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Faith/Spirituality Forum: Priest History

by Catherine Frakas 17 Feb 2001

Priest History QUESTION from Adrian Buie, Jr. on February 4, 2003 Given Matthew's recording of Jesus ... Chap 23, Verse 9 ... when did we start calling our local priest Father and why?
ANSWER by John-Paul Ignatius, OLSM on February 10, 2003 Dear Mr. Buie:
Well the first thing to do here is to state the Matt 23:9 needs to be taken in CONTEXT instead of asserting a pretext of pre-conceived ideas.
Jesus was talking about the hypocrisy of the Pharasees who pretend to be devout and holy, but are not. That is the overall context. Jesus using hyperbole (exaggeration to make a point), something that is a common rhetorical device today and in Biblical times.
In the passages below we can get a better picture:

Matt 23:5 They do all their deeds to be seen by men; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, 6 and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues, 7 and salutations in the market places, and being called rabbi by men. 8 But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brethren. 9 And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. 10 Neither be called masters, for you have one master, the Christ. 11* He who is greatest among you shall be your servant; 12* whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

As we can see Jesus is talking about puffed-up egos who pretend to be holy and show off their fine garments and their titles. This is NOT a condemnation of fine garments or of titles.
Jesus mentions THREE titles, not just one. For some reason Protestants seems to be rather myopic on this for they only mention the call no man father (verse 9) and NEVER mention the call no man teacher (verse 8). Why is this? I think because the call no man father phrase suits their purpose of bashing the Catholic Church in their sin of bigotry. Afterall, most anti-Catholic Protestants has Sunday School TEACHERS so there is a great motive to conveniently avoid verse 8.
But the bottom line is that Jesus is NOT prohibiting the use to the titles teacher, father, or master. If this were the case then St. Paul, John, Luke, the wroter of Acts and Hebrews, and even Jesus Himself violated this alleged mandate.
Those who assert this silly notion of call no man father really need to get educated in the Bible, or at least read it.
Here are some passages where men on earth are called father:

Acts 6:14; 7:2 -- St. Stephen calls Jewish leaders fathers
Acts 21:40; 22:1 -- St. Paul calls Jerusalem Jews father
Rom 4:16-17 -- Abraham is called father of us all
1 Cor 4:14-15 -- St. Paul calls himself father of you all in Christ (which is what a priest is)
1 Tim 1:2 -- St. Paul again assume the father status and calls Timothy his child
Heb 12:7-9 -- states we have earthly fathers
Luke 14:26 -- Jesus Himself mentions earthly fathers
1 Thess 2:1 -- again reference is made to the father-child roles
Philem 10 -- St. Paul again calls himself father
1 John 2:13-14 -- St. John writes to the fathers

The idea that we cannot call someone father, either our earthly biological or adopted father or our spiritual fathers who are priests, is just plain unbiblical and rather stupid.
Further information is available on this subject at: Catholic Answers Website
Thus the term of endearment to the elders who minister to the Church, the priests (etymologically elder, from presbyteros, presbyter), is FATHER because they ARE the spiritual fathers to their flocks just as St. Paul and St. Peter considered themselves.

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