Brigham Young served as President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from December 1847 until his death in August 1877. Prior to this, he served as an original member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles beginning in February 1835 (and Quorum president beginning in 1838). He joined the LDS Church in April 1832 after studying the faith for two years.
Professionally, Brigham Young was a carpenter. Before joining the Church he operated his own woodworking shop on his father’s farm in Mendon, New York, where he “supported his family by making and repairing chairs, tables, and cupboards and installing windows, doors, stairways, and fireplace mantels.”
President Young is most well-known for his colonizing efforts in the American West. Under his direction as many as 70,000 Latter-day Saints gathered to the Intermountain West between the years 1847 and 1869, where they established approximately 400 settlements. In honor of his pioneering efforts and leadership, a statue of Brigham Young stands in the National Statuary Hall Collection at the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C.
In 1861, the Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City were in need of a new tabernacle, since they had outgrown the Old Tabernacle built in 1857. This New Tabernacle would feature “a curved ceiling and a seating capacity of more than 12,000.” Although the New Tabernacle would not be completed and dedicated until October 1875, General Conferences of the Church were held there beginning in October 1867.
As part of their Lost Sermons project, historians at the Church History Library have recently discovered that Brigham Young dedicated the New Tabernacle at the October 1867 General Conference. According to news reports at the time this was not considered a formal dedication, but merely the opening prayer of the first session of Conference:
“The Thirty-seventh Semi-Annual Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, convened … on Sunday morning, Oct. 6th, at 10 o’clock, in the New Tabernacle, which was ready for Conference to be held in it, the great exertions made for some time past by those having charge of its erection, having been thus far successful…. [A] detailed description of it will be more appropriate when it is finished, and dedicated…. Conference was called to order, and [a] hymn, composed by E. R. Snow for the occasion, was then read by the clerk and sung by the Tabernacle choir…. Prayer was then offered by President B. Young” [emphasis added] (Deseret News, October 9, 1867, 1).
The text of the prayer, recently brought to light and transcribed from Pitman shorthand, suggests that it was a preliminary dedication, or a prayer for divine help in completing the structure and dedicating their efforts toward this end. A similar pattern was followed in the dedication of the Nauvoo Temple, as portions of the building were dedicated and put to use as they were completed, followed by an official dedication. Additionally, the Conference Center was first used for General Conference in April 2000, but not dedicated until October 2000.
A careful study of Brigham Young’s 1867 dedication of the Salt Lake Tabernacle shows it to consist of a series of chiasms and ending with a parallelism. Dividing the text in this way invites us to ponder individual sections in context of his entire prayer. This article presents a diagram and detailed analysis of each of these sections in sequential order. For an in-depth explanation of our methodology read our article, “Recognizing Parallelisms and Chiasmus in the Scriptures,” under the Methodology tab.
[Thanks to LaJean Carruth at the Church History Library for providing a more detailed understanding of the Lost Sermons project.]
Brigham Young’s Opening Remarks
#1: This chiasm, which consists of complementary and equivalent paired phrases, is structured around Brigham Young’s optimism that the organ would be completed in due time despite the audience’s apparent disappointment that it was not ready at the time of the dedication. He uses alternating optimistic and apologetic phrases.
A: It will be a [satisfying] reflection to myself if there is a spirit in the Latter-day Saints of Israel to forward the temple as we have this tabernacle. I wish to make a little apology to the people for the unfinished state of our organ.
B: We have commenced one that I think will do credit to the wilderness we inhabit when it is complete.
C: There is not over I suppose one third of the pipes now up in cases, and around it we have thrown … [a veil] to cover its nakedness, shall I say. …
D: When it is completed, the height of it will be more than once again than
E: the height of its present appearance.
E: It is now built about fifteen feet tall.
D: [It will] be, when completed, in the neighborhood of thirty-five feet in height.
C: We have done the best we could with it.
B: Brother Ridges has been faithful, and the hands [that have] been assisting him.
A: It is in the best order as could be under present circumstances.
A=A: “I wish to make a little apology to the people for the unfinished state of our organ” complements “the best order as could be under present circumstances.” Brigham Young opens with an apology for the “unfinished state of our organ,” but explains that “it is in the best order as could be under present circumstances.” Anyone who has visited the Salt Lake Tabernacle understands the visual prominence of the organ pipes within the hall. Since they are impossible to ignore, it is easy to understand why he would begin by addressing their unfinished state.
