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David O. McKay Diaries – “Doctrine”

Below you will find diary entries on the topic of “Doctrine.” You can view other subjects here.

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Wed., 7 Dec., 1949:

“Mr. Leonard Mahlzahn, President of the Lyman Stake Mission, called by telephone from Green River, Wyoming.  He read a letter which he holds signed by Pres. Heber J. Grant and myself which pertains to a question submitted by Bishop Joseph H. Eldredge of Myton, Utah, February 26, 1936 as to whether or not Adam ‘had been through the experience of mortality on another sphere before he came here; that he was a celestialized being when placed in the Garden of Eden.’ In answer to this question, the answer was given as follows:  ‘What this brother means by “celestialized being” is not clear.  We are informed that we all lived in the presence of god in the spirit world before we came here.  In one sense we might say that this was a celestialized existence.  If what is meant is that Adam had passed on to celestial glory through a resurrection before he came here, and that afterwards he was appointed to this earth to die again, the second time becoming mortal, then it is not scriptural or according to the truth.’  Brother Mahlzahn, in answer to my question, said that he had obtained this letter from a missionary companion sometime ago.  He said that he had read the letter to his Stake President and others and that there is some discussion about it in their class.  Said that the Stake President said he did not believe the letter is authentic, and doubted that the brethren had written it, and that it is definitely not in harmony with the teachings of the Church.  told Mr. Mahlzahn that I would look up the letter in question, and if he has quoted from the letter correctly, it is in accordance with the doctrine of the Church.”

Thur., 30 Nov., 1950:

“Note [Clare]:  Mrs. Ruth Whatcott, mother of four children, and wife of Kenneth Whatcott of 345 South Hobson Street, Mesa, Arizona called at the office to see President McKay.  She refused to tell me what she wanted to see President McKay about, and I told her it would be necessary for her to give me some idea about the subject to be discussed before an appointment could be made.  She stated she would come back when President McKay was in town–I told her it would still be necessary for her to tell me something of her troubles.  Arthur Haycock, who noticed me talking to her, told me, after she had left, that he had had a conversation with this woman in Washington, D.C. during the time President Smith was there for the dedication of the Brigham Young monument.  Mrs. Whatcott had made a special trip to Washington, D.C. to see President Smith, and went immediately to the Mayflower Hotel and talked to Mrs. Murray Stewart (Pres. Smith’s daughter Emily) who, when Brother Haycock returned to the hotel, referred her to him.  After a long conversation with Mrs. Whatcott (she steadfastly refusing to tell him the message, stating that it was for the ears of President Smith alone) she finally relented and told Brother Haycock that after a long course of study of the Book of Mormon, Doctrine & Covenants, and particularly the subject of the Holy Ghost, an understanding or impression came to her that the Holy Ghost should have a body, and that she received the following message or impression one day while sitting in Sunday School:  ‘Even as Jesus Christ came to earth and had a mortal body so shall the Holy Ghost, and that she–Sister Whatcott, even as Mary of old, had been chosen and shall become the earthly mother of the Holy Ghost, who shall soon come to earth to take upon a body of flesh and bones.’  This message she said was repeated again one day while she was in the Temple.  Brother Haycock pointed out to her that Mary was a virgin; that she could hardly liken her own case to Mary’s as she was the mother of four little children; that she was being deceived, and that she had better return immediately to her husband and children in Mesa.

Mrs. Whatcott said that she would return home, but said the spirit still persists that she is to be the mother of the Holy Ghost.

The Bishop and Stake President was advised of this young woman’s state of mind, and asked to do what he could to help turn her mind from this obsession.”

Sun., 19 Oct., 1952:

“[Dedication of Lake View Ward chapel] [President McKay] cited the Book of Mormon as but one of four distinctive features of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  These four distinctive features he listed as being:

1. Belief in divine authority by direct revelation.

2. The organization of the Church.  There is nothing like it in all the world because it was divinely inspired.

3. The eternal nature of covenants and ceremonies.

4. The Book of Mormon as an added witness to the divinity of Jesus Christ.”

[Deseret News article of 20 Oct.]

