Priesthood in Christian Tradition

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Current interest in the use of the imagery and theme of priesthood in Catholic theology arises in great part from their use in the documents of the Second Vatican Council and in its aftermath. It is also affected by the ecumenical currents that found their focus in the Catholic Church after the Council. To relate the life and mission of the Church to Christ, the conciliar teaching distinguished the threefold mission or office of Jesus Christ as Priest, King, and Prophet. The Church, as a body and in each of its members according to their order, was then said to share in this threefold mission and office. To set this teaching within Christian tradition, an extensive investigation is needed into how images and definitions of priesthood have been used in the past, both in explaining Christ's salvific work and in explaining the life, mission, and ministry of the Church. While the immediate concern of this article is priesthood, it is apparent that its relation to kingship and even prophecy must be kept in mind.

Here it is only possible to offer a selective reading from a long tradition, and to some extent systematize a vast body of literature in which the terms are used in diverse ways. There is no uniform notion of priesthood or kingship at work, but at times the language is used symbolically and metaphorically and at times more conceptually, and contexts also change. A chronological approach is unavoidable in order to see how language and thought developed, but from the start four ways in which priestly and kingly images occur are noted: (a) to describe the salvific work of Christ; (b) to designate the Church, his Body; (c) to describe the share in the royal priesthood of the Church given through Baptism; and (d) to describe the share in it given through the laying-on of hands, or what came to be called the Sacrament of Order. New Testament texts, patristic literature, medieval writings, sixteenth-century controversies and their aftermath, and modern theology all need attention.

New Testament Texts

The New Testament provides the imagery and thematic of the priesthood of Christ and of the royal priesthood of the Church. The second however is not introduced as a deduction from the first, and they are to be considered separately.

The Priesthood of Christ. The texts which present the death of Christ as a sacrifice, or which attribute priesthood to him, belong in a larger context wherein other images and descriptions are used. There is a very varied soteriology in the works of the New Testament, and a proper placement of priesthood, kingship and sacrifice has to resist the temptation to reduce all understanding to such a thematic. It is asked rather what such imagery adds to the meaning of Christ's salvific suffering, death, and resurrection, as it is appropriated primarily from the Hebrew scriptures.

Several images used of Christ's work provide the context. Jesus is the new Paschal Lamb (e.g. 1 Cor 5:7). He is compared to Isaac (Jn 10:17; Rom 8:12). He is the victim offered in expiation for sin (Mt 26:28; 1 Cor 15:3; Gal 1:4). Compared to the suffering servant of the songs of the Book of Isaiah, he is said to give himself in service for others (e.g. Jn 12:38). In such images, there is a ready appeal to a sacrificial background in explaining the death of Jesus as the culmination of his life and ministry, but the key to its understanding is the contrast made with the inefficacy of ritual action.

The Letter to the hebrews is the high-point of the appeal to notions of mediation, priesthood, and sacrifice, and it is this work which has exercised the primary influence in Christian literature in these areas of thought. The letter is written to encourage believers and disciples in communities that suffer and endure persecution. Its focus is on the mediation of a new covenant, according to the eternal plan of God, whose intention is to save humanity and all of creation from servitude to the devil and to subject them in obedience to his own will and rule. It is through Christ, the eternal Son made flesh, that this work is accomplished (1:14). Through his suffering in the flesh he showed perfect obedience to the Father and became for humankind the purification for sins (10:813). The comparison with God's covenant with Israel and with the levitical priesthood and its rituals is apparently prompted as a suitable way to convey the letter's message of salvation through Christ to its particular readership. Those addressed seem to have been nostalgic for the worship of the temple and steeped in a knowledge of the story of the covenant made with the people through Moses and sanctioned by sacrifice.

It is to demonstrate the dominance of the Son and his superiority over all creatures, his solidarity in the flesh with suffering humanity, and the perfect obedience which he learned through suffering, that the author introduces the themes of covenant, mediation, priesthood, kingship, and sacrifice. Heb 4:1416 might be cited as a key text:

Since therefore we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast to the faith we profess. Ours is not a high priest unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tested in every way as we are, only without sinning. Let us therefore boldly approach the throne of grace, in order that we may receive mercy and find grace to give us timely help.

Jesus Christ is a perfect high priest, who, being the son of god, has taken on our human weakness. He is declared so by divine oath from all eternity (5:510). He is the mediator of a new and more perfect covenant in which the forgiveness of sins shown to be impossible under the old covenant is brought about. His priesthood is unlike that of the old covenant, or that of Aaron, and is a priesthood according to the order of Melchizedek (chap. 7), for it has no human origin but only a divine one. The sacrifice of this mediator and high-priest is made once and for all, and his priesthood is now exercised in priestly intercession at the right hand of God in heaven (10:13).

There are five aspects of this priesthood, developed through chapters 5 to 10. First, Christ, Son of God, coming in the flesh in the fullness of time, is qualified to be a priest because he is declared so from eternity by divine oath and because he lived and suffered in perfect solidarity with those whom he is to save through his death. Second, this priesthood is perfect and unique, a priesthood according to the order of Melchizedek, not that of aaron. Third, through the offering of his death in perfect obedience to the will of the Father, this priest entered not an earthly sanctuary but a heavenly sanctuary and there continues to exercise his priesthood on behalf of sinners. Fourth, unlike the sacrifices of the earthly sanctuary, the offering of this priest achieves once and for all the forgiveness of sins, so that no further sacrifice is needed. Fifth, the notion of kingship is conjoined with that of priesthood, because through his sacrifice Christ has gained dominion over sin and the devil and has subjected all things in obedience to the rule of God (10:13).

Two acts constitute the exercise of this priesthood. The first is the death through obedience, the piercing through the veil of the flesh into the heavenly sanctuary. Second, there is what results from this, the eternal priestly intercession which Christ makes for his own at the right hand of the Father. For the writer of the letter, in his attention to the suffering of the faithful, this priesthood and its sacrifice is the foundation of the spiritual life of Christ's followers. It is to be confessed by them in faith and confidence (10:1925). They are guaranteed the forgiveness of sin. They are given dominion over sin and the works of the flesh. They, too, through suffering can gain their salvation because of Christ's solidarity with them and of theirs with Christ.

Placed within the entire corpus of the New Testament, these notions of priesthood, sacrifice and kingship are not to be isolated as though they were the primary notions of teaching about salvation. They are used in conjunction with other images to give some understanding of what Christ achieved for a humankind that needed to be saved from sin and death, through his coming in the flesh, his ministry, his preaching, his suffering, even his rejection, and his death. It is the metaphorical transposition of these terms from a ritual and legal order to this work of Christ that carries weight and power. The contrast with what is sought and not achieved through ritual action and through the law is basic.

The Royal Priesthood of the Church. The idea of the Christian community as a royal priesthood may in fact predate the elaboration of the theme of Christ's priesthood, though in hindsight it has been understood in relation to this. The most commonly invoked text is I Peter 2:410.

While this text is often called upon in support of the priesthood of all baptized, or all believers, it is to be noted that it speaks of the people as a whole or as a unity. The aim of the letter is to encourage the followers of Christ in their suffering, especially in the suffering which comes from finding themselves aliens and disregarded. They can endure these sufferings through union with the redemptive suffering of Jesus Christ. According to the author, Christ leads them on the way of suffering. He can do so because he has released them from bondage through the ransom paid by the pouring out of his own precious blood. The letter compares Christ to the Passover lamb and makes of the death of Jesus a sacrifice of expiation (1:1819).

Though they may sense themselves a people subjected to alien powers, his followers are in fact a chosen people, an elect people. They are built up as a household, or as a living temple, on the foundation who is Jesus Christ, who was himself rejected and spurned. Evoking the scene of the Covenant narrated in Exodus 19, the author calls the disciples whom he addresses a "royal priesthood." The term is taken from Exodus 19:56, which describes a scene of election and covenant. It is because they were a chosen people, a people with whom Yahweh makes covenant, that the Israelites were a royal priesthood, that is, a nation which has dominance over its enemies through God and which can engage in true worship, and indeed one in which all may be seen as kings and priests, unlike their Gentile neighbors. This is now applied to Christ's disciples. Chosen in Christ, redeemed by his blood, they are a royal priesthood, a people that has spiritual dominance and which can announce the good news of salvation to their neighbors. They are a people in which each and all are kings and priests, all anointed by the Spirit in the building up of the one household of God. It is the collective denomination which stands behind any application to individuals of the terms of chosen race, holy people, kingly priesthood.

Christ is said to be, in virtue of the ransom paid by his blood, the foundation of the people, this living temple of God's Spirit. If there is any reference in the letter to Christ himself as priest, it is oblique and is contained in the idea that the people offer spiritual sacrifices which are pleasing to God "through Jesus Christ" (2:5). The idea of Christ as king is more to the fore in the letter than that of Christ as priest, for it is his rule that now leads this new people as God's rule led the Israelites of old through the desert (cf. Is 43:2021).

A comparable text is Revelations 1:6, which also draws on Exodus 19:56. There it is said that those saved in Jesus Christ are a kingdom (not kings) and priests (sic) for God, the Father of Jesus Christ. It is the rule of Christ which is here emphasized, for he is called the prince of the kings of the earth in virtue of being the firstborn of the dead. He is a faithful witness of God's love, who washed us from our sins with his own blood (v. 5). Being the people whom he thus acquired, the company of his disciples are a kingdom in which all are priests because all can give glory to God the Father. The same image of ruling as priests, because they are redeemed in the blood of Christ, is found in the chant of the elders before the throne in Revelations 5:910.

