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  The role and nature of the priesthood varies considerably from one religion to another, and from one sect or denomination to another, while in some movements, such as Presbyterianism in Christianity or the anti-Brahmin movements of south India, the absence of the concept or aversion to the term reveals as much as its presence within a religious tradition. Since priesthood is about power, often political as well as spiritual, there is clearly great scope for superstition and corruption. However, in various religions the priesthood has at times been responsible for the preservation of culture and learning, or has been the focus for patriotism and resistance to a foreign oppressor.

Generally speaking, a priest is one who operates at the divide between the sacred and the profane, consecrating things, removing impurity, performing sacrifices and representing the people before the god and the deity to the people. This function may be hereditary, or be the result of a sense of vocation, but in either case, and whatever the precise duties and functions, the holder believes God or the the gods have chosen him (hence the term ‘clergy’, those on whom the lot or kleros (Greek) has fallen). In Hinduism, such choice is the result of one\'s karma, whereby one is born a Brahman or into one of the families which minister to members of low castes or untouchables.

The word ‘priest’ itself is a corruption of the Greek word for ‘elder’, presbuteros. Greeks also used the word hiereus, meaning a cultic priest, responsible for sacrifices, etc.; the Latin equivalent was sacerdos (‘one who makes things holy’). EMJ

Further reading Hans Kung, Why Priests?



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