A Comparative Study Of The Concept Of Priesthood In Igbo Traditional Religion And Catholic Priesthood

Project and Seminar Material for Philosophy

A Comparative Study Of The Concept Of Priesthood In Igbo Traditional Religion And Catholic Priesthood


In every society, whether modern or traditional society, the place of religion cannot be overlooked as the revolve the centre of man’s activities. One of the most important tools for religion is the institution of the priesthood. In this thesis, the writer endeavoured to buttress the unequivocal importance of priesthood in the traditional and Christianity religion. A comparative analysis of the office of the priest were attempted for both traditional and Christian religion. This study employed the synthetic, interpretative and expository method of analysis. The findings reveals that In both Catholic and Igbo Traditional religion, God is accepted as the supreme object of worship. Also, while Christianity sees the life of everyone as singular and unrepeatable the Igbo Tradition, on the other hand admits the possibility of reincarnation as a way of “second chance” to attain perfection and ancestor-hood. The study concluded that the importance of a priest as a mediator between the deity and the community or between God and the community of God’s people cannot be overemphasized. His presence is a sine-qua-non for the successful carrying-out of sacrifices and community worships. The irrevocability of his office is also stressed, such that once one is recognized as a priest, the position cannot be revoked such that as once a priest is always a priest in both religions..

Chapter One

1.0 Introduction

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[1] 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.

1.3 Purpose of Study

One may ask what is it that still arouses interest in the study of priesthood in Igbo traditional religion at this modern era. The reason is that the institution has witnessed a radical change caused by the attitude of the Christians. This can be observed in what we call evangelization, conversion and so many other tenets, which they use to confront the traditionalist. At the same time telling them that without entering their own religion that heaven is not for them; that is (salvation). And that is why I developed an interest in studying of the concept of the priesthood of the two religions meticulously to do a comparative analysis of both without any bias in mind.

1.4 Significance of Study

The importance of this long-essay is to show that there is not much difference between the Jews and the Greeks. We shall also understand that the Christians (Catholics) are serving their God in a conventional and accepted way, while the traditionalists are serving the same God in a traditional or natural but conventionally unaccepted way (albeit their own way) though it depends on the approach one wishes to take. We should bear in mind that traditional religion was in existence before the Christian religion. Therefore, we hope that this long essay wills also contribute in the domains of our intellectual pursuits, in trying to uphold this institution.

1.5 Scope of Study

It is difficult to deal on African Traditional Religion and Christianity in general. Therefore, we want to examine one of the major elements that are in common to the both religions and then contribute our little quota to the intellectual domains. Our areas of interest are on priesthood. Then in the light of the call of the second Vatican council for dialogue between Christianity and other religions. (cf Vat. II, Nostra Aetate). We shall examine some aspects of Igbo traditional priesthood in relation to the Catholic understanding of priesthood, so as to sift out the similarities and the differences.

1.6 Methodology

The method to be employed in the work is a synthetic, interpretative and expository analysis. Synthetic in the sense that relevant insight of various scholars on this topic will be collated and utilized for more comprehensive knowledge of the topic under discussion. Interpretative because as an insider with some experience of the activities of some Igbo traditional priests, I will try to make sense of this religious institution. Byexpository we mean that all the hidden meanings and many ambiguous words will, be laid bare. For proper understanding, these methods will bring out the comparative nature of the long essay.

1.7. Division of Work

This work comprises six chapters.

Chapter 1 is regarded as the introductory part of the work. It contains the background of study, statement of problem, purpose of study, significance of study, scope of study, methodology and the division of work.

Chapter 2 is the literature review of what other authors said on the topic which also I include the documents of the Church, especially the Vatican Council II, and the Scriptures.

Chapter 3 is an elaboration on the Igbo traditional priesthood and peeps into the vocation to the Igbo priesthood, his training, his installation or consecration and his functions.

Chapter 4 is also an elaboration of Catholics priesthood and its contents; his call to the office, training, ordination and priestly call to holiness.

Chapter 5 is the comparative study, which is all about some of convergences and divergences of priesthood of both religions.

Chapter 6 is the evaluation and conclusion. The last is the bibliography.

Chapter Six


Having discussed this theme so far, it is apt that we make an evaluation of what we have achieved in its discussion. We started with the explanation of the concepts to be used as the tools within the discourse. This took charge of the explanation of terms, background of study, purpose of study, significance of Study, scope of study, methodology and the division of work

Later we came to a stage of the literature review, where we tried to outline what has been said of priesthood by numerous authors and major books and the connections between their lines of thought. Having taken care of the literature review, we then proceeded into the elaboration of the concepts of priesthood in both the Igbo traditional religion and the Catholic priesthood. This chronicled; the call to the office of a priest, training of a would- be-priest, ordination and installation of the priest in the respective religions. The bulk and the soul of this discourse came as a comparative study of the concepts of priesthood in both religions. In this we stated the main significances and the divergences of the concepts of priesthood in the respective religions. It tried to show the chordic strand holding the concepts of priesthood in both religions together, and the point where they asserted, “to your tenth O Israel”. In this we say that there are so many resemblances in the way both religions conceive priesthood, except for some divergences and disparities. This then explains that the concept of priesthood in the Igbo traditional religion can be scripted down in some aspects as having the equivalence of the Catholic priesthood, but that does not mean that it is exactly co terminus with it.


We have successfully examined the concepts of priesthood in both the Christian religion (Catholic priesthood in Particular) and the African traditional religion (the Igbo traditional priesthood in particular). Let us then look at the conclusive thesis as could be sieved-out within the course of the discourse.

In the two religions discussed, priesthood is seen as a gift. In the sense that, the priest does not just usurp the position on his own, but receives the gift of priesthood from the deity, by inheritance or from God (as it is with the Catholic priesthood).

More so, the importance of a priest as a mediator between the deity and the community or between God and the community of God’s people cannot be overemphasized. His presence is a sine-qua-non for the successful carrying-out of sacrifices and community worships. The irrevocability of his office is also stressed, such that once one is recognized as a priest, the position cannot be revoked such that; “once a priest is always a priest” in both religions. The importance of the proper training and preparation of the would-be-priest is also clearly underlined. They maintained that a would-be-priest should be adequately prepared and trained for his delicate position and function.

From the logical point of view of this discourse, it could be seem to be that there was a little diversion into the discussion of the two religions instead of the discussion of their priesthood institutions per se. This is because of the fact that for there to be a substantial understanding of the priesthood institution, there should be a little outlining of the religious concepts of the respective religions. You need to have a general understanding of the religion itself and then you will be able to focus on the priesthood in particular.

Finally, it could be sourced through the scourge of this discourse that the priesthood in the African traditional religion, (the Igbo traditional religion in particular) is not just mythical. It is as real as the priesthood institutions of the other religions such as the Catholic Priesthood.

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