Dr Eugene Stockton...

"Priest" by Eugene Stockton Part 2

The Catholic Church throughout the world faces many challenges today. In First World countries where the majority of the readership of Catholica are located one of the greatest challenges is in finding priests and pastors who might provide leadership and stem the massive exit out of the pews. In Australia now the non-participation rate has slipped to a tad below 90% and if the present rate of decline continues by the next official count in 2016 the participation rate will be in single figures. Back in 1982, when Fr Eugene Stockton, wrote this essay the national participation rate in Australia was still around 27 or 28%. As reported on our forum yesterday, new information coming to hand suggests that in some Australian dioceses the bishops are now reliant on a massive influx of imported priests from third world and developing nations. In some dioceses now 70% of the priests are not local but imported from elsewhere. What will eventually happen if things continue on the way they have been going? Contrast what Fr Eugene writes with a blog post a reader sent us from a young Sydney seminarian posted on Monday. We provide a link to that blog post on our own forum HERE.

Towards a continuing renewal of the priesthood: Part 2

by Dr Eugene Stockton

Series Navigation: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3


R. E. Brown in Priest and Bishop: Biblical Reflections notes that the adaptability of the priesthood in the Old Testament "prepares us for much adaptation in the development and history of the Christian priesthood". Priest & Bishop: Biblical Reflections by Raymond E BrownIn discussing the New Testament data, he observes there is no evidence of sacerdotium, "sacrificing priesthood", strictly so called (except as applied to Christ in Hebrews), nor of a concept of the Eucharist as a sacrifice, by which a celebrant could be termed sacerdos. (This is arguable in view of the way 1 Cor. 10:14-22 compares the Eucharist with Jewish and pagan sacrifice — but it could be said to be more than sacrifice, as Calvary was more than a sacrifice — and to that extent a celebrant is more than a sacerdos). This development of the Christian priesthood had to wait till the turn of the century, as revealed in the Didache and the letters of Clement of Rome, and when the distinctive Christian priesthood did emerge "it represented more than the heritage of presiding at the Eucharist . . . the combination or distillation of several distinct roles and special ministries in the New Testament Church." He lists four of these ministries:

  1. The disciple of Jesus (the 12): by special vocation of intimacy with the master, to witness Christ to the Christian community, as it in turn witnesses to the world
  2. The apostle (of whom Paul is the paradigm): to serve Jesus and others (e.g. by ordinary work, collecting money, prayer, suffering, correction, etc.)
  3. The presbyter-bishop (as in the late New Testament times, about 80 A.D.): a residential institutional pastorate, succeeding to that of the apostolate, including the tasks of correcting, censoring, caring for community finances, shepherd [Acts 20:28-9, 1 Pet. 5:2-4] and teacher
  4. The president at the Eucharist: there is no evidence who had this right, but presumably the right existed in the community, which could designate the president in diverse ways. Later, prophets (Didache) (and perhaps confessors, according to the Apostolic Tradition) were known to preside.

Brown concludes to "the legitimacy of pluralism in priestly work and temperament" but also "a common denominator in all the New Testament roles I have described ... the task of bearing witness to Jesus" (the altar Christus of "an older piety").


Reverting now to the idea of continuity between the Old Testament and New Testament, we can begin by noting that in the person of Christ were drawn together the principal offices of the Old Covenant: Priest [Heb.], Prophet [especially Lk. and Jn.], King [Mt. 2:2; Jn. 1:49; 12:13; and under the image of Shepherd, Jn. 10:11; Heb. 13:20; 1 Pet. 2:25]. From Christ these offices were redistributed in his Mystical Body under many forms.

