Archive for May, 2018


Chapter 3-What Is the Priesthood? (Revised Edition)

© Fr. Charles H Nalls

Frequently, the parts that men and women play in life’s drama are decided for them, or even imposed upon them. Life itself may supply the cues for the human actors. The lines we read are frequently not of our own authorship. Often we make our entrances and exits without rehearsal. We are committed without choice and with little preparation in our varied roles. Many considerations lie behind this. The fact that one’s father or mother followed a certain trade. There are accidents of birth and environment, and similar conditions may be determinative.

This certainly is less frequently the case today, however, than in earlier and more static times. The recent technological revolution has made it possible for youth to exercise a variety of choicse in the matter of one’s vocation. Education through the college level, at least, is now a possibility for almost all. As a result, there is opportunity now to understand our human society somewhat more completely and to consider the individual’s place within the whole.

For the Christian, where does a sense of “vocation enter”? An individual must choose. He decides “on his own” with the best judgment at his command to follow this or that profession or way of life. He personally chooses the course for which he feels he is best equipped. He chooses is a “vocation”, a calling, when and if he senses that his choice is in answer to a word from God. This is Christian vocation. The decision may seem to be entirely the work of the individual, but the individual knows that his decision was really a response to a prior demand made upon him.

Young men are inclined to be confused about God’s prior calling, particularly in these times. One assumes that he must have some very definite, perhaps shattering, religious experience such as that known to Isaiah, or Saul of Tarsus are but two classic examples. The average Christian, however, will not find the walls of the Temple parting for him as they did for Isaiah, nor is there any blinding light of the noonday sun. He may not hear voices speaking infallibly to his listening ear.

Is the modern man, particularly young man, entirely without guidance? Does God have nothing to say to him? Is God uninterested since there is no dramatic and unmistakable intervention? Can only the very few who hear voices and see visions be assured that their places are certain in His purpose? We need to face this honestly.
From a Christian perspective and with Christian presuppositions, we see that we must start with ends. There is, we believe, purpose in human life and in our human striving. It is a divine purpose. It is the establishment of a realm of God, the bringing of many sons into the “glorious liberty of the children of God.” It is the purpose of God to win mankind to His mind and will. This human scene is intended for the discipline of souls, for making men responsive to the divine will so that we may be ready for closer union with Him. The end of all human striving is that blessed union. Here on earth we are prepared by experiences of choice for that end.

The Jewish people sensed this and believed it. A primary article of faith for them was that God had a plan for individuals and for the nation. So the psalmist wrote: “O God, thou bast searched me out and known me; Thou hast laid thine hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me.” The Hebrew prophets proclaimed God’s will for the nation and for individuals and contrasted this with the godless schemes and designs governing men who relied on self rather than on the divine leading.

The central teachings of the Old testament were never peripheral to Christ’s gospel. Rather, He gave new point and emphasis to the older beliefs. It was His understanding that God had a plan or calling for every created soul. Examples of this spring quickly to mind, but nowhere as emphatically as in Christ’s own ministry with its opening words, “Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” Again, almost its closing scene in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Not my will, but Thine, be done.” Jesus knew that God had a plan for the destinies of individual souls. So it was that St. Augustine, centuries later, provided piercing insight into this truth with his oft-quoted words: “Thou hast made us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.”

Christians believe that God’s purpose is to win for Himself sons able to share His life. He does not draft nor conscript. Rather He wants our voluntary enlistment in His service. That means conscious choices, made over and over again in the course of our lives.
God does not coerce His children; we still may decide whether or not we will do His Will, follow His guidance. We are free to “miss our calling,” though we are sure to be restless until we have found our rest in Him who is our peace. We may be sure that though God does not coerce, He does bring to bear upon us His prompting love.

God still calls and we are to listen, and then respond with obedience. He calls in a thousand ways. Usually, they are in quite natural and undramatic ways. We are to answer and give Him the loyalty of our hearts and minds and wills. It is not for us to say that He must speak in unusual and dramatic fashion. He may speak to us through life experiences, through the reading of good books, through our relatives and friends, through chance encounters with strangers, through discussion or sermons. Through any of these media and many another the voice of God calls.

There are many lines of communication and God uses an infinite number to bid for our allegiance in the glorious liberty of sonship to Him. In all of them there is His very voice and the call of His holy Will. Life between birth and death is one constant adventure of offering one’s self to God, of making the response of glad obedience to the divine will.

It has been frequently said that if two archangels were sent to this earth by Almighty God to do a piece of work for Him, one to be a metropolitan bishop and another to be a metropolitan traffic officer, neither would care which of the two tasks was allotted to him. Each would be glad to do the will of the Father. Brother Lawrence scoured the pots and pans of a monastery kitchen with as much joy in the confidence of vocation as his abbot perhaps knew.

