Featured Reviews, Uncategorized, VOLUME 6

Garry Wills – Why Priests? [Feature Review]

Page 3: Garry Wills – Why Priests?


In this context, Wills’s envoi is revealing. In these last pages, Wills describes his “central and essential” articles of faith (256), and ends his book with his own confession: “There is one God, and Jesus is one of his prophets, and I am one of his millions of followers” (258). In Why Priests?, Wills has written an apologia for his own faith; and perhaps it is unjust to ask for history from an apologia. Yet, again on page one, Wills professes his admiration for another priest, one who, like Wills, wrote many an apologia for his faith. That priest offered the start of a different answer to the question “Why priests?”


It is indeed sometimes said that the stream is clearest near the spring. Whatever use may fairly be made of this image, it does not apply to the history of a philosophy or belief, which on the contrary is more equable, and purer, and stronger, when its bed has become deep, and broad, and full. It necessarily rises out of an existing state of things . . . It changes with them in order to remain the same. In a higher world it is otherwise, but here below to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often. (John Henry Newman, Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, Ch. 1, Sec. 1, 7)


Newman’s apologia did not and certainly cannot satisfy everyone. Nevertheless, Newman attempted to relate his own beliefs to the whole history of Christian belief. By cutting the idea of priesthood out from his own credo, Wills shows he is not willing to undertake this task.


*** [easyazon-link keywords=”Garry wills” locale=”us”]Other Books by Garry Wills[/easyazon-link]

To return one last time to page one: “Why, then, having been such a fan of many priests of all sorts, close to me and far, do I now ask why we need priests at all? It is not a personal issue but an historical one” (1). Wills is certainly right; the Catholic priesthood is a historical issue that deserves a historical account. But as we have seen, Garry Wills’s Why Priests? is not an historical account but a personal one. As such, it is still a challenge: how do our beliefs relate to our history, and what in our history have we, Protestant or Catholic, sacrificed for the sake of our belief?


Joseph Krall is a writer and student living in Indianapolis. He writes at josephkrall.com.



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C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com

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