Tues., 17 Aug., 1954:

“On August 19, 1954, I reported at the meeting of the First Presidency Brother Wood’s visit to my office and letters which he had left with me were read at the meeting.  These letters concerned Brother Wood’s return to Nauvoo with the documents that were in the copper box taken from the cornerstone of the Masonic Building.  He had promised to give copies of these documents to leading people in Nauvoo, among them leading masons.  He had also suggested that these documents be printed in pamphlet form and the pamphlets delivered to these men.  The Brethren of the First Presidency could see no objection to publishing these papers in pamphlet form, and making the distribution suggested.

Brother Wood has been making some statements regarding these documents indicating that according to certain figures given there the Millenium would come in about 40 years, and stating that Pres. Joseph Fielding Smith and I were of this opinion.  So far as I am concerned I have not made any such statements as claimed by Bro. Wood.  President Richards wondered if the time has not come when Brother Wood might be given an honorable release from his mission, with appreciation for what he has done.  We discussed various places of historic interest in the Church, some of which are not receiving the care they should have.  It was agreed that President McKay would call the committee together.”

Fri., 22 Aug., 1958:

“11:15 a.m. – Dictation to Clare.  Read over a copy of a letter I sent to my son David Lawrence when I was on my world tour of missions.  In this letter I expressed to him my views on the Atonement.  Lawrence now wishes to publish this letter in the Instructor.”

Wed., 31 Oct., 1962:

Predestination — Question Regarding 

President Joseph Fielding Smith brought into the meeting a letter asking for a statement on the view of the Church on the subject of Predestination. I said to him: “You can answer that; we do not believe in predestination.” President Smith agreed, and said he would prepare an answer. I then recited Robert Burns’ answer to the doctrine of predestination, quoting the stanza from Holy Willie’s Prayer as follows:

“O Thou, who in the heavens does dwell,

Who, as it pleases best Thysel,

Sends ane to heaven, an’ ten to hell,

A’ for thy glory,

And no for ony gude or ill

They’ve done afore Thee!”

Thurs., 9 Jan. 1963:

“8:30 a.m.

Held a meeting with my counselors in my office in the apartment.  One of the items considered was:

Bodies – Autopsies and Willing of to Medical Schools

After considering an inquiry which had come to us regarding the performing of autopsies on bodies, and the willing of them to medical schools, we decided that there is no objection to permitting the performance of autopsies on bodies, provided all parts of the body are replaced in proper condition; that, however, bodies of members who have been through the Temple should not be willed or given to medical schools or other institutions.

Wed., 26 Feb. 1964:

“Jesus Christ – Question of his marital status

President Tanner read a letter which had been referred to him to be answered, which stated that a brother had returned from Salt Lake City where he reported hearing the teaching that God the Father and Jesus Christ are fathers, just as mortal men are fathers of their children, and also that Jesus was married, and asks if answers to these questions can be given.  I said that there is no evidence that Jesus was married and we do not claim or publish that He was.  President Brown said nothing has been revealed on the subject.  I said that when I first came into the Twelve we were discussing the subject on one occasion, and the statement was made to the effect that there was no revelation on the subject.  I said ‘we use the scriptures and believe the statement in the Bible ‘conceived by the Holy Ghost’.’  President Tanner said he has heard senior members of the Twelve say that this is true.  I said that we do not want to do anything about this but to give that advice to them.  We do not want to make any statement that will cause controversy; use the words of the scriptures.  President Brown said we accept the doctrine as given in the scripture.

