Page:EB1911 - Volume 22.djvu/332

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318
PRIEST


Among the ancient Egyptians the local god was the protector and lord of the district. Consequently it was the interest and duty of the inhabitants to maintain the cultus of the patron deity of their city who dwelt in their midst. Moreover, in the earlier times we find the prince of the nome acting as the High Priest of the local god, but in course of time the state, represented by the king, began to an ever-increasing degree to take oversight over the more important local cults. Thus we find that the Egyptian monarch was empowered to exercise priestly functions before all the gods. We constantly see him in the wall-paintings portrayed as a priest in the conventional attitudes before the images of the gods. In the chief sanctuaries the chief priests possessed special privileges, and it is probable that those in the immediate entourage of the king were elected to these positions. The highest nobility in the nome sought the honour of priesthood in the service of the local deity. One special class called kher heb were charged with reciting the divine formulae, which were popularly held to possess magical virtue. In the middle empire (VIIth to XIIth Dynasties) the lay element maintains its position in religious cultus despite its complexity. But under the new empire (Dynasties XVIIIth and following) the professional priest had attained to ominous power. The temples possessed larger estates and became more wealthy. Priests increased in number and were divided into ranks, and we find them occupying state offices, just as in Babylonia the priest acts as judge or inspector of canals (Johns, Babyl. and Assyr. Laws, &c., p. 213).

We now turn to the priesthood as we find it in ancient Greece and Italy. Homer knows special priests who preside over ritual acts in the temples to which they are attached; but his kings also do sacrifice on behalf of their people. The king, in fact, both in Greece and in Rome, was the acting head of the state religion, and when the regal power came to an end his sacred functions were not transferred to the ordinary priests, but either they were distributed among high officers of state, as archons and prytanes, or the title of “ king ” was still preserved as that of a religious functionary, as in the case of the rex sacrorum at Rome and the archon basileus at Athens. In the domestic circle the union of priesthood and natural headship was never disturbed; the Roman paterfamilias sacrificed for the whole family. On the other hand, gentes and phratriae, which had no natural head, had special priests chosen from their members; for every circle of ancient society, from the family up to the state, was a religious as well as a civil unity, and had its own gods and sacred rites. The lines of religious and civil society were identical, and, so long as they remained so, no antagonism could arise between the spiritual and the temporal power. In point of fact, in Greece and Rome the priest never attained to any considerable independent importance; we cannot speak of priestly power and hardly even of a distinct priestly class. In Greece the priest, so far as he is an independent functionary and not one of the magistrates, is simply the elected or hereditary minister of a temple charged with “those things which are ordained to be done towards the gods ” (see Aristotle, Pol. vi. 8), and remunerated from the revenues of the temple, or by the gifts of worshippers and sacrificial dues. The position was often lucrative and always honourable, and the priests were under the special protection of the gods they served. But their purely ritual functions gave them no means of establishing a considerable influence on the minds of men, and the technical knowledge which they possessed as to the way in which the gods could be acceptably approached was neither so intricate nor so mysterious as to give the class a special importance. The funds of the temples were not in their control, but were treated as public moneys. Above all, where, as at Athens, the decision of questions of sacred law fell not to the priests but to the college of éErry1rrai, one great source of priestly power was wholly lacking. There remains, indeed, one other sacred function of great importance in the ancient world in which the Greek priests had a share. As man approached the gods in sacrifice and prayers, so too the gods declared themselves to men by divers signs and tokens, which it was possible to read by the art of Divination (q.v.). In many nations divination and priesthood have always gone hand in hand; at Rome, for example, the augurs and the XV °/Jiri sacrarnm, who interpreted the Sibylline books, were priestly colleges. In Greece, on the other hand, divination wa.s not generally a priestly function, but it did belong to the priests of the Oracles (see ORACLE). The great oracles, however, were of Panhellenic celebrity and did not serve each a particular state, and so in this direction also the risk of an independent priestly power within the state was avoided.1

In Rome, again, where the functions of the priesthood were politically much more weighty, where the technicalities of religion were more complicated, where priests interpreted the will of the gods, and where the pontiffs had a most important jurisdiction in sacred things, the state was much too strong to suffer these powers to escape from its own immediate control: the old monarchy of the king in sacred things descended to the inheritors of his temporal power; the highest civil and religious functions met in the same persons (cf. Cic. De dom. i. 1); and every priest was subject to the state exactly as the magistrates were, referring all weighty matters to state decision and then executing what the one supreme power decreed. And it is instructive to observe that when the plebeians extorted their full share of political power they also demanded and obtained admission to every priestly college of political importance, to those, namely, of the pontiffs, the augurs, and the X V wifi sacrornm. The Romans, it need hardly be said, had no hereditary priests.” We can only glance briefiy at the ancient religions of India (Aryan). “ In historical times the priesthood is rigidly confined to members of the Brahman caste, who are regarded as the representatives of God on earth. But there are indications that at an earlier date the Kshatriya or warrior caste often became priests. The power of the priesthood began with the delegation by the king of his sacrificial duties to a ' president '({1urohita). This power grew with the growing importance of the sacrifice and the complication of its ceremonial. In the post-Vedic period right ' or 'wrong ' simply means the exact performance or the neglect, whether intentional or unintentional-of all the details of a prescribed ritual, the centre of which was the sacrifice. At this period the priestly caste gained its unbounded power over the minds of men ” (Professor Rapson). For further details as to the development of the priestly caste and wisdom in India the reader must refer to BRAHMLNISM; here it is enough to observe that among a religious people a priesthood which forms a close and still more an hereditary corporation, and the assistance of which is indispensable in all religious acts, must rise to practical supremacy in society except under the strongest form of despotism, where the sovereign is head of the Church as well as of the state.

Among the Zoroastrian Iranians, as among the Indian Aryans, the aid of a priest to recite the sacrificial liturgy was necessary at every offering (Herod. i. 13 2), and the Iranian priests (athravans, later Magi) claimed, like the Brahmans, to be the highest order of society; but a variety of conditions were lacking to give them the full place of their Indian brethren. Zoroastrianism is not a nature religion, but the result of a reform which never, under the old empire, thoroughly penetrated the masses; and the priesthood, as it was not based on family tradition, did not form a strict hereditary caste. It was open to any one to obtain entrance into the priesthood, while on the other hand it was only as a priest that he could exercise sacerdotal functions, for these were strictly reserved to priests. Accordingly the clergy formed a compact hierarchy not inferior in influence to the clergy of the Christian middle ages, had great power in the state, and were often irksome even to the great king. 1 For the Greek priests, see, besides Schtimann and other Works on Greek antiquities, Newton, Essays on Art and Archaeology, p. I 36 seq. (from epigraphic material). See also for Greek as Well as Roman priest, art. “ Sacerdos " (Sacerdotinin) in Warre Cornish's Concise Diet. of Greek and Roman Antiquities.

2 On the Roman priests, see in general Marquardt, Raniische Staatsverwaltung, vol. iii., and for the pontiffs in particular the art. “ Sacerdos " in Warre Cornish's Concise Dirt., also Pontifex.