By way of postscript to New Testament usage, what has often been noted may be briefly recalled. Images of priesthood and sacrifice are never used to describe the role and function of the apostles or of the leaders of the community. This would contradict the sense in which these terms are used of the people, in their subjection to the way and the rule of Christ and in their reliance on him and on him alone for salvation, since it would suggest a dependence on ritual rather than on faith in Christ.

Summary. Those texts, especially Hebrews, which speak of Christ as priest and of his priestly work, do so by way of contrast with a ritual religion. Priestly and sacrificial imagery is allied with the imagery of a new rule and kingship. What is underlined is Christ's suffering, his solidarity with sinners and sufferers, and his obedience to the Father's will. Salvation given in this way is in sharp contrast with the search for salvation through obedience to the Law or through ritual sacrifice.

When the image of priesthood is used of Christ's followers, this is founded in the thought that Christ's people are a new kingdom, chosen by God and with whom he has made covenant. Living by faith in him and the power of his suffering, they have dominion in this world over their own selves, over sin, over all who oppose the rule of God, because they are redeemed by the blood of Christ. Where Christ is proposed as exemplar to the people in 1 Peter, it is in the endurance of his suffering. It is in suffering in witness to God's love and rule, that those who believe in him are one with him and can expect with him the resurrection from the dead, in which his and their dominion is perfected.

It is not possible to grasp the full import of this usage of priestly terms without noting the deliberate move away from any idea that God is to be served and glorified through dependence on ritual practice, as well as from the idea that priesthood belongs to only one portion of the people. It is not through cult and the observance of a law that we are saved but through the obedient dedication of Christ, his life and even his death, through his faithful witness. As a result of his death and resurrection, to live the life of the spirit is not to be dependent on cult or law. The people themselves are royal and priestly, a living temple. They can offer spiritual sacrifices in everything they do, their suffering is priestly and kingly, as they live in memory of the power of Christ's suffering and in faith in it. They have no need of further sacrifice and are free of the Law which subjects them because they are subject in spirit and have dominion over sin in virtue of the obedience and service of Jesus Christ. The symbolic and metaphorical quality of this language of priesthood, sacrifice, and kingship is what gives it its power.

Patristic Teaching

Early Christian Literature. In proclaiming salvation through the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, writings of the apostolic and post-apostolic age develop the theme of sacrifice to some degree, especially in emphasizing the spiritual nature of Christian sacrifice, which is contrasted with the levitical cult. The imagery of Christ the Passover or Paschal Lamb is prominent in Paschal Homilies and in Irenaeus. Irenaeus acclaimed Christ to be mediator because in his flesh the conflict between good and evil, life and death is worked out and because in him there is a recapitulation of all creation, whereby all that was snatched from the Father is again surrendered to him in obedience (Adversus Haereses III, 18, 7. Irénée de Lyons. Contre les hérésies. Livre III. Ed. A. Rousseau et L. Doutreleau. Sources chrétiennes 211. Paris 1974). While the language of sacrifice is used, there are only occasional references to the priesthood of Christ, especially when authors draw on the Letter to the Hebrews, e.g. Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Philadelphians 4 (Ignace d'AntiochePolycarpe de Smyrne. LettresMartyre de Polycarpe. Ed. T. Camelot, Sources chrétiennes 10. Paris 3e. ed., 1958).

On the other hand, in the life of the Church during this period, a distinction was made between clergy and laity which had an enormous effect on the way in which later centuries treated participation in the one priesthood of Christ. In this context, the canonical collection called the Apostolic Tradition associated priesthood with episcopacy. The bishop, it says, acts as priest in offering the gifts of the people, and in the teaching by which he brings them holiness of life (La Tradition Apostolique de Saint Hippolyte. Essai de Reconstitution. By Dom Bernard Botte O.S.B. Münster 1963. Pp. 711). By way of association, the presbytery of the Church is joined in this priesthood, since they extend hands with the bishop over the gifts in the prayer of thanksgiving.

In Letter 63 on the sacrament of the Eucharist (Corpus scriptorum ecclesiasticorum latinorum 3,2.701717), cyprian of Carthage appealed to the figure of Melchizedek to typify the exercise and offering of Christ's own priesthood in this celebration. He then called the bishop a priest (sacerdos ) because in his offering of the Eucharist for the people he acts vice Christi (Ep. 63. 14, loc. cit.). In some of his letters, he referred to presbyters as consacerdotes, people who in some way share in the priesthood of the bishop.

School of Alexandria. The themes of mediation, priesthood, and sacrifice were developed in the School of Alexandria, with mediation as the key term. This is found first in origen, and to some extent in clement, and later in athanasius and cyril. With these one may also associate the similar teaching of john chrysostom. The ideas of Philo influenced Origen and Clement. In the temple priesthood and in the figure of Melchizedek, Philo found images of the Divine Word. Remaining within a Jewish perspective, he spiritualized the act of sacrifice. He connected priesthood and Passover, and in his allegorical commentary on the vestments of the high priest he indicated the universal character of the new spiritual priesthood.

Origen attributed the work of mediation to the Logos or the Son. He located this mediation already within the Trinity in the procession of the Spirit (see his commentary on John's Gospel Bk. II.X.75, Commentaire sur Saint Jean 1V, ed. Cécile Blanc. Sources chrétiennes 120. Paris 1966) and its manifestation in the world in the taking on of human nature. In line with this, he explained how Christ is High Priest, according to the Order of Melchizedek. Eternal Word, he never leaves the sanctuary of heaven, where he dwells in light inaccessible. There he offers himself as a gift to the Father. In the flesh, on earth, when he is able to sympathize with sinners and their weakness through his own experience, he offers himself for sins "outside the camp" (Homily XII on the Book of Leviticus, Homélies sur le Lévitique, texte latin, traduction et notes par Marcel Borret. Sources chrétiennes 287. Paris 1981). In his offering in the flesh he blotted out sins and the "bond that was writ against us" so that not even a trace is left. Thus Christ exercised both priesthood and kingship, winning dominion over principalities and powers, "making a show of them openly" when nailed to the Cross. The eternal and the earthly are not so much two stages of the one priesthood as two complementary offerings.

In several places, e.g. his commentary on John, BkVI. 51), Origen relates the royal priesthood of the Church to the priesthood and kingship of Christ. The true Jerusalem, he says, is the Church, built of living stones, a royal priesthood in which spiritual sacrifices are offered. Martyrdom is the most perfect form of this spiritual worship, but it is exercised by all who live according to the Law of the Spirit. In the Eucharist, by drinking the blood of Christ the people are initiated into the mystery of the flesh and blood of the Word, who in his flesh rendered God propitious to sinners so that they might become one with him in his eternal offering (e.g. on Matthew 26:2628, Die griechischen christlichen Schriftsteller der ersten drie Jarhrhunderte, Origenes 11, 196200).

In Homily V on Leviticus, and in Homily XI on Numbers (Homélies sur les Nombres, introduction et traduction de André Méhat. Sources Chrétiennes 29. Paris 1951) Origen relates the ministry of the ordained to the priesthood of Christ. Christ is said to have "eaten the sins of the people" in his death. Bishops too must eat the sins of the people "in a high place," which is that of perfect faith and charity, by teaching them sound doctrine and purifying their consciences. These priests are victims of the Word of God which they must teach. They propitiate the sins of the people by advising them, exhorting them, teaching them, and instructing them, and thus leading them to penance. Thus through their ministry Christ the High Priest sanctifies his people, making of them a royal priesthood, who offer spiritual sacrifices (On Numbers, Homily XXIV).

Thus it is that in Origen we see an early mention of the four aspects of priesthood. First and foremost, there is the priesthood of Christ, the Word made flesh, which is both heavenly and earthly. From this there arises the royal priesthood of the Church, which is the people saved and sanctified by his blood and his obedience to the Father, and with which it is particularly associated in the Eucharist. This priesthood is exercised by each and all of the faithful in offering spiritual sacrifices, in their daily lives and in the sacrament of the Eucharist. Finally, the ministers of the Church are configured to the priesthood of Christ by themselves eating the sins of the people, living in complete fidelity to the Word in order to sanctify the people by their teaching and spiritual guidance.

Athanasius and Cyril. In these writers, the theme of mediation is even more highly developed, but it is also more securely related to the mystery of incarnation than in Origen. Athanasius and Cyril relate Christ's role as Mediator to his genealogy from the tribe of Judah. Through this genealogy, priesthood and kingship are combined in the one person. Eusebius, it may be noted, in his Ecclesiastical History 5,3.13 (PG 22, 365,389) adds the title of Prophet, noting that in Christ the three Old Testament types of king, priest, and prophet are fulfilled.

The sense the Alexandrians give to Christ's priesthood, kingship, and sacrifice can be understood within the broader descriptions of his work of mediation. It is because Christ, the Word of God in his divine nature, took on human nature and human flesh that he is mediator between God and a fallen humanity. The imagery used of this is quite diverse, a typical example indeed of mixed metaphors. The core notion is that the Word took on human nature in the weakness of the state to which sin had reduced it in order to lift it up out of this state and bear it with him to the right hand of the Father. To do this he had to pass through death, death being portrayed as a conflict with death itself and with sinful flesh. He, holy and innocent, encountered sin and death on the earth, entered into conflict with them, and won a victory for all those for whom he chose to live, suffer, and die.

