Catholic Culture News
Catholic Culture News

The Father William Most Collection

Priestly Ordination

[Published electronically for use in classes taught by Fr. Most and for private theological study.]

There are two avenues of approach to the question of ordination, one by the texts of the Magisterium, the other by mere human analysis of data in Scripture.

First of all, within texts of the magisterium, there are texts of the Councils:

Lumen gentium §10 says of ordained priests that they differ, "in essence and not only in degree", from the laity. All of chapter 3 of Lumen gentium spells out the different three degrees. The council of Trent defined (DS 1752) that at the Last Supper Christ Himself ordained the Apostles. So the Church has never said anything that resembles the picture of a community picking those who seemed to have charismatic qualities.

Secondly, we turn to Scripture, Old and New Testaments, and to history;

In Acts 14. 23 we find that St. Paul on his return through Asia Minor on his first mission established presbyters in every place. In 1 Thes 5. 12-13 he told the people to obey the authorities. Even if we are not sure just what office it was, it is very significant. What of the arguments that try to nullify the testimony of Acts? They can all be answered: cf. Wm. Most, Free From All Error, chapter 18.

We should add that in any field of knowledge it takes a long period for highly specific terms to develop. At first we meet the generic words Episkopos (overseer) and Presbyteros (elder) and Diakonos (servant). Not strangely , it took time to make these precise. We might compare the case of the Latin sacramentum: it was not until the 12th century that it became precise. Before that it was used for anything religious and/or mysterious. So if someone in those centuries had asked if deaconesses received the sacrament of orders, he might easily find both yes and no answers.

Next, Clement of Rome, in his Letter to Corinth, c. 95 AD. wrote in #44: "Now our apostles... knew that there was going to be strife over the title of bishop. It was for this reason, and because they had been given an accurate knowledge of the future, that they appointed the officers we have mentioned. Furthermore, they later added a provision to the effect that should these die, other approved men should succeed to their ministry." Here there is no notion of the community just picking someone, who needed no ordination. Interestingly in #54 the same Clement refers to the same men as presbyters. It is clear that the two titles were not clearly differentiated at that date. For that matter, they were unclear also in the day of St. Paul, In Acts 20. 17 Paul called for the presbyters of Miletus to come to Ephesus. But in 20. 28 he calls the same men bishops. At the start of Philippians, he greets bishops and deacons, without a mention of presbyters. Again, the terms "presbyter" and "episkopos" were still not sharply differentiated.

We might ask: Why not use the established Greek word hiereus? Probably because it was used for pagan and also for Jewish priests.

All this is in accord with what we find in the Old Testament. At Sinai, Moses was ordered (Exodus 19. 12-15) to set boundaries around the mountain: if anyone crossed, he was to be stoned. In Leviticus 8, God ordered Moses to ordain Aaron and his sons priests, with elaborate ceremonies. There was no thought that the community just picked men with "gifts" and no ordination was needed. Even after that, in Lev 6, when Aaron already was High Priest, and was going freely into the Holy of Holies, God warned through Moses (Leviticus 16) that Aaron could do that only once a year, with special ritual. The people did not just tell Aaron what to do. Even after their ordination, the sons of Aaron sinned by offering profane fire (Numbers 3). God slew them for that. The approval of their gifts by the community again meant nothing. Later, in Numbers 13, Miriam said God spoke through her as well as through Moses. She was made a leper of the spot. In Numbers 16 we see a similar claim by Korah, Dathan and Abiron. The earth opened and swallowed them up.

Still later King Saul, in 1 Samuel 13, dared to offer sacrifice. Through the prophet Samuel, God rejected Saul and his dynasty. Still later, 2 Kings 15. 5 says the Lord turned the King Uzziah into a leper. Josephus, Antiquities 9. 22, fills in saying Uzziah tried to offer sacrifice, even though the priests told him not to. God struck him with leprosy.

So the right to offer sacrifice depends not on some subjectively supposed "gifts" but on God's appointment. Hebrews 5. 4-6 says that even Jesus did not dare to take that on Himself, but was appointed by the Father, for no one can take on that honor unless appointed by God.

When Blessed Mother in her Magnificat says God had looked upon the lowly estate of his handmaid, it was not for her merits that she was chosen to be the Mother of God. Then, when a woman in the crowd declared blessed the womb that bore Jesus, He replied: "Rather blessed are they who hear the word of God and keep it." Vatican II, in Lumen gentium §56 explains that Jesus was contrasting two forms of dignity - that of the Mother of God, and that of hearing the word of God and keeping it. The second is the greater, as Jesus and Vatican II said. Our Lady was of course at the summit in both categories.

