Mormon Literary Treatments of the War in Heaven

The LDS Church is unique in having a coherent scriptural account of the War in Heaven. Although the idea is found throughout Western religious thought, there is no coherent biblical narrative of the War. It is rooted in the biblical story of fallen angels (Gen. 6); a reinterpretation of Isaiah 12; and the apocalyptic writings of John (Revelation 12). The first full blown narrative is found in the apocryphal Vita Adae et Evae (or Life of Adam and Eve). The Vita speaks of God calling the angels together following Adam’s creation to admire and “worship the image of God,” the first human. Satan refuses, stating, “I do not worship Adam. . . . I will not worship one inferior and subsequent to me. I am prior to him in creation, before he was made, I was already made. He ought to worship me.” The angel Michael threatens him and forcefully urges him to comply, to which Satan replies, “I will set my throne above the stars of heaven and will be like the Most High.” With the hosts of angels that follow him, Satan is cast out of heaven. Satan’s rebellion turns upon the sin of pride rather than human agency.

Despite the fact that Mormons have multiple scriptural accounts of the War in Heaven (in the Book of Moses, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Book of Abraham), the story does not seem to occupy a central place in Mormon literary production. I am aware of only three examples. Nephi Anderson’s Added Upon, a popular didactic novel first published in 1898 (which was in continuous publication until 2005), depicts the War in Heaven through a conversation between pre-mortal spirits Homan and Delsa:

“What do you think of Lucifer and his plan?” asked she.
“The talented Son of the Morning is in danger of being cast out if he persists in his course. As to his plan, it is this: ‘If I cannot rule, I will ruin.’”
“And if he rule, it will still be ruin, it seems to me.”

The novel goes on to tell how “Many of the mighty and noble children of God arrayed themselves on the side of Christ, their Elder Brother, and waged war against Lucifer’s pernicious doctrine.”

Published in 1904, Orson F. Whitney’s poem Elias: An Epic of the Ages depicts the competing arguments put forward by Jesus and Satan, then cuts quickly to the outcome:

’T was done. From congregation vast
Tumultuous murmurs rose;
Waves of conflicting sound, as when
Two meeting seas oppose.
’T was finished. But the heavens wept;
And still their annals tell
How one was choice of Elohim,
O’er one who fighting fell.

Finally, the popular 1977 production My Turn on Earth, written by Carol Lynn Pearson with music by Lex de Azevedo, has two musical numbers that focus on the War in Heaven. In the first, Lucifer sings, “I have a plan. It will save every man. I will force them to live righteously. They won’t have to choose. Not one we’ll lose. And give all the glory to me.” Jesus responds, “I have a plan. It is better for man. Each will have to decide what to be. And choosing, I know, you’ll learn and you’ll grow. And Father the glory to thee.” This song is followed by another, “Shout for Joy,” in which the pre-mortal souls celebrate: “Satan’s plan we did destroy! We’ll shout, we’ll shout for joy!”

So what have I missed? Surely there are other depictions of the War in Heaven in Mormon literature.

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8 Responses to Mormon Literary Treatments of the War in Heaven

  1. Th. says:

    .

    Even though Eternal Misfit is about the Mormon afterlife, in a very clever way it is also about the premortal life with hints of the war in heaven.

    Which barely qualifies, but it’s the only other work I can think of at the moment.

  2. Wm Morris says:

    You’re forgetting a work you actually published, Th — “Gaia” by Eric Samuelsen. Here’s a review of the play by Gideon Burton (see paragraph five) and here’s a link to the New Play Project anthology — which includes “Gaia.”

  3. Tod Robbins says:

    I’m actually working on a post-War in Heaven short story about a fallen spirit. So… ;-)

  4. BHodges says:

    Great post Boyd. I’ve thought about doing an extended analysis of LDS depictions of the war in heaven. Coincidentally, I just did a blog post on an 1858 chapter from Edward Tullidge’s never-completed epic poem about Joseph Smith. It depicts a Miltonian “Grand Council of Hell” with Satan and his subordinates. The chapter seems to represent a continuation of the war in heaven:

    http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com/2011/02/edward-tullidges-miltonian-gathering-of-the-grand-council-of-hell/

    The blog post links to a transcript of Tullidge’s entire chapter.

  5. What about Chris Stewart’s The Great and The Terrible?

  6. Boyd Petersen says:

    Thanks, folks! I’d forgotten about Gaia and I was unfamiliar with Stewart’s book.

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