B=B: “We have commenced one that I think will do credit” complements “Brother Ridges has been faithful.” To comfort any doubters or those who may be disappointed, President Young mentions the faithfulness of Joseph H. Ridges, designer of the organ, and anticipates an organ that “will do credit” to their wilderness surroundings.” This is an understatement compared to the completed organ that has become world famous and draws tourists from around the world.
C=C: “[O]ne third of the pipes now up” complements “the best we could.” Although the organ pipes are only one-third of the way up, it is still “the best” their limited resources would permit. The Deseret News reported that the organ had “seven hundred mouths” at the time of this first General Conference, but would eventually contain “two thousand.” (Deseret News, October 9, 1867, 1)
D=D: “When it is completed, the height of it will be more than once again” equals “when completed, in the neighborhood of thirty-five feet in height.” To build anticipation and provide encouragement, President Young optimistically describes the eventual 35-foot height of the organ pipes.
E=E: “[P]resent appearance” equals “now built about fifteen feet tall.” The central element of this chiasm accentuates President Young’s apology by describing the “present appearance” of the organ pipes to be “about fifteen feet tall.”
Despite not being complete the organ was used to accompany the choirs which sang at the Conference and impressed those in attendance. The Deseret News, for example, provided this glowing review:
“The new Organ, which was played [by Joseph J. Daynes] with the singing of the Tabernacle choir, will be a magnificent and splendidly toned instrument when fully completed. Of its quality of tone and compass satisfactory evidence was obtained during Conference” (Deseret News, October 9, 1867, 1).
Brigham Young’s Dedicatory Prayer
#2: This chiasm uses both complementary and equivalent paired phrases to describe our relationship to each member of the Godhead. We worship Heavenly Father in the name of Christ and are directed to “all truth and holiness” through the influence of the Holy Ghost.
A: O God our Heavenly Father, who dwells in the heavens, in the name of thy Son Jesus Christ
B: we come before thee at this time to worship thee on this occasion.
C:We ask for the aid of thy holy spirit to teach us how to pray, what we should ask for, [and] how to ask that we may receive.
C: We pray that the Holy Ghost may be given unto us to bring us unto all truth and holiness, to [enlighten] our understanding, to enlarge our views pertaining to [the] heavens and to [the] earth, and all creations of God, to inspire us to faithfulness,
B: to [meld us] to a oneness
A: so that we may be the disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.
A=A: “[I]n the name of thy Son Jesus Christ” complements “disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.” Disciples of Jesus Christ do all things in His name. Through Him they worship Heavenly Father. (see D&C 20:29)
B=B: “[W]orship thee” complements “oneness.” Coming together to worship God is a fundamental way disciples of Christ become united. (see 3 Nephi 27:1)
C=C: “[H]oly spirit … teach us how to pray, what we should ask for, [and] how to ask that we many receive” equals “Holy Ghost … bring us unto all truth and holiness, to [enlighten] our understanding, to enlarge our views pertaining to [the] heavens and to [the] earth, and all creations of God, to inspire us to faithfulness.” The central focus of this chiasm discusses the role of the Holy Ghost, who “teaches us how to pray,” including what to ask for and how to ask, “that we may receive.” Additionally, the Holy Ghost “brings us unto all truth and holiness” by enlightening “our understanding” and enlarging “our views pertaining to … all creations of God.” As a result of becoming familiar with “truth and holiness,” we are inspired “to faithfulness.”
#3: This chiasm uses complementary paired phrases to discuss the importance of dedicating ourselves to God.
A: We pray thee in the name of Jesus to bless this congregation who have assembled within the walls of this house for the first time to worship thee.
B: We dedicate ourselves unto thee, each and every one of us.
B: We dedicate unto thee this house and all that pertains there unto,
A: and pray thee in the name of Jesus Christ to give us the ability to complete the same. After we dedicate it unto the Lord of Hosts, it is then really thine.
A=A: “[P]ray thee in the name of Jesus … within the walls of this house” complements “pray thee in the name of Jesus Christ … ability to complete the same.” The congregation consists mainly of those participating in the construction of the Tabernacle. President Young prays that they may have the “ability to complete” the Tabernacle, a feat they would achieve eight years later in 1875.
