The Son of God became a priest, or rather the High Priest, when he took on the human condition.

From the time of Hebrews right down to the twentieth century (e.g. Chrysostom, Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, Newman, and Torrance), Christian theologians have repeatedly insisted that the Son of God would not have exercised his priestly office unless he had truly taken on the integral human condition. His humanity was essential to his priesthood. Augustine developed this theme though his image of Christ as ‘the humble doctor’: becoming the Priest for the human family involved Christ in a radical self-humbling. Torrance distinguished between (1) the Church rightly recognizing Christ’s divine identity by adoring him ‘equally with the Father and the Holy Spirit’, and (2) a misguided reaction to Arianism that gave rise to liturgical texts that reduced the place given to the human priesthood of Christ. Any such excessive reactions in defence of Christ’s true divinity at the expense of his humanity entail losing a proper appreciation of his priesthood. That priesthood stands or falls with his being fully and truly human.


The priesthood of Christ and its exercise began with the incarnation. We saw how Hebrews understood Christ’s priesthood to embrace his entire life—from his coming into the world to do God’s will (Heb. 10: 5–7) and living a ‘holy, blameless, and undefiled’ life (7: 26) during all ‘the days of his flesh’ (5: 7). To be sure, for Hebrews the death, resurrection, and glorification of Christ characterized essentially his priesthood. But this did not mean that everything which came before, above all his public ministry, was a mere prelude to the real exercise of his priesthood. The priestly narrative of Hebrews embraced the whole story, right from Christ’s first coming into the world. His priesthood began with incarnation (so e.g. Chrysostom and Calvin). We quoted some vivid, even baroque, language from Be´ rulle, Condren, and Olier about the exercise of Christ’s priesthood starting within the ‘temple’ of Mary’s womb. As Be´ rulle put it, ‘the heart of the Virgin is the first altar on which Jesus offered his heart, body, and spirit as a host of perpetual praise … making the first perpetual oblation of himself, through which … we are all made holy’. This was to presuppose that Christ’s human mind was actualized in a unique way from the first moment of his conception—a view endorsed by Roman Catholics for many centuries but widely abandoned in the course of the twentieth century. Nevertheless, we endorse a central truth that was maintained by the French School with its own imagery: Christ was a priest (or rather the Priest) from the beginning of his human existence, and did not first become a priest only at some later stage: for instance, at the Last Supper, at his crucifixion, or even only at his glorious ascension.