The Catholic Priesthood: A Socratic Dialogue

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These dialogues aren’t meant to cover every aspect of, or every objection to, each doctrine. There’s more that could be said, obviously.

They’re meant to be a fun and intellectually stimulating introduction to Catholic teachings that can sometimes be hard to understand.

Also, I’ve tried to make it a reasonably fair exchange between Martin (the Protestant) and Justin (the Catholic), but I haven’t tried that hard.

The goal here is to demonstrate the superiority of the Catholic position, something that couldn’t be done in the space I’ve done it in if I were to launch every Protestant objection to the doctrines discussed.

Cool? I don’t think Protestants are cotton-headed ninny muggins’s. Promise.

Enjoy, and please give me your feedback below.

Only One High Priest

Martin: I enjoyed our last discussion about papal infallibility, Justin.

Justin: Me too. What did you want to discuss today?

Martin: Well, another problem I have with Catholicism is your notion of the priesthood.

Justin: Okay. What’s your problem with it?

Martin: Well look, in Hebrews 3:1 and 7:22-27 the author tells us that Jesus is our “high priest” and that there are not “many priests,” but one in the New Covenant—Jesus Christ. Also in 1 Timothy 2:5 it says, “there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus.” You seem to think a priest can be an “instrument” of God’s forgiveness, which is essentially the same thing as a mediator, thus your notion of the priesthood contradicts the Bible.

Justin: I agree that there is one high priest, Jesus Christ; but that isn’t to say there cannot be other priests, right?

Martin: There is one high priest. There are many high priests. If that’s not a contradiction, I don’t know what is.

Justin: I agree, but I’m not saying that. I’m saying—Because Scripture teaches—that there is one high priest, and that Christians are also priests, though in a different sense.

Flip to 1 Peter with me. Chapter two, verse five: “and like living stones be yourselves built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” Skip down to verse nine, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people.”

So does the bible contradict itself, or should we agree that Christians are members of a holy priesthood and that this isn’t in conflict with what it teaches about Jesus being high priest?

Universal/Ministerial Priesthood

Martin: Yes, we should agree on that, but when Catholics mean priest they mean something different, don’t they? I mean, if you didn’t, then all Catholics could celebrate the Mass and hear confession.

Justin: It’s true that Catholics distinguish between a universal priesthood of all believers and a ministerial priesthood, but what I’ve shared is enough to refute your claim that since there is only one high priest, there cannot be priests in any other sense.

Martin: Well why make the distinction in the first place?

Justin: Because, just as in the Old Covenant, God chose to call a special priesthood out from among the universal priesthood to minister to his people, so has he chosen to do so in the New Covenant.

Martin: Just as in the Old Covenant?

Justin: That’s right. In that verse we just read from St.Peter, he references Exodus 19:6 where God said that Israel was to be “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” Just as there was a universal priesthood among the Old Testament people of God, so is there among the New Testament people of God. And just as the universal priesthood in the Old Testament didn’t preclude there being a ministerial priesthood within that universal priesthood (see, Numbers 3:1-12, and Exodus 19:22, for example) so to in the New Testament.

Martin: Okay, But just because there may have been a distinction in the Old Testament, that doesn’t mean there has to be that distinction today.

Justin: I think that’s right. But let’s pause a moment and consider the ground we’ve covered.* You now agree that the high priesthood of Jesus Christ does not preclude there being priests in any other sense. You also agree, I think, that in the Old Testament there was a distinction between the universal priesthood and ministerial priesthood. Since that was true in the Old Covenant, it’s at least possible that it’s true today, yes?

Martin: Possible doesn’t mean probable.

Justin: I know, I know. But one step at a time.

Justin: Do you mind if I recommend an article for you to read?

Martin: Sure.

Justin: I have it in my bag here. Here you go, it’s called, “The Priesthood Is Both Ministerial and Universal” by Tim Staples. I have to get going. Let me know what you think of the article.

Martin: What about my point about 1 Timothy 2:5 and how saying a priest can be an instrument of God’s forgiveness contradicts Jesus being our one mediator.

Justin: Perhaps next time we meet we can discuss the sacrament of confession. Suffice it to say, just as Jesus being our one high priest does not preclude you and I being a part of the universal priesthood, so Jesus being our one mediator between God and man doesn’t preclude us participating in that mediatorship. I think the four verses leading up to Timothy 2:5 make that clear. There St. Paul urges us to offer prayers for all people. When we offer prayers for other people are we not taking somewhat of a mediatory role? Yes, but not in a way which usurps the unique mediatorship of Christ.

Look, sorry to run. I have to get going. See you next time.


 

* Sometimes we go into these sorts of conversations with the sole goal of having our interlocutor agree entirely with whatever it is we’re arguing about. This can be unhelpful. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a conversation with someone who has right then and there changed his mind about some important issue related to his faith—I bet you haven’t either. I don’t think we should expect that. Knowing when to back down and refer elsewhere—as Justin did with Tim’s article—can be helpful. People—you and me included—need time to process important ideas in an non-defensive environment.

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