B=B: “We dedicate ourselves unto thee” complements “[w]e dedicate unto thee this house.” The central focus of this chiasm is dedication to God — personal dedication as well as dedicating a house of worship. Through dedicated labor, the Latter-day Saints would be prepared to dedicate the completed Tabernacle to God, or to use it for His purposes. Joseph Fielding Smith taught this principle at the dedication of the Ogden Utah Temple in 1972: “May I remind you that when we dedicate a house to the Lord, what we really do is dedicate ourselves to the Lord’s service, with a covenant that we shall use the house in the way he intends that it shall be used.”
The next three chiasms focus on the necessity of leaders in the Church to exhibit wisdom.
#4: This chiasm uses complementary paired phrases to describe the equality that exists between priesthood leaders and priesthood laborers and of the importance of possessing wisdom when serving in leadership callings.
A: We ask thee our Father to bless thy priesthood,
B: [to] bless those that have authority in thy church and kingdom. Pour out of thy spirit upon them.
C: Give [us] wisdom to speak. Give [us] wisdom to pray.
C: Give us wisdom to pray and sing and to do all things that is necessary and becoming to thy saints.
B: Bless thy servants that have labored upon this house. We pray thee to inspire their hearts
A: give them that constitution and that faith and constant enjoyment in the love of Christ that will assist them [and pay them] for their diligence in their faithful labor.
A=A: “[B]less thy priesthood” complements “give them that constitution and that faith and constant enjoyment in the love of Christ.” Compensation for service in the kingdom of God is faith, joy, and charity.
B=B: “[B]less those that have authority in thy church… . Pour out of thy spirit upon them” complements “[b]less thy servants that have labored upon this house … inspire their hearts.” Any successful endeavor requires effective leadership and dedicated labor; it is a partnership requiring mutual trust and respect. In the case of a religious endeavor, inspiration from the Spirit is also required of both parties so that their endeavor can be pleasing to God. Although they play different roles, leaders and laborers are equal in the work of God.
C=C: “Give [us] wisdom to speak … [and] wisdom to pray” equals “Give us wisdom to pray and sing and to do.” The central focus of this chiasm is an acknowledgement that leaders in the church need the gift of divine wisdom in order to lead the Saints effectively.
#5: This chiasm uses equivalent and complementary paired phrases to emphasize the importance of apostles possessing the gift of wisdom.
A: We ask thee to bless the apostles.
B: Give unto them great wisdom
B: and understanding
A: that they may magnify their holy apostleship before thee.
A=A: “[A]postles” equals “holy apostleship.” Blessings from heaven are required in order to successfully magnify this holy calling. The same is true of any calling in the church.
B=B: “[G]reat wisdom” complements “understanding.” Similar to the previous chiasm, wisdom and understanding are essential to successfully lead in the church.
#6: This chiasm uses equivalent and complementary paired phrases to acknowledge the heavy burdens that bishops carry and of the need for them to possess great wisdom.
A: O Lord, bless all the quorums of thy church.
B: Especially bless the bishops.
C: We realize our Heavenly Father that their labors are great,
C: their tasks onerous.
B: They need great wisdom much patience, much forbearance, much wisdom from thee to magnify their high and holy calling in the midst of the people.
A: Bless the seventy and high priests, elders, priests, teachers, and deacons.
A=A: “[B]less all the quorums of thy church” equals “Bless the seventy and high priests, elders, priests, teachers, and deacons.” Listed here are the priesthood quorums that then functioned within each stake of the Church. The seventy now function as general or area authorities.
B=B: “[B]less the bishops” complements “They need great wisdom much patience, much forbearance, much wisdom from thee.” Bishops in the Church are blessed with the great spiritual gifts of “much patience, much forbearance, [and] much wisdom.”
C=C: “[T]heir labors are great” equals “their tasks onerous.” The central focus of this chiasm acknowledges the heavy burdens carried by priesthood holders, especially the bishops. Few understand the tremendous burdens bishops carry.
#7: This chiasm uses equivalent and complementary paired phrases to emphasize the importance of the family in the kingdom of God.
A: We pray thee in name of Jesus Christ to bless all the families of thy saints.
B: Inspire every heart that we may become one,
B: that our labors, our faith, our desires, our hopes, our pursuits in life may be concentrated
A: [to the] building up of thy kingdom and [the] establishment of peace and righteousness upon the earth.
