Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Review: "Lost Legacy, The Mormon Office of Presiding Patriarch" (reviewed by Richard Russell)


Title: Lost Legacy, The Mormon Office of Presiding Patriarch
Author: Irene Bates and E. Gary Smith
Publisher: U of Illinois Press
Genre: Non-fiction Year
Published: 2003
Number of Pages: 272
Binding: Paper
ISBN10: 0-252-02163-0
ISBN13: 0-252-07115-8
Price: $21.95

Reviewed by Richard Russell

The book is the history of the inherited office of Presiding Patriarch in the Mormon Church from its creation by Joseph Smith, Jr. in 1833 to its demise in 1979. This thoroughly researched history was the winner of the Mormon History Association Best Book Award in 1997 when first published in 1996. This reviews the 2003 edition in paper.

The authors are eminently qualified to write it, both having previously published numerous treatises, papers and articles on the topics that are often quoted in the text. E. Gary Smith is the oldest son of the current Patriarch Emeritus, Eldred G. Smith. Had the office continued, he likely would have succeeded to it. This fact subtly colors the study positively because of unique insights that would not otherwise have been available. It also strongly legitimizes the conclusion he draws after the office was retired.

The hereditary office of Presiding Patriarch of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, first occupied by the father of the Mormon prophet, Joseph Smith, Jr., seemed the focal point of a struggle for authority between those appointed and those born to leadership positions. The authors argue that the office's 1979 demise was inevitable. Chronicling the history of the office beginning with the first, Joseph Smith, Sr., through the eighth official holder, they illuminate the tensions between the leadership circle of the Council of the Twelve Apostles and the potential rival power center of the Patriarch. Asserting that the struggle was related to conflict between the Smith family and the rest of the leadership, the book makes the case that the real source of dissonance between the patriarchs and other church leaders was the impossibility of melding familial authority of the Patriarch ("lineal charisma") with official authority of the structured leadership of the church ("office charisma").

As an example of the back and forth nature of the conflict the text says: The different names the office went by is an indication of the variations in administrative authority extended and, to some degree, the varying degrees of dissonance. The title fluctuated between "Patriarch over the whole Church." "Patriarch of the Church." "Presiding Patriarch," and "Patriarch to the Church." During the 1932-42 hiatus, it was determined that the name should henceforth be "Patriarch to the Church." > From the final chapter, Conclusion, on Page 227:

As a member of the Mormon Church, I was unaware of all this underlying turmoil and conflict in the office between the patriarchs and the twelve. Most of the trouble originated within the body of the Quorum of the Twelve, not generally in the person of the patriarch except for William Smith in 1845. In 1979, the year of the demise of the position, the church had 4.4 million members and 1,092 stakes of Zion. It made perfect sense to me to discontinue the office with so many stake patriarchs functioning within closer reach to those not in stakes (only 1100 branches) than the church patriarch located in Salt Lake City. Add to this the needed resolution of the conflict and the authors reasonably conclude that the end of the position was inevitable.

Eldred G. Smith continued to give patriarchal blessings by request after he assumed emeritus status.

This table details the office holders.

1. 18 Dec 1833 – 14 Sep 1840  Joseph Smith, Sr., Father of Joseph Smith, Jr.
2. 14 Sep 1840 – 27 Jun 1844  Hyrum Smith, Oldest surviving son of Joseph Smith, Sr.
3. 24 May 1845 – 19 Oct 1845  William Smith, Oldest surviving son of Joseph Smith, Sr.

1845-1847 was a patriarchal interregnum that left the office vacant during a period of turmoil and transition as the saints emigrated from Illinois and the Quorum of the Twelve sorted out church leadership roles. Another factor was the controversial personality of William Smith, the struggle between him and Brigham Young, and William's eventual excommunication after a short term in office.

4. 1 Jan 1847 – 23 May 1854  John Smith, "Uncle John" brother of Joseph Smith, Sr.
5. 18 Feb 1855 – 6 Nov 1911  John Smith, Son of Hyrum Smith by Jerusha Barden.
6. 9 May 1912 – 4 Feb 1932   Hyrum G. Smith, Grandson of John Smith, previous Presiding Patriarch; great-grandson of Hyrum Smith.

1937 – 8 Oct 1942    George F. Richards (Acting Presiding Patriarch). Unrelated to Smith family, was officially called, set apart, and sustained as the Acting Presiding Patriarch.

7. 8 Oct 1942 – 6 Oct 1946   Joseph Fielding Smith II, Great-grandson of Hyrum Smith; not a descendant of previous Presiding Patriarch Hyrum G. Smith; released by President George Albert Smith amid reports of homosexual activity. Restored to "priesthood status" in 1957.
8. 10 Apr 1947 – 4 Oct 1979   Eldred G. Smith, Son of former Presiding Patriarch Hyrum G. Smith; great-great-grandson of Hyrum Smith. Released to emeritus status.

Local patriarchs assisted with the duties of the vacant office of Patriarch from 1932-1937. This included:

4 February 1932 – 1934   Nicholas G. Smith (de facto Acting Presiding Patriarch) Son of Apostle John Henry Smith; grandson of Apostle George A. Smith; great-grandson of former Presiding Patriarch "Uncle" John Smith; was never officially called, set apart, or sustained as the Acting Presiding Patriarch, but carried out the functions of the office. 1934 – 1937     Frank B. Woodbury (de facto Acting Presiding Patriarch) Unrelated to Smith family; was never officially called, set apart, or sustained as the Acting Presiding Patriarch, but carried out the functions of the office. Others who helped during this time were stake patriarchs Charles Jones, and James Wallis.

I found the extensive chapter end notes particularly helpful and strongly advise readers to consult them. This edition includes two appendices, a sizeable bibliography and useful index.

No serious student of Mormonism should be without this volume in her library. I recommend it highly.

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