Athanasius and Cyril use various biblical metaphors to describe this mediation. Enlarging upon the language of painful but victorious conflict, they use the language of paying a debt, occasionally of paying a debt to the devil but most of all to death itself. The language of sacrifice, taken primarily from Paul in all the harshness of the victim's identification with sin, is also employed. They call the Mediator "King" because he was victorious over sin and death and now reigns over the faithful who have been redeemed and who dominate these enemies in their own flesh in the hope of being with Christ in eternity. Drawing especially on Hebrews, they call him Priest because he offered himself as sacrifice in the once and for all offering of his death and his entry into the heavenly sanctuary.

Commenting on Hebrews and on the Psalms, both Athanasius and Cyril contrast the priesthood of Aaron and the priesthood according to Melchizedek. They do this to show the distinctive character of the priesthood of Christ and the unique quality of his offering, through which cultic priesthood is not only replaced but surpassed. He is priest according to the order of Melchizedek because his priesthood had no origin in this world but comes from the eternity of the Word's communion with the Father. Being exercised once and for all in his transition through death to heaven, it is an eternal priesthood whose act of sacrifice need never be repeated but is forever efficacious.

The texts in both authors are numerous, but some specific examples may be mentioned. In his treatise On the Incarnation (Patrologia Graeca 25, 95ff.), Athanasius says that by the sacrifice of his own body Christ did two things: He put an end to the law of death which barred humanity's way to God, and he made a new beginning of life for those who obtained the hope of the resurrection (II.9). Christ settled humanity's account with death by paying the debt which was owing to it (IV.20). In IV.21 of this treatise, Athanasius elaborates quite dramatically on the struggle with death which Christ took on in his own mortal flesh for "it was precisely in order to die that he had taken a body."

In the Second Oration Against the Arians (Patrologia Graeca 26, 146ff.), Athanasius relates Christ's priesthood to the life of the Church. Having acted as High Priest in the sacrifice of his death, he became an eternal High Priest who entered through his death into the heavenly sanctuary. Now he acts as High Priest in the Church by sanctifying it through communion with his life-giving flesh, bringing believers near to God and offering to the Father those who in faith approach him.

A similar approach is found in Cyril, for example, in his Commentary on Hebrews (Patrologia Graeca 74,967) where he says that our pontiff or archiereus subjected himself to the malediction of death, not that he might demand punishment from sinners, nor that he might subject those guilty of sin to judgment, but so that he might save them by faith, absolve their crimes, make them holy, and make them participants in his own nature. He joins the images of Priest and King together by relating them both to anointing. The Son of God was anointed for the apostolate in coming into the world, joining the created thing in union with himself and anointing humanity with his deity, making one out of the two. This is the basis for the power of his sacrifice and for the royal priesthood of the Church.

Athanasius briefly pursues this theme of the royal priesthood which derives to the Church from its Head by the anointing of the Spirit (Commentaries on Psalms 77 and 78: Patrologia Graeca 27). The members of the Church make spiritual offerings in union with its Head, who offers in the heavenly sanctuary. Not only has Christ entered into conflict with sin and death on our behalf, not only has he entered the heavenly sanctuary through his resurrection, but his flesh has become a life-giving flesh and the redeemed partake of his wonderful exchange. They are brought into communion with him in grace and so are his body, one with him in his communion with God in the Spirit.

In his Paschal Homelies XX to XXII, Cyril, drawing on Old Testament types, speaks at length of the self-offering of the faithful through the Lenten fast and Lenten exercises in preparation for the Pasch when Christ would unite them with himself in his glorified flesh, but he says little about priesthood. On the other hand, in Homily 142 on Luke 22, 1722 (Commentary on the Gospel According to Luke by St. Cyril of Alexandria, trans. from the Syriac by Payne Smith. Oxford 1859, 664669), he explains that the royal priesthood mentioned in 1 Peter 2 is exercised by drawing near to God with Christ through faith. The people are made holy through communion in the Word made flesh. They offer prayers of thanksgiving and praise, drawing near to the eucharistic table from which they receive life and blessing both spiritually and corporeally, "for we receive in us the Word of God the Father, who for our sake became man, and who is life and lifegiving."

John Chrysostom. The work of John Chrysostom deserves special mention because he associates the priesthood of Christ and of his Body in a special way with the Eucharist. Though connected with the Churches of Antioch and Constantinople, John shares the Christology of the Alexandrians. He traces the priesthood of Christ to the Incarnation of the Word. There are two moments to its exercise: terrestrial and heavenly. The terrestrial culminates in the sacrifice of the Cross, where the testimony of the Word made flesh is sealed by the death of the testator. The heavenly exercise is located in the priestly intercession which continues for eternity. A special development of the theme is found in John's homilies on the Letter to the Hebrews, where he draws on other biblical texts that accentuate the kenosis of the Word in the flesh to elaborate on what Hebrews says of his suffering, his obedience to the Father and the prayer which he made for his sisters and brothers.

The Eucharist is the sacrament and representation of Christ's mysteries, as explained, for example, in Homily XIV on Hebrews 8, 12 (Patrologia Graeca 63, 329336) and Homily VII on John (Patrologia Graeca 59, 6166). Because of this, Chrysostom writes of the priestly character of the Bishop, since in the mysteries he represents Christ the High Priest. However, this share in Christ's priesthood is also connected with the bishop's teaching office and with his exercise of the power to bind and loose. As for the royal priesthood, this originates in Baptism, where John points to the anointings found in this rite. Christ, who is a descendant of the tribe of Judah and not Levi, is both king and priest (Homily XIII on Hebrews: Patrologia Graeca 63, 321329). Through baptism, the faithful are made kings, priests and prophets (Homily IV on II Corinthians: Patrologia Graeca 61, 417428). They are kings because they have been given victory over sin. They are priests because they immolate their bodies in offering a sacrifice to God. They are prophets because they are given a knowledge of what is to come. Their royal priesthood is founded in the communion with Christ, priest, and victim, given through the eating and drinking of his sacramental body and blood. By reason of this sacramental communion, the faithful are able to offer spiritual sacrifices by living a holy life and by offering prayers of thanksgiving to God. The hymns sung and the rites performed in the sacraments, whether this be the Eucharist or the act of binding and loosing in rites of penance, are done in concert with the heavenly choirs. Since this is a new and better covenant, Chrysostom waxes at some length on the promises which such priesthood hold forth.

When in Homily XVII, on Hebrews 9.2426 (Patrologia Graeca 63, 345352) Chrysostom elaborates on the death of Christ as his priestly and sacrificial offering, following the letter's own comparison with the ritual of Yom Kippur. He again points to the Eucharist as its remembrance. The sacrifice is not repeated, but what is performed is a remembrance of the sacrifice. Of this sacrifice those who have been initiated into the mysteries partake through communion but they must do so worthily, lest they face judgment for their sins.

Two aspects of the bishop's priesthood come together in the treatise On the Priesthood, which John wrote before his own ordination. In looking to the representative symbolism of the eucharistic mysteries, John likens the bishop to the High Priest "standing over the sacrifice and praying," with the Lord sacrificed and lying before him (On the Priesthood, III. 4. Patrologia Graeca 48, 642). With more elaboration, however, he associates the priesthood of the ordained with the office of sanctifying through teaching the Word of God and with the office of purifying the people from their sins by leading them to do penance (Ibid. III, 5). Thus the episcopal priesthood in which the bishop is configured to Christ includes his sacramental ministry, his teaching ministry, and his office in leading the people to penance and the purification of their sins.

The Latin West

On developments in the Latin West during the patristic era, this survey is limited to the teaching of Saint augustine of Hippo and to the influence of the notions of order and hierarchy on thought about the priesthood of the Church.

Augustine. In the western Church, it is the teaching of Augustine on priesthood which is the most important in the development of tradition. For Augustine, as for the Alexandrians, reference to the priesthood of Christ is to be found within his treatment of the mediation of Christ, or of Christ as mediator between God and a sinful humanity. Mediator is, as it were, the primary title given to Christ. His argument against Porphory and against sacrificial cult in De Civitate Dei, Book X (Corpus Christianorum, Series latina 47, 271314) gave him ample occasion to enlarge on the theme of Christ's priesthood and sacrifice and on Christian sacrifice.

In X. 24 (Ibid., 297298), Augustine relates the mediation of Christ to the notion of Principle or source of life and grace. The Principle is the Word and it is this Word who assumed human nature. The flesh of Christ purifies us and gives us life because it is the flesh of the Word. In the flesh he took on death, laid down his life in death, and so changed our nature to something better by the resurrection. In X. 29 (Ibid., 304307), Augustine says that this Word, who is the Son, assumed humanity and thus gave humanity the hope of his love, bringing us near to God the Father, whereas we had been far off. Treating of the mediation of the Word made flesh, in Bk X. 20 (Ibid., 294) Augustine writes of him as Priest and sacrifice, a sacrifice to which all other sacrifices must give place. It is here that Augustine says that the Church has the Eucharist, which is the daily sign or sacrament of the one and unique sacrifice of Christ.

