Universal priesthood (doctrine)

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In Christianity, different groups disagree about who can be a priest. Protestant groups say that anyone who was baptized can be a priest. Protestants say that anyone can directly talk to God, and no ordination is necessary to make someone a priest. In contrast, Roman Catholics say that the priest has a special function: He mediates between God and his people; the function of the priest is to help people talk to God. For this reason, priests need special training. Pope Paul VI issued a papal bull called Lumen Gentium: In it, he stated the position the Roman Catholic church held after the Second Vatican Council:

Christ the Lord, High Priest taken from among men, made the new people "a kingdom and priests to God the Father".The baptized, by regeneration and the anointing of the Holy Spirit, are consecrated (..) a holy priesthood, in order that through all those works which are those of the Christian man they may offer spiritual sacrifices and proclaim the power of Him who has called them out of darkness into His marvelous light.[1]

History[change | change source]

The first person who spoke about this was Martin Luther. Luther did not use the exact phrase "priesthood of all believers". He says that there is a general priesthood in Christendom in his 1520 To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation. In this text, he also dismisses the medieval view that Christians in the present life were to be divided into two classes: "spiritual" and "secular". He put forward the doctrine that all baptized Christians are "priests" and "spiritual" in the sight of God:

That the pope or bishop (..) dresses differently from the laity, may make a hypocrite or an idolatrous oil-painted icon, but it in no way makes a Christian or spiritual human being. In fact, we are all consecrated priests through Baptism, as St. Peter in 1 Peter 2[:9] says, "You are a royal priesthood and a priestly kingdom," and Revelation [5:10], "Through your blood you have made us into priests and kings."[2]

Two months later Luther wrote in his On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church (1520):

How then if they are forced to admit that we are all equally priests, as many of us as are baptized, and by this way we truly are; while to them is committed only the Ministry (ministerium Predigtamt) and consented to by us (nostro consensu)? If they recognize this they would know that they have no right to exercise power over us (ius imperii, in what has not been committed to them) except insofar as we may have granted it to them, for thus it says in 1 Peter 2, "You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a priestly kingdom." In this way we are all priests, as many of us as are Christians. There are indeed priests whom we call ministers. They are chosen from among us, and who do everything in our name. That is a priesthood which is nothing else than the Ministry. Thus 1 Corinthians 4:1: "No one should regard us as anything else than ministers of Christ and dispensers of the mysteries of God."[3]

The Bible passage considered to be the basis of this belief is the First Epistle of Peter, 2:9:

But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.

References[change | change source]

  1. "Dogmatic constitution on the church - Lumen Gentium". Vatican.va. http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19641121_lumen-gentium_en.html.
  2. Martin Luther, Weimar Ausgabe, vol. 6, p. 407, lines 19–25 as quoted in Timothy Wengert, "The Priesthood of All Believers and Other Pious Myths," page 12 [1].
  3. De captivitate Babylonica ecclesiae praeludium [Prelude concerning the Babylonian Captivity of the church], Weimar Ausgabe 6, 564.6–14 as quoted in Norman Nagel, "Luther and the Priesthood of All Believers," Concordia Theological Quarterly 61 (October 1997) 4:283-84.