Why Priests?: A Failed Tradition

( 20 )

Overview

In his most provocative book yet, Pulitzer Prize­–winner Garry Wills asks the radical question: Why do we need priests?

Bestselling author of Papal Sin and Why I Am a Catholic, Garry Wills spent five years as a young man at a Jesuit seminary and nearly became a priest himself. But after a lifetime of study and reflection, he now poses some challenging questions: Why do we need priests at all? Why did the priesthood arise in a religion that began without it and opposed it? Would ...

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Overview

In his most provocative book yet, Pulitzer Prize­–winner Garry Wills asks the radical question: Why do we need priests?

Bestselling author of Papal Sin and Why I Am a Catholic, Garry Wills spent five years as a young man at a Jesuit seminary and nearly became a priest himself. But after a lifetime of study and reflection, he now poses some challenging questions: Why do we need priests at all? Why did the priesthood arise in a religion that began without it and opposed it? Would Christianity be stronger without the priesthood, as it was at its outset?

Meticulously researched, persuasively argued, and certain to spark debate, Why Priests? asserts that the anonymous Letter to Hebrews, a late addition to the New Testament canon, helped inject the priesthood into a Christianity where it did not exist, along with such concomitants as belief in an apostolic succession, the real presence in the Eucharist, the sacrificial interpretation of the Mass, and the ransom theory of redemption. But Wills does not expect the priesthood to fade entirely away. He just reminds us that Christianity did without it in the time of Peter and Paul with notable success.

Wills concludes with a powerful statement of his own beliefs in a book that will appeal to believers and nonbelievers alike and stand for years to come as a towering achievement.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

Pultizer Prize-winning author Garry Wills once studied to become a priest himself, but in this audacious book, the man regarded by many as one of the leading Catholic intellectuals of the past half century voices doubt that the usefulness of this long tradition. Wills argues that priesthood, which didn't exist in the days of Saint Peter and Paul, gained its authority because of the Letter to Hebrews, an anonymous, late addition to the New Testament. With that bequeath also came the belief in apostolic succession, the sacrificial interpretation of the Mass, the real presence in the Eucharist, and the ransom theory of redemption. To Wills, the priesthood has been, at best, a very mixed blessing. In fact, he proposes, but doesn't fully expect, its withering away. A provocative critique; certain to be prominently reviewed and discussed.

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
Library Journal
Pulitzer Prize winner Wills spent five years at a Jesuit seminary and nearly became a priest, so the provocative questions he raises in his latest book are grounded in serious study. Wills points out that Christianity initially had no priests and in fact opposed the very idea; the anonymous Letter to the Hebrews, added late to the New Testament canon, brought in the priesthood and other now-key concepts, e.g., the real presence in the Eucharist. So why do we need priests? Even as he acknowledges that the priesthood won't wither and die, Wills ponders that question. Clearly a thought-provoker destined to inspire debate.
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.
From the Publisher
"Clearly a thought-provoker destined to inspire debate." —-Library Journal
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780670024872
  • Publisher: Viking Adult
  • Publication date: 2/12/2013
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 963,057
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.12 (h) x 1.08 (d)

Meet the Author

Garry Wills

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. He lives in Evanston, Illinois.

Biography

Born in Atlanta in 1934 and raised in the Midwest, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and distinguished religion writer Garry Wills entered the Jesuit seminary after high school graduation, but left after six years of training. He received a B.A. from St. Louis University (1957), an M.A. from Xavier University of Cincinnati (1958), and his Ph.D. in classics from Yale (1961).

After graduating from Xavier, Wills was hired to work as the drama critic for National Review magazine, where he became a close personal friend and protégé of founding editor William F. Buckley. But as the winds of change blew across the 1960s, Wills got caught up in the cross-currents. A staunch Catholic anti-Communist in his youth, he began to drift away from political conservatism, galvanized by the civil rights movement and the Vietnam debate. He parted ways with National Review and began writing for more liberal-leaning publications like Esquire and the New York Review of Books, a defection that left him slightly estranged from Buckley for many years. (They reconciled before Buckley's death in 2008.)

In 1961, while he was still in grad school, Wills's first book, Chesterton: Man and Mask was published. [It was revised and reissued in 2001 with a new author's introduction.] Since then, the prolific Wills has gone on to pen critically acclaimed nonfiction that roams across history, politics, and religion. He expanded one of his Esquire articles into Nixon Agonistes (1970), a probing profile John Leonard said "...reads like a combination of H. L. Mencken, John Locke and Albert Camus." (The book landed Wills on the famous Nixon's Enemies List.) He has also written penetrating studies of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Wayne, and Saint Paul; he has won two National Book Critics Circle Awards; and his 1992 book Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words That Remade America was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction.

Something of a rara avis, Wills is a Catholic intellectual who has produced thoughtful, scholarly books on religion in America. His translations of St. Augustine have received glowing reviews, and he has acted both as an outspoken critic of the Church (Papal Sin) and as an ardent advocate for his own faith Why I Am a Catholic). Proof of his accessibility can be found in the fact that several of his religion books have become bestsellers.

