Question: Did Orson Pratt state that it was an angel that appeared during the First Vision?


Question: Did Orson Pratt state that it was an angel that appeared during the First Vision?

Elder Orson Pratt was never confused about the identity of the Beings who appeared to Joseph Smith during his inaugural theophany

The two quotations used by critics to try and establish the 'Orson-Pratt-said-it-was-an-angel' argument read as follows:

What critics of the Church note that Orson Pratt said on 19 December 1869: "proclaimed the startling news that God had sent an angel to him"

"By and by an obscure individual...proclaimed the startling news that God had sent an angel to him...This young man, some four years afterwards, was visited again by a holy angel."[1]

What critics fail to note that Orson Pratt actually said on 19 December 1869: "and saw two glorious personages clothed upon with this pillar of fire"

The use of the 19 December 1869 quote is a prime example of how some Church critics are not very careful in their evaluation and presentation of historical texts. This document actually makes an explicit reference to the identity of the Prophet's First Vision visitants but the critics have edited that part out! The original quote is presented below. Notice the semi-colon after "God had sent an angel to him" which marks the beginning of a new thought.

'The canon of scripture is full, it is complete, and it is the very height of blasphemy to suppose that God would give any more!'

This was the condition of mankind before this Church arose, forty years ago. By and by an obscure individual, a young man, rose up, and, in the midst of all Christendom, proclaimed the startling news that God had sent an angel to him; that through his faith, prayers, and sincere repentance he had beheld a supernatural vision, that he had seen a pillar of fire descend from Heaven, and saw two glorious personages clothed upon with this pillar of fire, whose countenance shone like the sun at noonday; that he heard one of these personages say, pointing to the other, 'This is my beloved Son, hear ye Him.' This occurred before this young man was fifteen years of age; and it was a startling announcement to make in the midst of a generation so completely given up to the traditions of their fathers; and when this was proclaimed by this young, unlettered boy to the priests and the religious societies in the state of New York, they laughed him to scorn. 'What!' said they, 'visions and revelations in our day! God speaking to men in our day!' They looked upon him as deluded; they pointed the finger of scorn at him and warned their congregations against him. 'The canon of scripture is closed up; no more communications are to be expected from heaven. The ancients saw heavenly visions and personages; they heard the voice of the Lord; they were inspired by the Holy Ghost to receive revelations, but behold no such thing is to be given to man in our day, neither has there been for many generations past.' This was the style of the remarks made by religionists forty years ago.

This young man, some four years afterwards, was visited again by a holy angel. It was not merely something speaking in the dark; it was not something wrapped up in mystery, with no glory attending it, but a glorious angel whose countenance shone like a vivid flash of lightning."

It is clear to any person who is familiar with the primary literature which describes Joseph Smith's early spiritual manifestations that when Elder Pratt said that Joseph was "visited again by a holy angel" several years later he was NOT talking about an additional visit by an angel. What he was saying was that Joseph Smith was "visited again" after an interval of several years and this time it was not by the Father and the Son—but by an angel.

What critics of the Church note that Orson Pratt said on 10 December 1871: "that God had sent his angel from heaven"

"Here was Joseph Smith, a boy...he was only between fourteen and fifteen years of age...Would he stand forth and bear testimony that he had seen with his own eyes a messenger of light and glory, and that he heard the words of his mouth as they dropped from his lips and had received a message from the Most High, at that early age? And then...to have the finger of scorn pointed at him... 'No visions in our day, no angels come in our day...' and still continue to testify...that God had sent his angel from heaven."[2]

What critics fail to note that Orson Pratt actually said on 10 December 1871: "when the Lord first revealed Himself to that little boy, he was only between fourteen and fifteen years of age"

The 10 December 1871 quote has been taken out of its proper context, as the more complete text below demonstrates.

Now then, let us come back again. Here was Joseph Smith, a boy, his very youth ought to testify in his favor, for when the Lord first revealed Himself to that little boy, he was only between fourteen and fifteen years of age. Now, can we imagine or suppose that a great impostor could be made out of a youth of that age, and one that could reveal the doctrine of Christ as he has revealed it to this generation? Would he stand forth and bear testimony that he had seen with his own eyes a messenger of light and glory, and that he heard the words of his mouth as they dropped from his lips and had received a message from the Most High, at that early age? And then, after having declared it, to have the finger of scorn pointed at him, with exclamations, 'There goes the visionary boy! No visions in our day, no angels come in our day, no more revelation to be given in our day! Why he is deluded, he is a fanatic'; and to have this scorn and derision and still continue to testify, in the face and eyes of all this, while hated and derided by his neighbors, that God had sent his angel from heaven. Can you imagine that a youth would do this?

After Elder Pratt provided the correct background for the First Vision story he switched over to speaking about a hypothetical situation - not an historical one. Notice that the hypothetical situation can naturally be interpreted along the very same lines as the orthodox story of Joseph Smith's experience: "bear testimony that he had seen with his own eyes a messenger of light and glory, and that he heard the words of his mouth as they dropped from his lips [i.e., the angel Moroni visitations] and had received a message from the Most High [i.e., the First Vision], at that early age."

There is ample documentary evidence that both before and after Elder Orson Pratt made the disputed comments above he was teaching that the Prophet's First Vision visitants were the Father and the Son.

Notes

  1. Orson Pratt, Journal of Discourses 13:65-66.
  2. Orson Pratt, Journal of Discourses 14:262.