This concludes a four-part anthropological study on the priesthood in England. Parts 1-3 are linked at the bottom of this page. Readers are encouraged to begin with Part 1 which compares and contrasts the Anglican, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox narratives touching on the early presence of priests in England.
Alice C. Linsley
Anglicans have held to the Roman account of the priesthood as originating with Jesus' Apostles. This idea was beautifully developed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict), who wrote:
Of great importance for our question is the fact that Jesus gave His power to the Apostles in such a way that He made their ministry, as it were, a continuation of His own mission. "He who receives you receives me". He Himself says to the Twelve (Mt 10:40; cf. Lk 10:16; Jn 13:10). Many other texts in which Jesus gives His power to the disciples could here be cited: Mt 9:8: 10:1: 21:23; Mk 0:7: 13:34; Lk 4:6: 9:1; 10:19. The continuity between the mission of Jesus and that of the apostles is once again illustrated with great clarity in the Fourth Gospel: "As the Father has sent me. even so I send you" (20:21: cf. 13:20; 17:18).
The weight of this sentence is evident if we recall what we said above concerning the structure of the mission of Jesus. As we saw, Jesus Himself, sent in the totality of His person, is indeed mission and relation from the Father and to the Father. In this light the great importance of the following parallelism appears: "The Son can do nothing of His own accord" (Jn 5:19-30). "Apart from Me you can do nothing" (Jn 15:5).
This "nothing" which the disciples share with Jesus expresses at one and the same time both the power and the infirmity of the apostolic ministry. By themselves, of their own strength, they can do none of those things which apostles must do. How could they of their own accord say, "I forgive you your sins"? How could they say, "This is my body"? How could they perform the imposition of hands and say, "Receive the Holy Spirit"? None of those things which constitute apostolic activity are done by one's own authority. But this expropriation of their very powers constitutes a mode of communion with Jesus, who is wholly from the Father, with Him all things and nothing without Him. Their own "nihil posse", their own inability to do anything, draws them into a community of mission with Jesus. Such a ministry, in which a man does and gives through a divine communication what he could never do and give on his own is called by the tradition of the Church a "sacrament".
If Church usage calls ordination to the ministry of priesthood a "sacrament", the following is meant: This man is in no way performing functions for which he is highly qualified by his own natural ability nor is he doing the things that please him most and that are most profitable. On the contrary, the one who receives the sacrament is sent to give what he cannot give of his own strength; he is sent to act in the person of another, to be his living instrument. For this reason no human being can declare himself a priest; for this reason, too. no community can promote a person to this ministry by its own decree. (From here.)
Catholics and Anglicans traditionally have traced the origins of the office of bishop to the apostles, who it is believed were endowed with a special charism by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Catholics and Anglicans believe this special charism is transmitted through the unbroken succession of bishops by the laying on of hands (Numbers 27:22-23).
There is a serious historical problem with this view, however. As far as we know, none of the Apostles were priests. Therefore, they were not able to ordain according to the tradition of their Messianic ancestors. The earliest priests of the Church were ordained by believing Hebrew priests like Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus. Acts tells us that there were other priests who believed Jesus Messiah and followed Him. After Pentecost "a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith". It is also likely that some of the seven sons of Sceva, a chief priest, came to faith and they too were qualified to ordain (Acts 19:14). The Magi were of the ruler-priest caste, which was known for skill in sidereal astronomy.
The empowering of his disciples to make other disciples cannot be understood as Jesus ordaining these men to the priesthood, and the charisms of the Holy Spirit are granted to all Christians, not just priests. There is nothing in the account of Pentecost to support the idea that the Apostles were priests. As far as we know, none were priests. This is why there is no scholarly documentation of the chain of succession during the very earliest days of the Church. According to this account, the original bishops were consecrated by one or more of the Apostles. These successor bishops later consecrated more bishops. There is documentation tracing the chain of consecration from the early 2nd century, but before that none. The Vatican acknowledges this fact. The 1973 International Theological Commission on Catholic Teaching on Apostolic Succession states:
The absence of documents makes it difficult to say precisely how these transitions came about. By the end of the first century the situation was that the apostles or their closest helpers or eventually their successors directed the local colleges of episkopoi andpresbyteroi. By the beginning of the second century the figure of a single bishop who is the head of the communities appears very clearly in the letters of Saint Ignatius of Antioch, who further claims that this institution is established "unto the ends of the earth" (Ad Epk. 3, 2).