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

Customer Reviews

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( 20 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 20 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 15, 2013

    For an author who "seemingly" write from the Roman Cat

    For an author who "seemingly" write from the Roman Catholic perspective, this particular volume of his really "sucks"! It doesn't take much to hear his "let's get back to go" and forget everything that has happened in between. It could have been a good "development-of-doctrine" ... but NOT with his "ass-backwards" presentation and conclusions separate from our Church's practice. Regrettably, the RATING DISTRIBUTION doesn't have a negative number.

    7 out of 50 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 19, 2013

    A badly needed discussion.

    All catholocs should read this with an open mind , mosyt what we have been taught about the catholic church has come from the institutional church, in which we are made to believe all we learn is the true word of God and we may be in a state of sin if we think otherwise, As an 80 year old Catholic, i welcome scholarly disussion such as prposed in this book, I too have known many priest's whohave had a major positive impact onmy life. And i sincerely thank them,

    6 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 9, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    Despite his seminary training Wills has a paucity of knowledge a

    Despite his seminary training Wills has a paucity of knowledge about othodox Cathocism. He as a moral issue with the Church and in this pseudo intellectual vent inflicts his revenge on the Chrch he does not really know

    4 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 7, 2013

    Highly recommended for serious students of ecclesial renewal

    Gary Wills' newest book," Why Priests?", is a work of courage and erudition. While many of the points have begun to be discussed in the past 40 years, he brings them together in a clear and compelling format. This format should be a "jumping off" place for all scholars and hierarchs concerned with Christian survival.
    About 25 years ago, the Jesuit theologian, Bernard Lonergan, stated that what was troubling the Catholic Church was not a crisis of faith, but a crisis of culture. Professor Wills shows how the Church departed from its founding principles under the stress of late Roman Empire and medieval pressures. Since that time it can be shown that the ordinary lay Catholic was not provided with very many facets of spirituality. This ordinary Christian simply attended what had become a clericalized liturgy as an observer and listener.
    Gary Wills has accepted the renewal challenge of Vatican II and laid it at the feet of the present day leaders. Will they accept it?

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 21, 2013

    He really needs to study the faith he professes to know.

    He really needs to study the faith he professes to know.

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 3, 2013

    For theologians and greek language fans only!

    Unless you're a theologian, or in divinity school, or something like that... this is not the book for you. You can't get much drier than this book! He spends too much of the book diving DEEP into the book of Hebrews. I am still reading this, if for nothing else, but just to see when he will get back to his point (or get back to it, as the case may be; frankly, I've forgotten.) He spends an entire section (three chapters) on the book of Hebrews; that is in addion to the 3 of 4 chapters in the previous section. Also be aware that most of the bibical quotes are his own traslation from greek.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 30, 2013

    Why bash religion?

    I am Catholic and proud of it. Dont bash a religion because some people might actually practice it in a different way than you. Everyone is different. Lets just embrace it instead of bashing it people. I love being different! Just a philosophy for the day...

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 8, 2013

    Phony

    Phony

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 20, 2013

    More anti-Catholic junk. A thorough reading of scripture and the

    More anti-Catholic junk. A thorough reading of scripture and the Church Fathers demonstrates the priesthood has existed from the beginning, although it may have been called by a different name. Again, we are assaulted by shoddy scholarship and told it's "the truth". Furthermore, I offended that it's in the "Catholicism" category. Don't waste your time reading this collection of personal bias.

    1 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 29, 2013

    The author supports every argument with an of ease of greatness,

    The author supports every argument with an of ease of greatness, belonging to both writer and scholar. 

    1 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 20, 2013

    Sort of recommended

    Mr. Wills does an excellent historical presentation of priesthood, especially from the Letter to the Hebrews. Overall there appears a mild axe grinding however. I did not feel this in any of his other books. In a way he attacks the clerical culture throughout.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 27, 2013

    Sabariam

    Black hair sky blue eyes skyblue tee shirt skinnyjeans pink hecate jacket. History unknown

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 25, 2013

    Talk about documentation

    Garry Wills always gives you something to chew over. He backs up everything that he puts out there and he challenges you to pour over his ideas and make a decision---do you agree with him or not.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 22, 2013

    Eric and Jenny

    Eric- Black hair short spikey. Icy bluegreen eyes. Is a de.mon and can create any type of swo.rd drom his hands. Is 6'1" and really should not be made angry. Iss 16. Jenny- Eric's sister. Long brown hair and pale eyes. Is an angel and can make any type of weap.on or healing item. Is 5'9" and is very gentle. Iss 15. She looks up to Eric as he is her older brother.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 22, 2013

    Alyssa

    Okay blond hair hazel eyes controls the future nd learning to contol ice. Not single. Always has a lnife in her back pocket nevr will not be there

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 27, 2013

    Amy

    Dirty blonde wavvy hair skinny light tan flexible specialty is throwing knives black tank top army cargo pants single tough and a fighter power to control fire

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 10, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted May 6, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted February 17, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

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