On the necessity of the Priesthood to the apostolic Church

On the necessity of the Priesthood to the apostolic Church June 13, 2019

So the other day, on Facebook, I praised Dawn Eden Goldstein for her fine piece in America rebutting James Carroll’s demand for the abolition of the priesthood. Dawn is simply right about the necessity of the priesthood in the New Covenant. For some reason, people have the notion that the priesthood is an accretion on the “pure gospel”: “religion” that has replaced “spirituality”. In reality, the mission of Jesus is absolutely unintelligible without a) recognizing that he sees himself in terms of both priest and sacrifice and that the early Church absolutely and totally understood the apostles and their chosen successors to be priests perpetuating that sacrifice in the Eucharist. To attempt to get rid of that is to gut the New Testament. Indeed, the only reason the New Testament is called the New Testament is because it is that collection of books the Church read at the celebration of the “new diatheke (covenant/testament) in my blood” (aka, the Eucharist).

In response, there was a fascinating discussion that happened involving three readers and me. One of them is a Catholic woman of my acquaintance (LV) who is highly skeptical of both the sacerdotal and male priesthood. The other is an Orthodox reader (BA). And we were eventually joined by a Catholic who, like me, regards the Catholic conception of the sacerdotal (and yes, male) priesthood as integral to apostolic tradition. I reproduce it below since it covers a lot of the ground often covered in such discussions, and gives you my own sense of what the Tradition tells us. (Colons after initial denote the person speaking.  Comments denote the one spoken to.  I am unindented.  Everybody else is indented.)

BA: I really can’t believe we even have to talk about this. There’s a whole book about it from the first century. We put it in the New Testament. It’s called “Hebrews.”

LV: Hebrews is all about Jesus being the one final, eternal, perfect High Priest. How do you get from that book to a tightly restricted class of men who are allowed to re-present the one eternal sacrifice?

LV, Because the Eucharist has always been consecrated by sacerdotal priests in apostolic succession from the apostles. The idea that laity simply got together and consecrated the Eucharist by themselves without a priest is just not reality. Justin Martyr, himself a layman, takes it for granted that “to them only did he give it.” The idea that the New Testament elevated everybody to sacerdotal priesthood and abolished the distinction between the common priesthood and the sacerdotal priesthood is simply not real. When Peter says “you are a royal priesthood” to the Church he is *quoting* the OT. Israel had a conception of common priesthood that did not abolish the sacerdotal. The Church simply takes that over and likewise has a priesthood that has sacramental duties and a common priesthood that does not (because we have other duties). I would urge you to take a look at the work of the Siena Institute and their fascinating work on the theology of the laity.

BA I get there from 2,000 years of Holy Tradition. There has always been a priesthood so long as there has been a covenant, Jewish or Christian. Sacrifice and sacrament, through a priesthood, has always been the means of grace from God to His people.

Christ establishes the authority of the Apostles to celebrate the Eucharist, to forgive sins and to teach the people. We see that they continue this in the book of Acts, and ordain others to lead in their stead. St. Paul sets out what the priesthood is to look like in the pastoral epistles. We have detailed theology of the priesthood as early as St. Ignatius of Antioch in the early 2nd century. It is as old as the Gospel itself, which just as the priesthood has its beginnings in the Mosaic Law.

LV, We see consecration to the priesthood in, for instance, Acts 13, when the Church at Antioch lays hands on Paul and Barnabas. We also see Paul do the same thing Acts 14:23. We see the conception of a episcopoi and presbuteroi in the pastoral epistles.

LV: You guys don’t find it puzzling at all that nowhere in the New Testament does it say anything about “these believers can offer the Eucharist but those believers cannot”? “The Twelve” were designated to symbolize the fulfillment of the Abrahamic/Mosaic Covenant, but whether it’s the Last Supper or Great Commission or Pentecost, the Holy Spirit and Jesus’s words of commissioning ministry were given to “the disciples,” which included women, and not only “The Twelve.” Cherry picking a couple of early Christian writers who favored more hierarchical and sexist forms of the Christian community is not convincing to me that they represent what was “always and everywhere.” There is plenty of evidence of more egalitarian practices in the early Church as well, but those are conveniently ignored in the “canon,” if not declared heretical by later Roman-style authorities specifically because they undermined their claims to supremacy.