In relation to Christ's mediation in X.5 and 6 (Ibid., 276279) Augustine discoursed on the sacrifice of Christians by way of contrast with pagan sacrifices and pagan mediators. True sacrifice is an attitude of soul before God and deeds done out of mercy. The visible sacrament of this invisible sacrifice is what makes clear that all are united with God as one holy fellowship (una sancta societas ). The Eucharist is the sacrifice of Christians, for it is the sacrifice of the Body, head, and members. As a sign of the sacrifice of Christ's death, it includes in its offering both head and members because of the actions which the faithful perform as members of this head.

In the same work on the City of God we find a very clear statement about the royal priesthood of the Church. The priesthood, he says in XVII.5 (Corpus Christianorum, Series latina 48, 562566), is "the people itself, of which Christ is the Priest who is the Mediator between God and men," and which the Apostle Peter calls "a holy people, a royal priesthood." Indeed, the people may also be called God's sacrifice, so that Paul says, "We being many are one bread, one body," adjuring them, "Present your bodies a living sacrifice." They are a priesthood and a sacrifice because they eat of the flesh of the Priest himself. Augustine here seems to mean eating by faith, but no doubt the saying also has eucharistic implications. The designation is collective, as it is in 1 Peter, though of course it has implications for the way in which each of the faithful partake in it (see also Sermo 272: Patrologia Latina 38, 12461248; Sermo 227: ed. Sources chrétiennes 116, 234242; Sermo 7, ed. G. Morin, Miscellanea Agostiniana 1, 462464).

There are a few places where Augustine relates the priesthood of Christ to his work in the Church in the present in a way that extends beyond the celebration of the Eucharist. In the commentary on Psalm 85:1 (Patrologia Latina 37, 1081) he says that Christ prays for us as our priest, prays in us as our head, and is prayed to by us as our God. Commenting on Psalm 44:17 (Patrologia Latina 36, 504) he makes a statement which was taken up by Isidore of Seville and had an influence in later medieval treatises. To keep the play on words, it is necessary to cite the Latin text: "Quomodo et sacerdos a sanctificando nos, ita et rex a regendo nos." This indicates that there is both a relation and a distinction between his work as priest and his work as king. From what has been said above, however, it seems clear that the claim to both titles comes from his offering sacrifice and ruling over sin and death by his death on the Cross and his entry into heaven.

In De Civitate Dei XX.10 (Corpus Christianorum, Series latina 48, 719720), Augustine associates priesthood with resurrection from the dead. Christ's own resurrection is the ultimate anointing of his priesthood according to the order of Melchizedek. To this all believers are assimilated by the anointing with chrism and so live in the hope of the resurrection. In this chapter, Augustine makes a distinction between the special use of the title sacerdos when used of bishop and presybyters and the more general use when applied to all the faithful, but it is to emphasize the point that through the royal priesthood all share in the anointing of Christ as priest in his resurrection.

Hierarchy and Order. How the relation of the Church to Christ was seen, how clergy and laity were distinguished, was greatly influenced by the notion of ordo/order. Roman bishops, and in particular Leo the Great (see leo i, pope, st.), often speak of diverse orders in the Church and of the ranking of orders within the clergy. The ranking of laity, clergy, and bishop, however, for Leo is within the one royal priesthood and by the anointing of the Spirit, as he explains in commenting upon 1 Peter 2 in a sermon given on the anniversary of his episcopal ordination (Tractatus in natale eiusdem, IV. Corpus Christianorum, Series latina 138, 2025). By the anointing with the Spirit at baptism, all are enabled to submit themselves to God in ruling their bodies and in consecrating themselves with a pure conscience through offering spiritual sacrifices. The grace of this anointing, however, flows out more fully over the bishop when he is ordained to his office, placing him in rank and dignity above all others so that the anointing may flow unsparingly from him over those whom he serves. What sets the bishop apart and fits him for his service is the more abundant outflow of the gift of the Spirit who consecrates all as priests within the one royal priesthood.

The strongest influence of the notions of order and hierarchy in the Latin west came through the translations of the writings of the Syrian monk, known to history as the pseudo-dionysius. Though he did not mention priesthood, he allied the idea of hierarchy or sacred power with that of rank to a vision of the cosmos and of Church order in particular. At the center of his mystical vision stands Christ, the Word of God manifesting the divine in the flesh. It is his role to draw humanity from this obscure and symbolic manifestation to a mystical contemplation of God, supreme light, and truth. The Christian must be drawn from attachment to the material world through a gradual process of purification, illumination, and perfective contemplation. Those closer to God in communion must lead those farther from this state to union with God along this threefold path.

In the work called The Ecclesiastical Hierarchy (English translation, Pseudo-Dionysius. The Complete Works, trans. Colm Luibheid. New York/Mahwah, 1987, 193259), the bishop is called hierarchés or hierarch. This is a pagan word, meaning one who presides at sacred rites, or, indeed, high priest. The term hierarchia means sacred source or principle. It is defined in chapter three of the Celestial Hierarchy (Ibid., 143192) as a "sacred order, knowledge and activity" which assimilates one to likeness with God and from which graces may flow to others. The bishop who is at the head of the ecclesiastical hierarchy is a font or source of the wisdom that brings others into communion with God. Presbyters, next in rank, are charged with the work of illuminating or teaching the divine mysteries as expressed in rites and symbols, while deacons are charged with the work of purification.

What this position says is that one does not lead others towards God unless one has entered into communion with him, at whatever degree of ordering one stands. This was given another twist in Latin theology when it resorted to legal and ontological categories to explain the hierarchy of bishop and presbyter, especially in the sacraments. Order was then applied more to official position and function than to the holiness of the minister. This accentuated the distinction in office and order between hierarchy or clergy and laity, and within hierarchy between the different ranks. The sharpening of the distinction between the holiness of the minister and his power was heightened toward the turn of the millennium as a result of disputes with those spiritual groups that questioned the validity of the sacramental celebrations of unworthy ministers.

Summary. During these early centuries, the images of priest and king are attached to a fundamental conception of Christ's mediation between God and humanity. The possibility of this mediation is rooted in the incarnation of the Word or Son and is effected through the combat with sin and death which he undertook in the flesh. The priestly character of this mediation is, on the one hand, by way of contrast with ritual acts of sacrifice. The comparison, on the other hand, with the process of priestly sacrifice shows that by his reason of his access through suffering into the heavenly sanctuary Christ continues to act as mediator in his heavenly intercession and through his active presence in the Church. The most central thought is that of suffering, conflict, and victory over sin and death. The use of the images and titles of king and priest comes mainly from scriptural commentary and is subordinate to the fundamental idea of the mediation of the Word, who reconciles God and humanity in his own person and in the work he was sent to do.

The imagery of sacrifice, priesthood, and kingship is used also of the Church. They are related more directly to the priesthood of Christ than is done in the New Testament itself, by way of showing that the Church, Christ's Body, exists and acts only by participation in the mystery of Christ himself. Initiated into the royal priesthood by baptism and Eucharist, the Church and its members are purified of sin through Christ's death, anointed with the anointing of Christ himself, and nourished by his lifegiving body and blood. Sacramental participation makes possible daily spiritual sacrifices. Sacramental and spiritual participation in Christ's priesthood are one, neither making any sense except in relation to the other.

Within the royal priesthood of the Church, Christ's Body, there are various ministries and various manifestations of holiness, modes of participation in the one priesthood of Christ himself. Leadership and pastoral ministry in the name of Christ always stood out as special roles within the one royal priesthood. In particular, the more the word Priest was used of Christ in relation to the action of the liturgy, the more the term was transferred to bishops and presbyters who preside over it. It was, however, the growing, practical, and then theological distinction between clergy and laity, as well as use of the notions of hierarchy and order, that made for more sharply defined differentiations between the participation of the faithful and the participation of the ordained.

Liturgical Developments

Developments of language and thought that gave pride of place to the ordained in the use of sacerdotal terminology are linked with the liturgy. It was within the liturgy, or in relation to the liturgy, that the distinction between clergy and laity was given focus. On the one hand, this is nothing other than a practical distinction, prompted by the need to distribute charges and assure the financial arrangements necessitated by the call to ministry. The clergy are those who take their place at the altar, who also have other community responsibilities, and so must be by and large free of concern about their financial support. When tertullian (De baptismo 17.1: Corpus Christianorum latina I, 291) makes the distinction he refers to the fact that anyone can baptize, all being priests, but it is the summus sacerdos, the bishop, who retains the primary right to do this, and following him presbyters and deacons. This, he says, is a matter of peace and good order in the Church. Origen (Homily on Josuah 17.3: Sources Chrétiennes 71, 381) also has a practical approach but one heavy with symbolic meaning. It comes from the law of God that priests and levites are to be free of external preoccupations so as to dedicate themselves to the word of God, but then it is the part of the laity to assure their material needs. In Letter 1 (Corpus scriptorum ecclesiasticorum latinorum 3), Cyprian uses the same Old Testament typology to apply the distinction between clergy and laity to their different roles in the eucharistic sacrifice. As is known, this typology was pursued in the west in the papal decretals to underline the duty of the clergy to serve in the liturgy and to promote in tandem with this the call and obligation to clerical celibacy.

Distinctions in the relation of congregation and bishop to Christ were given meaning within the eucharistic action. The offering of the bread and wine was done by the priestly people, not necessarily in any ritual sense but in the sense that they provide them. The meaning of what the people offer in bread and wine comes from the fact that they are a free people, made free in the Spirit (Irenaeus), or Christ's priestly people (e.g. Augustine). Christ prays in them as they make an offering of their gifts and of themselves and in turn receive gifts in gratitude. However, liturgically in this offering the priest leads them in thanksgiving, that is, he offers on their behalf with thanksgiving for creation and for God's salvific work, and it is through his words that the sacramental sacrifice is perfected.

