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

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




There are so many ways through which an Igbo traditional priest may be called up for his officiating to the deity (i.e., through which he can gain his vocation). The Scholars consulted ;on these have similar opinions according to the way they perceived the vocation to the Igbo traditional priesthood. For Emefie Ikenga




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After payment, text the name of the project, email address and your names to 08064502337 Metuh, he sees the vocation to the Igbo priesthood more as being “hereditary”, as most often a successor to a deceased priest would be gotten from one of his own lineage. Meanwhile, in rare cases, the deity herself chooses the priest through mysterious circumstances, sometimes. Thus, he (Ikenga Metuh) wrote:

In rare cases, as in the case of Eze Ala and the Eze Nri, the deity herself chooses her priest through indications given in dreams, apparitions, mysterious events, divinations, or a combination of two or more of these. For example, the Attama priest of Ngwumadeshe Spirit, in the Nsukka area explained how he was recruited as priest of the spirit thus:’ When I was born after the death of my grandfather, who was the last Attama, they (ie. Members of his kindred) said that I must be the Attama and I made the sacrifices… Certain violent changes would occur in you and you would answer the spirit’s voice. He received his own call through series of dreams[1]

However, for Francis Arinze, he views the vocation to the Igbo priesthood as being purely hereditary. His views have some convergence with that of Ikenga Metuh, only that he gave more detailed explanation to the rare situations where a priest is selected by extra-ordinary signs. He maintained strongly that priesthood is never by election, but strictly hereditary or in rare cases, in some Igbo towns the call is made by the deity itself. He wrote:

The Priesthood is never by election. It is hereditary; a person is a priest of a certain spirit because his father was the priest of that deity…. There might be a handful of towns where a person could be a spirit’s priest because of extraordinary events interpreted as manifestations of wishes of that particular spirit. The inversion of a man’s house by animals, sacred to the spirit or an extra-ordinary increase in animals like cows, goats, sheep in a man’s house is some of such events.  A spirit could also give a special call through an extra-ordinary religious experience…. [2]

These are some of the rare cases where extraordinary signs were used to call an Igbo Priest to his vocation. In my hometown specifically, the vocation to the Igbo Priest consist mainly in Ima-Agwu (being entangled by the deity. The person so entangled, behaves in a strange way, and with this the whole community confirms his call before the incumbent priest dies.


Pertaining to the training of Igbo priests, many scholars are of the view that it goes on more informal than formal. As the vocation is hereditary in majority occasions, the successors are so many at times known before the death of the incumbent priest, and he learns by helping the incumbent priest as a personal assistance, and watching the incumbent priest keenly, so as to master all that is involved in that office before he assumes the office. In reference to this Arinze wrote:

Among the Ibos there is nothing like the highly developed “convent” training as among the fon of Dahomy. There is no special training college. From his childhood to his final initiation, the future priest must have gathered much of the priestly sayings and practices, especially with reference to sacrifices… Before his father dies, he will have known practically everything about his function. If he comes up against difficulties when he takes up office, he consults the priests of the other spirits and elders. The people easily pardon his inefficiency in the early periods.[3]

Ikenga Metuh is also of the same view with Arinze Pertaining the training of the Igbo priest that it should be done informally and by the candidate observing the incumbent priest as he performs, when he is still alive.


A number of African scholars have also difficulties with the terminologies describing the assumption of office by a new priest in African context. In an attempt to describe what is called “Ordination” in Christianity or Catholic Church, they employ various terms like initiation, consecration, dedication and so many others. Consecration may apply to the priesthood because other priests do not necessarily ordain the candidate for the priesthood. The call he receives from the spirit is taken to include an a priori divine ordination. On the day of his assumption of office, the invited guest only assemble to witness the act and to encourage him to take up the noble call.

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Installation: Arinze used initiation for the terminology in Igbo traditional religion to equate it to the Christian ordination. He is of the view that normally, after the death of a priest, the alusi is left without a priest for a space of between one month and one year. The initiation time is ready when the would-be-priest has gathered enough wealth to be able to foot the bills of the ceremony. So many groups of people are summoned and consequently entertained after the initiation. These include, more often, the other priests of the town, the titled men (ndi nze) and sometimes, the daughters of the village married elsewhere (umuokpu). He wrote describing the preparation for their initiation and the actual ceremony of initiation thus:  The shrine is swept with branches of special thorny shrubs (uke, agemeby, akoro). The new priest then uses the sacred wooden cup to pour libations to the spirit. Fowls are sacrificed. Then all go to the house of the priest for a feast”[4] Arinze made it categorically clear that though there seem to be no observation made during this ceremony of the actual transfer of power from the other priests to the new priest, he (the new priest) dares not start officiating without these ceremonies. In other word, these ceremonies are indispensable for his assumption of duty.