LV, No. I don’t. The Bible is not intended to be the Big Book of Everything.

LV: Mark Shea the consecration in Acts 13 is for Paul and Barnabas to go on a missionary journey, not for them to be exclusive presiders over the Eucharist. Likewise, in Acts 14 they lay hands on plural “elders” to sustain the Church in Antioch, not a singular priest or bishop, nor excluding anyone from being in the class of elders based on sex or marital status.

LV, Good luck finding anything in the Tradition that sees the common priesthood as competent to confect the sacraments. It’s just not there.

LV: Mark Shea it’s not intended to be the Book of Using God’s Name to Justify Sexism and Elitism either.

LV, The consecration in Acts 13 is both, as is their consecration of elders. The fact that there is even a category of elder set apart mitigates strongly against a purely egalitarian and non-hierarchical Church.

LV: Mark Shea how do you define “Tradition”? Where is that canon enumerated?

LV, The pastoral epistles envision precisely a class of elders. It’s quite true that priestly celibacy, while recommended by Paul is still far in the future. But I see no evidence whatever of women being ordained. I see prophetesses and preachers like Priscilla and saint with various extraordinary charisms, but not ordained priestesses.

LV: I never said “purely” egalitarian with no hierarchy at all. Of course human nature demands some kind of authority and accountability structure that isn’t paralyzed by inability to reach total equal consensus. But there’s nothing at all in the NT that defines who among believers can and cannot preside over the Eucharist. If Jesus and the Apostles intended strict, unchangeable, exclusionary rules about so central a practice of our faith, I think they would have recorded that.

LV, They did record it, just not in the Bible. As I say, there simply is no hint in the Tradition that the Eucharist was ever celebrated by anybody but a sacerdotal priest in succession from an apostle. What we see in the New Testament is an embryonic Church that is growing like a mustard seed into a Church structured like a Catholic Church. That’s why I became Catholic, because that was obvious to me (among other reasons).

LV: I see no evidence in the NT, or indeed the first several centuries of Christianity, that sins should be forgiven because of private confession to an apostle or elder or what have you, rather than reconciliation with the person harmed. I see no evidence that marriage was considered a Sacrament; it was in fact disfavored for *everyone,* not just “presbyters.” There’s nothing at all about “ontological change” from the laying on of hands to Commission people for particular missions within the Church.
The Church develops its doctrine in many respects to suit its ministry of God’s Grace to the needs of a developing world. There’s no reason why it can’t develop its practices of the priesthood to give effective witness to a world where most people are now literate and women are finally recognized as having equal humanity and rights.

You still haven’t explained what counts as “Tradition” and what doesn’t, and why. You can’t make claims about what is in or out of “Tradition” unless we know what that is.

LV, Sacred Tradition is the common life, common worship, and common teaching of the people of God in union with the bishops descended from the apostles and Peter.

BA: I don’t find it puzzling because I’m not a Protestant. I also don’t believe that absolutely everything has to be written down somewhere in Scripture or made painfully explicit through codified canon law. In fact, the very notion of codified canon law is foreign to Orthodox custom so much so that many of us don’t even like the phrase, preferring to speak of simply “the canons” or the “canonical tradition” which is, of course, merely one part of the greater lived experience of the Church.

The Body of Christ is alive, dynamic, communal and we have a penchant for only writing things down so explicitly when someone deviates from the Tradition, that’s why all of the Seven Ecumenical Councils were called, not for fun, but to address heresies and why the canons read like a laundry list of things people were doing wrong, because their point was to be a corrective to heterodox praxis. So, what is more strange, that Christ would maintain a sacerdotal priesthood to offer the sacrifice of the People as the Jews had done since the time of Moses and that was widely accepted because of course that’s how we do things and it’s assumed and universally practiced? Or that there would be some radical break in practice or that there was some great disagreement about it that no one wrote down? Occam’s Razor seems to apply.

