The Anointed Quorum

On May 4th, 1842, Joseph Smith met with nine men in the upper room of his Red Brick store. He initiated them into a new order of the priesthood and established a new quorum in the Church. This quorum was intended to be secret during Joseph’s life and it was called by many names. Contemporarily, it is often referred to as the “Anointed Quorum” and is not well known among the Saints. While there is reason to believe that the Quorum still exists, it no longer functions as such.

Many have heard about the May 4th meeting as this was the day that Joseph first revealed part of the Temple ordinances. That there was a quorum created is more obscure. Seven of the nine persisted with the quorum and they are the foundation for the Restored Church.

While the Nine received the majority of the Temple ordinances on that day, the requirement for entry into the Quorum was the initiatory ordinances of washing and anointing. Sometimes, months or years separated the reception of the various ordinances (1).

Admittance to and expulsion, in cases of disfellowship, from the quorum was a matter of common consent. All initiates required the unanimous approval of the Quorum members before they were received in fellowship. Joseph was voted president of the Quorum.

At first, for Joseph, the most important aspect of this new quorum was a new form of prayer. Prayer Circles are an integral part of contemporary Temple liturgy. In Nauvoo, they were an integral part of life. George Albert Smith preached in the completed Temple in 1845:

When we come together * * and unite our hearts and act as one mind, the Lord will hear us and will answer our prayers…Said that whenever they could get an opportunity they retired to the wilderness or to an upper room, they did so * * * and were always answered. It would be a good thing for us * * every day and pray to God in private circles. (2)

Not too long after the Quorum was organized, John Bennett assailed the church and the quorum ceased to meet. Moreover, Hyrum, Joseph’s successor, crusaded against polygamy in the Church, which created obvious stress for Joseph. Finally in May 1843, Hyrum accepted all of Joseph’s teachings and all the quorum was re-initiated into the Priesthood order.

Converted, Hyrum sought to persuade Emma, who was still antagonistic to Joseph’s teachings. It would not be until the latter portion of the year that Emma would acquiesce for a season. On Thursday, September 28, 1843, Joseph Smith and Emma were received into the highest and holiest order of the priesthood.

Section 124 of the Doctrine and Covenants has a peculiar verse explaining the need for the Nauvoo temple:

For there is not a place found on earth that he may come to and restore again that which was lost unto you, or which he hath taken away, even the fulness of the priesthood.

Wilford Woodruff recorded a letter from Brigham Young that was included in the History of the Church (vol. 5 pg. 527) that states that “[f]or any person to have the fullness of that priesthood, he must be a king and priest.” Indeed, the fullness was extended to both men and women, making them Kings and Queens, Priests and Priestesses. Joseph taught that the Fullness of the Priesthood was issued by the Spirit and Power of Elijah (3).

While the Quorum governed the spiritual blessings of the church, they were not a governing body. Still, it is important to note that women held the same status in the Quorum as men. They acted as priestesses in administering the ordinances of the Temple. They also acted in common consent to select members of the quorum. (4)

Upon Joseph’s death, it was the Quorum that served to stabilize the Church. It was the only quorum where a majority was not needed to convene (most of the Twelve, council of fifty and 100 other missionaries were out of Nauvoo preparing for Joseph’s Presidential bid). It is also important to note that the Quorum is tied to the succession crisis after Joseph’s death. The Twelve ultimately governed the Church because they were the only ones with the Fullness of the Priesthood and the mandate to administer it to others.

While in Joseph’s life, the Quorum met for the spiritual and temporal welfare of the church, after his death, the amount of people with Temple ordinances ballooned to over 5,000. The concept of a quorum became too unwieldy and, as it was not reformed like other quorums in the church, it was left to history. In lieu of Quorum meetings, Prayer Circle groups formed and met regularly, sometimes keeping minutes, until the First Presidency ended all extra-temple Prayer Circles in 1978 (see the BYU Studies article in footnote 2 for more information).

164 years ago, Joseph’s most revolutionary doctrines began to crystallize. Over the next 18 months Joseph wielded God’s forge to not only bind man and woman, but human to God.

