Bishop of Bishops! (Mormon Poetry for a Catholic Moment)

Habemus papam, and everyone seems to know it. Something that surprised me during Pope Francis’ election process was the way that this event seemed to produce an ripple of Catholic consciousness that extended far beyond the normal bounds of the Catholic community. I remember, for example, the way that several of my non-Catholic friends and acquaintances watched and listened to the media, hanging expectantly upon the wait for the announcement of the new Pope’s name, triumphantly exchanging good wishes and joyous sentiments when the selection was finally made.

Many of these friends would be considered part of the “nones“–those who choose not to formally identify with any religion at all, let alone Catholicism.  Yet, notwithstanding their personal beliefs, it seemed meaningful to all these people to declare habemus papam— we have a Pope. In that moment, they folded up their daily identities and folded themselves into unity to participate in this moment of Catholic joy, allowing their bodies to become a conduit of sorts for Catholic poetics and consciousness. I’m going to experiment with that myself. What would it look like or sound like for a Mormon, to exclaim, “Yes, we have a Pope!”

The 19th-century Mormon poet and theologian, Eliza R. Snow, wrote a poem in praise of a man who in her eyes was the “Bishop of Bishops.” This creates a special poetic moment where, although Mormon doctrine does not generally provide for the primacy of one bishop in a papal sense, we have a source within our literary tradition where Mormon words seem to overlap with Catholic words. Perhaps this overlap is a small poetic opportunity for unity. Perhaps it might help us to come together and perhaps join in some small way in the globe’s feelings of adoration for the Pope.

The poem follows.

Bishop of Bishops!
We would humbly now
A wreath of honor twine around your brow.
Let honor be to him whom honor’s due
This, worthy veteran we concede to you.

Long have you served, and served in righteousness–
Long have you labored, and in faithfulness,
Like a tall, sturdy forest oak you’ve stood,
Confronting evil and promoting good.
When persecution scathing vollies sent,
You braved the storms, unshaken and unbent.
One of God’s nobles, you have truly proved,
An honest man in every sphere you’ve moved;
Honest and true to every sacred trust,
Truthful in word, and in your dealings just.

The generations yet will come to tell,
You made your record and you made it well.
The path of duty you’ve carefully trod–
True to yourself, the Priesthood and to God.

We record bear–in many a trying hour
Your cheering words have added strength and power;
To woman’s efforts when our duties led,
O’er human need, benevolence to shed.
To clothe the naked, and the hungry feed,
And in broad fields of usefulness to lead.

You’ve marked our labors and have understood
Our work is arduous and our motives good.
Your kind, appreciative influence
To us has been a standing recompense.

In Zion’s cause you’ve labored long and hard;
By faith and works have earned a rich reward,
And hold by legal claim, a Deed of Trust
Due in the resurrection of the just.

Though ripe in years and ripe in usefulness,
God granted you lengthen’d life and happiness,
And health and strength by day, and nightly rest–
Live, and in blessing others, be thou blest.

When in the flesh your work is fully done–
Your battles fought and all your vict’ries won,
In cloudless glory may your setting sun
Go down in peace.

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2 thoughts on “Bishop of Bishops! (Mormon Poetry for a Catholic Moment)

  1. This must have been written during the Mormon reformation in the 1850s. Church leaders thought that members weren’t being faithful enough. Brigham banned the sacrament until he felt the people were worthy. There was heavy emphasis on following church leaders. It also saw the creation of the ‘Mormon catechism’ which is like the forerunner of the temple recommend questions. After this reformation period leaders toned down the ‘follow-the-leader’ rhetoric and instead encouraged members to get their own inspiration and not blindly trust/follow the leadership. Also, at this time the presiding bishop had a much more significant role. He was the one making financial decisions for the church.

    Thanks for posting this!

  2. I needed to thank you for this fantastic study!! I surely enjoying every small bit of it I’ve you bookmarked to have a look at new stuff you post…

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