Calling certain men "Father"


We all know the verse where Jesus says “Call no man father, etc”. My understanding is that the Pharisees were unfit to be called a spiritual Father because they were hypocrites, and just generally not very holy people. Should we, as Catholics, apply this same criteria to our priests? Or is there a flaw in my reasoning/understanding?


There is a flaw. We know this because we see Jesus Himself criticizes the Pharisees and scribes for not honoring their “fathers” Mark 7:9-13. We also see in 1 Cor 4:15, 1 Jn 2:12, Acts 7:2, and Acts 22:1 that apostles and their successors were commonly called “fathers.”

If we read the entire chapter of Matthew 23 (especially the first 12 verses) we can better understand what Christ meant by the passage that you referred to (Mat 23:9). Jesus was saying, that the Pharisees and scribes that say one thing and then do another should not be looked to as Father, Teacher, or Rabbi, they were hypocrites. There is only One Father and that is God the Father. There is only One Teacher and that too is God. There is only one Rabbi and again that is God. However, priests and male parents share in that fatherhood (just as we see in both the Old Testament and the New where Abraham is often referred to as FATHER Abraham) as they are serving God by authentically Shepparding His flock and instructing the Children which God has seen fit to bless them with.


True, the Apostles and their successors were called fathers, but they were all very holy people. Jesus denied the Pharisees the titles of father, teacher, rabbi, because they were hypocrites.

So, if we find a hypocritical priest, should we refuse to call him father?


Jesus didn’t say, “call no hypocrite father.” He said “call no man father.” Sorry Dad, no Father’s Day for you!

Poor Jesus. He doesn’t even get to use hyperbole–a fine rabinnical teaching tool–without having it misunderstood.


Sorry Jim, but that doesn’t really help me…You’ll note that I’m attempting to understand why Jesus said not to call the Pharisees “father”, and then see if/how that rule is applicable today.


To apply the criteria would imply a judgment on my part regarding the righteousness or hypocrisy of an individual priest. I am not willing to make that judgment for the same measure by which I judge shall be the measure by which I am judged.
It is better to look at the role to which a priest is called. He presides over the Mass and is responsible for nourishing us through the administration of the Sacraments. It is for this reason that we call him father. As members of the Catholic Church we are all members of the same family. Now it is true that some men are better fathers than others in how they care for their families. In the same way, some priests are better at providing for the spiritual needs of their parish families than other priests. The vocation to which they have been ordained remains valid and the role as father likewise remains.


Well, I don’t think he intended to outline the qualifications for calling or not calling someone father, either then or now. I think it was a hyperbole intended to emphasize that we all have only one Father, one Teacher, who is the Father in heaven. Even his disciples didn’t quit using the terms father or teacher, nor as far as I know, did they refrain from using the word “Rabbi.” And at the same time he was making this general point, he was specifically admonishing the scribes and Pharisees whom he was addressing against their love of honorifics. I don’t think that he meant for us to judge who gets to use the title depending on our evaluation of their character.


Thanks Deb :slight_smile: that makes very much sense, especially the first part, about not judging others.


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