Call No Man Father?
In Matthew chapter 23 Christ condemns the Pharisees for their hypocrisy and vainglory. Many non-Catholics point to verse 9 to condemn Catholics for calling priests by the title of “father.” Let’s look at Matthew 23:8-12.
“But be not called Rabbi. For one is your master: and all are your brethren. And call none your father upon earth; for one is your father, who is in heaven. Neither be ye called masters: for one is your master, Christ. He that is the greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be humbled: and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.”
The Catholic Church understands these verses, not as Christ strictly prohibiting the use of titles, but rather a warning about the dangers of vainglory and pride that poisoned the Pharisees. Father, master, and teacher, are not titles that a man should lightly take upon himself. That being said, we know from other verses from scripture that Christ did not mean to prohibit the use of these titles all together. In the inspired word of God, Paul wrote:
“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.” I Corinthians 4:14-15
John referred to his disciples as his children,
“No greater joy can I have than this, to hear that my children follow the truth.” 3 John 1:4
Even in the Gospels, Christ referred to Abraham as father. (Luke 16) In Acts 7:2 Stephen refers to the assembled Jewish leaders as fathers, and again to Abraham as father of them all. There are countless examples in scriptures of the title of father being applied to men, both in the New and Old Testaments.
Those who are truly fathers, either in a biological or a spiritual sense can rightly be called father. Bearing in mind Christ’s warning, the one who is given that title ought to receive it in a spirit of humility. Their fatherhood is a gift, a sharing in God’s fatherhood, of which they are unworthy to participate.