By Fr George Adimike
From the rupture of Adam’s priesthood in Genesis, the exodus, in search of grace to make all things new, continues and reaches its destination in Jesus Christ. The new Covenant, which revealed the fullness of grace and truth, Jesus the Christ of God (cf. Jn 1:14), also funded a new appreciation of the priesthood in its original essence. The search from Adam, the priest at the origin, to Christ, the original priest, traversed three typologies. The patriarchal priesthood, the priesthood of Melchizedek and the Levitical priesthood―represented by the figures of Abraham, Melchizedek and Aaron―functioned as types anticipating the original (cf. Hebrews 7). Nevertheless, none of the three typologies is, in itself, a complete approximation of the reality of the priesthood of Christ. The Jewish roots of the Christian priesthood spell an understanding of the priesthood that is continuity in discontinuity. Though Adam was the first high priest of creation, his priesthood was an adumbration of the priesthood of Christ, the original priest. From Adam to all other priests, the priesthood has its meaning, mission, matrix and mandate in and through Jesus the Christ. He is the novelty of the Christian priesthood. He is the cornerstone, the character and the perfect embodiment of the priesthood, which the various priesthoods of the Old Testament typify.
As such, the three streams of priestly typologies flow into the currency of the priesthood of Christ. Adam, the principal patriarch of the human family, catered for creation as a priest to whom God entrusted its care. He was a royal priest who mediated between God and the world and the steward of God’s family. Drawing from his unique position in creation, he exercised his royal priestly duty partly by assigning value to created things to the degree they attribute worth to God and serve humanity. In accordance with God’s creative wisdom, the entire creation possesses iconic value and sacramental quality. Because of its transparency, creation is reflective of God and, as such, helps man appreciate God, who is truth, goodness and beauty.
With man’s rupture of his relationship with God, he lost the value of created things and easily gets confused about their true value. He forgets that God created material things to be his servants and not masters and mistakenly anoints them masters and lords because he gropes in search of God from whom he learnt to hide. Man’s feeling of inadequacy robs him of his childlike confidence in relation to God and stewardship of creation. His loss of innocence complicates his relationship with God and adversely affects his vocation to preside over God’s estate, assume his responsibility as the lord, and promote the glory of God and good of creation by proper use of the stuff. In his confusion, he vacillates from one extreme to another. If he is not exploiting and abusing creation mindlessly as an unconscionable arrogant lord, he is genuflecting to and worshipping created things as an ignorant slave. He wallows in exaggerating excess or defect relative to his role as the caretaker, treasurer and priest of creation. Instead of ministering at the creation’s worship of God, he is either worshipping the earth or coercing the creation to worship him. The casualty is often the consciousness of the lordship of the Lord over creation and his ministerial and mediatorial role.
Not abandoning him to his wandering in the darkness and wilderness of life, God set to reconstruct His household, creation, and elected a people who became priests unto the creation from the priests of families, the father of the house. From family to nation and then the priesthood for all peoples, we have Abraham, Moses-Aaron and Melchizedek as the representatives. These were types of Christ, who is the original priest who restores God’s plan in its original purity and potency. He embodies the integration of the best of the three typologies and the good in the priesthoods across cultures, climes and times. These various priestly ministries indicate humanity’s groping in the dark, searching for God in shades, shadows and systems.
As the new man of whom Adam was only a copy, a pointer and a type, Christ is the original priest who is the bridge between heaven and earth, a mediator between the divine and the human. He participates in the two divides; thusly, he belongs to them naturally, hence the original mediator.
The office of the priest has endured with many religious families across the world. It is a reality which formed part of the structure of religion. Its precedents and parallels enriched the idea of priesthood in Christianity. Of various and similar elements which informed the Christian idea of the priesthood, the priesthood of Christ in its content and context define the priesthood. In all known religions, priests offer vicarious sacrifice; but in Christ the priest becomes both subject and object of the sacrifice. Christ is the offerer (priest) and the offered (object of sacrifice). In other words, the Christian understanding of the priesthood necessarily includes victimhood. The unity of the priest and the victim makes the Christian priesthood stand out from the rest. In our Christian context, the priesthood is only a shorthand for priest-victimhood such that proper understanding of the priesthood differs from and excludes its abuse in priest-craftism or pastor-preneurship. It excludes all forms of manipulation or exploitation of the people of God.
Understanding the priesthood will significantly progress if priests and people appreciate that the priesthood is the original office Adam occupied initially, which, when ruptured, Christ restored. This piece shows the trajectory of the priesthood from Adam, the priest at the origin as the priest of creation, to Christ the original priest, the priest of the new creation. Adam as the type of Christ typified what was original. Every priest should see his vocation relative to both Adam and Christ, thus seeing the difference between a copy and an original and then learning from Adam’s mistake and following the example of Christ.
• Fr ADIMIKE writes from Onitsha