The term Priesthood is one of the oldest institutions of mankind all over the world. The reason is certainly associated with the religious propensities of man. Man is however religious by nature, “Homo Religiosus”. Man’s preoccupation with Sacred, which Rudolf Otto described as… “A mystery inexpressible and above creatures”1. Mysterium tremendium. – a mystery which attract and repels, must have accelerated the growth of priesthood in human society. So many social scientists are not deluded in classifying religion as one of the five social institutions of mankind2.
By social institutions is meant…. “a complex or cluster of roles, which are knit together for accomplishment of given ends…”3 In religious sphere, communication with the sacred is often through sacred rites and the maintenance of the sacred order within the various spheres of human activities become an essential aspects of any society.
Emil Durkheim4 certainly exaggerated in equating religion with divinized-society. However, on its function in any society, he scored a pass mark. Since religion is endemic to any human society – ancient and modern, those tools which prop it up and fan the embers of religion in the hearts of its votaries worth giving attention. One of these tools is the institution of the priesthood. And we shall discuss it from Catholic and Igbo traditionalist perspectives. Therefore, in African traditional set up, religion is almost synonymous with culture. Africans who are notoriously religious who “eat religiously, drink religiously, bath religiously, dress religiously and sin religiously.”5 Cherish, nourish and sustain the institution of the priesthood as part and parcel of their culture. Priesthood and sacrifice are relatively interwoven. Sacrifice is an act of public worship offered in the name of the community. However, sacrifice could never be carried out without the intermediary performance of the priests, hence the importance of priesthood in religion. Man has always been longing for the need of a special mediator between himself and the object of his worship. “It is on this note that Aristotle supports the importance of having a priest in every community,”6 this issue of priesthood in religions is what we are set to discuss in this long essay, laying more emphasis on the Igbo traditional Priesthood and the Catholic priesthood. This long essay, apart from buttressing the unequivocal importance of priesthood in these two religions, will also try to make a comparative study of the concept of this office (priesthood) in the two religions.
1.1. BACKGROUND OF STUDY
The observer in Igbo traditional priesthood sees the priest as crooked and tattered. This is because they wear tattered clothes; carry dirty bags and many other things, which make them to be feared. This helps to make the casual observers to think that they are only perpetrators of evil in the community. They see him also as a fetish priest or idolatrous priest, but no Igbo traditional priest worships idols or fabricated objects as they think. Nevertheless, they fail to understand that they have their dos and don’ts and their deity will kill them if they do evil. The traditionalists believe with their whole heart that their priests are genuine priests dedicated to offer sacrifices to the spirits for the benefit of humanity. This long essay will try to clear the prejudiced views on priesthood especially, that of Igbo traditional religion, and try to raise the status of this office of priesthood in Igbo traditional religion, to the actual elevated status it is supposed to share with the office of priesthood of other religions (especially catholic priesthood).
1.2 STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM
It is quite unfortunate that this Igbo noble institution has not received fair treatment from many scholars of African Traditional Religion. So, it has been the subject of wrong labelling, caricature, ridicule and disdain. The worst part of it is complete misunderstanding, miss-interpretation and miss-representation or wrong labelling which Parrinder and Arinze rightly considered as serious obstacles to positive picture of the institution in African Religion. Igbo traditional priests have been labelled fetish-priests, witch doctors, medicine men, sorcerers, magicians, juju-men devilish priests and so on. The majority of Christians and many others in various religious sects regard them as the promoters of idolatrous worship. In the whole world, moreover, this type of misconception has caused a negative attitude to the study and complete disdain for African traditional priesthood. On the other hand, since a traditional priest in African society can also be a herbalist, diviner, witch-healer, and seer and so on; then the problem of identification of specialized boundaries emerges. There are also problem of modern life in Africa whereby anything tagged traditional is equated with being archaic, obsolete, primitive, useless and irrelevant as the case may be. So with all these in mind, reflections on the priesthood in Igbo traditional religion may not be considered worthwhile.