Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Linsley On What Is A Priest?

I have received permission from Alice Linsley to republish a few of her post on Just Genesis which have to do with the question of priesthood. The reason that I am doing this is the assertion of the Free Church of England which claims to be Anglican that those ordained after the Anglican rites are priests only in the sense St. Peter's "a royal priesthood" and not in the sense of the ancient bishops and Catholic fathers. In short, according to their claim, members of the ancient Christian ministry are really no more than mere laymen, a view I believe completely in conflict with the Anglican Ordinals from the time of the English reformation and before. Cranmer and the Church of England could have used the words in the Latin pontificals, presbyter and presbyterate, but they did not and deliberately choice to use the words 'priest' and 'priesthood.'

What is a Priest?
Alice C. Linsley

The priesthood is verifiably the oldest known religious institution and appears to have originated in the Nile region. It is quite distinct from the other ancient religious office, that of the shaman. Underlying shamanism is the belief that spirits cause imbalance and disharmony in the world. The shaman’s role is to determine which spirits are at work in a given situation and to find ways to appease the spirits. This may or may not involve animal sacrifice. Underlying the priesthood is belief in a single supreme Spirit to whom humans must give an accounting, especially for the shedding of blood. In this view, one Great Spirit (God) holds the world in balance and it is human actions that cause disharmony. The vast assortment of ancient laws governing priestly ceremonies, sacrifices, and cleansing rituals clarifies the role of the priest as one who offers animal sacrifice according to sacred law. The priest was forbidden to consult the spirits of the ancestors as shamans do in trance states.

Priests are intermediaries between the Creator and the community, not between the spirits and the community. Both offices are intermediary, but their worldviews are quite different. When sickness, sudden death, or a great calamity such as flooding or plague affects the community, the shaman investigates the cause and seeks to balance benevolent and malevolent energies. When the community served by the priest experiences hardship, deprivation and loss, the priest calls the people to repentance and seeks to restore the community to the peace of God. In ancient times, this sometimes meant seeking out the offenders by using the binary system of divination represented by the Urim and Thummim. These represent numerous binary sets. The urim would have a number of associations which would be assigned the opposite meaning with the thummim. Using these tools involved more than yes-no questions. It involved deriving meaning from the directional poles, gender, numbers and reversals. The morehs or ancient prophets apparently used the same approach when rendering counsel such as that given to Abraham by the moreh at the Oak of Mamre (Gen. 12:6).

Despite what feminists and politically-correct academics might say, the priestly role was from the beginning the work of a select group of men (a caste, actually) whose devotion to the worship of the Creator involved, by today's standards, extreme asceticism. Contrary to the position of the Roman Church, these men were married and enjoyed sexual relations with their wives. However they abstained from sex, shaved their bodies, fasted and entered periods of intense prayer in preparation for their time of service at the temple or shrine. They were known for their purity of life.

A survey of the world's religions helps us to understand the uniqueness of the priesthood. Shinto "priests" are really shamans, not priests. Priestesses of ancient Greek were really mediums or seers, not priests. Anthropologically, the priesthood is defined by the caste of ruler-priests known as Horites. These were Abraham's people and their idea of the priest was closely aligned to their understanding of blood as both potentially contaminating and potentially purifying.

The unique nature of the priesthood is inextricably linked to the nature of God. God is the first priest (Gen. 3:21) and the priesthood, like God, is eternal. This is what stands behind the biblical references to Melchizedek, of whose ruler-priest line came the Son of God, Jesus Christ, our great High Priest who promises in the Book of Revelation to be with us always.

The Horite Ruler-priests are Jesus Christ's Ancestors

Analysis of the kinship pattern of Abraham's people, using the genealogical information in the Bible, indicates that the ruler-priests married two wives. These lived in separate settlements on a north-south axis. So Sarah resided in Hebron and Keturah to the south in Beersheba.