As far as some of the other claims you’ve made in this thread:
Acts 13 is absolutely an ordination. A liturgy is being served on Sunday and the Holy Spirit calls on the assembly to lay hands on them. This could just as easily describe exactly how we perform ordinations (at least in the Byzantine Rite) today. This is also Paul’s first journey out as a Christian leader. Prior to this he merely operated as a rabbi. His mission changed.
The details of the ordinations in Act 14 are lacking, but the original Greek is clear. The language used is still the language we use in Greek to refer to ordination, priests and the like. In fact, the very word “priest” in English comes from the Greek presbyteros, which we also use in English sometimes to refer to priests today “presbyters.” Bishop is also an anglicized form of the work episcope. These terms were used from the first century to refer to these offices.

As far as Confession, Christ gives the authority to forgive sins (absolution) to the Apostles. This power was passed on by them to the episcopacy, and then also permitted to be used by the presbyters who really are just mini-bishops. Though it’s true that formal confession was actually quite rare, reserved for the most serious of sins and not private but performed with the assembly at the Liturgy, just as all sacraments were initially conducted within the context of the Eucharist. Private confession developed first under persecution, and then frequent confession of all sins developed as a monastic practice that became the norm. That’s true of a lot of the things we do today. But the seed is there from the beginning.

Marriage was definitely sacramental. St. Paul talks about this in Corinthians, although a service for Holy Matrimony was quite a late development, you’re right about that. I believe the service we use in the Byzantine Rite is only from about the 9th century. Before that, a couple was merely blessed when they came up together to partake of the Eucharist, again in the context of the Liturgy as all Sacraments initially were. As for the ontological “indelible mark”…that’s a Latin idea. We don’t share it. If a priest is laicized among the Orthodox then he is a layman, period. There is no concept of a latent ontological difference in the person. The priesthood is a function within the Body. It can be given, and it can be taken.

Sorry this got so long, but you all kept adding things for me to address! I hope this isn’t too boring and contributes to the discussion. It may be after 10 for Mark but it’s past 1am for you and I, so I’ll be going to bed soon. I do look forward to hearing back from you all, though, even if I don’t get back to you all until tomorrow.

LV: If Sacred Tradition is the common life, common worship, and common teaching of the people of God, then there better be a dire necessity for writing the lives, worship, and witness of many who profess the same faith in the Triune God and His saving work through the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus out of that Tradition. Not just convenient self-referential declarations of authority to maintain an exclusionary boys-only club. The Spirit constantly expands the circle of salvation and or ordination to serve in the work of salvation. Show me one time where the Spirit is involved in contracting that circle. Only people who lie or try to profit off the Spirit are ever excluded.

BA: Well, that is what Holy Tradition is, and we do have records of all of those things from antiquity as well as the living memory of the Church. But it sounds less like you want to discuss theology and more like you’re interested in grinding an ax about the lack of a female priesthood that never has existed at any time.

The fact that Aaron was male, that only males from the tribe of Levi served as priests (and not all Levite men, btw), that Christ ordained Twelve Men as Apostles and that they and all of their successors have always and only ordained men *is*, in fact, the universal Tradition of the Church. That you even needed to wedge the word “ordination” into a commonly-used phrase to try to make your point might also be your answer about this.

This doesn’t mean, however, that clericalism isn’t a problem or that the priesthood of all believers should be ignored. In fact, the idea of the priesthood of all believers is not even a New Testament idea. St. Peter is echoing the Law when he says “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession” (1Pet. 1:9) as it is written in Exodus 19:6 “And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel.”

As I stated before, the sacerdotal priesthood is a function within the Body, it can be given or taken away. It is a job. To elevate the priesthood into some higher level of Christian is the problem here because then we could also say that because priesthood is a male vocation, then women are being locked out of the full experience and participation in the Gospel. This simply isn’t the case from a theological point of view.