A=A: “[A]ll the families of thy saints” complements “thy kingdom.” God’s kingdom consists of faithful families. Indeed, the family is the “fundamental unit of society,” both here and in the eternities.
B=B: “[O]ne” equals “concentrated.” As families are united in Christ, the kingdom will also be united.
#8: The chiasm uses complementary and equivalent paired phrases to show that a proactive attitude is needed to overcome challenges, since it preserves our agency and allows us to grow.
A: We ask thee our Heavenly Father to preserve thy people in these mountains.
B: Give us power to multiply and increase, and wilt thou multiply every blessing upon us.
C: Wilt thou give wisdom to thy people to know how to sustain and preserve themselves, that they may understand the elements,
C: that they may understand and have wisdom and power and disposition to accumulate and gather around us from the elements the necessaries for our consumption.
B: Bless the children of the saints that they may live to grow up in righteousness before thee;
A: and heal up the sick.
A=A: “[P]reserve thy people” complements “heal up the sick.” In order for the Latter-day Saints to be preserved and flourish in the Intermountain West, sickness would need to be tempered.
B=B: “[M]ultiply and increase” complements “children of the saints.” Sickness was of particular concern regarding children, who represented the future of Latter-day Saint growth and strength.
C=C: “[W]isdom … understand the elements” equals “wisdom … gather around us from the elements.” The central focus of this chiasm expresses a desire to proactively survive as a people, rather than passively seek divine deliverance from the effects of their harsh surroundings. President Young prays for wisdom and an understanding of the elements around them, so they can “sustain and preserve themselves.”
#9: This chiasm uses complementary and equivalent paired phrases to discuss missionary work and the gathering of the Latter-day Saints to Utah.
A: Remember all the subjects of our prayers and bless thy saints in various lands
B: and regard in great [mercy] thy servants that are travelling and preaching and laboring
C: to do good to bring souls to the knowledge of [the] truth.
C: Give them solace … and every blessing they need to perform their duty freely bestow upon them.
B: Preserve them and bring them safely to us again.
A: Open up the way for the gathering of thy poor saints from distant lands [that they] may [fill] up this land full of faith. Bless those [who have] arrived here. Inspire them to do right, … [to] magnify their calling [and] live their religion, that they may be examples to others.
A=A: “[T]hy saints in various lands” complements “thy poor saints from distant lands.” During this period in Church history, new converts were encouraged to physically gather to the Intermountain West and help build a powerful nucleus that could later sustain a worldwide faith. The invitation to gather was a difficult burden, especially for “thy poor saints from distant lands.” This concern for the difficult realities of gathering led Church leaders to establish the Perpetual Emigrating Funding in 1849, which continued until 1887 and helped “more than 30,000 individuals to travel to Utah.”
B=B: “[T]hy servants that are travelling” complements “bring them safely to us again.” At an early date in Church history, missionaries began traveling internationally to share the message of the Restored Gospel. They would also assist new converts in gathering to the Intermountain West, often serving as leaders of emigrating groups on their journeys home. Then, as now, there was a constant concern and prayer for their safety.
C=C: “”[T]o bring souls to the knowledge of the truth” equals “their duty.” The central focus of this chiasm emphasizes the duties of missionaries and prays for the spiritual gifts that would enable success.
#10: This chiasm uses complementary and equivalent paired phrases to emphasize the unique role the Salt Lake Tabernacle would play in inviting the Spirit into people’s lives through music. Significantly, this chiasm foreshadows the international ministry of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, which provides spiritual uplift through music to the nations of the earth.
A: We ask thee to bless our families, our wives and children, our houses and barns and flocks and herds.
B: Bless and pour out of thy spirit upon the good, honest, upright [and] faithful [among] all nations of the earth.
C: Bless them, and forgive us for our sins for Jesus’ sake.
D: Wilt thou inspire us.
E: Bless those that sing.
E: Bless him that plays the organ and all that assist in singing,
D: our brethren [and sisters who] come from distant [lands]. Inspire them to seek [the] power of thy holy spirit
C: and help each one of us so to conduct ourselves
B: so that we may be inspired from on high and have the gift of revelation,
A: that we may speak thereby, pray thereby, sing thereby, [and] hear thereby, that we may be perfected.
