“It was necessary to keep up a full organization of the Church all through time as far as could be.
At least the three First Presidency, Quorum of the Twelve, Seventies,
and Patriarch over the whole Church …
so that the devil could take no advantage of us.”
Today, January 9, 2012 is the birthday of Eldred G Smith. He is 105 years old. Eldred Smith is a great-great-grandson to Hyrum Smith, Joseph Smith’s brother. He is the Emeritus Patriarch of the Church.
He is the oldest living General Authority in the history of the Church. Last year in 2011, he surpassed David O. McKay as the longest-serving general authority in LDS Church history. He deserves more attention than he receives. The Church has undergone tremendous changes since Joseph Smith, including the gradual dissolving in importance of the office of Patriarch of the Church.
Most do not know that Joseph Smith, by revelation, established two presiding offices: The President of the High Priesthood and the Patriarch of the Church. The President (Joseph Smith) presided. But the Patriarch stood by with keys to ordain the next President and provide for orderly transition from one President to the next. The Patriarchal office is by lineage or descent, thus avoiding the possibility of men seeking for power, position and/or control. The Lord’s checks and balances.
Eldred Gee Smith should have become Patriarch in 1932, at the death of his father. However, Pres. Heber J. Grant was "evidently reticent" to have him be the new Patriarch, so the important ecclesiastical office was left vacant for a decade. Apparently President Grant was conflicted about the Patriarch because he considered himself a descendant of Joseph Smith by sealing and the Patriarch was competition to that; and therefore he did not want the Patriarch to ordain him president. He had the Twelve ordain him. However, 10 years later, President Grant disregarded the patrilineage and ordained Joseph Fielding Smith to the office. President Grant also had the name change from "Presiding Patriarch" to "Patriarch to the Church."
After the serving for only 4 years, Patriarch Joseph Fielding Smith was discovered to have had homosexual relations and was released by President George Albert Smith. Eldred G Smith was then rightly selected as the next Presiding Patriarch and served in that position for the next 32 years. Eldred regularly spoke in General Conferences; hhowever, in 1979, he was placed on emeritus status by the First Presidency and no new Patriarch was called to replace him. At his death, the office of Patriarch to the Church, which once rivaled that of the President of the Church, will cease to exist.
Most don’t even know Eldred G Smith exists as a 105 year old living man today. However, I think we all should sent out a Happy 105th Birthday Wish to him.
“Whenever a patriarch after 1844 tried to magnify his presiding office, the Twelve and First Presidency recoiled in apprehension. However, when individual patriarchs seemed to lack administrative vigor, the Twelve and First Presidency criticized them for not magnifying their office. Few men could walk such an ecclesiastical tightrope. For various reasons the First Presidency and Twelve were in conflict with seven out of eight successors of the original Presiding Patriarch, Joseph Smith, Sr. The hierarchy finally resolved the situation on 6 Oct 1979 by making Eldred G. Smith an “emeritus” general authority without replacing him. This permanently “discontinued” the office of Patriarch to the Church. … Vacating the office in 1979 ended the conflicts. However, according to Brigham Young’s instructions, the 1979 action made the church vulnerable: “It was necessary to keep up a full organization of the Church all through time as far as could be. At least the three first Presidency, quorum of the Twelve, Seventies, and Patriarch over the whole Church … so that the devil could take no advantage of us.” It is beyond the scope of this analysis to assess such metaphysical vulnerability. Administratively, however, the decision to leave the patriarch’s office vacant after 1979 streamlined the hierarchy and removed a source of nearly constant tension." Quinn, Extensions of Power, p. 131
Interestingly the term "Prophet" was not applied to a living man holding the office of "President of the Church" until 1955, during the administration of David O. McKay. The term "Prophet" until that time always meant exclusively Joseph Smith, and not the office holder of President. Before then it was "President Young" and "President Taylor" and "President Woodruff" and so on. However, in 1955 the Church News began a new practice of referring to the living President McKay as a "Prophet." It was felt that changing the reference to the living President would result in quicker acceptance of direction from him, and less criticism of the President. (President Grant was the most unpopular Church President in the Church's history, and that was something they hoped to avoid happening again.) It worked. No-one wants to reject counsel from a living prophet of God.