So it is that we must contemplate the importance of ends. If the purpose of God is to bring the life of his children into union with his Eternal Life, then servants and sons are needed to carry out His will in every aspect of our human life. God must have vocations in commerce and art and letters as well as in the ministry. At the turn of the last century, a young man went to Oxford intent upon reading for holy orders. Instead, he became an artist. He later explained this change in his life work by saying that had he become a priest he would have been an atheist, that is one who does this when God says “do that.”

Every human life is to be an answer, and countless answers must be given to make complete the response of our world to our loving God. This means a willingness to listen to God’s calling, and to expect it in myriad forms and under manifold guises. The sensitive student, concerned about the state of our world and of human society may discern the voice of God in the very affliction, want, and misery all about him. He may not know it at the time but he is being called to help in the healing of the sorrowful, the dispossessed, and the fearful. In the parable, the men on the right of the king exclaimed, “Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, thirsty, a stranger, or naked, sick, or in prison . . .”

It is clear that a sense of vocation, to whatever station in life, is dependent upon one condition. The individual must cultivate a listening ear and be ready to obey when he hears the call. The individual must be prepared to make his appropriate response, and not try to limit the nature of his obedience nor restrict it in any way.

If the way of discipleship insists that human life is at God’s disposal, then the individual must be prepared to accept and follow the divine calling. We are not to be selfish about the disposition of our lives, for God’s will cannot be realized when we rebel or are petulant. When He calls, we are to do his bidding. We are not to set the terms of our acceptance. We must give Him instant compliance, knowing that only thus can we achieve our destiny as those who are to enjoy union with Him forever. We are not to be concerned about the vocations of others. We must be very much aware of the intimacy of God’s dealings with each of us in our own right. “Lord, and what shall this man do?” “What is that to thee? Follow thou me.”

A man’s vocation may be in art. It may be in jurisprudence. It may be in medicine or law. It will for some be in the home or in the Trades. It may be in commerce or in the classroom. It may be in industry.

It takes multitudes of obedient sons glad to follow God’s prompting, eager to hear His voice and act upon it, to redeem the times. The divine purpose includes all created souls and all of us should pray that our pride and self-love may not cause us to miss our calling. We should pray for increased sensitivity to His voice, for obedience to the heavenly vision, however that voice may be heard and that vision seen.

Be sure of this simple truth. Life will possess meaning and purpose only as the individual learns to align himself with God’s will. Men and women in every age and in every estate of life testify to this truth. There must be just such an insight into reality, such a harkening to God’s call, such a response of obedience.

The fruits of spiritual awareness witness to their source. So the Christian saints and heroes lived lives that have testified to the gracious leading of a loving God. It was their insight, their intuition, their perception of purposeful divine leading that gave them spiritual victory and freedom in vocation. They knew themselves to be in touch with that “something whose possession is the final good.”

Be assured. God still calls. The Christian who listens for his voice and answers with glad obedience wins thus a spiritual victory and so enters into the joy of his Lord.

One other important matter bears mentioning What is the relevance to the life of the Church of all that has been written in this chapter on vocation? We saw in the preceding chapters that the Church is a priestly Body. The baptized Christian, through membership in the mystical Body of Christ, shares in the priesthood which is the Church’s since it is Christ’s Himself. All the members of the Body share in the priest-hood of the Head of the Body. We will develop this truth and its consequences later, but it should be pointed out here that every vocation of every member of the Church should be a priestly vocation carried out in priestly fashion.

Our manifold and diverse vocations are not merely to be ways of “making a living,” but means whereby we live out our priesthood within the Body of Christ. The Christian religion when true to itself makes profound and searching demands upon its entire membership. “Every member of the same in his vocation and ministry” is to serve God freely and fully.

All must be in readiness to render any needful service. There are no gradations of obligation. All of us are claimed for God in our varied vocations. All of us are to glorify Him in those callings. Our vocations differ, but there is no higher and lower, no important and unimportant. All is His and all that we are or hope to be is to be given gladly to Him through whom we have access to the Father.

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The Ember DaysOn this Ember Friday, we are called to pray for an increase in the priesthood and for those in Holy Orders.  These prayers are not something trivial or to be brushed off, but are vital to the life of the Church and to the lives of the men who serve her.  Indeed, for those of us in Holy Orders, we can feel the presence of these prayers that power us forward, and, conversely, we can sense their absence.

So, today pray for your deacons, priests and bishops and that the Holy Spirit lights many men and leads them into vocation.  As well, today’s readings from morning prayer are quite powerful for all of us, both clergy and lay.  Finally, the serialization of What is the Priesthood? will resume by Monday.

