67 Jurist 341 (2007)
The Priesthood of All Believers at the council of Trent

handle is hein.journals/juristcu67 and id is 351 raw text is: THE JURIST 67 (2007) 341-363

THE PRIESTHOOD OF ALL BELIEVERS
AT THE COUNCIL OF TRENT
NELSON H. MINNICH*
In its Constitution on the Church and Decree on the Apostolate of the
Laity, Vatican 1H attributed to the laity a sharing in the one priesthood of
Christ whereby they join in the offering of the Eucharist and in the mis-
sion of consecrating the world to God by their apostolic labors.1 Al-
though deservedly hailed for making a major step toward the develop-
ment of a theology of the universal priesthood of all believers, Vatican II
was not the first ecumenical council to speak on this subject. Almost ex-
actly four-hundred years earlier on July 13, 1563, the fathers of Trent
touched upon this topic in their decree on the sacrament of orders. Al-
though its teaching was in the form of a condemnation of Luther's asser-
tion that all Christians are equally priests, Trent did not deny the exis-
tence of a universal priesthood of all believers. As will be seen from a
study of the council's documents, the theologians and bishops of Trent
* School of Theology and Religious Studies, Catholic University of America.
Lumen gentium, 9, 10, 30-31, 34, and Apostolicam actuositatem, 2, in Decrees of
the Ecumenical Councils, ed. Norman P. Tanner, 2 vols. (London and Washington, D.C.:
Sheed & Ward and Georgetown University Press, 1990) 2:855-857, 874-875, 877, 982-
hereafter cited as Alberigo-Tanner. For an analysis of Vatican 1I's teaching on the priest-
hood of the faithful, see John F. Hotchkin, The Christian Priesthood: Episcopate, Pres-
byterate and People in the Light of Vatican It, in Eucharist and Ministry [Lutherans and
Catholics in Dialogue, IV] (New York: U.S.A. National Committee of the Lutheran World
Federation, and Washington, D.C.: the Bishops' Committee for Ecumenical and Interreli-
gious Affairs, 1970) 189-208, here 202-206. For the judgment of the scripture scholar
John H. Elliott that Vatican II's espousal of the universal priesthood of all believers is not
properly based on exegesis and that its echoing of Luther's teachings is nothing short of
ironic; see his Detailed Comment: 1 Peter 2:5, 9 and the Doctrine of the Priesthood of
All Believers, in 1 Peter: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary [The An-
chor Bible, 37B] (NewYork: The Anchor Bible, Doubleday, 2000) 449-455, here 454. El-
liott seems to assume that the Tridentine Church rejected outright Luther's ideas; but, as
this paper will show, the fathers at the Council of Trent accepted a qualified priesthood of
the faithful. Despite Elliott's assertions that biblical texts do not mention baptismal ordi-
nation or a sharing in the unique priesthood of Christ (452), prayerful reflections on a va-
riety of biblical texts allowed the fathers of Vatican H to develop further these ideas re-
garding the priestly nature of the Christian community, e.g., Jean-Marie-Roger Tillard,
Church of Churches: The Ecclesiology of Communion, trans. R. C. De Peaux (Col-
legeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press/A Michael Glazier Book, 1992) 169-175.

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