A distinction is made in Sermon 5. 78 of the mystagogical catechesis of Cyril of Jerusalem between the offerings of the people, the spiritual sacrifice of the prayer proclaimed, and the propitiatory sacrifice present on the altar when the spiritual sacrifice over the offerings has been completed (Cyrille de Jérusalem: Catechèses Mystagogiques, ed. A. Pièdagnel et P. Paris. Sources Chrétiennes 126. Paris). The idea that the offering of the gifts and the bread and wine sanctified by the prayer constitute a twofold sign of Christ's sacrifice appears, for example, in the anaphora of Basil of Caeserea (Prex Eucharistica. Textus e variis liturgiis antiquioribus selecti, ed. Anton Hängii et Irmgard Pahl. Fribourg), which distinguishes between prosphora or offering and thusia or sacrifice. The bread and wine laid on the table are an offering, a sign of the people's own self-offering and a sign of Christ's offering. In the course of the eucharistic prayer proclaimed by the bishop, with the people's assent, when the Word or the spirit is invoked, or when Christ's supper words are proclaimed, as different authors variously explain the power of the prayer, the sacrament is perfected as the sacrament of Christ's sacrifice. Hence the blessed elements show forth the sacrifice of Christ the High Priest through which he entered the holy of holies, in which he is the one in whose humanity all are forgiven and made free, the Head of his body, which is one with him in this priestly offering and Passover. Though the priestly people make their offering through the sign of the bread and wine, their primary mode of participation in Christ's sacrifice and priesthood is through eating and drinking of his Body and Blood. It is in partaking of the sacramental sacrifice by eating and drinking of the body and blood of Christ that their royal priesthood is given its most fundamental sacramental and spiritual form.

Medieval Thought

The Order of Priesthood. In the work of isidore of seville in the Latin west, there is a formal treatment of orders and offices in the Church which had considerable influence on later writers. In commentaries on the books of the Pentateuch, Isidore associated both kingship and priesthood with anointing and pointed to the figure of Christ, who by his anointing with the Spirit became the true high priest and king. The Church shares as a body in this anointing by the Spirit and hence as the Body of Christ is a royal priesthood and a kingly people. Some share in it through baptism, others through ordination. In the Eucharist, the priestly people eats and drinks of the body and blood of Christ and is itself offered with Christ in the sacramental action.

Treating of the ordo sacerdotalis in the Etymologiarum, Liber VII.12 (Patrologia Latina 82, 291292) and the De Ecclesiasticis Officiis, Liber II.57 (Patrologia Latina 83, 780788) Isidore includes bishops and presbyters in this priesthood. The definition of sacerdos is "to give the sacred or holy (sacrum dare )." The word comes, he says, from sanctificando just as rex comes from regendo. He traced the ordo sacerdotalis back to the giving of the power of the keys to Peter (Matt 16:18). It is exercised in ruling and governing, in preaching and teaching, and in the consecration of the body and blood of the Lord. Within the priestly order, only the bishop bears the title of Pontifex, since he is the prince of priests by reason of his place in the apostolic succession.

After Isidore, ecclesiastical writers maintained this broad understanding of the nature and functions of the ordo sacerdotalis but focused increasingly on the priestly power exercised in the act of consecration in the Mass, drawing extensively on the Aaronic priesthood as type of the sacerdotal order in the Church. This meant that the consecration of the body and blood of Christ was also viewed as the act of eucharistic sacrifice. Authors made a distinction between the action of the priest in consecrating and that of the people in offering by distinguishing in sacrifice between offerre and immolare. In Christ's own death the consummation of the sacrifice is in his immolation. In the Mass this means it is found in the consecration when the bread and wine are changed into his body and blood and his immolation represented. All offer (themselves, bread and wine, even Christ) but only the ordained priest can consummate the sacrifice and represent the immolation of Christ's death [On this, see for example Amalar of Metz, Liber Officialis (ed. Hansenns II, 106108), and Paschasius Radbertus (Liber de corpore et sanguine Domini (Corpus Christianorum, Series latina)].

An example of how this applied to liturgy may be found in an eleventh century writer, odo of cambrai, in his work Expositio in Canonem Missae (Patrologia Latina 160:10531070), in which he explains the Canon of the Mass. Odo locates the sacrifice of praise, sung by all the people, in the Sanctus of the Mass, the consecration of the body and blood of Christ in his own words repeated by the priest, and the daily offering of this sacramental sacrifice by the whole Church (both present and absent) in the prayers of offering that follow the consecration when the body and blood of Christ are on the altar. The people are thus able to join their sacrifice of praise with the real sacrifice, which is that of Christ, now sacramentally represented in the Mass through the offering of his body and blood made really present through the words of Christ repeated by the priest.

Sacerdotium et Regnum. An important medieval influence on concepts of priesthood and the ordering of the Church came from the quarrel over sacerdotium and imperium or regnum that marked the relations of Pope and bishops with kings and emperors. With the emperor charlemagne there emerged the idea and pursuit of a single societas christiana and a new vision of the divine commissioning of emperor and later of kings. The role of the Prince was to defend the Church and uphold a Christian society against its enemies. At times the claim was made that his task was to rule the Church when it came to the ordering of society. Liturgical books (e.g. Ordines Romani XLV, XLVI, XLVII, in Michel Andrieu, Les Ordines Romani du haut moyen âge, t. IV. Louvain 1965) of the time included rites for the consecration, and even the ordination, of emperors and kings, making of them a special order in the Church, distinct from both clergy and laity. The model was taken from the Old Testament, according to which kings, priests, and prophets were all anointed. The divine origin of temporal power, whether through natural law or by special ordinance, was confirmed by jurists, canonist, and even theologians. Though usually princely power was not related to Christ's kingship, at times the emperor or kings were called vicars of Christ in the exercise of their rule.

Around the cusp of the millennium, episcopal authorities found the encroachment on ecclesiastical affairs by princes impossible to concede and responded by an assertion of their supremacy over principalities in both religious and temporal matters, though without however claiming direct temporal rule for themselves. To limit trespass on affairs of the Church, strong popes like gregory vii and innocent iii thus found it necessary to claim some authority in temporal matters. Innocent was ready to admit that temporal rule came to lords of the realm from God, whatever be that process, but he asserted some control over the temporal in virtue of his spiritual authority. This came from the subordination of the temporal to the spiritual, so that temporal rulers needed to acknowledge papal superiority over the regnum in virtue of the higher order of sacerdotium (See the letter of Oct. 30, 1198, Epistula ad Acerbum consulem Florentinum : Patrologia Latina 216, 1186). Between the two luminaries set by God in the universe, the pontificalis auctoritas and the regalis potestas, the first to rule over souls and the second to rule over bodies, the greater dignity is that of the pontifical, so that from it, as the moon from the sun, the regal receives its dignity and splendour.

These attitudes were confirmed by thomas aquinas in his work on the rule of princes (De Regimine Principum ad Regem Cypri, ed. Joseph Mathis. Turin and Rome: Marietti, 1948). Kings, he taught, hold their authority from God, both by reason of the very nature of rule and by reason of the ordinances of divine providence. This power, however, is exercised in temporal things. He separated earthly rule clearly from the kingship of Christ since Christ's power has to do with the spiritual realm, the kingdom of God (chapter XIV). Christ is both king and priest, and from him there derives a royal priesthood (regale sacerdotium ) in virtue of which all the faithful are kings and priests. The regimen of this kingdom is not given to earthly princes but to priests, especially to the High Priest, who is the successor of Peter and the vicar of Christ, the Roman Pontiff. Since this is the highest kingdom, the one that is the end of all earthly administration, earthly kings are subject to this high priest. This does not mean that the Pope, in virtue of his kingly priesthood as vicar of Christ, exercises temporal power as a matter of course. It only means that kings and rulers have to acknowledge his ultimate supremacy and that he may intervene in temporal affairs when this seems to be served by the spiritual end of the rule and priesthood which he holds from Christ. This reasoning placed the kingship of Christ clearly in the spiritual order but the theory of the subjection of the temporal to the spiritual provided popes and bishops a say in temporal affairs.

Scholastic Theology on Priesthood

All of these influences on the meaning of priesthood just outlined were present in the Church and in Christian thought about ministry and priesthood when the writers of the schools took on the challenge of offering a system of faith and doctrine. The Master, peter lombard, defined order and priesthood as a sacred power given through consecration and itself the power to consecrate the Body and Blood of Christ and this influenced those whose task it was to comment on his Summa.

A prior issue is the way in which authors deal with Christ's priesthood and mediation. Consideration is here confined to the primary authors of the period.

In thomas aquinas's Summa Theologiae, the question on Christ's mediation (III, Q. XXVI) comes several questions after that on priesthood. Attributing the role of mediator to the humanity of Christ, Thomas mentions two functions. The first is to give gifts and teaching to humans on behalf of God; the second is to offer satisfaction to God and to intercede for human beings on behalf of humanity (art. 2). There is no mention of priesthood or sacrifice here, though one recognizes that normally the act of intercession is listed as a priestly function.

