Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Priesthood in England - Part 2

Alice C. Linsley

In Part 1 we considered the Anglican, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox accounts of how Christianity came to England. The information provided in Part 1 was taken from official websites of each of these branches of the catholic Faith. 

The one point on which all three accounts agree is that Augustine was the official representative of Rome and was based in Canterbury. As Britain was part of the Roman Empire, it is not surprising that the Roman Catholic narrative should predominate. That narrative has dominated the conversation for so long that the deficiencies of the account are rarely questioned.

These standing stones at Gezer date to around 400 years before the time of Abraham.
Photo: Dennis Cole

None of the narratives explore the evidence of a ruler-priest caste in the British Isles before the Roman Period. These priests served as prophets, scribes, smiths, stone masons, and physicians. They performed circumcisions, a practice that persisted among the royal families of Anglo-Celtic heritage. They offered sacrifices and prayers at sacred shrines, performed ceremonies at circles of standing stones, and they were ordained by ruler-priests in a succession extending back well before the time of Abraham. 

The point of origin of the Hebrew ruler-priest caste is the Nile Valley long before the time of Abraham. That caste has a moiety system, meaning that it was organized into two ritual groups, the Horite Hebrew and the Sethite Hebrew. Both groups built and maintained shrine cities along the Nile. The oldest known site of Horite Hebrew worship is at Nekhen (4000 BC). 

The Nile River was called the Ar and persons with Nilotic ancestry often have names with the Ar prefix. The Ar prefix means "venerable" and applies to rulers, many of whom built their palaces, temples, and treasuries at fortified rock shelters. Indeed, the AR is found in the Irish word Ard Mhacha (Armagh) which was a ceremonial high place. The Ar reference is found in the names of many historical persons, including the Edomite ruler Arêtes, Ar-Shem, Arsames, Artix, Araxes, Artaxerxes, Araunah (Jebusite ruler), Joseph of Arimathea, King Arwium (of Kish), King Arthur, King Arviragus, and King Arishen, a Horite Hebrew ruler whose territory was in the central Zagros. 

It is evident that the Ar peoples were highly skilled in the construction of stone tombs and monuments. These were shrine centers attended by priests and were circular with large perimeter stones such as those found at Stonehenge in England, Gezer in Israel, Metsamor in Armenia, and Göbekli Tepe in Turkey (shown below).

The prefix Ar is also found in place names such as Armenia, Arles, Arba, Aram, Arvan, and Arvad. The Arvadites and Arkites are mentioned in Genesis 10:15-18. They are the peoples of Sidon and Het/Heth. They dispersed to the northeast. Some of their Mesopotamian kin are called "Arameans" in the Bible.

Continuity Between the Priesthood of old and the Priesthood of the Church

Some of the Hebrew in Britain would have been living in expectation of the Messiah and would have heard about Jesus' death and resurrection from Jewish kin and Jews with whom they did business. Men like Joseph of Arimathea would have had opportunities to plant a Christian presence among their fellow Jews. As a member of the Sanhedrin, Joseph was qualified to perform ordinations.

In researching how Jewish priests were ordained in the time of Jesus Christ, I found that the rule set down by the Sanhedrin required three ruler-priests to give consent, but only one was required to be physically present for the laying on of hands. The other two could give consent in writing.

This suggests that the priesthood among the natives of Britain has a longer history than has been generally recognized. According to Gildas's De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae there were already Christians living in Britain in 46 AD. The presence of Christians in Roman Britain predates the episcopacy of Evodius of Antioch (53–69 A.D.) and the episcopacy of James of Jerusalem (d. 69 A.D.), and the episcopacy of Linus of Rome (64-79 A.D.).

Members of the Sanhedrin served under the presidency of the high priest much as priests today serve under the presidency of their bishop. The high priest bore the title nasi (ruler, king, prince) and retained this title 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. Note the continuity of the tradition concerning the ordination of priests!

The doctrine of Apostolic Succession received from Rome remains problematic since none of the Apostles were priests, as far as we know. Apostolic succession addresses who has authority over the flock, but it does not shed light on the continuity of the priesthood between the Old order and New order. In fact, the best scholars of the Roman Catholic Church have been unable to demonstrate unbroken succession from Jesus to the priesthood of the Church. There is no documentation tracing the chain of consecration from before the Second Century. 

The implications of the priesthood being introduced into England by Messianic Jewish priests are why many will not even consider this angle. My concern is the problem of discontinuity when I do not see that in the Scriptures, or in the immutable way God works. I also suspect that there is more continuity between the priesthood of old and the priesthood of the Church in areas of the world claimed by Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism since Messianic priests had dispersed into those areas even before the time of the Incarnation. However, those areas are not the focus of this exploration.

When we come to ancient Britain, we find a priest among Jesus' followers who was qualified to ordain according to the Sanhedrin rule: Joseph of Arimathea. After we remove the embellishments of the Middle Ages we are left with this picture: Joseph was in southern Britain where he consulted as a mining expert. He is said to have visited the Ding Dong mine in Cornwall. (Lodes from that mine were worked well before the time of Abraham.) Mining experts also excavated cave tombs such as the one Joseph provided for our Lord’s repose. It is likely that Joseph saw the need for priests among the Messiah’s followers in Britain and that he ordained a few with the consent of two other members of the Sanhedrin. The two most likely are Nicodemus and James the Just, the first bishop of Jerusalem. If this is so, the priesthood in England clearly predates the papacy of Linus which began in A.D. 64.

The empowering of the Apostles to proclaim the Gospel, to plant churches, and to act as authorities in defense of the Faith cannot be understood as ordination to the priesthood. This is the most logical explanation for why there is no documentation of the chain of succession during the earliest days of the Church. There is documentation tracing the chain of consecration from the early Second 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 and presbyteroi. 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".

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.” (INTERNATIONAL THEOLOGICAL COMMISSION, Catholic Teaching on Apostolic Succession, 1973)

Rome is in error when it claims to have brought Christianity to Roman Britain and that there was no Christian priesthood in Britain prior to Augustine. Father Louis R. Tarsitano expressed the truth when he wrote: ... it is a simple error of fact to claim that the Anglican Church “began” in the Reformation, or even with the late 6th century mission of St. Augustine to evangelize the newly arrived Anglo-Saxon pagans. The bishops of a five-centuries-old Christian Church met Augustine on the beach. (Of Forms and the Anglican Way)

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