The Collect.
O ALMIGHTY God, who hast committed to the hands of men the ministry of reconciliation; We humbly beseech thee, by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, to put it into the hearts of many to offer themselves for this ministry; that thereby mankind may be drawn to thy blessed kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

First Lesson
Isaiah 61:1-9
1 The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound;
2 To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn;
3 To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified.
4 And they shall build the old wastes, they shall raise up the former desolations, and they shall repair the waste cities, the desolations of many generations.
5 And strangers shall stand and feed your flocks, and the sons of the alien shall be your plowmen and your vinedressers.
6 But ye shall be named the Priests of the LORD: men shall call you the Ministers of our God: ye shall eat the riches of the Gentiles, and in their glory shall ye boast yourselves.
7 For your shame ye shall have double; and for confusion they shall rejoice in their portion: therefore in their land they shall possess the double: everlasting joy shall be unto them.
8 For I the LORD love judgment, I hate robbery for burnt offering; and I will direct their work in truth, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.
9 And their seed shall be known among the Gentiles, and their offspring among the people: all that see them shall acknowledge them, that they are the seed which the LORD hath blessed.

Second Lesson
2 Corinthians 3
1 Do we begin again to commend ourselves? or need we, as some others, epistles of commendation to you, or letters of commendation from you?
2 Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men:
3 Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart.
4 And such trust have we through Christ to God-ward:
5 Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God;
6 Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.
7 But if the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not stedfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which glory was to be done away:
8 How shall not the ministration of the spirit be rather glorious?
9 For if the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory.
10 For even that which was made glorious had no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that excelleth.
11 For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious.
12 Seeing then that we have such hope, we use great plainness of speech:
13 And not as Moses, which put a veil over his face, that the children of Israel could not stedfastly look to the end of that which is abolished:
14 But their minds were blinded: for until this day remaineth the same veil untaken away in the reading of the old testament; which veil is done away in Christ.
15 But even unto this day, when Moses is read, the veil is upon their heart.
16 Nevertheless when it shall turn to the Lord, the veil shall be taken away.
17 Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.
18 But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.

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“Nothing is his; all is His.”

When the bishop lays his hands on the head of a man who is to become a “presbyter” in the Church, he is directed to use these words: “Receive the Holy Ghost for the Office and Work of a Priest in the Church of God, now committed unto thee by the Imposition of our hands. Or if he uses the alternative form, the bishop must say: “Take thou Authority to execute the Office of a Priest in the Church of God, now committed to thee by the Imposition of our hands.” (BCP 546) In each instance, the concluding words of the formula of ordination are: “And be thou a faith¬ful Dispenser of the Word of God, and of his holy Sacraments,” while the first of the forms adds: “Whose sins thou dost forgive, they are forgiven; and whose sins thou dost retain, they are retained.”

Here we learn in so many words that it is the intention of in traditional Anglican churches-for these formulae, abandoned elsewhere, are found everywhere where the American 1928 Book of Common Prayer is used-to ordain men to a priesthood in God’s Church. This is a priesthood which, as the Preface to the Ordinal makes clear, is continuous with the priesthood of the ancient Church and of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church throughout the ages: “to the intent that these Orders may be continued, and reverently used and esteemed in this Church.’”

So then we pose our first questions. What is a priest? What is his relation to the Christian Church as a whole? What are the characteristics of his office?

It is obvious that a discussion of these topics necessarily must be somewhat “theological” in character. It is not enough to talk about the priesthood from the purely empirical point of view, to discuss the several duties of the man who has been ordained to this high office and, especially, the necessity for high moral character and spiritual discernment in his ministerial life. We turn to these issues later, but it is essential that we understand what a priest is, who he is in the final sense, before we go on to these other highly important matters. In far too many ordination sermons, the preacher talks about the ordinand’s work but never talks about the priesthood to which he is to be ordained. Yet the being of anything, its ultimate significance and meaning, must come before any doing. In the ministry, as well as everywhere else in human life, the right order of things is, “I am this; hence I do this.’”

The first question when we discuss the meaning of priesthood is simply: “What is the Church?” The answer is equally simple. The Church, as the Ordinal in the Prayer Book declares, is Christ’s “Spouse, and his Body.” It is not an association of men and women who have come together in order to promote religious and moral interests. It is not even a fellowship of people gathered into one by their common beliefs or ways of worship. Above all, it is not a kind of ethical society or service-league which works for a higher standard of conduct in the community.

To be sure, the Church must promote religious and moral interests. Its members must have common beliefs and ways of worship which will certainly improve the “tone” of the community. Primarily, however, the Church is something else. It is the Body of Christ. It is the means whereby He continues to make His presence known and to carry on His redemptive work in the world of men. The Church is an organic whole, its members having been so incorporated into it that they are like branches of a vine, and the Vine is Christ Himself. The Church is the bearer of the divine life of Christ, still mediated through a human agency, as in Palestine the very life of God was mediated through the human nature of Jesus.