During the second century and after the Letter of Clement this institution is explicitly acknowledged to carry with it the apostolic succession. Ordination with imposition of hands, already witnessed to in the pastoral Epistles, appears in the process of clarification to be an important step in preserving the apostolic Tradition and guaranteeing succession in the ministry. The documents of the third century (Tradition of Hippolytus) show that this conviction was arrived at peacefully and was considered to be a necessary institution. (From here.)
When the best Church scholars fail to find evidence for something, it is probable that the evidence does not exist. Perhaps it is time to look at this from a different perspective.
The Apostolic Canons of the Eastern Orthodox require that the consecration of a bishop must be accomplished by at least three. The same applies to episcopal consecrations in the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches. There is a precedent for this in history. In the Sanhedrin ordination was conferred by a court of three. There were three ruler-priests among Jesus' disciples and it is through them that the succession of the priesthood continued and has continuity with the priesthood "after the order of Melchizedek." All three of these priests were members of the Sanhedrin, and the law did not require that they all be present to lay on hands. As long as one was present to lay on hands, the other two could consent by messenger or letter.
Only priests belonging to prominent families were members of the Sanhedrin, the Beth Din HaGadol (The Great Court). A "prominent" family was one whose lineages could be traced back to Horite ruler-priests (what Jews call their Horim). These members of the Sanhedrin served under the presidency of the high priest much as priests today served under the presidency of their bishop. The high priest bore the title nasi (ruler, king, prince) and retained this even after the presidency was transferred to other hands. Similarly, in Anglican orders a bishop remains a bishop even after he has stepped down from serving in that office.
As individuals within the Sanhedrin passed away, or became unfit for service, new members were ordained. These ordinations continued in an unbroken succession from Moses to Yehoshua the priest of the two crowns (Zec. 6:11), to the elders of Israel, to the prophets (including Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi), to the Anshei Knesses HaGedolah or "Men of the Great Assembly" founded by Ezra c. 520 B.C., to the sages of the Sanhedrin of the Second Temple (c. 520 - A.D. 70).
The second in charge was a ruler-priest who was called ab bet din (father of the court). The role of the ab bet din appears to have been a combination of the roles of the bishop's chaplain and the chancellor of the diocese who serves as the chief legal consultant to the Bishop. The polity and ordination procedures of the Anglican Church seem to parallel the Sanhedrin. As the ordination (semicha) was abolished in 358 AD, the succession of Christian priests is now the living testimony to Messiah's appearing.
The third century Rabbi Johanan enumerates the qualifications of the members of the Sanhedrin as follows: they must be tall, of imposing appearance, of advanced age, and scholars. They were also required to be adept in the use of foreign languages. When testimony was give to the Sanhedrin in a foreign language, at least two members who spoke that language were required to examine the witness. There was also a third member who understood the language. These three members constituted a minor court of three, who then reported the testimony to the entire Sanhedrin.
Many members of the Sanhedrin did business in foreign parts and visited the local synagogues. Some High Priests lived in exile among foreign peoples (Hyrcanus among the Parthians, for example.)
The only followers of Jesus that are known to be members of the Sanhedrin were James the Just, Nicodemus, and Joseph Ar-Mathea who was called "bouleutēs" (honorable counselor). Joseph was "waiting for the kingdom of God" according to Mark 15:43. He is designated Ar-Mathea, that is, of the ruling line of Matthew. This means he was a kinsman of Jesus. Mary’s parents were Yoachim and Anna. Yoachim was a shepherd-priest and his wife Anna was a daughter of a priest. Hippolytus of Thebes records that Mary’s mother was one of three daughters of a priest named Matthan or Mathea (Matthias).
