Friday, October 26, 2012

When was Jesus ordained a priest?

The Infant Priest - Source: NLM [here]

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Hebrews 5:1-6
No one takes this honor upon himself but only when called by God, just as Aaron was. In the same way, it was not Christ who glorified himself in becoming high priest.
While St. Paul, in his Letter to the Hebrews, generally distinguishes our Savior from Aaron (showing that the priesthood of Christ is greater than that of Aaron), in this place the Apostle emphasizes this point of similarity between the Levitical priesthood and the eternal priesthood of Jesus.
Namely, St. Paul tells us that, just as Aaron was called and ordained a priest, so too was our Lord. For no man can be a high priest of himself, but only when he is so called by God.
When, we ask, was Jesus called and ordained to the priesthood? When did he become a priest?

Christ is a priest as man
First, we must recognize that the Eternal Word was not always a high priest. Indeed, for every high priest taken from among men, is ordained for men in the things that appertain to God (Hebrews 5:1), therefore our High Priest must be truly man in order to be a priest. Thus, the Son of God was not always a priest, for he is not a priest by virtue of his divinity. Rather, he is a priest insofar as he is man.
The Apostle confirms this truth – that the Eternal Word was not always a high priest – when he writes, So Christ did not glorify himself, that he might be made a high priest (Hebrews 5:5). If indeed he “became” and “was made” a high priest, this means that he was not always high priest. However, all that Jesus is according to his divinity (e.g. omniscient and omnipresent) he always was and always will be. Therefore, it is clear that he is not a priest according to his divinity.
Jesus is a priest precisely as man, for the priest stands before God in behalf of men. But, as God, our Lord does not pray or intercede, rather he receives and answers prayers and intercessions. However, as man, Jesus does indeed pray in our behalf – for he is our High Priest by virtue of his humanity.
Nevertheless, to be very clear, since there is only one Word and only one Jesus, we must admit that God is our High Priest, insofar as Jesus is our High Priest. Not that he is our High Priest by virtue of the Godhead, but rather by virtue of his human nature which is hypostatically unity to the divinity. Therefore, a divine Person (God the Son) is our Priest, but only according to his human nature.
When our Savior came into the world
Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith: Sacrifice and oblation thou wouldest not: but a body thou has fitted to me (Hebrews 10:5).
The Lord is a priest by virtue of his humanity, and this human nature he received upon his conception of the Virgin Mary. Thus, we must hold that our Savior was ordained a priest the moment that he was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit.
So too it is particularly to the power of the Holy Spirit that the ordination of all men to the priesthood of Christ is attributed (through the laying on of hands and prayer of ordination). As it was the Triune God (and the Holy Spirit in particular) who formed a body for the Savior, so to must we say that this same God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) ordained Jesus a priest in the very moment of his conception.
Nor may we think that our Lord did not become a priest until later in his life – else we would be forced to assert that his conception did not win us salvation. Further, at what other point might we rightly consider our Jesus to have become a priest? Only an adoptionist heretic would say this occurred during the baptism in the Jordan.
Therefore, we rightly conclude that our Savior was a priest from the moment he was conceived in the womb of his Mother.
Jesus offered prayers while yet in the womb
That our Savior was a priest even from before his birth should be clear. What we now assert is that our Lord knew and loved each and every one of us from the first moment he was conceived, and that he prayed for us and offered himself for us as our High Priest.
Our Savior, in his humanity (for it is by his humanity that he is our Priest) knew all created realities by virtue of the beatific vision. Even as a tiny embryonic child, our Lord saw all things in God (just as the saints know all things in God). This is taught by the Church:
The knowledge and love of our Divine Redeemer, of which we were the object from the first moment of His Incarnation, exceed all the human intellect can hope to grasp. For hardly was He conceived in the womb of the Mother of God, when He began to enjoy the beatific vision, and in that vision all the members of His Mystical Body were continually and unceasingly present to Him, and He embraced them with His redeeming love. (Pius XII, Mystici Corporis 75)
By a wondrous working of grace, our Lord was a priest as an infant (even as an unborn child)! From before his birth, our Savior had the use of reason and of will – and he exercised his priestly office perfectly, praying in our behalf and offering true and perfect worship to God.
For a further consideration of the fact that our Lord was rational from the moment of his conception, please read our earlier article [here].


STR said...

Since when did St Paul write the Epistle to the Hebrews? If you've got proof, I hope you're publishing it in a top class journal...

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

I can tell that you think you are being real clever with that comment.
"Since when?" Since the very earliest days of the Church -- even though there was some debate, almost every saint has held pauline authorship at some level (even if it may have been transmitted through Luke or Barnabas).

This was the prominent teaching in every seminary until very recently.
Two years ago, when I received an advanced degree from a pontifical university in Rome, I argued that Hebrews was written by St. Paul -- and I passed with the highest marks.

