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Question: What was the purpose of an eternity-only sealing, which was performed during Joseph Smith's lifetime?
What was the purpose of an eternity-only sealing, which was performed during Joseph Smith's lifetime?
When we talk about eternity-only sealings, it is a term that we have invented in just the past few years to help us describe what was going on in early Mormonism
When we talk about eternity-only sealings, it is a term that we have invented in just the past few years to help us describe what was going on in early Mormonism. They didn't discuss eternity only sealings, they only discussed sealings.
The purpose of sealings more generally was to create connections between people as a way of ordering or organizing the Celestial Kingdom
The purpose of sealings more generally was to create connections between people as a way of ordering or organizing the Celestial Kingdom. You could seal a husband and wife together to create an eternal bond. You could seal children to parents to create an eternal bond. You could seal complete strangers to each other to create an eternal bond. Those bonds might function in different ways, but, it was effectively the same ordinance.
We use the idea of eternity-only sealings to describe sealings between men and women who weren't married to each other during their lifetimes, but the anticipated relationship was to be married in the eternities. We use the term adoptive sealing to describe sealings between people where the relationship isn't one of marriage.
In order to be sealed to someone, the men involved in the sealing had to be ordained to the Melchizedek Priesthood
In order to be sealed to someone, the men involved in the sealing had to be ordained to the Melchizedek Priesthood. If you were a woman, and you were married to a man who wasn't a member of the Church (and so didn't have the Melchizedek priesthood), then you could be sealed to another man who did. This helped (in theory) a woman secure her place in the Celestial Kingdom. The same idea was true for sealings of adoption. You needed to be sealed into the family (that was the Celestial Kingdom), but if your parents weren't members of the Church, or your father didn't have the Melchizedek Priesthood, then you would get sealed to someone else (usually a church leader). So, there were lots and lots of sealings that fit this description - both sealings of the eternity-only kind, and sealings of adoption.
Some proxy priesthood ordinations began in 1877, and became Church policy in 1894: Eventually, many people had their previous sealings (referred to as "adoptions") cancelled so that they could be sealed to their own spouses, or to their own parents
These kinds of "adoptions," or sealings, stopped because the Church leadership had received a better understanding and new instructions about how to do sealings and how the Celestial Kingdom should be ordered. Instead of being sealed to people unrelated to you, we started sealing people to their earthly families as the rule instead of the exception. And in fact, many people had their previous sealings "adoptions" cancelled so that they could be sealed to their own spouses, or to their own parents.
Proxy priesthood ordinations began in some measure in 1877. Not coincidentally, this is also the year we first did proxy endowments as males must hold the Melchizedek Priesthood to be endowed. However, for some time after this the church really didn't connect proxy endowments to proxy sealings like we do now. Temple policy in 1877 continued as before in that sealings between biological parents and children were generally not done unless the father had been a member of the church while living. This policy did not change with the introduction of proxy ordinations and endowments in 1877. At that time, if your parents hadn't been members, and had died, you couldn't be sealed to them. Further, if your husband wasn't a member and had died, you couldn't be sealed to him until 1894.
In 1894, Wilford Woodruff received a revelation pertaining to sealings. This revelation abolished the practice of sealings of adoption, and changed the policy regarding sealings to parents (using proxy ordinations to the priesthood as a way to understand this in a new context). It also set the stage for what we would consider the core of our current policy on the issue. In between 1877 and 1894, we also saw significant changes in our understanding of the Celestial Kingdom. And with the introduction of this policy, there was a shift in the policies of the Church related to sealings.
Wilford Woodruff announced the revelation in this manner:
I have not felt satisfied, neither did President Taylor, neither has any man since the Prophet Joseph who has attended to the ordinance of adoption in the temples of our God. We have felt that there was more to be revealed upon this subject than we had received. Revelations were given to us in the St. George Temple, which President Young presented to the Church of God. Changes were made there, and we still have more changes to make, in order to satisfy our Heavenly Father, satisfy our dead and ourselves. I will tell you what some of them are. I have prayed over this matter, and my brethren have. We have felt, as President Taylor said, that we have got to have more revelation concerning sealing under the law of adoption. Well, what are these changes? One of them is the principle of adoption. In the commencement of adopting men and women in the Temple at Nauvoo, a great many persons were adopted to different men who were not of the lineage of their fathers, and there was a spirit manifested by some in that work that was not of God.... President Young was not satisfied in his mind with regard to the extent of this matter; President Taylor was not.
When I went before the Lord to know who I should be adopted to (we were then being adopted to prophets and apostles), the Spirit of God said to me, "Have you not a father, who begot you?" "Yes, I have." "Then why not honor him? Why not be adopted to him?" "Yes," says I, "that is right." I was adopted to my father, and should have had my father sealed to his father, and so on back; and the duty that I want every man who presides over a temple to see performed from this day henceforth and forever, unless the Lord Almighty commands otherwise, is, let every man be adopted to his father. When a man receives the endowments, adopt him to his father; not to Wilford Woodruff, nor to any other man outside the lineage of his fathers. That is the will of God to this people.... Elijah the prophet appeared unto Joseph Smith and told him that the day had come when this principle must be carried out....
In my prayers the Lord revealed to me, that it was my duty to say to all Israel to carry this principle out, and in fulfillment of that revelation I lay it before this people. I say to all men who are laboring in these temples, carry out this principle, and then we will make one step in advance of what we have had before. Myself and counselors conversed upon this and were agreed upon it, and afterwards we laid it before all the Apostles who were here (two were absent--Brothers Thatcher and Lund, the latter being in England), and the Lord revealed to every one of these men--and they would bear testimony to it if they were to speak--that that was the word of the Lord to them. I never met with anything in my life in this Church that there was more unity upon than there was upon that principle. They all feel right about it, and that it is our duty. That is one principle that should be carried out from this time henceforth.
Sometimes, when couples who are sealed get divorced, the Church generally keeps that sealing intact, unless the woman decides to get sealed to someone else (and then the first sealing is cancelled)
Sealings are covenants that we make both with a spouse and with God. But it is also the connections that are mentioned above. The only part that we can guarantee as individuals is that we keep the covenants we make. Sometimes, couples who are sealed get divorced. The Church generally leaves that sealing intact, unless the woman decides to get sealed to someone else or has some very good reason to cancel the sealing. This is probably because although the covenant between the man and the woman may be broken, the covenants between both individuals and God can remain intact. And so we believe that for anyone who makes those covenants, if circumstances don't allow them to spend eternity with their first choice, that an appropriate option will be given to them in the wisdom and timing of the Lord.
At some future point in time, we may receive more revelation that will help us understand the issues of sealings more (just as we did in 1894).