Apparently, Joseph had business and probably family connections in Cornwall. The Cornish say that he once visited the Ding Dong mining operation. Eusebius of Caesarea (260–340 A.D.) may have been referring to this in Demonstratio Evangelica when he reports that some of Jesus' earliest disciples "have crossed the Ocean and reached the Isles of Britain." Since one qualification of membership in the Sanhedrin was facility of multiple languages, Joseph would have been able to communicate with the people of Britain.
As a ruler-priest Joseph would have known men who were qualified to serve as Christian priests in Britain and he would have been able to arrange for their ordination. Being of advanced age, he would have been older than Jesus and most of His Apostles. This means that any ordinations he may have arranged in Cornwall could have taken place within a few years of Jesus' death and resurrection.
Priestly and Commercial Records
The hieroglyphs were priestly writings, and the symbolism of each glyph or pictograph pertains to the ancient Egyptian cosmology which changed over time. The oldest of these will be found in the Upper Nile and at the oldest Horite shrine in Nekhen. To understand the Sumerian pictographs we have to look at the earlier roots common to both the Nilotic and Sumerian peoples. Here we will find some very ancient lexemes, like V and W; T/X and the solar symbols O and Y. Many of these lexemes appear in the old Dedanite scripts, and in the Oasis North Arabian alphabets like Thamudic, Dumaitic, and Taymanitic. The urheimat of the Canaanite Y is the Nilo-Saharan cattle herding populations. They are among Abraham's ancestors and Messianic expectation appears to have originated among them.
Orly Goldwasser, professor of Egyptology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, argues that the first alphabet, from which all other alphabets developed, was invented by Canaanite miners in the turquoise mines of Serabit el-Khadem in the Sinai peninsula. The pictorial hieroglyphs of the Nile Valley served as the inspiration for this alphabet.
Other ancient writing forms used by merchants for keeping accounts are found along ancient trade routes; the spice routes, the silk routes, the King's Highway from Egypt through Palestine, the ancient tin route from Spain to Ireland, etc. These involve fewer pictographs and more hatch marks that suggest counting or record keeping. Ogham bears resemblance to these earlier commercial scripts. Some of the elements of the commercial scripts are found in Hebrew and in Ainu, scripts which are clearly related.
A comparison of the Ainu (Kata) and Hebrew scripts reveals a connection that is explained by the fact that the earliest scripts were those used by priests in the service of rulers in many regions, and these priest-scribes kept royal accounts. These ancient rulers are the "mighty men of old" mentioned in Genesis. Among them were the "red" rulers associated with Abraham and the Edomites.
The wide dispersion of the Habiru priests and scribes is evident in the study of ancient texts and through the presence of both priestly and commercial scripts worldwide. This dispersion began at least 10,000 years before Jesus Christ and included movement into Asia Minor, Hungary, Spain, and the British Isles.
There is no reason to doubt the historicity of Joseph Ar-Mathea's connection to Cornwall in spite of the dubious legends from the Middle Ages. He had business in Cornwall as a metal tradesman and a mining expert. From the time of the earliest pharaohs mining and tomb construction were the work of ruler-priests. Joseph was likely engaged in both, even as he was responsible for the tomb where the Lord Jesus was laid to rest. As a high ranking priest of the Sanhedrin, he had authority to ordain priests. As a follower of Jesus Messiah, he is the key to understanding the continuity between the priesthood attached to the promises made to Abraham and his Habiru ancestors and the priesthood of the Church.
Related reading: The Priesthood in England - Part 1; The Priesthood in England - Part 2; The Priesthood in England - Part 3; Why Nekhen is Anthropologically Significant; Luther Was Wrong About the Priesthood; Solving the Ainu Mystery; The Kushite-Kushan Connection; A Kindling of Ancient Memory; Red and Black Smiths; E.J. Bicknell on Anglican Orders (1919)