  1. E.g., see Joseph Kingsbury Diary. University of Utah Archives. pg 21-23. Images available at both the UU and BYU digital archives.
  2. Helen M. Kimball, Woman’s Exponent. 15 July 1883. vol. 12, no. 4, pg. 26; reprinted in A Woman’s View pg. 299. See George D. Smith, An Intimate Chronicle: The Journals of William Clayton, (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1995), 221 for expanded transcript. For more information on Prayer Circles see D. Michael Quinn (1978) Latter-Day Saint Prayer Circles. BYU Studies, vol. 19 No. 1 pg. 79
  3. WoJS pg. 327-336
  4. For more information on how this ordinance relates women and the priesthood, see this post: Women and the Priesthood. Part I.


  1. I am honestly not trying to open a can of worms here, but is this “Anointed Quorum” any relationship to the Second Anointing I’ve heard of?

    When you say that there is reason to believe it still exists (despite your later comment “it was left to history”) I assume you are suggesting that it is different than THE Quorum of the 12?

    Still, interesting stuff, particularly the involvement of the women.

  2. Yes they did.

  3. Clark, what question are you answering?

  4. FHL, the Second Anointing, or Second Blessings is how many refer to the “Fullness of the Priesthood.”

    As to the idea that the quorum may exist, well, inasmuch as there are those who are anointed, perhaps it does. I am pretty sure that it is not now organized with a president.

  5. Kevin Barney says:

    I remember my father telling me of participating in private prayer circles when he was in the Air Force in Asia during the Korean War. They were pretty common back then. And, despite the current policy, they still break out from time to time. There was a group in our stake that used to do this until someone put a stop to it.

  6. Kevin Barney says:

    Also, there is a recent book out of Signature on this subject:

    I don’t have a copy, but I saw a prepublication version at Killington, Vermont MHA a year ago.

  7. Dave reviewed it here. And I will be doing a review with other materials next week probably. It is a decent volume, but there are a lot of issues involved…

  8. “I am pretty sure that it is not now organized with a president.”


  9. Well, the Council of Fifty is a comparable example. There is quite a bit of evidence that it was continued with subsequent Prophets (notably Taylor) using it. There is no similar attempts at reinvigorating the Quorum during this time. However, the formalization of Prayer Circle groups is very well documented. Now, it could be that the Quorum does exist, having been reinstated at a time when the Church was much better at keeping information private (i.e., the last 35 years). However, I am “pretty sure” that it didn’t.

  10. The documentary histories are a quick read, though their primary advantage is bringing together in one place literature that has been somewhat disparate. There are a few new items that are also refreshing. I rather enjoyed thinking about the way the early Saints lived in the temple and by the temple.

    Re: the quorum, the reason it got tricky is that in its inception it was the quorum of the endowed members. Very quickly there came to be too many for it to be a meaningful quorum. Soon the Anointed Quorum I think melded into the governing quorum of the church and in a broader sense the endowed members. It’s not clear that after just a few years it had an independent existence, even though the second anointing became the higher bar around which such a quorum could have congealed, the writings on second anointing don’t seem to suggest that recipients were extending the original anointed quorum.

    Though if you were eager and courageous, you could see the quorum as all who are committed templegoers, and you could partake of some of the drama and excitement they did in personal temple worship.

  11. Kevin, I own the book. It is very, very useful. The forward by Todd Compton is also quite good, distilling the substance of the history.

    It is relevant to the paper that I had planned on presenting at the Casper MHA conference, but which I’ve had to back out of due to family obligations. In my opinion, it is through their participation in the quorum of anointed that the quorum of the twelve becomes an executive body over the church. The quorum was kept secret by the administering of Masonic oaths (at first, because all of its members were Masons, but later because the temple ceremony incorporated them).

    I’ve talked about this before, and everyone seems to hate the idea. But it seems to me that the entire nebulous authority thing that goes on in Nauvoo (who’s in charge? the Nauvoo high council? the Nauvoo Stake Presidency? the quorum of the twelve? etc.) is best understood in the framework of two separate churches. The first, teaching the Kirtland gospel, and the second church which Joseph started as an incubator for the Nauvoo innovations.

