WHAT I WRITE TODAY COMES WITH NO CLAIM OF INFALLIBILITY. IT IS MEANT TO PROVOKE DEBATE.
YESTERDAY A COMMENTATOR RAISED THE INTERESTING QUESTION OF HAVING A CATHOLICISM WITHOUT PRIESTS.
Is that possible?
Yes it is.
Is it desirable?
Let’s discuss it.
In the beginning of the Christian Church there were no priests or bishops.
There were apostles, disciples and “others”.
The early Christians continued to do their worshipping of God in the Jewish temple, and probably occasionally in Jewish synagogues.
They met in each other’s homes for the breaking of the bread in memory of Jesus, as instructed by Jesus.
I believe that the person who “presided” at that breaking of bread varied – an apostle, a disciple, an “other”.
As the Christian community grew, a natural deveopment of “structures” happened. I’m sure most of the men at least had jobs to go to and I’m sure the women were busy as wives and mothers etc.
The appostles felt called to full time service of the Word so “deacons” were appointed to look after the orphans and widows – the community’s outreach work.
It is interesting to remember that in the early church people were appointed to positions by the community after people were nominated, the community prayed and then drew lots. This happened in the case of Mattias who was chosen to succeed Judas as an apostle.
Gradually “elders” emerged whom we could regard as the early expression of a “priesthood”.
As communities grew and new communities formed a senior elder emerged in communities who were called “overseers” or “episcopi”.
At this stage there was no formal priesthood – although as we see in the appointment of deacons etc prayers were said over the chosen and sometimes there was a laying on of hands.
With a couple of exceptions the Apostles were never the overseer or episcopi. The Apostles were the servants of the whole church and not just in charge of one community.
The role of overseer or episcopi eventually became the role of bishop. The Apostles were apostles and not bishops. In that sense it is wrong to call current bishops “successors of the apostles”. They are not. They are the successors of the senior elders in local churches.
The early church did adopt many of the formalities of the synagogues.
When Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Emperor the Christian community also adopted some empire structures – with eventually the pope becoming the emperor of the West.
Over time the episcopacy became part of the ecclesiastical / political establishment with bishops being local ascendancy overlords as well as bishops.
This was a clear case of trying to serve Caesar as well as Christ. It does not work.
Alongside of all of this was the development of the theology of the Sacraments.
In the beginning of the Church the early believers did have an appreciation that certain actions were “holy” and brought God’s grace.
The seven sacraments did develop over time and the understanding we have now of Sacraments became finally crystallised in the 16th century.
There is nothing necessarily wrong with “development” in theology and practice – as long as the development stays within the spirit of the original practice, as is according to the mind of Christ.
The problem we have in our Catholic Church of today is a result, not of the existence of deacons, priests and bishops, but is the development of ministry into clericalism and hierarchicalism.
It is about the abuse of power and authority.
It is about service turning into overlordism.
It is about the cult if the priest as a cleric.
It is about the cult of the bishop as hierarch.
It is about the cult of Rome as empire.
It is about the cult of pope as Supreme Pontiff.
The modern church needs to return and discover the early New Testament church.
In that church there were deacons, elders and episcopi elected after community prayer.
There were “Holy Acts” celebrated in the community.
The deacons elders and episcopi were not clerics or hierarchs, were elected by the whole community after prayer and were servants – washers of feet.
Most of them were married. Many were parents. Many had day jobs. Some of them were women too.
Can we have Catholicism without priests / clerics.
Yes we can.
And we need to address the great HERESY in this area.
The heresy that says that priests are ontologically changed creatures – and, in a common misconception, as such are superior to the laity who are “the lowest form of church life”.
1. Let The Vatican overturn the 1929 concordat and be bound by Italian laws.
2. Decentralise The Vatican and give all power back to the national churches.
3. Let the pope simply become the bishop of Rome.
4. Let the Patriarch of Jerusalem be the first among equals.
5. Have optional celibacy for all.
6. Allow women to be deacons priests and bishops.
7. Run the church by the New Testament and not on canon law.
In the best of churches you will always have people who want to dominate. Keeping churches small and positions rotating helps counteract this human inclination.
The Basic Christian Communities that evolved in South America is a possible model of reformation.
Maybe the Church needs New Testament type “priests” rather than clerical priests?
A PINT OF PRIESTHOOD !!!!!