On why Catholics call priests “Father”?

Fr. Nicholas Gruner, Fatima, Fatima crusader, our lady of Fatima, roman catholic, true freethinker,,.jpg

Non-Catholics point out that the Bible appears to clearly teach that Jesus Himself taught to not call anyone “Father” but Catholics claim that this is not relevant to their clergy.

If you are not interested in really understanding this issue, please do not read this article as we will delve into the details whereby one may make a decision upon this issue by testing all things and holding to that which is good (1 Thessalonians 5:21).

Let us consider this issue as it is elucidated by the Roman Catholic apologists at Catholic Answers from article, Call No Man “Father”?

A friend who is constantly attempting to convert this Examiner to Roman Catholicism has the habit of answering questions by simply copying entire pages (pages and pages and pages) from the Catholic Answers website and pasting them into emails so, this seems a good place to go for the latest and greatest.

Also, this Examiner moderated a debate between James White and Robert Sungenis on Mary’s assumed assumption wherein Sungenis, the Catholic, began his case, right up front, by quoting Catholic AnswersKarl Keating who wrote:

…where is the proof [of the Assumption] from Scripture? Strictly, there is none. It was the Catholic Church that was commissioned by Christ to teach all nations and to teach them infallibly. The mere fact that the Church teaches the doctrine of the Assumption as something definitely true is a guarantee that it is true.[1]

The bottom line for Catholics is the same as for Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc. and that is: my church said it, I believe it and so it must be true.

Let us begin with the relevant Biblical statement quoted from the Vatican’s website’s version of the New American Bible:

Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, saying, “The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice.

They tie up heavy burdens (hard to carry) and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them. All their works are performed to be seen. They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels.

They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues, greetings in marketplaces, and the salutation ‘Rabbi.’ As for you, do not be called ‘Rabbi.’ You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers.

Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven.

Do not be called ‘Master’; you have but one master, the Messiah.

The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You lock the kingdom of heaven before human beings. You do not enter yourselves, nor do you allow entrance to those trying to enter. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You traverse sea and land to make one convert, and when that happens you make him a child of Gehenna twice as much as yourselves (Matthew 23:1-10).

Now, let us see what Catholic Answers has to say:

Many Protestants claim that when Catholics address 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” (Matt. 23:9).

Yes, any Biblical Christian would protest a clear violation of the Bible.

No one would deny a little girl the opportunity to tell someone that she loves her father. Common sense tells us that Jesus wasn’t forbidding this type of use of the word “father.” 

The children; think of the children! Actually, he is quite correct as Jesus wasn’t forbidding this type of use of the word “father”—agreed.

In fact, to forbid it would rob the address “Father” of its meaning when applied to God, for there would no longer be any earthly counterpart for the analogy of divine Fatherhood. The concept of God’s role as Father would be meaningless if we obliterated the concept of earthly fatherhood. 

This also is accurate and yet, grossly hyperbolic as no one is even dreaming of obliterating the concept of earthly fatherhood but rather of obliterating the Roman Catholic practice of teaching contradictions of Jesus’ words as official doctrine or dogma.

It is also noted:

…in the Bible the concept of fatherhood is not restricted to just our earthly fathers and God. It is used to refer to people other than biological or legal fathers, and is used as a sign of respect to those with whom we have a special relationship. 

Again, this is quite accurate.

Fr. Nicholas Gruner, Fatima, Fatima crusader, our lady of Fatima, roman catholic, true freethinker,,.jpg

Some Fundamentalists argue that this usage changed with the New Testament—that while it may have been permissible to call certain men “father” in the Old Testament, since the time of Christ, it’s no longer allowed. This argument fails for several reasons. 

Now we are getting close to the real issue. Do not know who are the “Some Fundamentalists” (probably those fundamentalists who put the fun in dysfunction) but it is a jejune tactic to appeal to a nameless and faceless (un-quoted and un-cited) straw man.

Let us take a moment to note that the term Jesus used is in the Greek manuscripts as pater and is the same term which is used in referring to God the Father, the Pater:

Pray, then, in this way: “Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name… (Matthew 6:9).

Also, the same with reference to Abraham:

…and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, “We have Abraham for our father”; for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham (Matthew 3:9).

