The True Doctrine of the Priesthood of All Believers

In a recent post I claimed that «the Protestant doctrine of “vocation,” and the “priesthood of all believers”» are «vulgar, bourgeois distortions of Pauline theology.» But of course there are also orthodox, Catholic ways of understanding “vocation” and “the priesthood of all believers”. Today’s saint, Pope Leo Great, is a great teacher of the later truth. In Sermon IV, Pope St. Leo teaches as follows:

Although the Church of God as a whole has a hierarchical structure, so that the completeness of the sacred body consists in a diversity of members, “we are,” nevertheless, as the Apostle says, “one in Christ.” No one functions so independently of another that even the lowliest part does not have some relationship with the Head to which it is connected. In the unity of faith and Baptism, we have an undifferentiated fellowship, dearly beloved. and a uniform dignity.

So proclaims the most blessed apostle Peter when he says with these most sacred words: “And you yourselves should be built up like living stones into spiritual dwellings, a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” And later on he says: “You, however, are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people set apart) All who have been regenerated in Christ are made kings by the sign of the cross and consecrated priests by the anointing of the Holy Spirit.

Apart from the particular service that our ministry entails, all Christians who live spiritual lives according to reason recognize that they have a part in the royal race and the priestly office. What could be more royal than the soul in subjection to God ruling over its own body? What could be more priestly than dedicating a pure conscience to the Lord and offering spotless sacrifices of devotion from the altar of the heart? Since this has been given to everyone alike through the grace of God, it is a devout and praiseworthy thing for you to take joy in the day of our elevation as if in your own honor. Let the episcopacy be celebrated in the entire body of the Church as one single mystery. When the oil of benediction has been poured out, the mystery flows, though more abundantly onto the higher parts, yet not ungenerously down to the lower ones as well.

The grace of Christ flows over His body, the Church, in a hierarchical manner. “Like the precious ointment on the head, that ran down upon the beard, the beard of Aaron, Which ran down to the skirt of his garment” (Ps 132[133]:2). It is poured out on the Apostles and their successors, and from them it is given to the rest of us by means of the instrumental causality of the Sacraments.

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