Synodalist priest shows the modernists' hand with shocking attack on the nature and form of priesthood. Catholic Church does not need priesthood. Ordination to be abolished.
The priest in Christianity has only existed since the 3rd century - an innovation, also for reasons of money, says New Testament scholar Martin Ebner. Women should not demand the women priesthood. It is a “trap”. In addition: The church does not need priests to exist. Instead, he suggests a community model of commissioning.
You have a book called “Does the Catholic Church need priests?” written. You yourself are priests. Why should your professional group be abolished?
Martin Ebner*: I don't want to abolish the professional group and I don't want to abolish the pastor either. Neither does the priestly way of life.
“I protest against this focus on one status.”
Then what are you questioning?
Ebner: I would like to discuss the fact that the status of a priest is associated with enormous privileges. The priest alone may preside over the Eucharistic celebration, preach and lead. I protest against this focus on a status in which the quality criteria consist of being a man and being persuaded to make a promise of celibacy.
What do you find so problematic about the term “priest”?
Ebner: The German word “priest” comes from the term “presbyter”. A presbyter is a councilor, i.e. a completely secular position. But what a priest does in ancient times belongs in the sacred sphere. The priest is automatically associated with elevation, demarcation, something special. He is removed from normal everyday life. From an etymological point of view, this is a deception.
“This made the temple sacrifice unnecessary for them.”
You write in your book that today's priest is connected to the sin-sacrifice concept of the Old Testament. In what way?
Ebner: Jesus' death on the cross is a punishment for the rebels in the Roman Empire. However, Christians have interpreted this shameful death positively: in Jesus' death on the cross, God accomplished what can only be accomplished in the temple by a priest with a bloody sacrifice: the forgiveness of sins through an animal sacrifice.
The priests in the temple in Israel dripped the blood of an animal onto an altar. This was intended to erase a person's debt.
Ebner: Exactly. On the burnt offering altar in front of the temple, or on the atonement plate in the holy of holies of the temple - by the high priest. This idea was transferred to Jesus. Christians believe: Jesus was made this atonement plate by God in his death. This made the temple sacrifice unnecessary for them. When they remembered this death of Jesus interpreted in this way at the Lord's Supper, sins were forgiven: "This is my blood of the covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins" (Matt. 26:28). There was no longer a need for priests to offer animal sacrifices at the temple for believers.
“Bishops had to be married.”
Isn't that a massive cult criticism that you're making?
Ebner: I have nothing against the cult. Because cult means performing rites, and that is good for many people. I would rather call it institutional criticism. Because there is a caste between the normal believers and God, which claims the privilege that only a priest can act as a mediator between God and people. This is exactly what happens in the 3rd century. And here we touch on a very sore point in church history.
What do you mean by that?
Ebner: In the third century, first bishops and then presbyters referred to themselves as priests. There are reasons for this: until now, the office has been carried out on a voluntary basis. Bishops had to be married. But now the communities became larger and so the tasks also became more. During this time, the demand arose for the first time that community leaders should be paid. That was difficult to justify.
There is no New Testament evidence for this.
Ebner: Exactly. So people resorted to the Old Testament image of the priest. There it was customary for the tithe of the harvest to go to the priesthood. The symbolic designation of community leaders as priests not only supported the profane demand for a salary, but also led to the idea of the Old Testament priest, one who offers a sacrifice and stands above the people, finding its way into Christian theology.
“Priests had a socially privileged position in this world.”
How did altars come to be in the church? The first Christians celebrated church services together at one table.
Ebner: That has to do with this “priestification”. In the Roman-dominated world, “religion” was synonymous with “cultus”. This required priests, altars and sacrifices. Priests had a socially privileged position in this world, in Judaism as well as in the pagan world.
“Under Emperor Constantine, Christian priests were put on an equal footing with pagan priesthoods.”
Christian community leaders could then also count themselves among this socially recognized group as soon as they saw themselves as “priests”. Accordingly, their activity at the Lord's Supper was understood as a “sacrifice,” and the table on which the gifts of bread and wine stood was called the “altar.” And they were ultimately designed the way altars looked in ancient times: as a block of stone. Under Emperor Constantine, Christian priests were put on an equal footing with the pagan priesthood - and thus also enjoyed tax exemption.