On the priesthood of Christ, Thomas (Summa Theologiae III, Q. XXII) had said that what is proper to a priest is that he is the mediator between God and humankind. Being mediator involves three things: to give holy things (sacra dans ), to offer the prayers of the people to God, and to satisfy for their sins. Where he says that Christ in his death is both priest and victim, quoting Augustine, De Civitate Dei X.5, he points to visible sacrifice as the sacrament of the invisible and adds that everything which is held out to God (Deo exhibetur ) so as to bring the human spirit towards God may be called a sacrifice. Drawing parallels with levitical sacrifices, which according to Rom 4:25 and Hebrews 5:9 have been fulfilled in Christ, he says that the three purposes of sacrifice are to remit sins, to keep the human person in the state of grace, and to unite it with God. When it is said that Christ's priesthood is according to the Order of Melchizedek, this means that it is more excellent than any other priesthood and that it endures for ever in its end and purpose, which is to bring those for whom the sacrifice is made into union with God.

When Thomas treats of the sacrifice of Christ in Summa Theologiae III, Q. XLVIII, art. 3, he uses the definition of Augustine in De Civitate Dei X.6, namely that sacrifice is whatever good work brings us into holy fellowship (sancta societas ) with God and then adds the note from this same book, X.20, that the perfection of Christ's sacrifice comes from the perfection of his charity or love. He also quotes Augustine from In Tim IV.14 to the effect that in every sacrifice we may distinguish the one to whom it is offered, the one by whom it is offered, what is offered, and those for whom it is offered. On this score, Christ's sacrifice is most perfect because he is one with the one to whom it is offered, he is the one who offers that which is offered, and one with those for whom it is offered.

There is no mention of the priesthood of Christ in Bonaventure's discussion of mediation in his Breviloquium IV and in the Collationes in Hexameron I, reportatio B, but he does take up the patristic themes of mediation with which the Fathers linked this priesthood. In the work on the Hexameron Bonaventure relates the mediation of Christ to the Cross. It is here, where he takes on sin for humanity's sake, that he is at the most distant point from the divine, but it is here also that the impotence of the crucified is united with the power of the Word. It is then in his ascension that Christ becomes the center, the mediating point, where the divine and a transformed humanity come together. Here and in the Breviloquium IV, 1 and 10, it is the image and function of Principle which stands out. In this, Bonaventure is in line with the thinking of Augustine. Christ as Word of God is principle of creation and principle of redemption.

At the same time, in his explanation of the Eucharist (VI.9) Bonaventure gave prominence to the sacrifice of immolation as an actual offering of the Church and of Christ in the Church. He says that in his suffering Christ offered to God a fully satisfactory obedience. The purpose of this offering is to make satisfaction for sin but it is also to inflame human hearts with the love of the Spirit and thus to unite them to God. It is this love which unites the Church to Christ as a body to its head (V.8). On the other hand, the concept of priesthood gets no treatment in his discussion of the sacrament of Order (VI.12), apart from the use of the title sacerdos in reference to the agent of the consecration of the bread and wine. It is of order and dignity that Bonaventure treats and in ordination he sees a sing of the giving of power (VI.12,5).

It is in his treatment of the sacraments, Summa Theologiae III, Q. 63, that Thomas deals with the participation of the Church in the priesthood of Christ, developing his thought around the notion of the sacramental character. Writers before him had spoken of the character as some share in Christ that undergirds the participation in grace, but it was his own insight to relate this to worship and to participation in Christ's priesthood. This participation is both passive and active. One shares passively in this priesthood by receiving of its fruits through the celebration of sacraments. Ministers share in it actively by serving as instruments in the instrumental action of Christ's priesthood through which the effects of his passion extend into the present. The power for passive participation is given through the sacramental character imprinted in baptism, which equips the baptized to take part in the public worship of the Church, which is his Body. The adjective passive does not signify that the people remain inactive in the liturgy, for indeed Thomas insists on the activity of their faith and on their part in the prayers and the rites. What it brings out is that Christ's grace is totally gratuitous, that not even faith merits or is any way causative of grace, for humans are always recipients in face of Christ's redemptive action.

If the character of the sacrament of order is said to give an active participation in Christ's priesthood this is strictly as instrumental cause, as the channel and expression of the sanctifying act whereby the passion of Christ is still operative in the present, as explained in Q. 48, art.5. In Q. 83, art. 4, on the rites of the Mass, Thomas points to three actions of the ordained minister: to say the priestly prayer through which the offerings of the people are made acceptable to God, to consecrate the bread and the wine in the act which signifies Christ's immolation and which is itself a kind of immolation of these gifts since they are now changed, and to give communion to the people.

Aquinas did not get to the treatment of the sacrament of order in the writing of the Summa Theologiae. In other writings, he was so inclined to related order to priesthood and priesthood to the consecration of the Lord's body and blood, that he deemed the episcopacy not to be a sacrament but a higher order given to one who was already a priest in the order of presbyters. In the opusculum De perfectione vitae spiritualis he says that what the bishop possesses is a higher and a holy power which allows him to teach and to govern the Church, as well as to perform his own distinctive liturgical functions, such as consecrating, ordaining, and confirming, which go with this office and ministry. This is the power which Christ gave to the twelve apostles and which is passed on through apostolic succession. Though Thomas described this power as a jurisdiction, he retains enough of the vision of the Pseudo-Dionysius to look upon the episcopacy as a state of acquired perfection and to expect outstanding holiness from those who would exercise this power.

The Sixteenth Century

The Reformers. The Reformers of the sixteenth century were intent on applying Christ's titles of King and Priest to spiritual things and not to temporal, as they were intent to overcome the distinction between the baptized and ordained ministers associated with the doctrine of the sacramental character and priestly anointing.

Martin Luther. In his writings on the role of Christ in human salvation, as well as in what he says of the baptized, Martin luther joins the function of king with that of priest. He elaborates on the sacrifice of Christ in several of his biblical commentaries in terms that often sound similar to those found in patristic writers, but with his own particular view of the imputation of Christ's righteousness to sinners and of justification by faith. In his incarnation, Christ took on the effects of Adam's sin, indeed took on his sin, in order to endure suffering and death on behalf of sinners and thus earn the right to have his righteousness imputed to them. It is by the death and the blood of Christ that the baptized are cleansed and sanctified. Taking on the form of a servant and offering himself in the flesh, Christ is the true Aaron, or fulfills the type of the Aaronic priesthood. None can share in this priesthood, because his sacrifice is unique and once and for all and does away with all sacrifices. His anointing as priest according to the order of Melchizedek is associated more readily with his present role in heaven and his present relation to the Church. By his anointing, like Melchizedek Christ is both king and priest and he enters into these offices through the sacrifice of his death.

While it is mentioned in several places in Luther's writings, a convenient and short presentation of his view of the priesthood and kingship that Christ now exercises and in which the faithful participate, is found in the 1520 treatise on The Freedom of a Christian (Luthers Werke in Auswahl, 31;333377). He starts with the affirmation that under the Old Testament the birthright of the firstborn male was that of priesthood and kingship, but that this is only a type of the priesthood and kingship of Christ, who is the first-born of the Father. Of his kingship, Luther says "he reigns in heavenly and spiritual things" that pertain to the righteousness by which God makes us righteous and rules over believers, protecting them against evil onslaughts. His priesthood is also exercised in spiritual things, not in outer ceremonies and is related by Luther to his heavenly prayer and intercession. In both cases, Christ exercises his kingship and priesthood through the living instruction of the Holy Spirit that guides those who believe in his word and receive his righteousness.

All faithful Christians have a share in this kingship and priesthood, because of the freedom they have been given through Christ and their faith in him. In virtue of a spiritual power, Christians are kings and lords of all things spiritual and cannot be harmed by evil, even though of course they are subject to suffering and the onslaught of the devil. As priests, Christians are able to appear before God and pray for others, as well as to teach one another spiritual things. In the Babylonian Captivity (Luthers Werke in Auswahl 36, 1157), Luther elaborates on the many spiritual offerings which the baptized can make because of their life in Christ. These include prayer and alms-giving and the self-offering in which they cast themselves upon Christ. In later years Luther evolved his teaching on ministry, and while he recognized the need and Gospel mandate for ordained ministers of Word and Sacrament, he did not acknowledge any participation in Christ's kingship and priesthood other than that of baptism. To preach the Word and duly administer the sacraments, as ministers are called to do, is to exercise their baptismal priesthood.

Luther resolves the conflict between regnum and sacerdotium in his own unique way, for example, in the work Secular Authority: To What Extent It Should Be Obeyed, Luthers Werke in Auswahl 45, 81129). He believes in Christendom, that is, that society should be organized and ruled to serve the kingdom of God and the mission of the Church. Secular authority is willed and ordained by God in the interests of the Gospel. Its role is to protect the followers of the kingdom and to punish the wicked. However, it is not said to be in any way a participation in Christ's kingly powers. Luther's fundamental principle is that through baptism all are of the royal priesthood, all are priests and kings without distinction. Within this priesthood or kingship, each must serve according to the position which he holds. Some are called to ministry, some to rule, others to do more ordinary tasks. It is by meeting these duties that one lives out the common priesthood or kingship that comes from Christ, through baptism and the Spirit.

