Why Priests?: A Failed Tradition

Why Priests?: A Failed Tradition

2.9 18
by Garry Wills
     
 

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New York Times–bestselling author Garry Wills provides a provocative analysis of the theological and historical basis for the priesthood

In a riveting and provocative tour de force from the author of What Jesus Meant, Pulitzer Prize winner Garry Wills poses the challenging question: Why did the priesthood develop in a religion that

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Overview

New York Times–bestselling author Garry Wills provides a provocative analysis of the theological and historical basis for the priesthood

In a riveting and provocative tour de force from the author of What Jesus Meant, Pulitzer Prize winner Garry Wills poses the challenging question: Why did the priesthood develop in a religion that began without it and, indeed, was opposed to it? Why Priests? argues brilliantly and persuasively for a radical re-envisioning of the role of the church as the Body of Christ and for a new and better understanding of the very basis of  Christian belief. As Wills emphasizes, the stakes for the writer and the church are high, for without the priesthood there would be no belief in an apostolic succession, the real presence in the Eucharist, the sacrificial interpretation of the Mass, and the ransom theory of redemption. This superb study of the origins of the priesthood stands as Wills’s towering achievement and will be of interest to all inquiring minds, believers and non-believers alike.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

Praise for Why Priests? by Garry Wills:
 
“Wills draws on his expertise in classical languages and his wide reading in ecclesiastical history to argue that the Catholic/Orthodox priesthood has been one long mistake.”
The Washington Post

“Wills sets out to persuade his fellow-Catholics that the priesthood is both unnecessary and un-Christian. . . . Wills is not attempting to break with the Church or to dismantle it. Rather, he wants to assure the faithful that they can get by without priests. ‘If we need fellowship in belief,’ he writes, ‘we have each other.’”
The New Yorker

“How. . .did priests become dominant and then essential in Catholic Christianity? And why, Wills asks, in this provocative [and] historically rich . . . book, does the Vatican continue to sustain such falsehoods? . . . Wills’s demolition of the many myths surrounding the origins of priestly status and function is in itself crucially informative and enlightening.”
The New Republic 

“Pulitzer Prize winner Wills, a venerable voice on church history, thought and practice, provides a stunning critique of the Roman Catholic priesthood.”
Kirkus Reviews (starred)

“Using his linguistic skills and his impressive command of both secondary literature and patristic sources, Wills raises doubts aplenty about ‘the Melchizedek myth,’ and the priestly claims for Jesus in the ‘idiosyncratic’ Epistle to the Hebrews … His final chapter is a model of elegant simplicity, a contrast (intended or not) to the flummery often associated with his own church … ‘There is one God, and Jesus is one of his prophets,’ Wills concludes, ‘and I am one of his millions of followers.’ For those millions, scattered across time and space, that’s an affirmation worthy of celebration.”
The New York Times Book Review

“Do we really need Catholic Priests? Wills, Pulitzer Prize winner and author of Why I Am a Catholic, dares to pose this controversial question[.] . . . One cannot help but be impressed with this brilliant work written by a scholar whose love for the Church compels him to make it better.”
Publishers Weekly

“Clearly a thought-provoker destined to inspire debate.”
Library Journal

“Wills’s . . . position is . . . original and insightful . . . [and his] task is a worthy one, namely to bring the institution of the priesthood under the gaze of historical and theological scrutiny. . . . Through his erudite scholarship and his compelling argumentation Wills has made an important contribution to this field of study and, in the process, has written a book that is thoroughly absorbing and engaging.”
Irish Times
 
“[Wills] combin[es] historical and literary analysis with journalistic observations on the present Catholic church. . . . Why Priests? should be required of all seminarians.”
National Catholic Reporter

 

 

 

