A Failed Tradition
Viking, $27.95, 290 pp.
The historian and classicist Garry Wills is an astonishingly prolific author whose works range from early American history to contemporary politics, and from Early Christianity to the history of the papacy and current Catholic controversies. Last year he published a book on the theology of baptism of two great Christian figures, Ambrose of Milan and Augustine, and it was wonderful. I wish I could give the same praise to his latest effort.
Why Priests? aims at deconstructing the traditional Catholic theology of the priesthood. Wills wants to eliminate priests from Catholicism, arguing that there is only one priest as such in the New Testament, Jesus Christ—and that even the scriptural designation of Christ as priest (in Hebrews) is problematic. Concerning the place of official church ministries, or offices, Wills concedes that any society must have a system of organization, and goes on to describe the secular terms that designated early Christian officials: “overseer” (episkopos), “elder” (presbyteros), and “agent” (diakonos). Most reputable scholars acknowledge that these functions only gradually morphed into what we know as bishops, priests, and deacons, and that the attribution of priestly...