What’s the Big Deal About Priests?

Garry Wills, in Why Priests, provides some interesting thoughts on the significance of the Roman Catholic priesthood (Chapter 2, p. 20):

The most striking thing about priests, in the later history of Christianity, is their supposed ability to change bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus Christ. “From this unique sacrifice their whole priestly ministry draws its strength” (C 1566). Nothing else about their actions is on that scale–the fact that they can routinely work an astounding miracle. Jesus becomes present in every bit of bread and every bit of wine that is consecrated, and only one thing can make it happen–the words of a priest impersonating Jesus at the Last Supper and saying, “This is MY [i.e., Jesus’ though the priest is speaking] body . . . This is the cup of MY blood.”
The only person on earth who can do this is a priest, and he can do it all by himself, with no congregation present (in what is called a private Mass). A congregation of believers, no matter how large or how pious, cannot do this if no priest is present. The people of God cannot approach God directly, in this rite central to many Christians, but only through a designated agent. As Thomas Aquinas put it: “A priest, it was earlier said, is established as the mediator between God and the people. A person who stands in need of a mediator with God cannot approach him on his own” (ST 3.22 a4r).

This does, of course, lead to the “Protestant” objection that there is only one mediator, Christ.  This becomes even more clearly in a quotation Garry Wills provides from an RC “saint” (p. 25):

In the twelfth century, Saint Norbert, the founder of the Premonstratensian order of priests, wrote of the priest’s re-enactment of the Incarnation, “Priest you are not, because you are God.”[Caroline Walker Bynum, Holy Feast and Holy Fast (University of California Press, 1987), p. 57]

Garry Wills also draws a distinction between the traditional splendor of the papacy and the austerity of the original apostles (pp. 28 and 32):

Until recently the pope used to enter Saint Peter’s on a sedia gestatoria, a throne borne on the shoulders of twelve footman while two attendants used the flabellum, a large ceremonial fan made of white ostrich feathers. Despite suspension of its use, the sedia has not been formally renounced.
All this fuss and finery far outdoes what Jesus condemned in the Pharisees. “Everything they do is done to impress people. They enlarge their tefillins and lengthen their tassels” (Mt 23.5-6).

Of course I have known humble and hardworking priests, men who shamed me by their devotion to others. But there are enough of the other kind to make one appreciate the words of Jesus when he told his Followers not to strive for pre-eminence (Mk 9.33-37). Or when he sent his disciples out to preach the Gospel, saying, “Provide yourselves no gold or silver or copper in your belts, or traveler’s pouch, or a second pair of tunics or sandals” (Mt 10.9-10). Saint Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Palace cannot claim true descent from that pair of sandals and that single tunic.

The current bishop of Rome is less interested in finery than many of his predecessors, but his “succession” is from them.  He has not condemned their moral heresy, nor does he refuse to be called “Holy Father” or “Vicar of Christ.”


2 Responses to “What’s the Big Deal About Priests?”

  1. John Says:

    “Let that be considered a valid Eucharist which is celebrated by the bishop, or by one whom he appoints.” – Ignatius, Epistle to the Philadelphians

    This idea is about 2000 years old by now.

  2. 5f094b38-eb7f-11e3-9cf1-000bcdcb2996 Says:

    Don't post this, just read it.

    John Macarthur has a reputation for being a doctrinally sound expositor of God’s Word and a defender of the faith against apostasy. As is often the case, the reputation does not correspond to the reality. Few Christians know that Macarthur has stated publicly that those who receive the Mark of the Beast will not lose their salvation. And although John Macarthur preaches against the Emergent Church and its doctrinal errors, the documentation throughout his popular book, Slave: The Hidden Truth About Your Identity in Christ, leads readers directly to the heretical works of modernist and postmodern scholars who deny the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith. Many of these scholars are rabidly anti-Christian and their works, which Macarthur recommends as authoritative, are filled with slander and blasphemy of the Lord Jesus Christ.
    As Christians we must be informed and vigilant, not only of the overtly heretical Emergent Church, but of churches and ministries which are reputed to be doctrinally sound but are in reality stealth operations that are quietly mainstreaming rank heresy. Unlike the Emergent Church leaders, who dispense with the sheep’s clothing, well dressed wolves are harder to discern. But they are ubiquitous in the churches today and they especially prey upon the youth who have little experience recognizing false teachings. This is the case with John Macarthur’s vast network of seminaries which are training young ministers as change agents and sending them out to transform churches worldwide.
    Mark Twain once said, “Give a man a reputation as an early riser, and he can sleep till noon.” Do not be deceived by the false image that has been created to promote John Macarthur. Careful analysis of his ministry reveals that he is a postmodern liberal who is stealthily leading his flock over the doctrinal cliff from which multitudes have previously fallen away from the faith.


    1. John Macarthur: It’s OK If You Take the Mark of the Beast
    2. John Macarthur’s “Slave” Theology
    3. John Macarthur’s Heretical Sources
    4. John Macarthur’s “Christian Slavery”
    5. John Macarthur: Falling Away From the Faith

    “Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first…” 2 Thessalonians 2:3

    Bob Johnson

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: