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God the Father & Priestly Fathers

This discussion emerged within a series of comments from what is commonly regarded as an Internet troll or spammer.  Typical of such efforts, the critic here uses the “cut-and-paste” method of extracting text from old anti-Catholic works and then inserting the material (without attestation) into the comment fields or message boards of others. The style change is the usual give-away.  The modern media allows even a silly and ignorant anti-Catholicism a voice to plague Catholic sites and to tear down the faith of weak Catholics.  While many would erase such comments, I try to turn them into teaching moments. 

RONIE:

Mister Joe, I am sorry but I will not call you as others address you. Christ said call no man Father.

FATHER JOE:

I have discussed the issue of priestly fatherhood before, as well, but let me repeat myself:   

“And call no one on earth your Father; for one is your Father, who is in heaven” (Matthew 23:9).

This is an example of a Scriptural literary form known as Hebraic Hyperbole. It is like the passage that admonishes tearing your eye out or cutting off your hand or foot. It is a way of speaking to give heightened emphasis. The fundamentalist reads everything as if the primary language is English and the author contemporary. This is also an example of taking a verse out of context and distorting its meaning. Verse eight says to call no one Rabbi or teacher. However, do we not use this word all the time? Further, if this line is absolute against Catholic priests who possess a spiritual fatherhood, then what about our foster fathers and biological fathers? It would have to apply there as well. Almost no one would agree to this. It is a wonderful sign of respect and relationship. The matter about which the Lord is concerned is that his disciples not imitate the Pharisees in their pride and hypocrisy, lording their positions over others. God is the true and ultimate Father of all. If any fatherhood does not flow from and participate in divine fatherhood, then it is a lie and oppressive. St. Paul speaks of himself as a spiritual father in his first letter to the Corinthians and admits that there are other such fathers, although not many. The shortage of vocations to the priesthood is still a matter with which we must deal.

[In speaking of our priorities] “He who loves FATHER or mother more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37).

[About marriage] “For this cause a man shall leave his FATHER and mother, and cleave to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” (Matthew 19:5).

[Placing discipleship to Jesus first] “And everyone who has left house, or brothers, or sisters, or FATHER, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and shall possess life everlasting” (Matthew 19:29). {see also Mark 10:29}

[Abraham is called father] “For this reason, it depends on faith, so that it may be a gift, and the promise may be guaranteed to all his descendants, not to those who only adhere to the law but to those who follow the faith of Abraham who is the FATHER of all of us, …” (Romans 4:16). {see also Romans 4:11-12,17}

[Treatment of elders] “Do not rebuke an older man, but appeal to him as a FATHER” (1 Timothy 5:1).

[Enduring trials] “For what ’son’ is there whom his FATHER does not discipline?” (Hebrews 12:7). {see also Hebrews 12:9}

[My favorite and very similar to calling the priest, Father] “I am writing you this not to shame you, but to admonish you as my beloved children. Even if you should have countless guides to Christ, yet you do not have many FATHERS, for I became your FATHER in Christ Jesus through the gospel. Therefore, I urge you to be imitators of me” (1 Corinthians 4:14-16).

RONIE:

Dear Mister Joe, this is in regard to your answer to me and the text:

“Matthew 23:9 – And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven.”

Sorry but I have to say this, you are out of context. The “Father” in the above text refers to “God the Father,” which is Spiritual, and the verses to which you refer, like Matthew 19:29, Mark 10:29, Romans 4:16, refer to our earthly fathers. The fathers of our flesh must be called fathers, and as such we must give them reverence; but God only must be allowed as the Father of our spirits, (Heb. 12:9). Our religion must not be derived from or made dependent upon any man. Our flesh fathers do not have authoritative power over men’s consciences in matters of faith and obedience, in which God and Christ are only to be attended. Christ’s sense is that he would have his disciples not fond of any titles of honor at all. Much less would he have them assume authority over men, as if they were to depend on them— as the founders of the Christian religion— the authors of its doctrines and ordinances— and to take that honor to themselves which did not belong to them. Neither would he have them even choose to be called by such names, as it would lead people to entertain too high an opinion of them. It would take off of their dependence on God the Father.

You know Mister Joe, these titles the scribes and Pharisees love to be called. Kindly check your verse in 1 Corinthians 4:14-16. I notice that there is a text “for I became your father” which is not found in the Greek text. I more agree on this verse found in the KJV below:

1 Corinthians 4:14: “I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved sons I warn you.”

1 Corinthians 4:15: “For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel.”

1 Corinthians 4:16: “Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me.”

FATHER JOE:

The proper title for a cleric is Father, Reverend or Pastor. Why should I spend any time with a person who begins with a deliberate act of disrespect? But given that our Lord would want repentance and conversion for both the ignorant and the bigoted who blaspheme against the Holy Spirit, I will try to make a short response. Admittedly, I have little confidence that anything I might say will penetrate the walls fabricated by those who are obstinate against the truth and closed to the movement of divine grace.

