'The Priesthood: By A Converted Priest'
thread that runs throughout the experiences of former priests is this: we had a
great yearning to be different from those around us. We wanted to be more pure,
nearer to God. We wanted to be free in conscience before God, and we sought the
priesthood in which we thought we could administer salvation stage by stage to
our fellow man.
The nobility and charm of
the priesthood also drew us, as priests around us were signally honoured with
special privileges and dignity. Hearing confessions, forgiving sins, bringing
Christ down upon the altar, the wonder of being "another Christ", all of these
In the words of Graham Greene's novel on the subject, we were
drawn by "the power and the glory".
there is an office of sacrificial priesthood in the New Testament. 2. That the
priest's life revolves around the sacraments.
3. That we were fit subjects to be elevated to this honour. We had all worked
hard at being "holy" so we took for granted that a right standing with
God was something that we could merit.
The Office of the Priesthood
In the early 1970s we who
gloried in being priests were shocked to read the word of one of our best Roman
Catholic Scripture scholars, Raymond E. Brown:
When we move from the Old
Testament to the New Testament, it is striking that while there are pagan
priests and Jewish priests on the scene, no individual Christian is ever
specifically identified as a priest. The Epistle to the Hebrews speaks of the
high priesthood of Jesus by comparing his death and entry into heaven with the
actions of the Jewish high priest who went into the Holy of Holies in the
Tabernacle once a year with a offering for himself and for the sins of his
people (Hebrews 9:6-7).
But it is noteworthy that
the author of Hebrews does not associate the priesthood of Jesus with the
Eucharist or the Last Supper; neither does he suggest that other Christians are
priests in the likeness of Jesus. In fact, the once-for-all atmosphere that
surrounds the priesthood of Jesus in Hebrews 10:12-14, has been offered as an
explanation of why there are no Christian priests in the New Testament
Later in the same chapter
Brown argues for a priesthood like that of the Levitical class in the Old
Testament. He makes his case for the development of such a doctrine by means of
tradition. Even those of us who knew very little of the Bible knew that the
Pharisees counted tradition superior to the clear Word of God. Brown did more to
demolish the conviction that we were indeed priests than to ease our troubled
Now I see that what Brown
stated in the section quoted is biblically and absolutely true. Other than the
royal priesthood, which applies to all true believers in Christ, there is no
office of priesthood in the New Testament. Rather, as Hebrews states so clearly
of the Old Testament priests,
"And they truly were many priests,
because they were not suffered to continue by reason of death: But this man,
because he continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood. Wherefore he is
able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he
ever liveth to make intercession for them"
"Unchangeable priesthood" means just that in the Greek: aparabatos means "untransferable".
The reason it cannot be transferred to men is that its essence is Christ's own,
..who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than
the heavens" (verse 26).
The Priest's Life Revolves around the Sacraments
The second presupposition
was that the Roman Catholic sacraments gave, as our catechism books said,
"outward signs of inward grace". Our mindset, in the words of Canon 840, was
that the sacraments "...contribute in the highest degree to the establishment,
strengthening and manifestation of ecclesiastical communion". 
the sacraments themselves were for us the centre of salvation and of
For example, regarding
confession to a priest, Canon 960 declared that it was "the only ordinary way by
which the faithful person who is aware of serious sin is reconciled with God".
Rather than proclaiming the finished work of Christ Jesus as the answer to the
problem of our sinful nature and personal sin record, our lives revolved around
these physical signs.
Some of us were shocked to read in Dollinger (the
most respected Roman Catholic historian) that the sacrament of penance
(confession) was unknown in the West for 1,100 years and never known in the
Dollinger said, "So again
with Penance. What is given as the essential form of the sacrament was unknown
in the Western Church for eleven hundred years, and never known in the Greek."
How could this be? The bishops were declared to be high priests "first
and foremost" (Canon 835). Were not we as priests also declared to be dispensers
of the sacramental system? In the light of God's Word, this was magic rather
than the gospel message.
The New Testament has two
signs as instituted by the Lord; yet rather than the two signs, centre stage in
the Bible is the proclaimed message. But for us the sacraments themselves were
of major importance. Every day began with Mass. Our doubts regarding the
physical sacraments as central to our life with God began from experience. Many
of us, priests for many years, had baptized countless infants, and had said the
words, "I absolve you," over countless heads. We had anointed many aged, sick
and accident victims with the words, "May the Lord who frees you from sin save
you and raise you up."
Year after year we saw the
children we had baptized as infants grow up as pagan as the pagans on the
mission field. The myriads of people over whose heads we had pronounced
absolution came up off their knees as much sinners after our words as before
them. When the sick and the aged were neither saved nor "raised up", it was then
that some of us dared to check the Bible. Here we discovered: "It is the spirit
that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you,
they are spirit, and they are life" (John 6:63).
"For by grace are ye saved
through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works,
lest any man should boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9).
The verses in Ephesians
shocked us most of all. Our standard definitions of sacraments defined them as
"works", as in the famous Canon 8 of the Council of Trent: "If anyone says that
by the sacraments of the New Law grace is not conferred ex opere operato [from
the work worked], but that faith alone in the divine promise is sufficient to
obtain grace, let him be anathema." 
It was difficult even to
begin to doubt the sacraments. Much of our time was absorbed by these and other
physical signs. During Lent or Holy Week, for example, we had to make
arrangements for procuring and putting in order the newly blessed oils, the
Pascal candle, the Pascal fire, the palms, the ashes from last year's palms, the
processional cross, the thurible with its charcoals and incense, the purple, red
and white vestments, and so on. How could any of us dare to hear the Lord's
principle stated so clearly in John 6:63: "It is the spirit that quickeneth; the
flesh profiteth nothing."
