Friday, May 23, 2008

Hegesippus on the Levitical Vocation of Christian Priests

Michael Barber at Singing in the Reign posted an interesting piece on the apostles and their similarities to the Levites. I responded to a Protestant in the combox and will repost a portion of it here (the post is well worth the read). In the past, I have argued briefly for the sacrificial nature of the mass from the very beginning of the Church. I also compared liturgy with music and the entire story of the cosmos which is related to this topic.

One of the earliest accounts we have of the priestly vocation of the early priests (presbyters) of the Church is recorded by Hegesippus and preserved (as so many things which otherwise are lost) by Eusebius in Church History 2.23.4-6.

He alone [James, the brother of the Lord] was permitted to enter into the holy place; for he wore not woolen but linen garments. And he was in the habit of entering alone into the temple, and was frequently found upon his knees begging forgiveness for the people, so that his knees became hard like those of a camel, in consequence of his constantly bending them in his worship of God, and asking forgiveness for the people.
While the Temple was still standing in the earliest days of the Church, James is acting in a priestly manner on behalf of the people. Take note of his garments and read Exodus 28:41-43:
After you put these clothes on your brother Aaron and his sons, anoint and ordain them. Consecrate them so they may serve me as priests.

Make linen undergarments as a covering for the body, reaching from the waist to the thigh. Aaron and his sons must wear them whenever they enter the Tent of Meeting or approach the altar to minister in the Holy Place, so that they will not incur guilt and die. This is to be a lasting ordinance for Aaron and his descendants.

The Christian priests are the descendants of Aaron; they are the Levites of the Church. Do you see how James not only entered the Temple and offered prayers on behalf of the people, he was careful to wear the priestly garments? This is significant.

We cannot remove the sacrifice from the Christian service. We do not offer new sacrifices of course, we re-present the True sacrifice of calvary. The reformers stripped the mass of its sacrificial purpose and thereby stripped their presbyters of the priestly vocation. My point in the combox there was that perhaps the Reformers were right to do this. But if we say so, how did the Reformers get Christianity right when even the Lord's kinsman, James got it so wrong? Mike Aquilina mentions this point (that the Christian priests continued wearing the Levitical vestments) on page 25 of his book, "The Mass of the Early Christians". Later, on page 31 of the same book he writes:
Some scholars believe that the first Christian liturgies were, quite simply, Jewish texts with added Christological and Trinitarian language (Bouyer 1968). Sofia Cavaletti observes that the synagogue service closely parallels the early Christian Liturgy of the Word, roughly the first have of the Mass, while the sequence of prayers in the Jewish passover meal closely corresponds to the order of the earliest Eucharistic prayers (1990:15ff)
The mass is the non-bloody re-presentation of Christ's one and only Sacrifice on mankind's behalf. We receive Him and the grace necessary for salvation in the Eucharistic species. Christ's merit is received by the partaking of the precious Body & Blood. The priestly vocation has not ended with Christianity, as the Word says "This shall be a lasting ordinance". We cannot separate the sacrifice of Christ from the mass.


Rene'e said...

I have heard it said,"Satan hates the Eucharist. Do away with Priests and no longer will exist a valid Eucharist."

I personally believe that this is why so many priests are attacked by evil. From within themselves and from others.


Excerpts from Catholic Evangelization

Applying the Fruits of Christ's Sufficient Sacrifice

Catholics believe in the sufficiency of Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross for our redemption.

At mass we add our suffering to His, in order that the fruits of His redemption be applied to our souls, or to the souls of others. Christ’s atoning sacrifice has infinite merit, transcending space and time. For example, “Jesus sojourned to the realm of the dead prior to His resurrection . . .. He descended there as Savior, proclaiming the Good News to the spirits imprisoned there” (1 Peter 3:18, 19).

For salvation to be applied to us, our communion (1 Cor. 10:16; 11:28-29) with Jesus Christ, our savior, must be a communion of body (John 6:35, 51). The priestly minister recites the words of institution of the Eucharist (Matt. 26:26-29) (Mark 14:25) (Luke 22:15-20) (1 Cor. 11:23-25) by our Lord, at the last supper. In the separate consecration of bread and wine (separating body and blood) by a Ministerial Priest (Holy Orders CCC1547), on an altar, there occurs the change of the entire substance of the wine into the Blood of Christ, and the bread into the Body of Christ. The appearance or “species” of bread and wine remain. We eat (Exodus 12:8, 46) (John 1:29) (1 Cor. 5:7) the “Bread” and /or drink the ”Wine” and have received communion.

