Friday, January 23, 2015

The Priesthood in England - Conclusion

This concludes a four-part historical and 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

This four-part series on the priesthood in England explored the historical and anthropological data that suggests an early presence of Jewish priests in Roman Britain who were followers of Jesus. These ruler-priests, members of the Sanhedrin, had authority to ordain priests for the church. One of them was Joseph Arimathea, a mining expert who also excavated tombs out of rock. He was a descendant and successor of the early Hebrew ruler-priests, the oldest known priestly caste. If this is so, the validity of the priesthood in England stands on two feet: that of the Jewish ruler-priests and that of the succession claimed by the Roman Church. 

Anglicans have held to the Roman account of the priesthood as originating with Jesus' Apostles. This idea was beautifully developed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (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 On The Nature of the Priesthood.)

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).

The evidence which has been presented in this series suggests that this is only part of the story. There appear to have been two streams of priestly consecration or two sources of validity for the Christian priesthood. One is discontinuous with the priesthood established by God among the early Hebrew, and the other appears to be a continuation of that early priesthood. There is evidence of this in England, and a similar study of the priesthood in other regions of the world would likely support this understanding.

The Hebrew ruler-priests were a caste dating back to at least 4000 BC. They married only within their caste (endogamy). Because of caste endogamy, the Messianic priesthood, of which the Christian priesthood is the only living extension, remained within their caste. Jesus is a direct descendant of those early Hebrew ruler-priests. Long before Judaism, they believed in God Father and God Son, and they expected a woman of their ruler-priest caste to conceive the Son of God by divine overshadowing (Luke 1:35, cf. Gen. 3:15).

Jewish ordination was called "semichah" and was necessary for membership in the Great Sanhedrin, and for membership in the smaller courts. A member of the Sanhedrin required a special level of ordination and that was obtained by the imposition of hands by someone who himself had been so ordained. This is the precedent for the concept of Apostolic Succession in the Church. However, as far as we know, none of the Twelve Apostles were ordained. 

The earliest Christian priests in Britain were probably ordained by believing Sanhedrin priests like Joseph of Arimathea, James the Just, 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 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 Hebrew 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 in what Jews describe as 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 was abolished in 358 AD, Christian priests alone stand as the living succession of priests in the Messianic Faith that we call "Christianity".

The third century Rabbi Johanan enumerates the qualifications for 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 given 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 Arimathea who was called "bouleutēs" (honorable counselor). Joseph was "waiting for the kingdom of God" according to Mark 15:43. He is designated Arimathea, 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 oldest of these are found in the Upper Nile. The oldest known site of early Hebrew worship (both Horite and Sethite) was at Nekhen

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 the later alphabets.

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 6. One of them was Nimrod, a Kushite kingdom builder (Gen. 10). Among them were the "red" rulers associated with Abraham and his ancestors Adam and Seth, and his descendants Esau and King David.

The wide dispersion of the early Hebrew 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 3,000 years before Jesus Christ and included movement in in many directions: Africa, Arabia, Mesopotamia, Anatolia, central Europe, the Western Zagros, Spain, and the British Isles.

There is no reason to doubt the historicity of Joseph Arimathea's connection to Cornwall in spite of the dubious Medieval legends surrounding him. 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 of Arimathea 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 an important figure who confirms continuity between the priesthood attached to the promises made to Abraham and his Hebrew 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; E.J. Bicknell on Anglican Orders (1919); Response to Cory Byrum; Was King Arthur a Descendent of Nilotic Rulers?

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