In fact to this day for us, it is often the women who are more highly-esteemed than the priests and bishops. The leaders of the parish are the grandmothers. The yiayias, the babushkas, etc. And the priest’s wife, the prebytera or matushka is almost without fail an influential and powerful voice in the local parish.

We also have a great reverence for nuns, and especially for abbesses, who wear pectoral crosses like priests, carry a staff like a crozier and from whom the priests who come to serve in her monastery, before they begin the Liturgy, must approach her with cupped hands and request “Mother, bless” before they can enter the altar and serve, and once she makes the sign of the cross over them and offers them her hand in theirs, they kiss it and then go serve.

We see this was a very ancient custom. St. John Chrysostom, for example, had a confidant in St. Olympia, a deaconness, from whom he regularly sought spiritual guidance in letters and when we read in the early Sayings of the Desert Fathers, we can find the few Desert Mothers there, who were often sought out by the Fathers for their counsel, and they had no problem putting these male ascetics in their place.

Now, from a political and cultural perspective, misogyny and clericalism are definitely problems that have to be addressed and irradicated. We’ve had a bit more luck there historically than the West has, as women where often powerful people in Byzantium in their own right and had many rights to property, inheritance and work that did not exist in Europe at the same time. The laity have also historically been more forceful for us than for you, and have numerous times stood up to the hierarchy when something was wrong. In fact, the entire reason that you count the Council of Florence as an Ecumenical Council while we consider it a robber council is because the people rejected it, even though our bishops all agreed to it (except St. Mark of Ephesus, who we obviously canonized). The people also fought against iconoclasm, twice, which was imposed by imperial rulers and the bishops of the Byzantine Church (you guys were on our side in that one) by the force of a council we now consider a robber council.

So, yes, fight these things. But the order of the priesthood as it is today is not ontologically a male power-grab, but the universal Tradition of the People of God from the beginning.

I do not have charisms of healing, miracles, or administration (among many others). I am not thereby excluded from salvation. I am simply gifted in other ways. I’m not able to confect the sacrament either. No exclusion (AND NO OBSTRUCTION!!!) (Sorry, it was irresistible.) Having different gifts, calls and offices is not exclusion. Indeed, precisely the trouble with clericalism is that it teaches people to imagine that the only real Catholic is an ordained one, which the Church herself emphatically rejects.

LV: BA, not eating pork or sharing meals with Gentiles or allowing a eunuchs to convert was also the “universal tradition of the People of God from the beginning…” until it wasn’t anymore.

LV, No. It wasn’t. It was a contested question and precisely what settled it was the Magisterium because “he who listens to you listens to me and he who listens to me listens to him who sent me.”

LV: most of the priests I’ve encountered show no evidence of having a charism from the Holy Spirit to serve the people of God in a particular way. They only have one special combination of attributes that stand out from the rest of Catholics: a penis plus a willingness to claim to be celibate. Most of them have no pastoral sense, no special insight into scripture, no spirit-filled prayer life. I don’t see any evidence of serious screening for the “authenticity” of a call. Penis + not married + no criminal record + breathing = in the priestly formation club, at my expense as a lay member of the Diocese. So I call BS on the whole mythology of them receiving some special charism from the Holy Spirit that God chose not to give to the rest of us, versus the men already in charge deciding to keep excluding people who aren’t like them.

BA: Those were the Laws of the Mosiac Covenant made with the Israelites. In Judaism, both at the time of Christ and today, it is sufficient for non-Jews to follow the Noahic Covenant to be righteous gentiles. Whether Christians needed to follow the 613 mitzot was an open question in the Church that sparked much debate, which is why we have not only the issue discussed and the first Church council recorded in Acts 15, but why St. Paul spilled much ink on the teachings of the Judaizers that ended up in the New Testament. Yet, this didn’t happen about the priesthood. Indeed, it’s never happened about the priesthood in 2,000 years. If there was no basis for this in the teachings of Christ or the Apostolic kerygma, it would’ve similarly been addressed.