When a man is ordained to the priesthood of the Church, he is ordained to a “ministerial priesthood.” The reason that the ordained priest is a ministerial priest is that it is his office and function to act for the essential priesthood of the Church. Christ’s priesthood is the only essential priesthood of which a Christian may properly speak, but the priesthood of the Church is none other than the priesthood of Christ Himself.
It is His priesthood expressed in and operating through His Mystical Body the Church.

This truth follows as an inevitable consequence of the nature of the Church described in the last paragraph. If the Church is in very fact the Body of Christ, His Bride and Spouse, then the Church’s inner life is the life of Christ. That which is His is also His Church’s, and this despite the sin and error, the weakness and fallibility, which undeniably attach to the Church in its human aspect.

So, the man who is “ordered priest” is given a ministerial function within the Body of Christ. He has no rights nor privileges, no status and no position, apart from the Body of Christ. When we attempt to understand the meaning of the priesthood, we must recognize the primitive and soundly Catholic teaching that the laity have a priesthood which is not in opposition to, but is in close relation with, the ordained priesthood of the Church. This priesthood of the laity, however, is not for a moment to be understood as suggesting that ‘‘every man is his own priest”-a view which some of the Reformation denominations have taken as their own.

The truth is that no man is his own priest. Jesus Christ, Saviour of the world, is the only priest who can serve as mediator between God and man, since He Himself is both God and man. But once again, because the Church is the Body of Christ and because all Christians are “very members incorporate in the mystical Body of Christ,” each and every baptized Christian is a sharer, through participation in Christ’s Body, in the priesthood which is the Church’s since it is the priesthood of Christ Himself. The doctrine of the priesthood of the laity, far from being an assertion of individual rights and privileges, is an assertion of the social nature of our Christian membership; the priesthood of the laity is a doctrine of community.

The ordained priest is the representative and functional agent of the Church’s essential priesthood, which is Christ’s. As such, he is also the representative and functional agent for the extended priesthood of the laity. There is no contradiction here. Through rightly appointed and commissioned men, the two facts that Christ is priest in His Church and that all His members share in the priesthood of their Head, are visibly and sacramentally expressed.

Some may think that such teaching implies a low view of the nature of the ministry. This is not true. To the contrary, this is the condition for maintaining the highest view of the ministry, for it relates the ministry directly to our Lord’s priesthood, making it not an artificially instituted ministry in which Jesus only appointed those who would act as his substitutes, but rather making it a ministry in which our Lord Himself is at work. It is His own ministry functioning through those whom He has called and whom, in His Church, He has set apart for this particular work.

This doctrine of the priestly order and office is stated with great clarity in the famous reply of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York to the papal repudiation of Anglican orders. It is, in effect, the teaching of the Eastern Orthodox communion. It is found, in part, in some of the classical authorities to whom Rome appeals, as for example in St. Thomas Aquinas. The view that the ordained priesthood has essential status of its own, without regard to the Church of Christ for whom and in whom it functions is historically unsound. It is theologically a parody of the meaning of the Church and its place in the whole redemptive work of God. In fact, one might say, it is plainly heretical in the proper sense of the word, taking, as it does, one aspect of the truth and exaggerating it to such a degree that all balancing considerations are forgotten.

If the priesthood of the ordained man is as we have described it, what are the peculiar duties attaching to his office? Here we may turn to the Offices of Instruction in the American Prayer Book, for a clear and definite statement. In response to the question, “What is the office of a Priest?” the Prayer Book says: “The office of a Priest is, to minister to the people committed to his care; to preach the word of God; to baptize; to celebrate the Holy Communion; and to pronounce Absolution and Blessing in God’s Name.” (BCP 294) And, as we have seen earlier in this chapter, the Ordinal itself makes evident the same conception: the priest is to be a “faithful dispenser” of God’s Word and God’s sacraments, and he is authorized to forgive sins in God’s name.

We will discuss the several duties of the priest, but, at this point, it is necessary to make one thing clear. This is the way in which the priesthood of the Church, as traditional Anglicans conceive it. It is a priesthood commissioned to offer what the Anglican archbishops, in their reply to the Pope, called “the Eucharistic Sacrifice.” This must be positively affirmed, since many appear to think that because the Anglican Ordinal is explicit on the whole matter of God’s Word, and the preaching of it, it does not teach also that the priesthood is a “sacrificing priesthood.” However, it does so teach, in that it states, explicitly, that the celebration of the sacraments as well as the proclamation of God’s Word, is the work of the ordained man, while in the Eucharistic Office itself, the whole content and context indicate that this service is a sacrificial rite.

