Priest (christianity)

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In Christianity, the priest is the bearer of an ecclesiastical office who has received ritual consecration and is entitled to special ritual acts.

Etymology and names

The German word priest comes from the Greek πρεσβύτερος, presbýteros , "elder". The word for priest is derived from it in most European languages (priest, prêtre, prete) . Other languages ​​take the word from the Greek ἱερός, hierós , “holy, consecrated” or Latin sacérdos , “priest” (sacerdote) , from Latin sacer “holy, sanctified”. The salutation "Reverend" for Catholic and higher Protestant clergy is considered outdated. It corresponds to the English title Reverend (from Latin reverendus  - "worthy of admiration").


In the Roman Catholic , Orthodox , Old Catholic and Anglican churches, ordination is the second stage of the three-stage sacrament of ordination . The Christian community also knows priestly ordination, but no other levels of ordination.

Early Christianity

The New Testament does not seem to provide a mediating class of priests for the emerging Gentile Christianity : "Because: One is God, one is also the mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus" ( 1 Tim 2,5  EU ). That is why early Gentile Christianity used the title of high priest exclusively with a view to Jesus Christ , for example in Hebrews 4:14–16  EU , 5,1–6 EU . The term priest in the cultic sense ( Kohanim , Hiereus) is used in the New Testament for all who believed in Jesus Christ (for example 1 Petr 2.9  EU , Rev 1.6  EU ). The offices mentioned in the New Testament are service functions of the primarily Gentile Christian followers of Jesus Christ.

Through the growth of the Gentile mission, the Gentile Christian communities and their institutional consolidation, through the expansion of the new Christian liturgy and doctrine, not least through the antignostic debate, the offices gained in importance. In the second century the three-part structure, which is still widespread today, developed: bishop , elder ( presbyteros ) and deacon . The German term of the priest has etymologically developed from the Greek term “presbyteros”.

Understanding of ministry

Different understandings of the priesthood have developed in different churches:

Orthodox, Catholic and Anglican theology

Roman Catholic priests at Holy Mass in Jerusalem

In the understanding of the Orthodox , the Roman Catholic , the Old Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion , the bishops , priests and deacons by the consecration ( ordination ), which is a sacrament, with an indelible imprint ( indelible character provided). You will be empowered to perform a special service within the people of God. Within the three-stage sacrament of ordination (bishop - priest - deacon), the first two form the priestly offices, while the deacons are not appointed to the priesthood but to service. This was seen differently in the early days of Christianity, for example in the Didaskalia Apostolorum , which metaphorically places deacons above priests.

In the Roman Catholic churches the priestly offices are limited to men. The majority of the Old Catholic Churches and the Anglican Fellowship also practice the ordination of women .

Following the apostles, the priest's task is to proclaim the Gospel and to administer the sacraments , in particular to lead the celebration of the Eucharist . The priest acts " in persona Christi ". Consecration thus gives a special bond with Christ. The sacrament legitimizes the continuation of priestly functions in the Church of Christ. The Roman Catholic tradition has associated this view since the 11th century with celibacy , which in the Orthodox churches only applies to bishops. The bishops of the Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican churches see themselves in the unbroken succession of the apostles , which is passed on through the laying on of hands and consecration prayer ( Acts 8.18  EU , Acts 14.23  EU , Heb. 6.2  EU , 2 Tim 1.6  EU ).

All priests in these hierarchically organized churches are subordinate to a superior: the secular priests to a bishop , the religious priests to a religious superior . Diocesan priests act in particular as pastors of a parish in their diocese. Religious priests live and work according to the charisma of their own community, from pastoral care to teaching or nursing to media activities. In numerous countries - in Austria due to the Josephine reforms - some religious orders are also widely active in pastoral care. In addition to pastoral care, priests can also act as pastors at pilgrimage sites, in "special pastoral care" in hospitals, homes, schools or other special places, take on administrative tasks , for example in the ordinariate or teach as lecturers at Catholic theological faculties, Catholic academies and educational institutions .

