Priestly Celibacy
Christ's Gift to the World

Chapter 8: Christ the High Priest of the Cosmos

The soaring thought of Blessed Duns Scotus (1264-1308) lifts us into a high orbit of speculation about Christ, Priest of the Cosmos. This "doctor subtilis" as he is called, presents Christ as Proprietor or Owner of the Cosmos in the first place, and its Redeemer in second place. That is, Christ's work as Redeemer is subsumed into this higher mission of being the Priest and Sanctifier of the cosmos.

The cosmos itself, in the thought of Scotus, would not have been created, if not as a platform for Christ to stand on; it should be tailor-made for Him, so that out of the cosmos He can give glory to God from a created world which is beyond the boundaries of the uncreated trinitarian circle.

In accord with this logic of Scotus, a priest, because he impersonates Christ, should likewise be essentially a man of praise, one who gives glory to God out of the cosmos. Without Christ foremost in the divine mind - and without the priest who now personifies Christ - the cosmos would lose its essential meaning. And to continue the logic, if priests would not continue Christ's mission today, the universe would lose its purpose, would lack direction. Only the presence of Christ in His priests today - in the royal priesthood of the laity and in the ordained sacerdotal priesthood - gives the cosmos its meaning; makes it come alive to shout for joy and sing the praises of the Creator.

The famous lapidary sentence of Scotus tells in pithy language how God planned the cosmos primarily as a platform for Christ to stand on, and to praise God from the outside: God first loves Himself; secondly, He loves Himself for others, and this is an ordered love; thirdly, He wishes to be loved by the One who can love Him in the highest way - speaking of the love of someone who is extrinsic to Him; and fourthly, He foresees the union of that nature which must love Him with the greatest love even if no one had fallen (see Juniper B. Carol, O.F.M. The Universal Primacy of Christ, p. 35; from Scotus Opus Par. III, d.7,q.4).

In this concept, God plans the cosmos from the beginning as property of the future Christ. The Son of God, through His Incarnation, will enter the created universe to claim it as His own. He will then transform it into a new creation by recomposing it as a symphony of praise to God.

But Christ would not give glory to God without effort and automatically, as though He were a programmed robot. He would take up His task and perform it with free consent, with the will power of the God-man. With prodigious volitional energy He would obey the Father. "Father," He would pray when overwhelmed by the cost of obedience, "if thou art willing, take this cup from me; nevertheless not my will, but thine be done" (Lk 22:42). Strengthened by an angel, he would rise and complete His task; until He said: "`It is finished;' and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit" (Jn 19:30). Freely did He glorify God as the Absolute, testifying by obedience that God alone is God. Such is the ultimate praise given to God out of the created cosmos.

Human Freedom Included in God's Plan for the Cosmos

The opening chapters of Genesis illustrate that God made free humans as the most precious piece of creation in the cosmos. With freedom humans can literally do as they please, as they decide. And Christ accepts this freedom of humans to work with them as they are. He wants to associate with free people, with performers who are not coerced, are not robots; whose buttons are not pushed by God. Genesis dramatizes human freedom by relating that two extraordinary trees were planted right in the middle of the garden of Eden:

Out of the ground the Lord God made various trees to grow that were delightful to look at and good for food, with the tree of life in the middle of the garden and the tree of the knowledge of good and bad (Gen 2:9).

We read here that the tree of the knowledge of what is good and what is bad was nice to look at, and that it had tasty fruit; and it was just as accessible to the inhabitants as was the tree of life. This symbolism in Genesis tells us that each person must choose whether to live from the tree of life, or to risk all by eating from the tree of death. Each must make a personal decision. There will be no slaves indentured to God, only free humans who make up their own minds about what to do. In this situation, Christ became flesh to encourage all of us to choose life and to reject death.

The problem with this initial plan of God, in one word, is that of eliciting freely contributed cooperation from us humans. God could have made us into player pianos, programmed to pound the keys when the mechanism is set in motion. But God decided to do even more: He would create humans who are free; who can cooperate with His directions if they so will, but who also have the power to refuse to do so. Freedom makes man, male and female, to be God's special image; more God-like than all else He had created during the six days. With freedom humans can love; can love God above all things, and their neighbors as themselves.

By Human Freedom We Can Be Priests

Constantly we ask ourselves about the great mystery of freedom and the resultant possibility of evil. The Catechism of the Catholic Church quotes Origen to elucidate this obscure aspect of God's plan:

God does not want to impose the good, but wants free beings ... There is a certain usefulness to temptation. No one but God knows what our soul has received from him, not even we ourselves. But temptation reveals it in order to teach us to know ourselves, and in this way we discover our evil inclinations and are obliged to give thanks for the goods that temptation has revealed to us (quoted in No.2847).

Augustine and Thomas also wrestled with the problem why God permitted man to be free. Typical is this response:

Just as God knew that man, through being tempted would fall into sin, so too He knew that man was able by his free will, to resist the tempter. Now the condition attached to man's nature required that he should be left to his own will, according to Eccles. 15:14: "God left man in the hand of his own counsel." Hence Augustine says (Gen. ad lit XI,4): "It seems to me that a man would have no prospect of any special praise if he were able to lead a good life simply because there was none to persuade him to lead an evil life; since both by nature he had the power, and in his power he had the will, not to consent to the persuader" (Gen at lit. XI,4; quoted by Thomas in Summa Theologica II-II,165,1).

In line with this, Pope John Paul II wrote in his book Crossing the Threshold of Hope: "God absolutely does not want to force us to respond to His word" (page 189; reference to Vatican II, The Declaration on Religious Freedom).

By our freedom we have the innate power to become priests of this cosmos, to return glory to God for the things He has made. The Israelites were commanded by God to free themselves from slavery in Egypt, to become a free people who will worship God in the desert. By their freedom they shall become priests:

Thus shall you say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel:...Now therefore, if you will obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my own possession among all peoples; for all the earth is mine, and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Ex 19:3,5-6).

Only an intelligent and free person can show reverence for God, and offer Him a sacrifice of praise. Christ used His freedom to consecrate the cosmos to God in Himself; He invites us to participate in this priestly action. As Eucharistic Prayer III prays:

From age to age you gather a people to yourself,
so that from east to west
a perfect offering may be made
to the glory of your name.

Christ has no greater joy than this, that we follow Him in faith, as the Israelites followed Moses. With us in His wake, Christ can rule the cosmos as He wills; can shape it to procure the glory of the Father and the good of humankind. Through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass Christ remains present with us as our leader; as our Moses who, when the people needed food, prayed; and the Lord brought quail for the people to eat in the evening, and manna for them in the morning. Who, when the people were thirsty, prayed; and by striking the rock with his staff procured a gushing stream of water. Who, when the Amalekites attacked, held up his hands in prayer to obtain the victory. The bible is careful to note that when Moses became weary of holding his hands up in prayer, the enemy gained ground:

Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed; and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed. But Moses' hands grew weary; so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat upon it; and Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side; so his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. And Joshua mowed down Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword (Ex 17:11-13).

Is Christ, priest of the cosmos, not asking us to brace up His hands and so sustain Him in prayer? To assist Him at Mass, so that He can bring blessings to the cosmos from east to west, and from north to south. With Him we are a royal priesthood giving praise to God for the world He has created, and requesting daily bread, forgiveness, and the prevention of evil. Through the ministerial priesthood Christ enables all of us to be royal priests with Himself, to give glory to God with free hearts and with love. To build up the community of love on this earth.

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