  12. DKL, that dicotomy is surely the framwork in which the RLDS vs. LDS division seems to take. However, in Nauvoo, I definately don’t see anything so simple.

  13. J, you have two different sets of beliefs (conflicting beliefs–not a superset), a different set of ordinances (again, conflicting–not a superset), and a different administration body. I think that there’s a pretty good case for dividing them into separate churches rather than underground practices within one church (which is, I think, an unhelpful distinction).

  14. Incidentally, the quorum of the anointed was never organized as an official quorum. It was basically a de facto body that met mostly for social or doctrinal discussion. The reason that there is no quorum like this now is because there was no real quorum like this then. Imagine that there were no clear authority structure in the church, and further imagine that there was a large study group that the president and most of the apostles (and their wives) belonged to. That would pretty much be the status of the quorum of the anointed. Thus it doesn’t exist today as a quorum because it didn’t exist then as a quorum in any real sense.

    It did, however, function to move the apostles into Joseph’s inner circle, when previously they had merely been traveling missionaries. Furthermore, it ensured that they were the first initiated into and performing all the newest ordinances (from Masonry, to the temple ceremony, to polygamous sealings, to the second anointing). It’s worth noting that Rigdon was not a member of this quorum and never received his second anointing.

  15. hmm…The fact that there was a president, minutes were kept and members were initiated and expelled by common consent seems to indicate that it was indeed an “official” quorum. You are correct that it wasn’t an legislative or governing quorum of the Church (is the Deacon’s quorum much different?). I think the Prayer Groups that were organized in Utah during the nineteenth century are our best translation accross the modern church. As I mentioned in the post, most quorums have been updated to fit a large church: high councils, apostles, 70’s, deacons, etc. This one wasn’t. Not calling it a quorum would be like saying the office of the Presiding patriarch isn’t an office.

    One should also note that many recieved sealings before entering the quorum and that no polygamous second anointings were performed in Joseph’s lifetime.

  16. J. Stapley: Not calling it a quorum would be like saying the office of the Presiding patriarch isn’t an office.

    Um, you’re forgetting a few key elements. Namely, there was no position or office associated with the group, and there was ordination. When you enter a deacons quorum, you get ordained a deacon. When you enter an auxiliary presidency, you get ordained a president or counselor. Much less a quorum, the so-called “quorum of anointed” was hardly even a real church entity.

  17. While not all those who were recieved into the quorum were ordained, they were “anointed,” which, in my opinion, is tantamount to ordination for purpose of quorum denomination.

    You seem not to recognize the constraints on the quorum by apostacy and unbelief. We have already noted that it wasn’t a governing quorum, but the Quorum was very much viewed as such by its members. To not call the main leading body in Nauvoo after Joseph’s Death a church entity is simply to mischaracterize the organization.

  18. J. Stapley While not all those who were recieved into the quorum were ordained, they were “anointed,” which, in my opinion, is tantamount to ordination for purpose of quorum denomination.

    I think that you’re confused about this. That was a necessary but not sufficient condition. Many, many more people were anointed and received their endowments than entered the quorum. Plus, after polygamy was officially introduced, Joseph re-endowed everyone (which at that time included re-annointing) everyone except Marks and Miller. Joseph wasn’t named president of the organization until 16 months after it’s first meeting, and this also speaks to the informal organizational nature of the body.

    J. Stapley To not call the main leading body in Nauvoo after Joseph’s Death a church entity is simply to mischaracterize the organization.

    I just think that you’re way off the mark here. Almost nobody knew about the body, and it met only three times after June of ’44. The body was a major factor in converting the Quorum of the Twelve into a the leading body in the church.

    The other factor in the rise of the Quorum of the Twelve was simply the fact that more than half of the church membership in Nauvoo at the time of Joseph and Hyrum’s martyrdom were emigrants to Nauvoo from the British Isles, where Brigham and Heber had organized the church. Thus, most of the crowd that assembled in August to hear Sidney compete with Brigham had never even seen Sidney, but they knew and loved Brigham as the source of their conversion. (I bring this up, because it’s key in understanding the succession crisis, but everyone ignores it.)

