If Jesus Is Our Mediator, Why Do We Need Priests?

By pintswaquinas February 20, 2024

In 1 Timothy 2:5, St. Paul says, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”

Many Protestants whip out this verse when challenging Catholics on the priesthood. After all, Catholics claim that priests can forgive sins and communicate God’s grace. Isn’t this distracting us from Christ?

To answer this question, let’s start by considering a tasty pumpkin pie.

Locals with Matt Fradd Pints with Aquinas

The pie versus the participation model of mediation.
Imagine a pie divided into six slices. If you take a slice for yourself, someone else misses out on that piece.

Protestants view mediation in a similar way: If you confess your sins to a priest, you’re taking away from Jesus’ mercy. For Protestants, it’s Jesus or the priest. It’s a zero-sum game.

The Catholic view on mediation is based on the participation paradigm. When the priest absolves you from your sins in Confession, it’s Jesus absolving you through the words and gestures of the priest.

God can forgive sins on His own, but He wants us to participate in His great plan of salvation. We are supporting actors in this drama, not passive observers. Priests play a role more closely involved with Jesus’ saving actions.

We need priests because we are soul and body.
God wants to reach us in a way appropriate to the nature He gave us. We each have a physical body and a spiritual soul. As St. Thomas Aquinas affirms, all our knowledge originates from sense knowledge. We rely on the knowledge acquired by our five senses even to understand spiritual realities. (Try imagining God without any sort of image. Bet you can’t! And no, imagining only a black or white canvas doesn’t count because those are still images.)

God communicates spiritual gifts to us through the physical world, whether that be the words of absolution from a priest, the Eucharist, or the baptismal waters. If a priest says, “Your sins are forgiven,” you can be confident that God has truly freed you from them.

Ultimately, priests are a sign of Christ’s nearness to us. He’s not content to reign in heaven out of our sight. He comes to us through the words and gestures of the priest and, ultimately, through the Eucharist consecrated by His power through the hands of His ministers.

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