Like many of you, I’m very excited for the forthcoming biography of one of Mormonism’s most influential early apostles: Parley P. Pratt: The Saint Paul of Mormonism by Terryl Givens with Matthew Grow. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011 (projected).
The very title itself tells a story. The Utah historian, Edward Wheelock Tullidge, wrote in 1876:
For his eloquent and erudite championship of the Church, both as speaker and writer, he is widely recognized as the Paul of Mormonism.1
Tullidge, however, was referring to the apostle Orson Pratt who he also called “the Paul of Mormondom” and the “Mormon Paul.”2 In his Life of Joseph the prophet (1878), Tullidge wrote:
[Parley's] Hebraic pen, made the ancient prophets live again in the divine of our own times; while his learned brother Orson has been as the veritable St. Paul of the Latter Days.3
The Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star published several chapters of Tullidge’s Life of Brigham Young, showing that Mormons were quite familiar with the work.4
In fact, Elder Orson F. Whitney would borrow Tullidge’s words in a centennial commemoration of Orson’s birth given in General Conference in 1911.
“The St. Paul of Mormondom”-as Tullidge styles him, was a preacher eloquent and powerful, a theologian learned and profound, a linguist to whom dead languages were an open book, a writer lucid and logical, a scientist of eminent attainments. Essentially a sage, having the philosophical temperament as well as the philosophical cast of mind, he might easily have been classed with the Wise Men of Greece, or even with the Hebrew Prophets.5
In 1889, following Tullidge, the American historian Hubert Howe Bancroft, also referred to Orson Pratt as the “Paul of Mormonism.”6 Reference books such as the New International Encyclopedia (1903) and Stewart Martin’s The Mystery of Mormonism (1920) continued the tradition. Mormon scholars who have noted this traditional appellation include David J. Whittaker, Peter Crawley, and Philip Barlow.7
Oddly enough, more people have referred to Brigham Young as the “St. Paul of Mormonism” than they have Parley P. Pratt.8 Perhaps we will never know why the English novelist Philip Lindsay wrote in 1939: “[Brigham] Young was the St. Paul of Mormonism, a superlative ruffian, a magnificent organiser.”9 Lindsay should have known that Brigham Young was the American Moses.
Perhaps the only time Parley P. Pratt is referred to as the “Paul of Mormonism” is as a passing reference in a published debate between Edmund Levi Kelly of the Reorganized Church and Clark Braden of the Disciples of Christ, held in Kirtland, Ohio in the spring of 1884. Braden sets forth Mormon chronology to support the Spaulding theory:
1828 – Rigdon makes a convert of P. P. Pratt, a teacher in Lorain county, Ohio, who begins to preach for the Disciples. He lets Pratt into his scheme, who goes into it and eventually becomes the Paul of Mormonism.10
Will the Real St. Paul of Mormonism Please Stand?
In 2009, Terryl L. Givens and Matthew Grow directed a Summer Seminar titled “Parley and Orson Pratt and Nineteenth-Century Mormon Thought.” The Mormon Scholars Foundation website offers a conclusion of that seminar: “There is no question that after Joseph Smith, Parley Pratt was the most important shaping mind in the church’s first generation. He was, in this regard, the Paul of Mormonism.”
As one should now be able to see, the new biography with the announced title “Parley P. Pratt: The Saint Paul of Mormonism” seeks to overturn Tullidge’s designation of Orson as the St. Paul of the Latter Days, granting the title to Parley. In some ways, this general reevaluation has been in the making for sometime. In the 1982 issue of Dialogue, Erich Robert Paul responded to David J. Whittaker and Peter Crawley’s articles on Orson and Parley’s respective writings.
Recognizing that I may be indulging in numerical mysticism, let me conclude with the following observation. Leonard Arrington’s poll of the most eminent LDS intellectuals ranked Orson Pratt second, Joseph Smith third, and Parley Pratt a distant ninth. It strikes me now that close historical work of the kind offered in these two papers reveals a new ordering: Joseph first, Parley second, and Orson third. Professors Crawley and Whittaker have now made their case. It will now be up to their professional colleagues to examine their claims critically and to explore the larger matrix of issues regarding intellectual and cultural connections among those individuals dealt with in these two studies of early Mormon intellectuals.11
Ronald W. Walker said of Tullidge’s approach to history:
Tullidge’s historical labors become more intelligible by comprehending his view of history. His debt to Thomas Carlyle’s Heroes, Hero-Worship and the Heroic in History was unmistakable. “In striking down the massive consolidations of ages,” he wrote in a virtual restatement of Carlyle, “destiny must raise up individuals as mighty battering-rams.” These heroic figures, in Tullidge’s view, became the determinators of history12
As Tullidge was creating the epic heroes of Mormondom, was it somewhat of an accident that he dubbed Orson Mormonism’s St. Paul, and not Parley? Or, perhaps Tullidge was fond of Orson Pratt, who was his mission president.13 Or perhaps Mormondom has more than one Paul. After all, Paul wasn’t as fortunate to have a brother in the faith.
1. Edward W. Tullidge, Life of Brigham Young: or, Utah and her founders. (New York, 1876), p. 74.
2. Life of Brigham Young, 404, 175
3. Edward W. Tullidge, Life of Joseph the prophet. (New York, 1878), p. 108.
4. See “Chapters from the Life of Prest. Young” Millennial Star. No. 31. Vol. 39, (Monday, July 30, 1877), p. 483; “Chapters from the Life of Prest. Young” Millennial Star. No. 17. Vol. 40, (Monday, April 29, 1878), p. 259.
5. Elder Orson F. Whitney, Conference Report, October 1911, Afternoon Session, p.68.
6. Bancroft, Hubert Howe. History of Utah, 1540-1887. (San Francisco: The History Company, 1889), p. 681 n11.
7. Peter Crawley. “Parley P. Pratt: Father of Mormon Pamphleteering”, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 15 (Autumn 1982): 19; David J. Whittaker, “Orson Pratt: Prolific Pamphleteer,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 15 (Autumn 1982): 27; Philip L. Barlow, Mormons and the Bible: The Place of the Latter-day Saints in American Religion (Oxford University Press, 1991): 81.
8. See, for example, Irving Hexham, Concise Dictionary of Religion. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993) p. 237; John E. Schwarz, The Compact Guide to the Christian Faith (Bethany House, 1999), p. 191.
9. Philip Lindsay, A mirror for ruffians (London: Drummond, 1939), p. 334.
10. E. L. Kelley and Clark Braden, Public Discussion of the Issues Between The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and The Church of Christ (Disciples) Held in Kirtland, Ohio, Beginning February 12, and Closing March 8, 1884 Between E. L. Kelley, of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and Clark Braden, of the Church of Christ. (St. Louis: Clark Braden, 1884), p. 77.
11. Erich Robert Paul, “Early Mormon Intellectuals: Parley P. and Orson Pratt, a Response,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 15 (Autumn 1982): 48.
12. Ronald W. Walker, “Edward Tullidge: Historian of the Mormon Commonwealth,” Journal of Mormon History 3 (1976): 68.
13. William Frank Lye, “Edward Wheelock Tullidge, The Mormons’ Rebel Historian”. Utah Historical Quarterly 28.1 (Winter 1960): 61.