The Lord has sworn and will not waver:Psalm 110:4
“You are a priest forever in the manner of Melchizedek.”
The dreamlike quality of the mysterious Melchizedek defies logical analysis and reasoning. Efforts to pin down his identity from ancient times to the present have failed. The Spirit of Scripture seems unvexed by analytical demands for clarity, for the historicity of the King of Salem adds nothing to the portrait of Christ, the eternal high priest. In fact, the very silence of Scripture on Melchizedek’s origins becomes the springboard for “arguing” to the eternal priesthood of the Son of God.1
Without father, mother, or ancestry, without beginning of days or end of life, thus made to resemble the Son of God, he remains a priest forever.Hebrews 7:3
Melchizedek is considered a “type” of Christ, as Adam and David are types of Christ. The entire edifice of the book of Hebrews rests on typology, a kind of overarching analogy that sees earthly realities as coming from and returning to a perfect, eternal model in heaven.2 Unlike a step-by-step rational argument, a typological “argument” is more like facial recognition.
To see a World in a Grain of SandWilliam Blake
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour
Instant recognition of “a Heaven in a Wild Flower” is poetic, holistic, and intuitive rather than logical and rational. The author of Hebrews similarly expects his listeners to recognize Melchizedek in Christ and Christ in Melchizedek.
The psalm that invokes Melchizedek out of the dreamlike past was inspired by the Spirit. For David had no precedent for saying, “The Lord says to my lord: ‘Sit at my right hand’” (Psalm 110:1). We do not know how David understood “my lord,” but Jesus interpreted the psalm as pointing to himself, the Son of God (Mark 12:35-37; Matthew 22:41-46).
David linked his kingship to a priesthood prior to the Mosaic law and the covenant of circumcision, for Abram met Melchizedek before he received his new name. The mysterious “king of righteousness” appeared and disappeared without a trace, blessing Abram during a sacred feast of bread and wine.
Abraham never forgot his encounter with Melchizedek for the story passed down from generation to generation. Hymns may have been composed in honor of this Canaanite priest-king who is “without beginning of days or end of life.” Melchizedek points to an eternal sonship beyond time and history.
Priesthood and sonship are thus inseparable and return to God the Father as origin. Apart from creation, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit pre-exist with an incomprehensible glory without reference to creatures. Priesthood appears with the Incarnation.
When we speak of Christ’s priesthood, what else do we mean than the incarnation?St. Fulgentius of Ruspe, bishop (c. 467-532)3
The Incarnation and priesthood
begin in the beginning
before the beginning
in the mind of God.
According to the blueprint of typology, Adam was made in the image of Christ, the “firstborn of all creation” (Colossians 1:15). The perfect Adam preceded the Adam of Eden in the divine mind, but descended from him in the Incarnation.
Return to the beginning
of the heavens and the earth,
When the Father gave his temple
and creation new birth.
King Adam, priest and son of
the garden sanctuary,
Protected paradise and
with all creatures made merry.
Primordial priesthood began with the first-created person, Adam. Selfless generosity characterized every action of Adam, the son of God in the Son of God.
Priesthood and sonship are thus synonymous with self-gift, for the Son is an eternal gift from the Father in the Spirit. The cosmic human person is a temple modeled on the Trinity.
Jesus’ sacrifice and resurrection restored the original priesthood of Adam and humanity. The Levitical priesthood, instituted on account of Egyptian idolatry and sin, was superseded by our priest of paradise:
holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners, higher than the heavens.Hebrews 7:28
The veil protecting the tree of life in the garden of Eden, symbolized by the branches and blossoms of the menorah in Solomon’s temple (Exodus 25:31-40), was removed by the eternal high priest who granted access to the divine presence (shekinah) in the Holy of Holies.
The Holy of Holies is the human heart.
But this is the covenant I will establish with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their minds and I will write them upon their hearts. I will be their God, and they shall be my people.Hebrews 8:10
1 See New American Bible (Revised Edition) footnote to Hebrews 7:3.
2 See New American Bible (Revised Edition) footnote to Hebrews 8:2.
3 From a letter by Fulgentius of Ruspe, bishop. See Liturgy of the Hours, Second Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday, Office of Readings.