Why do Catholics call priests, “Father,” when Jesus said, “Call no man your Father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in Heaven” (Mt 23:9).
At face value it seems like an air tight argument:
1. Jesus commanded “call no man your Father on earth”.
2. Catholics call their Priests “Father”.
3. Therefore Catholics are in direct violation of Christ’s command.
As with all Scripture, we must read it within its context. Let’s do that now:
“But you are not to be called ‘Rabi’, for you have one teacher, and you are all brethren. And call no man your Father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called ‘Masters,’ for you have one master, the Christ” (Mt 23:8-10)
So, are we to conclude from this passage that we may not call a man Father (or teacher or master)? No.
Christ was not forbidding us to call men “Father,” but rather, warning us against usurping the unique fatherhood of God by attributing his Divine providence to men.
The literalistic interpretation of this passage turns out, as we’ll see, to be unreasonable, unworkable, and unbiblical.
Suppose a young girl—the daughter of a man you know well—approaches you and says “My Father is the greatest!” Are you to reprimand her?
“Look Suzi, your male parent may be a good man but let’s not forget what our Lord said in Matthew 23:9“. 🙂 To ask the question is to answer it.
Furthermore, Jesus could not of meant for us to stop using the word Father for if we did the analogy as God as Father would lose all meaning, making the Father/Son analogies virtually unintelligible.
A literalistic interpretation of the text would prohibit, not only the use of the word Father, but also teacher and master. This means that you may never again use the word doctor as doctor comes from the Latin Docere meaning “to teach”. You may not use the words Mister or Misses because Mr. is an abbreviation for Master and Mrs. is an abbreviation of Mistress which originally meant female teacher.
If you’re a regular listener to Catholic Answers Live you may have heard Dr Tad Pacholczyk (pronounced pa-hol-chick). Dr. Tad is both a neuroscientist and a priest of the Diocese of Fall River, MA. Just for laughs, and to show the absurdity of this position, let’s imagine that you are my Protestant friend (we’ll call you, John) who takes a literalist approach to Matthew 23:9, and the two of us are out for lunch. Halfway through our meal I see Fr. Tad and call him over.
Me: “Hi, Fr Tad, this is my friend, John.
Fr. Tad: “Hi, John, I’m Fr. Tad.”
John: “Ooooh, yeah, look, no offence, but I’m to call no man on earth Father, for I have one Father who is in Heaven.”
Me: Fr Tad is also a Doctor, would you feel more comfortable Dr. Tad?
John: “I’m sorry, Doctor is latin for Teacher and I have but one Teacher who is in heaven.”
Me: (Under me breath) “Dude, quit being awkward!”
Fr. Tad: “Haha, it’s fine, really. How about you just call me Mr. Pacholczyk”
John: “Yeeeeeeah, that’s not going to work either. You see, “Mr.” is an abbreviation of Master, and I have but one Master, The Christ”.
Fr. Tad: “Okay then, good meeting you John, I’m off to…do something else.”
Me: “Check, please!”
If one wants to maintain that using the word Father to refer to another man, biological or other wise, is sinful then he would also have to say that St. Paul, St. John, St. Peter, and St. James either misunderstood our Lords command, didn’t know about it, or were acting in direct defiance of it, for each have no problem using the word.
“I do not write this to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many Fathers. For I became your Father in Christ Jesus through the Gospel” (1 Cor 4:14-15)
Peter calls Mark his son (1 Pet 5:13).
John addresses men in his congregations as “Fathers” (1 John 2:13-14)
Stephen calls the Jewish leaders “Fathers” (Acts 7:2)
So there you have it. That’s my 2 cents. What are your thoughts? Oh, and to all the male parents out there – Happy belated Fathers day!