There are also other exegetical reasons why comparing ritual purity laws to sacramental theology is simply poor exegesis. For one example, the Law is made of many parts and interpreted by the proper authorities as to how it should be followed. This is why God appoints a procedure for judges of the Law and why there are still specialists in Judaism that do such work, and yet most all of this is in relation to moral commandments or commandments involved ritualized spirituality in daily life such as what is and is not kosher, if a male must always cover is his head or only when he prays, in what manner he should offer his prayers, etc..

The Levitical Law is something different from this. It is the sacramental and liturgical blueprint of how the sacred rites of the community are conducted. These matters are not the realm of moral lawyers, but the realm of the priests to carry them out, serving their function as they are commanded to do. Now, Christ could’ve changed this. He could have included a woman among the Twelve and did not. The Twelve did not consider a woman to replace Judas, despite the many women who qualified based on the criteria listed in Acts. They did not ordain women bishops in the stead. This blueprint didn’t change. In fact, of all of the aspects of Christianity most like Judaism, it is this liturgical aspect that is much more smooth, much more a completion and perfection, than the moral Law which Christ changed radically (and was roundly criticized for it by the authorities as recorded in the Gospels). Again, the silence of the entire Church for its entire history is deafening.

LV: IOW, I don’t believe a lot of priests were actually sent by God. They aren’t the Twelve who were literally chosen by Jesus. Many centuries and corrupt clerics have intervened in the succession process. By their fruits you shall know them. And they were given authority to forgive, to grant freedom, and to protect the good of the Christian community. Exercising power to bind and exclude when there is no harm to be restrained by doing so is ultra vires and not the Holy Spirit’s doing. Such are the dilemmas of God choosing to work through fallible human instruments. We can’t assume perfection of anyone because of their title; we are all called to encourage and admonish each other. And that includes the laity calling out the manifold abuses of power of the hierarchical clerical guild, which go FAR beyond the sexual abuse of children. Their spiritual abuse is pandemic, and won’t be healed so long as we insist the cough from stage 3 lung cancer is just a common cold.

I read Hebrews as a book-long explanation of why Jesus is the conclusion to the Judaic priesthood and there no longer is any need to have such an office. “You are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek” is addressed to Jesus.

BA: Now, as for the argument about charism. I’m going to take a different tack. Again, the priesthood is a job. A role filled by a person on behalf of and only in concert with the People.

But there are also charisms in the Church. These are much more highly honored. And I don’t mean using it in the modern sense of “so-and-so is good at that thing.” I mean miracle-working holy men and women. The elders. The gerondas and staretzi. Living Church Fathers and Mothers. They are our modern-day Prophets.

These truly are special dispensations of the Holy Spirit poured out with no concern for the station of the person in worldly life or in the Church. In fact, these people tend to have a low station. They are laypeople, although often monastics they are not always. There is one such well-known Alaskan eldress who was a priest’s wife, the Matushka Olga Michael who reposed in 1979 and is widely considered a saint. The Church is FILLED with these stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Healing the sick, knowing the sins of others, bilocating and other such miraculous wonders.

These are the signs of the truly holy people of God, the only ones that really matter when it comes to emulation: the saints! To that office, we are all called and can all achieve. That is what matters. to be a priest is (and in fact, should be) a burden. There may be great rewards in Heaven for being a holy shepherd, but more often (as many hierarchs throughout history have warned) it is a greater judgment and condemnation.

Except that Christ isn’t in the Judaic priesthood. That’s the entire problem for the writer of Hebrews. Christ *could not* be an Israelite priest. He wasn’t a Levite! His priesthood supersedes the Levitical priesthood, is superior to it, and ushers in a new priesthood of which He is the Great High Priest, and His priesthood is carried out on Earth by the Apostles and their successors.

LV: BA, but Hebrews doesn’t actually say that His priesthood is carried out by the Apostles and their successors.

