Garry Wills & the priesthood

Odd Job

Even though I have long been a fan of Garry Wills, I must agree with Fr. John F. Baldovin’s criticism of Why Priests?: A Failed Tradition (“Cult Hit,” February 22). To privilege the first fifty years of Christianity, and to imply that later developments were necessarily contrary to pure Christianity, is an odd approach for a Catholic scholar. To subject the Epistle to the Hebrews to a tendentious critique that few books of the Bible could withstand is also strange. Why privilege some books of the canon against another?

Moreover, in his appearances on radio and television, Wills seems to reduce the Eucharist to a symbol, making no allowance for the realm of grace, a sacramental reality that exists somewhere between scientific reality and “mere symbol.” (Still, “transubstantiation” was an unfortunate addition to church doctrine. It first appeared officially at Lateran IV, about a decade before the birth of Thomas Aquinas. And it has too often been popularly understood as a simple and adequate explanation of the Eucharist, when in fact the nature of the Eucharist, like so much of our faith, is a mystery that will always defy definition.) Wills is quite right that the priesthood has evolved over the course of history...

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