Analysing this distribution, it is important to distinguish the institutional and the charismatic. To carry the body analogy further, one can distinguish in the human body several organic systems e.g. skeleton (to extend the body physically), blood circulation (to distribute fluid, oxygen, nourishment), nervous system (for communication, activation of organs) — these systems do not clash, but are co-extensive and complementary. Similarly in the Body of Christ are two organic systems, which are co-extensive and complementary:

  1. Institutional, hierarchical, visible authority. The Apostles chosen by Christ were recognised as the pillars of the Church [Gal. 2:9], but there was no succession in the office as such. Later, Deacons were chosen and "ordained" incontestably [Acts 6:5-6], and later still presbyter-bishops [1 Tim. 5:22; Tit. 1:5; perhaps 1 Tim. 4:14; 2 Tim. 1:6]. From these, as we saw, developed the hierarchical offices as we know them in the Church now. Characteristic of such offices are recognised requisites [1 Tim. 3; Tit. 1:5-9], approved form of designation (see above) and a method of perpetuation (cf. the hereditary principle in the Old Testament) — in a word there could be no doubt as to who was and who was not the office-holder (i.e. incontestable office).
  2. Charismatic. So described are vital activities of the Body of Christ (in fact manifestations of the activity of each Divine Person [1 Cor. 12:4-6]) exercised in a specialised way by individuals for the good of the whole [I Cor. 12:7 ff]. Paul gives three lists of charismata, which, differing one from another, must be seen as sample, rather than exhaustive, lists. I Cor. 12:8-10 lists them as gifts, of which some are directed to prayer and others to ministry (e.g. utterance of wisdom and of knowledge, healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment of spirits). The lists of 1 Cor. 12:28-30 (a) and Eph. 4:11 (b) describe the bearers of gifts: a) Apostles, Prophets, teachers, miracle workers, healers, helpers, administrators, as well as those with prayer gifts, b) Apostles, Prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers.

Undoubtedly hierarchs could also be charismatics, e.g. the deacons Stephen [Acts 6:8] and Philip [Acts 8:5-7, 13], Timothy, whose gift could wax and wane [1 Tim. 4:14; 2 Tim. 1:6], the "pastors and teachers" of Ephes. 4:11 (suggested by Brown to describe the presbyter-bishops). But there is no evidence that charismata were automatic to hierarchical office. Brown observes that the character traits required of presbyter-bishops (and deacons) in the Pastorals were "highly institutional ... staid ... pedestrian" and hardly descriptive of a charismatic person or role. Indeed from the example of Old Testament prophets and of recognisable charismatics of New Testament, one must conclude that the occurrence of charismata was not predictable, and that their more obvious quality was their "giftidness". Further the variation in the lists may suggest that they were not well-defined roles, as were the hierarchically distributed and publicly verifiable offices.

As authority is an institutional function, leadership is charismatic. The New Testament Church displayed varieties of leadership, and in fact each ministry charism is an aspect of leadership, ultimately that of Christ. But following the teaching and example of Christ [Mt. 20:25-28; Jn. 13:12-16; Phil. 2:5-11], the Christian ideal of leadership is not to "lord it over them" after the manner of worldly rulers, but to "serve", even to the emptying out of prestige and life. Hence leadership charisms are rightly equated with ministry (i.e. service) charisms [1 Cor. 12:5].

Series Navigation: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Eugene Stockton. Submitted to Catholica 06 Sep 2013.
This essay was originally published in 1982 as a chapter in his book,
"Out of Our Treasures, New Things & Old: Biblical Reflections for Catholics Today",
Chevalier Press. (Now out of print.)

“Following the teaching and example of Christ, the Christian ideal of leadership is not to "lord it over them" after the manner of worldly rulers, but to "serve", even to the emptying out of prestige and life. Hence leadership charisms are rightly equated with ministry (i.e. service) charisms.” ...Eugene Stockton

Eugene StocktonFather Eugene Stockton has served as a parish priest and priest assistant to the Aboriginal Catholic Ministry (Parramatta Diocese). He has gained doctorates in theology and philosophy (Sydney) and a licentiate in sacred scripture (Rome). Lecturing for many years in the Catholic seminaries at Springwood and Manly, he has written widely on theology, spirituality, scripture, archaeology, anthropology and social issues.

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©2013Eugene Stockton

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