Thurs., 29 Apr. 1965:

Philosophers – Attitude of in Attacking Beliefs of the Church

President Tanner mentioned that questions are being asked and articles written about the Church’s attitude on various doctrines.  He mentioned that philosophers today are attacking our beliefs and referred to statements made 50, 75, or 100 years ago by our leaders relative to God and man’s relation to Him, the nature of Christ, etc.  President Tanner referred to the tremendous amount of information collected by the Brigham Young University librarian, Brother Tyler, and that Brother Tyler had suggested that we as a Church might wish to appoint someone to keep touch with these problems.  Brother Tyler says that he has on his desk at the present time six books dealing with these subjects and that he could make available to anyone making a study necessary helpful information.

President Brown and President Tanner suggested the appointment of someone to make a study of these things in order that he might be prepared to discuss and answer questions that arise, and suggested that Truman Madsen, who has his Doctor’s Degree in religion and philosophy, might be given such an assignment.  The Presidency agreed upon Brother Madsen for this service, with the suggestion that he submit to the First Presidency for approval any articles or letters that he might prepare in answer to these attacks.”

Tues., 31 Aug. 1965:

“Brigham Young University – Assignment for Truman Madsen

President Tanner presented again the matter of assigning Truman Madsen, who has just returned from presiding over the New England Mission, and has returned to his post in the Department of Philosophy at the Brigham Young University, to prepare pamphlets and booklets on subjects related to philosophy and criticisms of philosophers involving the Church.  President Tanner suggested that the assignment of this special work made to Brother Madsen now to avoid his getting involved in many other things which will come to him now that he is home.

I said that I should like to talk with President Ernest L. Wilkinson about this, and other matters before anything is done.  I said that I will make an appointment with President Wilkinson as soon as possible.  (See Diary of Monday, September 6, 1965)

Mon., 6 Sept. 1965:

“8:00 a.m.

President Ernest L. Wilkinson of the Brigham Young University called at the office in the apartment and discussed the following:

1)  The matter of Truman Madsen of the BYU being given time to do some writing for the Church.

Monday, September 6, 1965



Promptly at 8:00 AM I went to the apartment of President McKay.  I was ushered in by two nurses.  He was seated at his desk and cordially greeted me.  The following business was transacted:

1.  I told him that Clare Middlemiss had told me he wanted to see me with respect to the request of President Tanner that Truman Madsen be given time to do some writing for the Church; and that I had just returned from New York and so called in to see him immediately on it.  I explained to President McKay that Brother Madsen had suggested that instead of returning to BYU he join the faculty of a theological school which is being organized in California on the faculty of which are representatives of different religious denominations.  I informed the President, however, that the head of this theological college had had difficulty with his faculty in getting them to consent to Madsen being hired and then when it came right down to the test, Madsen was invited to give only four lectures a year, and that I had therefore told Madsen that he could do this as well from the BYU as by going to California and staying there permanently.  I told President McKay also that we had already made arrangements so that Madsen could have about two-thirds of his time for research the coming year.

I asked President McKay whether he wanted me to take this up with President Tanner or with Madsen.  He instructed me that there was no need for me to take this up with President Tanner but that I should deal direct with Madsen inasmuch as he is a member of my faculty and responsible to me.

Tues., 28 Sept. 1965:

“Brigham Young University – Assignment for Truman G. Madsen

President Tanner reported that with my approval he had had a visit with Truman G. Madsen and read to him a memorandum regarding his proposed study and report to the Church, and asked Brother Madsen to write a letter to the First Presidency setting out his understanding of the assignment given him.  President Tanner read the letter that Brother Madsen had submitted stating that he had discussed the matter with President Wilkinson of the Brigham Young University, and that President Wilkinson feels that this assignment can be consistently related to his work at the University, and that the interests of the school and First Presidency can be coordinated.  Brother Madsen asks how much of the material on the Church he gathers should be kept strictly confidential or subject to the First Presidency’s approval.  He will be preparing reports for the First Presidency, and he thinks that the First Presidency should have these reports before he makes any use of them.  He is desirous of knowing, however, what he can use in article and in classes that he may teach.

