A Failed Tradition
ISBN 9780670024872 | 320 pages | 12 Feb 2013 | Viking Adult | 9.25 x 6.25in
Summary of Why Priests? Summary of Why Priests? Reviews for Why Priests? An Excerpt from Why Priests?
In his most provocative book yet, Pulitzer Prize–winner Garry Wills asks the radical question: Why do we need priests?
Bestselling author of Papal Sin and Why I Am a Catholic, Garry Wills spent five years as a young man at a Jesuit seminary and nearly became a priest himself. But after a lifetime of study and reflection, he now poses some challenging questions: Why do we need priests at all? Why did the priesthood arise in a religion that began without it and opposed it? Would Christianity be stronger without the priesthood, as it was at its outset?
Meticulously researched, persuasively argued, and certain to spark debate, Why Priests? asserts that the anonymous Letter to Hebrews, a late addition to the New Testament canon, helped inject the priesthood into a Christianity where it did not exist, along with such concomitants as belief in an apostolic succession, the real presence in the Eucharist, the sacrificial interpretation of the Mass, and the ransom theory of redemption. But Wills does not expect the priesthood to fade entirely away. He just reminds us that Christianity did without it in the time of Peter and Paul with notable success.
Wills concludes with a powerful statement of his own beliefs in a book that will appeal to believers and nonbelievers alike and stand for years to come as a towering achievement.
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
Praise for Why Priests? by Garry Wills:
"Using his linguistic skills and his impressive command of both secondary literature and patristic sources, Wills raises doubts aplenty about 'the Melchizedek myth,' and the priestly claims for Jesus in the 'idiosyncratic' Epistle to the Hebrews … His final chapter is a model of elegant simplicity, a contrast (intended or not) to the flummery often associated with his own church … 'There is one God, and Jesus is one of his prophets,' Wills concludes, 'and I am one of his millions of followers.' For those millions, scattered across time and space, that’s an affirmation worthy of celebration."
—New York Times Book Review
"How. . .did priests become dominant and then essential in Catholic Christianity? And why, Wills asks, in this provocative [and] historically rich. . .book, does the Vatican continue to sustain such falsehoods? . . . Wills’s demolition of the many myths surrounding the origins of priestly status and function is in itself crucially informative and enlightening."
—The New Republic
"Published at a time when the number of Catholic priests continues to dwindle and the power of bishops over the faithful continues to weaken, . . . Why Priests? may accelerate both processes. . . . Wills draws on his expertise in classical language and his wide reading in ecclesiastical history to argue that the Catholic/Orthodox priesthood has been one long mistake."
—The Washington Post
“Pulitzer Prize winner Wills, a venerable voice on church history, thought and practice, provides a stunning critique of the Roman Catholic priesthood.”
—Kirkus Reviews (starred)
"Do we really need Catholic Priests? Wills, Pulitzer Prize winner and author of Why I Am a Catholic, dares to pose this controversial question[.] ... One cannot help but be impressed with this brilliant work written by a scholar whose love for the Church compels him to make it better."
— Publishers Weekly
"Pulitzer Prize winner Wills (Verdi’s Shakespeare, 2011, etc.), a venerable voice on church history, thought and practice, provides a stunning critique of the Roman Catholic priesthood.
Without equivocation, the author argues that the entire institution of the priesthood is based on pure fallacy. Wills’ argument is not a Protestant one disguised as Catholic; it is entirely Catholic in its tone and approach, making it all the more compelling to all readers. The author begins by explaining the unparalleled importance of the priesthood in Catholic doctrine, always reminding readers that this importance is based primarily on Eucharistic theology. The miracle of transubstantiation is the linchpin for the power of the priesthood. By systematically deconstructing the Book of Hebrews, Wills begins to undermine the concept of the Roman Catholic priest. Going further, he boldly confronts the idea of Christ’s death as 'sacrifice,' theorizing that the incarnation, not the crucifixion, was the truer source of humanity’s atonement. Wills’ book is sure to provoke controversy, but his arguments are well-constructed and hard to ignore. While giving due respect to those priests through the ages who served others in humility, he points out that the exalted caste of the priesthood is at best antithetical to Jesus’ teachings about community and piety. At worst, it allows sin and corruption to fester. Wills’ writing is informed by accessible erudition and marked by subtle sarcasm (such as describing the Host as 'a kind of benevolent kryptonite,' or discussing the things Anselm 'does not allow God to do'). Though many Catholics will flatly reject Wills’ arguments on principle, many others will find him to be elucidating doubts they may have already had.
A comprehensive, critical exploration of the origin and meaning of priesthood and a formidable volley lobbed at tradition."
—Kirkus Reviews (starred)
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