Over the last two Wednesday commentaries Tom McMahon has been looking at these two models of priesthood. Today was going to be some kind of conclusion but on reading back through his previous commentaries Tom felt there was a "hole" in what he'd written so today he gives what is effectively a chronological exposition as to how we got to the model of priesthood that seems favoured by the institutional leadership today.
Series Navigation: Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V
A conclusion to the exploration of two styles or models of priesthood...
Dare I try bringing the historical ideas of priesthood together? How was the historical Jesus involved? An evolutionary overlook...
When Editor Brian sends out a commentary via Catholica that has originated from San Jose in sunny California one of the most avid readers is the little boy from 15th street. I do not read to flatter my ego. I am a critical reader questioning clarity and "dangling participles". Is the whole truthful? What value has been offered to the People of God? Hopefully I have not added to modern religious confusion. Mine is not an academic endeavor; I want to do what I have always attempted, namely to communicate with ordinary people. I am an educator who passes on my being educated.
I was fortunate to have a brief conversation with an American woman Roman priest yesterday, twenty of them on retreat. I listened and questioned where Barbara got her spiritual nourishment and on going church information. Barbara asked for my e-address and I sent her Catholica commentaries on church and priesthood in the modern world. The only point I emphasized was the value of on-going education. Barbara knows Robert Blair Kaiser in Phoenix, Arizona, and I congratulated her on this blessing. Hopefully in time to come I may be able to offer more commentary on the woman priest movement. I have concerns about this pioneer role of women in today's church and I see these sincere females as virtually a hunted species by present male leadership. I have no doubt that the salvation of the institutional church, if it is meant to be saved, depends heavily upon a meaningful feminine human involvement. The holy spirit of humankind may be taking us in a totally new direction.
I left readers last week with a challenge to examine three church councils, Trent and Vatican One and Vatican Two. 500 years encompass their influence on the evolving Roman institution. We need give credit to these councils for the massive change that the Roman institution has undergone since 1542 c.e. Upon my re-reading of my own commentary I sensed a "big hole", a need to add further dimensions on the concept of priest in a developing society. I sketch them out beginning with the historical Jesus, an ancient yet now new-kid-on-the-block phenomenon. Jesus is in constant evolutionary resurrection mode.
Click the image to read the cover story on the National Geographic website.
- Jesus is a Jew, He is not of the priestly tribe of Aaron. The Gospels seem to address the Jesus encounters with the temple priesthood as adversarial, the Jewish Jesus condemning Jewish temple corruption. Jesus does have followers whom early history names as disciples and apostles. [Cover March 2012 issue of National Geographic THE JOURNEY OF THE APOSTLES … which I have yet to read.] There is no evidence that the historical Jesus formed a priesthood, let alone a church. Jesus is a religious reformer of Judaism.
- After the historical Jesus dies on Calvary his memory is continued on by his loyal followers, a first accounting of his new presence in society is found in Chapter 24 of Luke's Gospel, the Emmaus account. Paul, although he has never met Jesus, claims to be an appointed apostles (one sent by Jesus); scholars today are prone to attribute the founding of the Roman Christian church to Paul. This convert Christian interprets the mentality of Jesus for the Jewish people in Diaspora (those living outside Judea in the greater Hellenistic world) and all peoples of all ethnic backgrounds [Read Colossians and Paul's mission as well as Romans 2;25 and Controversy at Antioch, Acts Ch. 15, Peter and Jewish laws esp. circumcision]. The life of Jesus, his spirituality, and political stand will be recorded many decades after the historical person. The historical Jesus will become the Christ; many theologies will be added to the risen person and a super person will emerge over the coming centuries. [From Jesus to Christ: The Origins of the New Testament Images of Christ by Paula Fredriksen (Jul 11, 2000)]
- Early Christians will avoid the concept of priest, their belief being the historical Jesus lived on in spirit in community. "Where two or three gather in my name there I am". We have written before about "Christianus alter Christus" aka "the Christian is another Christ", with the breakdown of community a motto changed in 1542 c.e. to "saceredos alter Christus", aka "the priest is another Christ". The presbyter or community elder was the service priest of early Christian community. Mass or the breaking of bread, certainly different than a mass in 2012, was overseen by an elder — female or male often depending on whose house the eucharist was held. It is late in 1147 c.e. that the institutional church decrees only an ordained male priest can say Mass.
- We have written about this in commentaries on priesthood — see the series HERE June thru Oct. 2009. We noted that after the Fall of the Roman Empire there is little mention in literature about the ordinary priest. He seems to have disappeared, along with faith communities after the 8th or 9th Century. Chaucer's crusader "there was a mon of religiun, a parve parson of a ton ... a shitty man ..." is exceptional and he, more than likely, is a monk.
- We find the role of bishop once the custodian of the emperor's lands and finances surviving from the early Roman days of Diocletian and in the Middle Ages emerging as the political and religious powerhouse civic leaders of the Holy Roman Empire. (Again Ken Follett takes one skillfully through this period in Pillars of the Earth and World without End.) In the Feudal Period the bishop has emerged the CEO of Medieval Plantations called dioceses. The Council of Trent carefully outlines the role of a bishop, emphasizing its spiritual nature and limiting its political power. The reform of the episcopal office will depend on the formation offered in seminaries wherein the priesthood itself is reformed and resurrected, this time a liturgical minister in charge of the new seven sacraments. Today a seminarian is a future priest and the carefully selected priest is a future bishop. The sacramental system was completely overhauled at the Council of Trent. I consider it a serious mistake that Trent attributed all seven sacraments as being instituted by the historical Jesus. Remember the Baltimore Catechism's "a sacrament is an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace". Such a flawed statement gives credit to Jesus as having started a priesthood and even instituting a sacramental church. The Last Anointing (pre Vat 2 Extreme Unction) coming from James' epistle says "if anyone is sick let him call in the elders and they will anoint him…..raising him up etc.". There can be justification for this as the early church saw itself as the presence of Jesus in the world and justifiably speaking in his name. This is certainly not the same as Jesus originating a sacrament. That the priest became the center and sole distributor of the signs of God's presence is a terrible mistake. We are watching its terrible effects today. Ironically the decline in vocations may yet see the return of the lay person as center to the Christian faith.
Next Week: We shall continue next week, leaving you with an ancient spiritual saying: Sacramentum Propter Hominem, which translates Sacraments are for the Good of Humankind!
Tom McMahon, in San Jose, Ca. 20Feb2012
Series Navigation: Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V
The figures used in the headline and end quotes is adapted from the painting "Abraham and Melchisedek" by Dieric Bouts which ws illustrated in full in the body of the first commentary in this series. The image has been sourced from Wikipedia.
Tom McMahon, ordained in 1954 and now married, lives a very fulfilled life in San Jose and continues to contribute voraciously to several Catholic discussion lists in the States. He has been an enthusiastic supporter and encourager of the Catholica initiative from the very beginning.
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[Index of Commentaries by Tom McMahon]