But what really intrigues me is that these arrogant modern scholars don't even take the time to look at the history of the debate (especially in the early scholastic period), but instead dismiss all the great theologians that have come before.

In this way, modern(ist) scholars are like foolish school children who think that, just because they close their eyes, the rest of the world ceases to impact them.

Clinton R. said...


I second your comment on the authorship of Letter to the Hebrews by St. Paul. It is evidence of how modernists and Biblical "scholars" love to thumb their noses at the Church Fathers and tradition. While one can make an argument that Letter to the Hebrews was written by a disciple of St. Paul, it is foolish and arrogant to state that it absolutely was not written by St. Paul. But as you imply, these modernists would be unable to sell books otherwise. Thank you Father for this post. God Bless!

STR said...

Dear Fr, congratulations on your degree.

My question still stands. The attribution of the Epistle to the Hebrews as a Pauline text has always been controversial, even in the patristic period and later on among the scholastics. The question has harassed scholars for a very long time, so how does honest engagement with the available evidence betoken any of the predictably disrespectful labels you've seen fit to attach to me here?

The question was a simple one. If you can prove in a definitive way that the Epistle to the Hebrews was written solely by the hand of Paul, then publish it in a mainstream biblical studies journal without any further name-calling and let's see your proof.

Matthew Roth said...

Awesome as usual Fr.
I would argue that it's problematic that the introduction of Hebrews changed during the Mass (and perhaps the Liturgy of the Hours?). In the EF, the introduction acknowledges Pauline does not do so in the OF.

Stomachosus said...

What amazes me is that St. Thomas himself raises and then answers the very objections to Pauline authorship that moderns now make, as if they have discovered some new arguments. All they have done is reassert the old arguments, claim new scholarship, and ignore the rebuttals made centuries ago.

They also seem to ignore magisterial pronouncements on such matters. They simply dismiss them as outdate, not addressing them at all.

It allows for some redaction, etc by others, but requires we affirm Pauline authorship

Marko Ivančičević said...

Thank you for defending the Pauline autorship of Hebrews. I study theology and we have this one proffesor of Biblicum(he's speciality is New Testament) and he almost always speaks of certain events in the Holy Gospels as not done or not said by Jesus Himself but added later by the Evangelists(if, as he says, the Gospels are written by them at all - he is sure only about Luke).
The same goes for Hebrews. He agrees with certain biblical "scholar" that says things like this:"If we are going to discuss the Epistle of st. Paul to the Hebrews, first we have to dismiss even the notion that it is an epistle at all as well as the notion of Pauline autorship.".

This professor uses books from Wilfrid John Harrington O.P. Is he a good author?

Simeon said...


How can Jesus be ordained to the priesthood even before he was baptized ? This does not make sense if this what your are saying ? Please clarifiy. Thansk.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@STR, I don't need to publish an article in a journal to simply call the letter by the name it has been called for 2,000 years.
And no one ever said that calling the letter "St. Paul's letter" necessitated that it be written solely by his hand ... what a ridiculous idea that is!!!

Why on earth would you take such a small point from this article and make that the issue? Very silly indeed.
Quite typical of our age though, miss the theological richness and instead squabble like children.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Your question illustrates the point well!

You see, only a heretic who held that Jesus' baptism by John was the moment that he received the Holy Spirit would be able to think that he was not a priest from his conception.

However, the baptism by John was not really the moment our Savior was sanctified ... rather, in being baptized, the Lord sanctifies the waters of baptism.
He is not blessed at the baptism, but the waters are blessed by him.

Thus, his baptism is quite diverse from ours, since he was already perfectly holy and truly a priest from the moment of his conception.

Hope that clarifies! +

Anonymous said...

How does this square with Jesus emptying himself, not deeming equality with God something to be grasped? In his humanity, he did not know the hour nor the day, nor who would sit at his right hand. So surely, even though in his divinity he is omniscient, Jesus would not know these things in his humanity until he received them from God in a knowledge which unfolded over time? Since priests offer sacrifice, wouldn't this role be established at the time of passover or his passion?

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Please use a pseudonym.

The thoughts you express (i.e. that Jesus did not know the day and the hour) have been condemned by St. Gregory the Great as a heresy.

Indeed, from the first moment, Jesus knew everything.

see the earlier articles I've written on this topic ... search for "human knowledge" in the left side bar.

Anonymous said...

Fr. Ryan, we were always taught that St. Paul was the author of the Letter to the Hebrews. Only in the early seventies did we begin to hear otherwise.

I pray for you every day. Remember me too, please!


Anne said...

Have removed the anon... sorry! But how can Jesus not knowing the hour have been condemned a heresy when they are Jesus own words? Mk 13:32 - "no-one knows the day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the father". How can Jesus have known everything in his humanity as a zygote, who did not have brainwaves? Surely, all aspects of the humanity of Christ had to evolve over time? He was like us in all things but sin...

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

You are asking excellent questions!!!
I can't respond right now ... but take a look at these articles for further clarification.