Also used again by Jesus when quoting the Old Testament:

And He answered and said to them, “Why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? “For God said, ‘HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER,’ and, ‘HE WHO SPEAKS EVIL OF FATHER OR MOTHER IS TO BE PUT TO DEATH.’ “But you say, ‘Whoever says to his father or mother, “Whatever I have that would help you has been given to God,” he is not to honor his father or his mother.’ And by this you invalidated the word of God for the sake of your tradition (Matthew 15:3-6 see also Acts 7:2 for another reference to Abraham and Romans 9:10 for a reference to Isaac as pater).

Picking up again with Catholic Answers:

…the imperative “call no man father” does not apply to one’s biological father. It also doesn’t exclude calling one’s ancestors “father”…there are numerous examples in the New Testament of the term “father” being used as a form of address and reference, even for men who are not biologically related to the speaker.

Just as an FYI; the last statement is an assertion without quotations or citations to back it. They further note:

There are, in fact, so many uses of “father” in the New Testament, that the Fundamentalist interpretation of Matthew 23 (and the objection to Catholics calling priests “father”)…a careful examination of the context of Matthew 23 shows that Jesus didn’t intend for his words here to be understood literally…

Here they wipe their eyebrows as with this they open the scriptures wide so as to place in them their preconceived notions.

They reason thusly:

The first problem is that although Jesus seems to prohibit the use of the term “teacher,” in Matthew 28:19–20, 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.”

Paul speaks 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 Tim. 2:7); “For this gospel I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher” (2 Tim. 1:11). He also reminds us that the Church has an office of teacher: “God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers” (1 Cor. 12:28); and “his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers” (Eph. 4:11)…

From this they turn the tables on the fundies:

Fundamentalists themselves slip up on this point by calling all sorts of people “doctor,” for example, medical doctors, as well as professors and scientists who have Ph.D. degrees (i.e., doctorates). What they fail to realize is that “doctor” is simply the Latin word for “teacher.” Even “Mister” and “Mistress” (“Mrs.”) are forms of the word “master,” also mentioned by Jesus. So if his words in Matthew 23 were meant to be taken literally, Fundamentalists would be just as guilty for using the word “teacher” and “doctor” and “mister” as Catholics for saying “father.” But clearly, that would be a misunderstanding of Christ’s words.

They then ask, and answer, “So What Did Jesus Mean?”:

Jesus criticized Jewish leaders who love “the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues, and salutations in the market places, and being called ‘rabbi’ by men” (Matt. 23:6–7). His admonition here is a response to the Pharisees’ proud hearts and their grasping after marks of status and prestige. 

He was using hyperbole (exaggeration to make a point) to show the scribes and Pharisees how sinful and proud they were for not looking humbly to God as the source of all authority and fatherhood and teaching, and instead setting themselves up as the ultimate authorities, father figures, and teachers. 

Indeed, and that is the very point. Jesus was commanding against using honor and status-seeking clergy. So no, Jesus was not condemning referring to, for example, one’s dad as “father” but he was specifically condemning the usage in the specific ways that Catholics use it.

Think of it this way: Jesus criticized Catholic leaders who love “the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the cathedrals, and salutations in the market places, and being called ‘Father’ by men.”

His admonition here is a response to the Catholic clergy’s proud hearts and their grasping after marks of status and prestige.

He was using hyperbole (exaggeration to make a point) to show the Priests, Bishops, Cardinals, Pope, etc. how sinful and proud they were for not looking humbly to God as the source of all authority and fatherhood and teaching, and instead setting themselves up as the ultimate authorities, father figures, and teachers.

But are Catholic clergy prideful and seekers of honor and status? It is not right to generalize but just visit the Vatican and see if the Pope and his comrades have no place to lay their heads or whether they own their own sovereign state.

Moreover, consider the following from a book corroborated upon by Fulton J. Sheen:

The Consecration reproduces and extends the mystic memorial of the Last Supper when Jesus, who was facing betrayal and death, freely offered his Body and His Blood for the redemption of mankind. In this lies the essence of the Mass…

Christ, therefore, is seen to be the author of the form, the actions, the very words of the consecration. In this moment, the priest quite literally becomes Christ Himself; His own personality is blotted out; it is absorbed in that of the everlasting priest who is, at one time, the offered victim and the supreme officiant. [2] (emphasis added)

But that the priest quite literally becomes Christ Himself is mild in comparison with the following statement by Rev. John A. O’Brien:

The supreme power of the priestly office is the power of consecrating. ‘No act is greater,’ says St. Thomas, ‘than the consecration of the body of Christ.’ In this essential phase of the sacred ministry, the power of the priest is not surpassed by that of the bishop, the archbishop, the cardinal or the pope.

