The Return to the Old Testament?

Light of truth

There is a wrong tendency of perceiving priesthood from Old Testament cult and sacrifice. Fr Aidan Nichols in his article “The Priesthood of Christ in Church and Ministry” wrote: “In the NT idea of priesthood there is a rupture, a change of level, of which Judaism had no idea before.” According to Raymond Brown, at the beginning Christianity was not thought of as a new religion, but as a movement within Judaism, though differing only in some features. He wrote: “The Christian priesthood, replacing the priesthood of Israel, emerged only when the Eucharist came to be understood as an un-bloody sacrifice replacing the bloody sacrifices of the Temple.” The NT never uses the terms hiereus and archiereus, except the Letter to Hebrews, which are terms used to denote OT priesthood in NT for the terms today evolved to Christian priesthood. The NT terms presbyteros and episcopos are secular terms with no connotations of religiosity. Why were such terms opted and not OT terms that were easily available? That is because the priesthood founded on the priesthood of Jesus Christ is the common priesthood of all Christians and the ministerial priesthood though essentially distinct. But it still is rooted in the common priesthood and is a special body leaders of the Christian community. Cultic terms like hiereus, sacerdos (Greek and Latin terms respectively for priest), signifying a person who is “sacred (sacer in Latin, hieros in Greek) who has been “filled with divine power” and used for “consecrated to the deity” are reserved for Jewish cult personnel. The priesthood of Christ and the common priesthood of Christian community are never cultic performers. In the New Testament there are no Christian hiereis (sacred persons, or cultic priests). Among the writings of the New Testament, the Letter to the Hebrews speaks theologically of Jesus Christ as the High Priest who not only instituted the Christian priesthood, but also is believed to have realized the model of priesthood in his own death on the cross. Therein priesthood is portrayed as acquiring new dimensions. The contrast between the Jewish ritual sacrifices in the temple and the existential gift of Christ in Hebrews implies that “only cult” has no place in Christian life, even if it concerns the Eucharist. Cardinal Vanhoye calls it “impotent and symbolic figuration:” “For this reason, one must be careful not to say that the author of the Epistle is using ‘metaphors’ when he applies the title of high priest to Christ and the name of ‘sacrifice’ to His glorifying passion. His viewpoint is exactly the opposite: it is in the Old Testament that priesthood and sacrifice were taken in the metaphorical sense, as they are there applied to an impotent and symbolic figuration, while in the mystery of Christ these words have at last obtained their real meaning, with an unsurpassed completeness.” Vanhoye posits a troubling dichotomy between the Old Testament and the New Testament in terms of the idea of the availability of salvation, which he states is offered only in the latter: “The author of Hebrews makes a strong critique of this understanding of sacrifice. He says the main aim of offering a sacrifice to God is to change the attitude of the worshipper not God’s. Its aim is ‘to make perfect the conscience of the worshipper’ that is to purify the heart of the worshipper and make him docile to God. And sacrificing animals did not have the capacity to do that. So the system of sacrificial offering in the Old Testament was inadequate; they dealt only with gifts, ablutions and rules that were prescriptions of ritual purity and could do nothing to change a person’s heart.” Chiara Lubich expresses this truth as follows: “Jesus crucified and forsaken is the One who opened up the way for humanity towards universal brotherhood. It was in that moment that He became the mediator between humankind and God. It was there on the cross that He presented Himself to the Father as priest and victim for all of humanity. And since men and women, because of Jesus crucified and forsaken, were able to establish their rapport with God again, they were also able to be in relation with one another: Jesus forsaken is the bond of unity also among people… He is the priest par excellence!” Pope Francis’s apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium highlighted another aspect of ministry, the missionary and prophetic one. This is an aspect of the priesthood too, related to Jesus as the prophet or messenger of God, which was emphasised by Vatican II as a main feature of Jesus as a model for priests (PO 1).

Leave a Comment

*
*