Archive for the ‘Priests’ Category

What’s the Big Deal About Priests?

June 3, 2014

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.”


Paradigm Puzzle for Jason Stellman

April 25, 2013

Jason Stellman has claimed that one of his attractions to the Roman religion was that allegedly the Biblical authors said things that someone with a Reformed paradigm would not say. Actually, he’s being anachronistic. There are certain things Reformed pastors wouldn’t say, because of heresies that have arisen since the time of the apostles (such as papalism) and because of misinterpretations of Biblical passages, such as those related to perseverance.

I’m persuaded that Stellman will perceive particular passages to be puzzling for his present paradigm.  For example, I’m sure Stellman realizes that in Roman Catholicism the Eucharist is central. For example:

Eucharist and Priests: The Eucharist is central to the ministry of priests and it is by means of the Eucharist that “they are in communion with Christ the head, and leading others into this communion” (Ad Gentes, 39). The missionary activity of the Church is about the extension of communion through the building up, day by day of the body of Christ.


This should be obvious as well from the title of the blog of Stellman’s pals, “Called to Communion.” But what is the central aspect of the ministry of Christian elders? Check out the description in Acts:

Acts 6:2-4
Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables. Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.

The word and prayer are the central aspects.

And again, in 1 Timothy:

1 Timothy 5:17
Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine.

Here the emphasis is on word and doctrine, as well as on administrative ability.

And again, in Titus 1:

Titus 1:1-9
Paul, a servant of God, and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God’s elect, and the acknowledging of the truth which is after godliness; in hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began; but hath in due times manifested his word through preaching, which is committed unto me according to the commandment of God our Saviour; to Titus, mine own son after the common faith: Grace, mercy, and peace, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ our Saviour.
For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee: if any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly. For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not selfwilled, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre; but a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate; holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers.

Notice again the emphasis on the word and doctrine, as well as the emphasis on moral rectitude.

And again in 1 Timothy:

1 Timothy 3:1-7
This is a true saying, if a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; one that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (for if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.

Again, teaching aptitude and administrative ability (together with exemplary moral status) are the focus.

In fact, while the Lord’s supper (and Baptism) are important, they are not closely linked with the roles of bishops/elders in Scripture. While typically these sacraments are administered by elders in Reformed churches, this is not because the Scriptures require it. It is a matter of order in the church, rather than a matter of absolute necessity. For example, Philip (one of the proto-deacons) baptized the Ethiopian eunuch.

In Roman Catholicism, the priests/bishops must administer the Eucharist, because they are priests. That is not the paradigm of the New Testament. The elders/bishops are never referred to as priests. Indeed, in the New Testament properly the only priest is the Lord Jesus Christ. In a sense, we are all priests, but properly it is only the Lord. He is the only mediator between God and man, which necessarily excludes a priestly class.

But Stellman claims that the Roman Catholic paradigm better explains the New Testament. I’m not persuaded.


Garry Wills – Why Priests? – Introduction

February 25, 2013

Dr. Garry Wills is a lay Roman Catholic. His PhD in classics is from Yale (1961) and he taught history for 18 years at Johns Hopkins University. The Los Angeles Times describes him as “American Catholicism’s most formidable law scholar,” and the New York Times describes him as “One of the country’s most distinguished intellectuals.” Wills’ “Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words That Remade America,” won the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction in 1993. In 2008, John L. Allen, Jr. described Wills as “perhaps the most distinguished Catholic intellectual in America over the last 50 years” in the National Catholic Reporter. His writings generally focus on historical topics, many of them on the intersection of history and religion. (I wonder if calling him a “Roman Catholic Darryl Hart” would be taken as the mutual compliment it would be intended to be?)

Some think that the dwindling number of priests can be remedied by the addition of women priests, or married priests, or openly gay priests. In fact, the real solution is: no priests. It should not be difficult to imagine a Christianity without priests. Read carefully through the entire New Testament and you will not find an individual human priest mentioned in the Christian communities (only Jewish priests in service to the Temple). Only one book of the New Testament, the Letter to Hebrews, mentions an individual priest, and he is unique — Jesus. He has no followers in that office, according to the Letter.

It is not surprising, then, that some Protestant communities are able to be good Christians without having any priests. Some priests of my youth mocked them for that reason. They said a Protestant ceremony was just a town meeting, without the sacramental consecration and consumption of the body and blood of Jesus. When I was told one of my pastors that I had admired the sermon of a visiting priest, he said I should not be looking to have my ears ticked, like some Protestant, but should concentrate on the mystery of the Eucharist. Without the Eucharist, he was implying, we would have no religion at all.

