The Downfall of Nations: Chiasmus in Joseph Fielding Smith’s “The Law of Chastity”

Joseph Fielding Smith (

Joseph Fielding Smith served as President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from January 1970 to July 1972, after serving as a counselor in the First Presidency since 1965 and as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles since April 1910. His many decades of Church service were known for his prolific writing and fearless defense of Church doctrine.

In September 1931, Elder Joseph Fielding Smith wrote a 2-page article entitled “The Law of Chastity” for The Improvement Era, a Church publication. His article discusses the importance of obeying the law of chastity, describes the essential role of marriage and family in the preservation of human civilization, and provides an expansive view of marriage and family within the Plan of Salvation.

“The Law of Chastity” is predominantly chiastic, consisting of chiasms interspersed with parallel structures. One of these chiasms is cited in our e-book, A Chiastic Analysis of ‘The Family: A Proclamation to the World’ (Westbench Publishing, 2016). What follows is a diagram and detailed analysis of this chiasm and a more general treatment of several additional chiasms from Elder Smith’s article.

Diagram and Analysis:

A: The abuse of this ordinance has been the primary cause of the downfall of nations.
B: When the sacredness of the marriage covenant is lost, and the vows are broken, destruction is inevitable.
C: This principle cannot be received in the spirit of contempt and indifference.
C: It is ordained to be more, far more, than a civil contract.
B: No nation can survive the abuse of this principle.
A: Rome, Greece, Babylon, Egypt, and many other nations owe their downfall to the breaking of the sacred covenant of marriage. The anger of a just God was kindled against them for their immorality. The bones of dead civilizations on this American continent bear silent but convincing evidence that it was unchastity and the disregard of this sacred covenant which brought them to their final judgment.

The Improvement Era, September 1931 (

A=A: “The abuse of this ordinance has been the primary cause of the downfall of nations” equates with “nations owe their downfall to the breaking of the sacred covenant of marriage.” Whatever else may have contributed to the downfall of individual nations throughout history (foreign invasion, natural disaster, civil war, etc.), the “breaking” and “abuse” of the marriage covenant is the “primary cause” of irrecoverable disaster.

B=B: “[D]estruction is inevitable” equates with “no nation can survive.” Whether destruction happens immediately or not, the rejection or abandonment of “the sacredness of the marriage covenant” is the tipping point that ultimately leads to the downfall of nations.

C=C: “Cannot be received in the spirit of contempt and indifference” contrasts with “ordained to be more, far more, than a civil contract.” To regard marriage as merely a civil contract is not enough to ensure national survival; this is equivalent to regarding marriage with “contempt and indifference.” Instead, the eternal implications of marriage need to be recognized and honored.

To shed further light on the role marriage plays in the stability and survival of civilization, the remainder of this article offers diagrams and brief analyses of additional chiastic and parallel structures found throughout Joseph Fielding Smith’s article.

Additional Chiasms and Parallel Structures:

#1 — The following parallelism provides a description of societal attitudes regarding marriage in 1931, which are strikingly similar to present-day attitudes. This indicates a gradual decline of our civilization, which could accelerate at any time as the moral hollowing out continues.

A: There is no ordinance connected with the Gospel of Jesus Christ
B: of greater importance, of more solemn and sacred nature, and more necessary to the eternal joy of man,
C: than, marriage.
A: Yet there is no principle
B: which has been made the butt of coarser jokes, a greater jest by the vulgar and the unclean, and even by many who think themselves refined,
C: than that of marriage.

#2 — This parallelism acknowledges the challenges inherent in marriage, but provides guidance on how best to approach them. It offers a glimpse of the potential blessings available to those who keep their marriage covenant — both in mortality and in the eternities. Marriage becomes the key to expansive, almost incomprehensible progress, growth, and happiness.

A: Marriage is a principle which, when entered, presents more serious problems than any other. It should be received
B: in the spirit of patience and love, even that greater love which comes through the power of the Holy Spirit.
C: Nothing will prepare mankind for glory in the kingdom of God as readily as faithfulness to the marriage covenant. Through this covenant, perhaps more than any other, we accomplish the perfect decree of the Divine will, but this covenant is only one of many required of man who seeks to do the will of the Father.
A: If properly received this covenant becomes the means of the greatest happiness.
B: The greatest honor in this life, and in the life to come, honor, dominion and power in perfect love, are the blessings which come out of it.
C: These blessings of eternal glory are held in reserve for those who are willing to abide in this and all other covenants of the Gospel.

#3 — This chiasm contrasts the eternal destiny of those who prove faithful to the marriage covenant with those who reject the marriage covenant.

A: Others shall not be so blessed.
B: Marriage is the grandest, most glorious and most exalting principle connected with the Gospel.
B: It is that which the Lord holds in reserve for those who become his sons and daughters;
A: all others are servants only, even if they gain salvation. They do not become members of the household of our Father and our God if they refuse to receive the celestial covenant of marriage.

#4 — This chiasm describes the responsibility married couples have to bear children; this is the process whereby the spirit children of Heavenly Father receive physical bodies and are able to continue in their eternal progression. In contrast, because of their rebellion, Satan and his angels have been denied physical bodies and the opportunity to progress.

A: Nothing should be held in greater sacredness and honor than the covenant by which the spirits of men — the offspring of God in the spirit — are privileged to come into this world in mortal tabernacles.
B: It is through this principle that the blessing of immortal glory is made possible.
C: The greatest punishment ever given was proclaimed against Lucifer and his angels. To be denied the privilege of mortal bodies forever is the greatest curse of all.
C: These spirits can have no progress, no hope of resurrection and eternal life! Doomed are they to eternal misery for their rebellion!
B: And then to think that we are not only privileged, but commanded to assist our Father in the great work of redemption by giving to his children, as we have obtained these blessings for ourselves, the right to live and continue on, even to perfection!
A: No innocent soul should be condemned to come into this world under a handicap of illegitimacy. Every child has the right to be well born! Every individual who denies them that right is guilty of a mortal sin.

#5 — This chiasm emphasizes the importance of the physical body in our eternal progression. Since the resurrection is the permanent reunion of the spirit and the flesh, we cannot progress without being born into mortality. This process is the only way to become like our Heavenly Father.

A: The importance of these mortal tabernacles is apparent from the knowledge we have of eternal life.
B: Spirits cannot be made perfect without the body of flesh and bones. This body and its spirit are brought to immortality and blessings of salvation
C: through the resurrection.
C: After the resurrection
B: there can be no separation again, body and spirit become inseparably connected that man may receive a fulness of joy.
A: In no other way, other than birth into this life and the resurrection, can spirits become like our eternal Father.


The function of chiasmus and parallelism in this article by Joseph Fielding Smith is to reinforce and emphasize aspects of the doctrine being taught. By presenting Church doctrine in this way, Elder Smith makes it nearly impossible to misunderstand the Lord’s purpose for the law of chastity. A chiastic study of his article will strengthen our understanding of marriage and family, which will protect us from temptation and deception.


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