Monday, January 12, 2009

Universal Priesthood

A common argument used against the priesthood of the Catholic Church is that a select cast of priestly mediators is no longer needed on earth, since all Christians are part of a "holy priesthood," and since Christ's mediatory sacrifice is sufficient once and for all.

The second part of the argument is based on a misunderstanding of the mediation provided by the Catholic priest, specifically, the re-presentation of Christ's once-and-for-all sacrifice on Calvary (see Fr. James T. O'Connor, The Hidden Manna (2d ed. 2005)). As there is no presentation of, or mediation by a new sacrifice, Christ's perfectly sufficient sacrifice suffers no derogation. Thus, I will focus on the other part of the argument, which sees a priestly cast as contrary to the Bible's description of a priesthood of all believers.

This view is founded on 1 Peter 2:4-5, where the Apostle says, "As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him — you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (NIV)"

But a general priestly office (held by all believers) excludes a particular priestly office no more than the general "offering" of "spiritual sacrifices" excludes the particular offering of Christ's sacrifice on Calvary. In fact, that a general priesthood can exist along with a particular priestly cast is proven by the Pentateuch. Exodus 19:3-6, depicts Moses receiving a message from the Lord for the house of Jacob and the people of Israel: "Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation." But the existence of this general priesthood of all of God's people did not bar David from raising up a priestly tribe as described in 1 Chronicles 23 ff.

I am a layman. I do not know whether, in the development of eucharistic and episcopal doctrine, the eventual use of the word "priest" was the perfect choice. But I do know that the arguments against its use suffer from the aforesaid deficiencies. I also know that the classical Protestant term "minister" itself implies some mediation -- it means (in its verb form) "to administer or dispense." The Reformed minister dispenses God's grace via the word and sacraments. The very act of dispensing what is not one's own is a mediatory act. Therefore, if some human mediation denies Christ's sole mediation, then out with that term too.


Kim said...

Good points made, Tom. That quote from Exodus is especially interesting. I'm lurking around here, I hope you don't mind. Enjoying your posts once again.

Thos said...

Dear Kim,

Lurk away! Your contributions are always warmly received. After seeing George pope, I've been wondering who's next (?). Hmmm?

Peace in Christ,

Kim said...

I wish I could say it's me, but I'm not there yet. I have a husband who is not too keen on the idea and has been happy for me to put it aside...for now. There is a better chance of getting him to visit an Anglican church. So I am pursuing small steps.

You certainly sound keen, though. I'd love to hear how things are going for you.

Owen said...

The Hidden Manna is an excellent book. I would have liked to have read it during my conversion (from 20 years as a protestant minister to Catholic). May God continue to bless you in your journey.

Devin Rose said...

I made a blog post yesterday that mentioned 1 John where John writes that "you do not need anyone to teach you" because the anointing of Christ teaches you, which could support the notion, if interpreted in an incorrect (but plausibly from the words used) way, that ministerial priests and a church hierarchy are unnecessary.

Gil Garza said...

Regarding the use of the word priest to specify a Christian minister.

The word priest comes from the word presbyter (Middle English preist < Old English prēost < Late Latin presbyter < Ancient Greek πρεσβύτερος (presbuteros) < πρέσβυς (presbus), “‘elder, older’”).

The NT speaks of the office of presbyter.

Unfortunately for us in English, the Greek word, ἱερεύς (hiereus, m.) and the corresponding Latin word, sacerdos (sacerdōs m. ) both have been represented by the word priest. When reading most English bibles, we have no way of distinguishing between the two, very different Greek words.

Hebrews 4:14 says that Jesus is the “supreme high (αρχιερεα, archiereus, m. ). “He is not the supreme high πρεσβύτερος (presbuteros).

Titus 1:5 says, “appoint πρεσβύτεροuς (presbuteros) in every town.” Paul did not say that Titus was to appoint ἱερεύς (hiereus, m.) in every town.

Men are ordained in the Catholic Church to the episcopate, presbyteratus and diaconate (Canon 1009, Code of Canon Law). The presbyters of the Catholic Church are rightly called priests.

Thos said...

Dear Owen,

I suspect yours is a fascinating story. And if I ever am in the market to commission art, I'll give you a call. Yours is right up my alley.

Peace in Christ,

Thos said...


I agree. And thus comes to light the reasons that some pre-Reformation Catholic theologians harbored concerns of prudence about the ways in which the laity were welcomed to handle Sacred Scriptures.

Peace in Christ,

Thos said...


Fascinating, but I need more help. So priest is a modern English form of nothing more then Presbyter. But the Presbyterian critic of the Catholic priesthood says that it wrongly replaces our αρχιερεα, (archiereus). Okay -- but where does ἱερεύς (hiereus) tie in?

And, more to my post, do you happen to know what the relationship between presbyteros of the New Testament, and uses of "priest" in the Old Testamant (e.g., 1 Chronicles) -- be it Hebrew or the Septuagint? I would be very interested to know if the Septuagint called the Levites "presbyters", but I don't own a Septuagint.


Peace in Christ,

George Weis said...

Well put! Simple and concise. Unfortunately not to many people would listen to this thought pattern. Many don't like the idea, and would be pleased if you changed the topic! I should know, I was one of em :D


Gil Garza said...

Great question! Here we go:

Greek Transliterated (Latin letters instead of Greek) Hebrews 4:14: arch (head or chief) ierea (from hiereus, or sacerdos, one who mediates or offers sacrifice) megan (great or exceedingly).

Jesus is the chief high hiereus. The Greek word hiereus was used to refer to those who offered sacrifice in the temple for Israel, see Lev. 21:10 and Num. 35:25 (etc) in the Septuagint.

Members of the Sanhedrin or “Great Council” were called presbuteros or presbyters. Deut 16:16; 17:9 establishes that each town should have a council of elders (judges and scribes). Each local council was lead by a chief elder or overseer who sat on his seat of authority (cathedras). Difficult cases were referred upwards to the Great Council presided over by the Chief High Priest who ruled from the Seat of Moses.

In the New Testament, Christ established that each town have a council of presbyters, presided over by a bishop who sits on his seat of authority (Titus 1:5-7ff). The seat of authority that the bishop sits upon is called a cathedras. The house that the cathedras is in is called a cathedral.

There is a Great Council which decides greater, more important matters made up of the bishops of the world who are lead by a chief bishop who sits upon not the Seat of Moses but the Seat of Peter. This chief bishop’s ministry is to be the Shepherd of the Entire Flock of the Messiah (Jn. 21:15-17).

Yaholo said...

Poetry of reason, thanks!