As we said, the Council of Trent defined that at the last supper Jesus ordained the apostles. This of course is often denied, in spite of a solemn definition. Behind this sort of thing lie the claims that Jesus was ignorant, could not and did not make any plans for a church. As one tragic commentator said, we cannot be sure He shared "our sophistication." Instead, He expected the end very soon - and could not establish sacraments either.

On the contrary the Church has taught repeatedly that His human soul from the first instant of conception saw the vision of God, in which all knowledge is present. By repetition on the ordinary magisterium level, this is to be rated an infallible teaching, even though it is so widely denied today. (Cf. Wm. Most, The Consciousness of Christ).

Still further, so that He could be ignorant, such commentators must suppose His Mother did not know who He was. But as soon as Gabriel said Her Son would reign over the house of Jacob forever, not just she, but any ordinary Jew, would know that meant the Messiah. And so there would begin to crowd into her mind all the messianic prophecies. Very strangely, the ancient Jews, as shown in the Targums, understood these remarkably well, better than our New Jerome Biblical Commentary. A fine modern Jewish scholar, Jacob Neusner, (Messiah in Context, p. 243) cites Gen 49. l0 and says: "It is difficult to imagine how Gen 49. 10 could have been read as other than a messianic prediction." Contrast the remarks of NJBC.

It may be objected: we cannot take at face value the annunciation account. But Lumen gentium §56 did take it as real, and we compare LG 55 which is so strict that it adds cf. before Gen 3. 15 and Is 7. 14, to indicate we cannot be sure that the human author of those passages saw as much as the Church now sees in them. But there is no such limiting expression in LG 56 on the annunciation. Rather, all is spelled out in detail.

Since she knew at least that much, of course she would have told Him, and then He would not have been so ignorant!

What of the lines of the Epistle to the Hebrews about just one priest? Protestants of course love those things, not having the guidance of an infallible Church. But we do. We have already seen what our Church teaches on priesthood. And any scholar knows that Hebrews, far from being a theological treatise, is of homiletic genre. It tells of the once-for-all earning of a title to all forgiveness and grace by the death of Jesus. But it is another thing to describe the process of giving it out. St. Paul does say much on that, in his syn Christo theme, e.g., Romans 8. 17; 8. 9; 6. 1-6 plus Col 3. 1-4 and Eph 2. 5-6.

Opposition to the teaching of the Church on priesthood continues, especially from those who want the ordination of women. Sadly, it still continues even after the definition by John Paul II, who made clear in more than one way that his statement was definitive, that is, final. There is no hope of anything further to come to contradict it.

I seem to see two reasons for the rejection of the papal definition.

First, they appeal to Vatican II or to its spirit. But there are no texts at all of Vatican II to support that idea. As we said above, Lumen gentium §10 says the priesthood of the laity and that of ordination differs not only in degree but also in kind. It is for the laity to offer "spiritual sacrifices, as explained in LG 34, not to approach the altar. So no matter who says the opposite, or whatever the reasons, they do not count at all.

Secondly there is the desire of feminists for ordination.

They claim to have "gifts". But again, that counts for nil without the approval of the Church. Really, I am astounded that any scholarly journal would print anything at all by a feminist. One of the first requisites for scholarly work is to try one's best to be free of prejudice and bias. The feminists openly try to be biased. They do not deserve a scholarly hearing at all. A tragic case is that of Rosemary Reuther a prime feminist, quoted in National Catholic Reporter on May 29, 1968, p. 4 as saying: "... Catholic bishops have no monopoly on Christ, and the body of Christ may appear just as validly, if not more so in the Eucharist celebrated by a Negro woman around a kitchen table as in the one celebrated by the Pope in St. Peter's." The same writer contributed a paper to a symposium, Consensus in Theology? edited by L. Swidler (Westminster, 1980). On p. 65 she said: "A new consensus could only come about if this traditional power [the Magisterium] could be deposed, and the church restructured on conciliar, democratic lines accountable to the people... . This is what Küng is really calling for: that the academy replace the hierarchy as the teaching magisterium of the church... . It entails the equivalent of the French Revolution in the Church... ."

How could anyone call that sober unbiased scholarship. Or any scholarship at all?

Surely such things cannot outweigh the judgment of the Church, given in General Council, or of the Pope in defining.

I wonder too how the feminists can fail to see that the persons who have the least clout of all in the Church are priests. A priest can be washed out in a moment by any bishop at all, and sent to the boondocks, or can be fired. In contrast, the nuns get a hearing and are not mashed no matter what they say, even before the Pope in person when he appeared in the U. S. the first time.



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