holy father?


i’m sorry if this has been brought up before. being raised protestant, i was always taught to never call a man ‘father’ and to never call another man ‘reverend’ or ‘holy’. after doing some research, i understand why catholics call priests father and don’t have a problem with it. i am however uneasy about refering to the Pope as “His Holiness” or the “Holy Father”. i do believe that he should have some kind of title that commands respect and endearment. i also know for a fact, even though i know almost nothing about Pope Benedict 16, that he is certainly a better christian and more pius than i am. i guess my problem is that even though he is a great christian and leader of the catholic faith, he is still a man and as such is prone to sin, thereby making him not so holy. can anyone explain why he is refered to as “Holy Father” or “His Holiness”? thanks


You accept the “Father” part of “Holy Father” when it refers to the pope, but not the “holy” part. But I think that both are reasonable for the same reason. The Pope is my father because he is the spiritual head of my spiritual family, and it is his duty or office to lead that family.

Likewise, the Pope is the Holy father because that office of spiritual family leadership is holy, sacred, set aside to the service of God.

The adjective “holy” is not about his personal holiness (though thankfully we have been blessed with personally holy popes for generations now); it is about the holiness of his being elected to lead the people to God.

“His Holiness” is more of the same: He holds the Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven; he has the power to bind and loose on earth which power binds and looses the same in heaven; upon the Pope Jesus builds His Church. This office is holy.

“His Holiness” fits with historical customs regarding titles. A duke or earl is, I guess, “His Grace”. Though the world uses these titles less now, as aristocracy gives way to democracy, long ago the Christian world agreed upon this courtesy title for the Pope, and so we still use it today.


Here is a good test for you go to one of the bible word search sites and see how many times someone addresses someone else with the title (capital F) father??? Then check and see who it is they are addressing this title to…Then do the same with rabbi and teacher…
Then read Matthew 23:9 where Jesus expressly forbids calling any man father as a religious title…

Then next time you see Father O’malley I’d like you to recall Jesus’ words.


i see what you are saying. i’ve never asked about it before. it just always seemed to me that it was a reference to him being holy. thanks!


i am assuming you are a protestant ( i am as well), and i know exactly what you are talking about. i am researching catholicism as possible faith to follow, as i did previously with islam. i do appreciate your concern, but as i have seen in some of your posts, you seem to be a vindictive person who is here to cause problems, not to learn. and therefore, i won’t dignify any of your posts with a reply. have a nice day


Hi guardian,

I was just wondering about something, and you might be able to give me your perspective on it. I’ve heard about people being raised to never call a man “father”. . . did that really extend to your own father and grandfather? Or, say, the “founding fathers”, etc? I am just wondering how it worked out in practice.

What was your experience?

Thank you!


Calling the Pope “Holy” follows the tradition of refering to fellow christians as holy

Ephisians 1:1

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the holy ones who are (in Ephesus) faithful in Christ Jesus:

Phillipians 1:1

Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus, to all the holy ones in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the overseers and ministers:

Colossians 1:2

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, to the holy ones and faithful brothers in Christ in Colossae: grace to you and peace from God our Father.

Holy, in this sense, means one who follows the Christ. One who is on the path to holiness, not one who has achieved it (our heavenly goal).


holy and Holy are two wholly different things…

One being a title the other a description…
Christ forbade use in titles…



I don’t see anything in Matthew 23:9 limiting the prohibition to “a religious title.” It seems to clearly say: And call no man your father upon the earth.

Why do you limit that prohibition to religous titles? Is it part of your tradition. :confused:



Sheesh, read the chapter…It’s not rocket science.
Jesus is talking about the teachers in the temple.

Matthew 23: 5-39 (Moderator removed needless long scripture quote)


Call No Man Father

As for “Holy Father” – St. Paul called everybody “holy” – the “holy ones”. That is the Greek word found in our translations as “saints” – Greetings to the saints at XXX. The word is “hagioi.”


So do you think Christ was just saying this for the fun of it?


Right. Those capital and lower case "h"s are in the Greek text. :whacky:

C’mon, my brother. You can’t be serious. Paul calls all Christians “holy ones.” Should the pastor of pastors be eliminated from an honorific Paul accords to everybody else in the Church?


Clearly. And my point is that it seems unecessary to extend this to other types of fathers: biological, putative, or spiritual. Just as it is not necessary to extend the prohibition on calling oneself a teacher to all teachers. So, we don’t get up in arms when St. Paul calls himself a teacher.

Thank you for sharing your opinion however. :smiley:



i called my biological father “dad” and his father “grandpa”. the founding fathers, i called “founding fathers”. the “rule” was you could call your biological father “father”, but no one else.


Thank you guardian1! I was curious about the practical day to day aspect of it.

God bless you on your search.


Something is called “holy” because it has been set aside (consecrated) to God’s service.

In Hebrews 3:1, the author addresses his readers as “holy brethren.”

If you have no problem addressing priests as “father,” calling them “holy father,” following the example of Hebrews 3:1 for brethren, should also pose no problem.


Christ was using the form of speech called hyperbole, as when he said:
If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26)


It might be worth reading the beginning of Matthew 23 to see what Jesus was getting at in verse 9:

1Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: 2"The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 3So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. 4They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.

5"Everything they do is done for men to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; 6they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; 7they love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them ‘Rabbi.’ 8"But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. 9And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. 10Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one Teacher, the Christ. 11The greatest among you will be your servant. 12For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
I don’t think it is the use of the title father that is a sin, it is the misuse of it. If a man is proud of having this title, then his lack of humility is a sin.

“For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”
(verse 12)
It’s a warning to you and me to not make a priest (or a rabbi, or reverend, or pastor, or whoever) someone you love and obey more than God. It’s a warning for a priest (or rabbi, or reverend, or pastor, or whoever) to not become proud and think of himself as better than those whom he is to serve.

I could be wrong, but that’s what seems at the moment to be the the truth to me.


Fr. Mitch Pacwa’s take on this is that the heads of the various rabbinic schools were called “father” but they were teaching with great vanity and pride – as you note – and not teaching to serve.

Since Jesus calls people “father” about 18 times in the Gospels, he clearly can’t mean this injunction in a literalistic way. He must mean that calling peoplel “father” when they are not teaching what comes from THE “Father” is to misplace the title. He is totally OK with “fathers in faith” – namely, father Abraham.

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