Indeed it is equal to that of Jesus Christ. For in this role the priest speaks with the voice and the authority of God Himself. When the priest pronounces the tremendous words of consecration, he reaches up into heavens, brings Christ down from His throne, and places Him upon our altar to be offered up again as the victim for the sins of man.

It is a power greater than that of monarchs and emperors: it is greater than that of saints and angels, greater than that of Seraphim and Cherubim. Indeed it is greater even than the power of the Virgin Mary. For, while the Blessed Virgin was the human agency by which Christ became incarnate a single time, the priest brings Christ down from heaven, and renders Him present on our altar as the eternal victim for the sins of man – not once but a thousand times!

The priest speaks and lo! Christ the eternal and omnipotent God, bows His head in humble obedience to the priest’s command…For the priest is and should be another Christ. [3] (emphasis added)

Is this official doctrine or dogma that is preached by the Pope openly to the public? Well, one thing is note worthy and that is that both of the books from whence the quotes came are approved as Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur.

This means that an ecclesiastical censor has reviewed the text and has approved it as containing Nihil Obstat which is to say Nothing Hinders meaning that it contains nothing which would hinder one’s right standing with the church. Imprimatur means let it be printed and affirms just that, the text is approved for publication and dissemination for Catholic use.

These approbations do not mean that a Catholic must believe that which is in the text as it does not equate to the pronouncement of a dogma. However, it does mean that as a Catholic you can believe this 100% and be in perfect harmony with Catholic doctrine and dogma, faith and morals.

Catholic Answers gives some examples of Jesus speaking hyperbolically, exaggerating, in other texts and conclude:

Since Jesus is demonstrably using hyperbole when he says not to call anyone our father—else we would not be able to refer to our earthly fathers as such—we must read his words carefully and with sensitivity to the presence of hyperbole if we wish to understand what he is saying. 

Jesus is not forbidding us to call men “fathers” who actually are such—either literally or spiritually…To refer to such people as fathers is only to acknowledge the truth, and Jesus is not against that. He is warning people against inaccurately attributing fatherhood—or a particular kind or degree of fatherhood—to those who do not have it.

Do you see how they mix up issues? It is acceptable to call priests “Father” even though Jesus said to not call any proud, honor, status-seeking clergy “Father” because he was exaggerating since, after all, taken literally we would not be able to refer to our earthly fathers as such. But why not? The context is clergy and not biology.

It is true that Jesus “is warning people against inaccurately attributing fatherhood—or a particular kind or degree of fatherhood—to those who do not have it” and Catholic priests fit the bill.

Note the following statement very, very carefully:

Ultimately, God is our supreme protector, provider, and instructor. Correspondingly, it is wrong to view any individual other than God as having these roles. Throughout the world, some people have been tempted to look upon religious leaders who are mere mortals as if they were an individual’s supreme source of spiritual instruction, nourishment, and protection. The tendency to turn mere men into “gurus” is worldwide. 

This was also a temptation in the Jewish world of Jesus’ day, when famous rabbinical leaders, especially those who founded important schools, such as Hillel and Shammai, were highly exalted by their disciples. It is this elevation of an individual man—the formation of a “cult of personality” around him—of which Jesus is speaking when he warns against attributing to someone an undue role as master, father, or teacher. 

He is not forbidding the perfunctory use of honorifics nor forbidding us to recognize that the person does have a role as a spiritual father and teacher. The example of his own apostles shows us that. 

True indeed, ultimately God is our supreme protector, provider, and instructor. And yet, according to the Roman Catholic Church it is she, it is they, who infallibly define what scripture is, what tradition is moreover, Fr. John Hardon wrote that their infallibility includes declarations that “include not only revealed truths but any teaching, even historical facts, principles of philosophy, or norms of the natural law that are in any way connected to divine revelation.”[4]

So, the Vatican’s religion determines what are scripture, tradition and even history, philosophy and natural law. And Fr. John Hardon is a “Fr.,” a “Father,” a priest so he is another Christ with greater power than bishops, archbishops, cardinals, popes, monarchs, emperors, saints, angels, Seraphim, Cherubim, and the Virgin Mary because the priest can sacrifice Jesus over and over and over again, “a thousand times!”—even though, “Christ died for sins once for all” (1 Peter 3:18).

