Didn’t Jesus say “Call no man your father”?
What are we to make of it?
In context, Jesus is addressing the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees. Father William Saunders in an article on Catholic Exchange summarizes what Jesus was trying to do.
Our Lord castigates them for not providing a good example; for creating onerous spiritual burdens for others with their various rules and regulations; for being haughty in exercising their office; and for promoting themselves by looking for places of honor, seeking marks of respect and wearing ostentatious symbols. Basically, the scribes and the Pharisees had forgotten that they were called to serve the Lord and those entrusted to their care with humility and a generous spirit.
Given that context, Jesus says not to call anyone on earth by the title “Rabbi,” “Father,” or “teacher,” in the sense of arrogating to oneself an authority which rests with God and of forgetting the responsibility of the title.
Catholic Answers adds to the clarification and explains how “[Jesus] 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.”
This helps to make sense of why Jesus himself sometimes used the title father for someone other than God, including “Father Abraham,” the father of the Prodigal Son, and other earthly fathers (see Matthew 10:37). Jesus would be contradicting himself if he intended a strict application of his words to the Pharisees. Context is always the key in interpreting difficult passages.
With that in mind, why do Catholics call priests “father”?
Priests have always been viewed in the Catholic Church as spiritual fathers. Saint Paul made this clear when writing to the Corinthians, “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).
Even the Pope since the very beginning has been known as “papa,” which is a Latin term for “father” used by a child.
The term represents the spiritual fatherhood of all priests and how we are their children in the faith. They pass on and cultivate the faith and counsel us as a father counsels his son or daughter. This is one of the reasons why the Western Church still favors celibacy in the priesthood, allowing priests the freedom to be spiritual fathers to the flock God has entrusted to them.
Support Aleteia takes a minute
If you’re reading this article, it’s precisely thanks to your generosity and to that of many other people like you that make possible the evangelization project of Aleteia. Here some numbers:
- 20 million of users around the world read Aleteia.org every month.
- Aleteia is published daily in eight languages: French, English, Arabic, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish and Slovenian.
- Each month, our readers view more than 50 million pages.
- Nearly 4 million people follow Aleteia’s social media pages.
- Each month, we publish 2,450 articles and around 40 videos.
- All of this work is carried out by 60 people working full-time and approximately 400 other collaborators (writers, journalists, translators, photographers…).
As you can imagine, behind these numbers there is a big effort. We need your support so we can keep offering this service of evangelization to everyone, regardless of where they live or what they can afford to pay.
Support Aleteia from as little as $1 – and only takes a minute. Thank you!