You begin by seeking to “clarify” this text: “And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven” (Matthew 23:9). Actually it is best that we look at the entire section and our Lord’s use of Hebraic hyperbole (verses 1 to 12):

Then said Jesus to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice. They bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by men; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they 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. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brethren. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called masters, for you have one master, the Christ. He who is greatest among you shall be your servant; whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

The authority of the Church instituted by Christ would eventually supersede that of Moses and his successors in leadership, the Pharisees. The bishops of the Catholic Church sit in the seats of the apostles. The popes govern from the Chair of Peter. Jesus establishes both a new People of God and the accompanying authority. Our Lord was critical about the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and pleaded with his apostles that it should not be so with them. He gave them the example of the foot-washing and urged humility in service. The hyperbole stresses that the ministers of the Church should not seek earthly rewards, titles and esteem, but rather that imperishable treasure of being in right relationship with God. The titles rabbi, father and teacher (or master) would continue to be used. Even St. Paul speaks of himself as a spiritual father. Lost in translation is the peculiar Hebrew form of stressing a point by pushing a matter to absurdity: call no man father or teacher or rabbi; if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out; if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. These matters were never meant to be understood in a literal fashion. Apart from the truth of Christ, no one is a genuine teacher. In conflict with the fatherhood of God, no fatherhood is genuine.

You say that my reference to “father” is out of context. You must be kidding! You are the one who gives no real context at all. Indeed, you treat Scripture as if it were written originally in English. Instead of respecting the message and historical setting, you offer an illogical and contrived explanation that goes against the practices and writings of the early Christians. They were close to the source and were in a position to know the truth. They did not understand this text as you do.

The text cannot be dissected as you attempt. The meaning is that there is no true fatherhood which usurps or conflicts with the fatherhood of God. This includes both spiritual fathers (as with St. Paul) and with our biological or adopted fathers. Matthew 19:29 and Mark 10:29 speaks about the family of the Church and the communion of the saints. Romans 4:15 makes mention of Abraham as our father in faith. God calls him forth and his family becomes a tribe and later a nation. He is a crucial starting point in the history of salvation.

The texts you cite either contradict or do not support your view. The Church sees herself as a family and addresses God in her prayers as FATHER MOST HOLY. Priests, bishops and popes are spiritual fathers in that they perpetuate the teachings and mission of Jesus Christ. The Church fully subscribes to the understanding of her membership as brothers and sisters to one another. In faith and baptism, Jesus is our elder brother and Mary is the queen mother. We are adopted sons and daughters of our heavenly Father. The reference to earthly fathers means any type of fatherhood here on earth. Our mortal fathers, no matter if biological, adopted or spiritual, must reflect divine fatherhood or else they are false. There is nothing here that says that biological fathers are exempt. Further, your citation of Romans 4:16 is in reference to Abraham, not almighty God. He is called the father of all.

Parents are the primary educators of their children in the faith. They constitute the “little church.” You wrong Christian fathers by reducing them to roosters who service hens. St. Paul tells us that the Christian husband/father is the head of the home just as Christ is the head of the Church.

You next write (uncorrected here as above for grammar): “Christ’s sense is, that he would have his disciples not fond of any titles of honor at all, and much less assume an authority over men, as if they were to depend on them, as the founders of the Christian religion, the authors of its doctrines and ordinances, and to take that honor to themselves, which did not belong to them, nor even choose to be called by such names, as would lead people to entertain too high an opinion of them, and take off of their dependence on God the Father.” What you write is absolute gibberish. Indeed, your run-on sentence even defies linguistic diagramming. And yet it makes more sense than what you usually write. Of course, you did not write it. You stole it. You plagiarized. You borrowed the work and genius of another to foster the pretense of knowing what you are talking about. These are not your words, but those of one who was a polemicist against Catholic claims. As I said before, you prefer parroting the enemies of the Church instead of learning objectively and directly from her own mouth. These words come from an EXPOSITION OF THE ENTIRE BIBLE written (between 1746 to 1763) by John Gill.

The commentary here is not your own and I dislike dialoguing with cut-and-paste intellectual thieves. However, despite this and the convoluted language, I will try my best to parse it out. Our Lord was not so much against titles as he was concerned that “show” not replace “substance.” The title “apostle” itself becomes one of great distinction. Our Lord was often called “master” or “teacher” or “rabbi.” He explicitly gave his authority to his apostles and sent them out to baptize the nations. He explicitly gave Peter the power of the keys and the power to loosen or bind over sin. He tells him, after the resurrection, to feed his sheep and to care for his flock. It is quite evident that Jesus gave them such authority as shepherds to the community. This authority would be passed down to others. Failure to see this demonstrates your blindness to important passages in the Word of God. Jesus, himself, was the founder of the Christian religion, i.e. the Catholic Church. He is the ultimate source of revelation. He would send his Spirit to insure the Church’s fidelity to the truth, the doctrines and ordinances that men should know and follow. As I have mentioned before, the great apostle Paul spoke about himself as a spiritual father. There was no prohibition, either about the title or the function. The spiritual title of FATHER given to a priest in no way detracts from the fatherhood of God. Indeed, he becomes a flesh-and-blood symbol of God’s abiding love and mercy in the faith community.