(Why Priests, Introduction, p. 2)

Gary Wills’ proposal is going to be shocking to traditionalist Roman Catholics, partly because it would require a radical change in Roman Catholicism, and partly because that radical change would like the Reformation, at least as to a substantial part of its ecclesiology (his position was compared to that of Luther in the New York Times).

We hold to the priesthood of believers, and maintain that Christians have direct access to God through the sole mediation of Christ. Thus, we reject the idea of merely human priests, affirming instead the apostolic model of a church without priests.

Wills’ proposal is one that is surprisingly ecumenical. While there would still be certain issues regarding worship that would need to be addressed, removal of the priesthood would be a major stepping stone toward Roman Catholicism being in ecumenical union with “Protestants.”

Will Will’s proposal be adopted? It seems unlikely. Those in power in Rome have every vested interest in maintaining the structures of power that require a priesthood.


P.S. I seriously doubt that any of Garry Wills’ books (from his prize winning books, to his least well recognized books, and including this book) has been submitted for nihil obstat or imprimatur. Naturally, a book (like Why Priests?) that argues as one of its main points that there shouldn’t be priests, is not a good candidate for either certification.

Married Priest Movement on the Rise

November 11, 2008

One of the standard objections to the Papists has been that they violate Scriptures by forbidding their “priests” and bishops from marrying. Scripture not only permits the marriage of ordinary folks but of elders/bishops and deacons, the servants of the church. Scripture not only permits such marriage, but views it as the norm: not that every elder and deacon must be married, but that this is the ordinary course of events.

Now, in England this issue is coming to something of a bubble, because of the influx of married former Anglican clergy into the papist ranks. Anglicans, because of the historic (and largely dissipated) influence of the Reformation, do not forbid their clergy from marriage. This influx of married clergy creates tension, because the married clergy are not required to give up their wives when they join, while their newly acquired colleagues must remain unmarried.

One expects similar tension may also exist within other parts of Romanism, as some of the “Eastern rite” priests that have joined Rome’s communion also included married clergymen. The Eastern Orthodox traditions, while generally forbidding bishops to marry, do permit their priests to marry (UPDATE: this sentence apparently confuses some who conclude that I’m suggesting that sometimes men who are already ordained in EO churches go from being single to being married – with that in mind, I should point out that I’m not aware of examples of either of those things happening).

The following linked article, from Sify news (which seems fond of pop-ups), describes the views of the apparent future head of Romanism in England and Wales, a certain “Bishop McMahon.” (link)

McMahon claims, “There is no reason why priests shouldn’t be allowed to marry. It has always been a matter of discipline rather than doctrine.” We agree with him that there is no good reason. There are purported reasons, though, that were previously set out. “The Church” (as his comrades are fond of calling it) did not impose celibacy without some pretext. If someone wants the pretext, they need only turn to the polemical sites of any number of papists. The usual answer, framed against modern Evangelicals, is that celibacy frees one up to serve God. The more traditional answer is a perception that the sexual act itself is somehow unholy: i.e. that it is more holy to be single than to be married.

That is to say, while the practice certainly is disciplinary, it is one imagined (by its supporters) to be based on doctrinal arguments. It is interesting to see that within the ranks of papalism there is dissent even on these matters. One wonders what is next? He supports marriage for “priests:” will he support marriage for bishops too?

Finally, one wonders what “Joe Roman Catholic Lay Apologist” thinks about these things. Such a guy is typically himself married, but in favor of a celibate priesthood. Such a guy typically appreciates the fact that Rome’s position on this matter of discipline cannot rationally be defended as simply an arbitrary decision with “no reason” (McMahon’s words). On the other hand, against him is the Bishop of Nottingham – someone with far better credentials within the Roman hierarchy. What can this poor Joe do? Disagree with a bishop? or admit that there is no good reason for required celibacy?

We’ll have to wait and see.


Gene Stirs the Pot

January 10, 2008

Gene, over at Triablogue, has stirred the Holy Water pot with a recent post (link) that addresses some of the issues he sees with the post presented by Dave Armstrong (link provided via this earlier post), generally approving (and minorly editing) PhatCatholic’s opening argument in the Holy Water Debate. Carrie adds (at least) a few ripples with her quotation on the power of priests (link).

UPDATE: Dave Armstrong has replied (link) in not perhaps the nicest of tones, which included (at the time of writing this, a concluding paragraph threatening Gene’s soul).

UPDATE: Gene has responded (link) to Dave’s reply.

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