We celebrate Jesus alive, and mysterious, really present among us.

When we share the bread and wine, Jesus unites us with himself in his offering of himself to God, our Father. We offer ourselves to God, along with Jesus at Mass, as a "living sacrifice"... "so we, though many, are one body in Christ" ( Rom 12:1-5 ).

When we receive the Eucharist, Jesus gives himself to us in the food of life; his Body and Blood, to help us grow in goodness and love, and be more like him. We receive the gift of grace. We join Jesus in praising our Father at Mass. We celebrate the memorial of his sacrifice, and we celebrate, too, Jesus alive and mysterious, really present among us ( 1 Cor 5:7 ) ( Heb 9:14; 9:24-28 ).

Excerpts from Catholic Evangelization

Anonymous said...


Michael Barber’s thoughts, are what we are always taught by Priest. . We are all called to strive for holiness through our Lords grace, but our Priest are special, the new Levites. The sacrifice of The Mass is so special, entering into Christ sacrifice at consecration should and does bring everyone to there knees.

Showing how the Old Testament is fulfilled, and continued in the New Testament is something most Christians hardly think about. When ever I think on that subject Jesus words “I will make everything new” are the first thing that pop’s into my head.

A philosophy I try to live by in my daily struggles
Our Lord always first
Everyone else second
Me/you last

Peace, Rob

George Weis said...

Wow! That is interesting Tim. I would want to hear more on James acting in such a way. Now, what is the deal with James? He seems to be a major player in your points ;) Another interesting note, is that in brackets we see an admittance to Him being the brother of Jesus... not Cousin? I thought that he was a cousin is the official position of the RCC. Or am I messing that up?

PD- I learned a song as a boy that fits with your thought/meditation. Jesus, Others and You (what a wonderful way to spell JOY). Good stuff.

Blessings to you all, and I will see you (ma and pa) manana!


Tim A. Troutman said...

George, the author of the book of James is not known for absolute certain (except that his name was James). There are several men named James in the New Testament and the author may not even be one of those.

Late patristic witness tells us that it was the brother of the Lord although the earlier fathers are silent on the issue. This is in part why Luther considered the epistle to be made of "straw". He included it in his Bible only in the appendix along with other "apocryphal" works that were helpful for reading but not Scripture.

At any rate, when I (or the Church fathers) say "James the brother of the Lord" it is interchangeable with "cousin", "kinsman" or even "step brother". The Church maintains that Mary was a perpetual virgin for several reasons but I do not think they officially state that James was the "cousin" of Jesus. He may well have been the son of Joseph from a marriage prior to the one with Mary's. If we are to believe the Protoevenglium of James (or rather psuedo-James), then Joseph was a widower entrusted with the care of a dedicated virgin: Mary.

I would encourage you to read St. Jerome against Helvidius on the topic of Mary's perpetual virginity.

George Weis said...

Tim, I am aware of the skepticism that surrounds James. I didn't think of it in the moment, and so I did group the two references together... my bad!

Is that official Doctrine or Dogma regarding Mary's perpetual virginity? I once read an article about 3 years back on the CC saying that there is no major support for this view and others surrounding Mary, but that they would continue to hold it due to tradition.


Tim A. Troutman said...

I'm not sure which article you're referring to but if it was by someone calling themselves Catholic I'd have a word or two to say with them.

It is certainly a dogma of the Church that Mary was a perpetual virgin. This is not only dogma, but uncontested tradition. There really isn't any debate on this topic. Even Luther, Calvin and Zwingli agreed that she remained a virgin. See here.

Pope St. Siricius wrote in the late 4th century a letter to Anysius the Bishop of Thessalonica stating that we could not deny her perpetual virginity. This comes near dogma if it isn't dogma itself. I'm not a canon lawyer so I couldn't really argue whether this alone was binding or not.

At any rate, denying her perpetual virginity was condemned at the local Lateran Council of 649 (this is not the first Lateran Council of 1123) and in a couple of other councils.

Pope Sixtus IV again proclaimed it as official doctrine of the Church in 1476 and it was finally set in stone (if it had not already been) at the Council of Trent in the following century. See Paul IV, "Cum Quorundam" 1555.

Denzinger's Sources of Catholic Dogma - making converts like me sound like they know what they're talking about since... whenever it was written.

George Weis said...


It wasn't a Catholic article. It wasn't by a Christian at all (I think).

It was simply covering some discussion the CC had with the Anglican Church.

