The People’s Priesthood

FranzHildebrandt, Drew University, Madison, NJ presents a summary of Cyril Eastwood’s work on the priesthood. Although it was written in 1963, I can see the working of the Holy Spirit in Eastwood’s writings. The summary is slighty academic in its presentation but manageable. I found his message  inspiring. Like to hear from you! I am presenting this summary under the heading ” The People’s Priesthood”  because this is what I read from it and also to catch the attention of many seeking this form of priesthood. Dr. Nick

The Royal Priesthood of the Faithful:
An Investigation of the Doctrine
From Biblical Times To the Reformation
By Cyril Eastwood
264 pp. London, Epworth Press, 1963. 30s.

This is the companion volume to the author’s previous Priesthood of all Believers in which the doctrine was examined from the Reformation to the present day. The two titles are used interchangeably, one prominently pre-, the other post-Reformation. In the first two chapters the Biblical basis is explored: the people of God, the servant of the Lord, the kingdom of priests in the Old Testament, then the people of the New Covenant, the Servant-Messiah-Priest, the marks of the royal priesthood. There follows the treatment of the early church, Clement of Rome, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Origen, Cyprian. “The result of our investigation is that the doctrine of the Priesthood of all Believers is directly connected -with the High Priesthood of Christ, the layman’s ordinances, the authority of the whole congregation, the Eucharist, the offering of spiritual sacrifices, the conception of the Church as a High Priestly Race or the Priesthood of all just Men, the unity of the Church, questions of discipline, the believer’s access to the Father, and the Church’s missionary task.”

Cyprian marks the fateful turning point: now the bishops become a special priesthood with a special sacrifice to offer. The doctrine of the universal priesthood suffers eclipse, but not extinction; it survives in spite of Cyprian. Augustine (Chapter IV) teaches the universal way of knowledge of God, purification of soul and world redemption; baptism is initiation to the spiritual priesthood, chrism consecration for service, and the universal priesthood is based on the catholicity of the Gospel. The chapter on the Middle Ages deals with the four great conflicts of East and West, Islam and Christianity, Priesthood and Laity, Church and State; “as far as the priesthood of believers was concerned these were dark ages indeed,” the doctrine, accepted in theory, was denied in practice. In Roman Catholic theology (Chapter VI) the royal priesthood of the faithful cannot be treated apart from the high priesthood of Christ and the priesthood of the clergy; it is, according to Father Dabin, “functional participation in the triple office of Christ,” by sacramental incorporation and under the control of the hierarchy, but with recently growing realization “that conversion involves vocation, that vocation constitutes a universal mission, and that the Church’s eucharistic action is only properly fulfilled in the witness of the common priesthood in the world.”

In Marsigho of Padua and John Wyclif we meet the forerunners of the Reformation; theocracy and hierarchy are rejected in favor of the fellowship of the faithful, and all authority is founded on the sovereign grace of God. The evangelical concept of lordship and service affects the position of Pope and church, the function of the priesthood, and the status of tile individual believer. Monks and Friars (Chapter VIII) belong to the same succession: “in the hands of St. Francis the theory of the priesthood of all believers was turned into fact and it was now realized that the life of holiness, witness, service and sacrifice was open to every Christian.” Finally the Mystics prepare the way for Luther with their threefold “response” to the divine initiative in faith, fellowship, and service; Tauler affirms, and the Brethren of the Common Life practice, the “office” common to all believers, which is at once active and contemplative and issues in neighbourly service. In his concluding chapter Dr. Eastwood surveys the doctrine in historical perspective, the permanent theological ideas, and “the dynamic formula of reform: priestly mission to the world, priestly service for the world, priestly vocation in the world, priestly fulfilment through the world.”

It is not necessary to agree to every detail here, and it is manifestly impossible to do justice to the book in a brief summary; the book itself does justice to a very wide variety of periods, figures, and movements and makes an important contribution to the current reassessment, in Protestant and Catholic quarters, of the theology of the laity, and thus to the ecumenical dialogue. And it does this in very lucid English and with an unashamed avowal of the classic Protestant position which in our day is as rare as it is refreshing.

Drew University
Madison,New Jersey


One Response to The People’s Priesthood

  1. Today, almost no one knows what “church” is.

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