Article: Losing the Faith (12/22)
Early Christianity was distinguished from both Judaism and the pagan religious system by the fact that it had no priesthood. Jesus Christ was the only high priest; all believers constituted a “royal priesthood.” There were no orders of priests acting as mediators between the believer and his God. Justin Martyr says: “So we, who through the name of Jesus have believed as one man in God, the Maker of the universe, having divested ourselves of our filthy garments, i.e., our sins, through the name of His first-born son, and having been refined by the word of his calling are the true high-priestly race of God” (Dialogue, cxvi). Irenaeus says, “all the disciples of the Lord are Levites and priests;” Origen writes that “(the Lord’s) disciples are true priests.”
In Greek and Latin the words for “priest” are hiereus and sacerdos, whereas ecclesial elders were designated by the Greek word presbyteroi (presbyters or elders). It was not until late in the third century that priestly terms were used for Christian clergy. Origen is the first of the “fathers” to imply them to any degree. In the decree of the council at Antioch the clergy are called a hieration or body of priests.