Wednesday, January 17, 2007
Eldred G. Smith turned 100 on Jan 10th, and may be the last Patriarch
of the church.
Originally, the office of Presiding Patriarch was one of the highest
positions in the church. The role was equated with Biblical Patriarchs
from Adam to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and it was expected that the
office would descend through lineal succession through his children.
Hyrum Smith, Joseph Smith's brother, became the second patriarch, as
Smith's older brother Alvin had died. When the office was given to the
senior Smith, he was given "keys of the patriarchal priesthood over
the kingdom of God on earth, even the Church of the Latter Day
Saints". Thus, some have argued that the Presiding Patriarch is an
office of the Patriarchal Priesthood. However, the existence of the
Patriachal Priesthood is controversial.
The role and duties of the office have varied. The Presiding Patriarch
sometimes appointed local patriarchs in the stakes of the church and
presided over them as a loose "Quorum of Patriarchs." Like the local
Patriarchs, the Presiding Patriarch is also empowered to give
The first Presiding Patriarch was Joseph Smith, Sr., father of the
movement's founder, Joseph Smith, Jr. The elder Smith was ordained to
the office by his son on December 18, 1833 in Kirtland, Ohio. When the
senior Smith was on his deathbed, he ordained his eldest son, Hyrum,
to succeed him in the office by right of lineal succession. When Hyrum
was assassinated together with his brother Joseph, their only
surviving brother, William asserted his lineal right to the
Patriarchate. William was duly ordained to the office by Brigham
Young. William was shortly thereafter excommunicated from Young's
organization for apostasy. After joining himself with, and supporting
a rival faction of the church led by James J. Strang, William was
sustained as Presiding Patriarch for the Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter Day Saints (Strangite). He later apostasized from Strang's
organization and asserted his own claim to be successor by right of
lineal succession to the Presidency of the Church (after joining
himself with other factions for short periods of times).
In the meantime, Young called John Smith, a brother of Joseph Smith
Sr. known as "Uncle John", to be Presiding Patriarch of the largest
Latter Day Saint church faction, which is known as The Church of Jesus
Christ of Latter-day Saints. John Smith was succeeded by Hyrum's son,
John Smith, in 1855. This John Smith was followed by his grandson,
Hyrum G. Smith in 1912. After Hyrum G. Smith's death, in 1932, church
President Heber J. Grant diminished the responsibilities of the office
and also eliminated the precedent of direct lineal succession, by
ordaining Joseph Fielding Smith to the office in 1942. Joseph Fielding
Smith resigned the office in 1946 and in 1947 and Hyrum G. Smith's
son, Eldred G. Smith was ordained Presiding Patriarch. In 1979, the
First Presidency announced that Eldred G. Smith had received
"emeritus" status and effectively discontinued the office.
The Patriarchal Priesthood (or Abrahamic Priesthood) is one of three
types (called "orders") of priesthood described by Joseph Smith, Jr.,
the founder of the church. The other two orders are the Aaronic
Priesthood and the Melchizedek Priesthood. The Patriarchal Priesthood
is an obscure and controversial order about which he provided little
Unlike the other orders of Latter Day Saint priesthood, Joseph Smith
believed that the Patriarchal Priesthood descended from father to son
by the principle of lineal succession. He considered it to be the
order that was passed from father to son from the days of Adam, and it
was the order of priesthood held by a Patriarch (Mormonism).
The first recorded mention of the Patriarchal Priesthood was on
December 18, 1833, when Joseph Smith, Jr. blessed his father Joseph
Smith, Sr., and stated:
Three years previous to the death of Adam, he called Seth, Enos,
Cainan, Mahalaleel, Jared, Enoch and Methuselah, who were High
Priests, with the residue of his posterity, who were righteous, into
the valley of Adam-ondi-Ahman, and there bestowed upon them his last
blessing. And the Lord appeared unto them, and they rose up and
blessed Adam, and called him Michael, the Prince, the Archangel. And
the Lord administered comfort unto Adam, and said unto him, I have set
thee to be at the head: a multitude of nations shall come of thee, and
thou art a Prince over them forever. So shall it be with my father: he
shall be called a prince over his posterity, holding the keys of the
patriarchal Priesthood over the kingdom of God on earth, even the
Church of the Latter Day Saints". (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph
Smith, sec. 1, pp. 38-39).
Given the office of Patriarch, Joseph Smith, Sr. was to give
Patriarchal blessings to the fatherless. He later passed on that
authority to his son Hyrum Smith.
In Nauvoo, Illinois on August 27, 1843, while the Nauvoo Temple was
being constructed, Joseph Smith, Jr. taught of "Three Grand Orders" of
There are three grand orders of priesthood referred to here.
1st. The King of Shiloam (Salem) had power and authority over that
of Abraham, holding the key and the power of endless life.... The
Melchizedek Priesthood holds the right from the eternal God, and not
by descent from father and mother; and that priesthood is as eternal
as God Himself, having neither beginning of days nor end of life.
The 2nd Priesthood is Patriarchal authority. Go to and finish the
temple, and God will fill it with power, and you will then receive
more knowledge concerning this priesthood.
The 3rd is what is called the Levitical Priesthood, consisting of
priests to administer in outward ordinances, made without an oath; but
the Priesthood of Melchizedek is by an oath and covenant.
The Holy Ghost is God's messenger to administer in all those
priesthoods. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sec. 6, pp.
Thus, Smith's statements appear to point to this "2nd Priesthood", the
Patriarchal Priesthood, as something to do with the temple. Some have
argued that this patriarchal priesthood was part of the Endowment and
sealing ceremonies practiced in Latter Day Saint temples, which was
thought to give participants an "endowment" of priesthood power that
has generational-lasting affects on both sides of the veil -
specifically relating to the Sealing power. The effects of this power
and priesthood has been partially referred to by James E. Faust, of
the LDS Church's First Presidency in the late 1990s and early 2000s,
in speaking about effects of the blessings promised to sealed parents
of wayward children. Others have suggested that the priesthood was
limited strictly to the office of Patriarch.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not recognize a
Patriarchal order of priesthood separate from the Melchizedek
Since the office of Patriarch is a Priesthood office to which one is
ordained and a General Authority position to which one is called,
Eldred G. Smith's ordination remains valid even if the position is not
currently filled. His son (and likely heir in the position) has
written a controversial book that some feel is critical of the Church
about placing the current patriarch on Emeritus status.  The church
has been silent to whether or not the position will be filled in the
At least on three occasions, someone has held the office of "Acting
Patriarch of the Church" who was not in the specified lineage. One
such "Acting Patriarch" was George Franklin Richards.  Others may
have included Franklin Bartlett Woodbury and Nicholas G. Smith.
1. ^ Irene Bates and E. Gary Smith, The Mormon Office of Presiding
Patriarch (1995) ISBN 0-252-02163-0
2. ^ Deseret News 2001-2002 Church Almanac, "Patriarchs to the
Church," pg. 70