BA: No, the book of Hebrews doesn’t say that, just all the rest of Church teaching. Really, Lillian, this is the problem here. No one has questioned it once, anywhere, in all of Church history, that there is a sacerdotal priesthood. And we’ve had ample opportunity. Not only with the coming of Christ and the ending of the Levitical priesthood, but also with the rise of Islam and its rejection of priesthood. We had a whole argument in the Church about iconoclasm that was spurred on by Muslim theology, but not about priesthood. Or the Protestant Reformation that did reach out to the Orthodox on a few occasions for dialogue that we quickly decided we wanted nothing to do with.

Yet, for 2,000 years it has been without question that there is a Christian priesthood as it exists. Literally no one in the Church, not even an heresiarch, as went so far to say that there is no priesthood. Not the Arians or the Nestorians or the Gnostics or anyone ever rejected the sacerdotal priesthood. Not once. There has been zero variation on this aspect of theology from the beginning, with the evidence of its existence embedded in the New Testament and made explicit as early as the writings of St. Ignatius to his people on his way to be martyred in AD 108, the third bishop of Antioch after Ss. Peter and Paul and a direct disciple of St. John the Apostle.

LV: BA, many have questioned the exclusionary priesthood throughout history, while at the same time professing the Christian Faith. You just choose to ignore their questions and voices on that basis, as have the self-selecting caste of men who wish to justify claiming privileges for themselves.

AL: Yeah, no, never gonna happen. I understand the whole feminist critique of it, but was never persuaded by it. Christians could have sacramentally ordained women in the priesthood, especially when they were entering pagan territory. The letters of Paul (and deutero-Pauline) and the pastoral letters were already revolutionary, especially the household codes. It is a constant part of Tradition that it is reserved to men, and, plus, the Magisterium already said no to women priesthood. We’re Catholics so we believe in the Magisterium even if they consist of sinful men. As Pope Francis said, “We’re Catholics here. But if anyone wants to found a church, they are free to do so.”

LV: “You say that you are subject to the Church and faithful to tradition by the sole fact that you obey certain norms of the past that were decreed by the predecessor of him to whom God has today conferred the powers given to Peter. That is to say, on this point also, the concept of “tradition” that you invoke is distorted.

“Tradition is not a rigid and dead notion, a fact of a certain static sort which at a given moment of history blocks the life of this active organism which is the Church, that is, the mystical body of Christ. It is up to the pope and to councils to exercise judgment in order to discern in the traditions of the Church that which cannot be renounced without infidelity to the Lord and to the Holy Spirit—the deposit of faith—and that which, on the contrary, can and must be adapted to facilitate the prayer and the mission of the Church throughout a variety of times and places, in order better to translate the divine message into the language of today and better to communicate it, without an unwarranted surrender of principles.”
– Pope Paul VI’s 1976 letter to Archbishop Lefebvre (founder of the SSPX)

AL: LV, I love that quote. Yes, Tradition is not static and a bag of propositions handed from one age to another. It is a life. And, as the quote says, it is up to the Magisterium to discern and make a judgment. And it has: no women priesthood. Just men. No chicken to make a eucharist. Just bread. No soda, just wine to transform into blood. Why just bread? Why just wine? Why just men? The same Pope who wrote that quote wrote that women can’t be priest. JPII said it, BXVI said it, and so did Francis. And so did the whole Tradition and the teachings of the Magisterium. We’re Catholic so we live with it.

BA: LV, It has been questioned by a small number of feminist thinkers with a questionable grasp on sacred theology, although to my knowledge most of them only argue that women should be ordained not that the priesthood is unnecessary or problematic. I’m not sure which of these is (or both or neither…) is your position, so it’s difficult to address it more specifically, although I would say that these alone hardly constitute a serious challenge.

BA, And not just the Catholic Church. Literally every apostolic communion descending from antiquity has a sacerdotal priesthood. That’s not because they all went crazy the same way across a dozen different languages, cultures, peoples, and nations. It’s because the apostles founded Churches with a sacerdotal priesthood.