In the Old Catholic Churches there are also numerous priests who do not preside over their own congregation, but rather carry out their service on a voluntary basis alongside a full-time clergyman.

Since the Second Vatican Council , the common priesthood of all people associated with Christ in Baptism and Confirmation has been made clearer. However, Catholic theology speaks more of the “common” priesthood, which connects priests and lay people. According to the Catholic view, this is not achieved through equal participation, but rather through the cooperation of the church members depending on their calling and office in the hierarchy .

In church services the priest wears liturgical vestments such as chasuble , alb and stole . But also others who perform liturgical services ( acolytes , lecturers , cantors ) wear liturgical clothing ( mainly white in memory of the baptismal gown ), which depicts the common baptismal priesthood (see: liturgical robe ). The cassock used to be the usual everyday clothing of Catholic priests. Today priests can wear civilian clothes, but should be recognizable as priests.

Lutheran theology

The term “priest” is possible for Lutheran pastors, but is rather unusual in German-speaking and other countries.

An application of the term "priest" for Lutheran clergy can be found in the confessional documents of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (BSLK):

“In our churches, on the other hand, the priests are rightly waiting for their office, teaching and preaching the Gospel, preaching Christ, that we have forgiveness of sin and a gracious God not for our works but for Christ. [...] And if the Lord's Supper or the Mass should be called the daily sacrifice, so we would like to call the mass cheaper. […] If we now keep the preaching of the Gospel and the right custom of the sacraments with us, we undoubtedly have the daily sacrifice. "

- Apology of the Augsburg Confession : Article 24

The BSLK use the term “priest” for their own Lutheran clergy as a matter of course. In terms of content, it describes the priestly service, which, based on the confessional writings, corresponds to the doctrine of justification, the preaching of the gospel and the proper dispensing of the sacraments.

The Lutheran concept of priests found further expression in the song We thank you, o faithful God of the Lutheran theologian Nicolaus Selnecker, whose song can be found as a confessional song in the Evangelical Lutheran Church Hymns of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church . There it says in verse 2:

"Through the mouth of the priest you say: My child, all your sins have been forgiven, go and sin no more and turn to me at all times."

In everyday parlance, the term “priest” for Lutheran pastors is also used in the Lutheran churches of the Baltic States and Scandinavia. The Lutheran regional churches in Germany and other Lutheran churches that belong to the Lutheran World Federation generally do not use the term “priest” for their pastors. They refer to Martin Luther's doctrine of the priesthood of all believers , which is also the guiding principle for the priesthood of the other Protestant churches (see below). Through ordination or consecration to the spiritual office, as it can be called in the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church, the pastor is ordered, blessed and sent for a special service in the preaching of the word and the administration of the sacraments. In the proclamation of the law and the gospel and the administration of the sacraments , he represents Christ and stands opposite the community. Ordination with prayer and the laying on of hands effectively mediates the Holy Spirit and empowers the pastor through Christ to teach, preach, and administer the sacraments on his behalf and on his behalf. With the Lutheran confessional writings, ordination can therefore also be understood as consecration to spiritual office with a sacramental character, such as B. in the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church.

“But where one wishes to call the sacrament of the Order a sacrament of the preaching office and the Gospel, it would have no burden to call ordination a sacrament. For God instituted and commanded the preaching office, and it has the glorious promise of God. If one wants to understand the sacrament of the order (clerical office), one would also like to call the laying on of hands a sacrament. For the church has God's command to appoint preachers and deaconers. "

- Apology of the Augsburg Confession : BSLK pp. 293–294)

In the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church and numerous Lutheran churches outside Germany, the Lutheran pastor publicly wears the regalia, alb, stole and chasuble, or just alb and stole as a sign that he is the holder of the spiritual office and authorized by Christ teaching and administering the sacraments.