So it was also about money. Also in the 12th century, when celibacy became compulsory and legal inheritance of church property was therefore ruled out.
Ebner: Not just there. In the 7th century, Iro-Scottish monks introduced individual confession. As penance, asceticism was imposed, a certain number of strict fasting days. These could later be replaced by psalm prayers. This also became too complicated for many people, so masses were said as penance for their sins - and they paid money for it.
Does the Catholic Church need priests to exist?
“It takes both: experts and witnesses for the faith.”
Ebner: The mission of Christianity is to proclaim a message that conveys a good life and good coexistence. But there is no need for priests for people with different positions to live together in responsibility before God. This requires people who live this belief convincingly – and who also understand it. Both are needed: experts and witnesses for the faith.
“The local community should come first.”
What kind of model do you propose?
Ebner: People who are committed to the faith in communities should receive an official commission to lead a community or celebrate the Eucharist. The local community should come first.
That term do you suggest instead of “priest”?
Ebner: Pastor sounds a bit outdated, but it is a neutral term. Otherwise, I would suggest functional terms for the offices: community leader, liturgist, worship leader, preacher, parish councilor (in the sense of the presbyter), very simple.
You advocate a decentralization of church tasks. Ordination should also be abolished. Why?
Ebner: As soon as ordination is involved, I see a danger.
"A person is sacralized."
In what way?
Ebner: Because with ordination comes a higher order. Through “ordination” you are placed in a higher position. And: a sacralization of a person takes place. An assignment is something different. You receive an order for a certain time. A consecration has the aura that one is lifted out of normal life, is changed forever - and can therefore act like a priest anywhere.
At the ordination, the new priest places his folded hands in the hands of the bishop. They didn't do that. Why?
Ebner: This gesture corresponds to the medieval feudal oath. The priest is obliged to obey this bishop and his successors. The bishop, in turn, is responsible for his priest.
A case recently became known in Switzerland in which a bishop did not want to take responsibility for a priest because he was ordained in another country.
Ebner: According to my model - if the bishop still exists - the bishop could not shirk his responsibility because he is responsible for his area - and has probably appointed the priest in question there himself.
According to your model, people should be assigned tasks. How do you imagine that?
Ebner: Several people per community are assigned to specific tasks. These come from the community itself and are also selected by the community. You can hold this office for seven or ten years; another term of office is possible. They work together in teams; This prevents the focus on one person and thus also clericalism. And above all, this means that foreign priests are no longer deployed in communities whose culture and language they barely understand. And: If the bishop does not want to commission someone, he must give reasons why.
“The official church doesn’t want women in church offices.”
However, the communities still rely on a priest who celebrates the sacraments with them. How do you want to solve the problem?
Ebner: There needs to be a theological reflection on the fact that people - through a commission - are allowed to celebrate sacraments in their communities. Communities will accept this.
They speak out against ordination to the priesthood. Should women even aspire to the priesthood?
Ebner: No, that's a trap for me. Because they go into the old church system, which introduced a caste between believers and God. Women therefore force themselves into a corset - and I don't know whether they can then break away from the corset. But it would certainly be an interim solution. But I would also like to add: The official church does not want women in church offices.
What are you up to?
Ebner: The official church could ordain women who promise celibacy. That wouldn't change anything about the system, but emotionally it changes something about the male society. I won't say more.
“The 19th century brought a break with the tradition of the first centuries.”
Is your model even still Catholic?
Ebner: It shakes up the model of the Catholic, centralistic church of the 19th century, yes. But what is Catholic? That the offices are only given to celibate men? Is it Christian that we exclude women? Sometimes you have to ask the other way around: What do we want to show to the outside world that is typical for us? The 19th century brought a break with the tradition of the first centuries. In the third century, the introduction of the priesthood marked a break with early Christianity. New models are therefore possible – and necessary.
*Martin Ebner (67) is a priest in the Diocese of Würzburg and was a professor of New Testament exegesis at the universities of Münster and Bonn.