Call No Man Father? A Socratic Dialogue


I was pleased that so many people wrote to me expressing their thanks for my last socratic dialogue on the motherhood of God. I thought I’d try my hand at another one.

Sam: Okay, since you love logic so much, I have a syllogism for you.

Justin: Let’s hear it!

Sam: Premise 1: In Matthew 23:9, Jesus said “call no man Father.” Premise 2: Catholics call priests Father. Conclusion: Therefore Catholics are in direct violation of Jesus’ command. What say you? Seems pretty air-tight to me, don’t you think?

Justin: Sam, do you hate your Father and Mother?

Sam: I’ll admit it. There were a number of things I thought you’d say in response to my argument; that wasn’t one of them. What are you talking about? Just answer the question.

Justin: I am, in a round about way. Do you hate your mother and father?

Sam: If you’re trying to make the point that It’s legitimate to call my earthly Dad, Father, I agree. But the . . .

Justin: That’s not the point I was trying to make. Do you hate your mother and father?

Sam: No, obviously not. I love them.

Justin: Premise 1: In one of the gospels Jesus says, “If anyone does not hate his own Father and Mother he cannot be my disciple.” Premise 2: You do not hate your Father and Mother. Conclusion: Therefore you cannot be Jesus’ disciple. Tell me what’s wrong with my argument and you’ll have the answer as to what’s wrong with yours. … Bazinga!


Sam: That comes from Luke’s gospel, chapter fourteen. So you think that Jesus was using hyperbole in Matthew 23:9?

Justin: Is that what you think he was doing when he told us to hate our parents?

Sam: Yes, obviously. Jesus was not only a faithful Jew, but God himself. It was he who commanded us to honor our parents in Exodus 20.

Justin: Man you Protestants are good with bible verses. Do you think it’s at least possible that Jesus was using hyperbole in Matthew 23?

Sam: Not unless you can give me a good reason to think so. I was able to show that Jesus couldn’t have meant us to literally hate our parents because elsewhere he commands us to honor them, not to mention his call for us to love everyone, including our enemies!

Justin: So what you’re saying is, if I could show you passages in Scripture where Jesus or the apostles used the word Father to refer to an earthly man, you’d be willing to accept that Jesus may have been using hyperbole?

Sam: Not just any man; as I was about to say earlier, obviously Jesus didn’t mean that we couldn’t call our earthly Fathers father. I’m talking about a sort of spiritual fatherhood that you ascribe to your priests.

Justin: Now isn’t that interesting.

Sam: What?

Justing: That you say “obviously Jesus didn’t mean that we couldn’t call our earthly Fathers father.” Why do you say “obviously.” The text doesn’t say “Call no man who isn’t actually your earthly father father on earth” It says, “Call no man your Father on earth.”  So why say “obviously?” Why think he didn’t mean just what he said and agree that it’s also wrong to call our earthly Fathers father?

Context Context Context

Sam: What you seem to be missing, Justin, is the context. Remember, as it’s bee said, a text without a context is very often a pretext for a proof text, and I’m afraid to say that’s what you’re doing here.

Justin: Okay, I agree with you, we need to read Scripture in context. Explain to me why you think I’m not doing that.

Sam: When you read the verse in context you see that he is condemning the “scribes and pharisees” who “love . . . being called rabbi.” It’s in this context that he says “you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher and all of you are brethren.” Then he says, “call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven.” So you see, he’s talking about titles that people attribute to themselves, he’s saying that his disciples shouldn’t be called father in the spiritual sense. And this is precisely what you as Catholics do!

Spiritual Sense?

Justin: Okay. I want to be clear about what you mean by “spiritual sense.”

Sam: Well someone who isn’t actually a father but thinks of himself as such. And, before you interrupt, I’m not thinking of a foster-father either, I’m talking about religious or spiritual fatherhood, does that make sense?

Justin: Yes, I think so. So, for example, when my friend Jim was ordained a priest last year, it would be wrong of him to say something like, “I have now become your father in the faith.”

Sam: Precisely.

Justin: Huh, so according to you St. Paul did something gravely wrong, when, in 1 Corinthians 4:15 he said “I became your Father in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”

Sam: That’s different. He didn’t ask people to call him Father.

Justin: First, you can’t possibly have anyway of knowing that. And secondly, you said it was wrong for a person to attribute to himself the title, remember? Furthermore, Paul himself used the word Father in a spiritual sense when he called the Jewish religious leaders “fathers” in Acts 22:1. Stephen did the same thing in Acts 7:2.—Don’t look so surprised, I do know some verses!—In his parable of the Rich man and Lazarus, Jesus has the Rich man, call Abraham, “Father Abraham.” Again, this is clearly in spiritual sense.

Sam: So what do you think Jesus meant then if he didn’t mean that we shouldn’t attribute to ourselves, and call others father in a spiritual sense.

Justin: It seems to me that Our Lord is saying, do not usurp the Fatherhood of God. Do not mistake earthly fatherhood for His Divine Fatherhood. Catholics call their priests Father, not because they’re mistaking them for God almighty, obviously, but because they, like St. Paul, cooperate, with God in taking care of God’s people by nourishing them with the word of God and the sacraments.

Sam: I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree.

Justing: Erg, can’t we just agree that you’re wrong and I’m awesome? For once?

Sam: You are awesome…Awesomely wrong!

Justin: Your words? Sometimes they hurt.

4 thoughts on “Call No Man Father? A Socratic Dialogue

  1. I like this type of apologizing. Using their understanding and at the samr time showing the difference and truthfulness about what we are actually saying is good. Plus at least in your version it is not falling into arguing. But discussion of different interpretation.

  2. This is awesome!
    Socrates is my favourite philosophy-class character! Mhm, always rooting him on from the sidelines (Euthyphros never stood a chance!..). And, I must say, Catholic Socrates is even better.
    Thanks for the fun read, Matt 🙂

  3. Wonderful job, as always!

    Do you think you could consider writing up a post concerning divorce as seen by the Church as well as why there are no contradictions within the Bible? These would be separate, just for clarification (unless, of course, you wanted to do them together). 😛

    Keep up the fantastic work!

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