Publishers Weekly
Do we really need Catholic priests? Wills, Pulitzer Prize winner and author of Why I Am a Catholic, dares to pose this controversial question during a time when vocations have declined drastically, leaving some Catholics without access to the sacraments. The author draws upon robust biblical scholarship, especially when focusing on the New Testament letter from Paul to the Hebrews, the book used to justify the creation of the priesthood. The goal of this project is not to bash priests—the author counts many priests as friends and even dedicates the book to the late Jesuit cardinal and theologian Henri de Lubac. But his thorough research elucidates the priesthood’s specious origins and reminds Christians that the Church did just fine without priests in its early years, and could again. Unfortunately, the author’s work may not influence many, given the multiple roles the priesthood now fills for the faithful. Catholic priests are more than sacramental machines; they also counsel, help heal relationships, and act as spiritual guides. Still, one cannot help but be impressed with this brilliant work written by a scholar whose love for the Church compels him to make it better. (Feb.)
Library Journal
Award-winning political historian Wills (history, emeritus, Northwestern Univ.; What Jesus Meant) here offers another book that critiques practices of the institutional Roman Catholic Church. With polemic approaches similar to those in his Why I Am a Catholic, Wills questions the need for a priesthood today, supporting his arguments by exploring texts on the Melchizedek priesthood, noting the absence of priests in the early church, analyzing Paul's Letter to the Romans, and presenting scholarly evidence questioning the Eucharist as essential to the priesthood. Though neither a scripture scholar nor a theologian, Wills bolsters 18 chapters with wide-ranging endnote citations to major biblical and theological studies. He pits common sense and reasoning against church attitudes and practices developed historically that affect issues of morality today. Plentiful quotations include Augustus and Thomas Aquinas. VERDICT One admires the author's command of sources and development of arguments pedagogically and engagingly expressed. Their validity will be judged by scholars in the field. Articulate, controversial, provocative, and a very personal examination of leadership in the Catholic Church, this work will be welcomed by Wills fans, and best placed in academic religious collections.—Anna Donnelly, St. John's. Univ., Jamaica, NY
Kirkus Reviews
Pulitzer Prize winner Wills (Verdi's Shakespeare, 2011, etc.), a venerable voice on church history, thought and practice, provides a stunning critique of the Roman Catholic priesthood. Without equivocation, the author argues that the entire institution of the priesthood is based on pure fallacy. Wills' argument is not a Protestant one disguised as Catholic; it is entirely Catholic in its tone and approach, making it all the more compelling to all readers. The author begins by explaining the unparalleled importance of the priesthood in Catholic doctrine, always reminding readers that this importance is based primarily on Eucharistic theology. The miracle of transubstantiation is the linchpin for the power of the priesthood. By systematically deconstructing the Book of Hebrews, Wills begins to undermine the concept of the Roman Catholic priest. Going further, he boldly confronts the idea of Christ's death as "sacrifice," theorizing that the incarnation, not the crucifixion, was the truer source of humanity's atonement. Wills' book is sure to provoke controversy, but his arguments are well-constructed and hard to ignore. While giving due respect to those priests through the ages who served others in humility, he points out that the exalted caste of the priesthood is at best antithetical to Jesus' teachings about community and piety. At worst, it allows sin and corruption to fester. Wills' writing is informed by accessible erudition and marked by subtle sarcasm (such as describing the Host as "a kind of benevolent kryptonite," or discussing the things Anselm "does not allow God to do"). Though many Catholics will flatly reject Wills' arguments on principle, many others will find him to be elucidating doubts they may have already had. A comprehensive, critical exploration of the origin and meaning of priesthood and a formidable volley lobbed at tradition.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780143124399
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
01/28/2014
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
320
Sales rank:
599,480
Product dimensions:
8.90(w) x 5.90(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
"Clearly a thought-provoker destined to inspire debate." —-Library Journal

Meet the Author

Garry Wills has written many acclaimed and bestselling works, including What Jesus Meant, Papal Sin, and Why I Am a Catholic. His books have received many awards, including the Pulitzer Prize. A professor of history emeritus at Northwestern University, Wills is a frequent contributor to The New York Review of Books and other publications.

Brief Biography

Date of Birth:
May 22, 1934
Place of Birth:
Atlanta, GA
Education:
St. Louis University, B.A., 1957; Xavier University, M.A., 1958; Yale University, Ph.D., 1961

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