The priest in Igbo traditional religion performs various functions in a given society. Some of these functions are listed as follows;


Many scholars agree that a priest in Igbo traditional religion performs many religious functions among the communities they serve. They act as a mediator between God and man or between the divinities and man in all cultic matters, which include sacrifices of all kinds such as offerings, prayers, blessings, curse, administering oaths libations and so many others. According to Emmanuel Ifesieh, commenting on the functions of Eri-priests as rooted in Eri culture and principles said:

The culture was founded on good morals, peaceful co-existence, protection of people from harm, healing of the bridge between God and man, between the world of visible matter and invisible ones, preservation of and living of good life, respect for parents, respect for elders, respect for ancestors, preaching against all kinds of crimes and abominations, spreading love and unity which Chukwu handed down to Eri through the cultural and traditional code of behavior and encouraging traditional code of observing and preserving good customs and holding against all types of taboos as evil [5]


From every indication, priest in the Igbo traditional religion plays an indirect role of leadership. They are not engaged in active partisan politics. His services are needed during the installation and coronation festivals. Initiation of youths in secret societies, which constitute an effective arm of traditional government; administering of oaths, purificatory rites in community crisis. Therefore, in Igbo societies where an achieved status prevails, the priest’s ministration is highly needed to sacralize and affect a transition from one status to another.


The traditional priests have a lot of say in the economic activities of their people. They carry out this function without the specialists like elders, diviners and king they enact laws governing economic relationship with their corresponding sanctions. With their religious and spiritual powers, they conserve, enforce and abrogate taboos and customs in economic relationships. They also regulate the cyclic and seasonal rhythms of nature for economic activities through festivals. Therefore, with these festivals they sacralize peoples’ economic systems.

On the economic activities of the Igbo’s, one of the taboos against land divinity (Nso Ala) is stealing of yam. Yam is very important to an Igbo man. Therefore, to steal it is to commit a most serious crime against land divinity. All the Igbo view Nso-ala or abomination against th

3.8          SOCIAL FUNCTION:

Igbo traditional priest is essentially a man of the community where he lives.  His main concern is the general welfare of the people he serves. He ensures a healthy social interaction among the people through the mechanism of religious intervention techniques. These include administering of oaths either for restoring confidence in a community or for adjudicating justice on the offended party, settlement of quarrels through the rite of purification and so many other ways. In short, Igbo traditional priests resemble the Levitical priests in their involvement in the social life of the people. (Leviticus 12-14)




The call to priesthood is a divine grace; the candidate’s response to that call is

divine grace too. The church teaches that priesthood (in Roman Catholic Church) is a gift from God to the person whom He calls: but God gives that gift to the individual, not in isolation, but through the Church and in union with the Church. The priest is a man called, as Aaron was, (vocatus tamquam Aaron). It is a supernatural vocation, a calling in which God himself plays the major role. God fits the young man with all the natural and supernatural qualities that are needed for priesthood. It is God who inspires the desire in the young man because “No man takes this honour upon himself… (Hebrews 5:4) When Christ was on earth, he chooses the twelve Apostles: (Mt. 10:1-4, Mk. 3: 13 – 19, Lk. 6:12-16) Jesus Christ is still calling men to share in his priesthood. However, today he does it through the mouth of the bishops who represents the Church. No body is sure of his vocation until he hears the call of the bishop, which is the call of Christ, addressed to him personally. It is God who calls not man to be with the Lord is the greatest thing.

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To be a priest many things are required of the individual. One must be a willing instrument of God. In so doing, one allows God to mould him for the work ahead. It is an arduous and difficult process, which required faith, prayers, goodwill, perseverance, patience, self-control; dedication and openness to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.

A seminary is a special place or college where the Church trains her would-be-priests for the priestly apostolate. Seminary life is such a planned and disciplined type of life that prepares a young man for the priesthood. Seminarians are expected to be attuned to the seminary training, so that they form themselves maturely and intelligently for the great ministry – the priesthood.

According to the Vatican II:

Teachers and all who are in any way involved in the education of boys and young men and this applies, especially to Catholic Societies – should endeavor to train the young entrusted to them to recognize a divine vocation and to follow it willing.[6]


The ordination brings to a close the chapter of seminary training and the priestly life begins. One who reaches ordination is a finished product of a seminary.  It marks the completion of the seminary academic/formative stage and the beginning of the ongoing formation. “Nemo sibi sacerdos,” no body is a priest by himself; one is called to ordination. The Church has a tradition, which they use to commission some of its members to special ministries. A particular method of doing this is by the imposition of hands. The rite has been traced to Judaism.[7]  So, in Christian context, it signifies that one has been set apart for the lord, bound to the apostolic origin of the Church and is to be sent for a mission (cf. Act. 6:6; 13:1-3; 14:23). In the Pastoral letters, the rite of imposition of hands is understood in terms of transferring the spirit of God to a person. This spirit in turn empowers the person with the Charism to fulfil the ministry entrusted to him in the Church (cf. 1 Tim 4:14; 2Tim. 1:6).