In his youth, the ruler-designate married his half-sister, as did Abraham with Sarah. Before ascending to the throne, he married his second wife, a patrilineal cousin or niece, as did Abraham with Keturah. The cousin wife named her first-born son after her father, a pattern which begins in Genesis 4 and can be traced to the priestly lines of Joachim (Mary's father) and Mattai, the patriarch of Joseph's line. The pattern of ruler-priests having two wives disappeared among Jews with the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D.

The origins of the faith of Christ, the Son of God, came to Abraham, not as special revelation, but as a tradition received from his forefathers. The distinctive traits of this tradition align remarkable well with the key features of catholic faith and practice:

Male ruler-priests who were mediators between God and the community
A binary (versus dualistic) worldview
Blood sacrifice at altars (sometimes falcon-shaped) for propitiation and atonement
Expectation of the appearing of the Son of God in the flesh
God's will on earth as in heaven - interpreted by morehs (prophets)
Belief in an eternal and undivided Kingdom delivered by the Father to the Son.

Because of God's promise in Eden, Abraham and his ancestors lived in expectation of the Son of God and taught their children to do so. Their priestly lines intermarried exclusively in expectation that the Seed of the Woman would come of their priestly lines. The Edenic Promise was a central belief of the Horite family-tribal tradition. They believed that the son would be born of the chosen Woman (not called Eve in Gen. 3:15). They believed that he would be killed by his own brother and that he would live again.

The Virgin Birth is one of many signs that the One born to Mary is the Son of God. This is not about the birth of the Sun at the winter solstice. This is not a reworking of the Egyptian tale of Horus. The Horus archetype provides the pattern whereby Abraham's descendants would recognize Messiah. It points us to the Virgin who gave birth to the Son of God under humble circumstances. In the Horus myth, Hat-Hor gives birth in a cave. In Orthodoxy, icons of the Nativity show the Theotokos with the newly born Christ in a cave.

Christianity is an organic religion that emerges out of a belief that God made a promise in Eden and that He has been busy fulfilling that promise in Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The core of Christianity can be traced to the beliefs of Abraham and his ancestors. It predates all the great world religions. Christianity isn't original, but what it lacks in originality it makes up for in great antiquity, and herein rests its authority.

The Christian Priest

The Christian priest stands at altar as the person of Christ at the Last Supper. He also represents the Father, by whose faith his spiritual children are offered up through the Spirit. The Christian priesthood is thoroughly Trinitarian.

I'd like to challenge the prevalent idea that the Last Supper must be understood as a Passover meal. We, with Isaac, should ask "But where is the lamb?" (Gen. 22:7)

It may be that the best context for understanding the Last Supper is neither the passover meal nor the chaburah meal, but the events that unfolded on Mount Moriah. There was no lamb, only the Father and the Son. After the offering up of the Son, a ram appears. The ram is the lamb come to full strength and maturity. Among Abraham's ancestors the lamb-ram sequence was associated with the rising and setting of the Sun, the symbol of the Creator. The temporal sacred center was noon, a time of no shadows. (James says He is the Father of Lights in whom there is no shadow.) The spatial sacred center was the mountain top, between heaven and earth. Perhaps the Last Supper is the sacred center where we meet God about to cross over to redoubled strength, destroying death by His death.

In relation to the sun, Horus was said to rise in the morning as a lamb or calf and to set in the evening as a ram or bull. When Abraham bound his Issac, believing perhaps that he was the Lamb of God, a ram was provided in Issac's place. To Abraham the Horite this would have meant that his offering was accepted. It would also have meant that Isaac was not the fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham's ancestors in Genesis 3:15. Isaac was not the "Seed" of the Woman who would make the curse of death void, crush the serpent's head, and restore Paradise. That promise was to be fulfilled in the future, just as the ram was associated with the western horizon, the direction of the future.
On the third day Father Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place afar off (Gen. 22:4) and again he lifted up his eyes and he saw a ram (Gen. 22:13).

St. Paul says, "For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that He would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith." (Rom. 4:13)


Anonymous said...

Canon, can you identify the source of your statement about the Free Church of England's view on the priesthood? Thanks!

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