Recently I posted an entry on Catholic Apologist John Martignoni’s interpretation of James 5:14-16. Martignoni said “elders” in James 5:14 means “priests,” and therefore the concept of the Roman Catholic priesthood is clearly taught in the Bible. In response I posted a short MP3 clip from Dr. White’s debate on the Roman Catholic Priesthood. I realize that a response from Dr. White may not make it past a Roman Catholic firewall, so I thought it would be useful to allow a Roman Catholic to respond to Martignoni’s claim.
Catholic writer Greg Dues has written Catholic Customs & Traditions, a popular guide (New London: Twenty Third Publications, 2007). On page 166 he states,
“Priesthood as we know it in the Catholic church was unheard of during the first generation of Christianity, because at that time priesthood was still associated with animal sacrifices in both the Jewish and pagan religions.”
“A clearly defined local leadership in the form of elders, or presbyteroi, became still more important when the original apostles and disciples of Jesus died. The chief elder in each community was often called the episkopos (Greek, ‘overseer’). In English this came to be translated as ‘bishop’ (Latin, episcopus). Ordinarily he presided over the community’s Eucharistic assembly.”
“When the Eucharist came to be regarded as a sacrifice, the role of the bishop took on a priestly dimension. By the third century bishops were considered priests. Presbyters or elders sometimes substituted for the bishop at the Eucharist. By the end of the third century people all over were using the title ‘priest’ (hierus in Greek and sacerdos in Latin) for whoever presided at the Eucharist.”
According to Greg Dues, the Roman Catholic concept of priest is a later historical development as the nature of the biblical words elder and overseer changed (I would argue the Biblical words were corrupted by those who misinterpreted the Eucharist to be a propitiatory sacrifice). On page 168, Dues notes that the presbyters began being viewed as priests “when Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire.” This is a far cry from Martignoni’s prooftexting the priesthood by an appeal to James 5:14.
Martignoni also argued the concept of the Roman Catholic priesthood is a carryover from the Old Testament, while Greg Dues states, “In 70 C.E. Jerusalem and its temple and Jewish priesthood were destroyed by Roman armies, Jews were scattered. Christians began to look to Jesus as the priest, a development in their thinking reflected clearly in the letter to Hebrews. All the baptized shared this special priesthood because all had become one with Christ” (p. 166).
The concept of the Roman Catholic priesthood is not simply a minor issue, nor is this simply an exercise in nitpicking. Note these words by John O’Brien describing the priesthood:
When the priest announces the tremendous words of consecration, he reaches up into the heavens, brings Christ down from His throne, and places Him upon our altar to be offered up again as the Victim for the sins of man. It is a power greater than that of saints and angels, greater than that of Seraphim and Cherubim.
Indeed it is greater even than the power of the Virgin Mary. While the Blessed Virgin was the human agency by which Christ became incarnate a single time, the priest brings Christ down from heaven, and renders Him present on our altar as the eternal Victim for the sins of mana not once but a thousand times! The priest speaks and lo! Christ, the eternal and omnipotent God, bows his head in humble obedience to the priest’s command.
Of what sublime dignity is the office of the Christian priest who is thus privileged to act as the ambassador and the vice-gerent of Christ on earth! He continues the essential ministry of Christ: he teaches the faithful with the authority of Christ, he pardons the penitent sinner with the power of Christ, he offers up again the same sacrifice of adoration and atonement which Christ offered on Calvary. No wonder that the name which spiritual writers are especially fond of applying to the priest is that of alter Christus. For the priest is and should be another Christ. (O’Brien, The Faith of Millions, 255-256)
This language should shock a Protestant. It speaks of a sacrifice that is repeated over and over again by an alter Christus. Hebrews 10 though states Christ offered one sacrifice for sins for all time. With the Mass, the effect is limited. It is quite possible to go to Mass often and still die in a state of mortal sin. As Protestants, we need to defend the perfect work of our high priest Jesus Christ against any who would claim to stand in his place.