At ordination of a priest, the bishop lays his hands on the head of the ordinand and says the ordination prayer alone while other priests around him follow suit in laying of hands. “The laying on of hands was first employed as a symbolic gesture of blessing and healing. It is also a way of handing on a mission in the apostolic Church”[8]


All priests are called to holiness. However, if all the faithful are also called to holiness there is a special need and urgency on the part of the priest to be holy. “This is the will of God, your sanctification” (1Thess. 4:3). “You therefore must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt. 5:48). For the priest is the official representative of Christ before the people. To be a worthy and credible representative he must in some way approximate to the statue of Christ. Canon Law thus expresses this greater demand for holiness on the part of the ministers of the Church. “Clerics are bound to lead a more saintly interior and exterior life than the laity and to give them example by excelling in virtue and righteous conduct”[9]

The priest has two wings with which to fly to heaven – the wing of holiness and the wing of knowledge. He must be holy, for God is holy. He must be a man of knowledge, for he is a leader of the people. He must strive to maintain these two wings intact.

Vatican II calls this greater demand for holiness a special claim:  “Priests are bound by a special claim to the acquisition of perfection since they are consecrated to God in a way by the reception of Orders.”[10] This claim can be seen from the following perspectives:

  1. The priest is appointed for men in the things that pertain to God (Heb 5:1) Thomas Aquinas said that those who are mediators between God and man must have a good conscience before God and a good name before man. If the priest does not make himself everyday more pleasing to God, how dare he enter the courts of the Lord? For what companionship has light with darkness? On the other hand, if before men the priest appears as a travesty of the holy things he handles and preaches, how does he expect people to believe and value what his conduct and way of life repudiate? Thus in the Old Testament God commanded his priests: “Let them therefore be holy because I also are holy, the Lord who sanctifies them” (Rev. 21:8) “Let thy priests, O! Lord, be clothed with justice and let thy servants rejoice” (Ps. 131 &132)
  2. The priest is Christ’s trusted friend. For Christ said to them: “I call you friends…. no longer do I call you servants” (Jn. 15:14) Friendship with Christ – this is the mainstay of the priest’s life. He knows that Christ out of love has chosen him and entrusted to him this ministry of reconciliation (cf. 2 Cor. 5:19). Now, said by People Pius X,:
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Friendship finds those of the like mind of makes the such. To have the same likes, the same dislikes that is what constitutes true friendship.  If we want to be friends of Jesus Christ, we must be one with him in will, affection and sentiments: the priest is another Christ[11]

  1. The priest is the steward of God’s mysteries especially of the Eucharist. “They who are not holy should not handle holy things”[12] The mysteries of God are concerned with the increase of holiness and union with God among the people and their effectual salvation. These gifts of God come to the people through the priest. As he is admonished on the day of ordination; “It is your ministry which will make the spiritual sacrifices of the faithful perfect by uniting them to the Eucharistic sacrifice of Christ. That sacrifice of Christ will be offered sacramentally in an unbloody way through the hands of the priest. Understand the meaning of what you do, put into practice what you celebrate; when you recall the mystery of the death and resurrection of the Lord, try to die to sin and walk in the new life of Christ.”[13]

Priests cannot dispense the sacred mysteries as if they were tunnels through which grace passes without leaving any mark. They must first open themselves to the spiritual realities to which they minister. Thus the injunction: “Imitate what you handle.”[14]

  1. The priest has the ministry of preaching: Priests are ministers of God’s word. They should in the words of Vatican II,

Everyday read and listen to that word which they are required to teach others. If they are at the same time preoccupied with welcoming this message into their own hearts, they will become ever more perfect disciples of the Lord. For as the apostles Paul wrote to Timothy: “Meditate these things, give thyself entirely to them, that thy progress may be manifest to all. Take heed to thyself and to thy teachings be earnest in them. For in so doing thou will save both thyself and those who hear thee” (1 Tim 4:15-16)[15]

Again, the bishop at ordination exhorts the young candidate(s), “see that you believe what you read, that you teach what you believe and that you translate your teaching into action.”[16] Thus, priests must teach both by words and by practical examples.

This word of Christ in his priestly prayer leaves a pattern for the priest. The priest must continue to sanctify himself for the sake of his people, as he was admonished on the day of ordination:

Let the impact of your life please the followers of Christ, so that by word and action you may strengthen the house, which is the Church of God

The priest is for the people. Let the priest never forget this. The priest must continue to be a light in the midst of the Christian community; he must continue to be the salt of the earth and up lifter of the society.


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