What I was saying, is that the Church admitted no biblical evidence, but rather only tradition held this view, and due to tradition, it would remain the view held by the Church. Then I understood the catholic perspective on tradition far less. So I was totally scratching my head on it. Hard for a "Bible Christian" to get the Tradition perspective, but now I understand it, so I get it.

To be honest, it doesn't bother me either way. Why Her and Joseph wouldn't have "known" each other, beats me. And what of that word (Joseph did not know her...)? Talk to me!


James H said...

Great post!!!

Jared said...


You Quoted Exodus and said:

"After you put these clothes on your brother Aaron and his sons, anoint and ordain them. Consecrate them so they may serve me as priests. Make linen undergarments as a covering for the body, reaching from the waist to the thigh. Aaron and his sons must wear them whenever they enter the Tent of Meeting or approach the altar to minister in the Holy Place, so that they will not incur guilt and die. This is to be a lasting ordinance for Aaron and his descendants."

Then you said:
"The Christian priests are the descendants of Aaron; they are the Levites of the Church."

Now, I am Catholic, and I don't dissagree with you on this point, but I can't say I agree either. I just want to know the basis of your assertion that Catholic Priests are the descendents of Aaron. To make my self more clear, if it is "to be a lasting ordinance for Aaron and his descendants.", that is, the priesthood, then how is it that Christian priests are descendents of Aaron. It seems that this is talking about physical descendents. How is the transfer made to Catholic priests? Basically I just ask that you can flesh out this giant leep you made in your argument. How am I to argue a protestant on the priesthood using this Text?

Thanks for your help.

In Christ,
Jared (Cleveland)

Tim A. Troutman said...

Hi Jared, thats a good question. Please read this "succession" in a very allegorical sense. It is certainly not true that there is any literal connection.

We see in Israel, there is a certain religious hierarchy. The Sanhedrin, the Levitical priests and the teachers of the Law who "sit on the seat of Moses". But all this changes with Christ. Foremost - to Peter He gives the "keys" and the power to "bind and loose". (This is a technical term not just a metaphor Jesus invented. Josephus used the exact term to describe the authority the Pharisees held in legislative/judicial matters).

So with Christ designating the 12 apostles, He has instituted a new hierarchical system. The NT priests are allegorically successive of the OT priests just as the Eucharist is allegorically successive of the Passover meal (also declared by God to be a lasting ordinance).

The NT counterparts are fulfillments of the OT prototypes. The Eucharist is greater than the Passover and the NT Priest is greater than the OT Priest. (Also note, the NT does not refer to them as "priests" but "presbyters" because "priest" then was a specific word meaning the Jewish priesthood which continued on. As Christianity & Judaism separated, the Christians did start referring to their "presbyters" as priests.)

Hope this is helpful.

Jared said...


Thanks for your reply as it was certainly helpful. I wasn't sure if you were making an exegetical blunder or not. As I was reading your response I was pondering the impications of such "everlasting ordinances". I mean, the fact that the Lord ordained such things to be everlasting, in my estimation, manifests and reveals a certain meaning that goes beyond the immediate stipulation. In other words, it seems that God had more in mind in the ordinance than it merely being followed only by the OT congregation. Sure, it was an ordinance which resulted in immediate blessing or cursing whether or not they followed it, but the principle foundation of the doctrine is what seems to be important, because there was nothing particularly special about Aarons blood line, but only that it was a shadow revealing God's overarching purposes behind the ordinance. That is, God is to be regarded as holy, and he does not leave his people without the imperative of a guiding and ruling authority whose trust it is to bring about the unity and holiness of his people as they regard him as holy. How does one practically regard God as Holy without such a liturgical stipulation? I think it is impossible. Without it we make like Nadab and Abihu who played with false fire and were consumed. How much more will we be consumed when we play with the things of God which are to be sactified, such as assuming our own authority and being priests unto ourselves and over others when we are not authorized to do so. I do believe we are playing with such false fire when we do such things.

Again, thanks for you clearing that up.

In Christ, Jared

P.S. I am starting my own blog and I want to know if you can give me any guiding pointers, or give me a lead to somewhere I can find some. I am a raised catholic, converted anti-catholic, then re-vonverted Catholic, so I want to contribute to the dialouge between Catholics and protestants and defend the Catholic Faith as I see that there is a great need.

Tim A. Troutman said...

Jared, I guess you mean pointers about blogging? I guess would say - be as irenic as possible (something Im not usually good at) and develop relationships.

I'm glad that you're starting your own blog. Let me know when you get some material up and I'll link to it.