By Brian Pizzalato
Let us now look at the Sacrament of Holy Orders. This sacrament is extraordinarily important. Without holy orders, we would not have four of the other six sacraments, namely confirmation, Eucharist, reconciliation and anointing of the sick. I hope you realize what an absolute tragedy this would be. This is one important reason we must “pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into the harvest” (Matthew 9:38).
In order to understand holy orders, we must take a journey back into the Old Testament. Most think of the priesthood of the Old Testament strictly in terms of the tribe of Levi. However, priesthood goes back much farther, way before Exodus 32 and the ordination of the Levites to the service of Yahweh, and Aaron’s ordination as high priest. How much farther back? All the way to Adam. Yes! Adam was a priest.
In order to make this clear, we must understand that the primary role of the priest is to offer sacrifice. “Now every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices…” (Hebrews 8:3). With that in mind let’s dig a little deeper into Sacred Scripture.
First of all, we must understand that the Israelite’s, because of God’s revelation to them, understood all of creation to be a macro-temple. God, speaking to Job, describes creation this way: “Who determined its size…Who stretched out the measuring line for it? Into what were its pedestals sunk, and who laid the cornerstone…?” (38:5-6). As God created the cosmos in six days and then consecrated and blessed it on the seventh, so too Solomon built the temple in seven years and seven months and during a seven day-liturgy, where he offers seven petitions, he blessed and consecrated the temple (cf. 1 Kings 5-9). This, of course, also means that they understood the temple to be a micro-cosmos.
Other parallels also confirm this notion. The tree of life was located in both the garden and the Jerusalem temple. The tree of life was extremely significant in the garden, as we know. As well, the menorah, a seven branched candelabrum, was considered a stylized tree of life, which is made clear in the description of it given in Exodus 25:31-40.
Every temple, however, needs a sanctuary, and every sanctuary needs a high priest to minister in it, and every high priest is “appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices.” That sanctuary is none other than the garden of Eden. The garden of Eden was not viewed as simply a piece of farmland but as an archetypal sanctuary. Many of the aspects of the garden can be found in later sanctuaries, such as the tabernacle and the Jerusalem temple.
We can see a parallel with what is said in Genesis 3:8, about God walking in the garden. The word hithallek that is used for this action of God is also used in 2 Samuel 7:6-7 describing God’s presence, which abided in the tabernacle in the days of the exodus. A second parallel can be drawn with the mention of the cherubim being stationed east of the garden to guard it (cf. Genesis 3:24). The east was the entrance to the garden, comparatively, so the tabernacle and the Jerusalem temple were entered from the east. As well, cherubim were on the top of the tabernacle, forming the throne of God in the inner sanctuary (cf. Exodus 25:18-22). Further, two cherubim guarded the inner sanctuary of the temple (cf. 1 Kings 6:23-28).
This brings us to Adam and his duty to till (‘abad) and keep (shamar) the garden. These words are better translated, “to serve” and “to guard.” These two Hebrew words are only used together elsewhere in Scripture to describe the duties of the Levites. In Numbers 3:7-8 and Numbers 8:26 the Lord gives the Levites the authority to minister in the tabernacle.
There are some other parallels that help us understand that Adam is the high priest of humanity. As Aaron was clothed at God’s command, so too Adam is clothed with garments by God (Genesis 3:21; Exodus 28:42; Deuteronomy 23:13-14). The high priests garments were arrayed with gold and onyx; so too is there mention of gold and onyx in Eden (Genesis 2:11-12; Exodus 25:7). As Aaron cannot draw near to God with his nakedness exposed, so too, after the fall Adam cannot draw near to God with his nakedness exposed (Genesis 3:10; Exodus 20:26, 28:42).
Adam was to fulfill the duties of a priest, which are to minister in the sanctuary and what all priests do: offer sacrifice. He must guard (shamar) the garden; this implies that there must be something to guard it from. This leads us to the question of what Adam is called to sacrifice.
When the serpent enters the garden, i.e. the sanctuary, we have a good idea of what he is supposed to be guarding against, namely Satan, sin and death. Now, most of all, he is to attend to his priestly duties. The “gifts and sacrifices” Adam is called to offer is none other that the gift and sacrifice of his very self, for his bride, so as to save her from Satan, sin and death. This is made most clear when we consider what Jesus, the new Adam, did (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:45). He offered the gift and sacrifice of himself for his bride, the church, so as to save her from Satan, sin and death. Unfortunately, Adam stands by silently as his bride deals with the life-threatening serpent, and we have been affected by the consequences ever since.
In the next column I will address the priesthood leading up to Aaron and the Levites.
Printed with permission from the Northern Cross, Diocese of Duluth, Minnesota.
Brian Pizzalato is the Director of Catechesis, R.C.I.A. & Lay Apostolate for the Diocese of Duluth. He is also a faculty member of the Theology and Philosophy departments of the Maryvale Institute, Birmingham, England. He writes a monthly catechetical article for The Northern Cross, of the Diocese of Duluth, and is a contributing author to the Association for Catechumenal Ministry's R.C.I.A. Participants Book. Brian is currently authoring the regular series, "Catechesis and Contemporary Culture," in The Sower, published by the Maryvale Institute and is also in the process of writing the Philosophy of Religion course book for the B.A. in Philosophy and the Catholic Tradition program at the Maryvale Institute.
Brian holds an M.A. in Theology and Christian Ministry with a Catechetics specialization and an M.A. in Philosophy from Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio.