Friday, March 15, 2013

"Why Priests?": PART 1: The Priesthood of All Believers

Let me begin this series of posts by underscoring something that might strike non-Catholics as a bit baffling: Catholics affirm the biblical doctrine of the priesthood of all believers. 

That all believers are called to be priests is clear from Scripture. Michael cites two New Testament passages: 1 Peter 2:9 and Revelation 5:10. 

1 Peter 2:9, alluding to Exodus 19:6, explains:
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 
In Revelation 5:10 we read about the saints that God "hast made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on earth.” Indeed, the priesthood of the saints is a major theme in the Apocalypse. It appears at the very beginning of the book:
To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. (Rev 1:5-6)
I don't know why Michael only mentions 1 Peter 2 and Revelation 5 instead of other New Testament passages that could be mentioned. I don't fault him though. Perhaps he was just trying to follow the Catechism of the Catholic, which cites the same two books he does. (Okay, maybe not!)
Christ, high priest and unique mediator, has made of the Church “a kingdom, priests for his God and Father.” [cf. footnote: Rev 1:6; cf. Rev 5:9–10; 1 Pet 2:5, 9] The whole community of believers is, as such, priestly. The faithful exercise their baptismal priesthood through their participation, each according to his own vocation, in Christ’s mission as priest, prophet, and king. Through the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation the faithful are “consecrated to be … a holy priesthood” [cf. Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium 10 §1]. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1546).
(This is continued at the "Read more" link below).
Some of my Protestant friends at Fuller asserted that the Catholic recognition of this biblical teaching is a relatively recent concession, only resulting from modern ecumenical dialogue. This is hardly the case. (To be clear, Bird does not make this claim.)

St. Thomas Aquinas
Long before the Protestant Reformation, Catholic thinkers recognized this biblical doctrine. For example, in the Summa Theologiae, Aquinas, who is often recognized as the major representative of medieval Catholic theology, recognizes that all believers participate in Christ's priesthood. In his famous Summa Theologiae, he affirms St. John Chrysostom's statement that "every saint is a priest" (cf. ST III, q. 82, art. 1, ad. 2). He likewise affirms the common priesthood elsewhere (cf. ST III, q. 63, art. 6). 

The Roman Catechism, produced after the Council of Trent, likewise affirms, "All the believers... are called 'priests'." (2:7, 23). 

In short, as Aquinas writes, all believers are priests because a priest is someone appointed to offer sacrifice (Heb. 8:3-4)... and Christians must make of themselves "a living sacrifice" (Rom 12:1). He writes that every lay person
...has a spiritual priesthood for offering spiritual sacrifices, of which it is said (Psalm 1:19): "A sacrifice to God is an afflicted spirit"; and (Romans 12:1): "Present your bodies a living sacrifice." Hence, too, it is written (1 Peter 2:5): "A holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices." (ST III, q. 82, art 1, ad. 2).
Yet, as Michael goes on to point out, the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers does not thereby eliminate the idea that the apostles' ministry constitutes a priesthood.

In the next post, I'll develop this a bit more. Indeed, the one priesthood does not rule out the other. This is clear from Scripture itself. The New Testament affirms that all believers are priests but also the idea of a unique priestly ministry belonging to the apostles. Indeed, given the biblical testimony, it is no wonder that the earliest Christian writing outside of the New Testament also bears witness to an understanding of the apostolic ministry as priestly ministry.

But now I'm getting ahead of myself.

(To be continued...)


Thomas Renz said...

The fact that the priesthood of the whole people of God goes back all the way to Exodus should be enough for most to realise that this does not exclude the possibility of a distinct priesthood.

Some commentators argue that the Levitical priesthood abrogated the priesthood of the whole people of God - John Sailhammer is one of them, if I remember right - but I don't think this has ever been mainstream exegesis.

Anonymous said...

Exodus = Easter

Priesthood of all believers

Sinai = Pentecost

Setting apart of cultic priesthood