Interestingly, Catholic Answers did not state that, “The tendency to turn mere men into ‘Fathers, saints and Popes’ is worldwide.” In fact, this is also a temptation in the Catholic world of our day, when famous Catholic leaders, especially those who founded important schools, such as the Society of Jesus and the Benedictines, were highly exalted by their disciples. It is this elevation of an individual man—the formation of a “cult of personality” around him—of which Jesus is speaking when he warns against attributing to someone an undue role as master, father, or teacher.

In a subsection titled, “The Apostles Show the Way” they give various examples of Paul referring to Timothy as son which, therefore, makes Paul his spiritual father. Of course, Paul actually worked for a living, as a tend maker, even whilst preaching. On the other hand, priests are pampered; they get a wage, they pay no rent, etc.—they do not have real jobs.

Note the following:

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). 

And even with this quote they cannot provide one single example of Paul being referred to, by anyone at any time, as Father Paul (or Saint Paul, but that is another issue).

We are then told:

By referring to these people as their spiritual sons and spiritual children, Peter, Paul, and John imply their own roles as spiritual fathers. Since the Bible frequently speaks of this spiritual fatherhood, we Catholics acknowledge it and follow the custom of the apostles by calling priests “father.” Failure to acknowledge this is a failure to recognize and honor a great gift God has bestowed on the Church: the spiritual fatherhood of the priesthood. 

But again, Peter, Paul and John imply their own roles as spiritual fathers but there is not one single text which refers to Father Peter (much less Pope Peter), Father Paul and Father John.

Note how well Catholic Answers end up proving our point that Matthew 23 does apply to Catholic clergy as they urge us to “recognize and honor a great gift God has bestowed on the Church: the spiritual fatherhood of the priesthood”—it is the Catholic church whom God has honored with fatherhood and priesthood.

Even though, by the way, something that they did not mention which is that Peter wrote the following, “To those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia: aka good old fashioned every day non-ordained into the Catholic priesthood believers:

…you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ…you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood… (1 Peter 1:1 & 2:5, 9).

Catholic Answers concludes as follows:

To acknowledge spiritual fatherhood is to acknowledge the truth, and no amount of anti-Catholic grumbling will change that fact. 

And there you have it, how they constantly argue against that which the Bible clearly teaches. By the way, the article we have been quoted is approved of as follows:

NIHIL OBSTAT: I have concluded that the materials presented in this work are free of doctrinal or moral errors. Bernadeane Carr, STL, Censor Librorum, August 10, 2004

IMPRIMATUR: In accord with 1983 CIC 827 permission to publish this work is hereby granted. +Robert H. Brom, Bishop of San Diego, August 10, 2004

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Below you will find link to books, article and the notes to this article.

Relevant books:

James White Mary-Another Redeemer

Ron Rhodes Reasoning from the Scriptures with Catholics

Joseph R Schofield Escape from purgatory

Ron Rhodes The 10 Most Important Things You Can Say to a Catholic

James R. White The Roman Catholic Controversy

Notes:

[1] Karl Keating (Director of Catholic Answers) Catholic and Fundamentalism, The Attack on “Romanism” by “Bible Christians” (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1988), Nihil Obstat: Rev. Msgr. Joseph Pollard, S.T.D., Censor Librorum. Imprimatur: +Most Reverend Roger Mahony, Archbishop of Los Angeles 1-28-88. p. 273

[2] Henri Daniel-Rops, Fulton J. Sheen, Yousuf Karsh, trans. with annotations by Alastair Guinan, This is The Mass (New York: Hawthorn Books, Inc., 1965. First ed. 1958), p. 118. Nihil Obstat: Robert E. Hunt, S.T. D., Censor Librorum. Imprimatur: Thomas A. Boland, S.T.D. Archbishop of Newark 8-17-1965

[3]. Rev. John A. O’Brien, Faith of Millions—The Credentials of the Catholic Religion (Huntington, Indiana: Our Sunday Visitor, Inc., 1963, 1974), pp. 255-256 Nihil Obstat: Rev. Lawrence Gollner, Censor Librorum. Imprimatur: Leo A. Pursley, Bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend March 16, 1974

[4] Fr. John Hardon, Pocket Catholic Dictionary, p. 195

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