A=A: “[B]less our families” complements “that we may be perfected.” The ultimate aim of God’s blessings upon us is our eventual perfection as families. Music is a powerful tool for strengthening families in righteousness. As the First Presidency advised in their Preface to the 1985 edition of the LDS Hymn Book, “Music has boundless powers for moving families toward greater spirituality and devotion to the gospel. Latter-day Saints should fill their homes with the sound of worthy music.”
B=B: “[P]our out of thy spirit” equals “inspired from on high.” Both the honest in heart among “all nations” and the Latter-day Saints need revelation from heaven. Sacred music originating in the Salt Lake Tabernacle would play a distinctive role in God pouring out His spirit upon all nations. This is particularly manifested by the Church’s semi-annual General Conferences (which were broadcast from the Tabernacle until 2000) and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s weekly broadcast, Music & the Spoken Word. Additionally, an imprint of the Tabernacle organ pipes and casing is featured on the cover of the LDS Hymn Book, which is the basic standard for music in the Church.
C=C: “[F]orgive us of our sins” complements “help each one of us to so conduct ourselves.” Forgiveness is only forthcoming when we put forth the effort to overcome sin. We need divine help to “conduct ourselves” faithfully. Sacred music can help us overcome temptation and develop the desire to repent of sin.
D=D: “[I]nspire us” complements “Inspire them.” Both the Latter-day Saints who had already gathered and the Latter-day Saints in “distant lands” needed divine inspiration and the “power of the Holy spirit.” Throughout the gathering period, music played an important role in lifting the spirits of the Saints and unifying their efforts. As the Lord revealed to Brigham Young twenty years earlier when organizing the Saints for their westward journey, “If thou art merry, praise the Lord with singing, with music, with dancing, and with a prayer of praise and thanksgiving.” (D&C 136:28)
E=E: “[T]hose that sing” complements “all that assist in singing.” The central focus of this chiasm is the powerful influence of music in promoting righteousness and spirituality. The ability to compose and perform such uplifting music is a gift of the Spirit. As evidenced by the organ pipes then under construction, music would be a distinctive feature of the Salt Lake Tabernacle.
#11: This parallelism uses complementary and comparative paired phrases to show that completing the Salt Lake Temple was never very far from their minds.
A: We ask thee to bless us with all these blessings,
B: for we feel to dedicate [unto] thee this building
C: and pray thee to preserve us to finish the same,
D: that we may dedicate it and thy people to thee.
A: Bless our labors
B: [in] building [the] temple,
C: that we may have power to accomplish further work,
D: that we may receive our further blessings in the holy priesthood. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ, … amen.
A=A: “[B]less us” complements “[b]less our labors.” In concluding his prayer, President Young again seeks the blessings of the Lord, both to complete the Tabernacle and to receive the blessings that will enable them to use the building according to His purposes.
B=B: “[D]edicate [unto] thee this building” compares with “building [the] temple.” In addition to completing the Tabernacle, President Young also sought for power to complete the construction of the neighboring Salt Lake Temple. The Latter-day Saints love both the Tabernacle and the Temple and dedicate both to God’s purposes.
C=C: “[P]reserve us to finish the same” complements “power to accomplish further work.” While completing the Tabernacle is the immediate focus of this prayer, the desire to finish the neighboring temple is never far from his mind. Receiving the blessings of the temple would endow them with “power to accomplish further work.”
D=D: “[D]edicate it and thy people to thee” complements “that we may receive our further blessings.” Both the Tabernacle and the Temple would be buildings dedicated to God, but the Temple would enable them to “receive our further blessings in the holy priesthood.”
The existence of chiasmus in Brigham Young’s 1867 dedication of the Salt Lake Tabernacle suggests that the original Pitman shorthand record of the prayer and subsequent transcription is accurate to President Young’s original words, since imposing a chiastic structure while recording his words in real-time is highly unlikely and practically impossible.
Brigham Young’s use of chiasmus divides his prayer into mini-sermons, with each focusing on a different aspect of the Tabernacle and the needs of the Church at that time. A major theme is the need for wisdom throughout the membership of the Church, so they can be united and successful in their efforts. Additional themes are the international gathering of the Saints to the Intermountain West and their prosperity in a new and challenging land, their desires to complete the Tabernacle and the Temple, and the eventually international ministry of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Brigham Young’s dedicatory prayer demonstrates that chiasmus is an effective literary device for discussing multiple topics in an organized way in one text.