This one shows that he was still fully human:

This one is about why he had to know everything:

This is about the day and hour:

And this is about how he knew all in the womb:

God's blessings to you! +

Stomachosus said...

Anne, that verse about Christ emptying Himself is translated in an interpretative fashion in most modern translations. If you look at the Greek it reads very different.

who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, (RSV)

Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. (NAB)

qui cum in forma Dei esset non rapinam arbitratus est esse se aequalem Deo (Vulgata Clementina et Nova Vulgata) This can be translated two ways " Who although he was in the form of God did not think it robbery to be equal to God" in which case the sense of the although must be against the 7th verse, not the "did not think" cause otherwise it would make no sense or " Who since he was in the form of God did not think it robbery to be equal to God"

Who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God (DR)

Note the Douai drops any sense of although or though. let us see the Greek

ὃς ἐν μορφῇ θεοῦ ὑπάρχων οὐχ ἁρπαγμὸν ἡγήσατο τὸ εἶναι ἴσα θεῷ,

Literally (in word order) "Who in the form of God subsisting did not robbery hold the being equal to God"

huparchos, original means to be under a leader, but can simply mean is. Then it has the sense of permanent versus temporary. A similar meaning and etymology to subsistens in Latin (standing under) which then means existing simply.

harpagmov means either robbery or rape (think rapine). Therefore the Vulgate rapinam, with the same meanings, is perfect as can be for it. Robbery best in English as it implies both force and taking. Hegesato originally meant to take command, but post Homer it means to regard, hold, consider something to be. THERE IS NO THOUGH or ALTHOUGH in ANY manuscript listed by Nestle Aland, so unless some technical point of Greek idioms brings one out, it is not there.

So, " who subsisting in the form of God, did not hold being equal to God robbery" is a very literal translation of the Greek.

This, in my opinions, gives far greater weight to the more traditional interpretation of this passage, e.g. as by St. Thomas

ut since He was fully divine, how, therefore, could He empty Himself of the divinity? He didn't, since that which He was remained and that which He was not, He assumed. But this [emptying] should be understood according to the assumption of that which He did not have, and not according to an assumption of that which He had. For just as He descended from heaven, not because he ceased to be in heaven, but since He began to exist in a new way on earth, thus also He emptied Himself, not by putting off the divine nature, but by assuming a human nature. And beautifullly does he say "he emptied" For the empty is opposed to the full. But the divine nature is exceeding full, since there there is every perfection of goodness. Exodus 33:19. "I shall show unto thee every good thing." But human nature and life is not full, but in potential to being filled, since it was made as if a blank tablet (tabula rasa). Therefore, human nature is empty. He therefore empties Himself, since He assumed a human nature. (St. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Phillipians)

I hope that wasn't too long

Marko Ivančičević said...

Could you please adress my already posted question about W. J. Harrington? Is he a good author?

Anne said...

Some helpful articles, thank you. So, then, if Jesus was at all times fully omniscient, why does Pius XII say "from his moment of conception he began to behold the beatific vision"? Began how?

Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

Dear Father. Kudos on your responses STR. The attacks on Biblical inerrancy oft times begin with the question of authorship of the various books - Hey, the Catholic Church was wrong when it told us that Paul wrote Hebrews so where else was it wrong?

These are indeed strange days when men like STR seek to pick nits rather than respond to your excellent presentation which I have never even thought to ask my own self.

Keep going, Father. unless you are angering someone you are prolly not on the hard and narrow way :)

Anonymous said...

Fr. one question if you don't mind.

I am convinced Christ was ordained priest at conception. 'A body Thou has prepared for Me.' Your arguments make sense.

However, since Hebrews makes a big point to emphasize that this priest is high above all the heavens and has entered into the holy of holies by His self-offering, is there an argument that, while His ordination occurred at conception, nevertheless His priestly ministry began at his crucifixion, or resurrection, or even His ascension?

What in Hebrews would support the idea that His priestly ministry began at conception?

I can pray for someone; that doesn't make me a priest. So, Christ also could pray for us without yet being our great High Priest.

Just a thought. What do you think?


Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Yan, Actually, you do have to be a priest to offer prayers which are acceptable to God ... this is the priesthood of the baptized.
Christ's priesthood is perfect and is the source of both the common priesthood of all the faithful and of the ordained priesthood of sacred ministers.

Hope that helps! +

Anonymous said...

Hi Fr.,

Yes that helps. I suppose it implies that the prayers of non-Christians are not normatively acceptable to God, though, which I think is a hard theological sell from an ecumenical standpoint. It also creates a number of questions for me. Sorry about that:

1] Did Mary and John the Baptist partake of this priesthood? A 'yes' answer would seem to make the most sense; and since they were cleansed respectively a] at conception in Mary's case and b] in the womb in JTB's case, they would not need to be baptized. But,

2] Was Mary baptized? And,

3] Why the statement, 'I have need to be baptized by you,' by JTB?


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