WHY DO CATHOLICS CALL THE PRIESTS AS FATHER?

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Anti-Catholics claim that when Catholics address the priests as “father,” they are engaging in an unbiblical practice that Jesus forbade: “Call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven” (Matthew 23:9). But, is that what it really means?

In the Sacred Scipture the concept of fatherhood is not restricted to just the earthly fathers and God. For instance, Joseph told his brothers of a special fatherly relationship God gave him with the king of Egypt: “So it was not you who sent me here, but God; and he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt” (Genesis 45:8). Job also indicated that he played a fatherly role with the less fortunate: “I was a father to the poor, and I searched out the cause of him whom I did not know” (Job 29:16). God Himself declared that he would give a fatherly role to Eliakim, the steward of the house of David: “In that day I will call my servant Eliakim, the son of Hilkiah . . . and I will clothe him with [a] robe, and will bind [a] girdle on him, and will commit . . . authority to his hand; and he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah” (Isaiah 22:20–21). And Elisha cried, “My father, my father!” to Elijah as the latter was carried up to heaven in a whirlwind (2 Kings 2:12); Then, Elisha himself was called a father by the king of Israel: “When the king of Israel saw them, he asked Elisha, ‘Shall I kill them, my father? Shall I kill them?’ (2 Kings 6:21).”

However, the anti-Catholics would still argue that it may have been permissible to call certain men “father” in the Old Testament, but since the time of Christ, it’s no longer allowed. Well, is that so?

In 1 Corinthians 4:14-16, it reads: “I do not write these things to shame you, but as my beloved children I warn you. For though you might have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel. Therefore I urge you, imitate me.” Here, St. Paul referred to the Corinthians as his “beloved children” telling them that they “do not have many fathers”, but that he himself has “begotten” them. Clearly, the apostle took on the mantle of spiritual fatherhood for the congregation of Corinth.

Furthermore, below are other biblical proof texts that the term Father being used in the New Testament, even for men who are not biologically related to the speaker:

⚫ St. Paul declared himself to be the father of the Corinthians:

“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 Corinthians 4:14–15). 

⚫ The apostles also referred to several people as their children; thus, treating themselves as the spiritual fathers:

“Therefore I sent to you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ” (1 Corinthians 4:17).

“To Timothy, my true child in the faith: grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord” (1 Timothy 1:2)

“To Timothy, my beloved child: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord” (2 Timothy 1:2).

“This charge I commit to you, Timothy, my son, in accordance with the prophetic utterances which pointed to you, that inspired by them you may wage the good warfare” (1 Timothy 1:18).

“You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:1)

“But Timothy’s worth you know, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel” (Philippians 2:22).

“To Titus, my true child in a common faith: grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior” (Titus 1:4).

“I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become in my imprisonment” (Philemon 10).

“Here for the third time I am ready to come to you. And I will not be a burden, for I seek not what is yours but you; for children ought not to lay up for their parents, but parents for their children” (2 Corinthians 12:14).

“My little children, with whom I am again in travail until Christ be formed in you!” (Galathians 4:19).

“She who is at Babylon, who is likewise chosen, sends you greetings; and so does my son Mark” (1 Peter 5:13).

“My little children, I am writing this to you so that you may not sin; but if any one does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1).

“No greater joy can I have than this, to hear that my children follow the truth” (3 John 4).

SEE? If Christ really forbade the use of Father to men, then how can the anti-Catholics reconcile the verses above to their own interpretation of Matthew 23:9? No, they can’t. The Holy Catholic Church explains that text as Jesus’ condemnation of the Pharisees and scribes who disobeyed the commandments (cf. Mark 7:8-9), the hypocrites who did not practice what they taught (cf. Matthew 23:3), who sought their own glorification, but did not do works of love (cf. Matthew 23:4-7), and who exalted themselves and would put themselves in the place of God. As a matter of fact, Jesus heard the Jews referring to Abraham as their Father in John 8:37-39 but He did not condemn them because of that. The Lord even supported calling Abraham as Father when He told the story of Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16:24-25. If Christ really meant prohibiting calling man on earth as Father, then it follows contradicting Himself. But Christ won’t contradict Himself because He is the truth (cf. John 14:6).

Now, in the immediate context of the terms Jesus uses in Matthew 23:9, there can also be seen the same treatment of the term ‘Father’ as the term ‘teacher’ (v. 8), or Master, (v. 10). When Jesus was teaching about the necessity of being born again to Nicodemus, He affirmed that Nicodemus was a teacher (RSV), or Master (KJV) of Israel (John 3:10). Again, to even say that a spiritual teacher is impossible would have Jesus contradicting Himself. In fact, Christ Himself appointed certain men to be teachers in his Church: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations . . . teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” See? Is it prohibited?

St. Paul spoke of his commission as a teacher: “For this I was appointed a preacher and apostle . . . a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth” (1 Timothy 2:7); “For this gospel I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher” (2 Timothy 1:11). He also mentioned that the Church has an office of teacher: “God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers” (1 Corinthians 12:28); and “his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers” (Ephesians 4:11). There is indeed no doubt that St. Paul was not violating Christ’s teaching in Matthew 23 by referring so often to others as “teachers.” Well, it is not the Holy Catholic Church who violated the “Call No Man Father” biblical passage but the anti-Catholics because of their misinterprestation and false teaching. Again, if calling the priests as Father is forbidden, then it also implies that calling anyone as Teacher or Master is violating Christ’s command. But that is just a product of the anti-Catholics’ poor mind and understanding on the Scriptures. Why? Because the truth is not in them. The Spirit of truth was absolutely sent to guide Christ’s Holy Catholic Church into all truth (cf. John 16:13).

Remember that all fatherhood comes from God alone, as St. Paul teaches in Ephesians 3:14-15: “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named . . .” Note that the term “family” used in this verse was originally written in Greek as “patria” from which the Latin term “pater” (meaning: father) was derived. In this context, it is certain that the fatherhood of priests does not bear the authority of man and providing an example of pride as the scribes and Pharisees but the authority of God in the New Covenant sealed in the blood of Christ. Thus, both the biological fathers or spiritual fathers are circumstances to be participating in the one fatherhood of God.

Like St. Paul who rested his claim to being the spiritual father of the Corinthians on the fact that he has, in his words, “begotten you through the gospel”, the priest’s mantle of authority originates with God, not with himself. For this reason, he can boldly instruct the people of God and challenge them with these simple words:

“IMITATE ME”.

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