I received a message from “someone” on Facebook, and it goes thus: “You Catholics break
the biblical command to not call anyone on earth father by referring to your
priests as “Father”, therefore you are all guilty and would answer for it one
When I read the message, I felt it
must be coming from a protestant (most probably), I quickly checked his
timeline and saw his profile. I was actually taken aback when I noticed he was
even an evangelist of one of the new generation churches, perhaps, a preacher.
At that point I felt so sorry for him, because at his level, he has not learnt
how to communicate or dialogue properly. Being an evangelist or a pastor does
not entail reading the Bible from Genesis to Revelation as many erroneously
think, it goes beyond that; it entails being humane, possessing virtues and
understanding, knowing how to relate with one another in the spirit of respect,
among other elements. At least, for one to send a message to another for the
first time, courtesy demands he greets the person, and ask the question in an
amicable way that curtails good manners; and when it has to do with religious
issues, the demand becomes higher. After all St. Peter, makes us to understand
that we should be ready at all times to answer anyone who asks us to explain
the hope we have in us, and we must do this in GENTLENESS AND RESPECT (CF.
1Pet. 3:15). My dear Protestants, we can dialogue properly in ways that
demonstrate our identities as Christians and not in the ways of pagans.
Having said this let me quickly
address the question.
There are senses of the scripture; put
differently, the scriptural texts ought to be read and understood in the
contexts at which they are written respectively and in relation to what it is,
for it is not a magazine, nor a science notebook etc., thus, it should not be
given only a literal interpretation. We have the literal sense, the spiritual
or moral sense, the allegorical sense, and the anagogical sense. For instance,
when Jesus said: “destroy this temple and I will raise it up in three days (Jn.
2:19)”. One who reads that part literally would think in the same way the Jews
did, because they thought he was speaking of the physical temple that was
built; but we were made to understand that Christ was speaking allegorically of
his body (which give a light of the resurrection). The anagogical sense shows
us the spiritual or mystical interpretation of
the word or passage beyond the literal and allegorical sense. Thus,
analogically, we understand that our bodies are the temple of the Holy
Spirit as St. Paul makes us to understand (1Cor. 6:19). Therefore, the moral or
spiritual sense indicates that we ought to use our bodies to glorify God, and
that we should not destroy it by sin. Many a times, we run into trouble and
poor knowledge of the scripture when we only stop at the literal level. This is
the problem with you, my dear brother, because you read that aspect of the
Scripture (of Christ commanding us not to call anyone father) and understood it
literally. Now, I will show you what exactly it means and how you are to
understand it
The Biblical concept of fatherhood is
not restricted to just our earthly fathers and God. It is used to refer to
people other than biological or legal fathers, and is used as a sign of respect
to those with whom we have a special relationship. 
Let us look at the context at which
Christ made that statement.
The question of “fatherhood” refers to
Jesus’ teaching as seen in the Gospel of St. Matthew, when He said, “Do not
call anyone on earth your father. Only One is your Father, the One in heaven”
(Mt 23:9). Taken literally, one would have to wonder why Catholics use this
title “Father” when Jesus seems to forbid it. First, we must remember the
context of the passage. Jesus is addressing the hypocrisy of the scribes and
the Pharisees — the learned religious leaders of Judaism. 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. To
use this authority for self-aggrandizement is pure hypocrisy. Jesus said at the
end of that very passage, “Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled, but whoever
humbles himself shall be exalted.”
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. Moreover, our Lord Himself used the title
“father” for several characters in His parables: In the parable of the rich man
and the beggar, Lazarus, the rich man, cries out from the depths of Hell,
“Father Abraham, have pity on me,” and the usage of the title “father” occurs
three times (cf. Lk 16:19-31). One has to wonder: if Jesus prohibited the use
of the title “father,” why does He instruct the people with a parable in which
the characters use the title? To do so seems to be contradictory and actually
misleading to the audience. The same is true in the parable of the Prodigal
Son: The young prodigal son, upon his return, says, “Father, I have sinned
against God and against you” (cf. Lk 15:11-32). Given the way our Lord used the
title “father” in so many teachings, including when repeating the fourth
commandment, our Lord did not intend to prohibit calling a father by the title
“father”; rather, He prohibited misusing the title.
Our protestant brethren seem to forget
that in that very passage as cited above, Jesus also prohibited the use of the word
“teacher”, which is very common in our present day societies as it