Lutheran pastors see themselves in the teaching succession, which includes the personnel succession, in the continuity of the one holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. However, they reject a sacrificial priesthood, as it is assumed by the Lutheran side in Roman Catholic theology. With the Evangelical Lutheran Confessions, the spiritual office is derived from the apostolate.

“Because Paul now clearly testifies that he did not want to ask Petro that he allowed him to preach, even at that time when he was the last to come to him, we have a certain doctrine that 'the preaching lamp comes from the common profession of the apostles ', and it is not necessary that all of this one person have Petri calling or confirmation. "

- De potestate et primatu papae tractatus : BSLK p. 474)

In most denominational churches, the spiritual office is reserved for men. The vast majority of Lutheran churches worldwide practice the ordination of women .

Evangelical theology

The Protestant theology refuses, citing the ecclesiology their interpretation of the New Testament a special priesthood in the church on principle. An evangelical pastor is not a priest. All the baptized have an equal share in the priesthood of Christ. The ordination of the Protestant pastors or pastors is considered assignment and of blessing, not as a sacrament. In Reformed and Presbyterian churches , the word “presbyter” , which like “priest” comes from presbyteros , stands for the member of the parish council, the presbytery , and is therefore not to be confused with a pastor, pastor or priest. In contrast to the Catholic consecrated priesthood, Protestant Christians have the general priesthood of all believers.

Ecumenical Perspectives

The contrast in the point of view of the church offices and in the question of their legitimacy is one of the greatest obstacles to church unity today . However, there are also approximations in understanding priestly ministry. Most churches now agree that there is a special office in the church that also represents Christ's counterpart to the congregation. This office is seen on the Protestant side in the pastoral office, on the Catholic side in the episcopate.

In Catholicism , a legally established subdivision of priestly services without connection to the sacramentally understood apostolic succession is not permitted. One starts from a consecration office, which has its fullness in the episcopal ordination . With the succession in the rite of the laying on of hands, the college of bishops guarantees that the entire Church will follow the teaching of the apostles. Thus, as a priest, only he who has been appointed by a bishop can teach and lead the congregation. The Evangelical Church also knows succession in the sense of adherence to true apostolic teaching. If the Catholic side is not unilaterally legal and the Evangelical side is not unilaterally pneumatological , there are certainly ecumenical points of contact.

See also


  • Gerhard Cardinal Müller: "You should be a blessing". Twelve letters on the priesthood . Herder Verlag, Freiburg im Breisgau 2018, ISBN 978-3-451-38310-6 .
  • Thomas Schumacher: Bishop - Presbyter - Deacon. An overview of the history and theology of the office . Pneuma-Verlag, Munich 2010, ISBN 978-3-942013-01-7 .
  • Friedhelm Hofmann: From now on you should be a fisherman of men. Sermons on the Priesthood . Echter Verlag, Würzburg 2009, ISBN 978-3-429-03206-7 .
  • Gisbert Greshake: To be a priest at this time. Theology - Pastoral Practice - Spirituality . Echter Verlag, Würzburg 2005, ISBN 978-3-429-02722-3 .
  • Peter Fabritz: The daily celebration of the priest. Eos-Verlag, 2005, ISBN 3-8306-7212-8 .
  • Paul Volz: The biblical antiquities. Komet Verlag, Cologne 1914, ISBN 3-89836-316-3 .

Web links

Wiktionary: Priest  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wikiquote: Priests  - Quotes
Commons : Priests  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Reverend. In: . Retrieved August 15, 2017 .
  2. ^ Walter Kasper : The function of the priest in the church. In: Spirit and Life . Volume 42, 1969, pp. 102-116, especially p. 106.
  3. Hermann Wieh: Priest / III priesthood. In: Gerhard Müller (Ed.): Theologische Realenzyklopädie , Volume 27, p. 415 f.
  4. ^ Gregory of Nyssa: Oratio in baptismum Christi. - Paul VI .: Sacerdotalis caelibatus .
  5. See the decree Presbyterorum ordinis of the Second Vatican Council.
  6. ^ Corpus Iuris Canonici , Can. 1024