It is of course true that Anglican teaching on the Eucharistic Sacrifice does not imply any repetition of Calvary nor any¬thing added to that “one oblation of himself” which Christ there made to the Father. The Catechism states is that the Eucharist is “the continual remembrance of the sacrifice of the death of Christ.” It is “the memorial” which Christ commanded us to make, “the perpetual memory of that his precious death and sacrifice,” the “sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving” with which Christ’s members are united as they offer this their “bounden duty and service.” So being “made one body with him,” He dwells in them and they in Him. It is an action, therefore, which both commemorates and makes effectively present the “benefits” of Calvary, where Christ made, “that perfect redemption, propitiation, and satisfaction, for all the sins of the whole world.” Put more succinctly, “the Eucharist as the sacrifice which unites us to the all-sufficient Sacrifice of Christ on the Cross and the Sacrament in which He feeds us with His Body and Blood.” (Affirmation of St. Louis, Art. I).

The ordained priest stands at the altar celebrating the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, on behalf of the Church which is Christ’s Body. In so doing, he is making on the Church’s behalf the “continual remembrance’”; he is pleading Calvary before the Father, as the Church which is Christ’s very Body through Him the ordained priest “shows forth the Lord’s death.” All of this is soundly scriptural, soundly primitive.

It may be helpful to say a few words concerning the concept of a “valid ministry”, for much has been said of this in recent years. It would perhaps be just as well if the word “valid” could be forgotten in all discussions of the ministry. Never has a word been so misunderstood, with consequences that have been altogether unfortunate. No one would wish to claim that those ministries which are not in the traditional succession have been without the blessing of God, nor to assert that they have not been marked by a wonderful fruitage in spiritual and moral life. The statements of the Lambeth Conferences and in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, time after time, have made this plain. Indeed, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “…many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside the visible confines of the Catholic Church: the written Word of God; the life of grace; faith, hope, and charity, with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit, as well as visible elements. Christ’s Spirit uses these Churches and ecclesial communities as means of salvation…” (Paragraph 819)

All that is implied from the Anglican perspective when it is said that such ministries are not technically “valid,” is that they do not possess that kind of historical authentication and that explicit sacramental relationship to the Church’s apostolic source, which would give them entire certification. The laying-on of the hands of a duly consecrated bishop does not work in some magical fashion. What it does is to make “evident,” as the Anglican Ordinal says, that those who receive it are “approved and admitted thereunto by lawful Authority” so that the “Doctrine and Sacraments, and the Discipline of Christ” may be rightly ministered. This is what constitutes “validity”. It is the assurance of continuity in the apostolic life of the Church, given through a sacramental means and thereby visibly shown before men.

This teaching concerning the ministry presented here has one consequence of enormous importance in the life of the priest of the Church. This is that the ordained man is not simply an “Episcopal minister,” as the general public is likely to call him. He is the rightly ordered “priest of God’s Holy Church’”. His ordination has placed him in a relationship to the whole Body of Christ, not merely to some fragment of that Body. Nowhere in the Ordinal do we read of ordination to the “Episcopal ministry”. It is always in and to the “Church of God.”

The priest represents the entire company of the faithful throughout the ages. He also represents, in an effectual fashion, the priesthood of Christ in His Mystical Body. On the other hand, he is serving in this priesthood within the Anglican communion, which means that he is a “man under authority.” The Ordinal makes plain that he is one who must “reverently obey” his bishop and other chief ministers, while the “promise of conformity,” taken before ordination, demands that the priest must be loyal to the “doctrine, discipline and worship” of the Holy Catholic Church “as this Church hath received the same.” We will discuss later this apparent paradoxical truth in a more detailed fashion. It will suffice here if we emphasize it before we go on to the final consideration which must always be in the mind and heart of the ordained man.

It also is vitally important to understand that the priest is not possessed, in his own right, of any privileges or of any status. These are given him in and through and for the Church; they are given him by the Church’s Lord. The priest is always, unfailingly, the minister who represents and functions for the Church and the Church’s Head, on behalf of the Church’s members. As such, he possesses what the theology of holy order calls character. He has a distinctive function which can never be taken from him, since it is indelibly his by virtue of his having been lawfully “set apart” for priestly function. “Once a priest, always a priest.” Of course his right to perform his duties may be taken away from him, if he offends in some grievous fashion the Church and its well-being. But he remains, forever, one who has been ordained to this order and office.

On the other hand, there must be no pride of place. The priest is quite literally the minister, servus servorum Dei. We are not speaking here of the work of deacons or bishops, who also fall into the same category of ministers, servi, although with different duties and functions and in a different order and office in the Body of Christ. But on all of the clergy, whether they be deacon, priest, or bishop, is laid the same obligation of humility in their place in the Church’s life. The bishop is chief pastor, steward of the faith and sacraments of the historic Church; yet he is not to lord it over his flock but to be, in St. Paul’s phrase, “helper of their joy.” The deacon, by his very name, is one who ministers, assisting the bishop and the priest in their responsibilities. The priest, too, is a servant of Christ’s people.