BA: Exactly. I’ve offered criticisms and rejections of certain Catholic teachings in this thread that have been offered up as ways to address this question in an attempt to specifically indicate that the priesthood is not the invention merely of Medieval Catholic theologians but the universal profession of all Apostolic Churches, including the Catholic Church, the Chalcedonian “Eastern” Orthodox, the Non-Chalcedonian “Oriental” Orthodox, even the Assyrian Church of the East.

This is the universal teaching and practice of all Christians whose communion can trace itself back to the Apostles. Every single one of us, with all of our disagreements and actively declaring one another heretics, are as one voice on this. It is the definition of St. Vincent of Lerin’s formulation that “we hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all.”

LV: “We men of the hierarchy agree that we will not change what we don’t want to change, especially when it comes to allowing those icky women around us, but we do have authority to declare ourselves indispensable and infallible. Anyone who questions our unaccountable authority is anathema.” That’s what these long-winded arguments all amount to.

AL: And there were pagan priestesses. The Church could have easily departed from the Jewish notion that only men could be priests.

LV, You seem to be wavering between the issues of the sacerdotal priesthood and the male priesthood. I’m focusing on the sacerdotal priesthood, which is exactly as much a fixture of all apostolic communions as the Eucharist is. And no, it’s not just the heirarchy. Laity for 2000 years have attested it. It was not invented by bishops. It was established by apostles. There is no evidence in antiquity at *all* of a Christianity that did not have a sacerdotal priesthood. None.

AL: Yup, those men also agreed what books belong in your Bible, that bread is the only thing that can become the Eucharist, that Jesus is God, etc. So you’re saying we’re Catholic?

BA: Except, LV, that I’ve offered several other examples of times those ” indispensable and infallible” hierarchs got told to stuff it by the laity and the laity won.

This is where I will DISAGREE with Paul VI, in that it is not merely up to the pope and councils (or for me, just councils) to define the Deposit of Faith, as councils can and have been wrong. But it must also be accepted and proclaimed by the people, and when the hierarchy departs from the Deposit of the Faith, they’re told so and put in their place.
You may, in your frustration, desire to shove my arguments into your convenient dismissal of them but they don’t fit. Sorry.

LV: perhaps it would be helpful for you to define exactly what you mean by “sacerdotal priesthood,” since that seems like a redundant phrase on its face.

BA: The “sacerdotal priesthood” in contrast with the “priesthood of all believers.” Those who are specifically ordained for the task of administering the sacraments to the Body of Christ.
EDIT: Sorry. I’m not Mark. Just saw that. �

LV: BA, if that’s all it means then I take no issue with the idea that certain people were designated within their local Christian communities by ordination to lead the liturgy and administer Sacraments. What I DO take issue with is the notion that the ordination can’t be withdrawn by the believers of that same community (i.e. is unaccountable to them) or that characteristics like marital status and gender are immutable requirements for ordination rather than culturally-determined guidelines for leadership. IOW, “sacerdotal” priests are the designated representatives of the priesthood of all believers, and their servants, not their lords. The priesthood that is entirely self-selecting, unaccountable, and claims a divine mandate for the privileges it grants itself looks nothing like what Jesus told us the priesthood should be. It is a rotten institution that needs to be thoroughly reformed, if not rooted out entirely for its failure to bear good fruit in any significant measure anymore.

LV, I’m skeptical that somebody can be unpriested any more than they can be unbaptized (though they can obviously sin mortally). Nobody says marital status is an immutable bar to the priesthood. But there is, again, simply nothing in the Tradition to support the idea of women priests. The Church can’t just decree new matter for the sacraments. It’s stuck with what Jesus and the apostles did. Curiously, one of the effects of this is that women *are* perfectly free to participate in the Kingly office. So the Church has never had a word to say against queens, presidents, abbesses, corporate executives, and any other position of power occupied by women. This means, among other things, that the door is wide open to women cardinals since there is nothing in the Tradition to forbid it. The entire cardinalate is a mere human institution like a parish council, invented to help govern the church and elect popes. The current custom is to only make bishops cardinals, but that’s all it is: custom. It could be changed tomorrow to elevate laity, including female laity, ot cardinals.