But hear the words we did,
as these testimonies bear witness. The Father drew us, showing us our own
worthlessness and the sufficiency of his Word. As Jesus said to the Father, "Thy
word is truth". (John 17:17).
Unfit Subjects for Honour
The last presupposition
was the most deeply rooted within us. As a child, before ever wanting to become
a priest, I had laboured at being "holy". During Lent I would "offer up" candy
and sweet drinks to be a better Catholic. I visited nine churches in one day
praying alternately "Our Father" six times, "Hail Mary" six times and "Glory Be"
six times in each church. Some of us played at being holy by giving white
peppermints to our friends when they would kneel down, as if we were the priest
As priests, most of us
were very enthusiastic about Vatican Council II. When the documents were
published, some of us preached from them. One of the most popular documents was
"The Church in the Modern World". But when the excitement had calmed, those of
us who studied it saw the same message we had lived and preached. Paragraph. 14
states, "...Nevertheless man has been wounded by sin... When he is drawn to
think about his real self he turns to those deep recesses of his being where God
who probes the heart awaits him, and where he himself decides his own destiny in
the sight of God." Paragraph. 17 continues, "Since human freedom has been
weakened by sin it is only by the help of God's grace that man can give his
actions their full and proper relationship to God." 
This type of modern
teaching seemed very much like the old message. The old message was also
contained in Vatican Council II documents in a less popular document, No. 6,
Indulgentiarum Doctrina, Paragraph. 6 which states: From the most ancient times
in the Church good works were also offered to God for the salvation of sinners,
particularly the works which human weakness finds hard...
Indeed, the prayers and
good works of holy people were regarded as of such great value that it could be
asserted that the penitent was washed, cleansed and redeemed with the help of
the entire Christian people." 
All these teachings were
endorsed by messages at Lourdes and at Fatima. That many souls go to hell
because there is no one to pray and to do penance for them was part of our third
and biggest presupposition. Grace was, of course, presupposed; but it is you
who by means of your suffering and good works merit salvation for yourself and
This is the net in which
all of us who lived the works gospel so intensely were most deeply entangled by
Roman Catholicism. This two-fold presupposition; that we were somehow holy and
right before a holy God because we had prayed and suffered, and that we would
continue as holy and righteous men to practise our religion, became our biggest
Mankind's Condition Before
The Holy God Christ Jesus describes man's nature.
"That which cometh out of
the man, that defileth the man. For from within, out of the heart of men,
proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness,
wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness:
all these evil things come from within, and defile the man"
See also Jeremiah 17:9: "The heart is deceitful above all things; and
desperately wicked; who can know it?
Both Old and New
Testaments tell us that we are spiritually dead to God. Adam's sin brought death
Ezekiel states, "The soul that sinneth, it shall die"
and Romans 6:23 says,
"The wages of sin is death."
We are not simply "wounded" as Roman Catholics believe. We are spiritually dead.
The Biblical Message of Salvation
We find the remedy for
this situation in both Old and New Testaments.
The prophet Isaiah declares:
"But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities:
the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and
the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all" (Isa 53:6).
John tell us: "ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold,
from your vain conversation received by tradition from our fathers; but with the
precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot".
"And he is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for
the sins of the whole world"
(I Peter 1:18-19, I John 2:2)
The Bible clearly states
that salvation was Christ's work and his alone: ". . .by himself purged our
sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high"
Romans 3:26 says that God
is "just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus".
One is saved
by God's work. Salvation is God's majestic, finished work. Woven through these
testimonies is the same scarlet thread of God's sovereign grace.
each person is dead in sin. By grace one is saved, through faith.
What the Bible has to say
about priesthood becomes crystal clear in these personal testimonies of men who
experienced both the false and the true priesthood (the priesthood of every
believer in the once for all sacrifice of Christ Jesus).
The best summary of what
happened to these men in the Roman Catholic priesthood is found in the words of
Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:1-2:
"Therefore seeing we have this ministry, as we
have received mercy, we faint not; But have renounced the hidden things of
dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully;
but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience
in the sight of God."
Raymond E. Brown, Priest and Bishop: Biblical
Reflections (Paulist Press, New York 10019, 1970), p. 13
Code of Canon Law, Latin-English ed. (Canon Law
Society of America, Wash. DC 20064) 1983. All references to canon law are taken
from this volume unless otherwise stated
von Dollinger, The Pope and the Council by Janus,
(Authorized tr. from the German "Janus_: Der Papst und das Concil), Roberts
Brothers (Boston, 1870) p. 50
The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent,
7th Session, March, 1547, Tr. by Rev. H. J. Schroeder, O.P. (Tan Books and
Publishers, Inc., Rockford, IL 61105) 1978
Vatican Council II Documents, No. 664, Gaudium
et Spes, 7 December 1965, Ch. 1, Vol. I, in Documents of Vatican II, Vatican
Collection, Vol. I, Austin P. Flannery, O.P., Ed. (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publ. Co.,
Grand Rapids, MI 1984)
Flannery, Vol. I. (While No. 6, Indulgentiarum
Doctrina, 1 January, 1967, is an absolutely official primary source document and
is included with the Vatican Council II documents, strictly speaking it is a
post-conciliar document of Paul IV)
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