Few phrases are so unfortunate as those now and again used by an ordained priest: “I must celebrate my Eucharist,” “I am offering my Mass,” and the like. In each and every instance, the priest is the representative, functioning for Christ in His Body at a particular time and place, in celebrating the Eucharist, pleading the Passion of Christ, proclaiming the redemption wrought by Christ, shepherding Christ’s flock in Christ’s name. “Nothing is his; all is His,” as a wise man once said of the priesthood.

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CHAPTER 1 of What is the Priesthood?

The college student today probably needs to be reminded that our age is notable for its confusion and doubt. He lives at college in a pagan and militantly secular if not militantly atheistic environment. There is departmental parochialism. The faculty is no longer a true collegium. A Christian view of life is not conspicuously maintained in the classroom. Philosophical and scientific naturalism are in control.

If there is even a chapel on the campus, it is no longer the center of academic life. The Christianity preached there, if there is Christianity preached, is likely to be a revisionist Christianity with no notable emphasis on the great central affirmations of the historic Faith.

It is not the university alone that stumbles in confusion. The student learns very quickly from college studies that modern man and our common life alike arc in a tortured predicament. Modern man and much of our common life belong nowhere, are not sure of their destinations, have no adequate standards of reference, are disenchanted.
This is not to say that ours is an entirely irreligious age or that our colleges and universities are completely godless. There are other very powerful religions (of race, of diversity, of gender, of class) are abroad in our world and all have their dedicated adherents. Materialism and hedonism have countless disciples. In academic life secularism and positivism command allegiances. This cacophony of voices and creeds is as confusing to the student as it is fatal to the health of our culture. Our world is very close to spiritual bankruptcy while serving all manner of false gods. With this goes a deep, brooding pessimism not unlike that which marked the breakdown of Roman and Hellenic cultures many centuries ago.

No wonder the student is confused! No wonder he is not satisfactorily oriented. He sees the little men and women of the world pushed about like pawns. He sees a culture torn asunder by terrorism and war, by greed, by the struggle for sheer power. He sees how inventions for the increase of human happiness have been turned to the increase of human degradation. No longer can he talk blithely of enlightenment and inevitable progress.

Common assumptions about the nature of God, man, and the world no longer exist. He is studying within an educational system that has lost its unity and central purpose and his teachers know it. The education the student receives makes for an atomization of life and learning, a fragmentation of knowledge, increasingly removed from the world’s growing tragedy. He knows that nothing in his world is certain, nothing sure, unless a vital religious faith inform the whole and restore unity to our divided culture.

Our erstwhile proud modern world in the name of enlightenment has made vast promises of prosperity, security, and peace. Every hope appears to have been broken at various points. The resultant sense of frustration in our common life is due to the collapse of religion in our culture. The Christian outlook is foreshortened. Christian habits no longer dominate our common life. The sense of community and fellowship, essential as a background for Christian faith and practice, is tragically weakened. Christian conviction has been watered down to become a diffused and vague Christian sentiment. There are many who regard themselves as Christians, but whose faith is but a weak distillation of the strong brew known to earlier saints and leaders.

Albert C. Outler, writing in a study in the late 1940s, Colleges, Faculties and Religion, revealed that even then consultants are surprised more often than they should have been at their (i.e. the faculty members’) naiveté in religious matters. Both those who declared themselves “hostile” or “neutral” to religion revealed the most archaic and regressive notions about the contemporary religious situation and the intellectual temper of modern liberal Christianity and Judaism. Most of them seem to rely on garbled childhood memories to tell them what religion is, and their familiarity with the literature and living spokesmen of liberal religion was strangely scant for cultivated and intelligent people.

Occasionally faculty members denounced religion as “superstition, prescientific benighted-ness,” an “emotional crutch”, “both useless and dangerous.” A larger group were convinced that a humanistic or naturalistic creed was wholly adequate for a modern man. It goes without saying that the religious climate in institutions of higher learning deteriorated precipitously in the ensuing sixty years!

How could it be otherwise? When a culture is sick, the disease enters into every part of it. Decay infests the whole body.

Yet, man’s extremity has ever been God’s opportunity. It was so in the days of the prophets. They lived in a world very similar to ours. Their culture and people were in the hands of alien usurpers, but they were far from despair. They witnessed to the sovereignty of the one God, to His holiness, His righteousness, His goodness. They proclaimed Him with confident faith. His laws and righteous judgments they set forth despite every force against them.