was in those days. Hence, if we had taken the words of Christ literally, then
many of us, if not all, would be guilty of violating the command of Christ.
However, this is not the case. In Matthew 28:19–20, Christ himself appointed
certain men to be teachers in his Church: “Go therefore and make disciples
of all nations . . . teaching them to observe all that I
have commanded you.” Paul speaks of his commission as a teacher: “For
this I was appointed a preacher and apostle . . . a teacher of the Gentiles in
faith and truth” (1 Tim. 2:7); “For this gospel I was appointed a
preacher and apostle and teacher” (2 Tim. 1:11). He also reminds us that
the Church has an office of teacher: “God has appointed in the church
first apostles, second prophets, third teachers…” (1 Cor. 12:28); and
“his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some
evangelists, some pastors and teachers” (Eph. 4:11). Does it mean that
Paul was violating Christ’s teaching in Matthew 23 by referring so often to
others as “teachers?” 
Protestants who attack the Catholic
Church about this issue slip up on this point by calling all sorts of people
“doctor,” for example, medical doctors, as well as professors and
scientists who have Ph.D. degrees (i.e., doctorates). What they fail to realize
is that “doctor” is simply the Latin word for “teacher.”
Even “Mister” and “Mistress” (“Mrs.”) are forms
of the word “master,” also mentioned by Jesus. So if his words in
Matthew 23 were meant to be taken literally, Protestants would be just as
guilty for using the word “teacher” and “doctor” and
“mister” as Catholics for saying “father.” But clearly,
that would be a misunderstanding of Christ’s words. 
 Jesus is not forbidding us to
call men “fathers” who actually are such—either literally or
spiritually. The examples of the Apostles clarify this whole question.
It is pertinent to note that the Spiritual fatherhood as regards Catholic Priests is clearly expressed in 1Cor 4:15 (“Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel”). Paul regularly referred to Timothy as
his child: “Therefore I sent to you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child
in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ” (1 Cor. 4:17); “To
Timothy, my true child in the faith: grace, mercy, and peace from God the
Father and Christ Jesus our Lord” (1 Tim. 1:2); “To Timothy, my
beloved child: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our
Lord” (2 Tim. 1:2). 
He also referred to Timothy as his
son: “This charge I commit to you, Timothy, my son, in accordance with the
prophetic utterances which pointed to you, that inspired by them you may wage
the good warfare” (1 Tim 1:18); “You then, my son, be strong in the
grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 2:1); “But Timothy’s worth you
know, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel”
(Phil. 2:22). 
Paul also referred to other of his
converts in this way: “To Titus, my true child in a common faith: grace
and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior” (Titus 1:4);
“I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become in my
imprisonment” (Philem. 10). None of these men were Paul’s literal,
biological sons. Rather, Paul is emphasizing his SPIRITUAL FATHERHOOD with
John equally said, “My little
children, I am writing this to you so that you may not sin; but if any one does
sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1
John 2:1); “No greater joy can I have than this, to hear that my children
follow the truth” (3 John 4). In fact, John also addresses men in his
congregations as “fathers” (1 John 2:13–14). 
By referring to these people as their
spiritual sons and spiritual children, Peter, Paul, John and other Apostles imply
their own roles as spiritual fathers. Since the Bible frequently speaks of this
spiritual fatherhood, we Catholics acknowledge it and follow the custom of the
apostles by calling priests “father.” Failure to acknowledge this is
a failure to recognize and honor a great gift God has bestowed on the Church:
the spiritual fatherhood of the priesthood. Catholics know that as members
of a parish, they have been committed to a priest’s spiritual care, thus they
have great filial affection for priests and call them “father.”
Priests, in turn, follow the apostles’ biblical example by referring to members
of their flock as “my son” or “my child” (cf. Gal. 4:19; 1
Tim. 1:18; 2 Tim. 2:1; Philem. 10; 1 Pet. 5:13; 1 John 2:1; 3 John 4). Even
the title “Pope” which many protestants frown at, is simply from the Latin word
“Papa” which means “Father”. Besides, many Protestants call their pastors “daddy”
and the last time I checked, the word “daddy” is just another word for “father”.
Hence, why this attack against the Catholic Church; what are we really fighting
Therefore, to the one who threw this
question at me and to other Protestants of similar attitude, I want you all to
understand that, to acknowledge spiritual fatherhood is to acknowledge the
truth, and no amount of anti-Catholic reactions will change that fact.




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Chinaka Justin Mbaeri

A staunch Roman Catholic and an Apologist of the Christian faith. More about him here.

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