John Calvin. While the division of the three offices of Christ was already developed to some extent by Erasmus, Osiander, and Bucer, in the sixteenth century it received its fullest and most lasting treatment from John calvin in the Institutes of the Christian Religion, Bk II, 15. For all three offices, Christ was anointed by the Father when he was sent into the world. The prophetic office was and is exercised through the proclamation of true doctrine. The royal office is the rule that he has over believers through his resurrection from the dead and his sitting at the right hand of God. To explain the priestly office, Calvin predicates it of Christ's role as Mediator and looks both to the sacrifice of his death and his heavenly intercession. Because of the adequacy of his satisfaction for sin, he is now our heavenly intercessor, and it is only through his prayers that we have access to the Father.

For Calvin, there is a sense in which the baptized participate in both roles of Christ's priesthood, that of offering and that of prayer: "We are," he writes, "defiled in ourselves, yet we are priests in him, offer ourselves and our all to God, and freely enter the heavenly sanctuary that the sacrifices of prayer and praise that we bring may be acceptable and sweet-smelling before God" (II.15.6). In fact, to speak of another priesthood, as to speak of the Mass as an immolating of Christ, is "detestable" (ibid.).

With the special priesthood of the ordained in the Church, the Reformers have no truck. Among other things, both Luther and Calvin associate the claim to the chalice at the Lord's Supper with the baptismal priesthood (Luther, The Blessed Sacrament of the Holy and True Body of Christ, and the Brotherhood, Luthers Werke in Auswahl 35, 4975; Calvin, Institutes Bk IV, 17. 4447). Calvin eloquently appeals to the testimony of the Fathers in this regard, quoting what they say about the meaning of eating and drinking from the flesh and blood of Christ to which all are called without distinction. This reminds us of how early Christian writers saw participation together at the table of the Lord's Supper as the most fundamental exercise of the royal priesthood.

Council of Trent. It was not one of the tasks of the Council of trent to resolve questions of Christology and soteriology, which were not the issues in dispute. The Decree on Justification, chapters six and seven (H. Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum, 15261530), when speaking of the redemptive work of Christ used the categories of merit and satisfaction rather than those of priesthood and sacrifice, since these touched more closely on the dispute with Martin Luther. The Decree on the Sacrifice of the Mass (H. Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum, 17381750), whose separation from the Decree on the Sacrament was highly significant, explained that in the sacrifice of the Mass Christ is both priest and victim, the same priest and victim as offered on the Cross but now offered in an unbloody manner in this memorial representation, which he left to his Church. The immolation, deemed the essence of sacrifice as this had been spelled out in scholasticism, is located in the words of Christ at the Supper, repeated by the ordained priest who acts by the power of Christ. For the faithful, the best participation in this Mass, according to the conciliar decree, is to receive communion, but assistance at the priestly action, offering oneself in communion with Christ, is also a way to take part in the sacrifice and in its fruits.

The Decree on the Sacrament of Order (H. Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum, 17631778) affirmed the institution of the priesthood along with the institution of the eucharistic sacrifice at the Last Supper. In priestly ordination, the recipient is endowed with an indelible sacramental character, which distinguishes the ordained from the baptized. The Council did not resolve the debate about the sacramentality of the episcopacy but did affirm the superiority of bishops over presbyters, attributing to bishops the power to govern the Church, which they hold as successors of the apostles (H. Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum, 1767/8).

From Trent to the Twentieth Century

In the aftermath of the Council of Trent, marked particularly by the treatise De Ecclesia of Robert bellarmine, the royal priesthood of the baptized suffered an eclipse. The Church was viewed as a congregation of the faithful and a hierarchical society, the bishops being endowed with the powers of order and jurisdiction needed to govern the Church, Priesthood as such, and the Sacrament of Order, were practically identified with ordination to the presbyterate and with the celebration of the Eucharist. In his treatise, De Christo Capite totius Ecclesiae (Opera Omnia, Tomus Primus. Naples and Paris: Laureil, 1872), in chapter one Bellarmine treated Christ as Mediator, but without mentioning priesthood. He is mediator in four senses: he judges, he speaks to the people on behalf of God, he prays and makes supplication for others, and he makes satisfaction by shedding his blood for sin and offense, thus releasing sinners by his death. In the first three senses, others also can act as mediators, but it is in the fourth sense that Christ is the one mediator between God and humankind.

In the third book of the treatise, De Romano Pontifice (ibid.), in chapter XXI, Bellarmine connected mediation with priesthood in order to explain, against the attacks of the Reformers, how Christ acts in the actions of priests, especially in the Eucharist. Christ is a priest forever because he offered himself once and for all through his death in order to make satisfaction for sins. Contrary to what the Reformers said of Catholic doctrine, the Mass does not take from this offering, but it is the same priest now offering himself through the ministry of many priests in mystery. Bellarmine mentions the priesthood of Christ only in connection with ordained priesthood, and then the meaning which he gives to the offering of his death is that of making satisfaction for sins.

French School. To understand the theology that prevailed at the outset of the Second Vatican Council, one cannot pass over the influence on the ideal of priesthood of the French School of Spirituality, associated with Cardinal de bÉrulle and Saint-Sulpice. Pierre de Bérulle's basic theological insight or intuition was what he saw as the intimate union between the ordained priest and Christ the mediator. Sacrifice, in communion with the sacrifice of Christ, is at the heart of this vision of the priesthood. This is not, however, understood in a narrow sacramental or liturgical sense, albeit the celebration of the Mass is at the core of the priest's ministry and of his life. Sacrifice is a gift of self and an act of mediation on behalf of others and must be operative in the entire ministry of the priest, in word and pastoral care as well as liturgy. The perfection of the priesthood in the order of mediation has to carry with it a perfection in the spiritual order, so that it constitutes a higher calling in the Church (see "A Letter on the Priesthood," in Bérulle and the French School: Selected Writings, edited with an introduction by William H. Thompson, translated by Lowell M. Glendon. New York 1989, 183185).

Monsieur olier consolidated Bérulle's ideal of priestly holiness by writing of the special union of the priest with Christ, priest, and victim. Olier's major influence on priestly life came through his conferences on the seven clerical orders, published posthumously as a treatise by Monsieur Tronson (Traité des saints ordres, publié par M. Tronson selon les écrits et l'esprit de Jean-Jacques Olier. Paris 1953). Priesthood is not purely a sacramental office but embraces the entire work of priests for the sanctification of the faithful. Sacrificing his Son as an act of divine sovereignty in restoring holiness to the world, God now unites the priest with himself, as well as with the victim, Jesus. The priest now shares with God the power to produce the Son, in the sacrament of the altar and in the lives of the faithful. He also shares the power to give or send the Spirit, for the sanctification of the Church. This calls for a profound holiness of life, which is nourished by the adoration of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.

John eudes (The Priest: His Dignity and Obligations, translated by William Leo Murphy. New York 1947) in turn wrote of priests as other Christs, "walking among men," representing his authority and perfections. Eudes calls on the Celestial Hierarchy of the Pseudo-Dionysius to speak of them as visible gods, who take the place of God in this world. In godlikeness, the bishop is first in rank, the priest second, and the faithful third. Eudes did not neglect the priesthood of the baptized, since they too share in Christ's priesthood, but he ranked them lower than the ordained. He exhorts the faithful to respond to their calling by offering themselves with Jesus Christ as priests and as victim and to welcome Christ to dwell in them through sacramental communion.

Priesthood in Theology before the Second Vatican Council

Before the Second Vatican Council, there were two comprehensive studies of the priesthood of Christ and of the Church which amply cited texts from a long tradition and offered a theological synthesis. In Das Priestertum Christi im Anschluss an den hl. Thomas von Aquin. Vom Mysterium des Mittlers in seinem Opfer und unserer Anteilnahme (Paderborn 1934), Emil J. Scheller offered a thomistic synthesis but within the boundaries of a long historical study. The nature of the priesthood is rooted in the incarnation of the Son of God and hence is an eternal priesthood. In his understanding of the Alexandrian and Augustinian traditions, Scheller identified mediation and priesthood without differentiation. In his view, for Thomas Aquinas the essence or constitutive form of Christ's priesthood is to reconcile, that is, to atone or make one God and sinful humanity. Scheller located the exercise of this priesthood in the sacrifice of Christ's death, which he called his immolation. Done once and for all on the Cross, this immolation continues to be sacramentally offered in the Eucharist.

For his part, in Le sacerdoce dans le mystère du Christ (Paris 1957) Joseph Lécuyer connected the priesthood of all the baptized and the priesthood of the ordained with the priesthood of Christ through an appeal to patristic writings. With priestly anointing, he associated kingly and prophetic, showing that for both Christ and the Church the three may not be separated. Amply quoting patristic texts, he offered a dynamic view of Christ's priesthood, tracing its origin and enactment through different stages. These are the incarnation, the anointing at the Jordan, the offering on the Cross, his consummation in the glorification of his resurrection and ascension, and finally his eternal priestly intercession. Jesus is the one true priest because he alone could offer the true sacrifice which reconciles humanity with God and penetrate with his immolated and glorified humanity into the heavenly sanctuary. The faithful are priests because through union with Christ and through the gifts of the Spirit, they participate sacramentally in his paschal mystery and can offer spiritual sacrifice in communion with Christ's sacrifice. Their anointing is prophetic and kingly as well as priestly. The ordained share in the threefold anointing of Christ, as did the apostles, that is, as ministers through whom the paschal mystery of Christ is enacted and participated in the Church. Lécuyer thus put the relation between ordained and baptized in the sacramental enactment of the paschal mystery. Ordained priesthood belongs first and foremost to bishops since it is they who are the successors of the apostles. Presbyters share in this priesthood through their communion with bishops. This reverses the medieval tendency to distinguish the two orders by identifying priesthood with presbyters and governing with bishops.