And I am deeply skeptical of the claim that the entire priesthood is simply rotten and worthless and needs to be “rooted out entirely”.

LV: I’m skeptical that the scholastic definitions of Sacraments, trying to impose Greek philosophical frames like “ontological change” on the Christian faith a millennium after the Twelve actually selected by Jesus passed away, is determinative of anything besides how theologians grappled with understanding mystery and faith approximately halfway between the Resurrection and today. So I guess we’re at an impasse on convincing each other. �‍♀️

LV, Who said anything about scholastic definitions? I’m simply saying that I see in the tradition the huge and obvious fact of a sacerdotal priesthood that is inextricably bound up with the confection of the sacrament. I see zero indication of a female priest, ever. And I see that while we can bar priests from exercising their priesthood, we can’t undo their priesting any more than their baptism. We’re stuck with the data of the Tradition.

BA: I agree with you on the vast majority of that. I stand in amazement at some of the things the hierarchy in the Latin Church has conspired to do as if they’re some good ol’ boys club. That’s not to say there aren’t plenty of examples of this happening for us, as well, as corruption is a common predilection of humanity when any kind of authority is vested in a person, but recent similar scandals in Orthodoxy, at least here in the States, were dealt with quite swiftly. The most eye-catching was a bishop in Canada, who was suspended and turned over to authorities. He was convicted, and then a Spiritual Court was called to examine his fate in the Church, which also convicted him, deposed him and removed him from the ranks of the clergy.

As a bishop, he was already a monastic (which cannot be taken away from someone, much like baptism) and so he is now a lay monk. This is how these scandals should be dealt with.

This also illustrates a point, the people can reject a hierarch, and we have. In the Byzantine Rite, at least, there is a custom at the Ordination Liturgy, the candidate is presented to the people and vested in the signs of his office and with each vestment, the people respond “Axios!” (Greek for “worthy!”). We also do this for abbots and abbesses (in which case it is in the feminine, “Axia!”). The idea is that the people consent. I’d also reiterate that I do not profess any concept of the indelible mark of the priesthood. This is a LATIN idea uniquely. We do not have it. If a member of the clergy is laicized then he is a layman no different than any other layman. He is not somehow, ontologically “different.”

There are also various customs on how bishops are elected. Sometimes it is rather like the Latins do and bishops appoint other bishops. Sometimes they are elected by the people. Here in the Orthodox Church in America, we have a hybrid system. When there is need of a new bishop, the Diocesan Council is tasked with presenting a slate of candidates to the Holy Synod (the hierarchical governing body of the Church) for consideration. These are said to be “nominated” candidates. The Holy Synod is then tasked with electing the new bishop and while they are not bound to pick from the list, they almost always do.

When it comes to selecting the Metropolitan (our primate), an All-American Council must be called. There is a regular AAC every three years that conducts the major business of the OCA, but these special meetings are usually called for the particular purpose of electing a new primate. The AAC is made up of clergy and lay representatives of all parishes of the OCA, and they vote in multiple ballots. Once the balloting is down to two candidates, those two are nominated to the Holy Synod, who then go into the altar and select one of those two to become the Metropolitan.

As I point out in my last comment, these scholastic understandings of the sacraments are unique to the Latin custom. The East does not share them. They are not part of our Tradition.

BA, Quibbles about the ontological nature of the priesthood aside, the *practical* outcome of both easter and western practice of laicization of a bad priest is the same: they are removed from office and can’t misrule their flock anymore (and they can be jailed when appropriate).

BA: Sure, the sacramental theology is secondary in this case to the good practical order of defrocking priests/deacons or deposing bishops.
But it does seem that Lillian has a particularly strong issue with that aspect of Latin theology and since she and I are arguing on different sides of this debate, I feel like it’s important that I indicate such an argument is not applicable to anything I’m saying, since I’m not Latin (or even Catholic) and do not profess those ideas.

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