It was when Rome was dying, when the learned were preoccupied with the sophistry of futility and the unlettered were calling upon every manner of god, that God sent forth His Son. It was into a world of despair and confusion that Christ was born with His gospel and with His redeeming grace. Those who knew Him best recognized in Him the very accent of God. Looking at Him, they said that the Eternal Word had been made flesh. He became a source of strength and freedom and joy to those who acknowledged His lordship. They knew that He had triumphed. They found in Him, alive for evermore, a constant source of grace and truth. They found Him to be a valid object of worship and they found that as they prayed they were freed. So they went forth into a dying world to proclaim the good news. They did not go to speak glibly about a theory, but to confront the world with a Person. The faith they possessed and shared, in the magnificent phrase of Clement of Alexandria, turned sunset into sunrise.

This was the Person and this the faith that sent forth from obscure Palestine a group of men and women endued with power from on high. That Person and that faith have revived our brittle civilizations many times over.

It is still the Church’s task to proclaim this Person and this faith to the sons and daughters of men and to mediate His life to mankind. She has no other mission. Her task is unchanged, but no greater mission could be imagined than the saving of the world and all who live therein. The Christian outlook alone offers men power to live lives of dignity and trust, free from irrelevancy and fear. The Christian outlook alone can supply divine insight into the true nature of man and his destiny, can grant discrimination as to what is transitory and what is eternal. It alone gives hope for the future and for the unity of man-kind in a world broken to bits.

We must fix our attention on Him who came to free us from despair and give us life and joy in His service. We must pay greater heed to what the Incarnate Lord said and did, so that the fire of a modern Pentecost may purge our culture and consume its dross. Man as a part of the natural order has a life that is brief, brittle, and brutish. That is true.
But he is also called out from the world to new life, and to walk in newness of life. Our religion is a school of life and its rules come from Him who once lived among us as Son of God and Son of Man and who still gives life to those who are incorporated into His Body, the Church. His is the life we are meant to reproduce. His is the life we are privileged to share.

As we learn to live in Him, we are strengthened by His life and enabled to go about our vocations with dignity and honor. The student must turn to the revelation of God in history and to His mighty acts: to the Incarnation and to Him who was made man, to Him who entered our tortured world and in that very scene saved man from the confusion and terror of life by His cross and its consequent victory, to the gift of His Spirit, and to all that God has done for man and our world in judgment and mercy throughout the ages. What one sees, then, is the entrance into the world of a new power from on high, not merely to carry the world forward to any new level of development, but rather to redeem and transform it. For He came as a new birth, in the fullness of time.

Now this is a book about the priesthood of the Church and it may perhaps be asked at this point what the priesthood has to do with the mission and responsibility of the Christian Gospel. We hope that question will be answered in the course of this book.
This much, however, should be stated right now. The Church is the Body of Christ and cannot be divorced from the Incarnate One. The Church, indeed, is as much a part of the Gospel as is our Lord Himself. The Church is the extension in time of Christ’s nature, work, and ministry. The Church is filled with His life, indwelt by Him. The Church is set in the world to convey to all men everywhere the grace and life of its Head so that in being joined to the Church we become partakers of His nature.

The ordained priest of the Church is to act for the Church, express its own priesthood which is of Christ, Himself. So, when we speak of the priesthood as an office, we are speaking of those ordained to function within a Church whose mission is to convey the divine life of Christ to the world for its healing, for its saving, for its joy. Nothing less than this!

Let us be sure, as will be further developed in our next chapter, that the Church itself is a priestly Body. It is described in the First Epistle of St. Peter as an holy priesthood. The writer there addresses his readers as a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people. The Apostle clearly is thinking of the Christian Church as the inheritor of the ancient Jewish Church to which such notes were once ascribed. As then the family of Aaron acted in a representative function for a priestly body, so it would be now in the Beloved Community.

A young man, before he is ordered priest today, belongs to a priestly Body. His baptism incorporated him into just such a fellowship. Once he is set apart for the work of the ministry by the priestly Body he is to act as its representative, though the authority of his ministry is derived from God himself. God’s means for the saving of mankind is through Christ’s body, a priestly body. The ordained priest is pledged to this mission, to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.

This vocation is, then, both sublime and terrifying. It is sublime since it is a vocation derived immediately from Christ our great High Priest and is meant to convey His eternal priesthood to a sinful world and to sinful men and women. It is terrifying to anyone who dares to accept it, since a man would be a fool not to be aware of his own inadequacy, weakness, and sin in the face of such a commission. Who could possibly be worthy of such office and responsibility? Obviously none, except those whom God calls to this office. God does not call those who are fit, but He fits those whom He calls.
The frenzied state of the modern world is sufficient to cause the most gallant-spirited in the ministry to falter. To win wayward man back to his true allegiance, to restore unity to a schizophrenic society, to redeem the times and resolve man’s warring loyalties, the Incarnate Lord gladly faced and endured humiliation, sorrow, and death. His ministers today in the sacred priesthood are committed to the same enterprise. This has ever been the heavy responsibility laid upon the ministry of Christ’s Body.

