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Why Priests?: A Failed Tradition

Why Priests?: A Failed Tradition

2.9 18
by Garry Wills, Michael Prichard (Narrated by)

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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


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.

Editorial Reviews

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

Product Details

Tantor Media, Inc.
Publication date:
Edition description:
Library - Unabridged CD
Product dimensions:
6.50(w) x 6.80(h) x 1.00(d)

What People are Saying About This

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

Meet the Author

Garry Wills is an adjunct professor and cultural historian in the Department of History at Northwestern Universityand the author of Lincoln at Gettysburg, for which he won a Pulitzer Prize.

Michael Prichard has recorded well over five hundred audiobooks and was named one of SmartMoney magazine's Top Ten Golden Voices. His numerous awards and accolades include an Audie Award and several AudioFile Earphones Awards.

Brief Biography

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

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Why Priests?: A Failed Tradition 2.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 18 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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,
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Habakkuk More than 1 year ago
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
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
beenblessedx5 More than 1 year ago
He really needs to study the faith he professes to know.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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...
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The author supports every argument with an of ease of greatness, belonging to both writer and scholar. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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
Papabile More than 1 year ago
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.