the majority and especially to the apparent wish of President McKay to have them placed there in accordance with the statements of President Tanner.

I don’t want to poach — if comments are relevant to Ziff’s thread, please post there. If comments would be a threadjack there, please post here.



12 Comments »

  1. Thanks for posting this, Ardis. It’s fascinating that he was so concerned about it! It almost starts to sound to me like discussions of gospel art, and how precisely right it has to be. (For example, a random John’s post “Revisionist LDS Visual Aids?” at Mormon Mentality earlier this year.)

    So you know way better than I would, Ardis: is it even the case that there’s an official Church statement about angels not having wings? Or do you suppose it’s an extrapolation from our belief that angels are pretty much just like us? Or is this one of those debates that we borrowed from the Protestants and Catholics like the argument about displaying crosses (where Protestants make the same arguments against crucifixes that we make against crosses)?

    Comment by Ziff — December 22, 2008 @ 6:13 pm

  2. I haven’t done any hunting for official sources, Ziff. I’ll bet it’s one of those “Answers to Gospel Questions” published by Joseph Fielding Smith, though — angel wings and crosses and other “Catholic” images seemed to really bother him. I’ll see if I can find anything.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — December 22, 2008 @ 6:20 pm

  3. Fascinating, Ardis. There is a current discussion on FMH about expressing dissenting opinions that is informed quite directly by this post.

    Comment by Ray — December 22, 2008 @ 6:43 pm

  4. Better for my blood pressure and for fMhLisa’s hospitality that I not go looking for your discussion, Ray.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — December 22, 2008 @ 6:58 pm

  5. That’s true, Ardis.

    Comment by Ray — December 22, 2008 @ 8:06 pm

  6. Check out Answers to Gospel Questions, 2:97. and TPJS, 162 (though I haven’t verified a source for the TPJS extract).

    Between the anti-catholic aesthetics and then the anti-masonic aesthetics later, I’m just grateful the Salt Lake Temple is still intact.

    Comment by J. Stapley — December 22, 2008 @ 10:27 pm

  7. The first edition of the Book of Mormon in German (1852) had paper covers illustrated with an angel (Moroni?) blowing a long horn and carrying a book labeled “Evangelium.” Said angel was very slightly androgynous, and was propelled through the air by distinctly feathery wings.

    In the second edition ten years later, our angel had become female, was still flying with horn and book, but no longer sported wings.

    Evidently, girl angels can manage on their own without wings! Feelin’ better now, Ardis?

    Comment by Rick Grunder — December 23, 2008 @ 12:30 am

  8. I was visiting someone Sunday and was most impressed that atop their christmas tree was something different from the traditional winged angel. It was a miniature Angel Moroni. Complete with trumpet and missing the wings.

    Comment by Palm Springs LDS — December 23, 2008 @ 8:05 am

  9. I have heard an apocryphal story of a former bishop who surreptitiously broke off the wings of angels on the ward Christmas tree in his ward a decade or so ago. Whether or not I heard this admission from the alleged former bishop himself is immaterial. The ward member, who story has it had donated some of the decorations for the tree, apparently refused in subsequent years due to “vandalism” in the church house.

    Urban legends…….

    Comment by kevinf — December 23, 2008 @ 3:09 pm

  10. When I left for my mission, back around the time that the LTM became the MTC, English-speaking missionaries used to go to the Salt Lake Missionary Home instead of the LTM / MTC. The president of the Missionary Home was one J. Martell Bird. Predident Bird was well-known for telling the same jokes and stories each week for each new batch of missionaries. He had a whole genre of cautionary “stupid missionary” stories. There were the missionaries who crossed the border into a communist country for photographs, and then couldn’t get back. There were the missionaries who got in trouble for photographing themselves sitting on a Buddha statue. And of course, there was the infamous and elaborate “Elder X and Sister Brown” story.

    Another of his stories concerned a pair of missionaries who were teaching a family, when one missionary went with one of the children to the family’s backyard. The family had a fountain of some sort that included a sculpture of an angel. The elder explained to the investigators’ offspring that angels don’t have wings, and to illustrate this important gospel teaching, proceeded to break the wings off the angel. The family was less than impressed with the missionaries pedagogical methods, and the church ended up paying damages.

    Comment by Left Field — December 24, 2008 @ 5:41 pm

  11. Oops, sorry. I do know the difference between missionaries and missionary’s.

    Comment by Left Field — December 24, 2008 @ 5:42 pm

  12. You rock, Ardis.

    Comment by BHodges — August 21, 2009 @ 6:57 pm

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