  19. Correction: In the proceeding comment, I meant to say that it met only three times in ’44 after June, meaning during the succession crisis and the period immediately following. There were a few meetings after 1844. (In general, the body didn’t meet very frequently.)

  20. We obviously have very different conceptions of this period. I think Ehat’s analysis is spot on.

    Plus, after polygamy was officially introduced, Joseph re-endowed everyone (which at that time included re-annointing) everyone except Marks and Miller.

    I don’t follow. Many had been introduced to the practice. I think you mean that after Hyrum accepted the principle, they were all re-endowed.

    As to those many who recieved the ordinances yet weren’t initiated into the quorum, I am not familiar with these cases, at least in Joseph’s lifetime. If there were, perhaps it is like Joseph F. Smith being ordained an apostle, but not being admitted to the Quorum of the Twelve.

    I agree that the body was quite informal, but again, I feel that this was necessary due to circumstances.

    The body was a major factor in converting the Quorum of the Twelve into a the leading body in the church.

    Yep. The final charge and the fullness.

  21. Quinn believes that it was Hyrum’s acceptance that prompted the re-endowment. I see it as broader than that. Ehat notes that Law claimed to never have heard of the plural marriage until after D&C 132 was rec’d 7 weeks later. But Clayton and Richards both place him there. What Joseph did at that point was not just introduce polygamy to Hyrum; it marked a change the direction of the policy of introducing polygamy from one in which where was merely introduced in a calculated fashion to individuals to one that would lead to it becoming more or less common knowledge throughout the highest echelons of the church.

    I also think that it’s a mistake to place too much importance on the final charge. I see that as a vast oversimplification. The primary role that the Holy Order (since we disagree about whether it was, in fact, a quorum, let’s call it that) played in changing the role of the Twelve was cultural. I believe that the Holy Order was the leadership organization of Joseph’s second church, and the prime spot of the twelve within the Holy Order made their ascension to leadership obvious to them and many of the other leaders in the Holy Order (not all of them, but certainly more than if they had been excluded or if no Holy Order had existed at all). This combined with the grass roots acceptance of their convert emigrants to Nauvoo to put them in the driver’s seat in the months after Joseph and Hyrum’s martyrdom.

  22. perhaps it is like Joseph F. Smith being ordained an apostle, but not being admitted to the Quorum of the Twelve.

    Could you expand on this please? I have not heard this before.

    I recall reading somewhere that early latter-day Apostles felt it was their right and privilage to ordain their sons Apostles also, can you speak to that or point me to a source?

    Sorry for the threadjack.

  23. DKL, I don’t have the resources with me right now, but the (8 month?) break for the quorum was due to the the #2 man in the Church and other prominant Mormon’s crusading against polygamy and Bennett’s attacks. You see similar breaks in the development of the Council of Fifty and the Joseph’s marriages. Hyrum’s conversion does mark a dramatic shift in momentum and a basic rejuvination of all the “Nauvoo inovations.”

    Talon, Brigham had quite a bit of fealty to the Smith family. I’m not sure that there is a single treatment, but you may consider the BCC post entitled theodemocracy as well as the resent LDSLF podcast on the law of adoption (and the associated BYU Studies article). Quinn has written a fair bit, too.

  24. Re: #5 : why is there a policy against prayer circles now? Everything I hear suggests we should find more opportunities to pray – why limit that?

    When I was in a BYU student ward, we had Ward Prayer on Sunday nights – is that different than a prayer circle? (Granted, we didn’t stand/kneel in a literal circle or anything.)

  25. Ben S. says:

    FHL, that is indeed different.

    Ward prayer was a dating opportunity, prayer circle is a ritual ;)

    Seriously, has anyone *ever* had ward prayer at BYU… in a married ward?

    See Michael Quinn’s BYU Studies article on prayer circles, download for free here

  26. Thanks for the post and subsequent comments. Mormon history feels to me to be as elusive as it is interesting.

  27. Mark Butler says:

    Frankly, I think any form of prayer where people take turns saying different things is creepy, a practical breeding ground for contention, and contrary to the very principle of prayer.