A third theological work of importance to thought on the priesthood was the historical concatenation of texts on the royal priesthood of the faithful by Paul Dabin, Le sacerdoce royale des fidèles dans la tradition ancienne et moderne (Paris 1950). While the author insists strongly on the distinction between the priesthood of the faithful and that of the ordained, and while the texts offered need study in context, the compilation made it clear that ecclesiology cannot be done without considering the royal priesthood of the baptized.

On a practical level, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, new perspectives on the relation of all the baptized to the priesthood of Christ and to his kingship began to emerge through their renewed way of taking part in the liturgy and through Catholic Action in the apostolate. While an official recognition of the priesthood of the faithful was already found in the encyclical letter of Pius XII, mediator dei (H. Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum, 3851), the key work in giving this theological formulation may justly be said to be Jalons pour une théologie du laicat (Paris 1953) by Yves congar. Congar evoked the words of Saint Augustine where he spoke of the una sancta societas, which is offered to God in the Eucharist, head and members. This communion in faith, service, and worship is the fundamental reality of the Church in which its members partake in different ways according to their order. By the baptismal character, all the faithful share in the priesthood and kingship of the Church and of Christ.

Priesthood is exercised in spiritual sacrifice and through an active participation in the liturgy, both intimately connected. Kingship, as well as prophecy, provide the ground for an active participation in the apostolate. Certainly, kingship (Jalons, 314366) consists first and foremost, according to Congar, in dominion over the self and in submission to the will of God in all things. A Christian practices freedom of the Spirit in relation to temporal matters and thus in their exercise appears as an eschatological sign of the ultimate nature of Christ's kingship. However, it is also in virtue of this kingship that lay persons have some active role in the apostolate and in regulating the affairs of the life of the Church itself, something for which canon law should make provision.

The Second Vatican Council

Such writings amply prepared the way for consideration of the Church at the Second Vatican Council. In the course of the Council itself, one of the first issues which the bishops had to decide was whether the episcopacy is a sacrament or simply a governing and jurisdictional power added to the priesthood already received. Once it was decided to treat of it as a sacrament, it was clear that the ministry which flows from ordination could not be seen uniquely as sacramental or liturgical. Liturgical history, now better known through the critical edition of liturgical sources, made it clear that a person could be ordained to the episcopacy without receiving any previous order. It was also noted that bishops were ordained by the laying-on of hands to a ministry that comprised sacrament, teaching, and pastoral care.

The way found to allow for this ampler view of the episcopal office was to relate it directly to Christ's own mission and then to distinguish the threefold office of Christ as priest, prophet, and king, in each of which the bishops are said to share. This same distinction was used to explain the ordination and ministry of presbyters and deacons. It was likewise followed in presenting the relation of all the baptized to Christ and his Church. All the members of the Church, each in their own place, were thus said to participate in the priestly, royal, and prophetic anointing and office of Christ.

While the term "royal priesthood" was used by the Church or of the baptized in a comprehensive way (e.g., Lumen gentium 10), it is clear that in the documents of the Second Vatican Council priesthood is not the fundamental term by which to designate order and the role of the ordained. Mission, consecration, and anointing, as ways of participating in the reality of Church and of Christ's redemptive work, serve as more basic terms for both the baptized and the ordained. These terms provide the foundation for talking of a share in the anointing and mission of Christ as priest, prophet, and king.

The role or office of Christ as Priest is associated primarily with the Church's sacramental worship. In the composition of the conciliar texts, the comprehensive designation of the Church, the Body of Christ as "royal priesthood" gives way to a use of the separate terms of priesthood, prophecy, and kingship. Priesthood is usually predicated of liturgical participation, prophecy of a role in spreading or teaching the Gospel, and kingship of witness to the kingdom of God in the world and of the role of Church government. While these titles offered a useful way to face some of the emerging questions about episcopacy, laity, and the mission of the Church, the distinctions and the use of the titles are closer to the thought of John Calvin than to that of the patristic Church.

Though they have served good purpose in theology and in ecumenical dialogue, there are some problems about the use of these titles as a way of retrieving a scriptural and patristic tradition. Where it is said that the Church has been constituted as a royal priesthood by Christ the High Priest in LG 10, the scriptural texts cited are Revelations 1:6 and 5:910, and 1 Peter 2:410. However, in these texts the kingdom and the priesthood of the Church are said to flow from Christ as king and as witness, rather than as priest. This, as seen from the scriptures, is significant for the meaning of priesthood as a quality of the Church and of its members.

Differentiating priesthood from other offices, whether of Christ or of the Church, does not have a clear scriptural foundation. As already seen, in the early Church "priest" alone, or "priest and king" as a couplet, served as symbolic terms that presented and interpreted the entire work of Christ, often in this case being joined with "sacrifice." In describing the redemptive work of Christ, his overcoming of sin and death, his reconciliation of humanity with God, these terms were used as metaphors to express the unique and distinct character of his atoning mission.

While the tendency has been to follow through with the Calvinistic and conciliar distinction, the theological elaboration of the insights contained in a larger view of the Church's mission and ministry would benefit from a careful study of scriptural and patristic tradition. The prevailing usage does not do full justice to the original use of the metaphor of priesthood and its relation to the overcoming of sin and death through the taking on of flesh, self-emptying, and suffering. Nor does it do justice to the image of royal priesthood. To list priesthood alongside other offices or to predicate it narrowly of sacrament and liturgy misses its comprehensive allusion to the whole life of the Body of Christ in its participation in Christ's mystery.


The overview of tradition has brought to light three ways of using the image or the idea of priesthood.

The first has its origin in scripture and patristic writings. Christ is called the priest or king of the new covenant, his death is called the sacrifice by which sin and death are blotted out and through which humanity is given access to God. This priesthood is from eternity because it springs from the Father's love and fidelity. It endures into eternity where Christ sits in his risen flesh at God's right hand. Priesthood, kingship, and sacrifice are terms used by the scriptures and by ecclesiastical writers to express the identification of the Son of God with weak humanity and the strength of the suffering through which he took on the powers that would undo humankind. Transformed in their own flesh by reason of the taking flesh of God's Son and their sacramental communion with him, those who are given access to God through Christ, the Church his body and his people, are a royal priesthood. In this, there is no difference of kind among his members and the only difference of degree is in the depth of communion with him, in the splendor of holiness that manifests and transmits God's love. It is this which readies for ministry and ordination to the service of others.

A second attribution of priesthood follows from this. The communion of Christ and his members in the one Body is sacramentally celebrated through rituals of initiation and in the eating and drinking of his life-giving flesh and blood. Sacramental communion is the basic act of the royal priesthood and the offering of spiritual sacrifices flows from the sacramental gift. Within this context of sacramental representation, however, the role of the bishop took on its own representative character. His actions in the sacramental mystery represent the presence and the action of Christ and his teaching and pastoral ministry lead the faithful to this mystery. Hence there emerged a special attribution of priesthood, as well as of kingly power, to bishops, and thus to presbyters. However, this usage remains firmly grounded in the priority of the sacramental representation of Christ's life-giving sacrifice in the gift of his body and blood and so in the prior attribution of royal priesthood to the whole Church.

A third attribution of priesthood emerges later, particularly in the Latin West, and it is given to the ordained in virtue of their role and power to act as instruments of Christ in the sacraments and especially in the Eucharist. This attribution manifests a change of concern, language, and thought-structure wherein categories of being, power, order, and office prevail. The concept of Christ's own priesthood is affected, for it is closely related to his action in the sacraments and in the offering of the Eucharist. The combat with sin, suffering, and death, which is foremost in the Letter to the Hebrews, recedes in favor of the language of cult and satisfaction for sin. Instead of being used as metaphors to express the meaning of this combat and its efficacy, priesthood, sacrifice, and kingship are used as definable concepts in their own right.

In terms of the exercise of instrumental power, participation in Christ's priesthood was distinguished into passive and active, into being recipient and being instrument. Enough was retained of the scriptural and patristic imagery of priesthood, as in the French School of Spirituality, to see that being a priest must mean close identification with Christ in his suffering and his service of others. However, the concepts of office and power dominate. To be a bishop or a priest is a call to communion with Christ, priest, and victim, but it is fundamentally a communication of power. In contemporary documents and theological writing, rather than attributing a passive power to the priesthood of the baptized, they are said to have an active part in liturgy and in offering spiritual sacrifices in virtue of their baptism.

It is in regard to the third attribution of priesthood that the doctrine of the Second Vatican Council speaks of a difference not only in degree but in kind (LG 10). The meaning is clear, and a distinction of offices and roles in the Church is necessary for the sake of the ordering of community and of communion. The language of power is indeed tempered by the language of service, and it is often repeated that the mission of the ordained priesthood is to serve the priesthood of all the baptized. However, to speak of differentiation in priesthood through kind obscures the fundamental sacramental mystery of the royal priesthood of the Church as a sacramental and spiritual body. A preferable use of language may be to distinguish mission, ministry, and service. It would be more respectful of the first, fundamental and most original use of the language of priesthood which has to do with the power of Christ's suffering for sinful humanity and with the royal priesthood of his people, those who have been saved through this mystery.

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[d. n. power]

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Priesthood in Christian Tradition

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