Just because the Pharisees allowed their titles to go to their heads does not mean that such must always be the case for others. The title “father” is an expression of endearment.

“I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved sons I warn you” (1 Cor. 4:14).

Paul admonishes the Corinthians as his beloved children. There is definitely a fatherly relationship.

“For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel” (1 Cor. 4:15).

This is a somewhat archaic Protestant translation. A better translation is the RSV, also Protestant (but acceptable to Catholics):

“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.”

The reference to “father” is in the Greek text as is the term for being begotten of a father:

ἐὰν γὰρ μυρίους παιδαγωγοὺς ἔχητε ἐν Χριστῷ ἀλλ’ οὐ πολλοὺς
πατέρας ἐν γὰρ Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ
διὰ τοῦ εὐαγγελίου ἐγὼ ὑμᾶς ἐγέννησα

“Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me” (1 Cor. 4:16).

More than followers, he is literally urging them to imitate him. He sends Timothy as his emissary and calls him his “Beloved and faithful son in the Lord.” The spiritual fatherhood of every priest is akin to that of the apostle Paul.

A brief aside:

While I might sound harsh at times (in this and other posts), it is hard not to become emotionally involved about matters that priests take very personally.  Critics would strip priests of their spiritual fatherhood and label them as minions of Satan and/or the anti-Christ.  There have been a few deletions of the more insensitive material in this particular post.  

Is it impolite for a priest to offer correction and to be blunt? 

Is it rude to speak the truth? 

I received criticism to this effect, and apparently from a Catholic.  But the person in this post, and those narrated in others, often do not come for a sincere and simple discussion, but rather, to ridicule the priesthood and the Church.  I try not to be hurtful.  I avoid foul language.  Nevertheless, I stand by my negative assessment of such anti-Catholicism and the poor people who swallow and spout it. Some people are moved by gentleness and others must be shaken up a bit.  We see this in the ministry of Jesus where he was gentle with the outcasts and marginalized but harsh with others like the scribes, lawyers and pharisees. 

3 Responses

  1. Dear Fr Joe,

    I find your style, intellect and reasoning a wonderful triumph for the One True Church. There are too many eloquent Chuck Misslers et al out there with their charismatic charm and evil intent and like the serpent himself, they are ready to lead souls astray. It is only with your forthright reasoning and explanations that I find confidence in my Catholic Faith once again.

    When Jesus cast out evil spirits there were those who said He was in league with bielzebub. I expect some of the followers actually believed those liars. So too today with the weirdos and worse who attack us and claim all sorts of personal revelation of scripture.

    I want to be able to defend my faith and by following your lead, and with utmost confidence with your demonstration of the Truth, which when studied is without fault, I am gaining more and more from it every time I switch on.

    I thank the anti-catholics for coming here and ranting their rhetoric because only then can you answer the ignorant and bigoted arguements with clarity that educates me to attempt much of the same.

    Thank you Father, thank you Father Joe, you are without doubt worthy to be called Father and I will happily do so because you and I both know what that title means. Let the blind and deaf continue in their darkness and be deceived if that’s what they arrogantly and ignornatly choose to do.

    With thanks, Paul

  2. Father, I do not find your replies are rude.. You speak the truth and it MUST be spoken and lived at ALL TIMES. Not just when it might make someone “feel good”… We dont’ always like the truth but , the truth is the truth and it usually hurts.

    I kind of feel sad looking at how you, our priests and our faith are being attacked by some and you having to get involved in it but it is up to you and us lay people to defend our faith. If we do not no one will..

    As for calling priests “father” it is right and I regard all priests as my spiritual fathers.

    God Bless you and Love You,

    Robyn

  3. Ronnie:

    Do not you realize that it is impossible for fundamentalists (Bible Alone people) to solve honest disagreements between Christians? Jesus never meant for the bible to be the only guide for the implementation of the mystery of redemption. The church began without Scriptures, and god gave us The Scriptures through the church. This is why you cannot separate Scripture from the Church. Does not the Apostle Paul tell you that “the church is the bulwark of truth?

    Without the apostolic Authority of the Catholic Church you would not even have the New Testament Bible, and it is by this authority that honest disagreements among Christians are resolved. The “bible alone” by the design of the Holy Spirit is not enough to bring about Christian unity.

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