I said that this material should be submitted to the First Presidency before it is submitted to others.  President Tanner was high in his praise of Brother Madsen and of his capabilities.  (See copy of Memorandum by President Tanner regarding this following.)

Tuesday, September 28, 1965


Some time ago in our First Presidency meeting I suggested that inasmuch as Truman Madsen had been released as President of the New England Mission and was returning to the Brigham Young University, that his training could be put to good use by the First Presidency and other appropriate General Authorities if he were given the assignment to:

First, keep himself fully informed on the general religious trend and atmosphere in the world.

Second, proposed changes, ecumenical conferences, etc.

Third, criticisms of the LDS Church made by those outside the Church, as individuals or organizations.

Fourth, Our Church and its relation to these events or trends.

Fifth, Trends in philosophical thought as they might affect the general field of religion.

It would seem that if Brother Madsen were assigned to do this work he could work closely with the Information Research people at the Brigham Young University, and those who are working with us here, including Dr. Lyman Tyler.

By following this program the Church could be kept fully advised regarding many questions in which we are interested, such as the articles appearing regarding infant baptism, birth control, the acceptance by one church of the baptism of another, etc., etc.

N. Eldon Tanner”

Tues., 15 Feb. 1966:

“Truman Madsen’s Special Assignment

President Brown made reference to the reports that are being submitted each week by Truman Madsen at the suggestion of the First Presidency.  President Brown stated that in his latest report Brother Madsen had referred to the changes the Pope is now bringing to pass in the Catholic Church, and mentioned Protestant authorities whose attitude he assumed are worse than those of the atheists, asserting that God is dead.  He also mentions that the Esquire magazine recently criticized the Mormon Church very severely because it is so rich. 

I asked Brother Anderson, secretary, to bring to me copies of minutes of the First Presidency’s meeting pertaining to Brother Madsen’s appointment to make these reports. 

Wed., 24 Jan., 1968:

“9:45 a. m.

Met with my Counselors, Presidents Hugh B. Brown, Nathan Eldon Tanner, and Joseph Fielding Smith, also Elder Alvin R. Dyer, who meets in all meetings of the First Presidency when held with me at the office in the Hotel Utah apartment.

Brigham Young University – Truman Madsen Information Service 

President Brown requested that Truman Madsen, who has depleted a small cash budget allotted him by the First Presidency to keep in touch with certain book publications (details not given), be given $500 as a budget to continue this work. We approved of this appropriation.

Elder Dyer asked President Brown if Truman Madsen, Professor at the BYU, had any connection with “Dialogue” magazine, and President Brown answered “Absolutely none. ” Later, I was informed that Brother Madsen had written an article on the subject of “Joseph Smith and the Sources of Love”, published in the “Dialogue” magazine, Volume I, No. 1, 1966 issue.

Tues., 15 Oct., 1968:

“9:00 a.m.

A meeting of the First Presidency was held in the Hotel Apartment. President Hugh B. Brown was absent because of illness.

The following were among the matters discussed:

“One Mighty and Strong”

A letter was read from President Roy Doxey of the Provo Stake concerning Blaine Larsen, a faithful high priest living in the stake, who claims to have received a revelation that he is the “One Mighty and Strong” and in order not to believe this was requesting of me, through President Doxey, a verification one way or the other. President Dyer expressed his views on the matter, stating that the revelations of the Lord were explicit in their statements that no revelation is to be received regarding the Church excepting by the one who is appointed, meaning the President of the High Priesthood or President of the Church. President Dyer made reference to the following sections in the Doctrine and Covenants: Section 28, verses 2, 5, 12, and l3; Section 35, verse 18; Section 43, verses 3 – 6; and Section 132, verse 7 . Under the circumstances of these revelations it should be sufficient for this brother to understand that he is standing on dangerous ground when he assumes to have received a revelation purporting himself to be the “One Mighty and Strong”. I directed that a letter be sent to President Doxey advising him of my feeling in the matter and referring him to the revelations which President Dyer had identified.