Monday, February 25, 2013

Garry Wills - Why Priests? - Introduction

Dr. Garry Wills is a lay Roman Catholic. His PhD in classics is from Yale (1961) and he taught history for 18 years at Johns Hopkins University. The Los Angeles Times describes him as "American Catholicism's most formidable law scholar," and the New York Times describes him as "One of the country's most distinguished intellectuals." Wills' "Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words That Remade America," won the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction in 1993. In 2008, John L. Allen, Jr. described Wills as "perhaps the most distinguished Catholic intellectual in America over the last 50 years" in the National Catholic Reporter. His writings generally focus on historical topics, many of them on the intersection of history and religion. (I wonder if calling him a "Roman Catholic Darryl Hart" would be taken as the mutual compliment it would be intended to be?)

Some think that the dwindling number of priests can be remedied by the addition of women priests, or married priests, or openly gay priests. In fact, the real solution is: no priests. It should not be difficult to imagine a Christianity without priests. Read carefully through the entire New Testament and you will not find an individual human priest mentioned in the Christian communities (only Jewish priests in service to the Temple). Only one book of the New Testament, the Letter to Hebrews, mentions an individual priest, and he is unique -- Jesus. He has no followers in that office, according to the Letter.

It is not surprising, then, that some Protestant communities are able to be good Christians without having any priests. Some priests of my youth mocked them for that reason. They said a Protestant ceremony was just a town meeting, without the sacramental consecration and consumption of the body and blood of Jesus. When I was told one of my pastors that I had admired the sermon of a visiting priest, he said I should not be looking to have my ears ticked, like some Protestant, but should concentrate on the mystery of the Eucharist. Without the Eucharist, he was implying, we would have no religion at all.
(Why Priests, Introduction, p. 2)

Gary Wills' proposal is going to be shocking to traditionalist Roman Catholics, partly because it would require a radical change in Roman Catholicism, and partly because that radical change would like the Reformation, at least as to a substantial part of its ecclesiology (his position was compared to that of Luther in the New York Times).

We hold to the priesthood of believers, and maintain that Christians have direct access to God through the sole mediation of Christ. Thus, we reject the idea of merely human priests, affirming instead the apostolic model of a church without priests.

Wills' proposal is one that is surprisingly ecumenical. While there would still be certain issues regarding worship that would need to be addressed, removal of the priesthood would be a major stepping stone toward Roman Catholicism being in ecumenical union with "Protestants."

Will Will's proposal be adopted? It seems unlikely. Those in power in Rome have every vested interest in maintaining the structures of power that require a priesthood.

-TurretinFan

P.S. I seriously doubt that any of Garry Wills' books (from his prize winning books, to his least well recognized books, and including this book) has been submitted for nihil obstat or imprimatur. Naturally, a book (like Why Priests?) that argues as one of its main points that there shouldn't be priests, is not a good candidate for either certification.

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