Priesthood ecclesiology, 1876 edition

A number of months ago, I read an interesting entry in Frederick Kesler’s diary. He was a bishop in Salt Lake City, and on October 19, 1876 he attended a bishops’ meeting and had summarized Brigham Young’s instructions. Bill Hartley briefly mentions this meeting as an antecedent to Young’s more comprehensive ecclesiastical reforms in 1877. [n1] Kesler’s reaction is quite imformative:

[p. 179-180] I attended the Bps meeting, Prt Young was presant & spoke on the organisation of the Church[.] He said that the General authorities of the Church consisted of the first Presidency[,] the twelve apostles[,] the Seventies[,] the Patriarch & Presiding Bishop, all oather officers, or Quorums ware Local & only had jurisdiction in the stakes of Zion whare they reside. it seemed to be quiet new & was listened unto with profound attention[.] what made it more than ordonarly interesting was the fact that a diferent view of the same subject was set forth at a general meeting of the Priesthood held in the Old Tabernacle on Sunday evening durring conference or rather it was the Last day of Conferance at that meeting it was thought that the Presidents with thare councilers of the High Priests[,] Elders[,] Priests[,] Teachers[,] & Deacons Quorums, that was & Had been voted in at our General & Semiannual Conferences from year to year or from time to time ware & had jurisdiction over all those quorums throughout the Land.

Prt Young requested Elder John Taylor to write a piece on these points & Have them published that all might come to understanding & see these items alike.

I recently read through a collection of John Taylors papers, which the CHL digitized, and happened upon extracts from the minutes of that meeting. I imagine that it was used in part for the follow-up publication of the items discussed. My cursory check didn’t find if or when such a document was published, but this extract is simply wonderful. It is an extraordinary look into priesthood ecclesiology at the time:

Extract from the Minutes of a Bishop’s Meeting held in the Council House, Salt Lake City. Oct. 19, 1876

President Brigham Young said he came to this meeting for the purpose of correcting some ideas concerning the organization of the Priesthood, which had been entertained by some of the Elders, and which he understood were advanced at the Priesthood meeting at the close of the late Conference.

We hold Conferences in this Stake of Zion annually and semi-annually, at which we sustain the “general authorities” of the Church which are—

The First Presidency, whose calling is to preside over the Church in all the world.

Then came the Twelve Apostles who hold the same keys and authority as the First Presidency in their absence.

The Seventies hold the keys and authority to build up, organize and establish the Church and Kingdom of God upon the whole earth the same as the First Presidency and the Twelve Apostles in their absence.

These are the three principal general authorities of the Church.

[p. 2] Then comes the Patriarch (as Father Joseph Smith) for the whole Church. We have called and ordained many of the brethren to act as Patriarchs among the Saints, but there is only one sustained at our General Conferences as the Patriarch to the whole Church. These, with the Presiding Bishop, constitute all the “General Authorities that we sustain at our Conferences.

Then come the local authorities of this Stake of Zion which we always present at our General Conferences held in this City.

First, the President of this Stake of Zion with his counselors, whose duty it is to preside over the Stake.

Next the High Council.

Then the Presidency of the High Priests Quorum, whose authority is local, and extends only in the Stakes of Zion in which each quorum is organized. The number of High Priests composing a Quorum is not limited, but when organized with a President and two Counselors in each stake their authority is strictly local, having no jurisdiction over quorums in other stakes of Zion.

The President of the Elders’ Quorum presides over 96 Elders and his authority is local.

Now comes the Aaronic Priesthood, and we have a [p. 3] Presiding Bishop, whom we recognize. He presides over the Aaronic Priesthood or Bishopric throughout all the world.

The President of the Priests’ Quorum presides over 48 priests. Where necessary we may organize, one, two, or more quorums in a Stake of Zion, with a President and two counselors over each.

The President of the Teachers presides over 24 Teachers; and the President of the Deacons over 12 deacons, and should there be enough to make two quorums and they wish and organization they are entitled to it and still more if there are sufficient to admit of it.

All the Quorums of High Priests, Elders, Priests and Deacons are local in their authority and jurisdiction, and strictly confined in their official duties to the stake of Zion in which they are located.

So with the High Councils their jurisdiction extends only to the Stakes, in which they are organized. Some have entertained the idea that the High Council in this Stake of Zion had jurisdiction over all other [p. 4] This is not so. The High Council of Weber Co. or of any other Stake would have just as much right to call in question the decisions of the High Council of this Stake of Zion as this High council theirs; both are equal in authority.

This is the organization of the Church, and should I be asked where I obtained my knowledge, I get it from the Revelation that God has given in these Latter-days, which are very plain on the subject.

All these quorums and authorities are under the direction of the First Presidency.


  1. William G. Hartley, “The Priesthood Reorganization of 1877: Brigham Young’s Last Achievement,” BYU Studies 20:1 (1979), 5.


  1. Really fun. The extension inserted in the manuscript history on Joseph and the Twelve, (“where I am not, there is no First Presidency over the Twelve”) works here to see a natural succession if one quorum is eliminated. Really important stuff in the somewhat obscure world of Mormon priesthood.

  2. Well, I’m sure the priesthood stuff is interesting, but I got hung up on your mention of Bishop Kesler, since he figures regularly into the history of a woman I’ve been working on from time to time, an early Utah politician.

    Also, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a picture of the old Tabernacle. Cool!

  3. J. Stapley says:

    Agreed. Amy, all of Kesler’s extant diaries are available online at the UU. Also, they will print them out on demand for reasonable. They are extraordinary.

  4. Thanks for the tip, J. I’ve been looking through those.

    They’re well written and it’s easy to locate dates, but the contents are of mixed usefulness for my purposes. The woman I’m researching carefully recorded blessings, baptisms, and confirmations for each of her children, along with who performed the ordinance. In the diary sometimes Bishop Kesler will say something like, “[1895] August 1 Th. I attended Fast meeting in my ward at 10 am asisted in Blessing several children & of confirming one.” The child confirmed on that occasion was one of her children.

    On the other hand, this family lost a number of children to diphtheria and other causes during this time and not one of the deaths or funerals is mentioned. What a striking omission. I can’t imagine a modern bishop keeping a detailed diary like this and not mentioning a family losing all those children one after another. Have the duties of a bishop changed from being centered on the performance of priesthood ordinances and financial duties to more pastoral involvement with the community, or did Kesler just not mention things like that?

  5. J. Stapley says:

    They are spotty on certain types of details to be certain. I’m interested in your research though. I was drawn to Kesler precisely because of the way his record elucidates aspects of 19th century liturgy.

  6. This makes me saddened that the Church Patriarch is no more. What are we missing?

  7. Let’s see if I get this:
    In Nauvoo times the high council of Zion did indeed have jurisdiction over all other high councils, right?
    It says that the local authorities are presented in GC’s held at SLC. Were GC’s ever held in any other locations? If not, it is easy to think that the authorities of Zion have larger jurisdiction, hence Kesler’s confusion.
    I was also surprised to see that Presiding Patriarch was listed after the Seventies.

  8. J. Stapley says:

    Niklas, yes, which was a reading of D&C 10:37. I think because BY was discussing Quorums those got addressed first. The Presiding Bishop got similarly mentioned, though clearly he remained a principle and general officer. I’d have to double check, but I also think that JFS elevated order of sustaining so that the Patriarch was before the Twelve. That was almost thirty years after this.

    Steve it at least means less dudes with the last name Smith around.

  9. What is wrong with the name Smith, I’d like to know!