To those who have sensitive ears and hearts the responsibility seems of tremendous urgency in our day. Has any age more clearly stood in need of God’s saving act in Christ, of His grace and truth?

We who are committed to the way of Christianity, who are sharers in the life of His Mystical Body, have a task to accomplish and one that will require faith, hope, and love. We are sent to our brethren, within the Church and without, to bear witness to the sovereignty of God. More than that, we are to mediate to men the power of His grace.
We must proclaim with conviction the Good News about God: He was born of the Virgin, He suffered under Pontius Pilate, He was crucified, He died and was buried, He rose again on the third day, He ascended on high, He sitteth on the right hand of God, He shall come to judge the living and the dead.

The world desperately needs that news. The Church must be the witnessing fellowship that proclaims it. The priesthood must provide the leadership for this work, which is Christ’s work. His life must be given to men and to our world.

Here is a vocation dealing with basic realities, a vocation demanding and dangerous, a vocation utterly necessary for the healing of the world and for the peace that can overrule man’s restless heart. Every young man who would love God and his brothers and sisters. should consider it honestly and prayerfully.

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In 1954, when some measure of sanity still prevailed in the American Episcopal Church and Holy Orders had not been thrown over,   John V. Butler and W. Norman Pittenger published, WHAT IS THE PRIESTHOOD? A Book on Vocation.  With the ensuing madness of the next several decades, this became a book that no longer was “relevant” and gradually found its way onto back shelves in parish libraries and sale tables at ECUSA seminaries.  For traditional Anglicans and, for that matter, Roman Catholic and Orthodox men discerning a vocation to the priesthood, this work maintains its worth.

This is particularly so for “continuing” Anglican bodies where the paths to vocation are more than somewhat vague, educational standards nearly non-existent and even the means of background review of candidates for Holy Orders porous.   Certainly, there is little guidance available to those thinking and praying about the possibility of serving the Church as clergy.

Over the next few weeks,  we will be attempting to update and publish the work of Messrs. Butler and Pittenger here on the blog.  It is my hope that it will prove useful to those being led by the Holy Ghost to think about Holy Orders and those others who may simply wish to know more about the priesthood.


     Here is an introduction to the priesthood which is as simple and forthright and illuminating as any parish priest could ask. It is written for the enquirer, primarily—for the student examining his own nature, or the layman impatient for some clearer sign of vocation—yet it will help men long-ordained, as it helped me, by the clear and swift strokes by which the classic form of the priesthood is outlined.

     In a series of brief, packed chapters, there is an exposition of various aspects of priestly life. One of the original authors is a theological teacher and the other an experienced parish priest.  So, the chapters are realistic and as complete as the compass of the book permitted.   To a young college student, whose experience of the Church is probably limited to one or two parishes and as many clergymen, this exposition of the range and variety of priestly life should be invaluable.

     Two emphases are particularly helpful: one is the “manly and straightforward way the whole matter of vocation was approached.”   Almost every young (and not so young) man considering vocation needs to come to the mature realization that vocation is a co-operative matter, in which the individual and society and God all have a hand. How many men there have been, and are, who try to understand vocation as if it all rested on their shoulders, alone before a silent God who gave no sign or help. By the same token, how many there have been who have missed their vocation because they waited for the imagined thunderbolt of a “call” to strike.

     Indeed, all three parties to a vocation have a stake in it—the man who chooses, the Church which speaks for society in assessing the individual’s worth and readiness, and the God who, in all and through all, teaches us in a thousand ways where our duty and our joy are to be found.

     The second emphasis is the pervasive one on the relationship of individual priesthood to the great, single Priesthood which fills the Church and the world.  There is no specific Anglican doctrine of priesthood. All we claim or desire is the ancient form in all its fullness. Yet it has been, in recent years, some Anglican writers such as the late Michael Ramsey have reemphasized the changeless truth that individual priesthood does not stand alone; it is not magic; it is not an ecclesiastical contagion; it is the continuing act of Christ in His Body, of which individuals are privileged to be the voice or hands or thought or prayer.

     Just as the “priesthood of the laity” is a misnomer, because of general misunderstanding of its meaning, so is the individualistic and magical priesthood of the priest when taken apart from the endless work of Christ in time. I hope that blogging a revision of this book will help us see this anew.  In any event, I hope that effort will help  in the most urgent task of awakening our Church to the needs and claims of her ministry, and that it may awaken in many hearts a humble, certain sense of the call of Christ to follow and serve.

-The Rev. Canon Charles H. Nalls, STL, JD

Ascension Day, 2018

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