Wednesday, July 20, 2005
Call No Man Father Meaning
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What did our Lord Jesus Christ mean when He said to "call no man father"? This is often a charge levied against Catholics by Protestants who view the Catholic practice in direct contradiction to the Lord’s own command in the Gospel according to St. Matthew. The full passage, in its context, is as follows:

“Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to his disciples, Saying: ‘The scribes and the Pharisees have sitten on the chair of Moses. All things therefore whatsoever they shall say to you, observe and do: but according to their works do ye not; for they say, and do not. For they bind heavy and insupportable burdens, and lay them on men's shoulders; but with a finger of their own they will not move them. And all their works they do for to be seen of men. For they make their phylacteries broad, and enlarge their fringes. And they love the first places at feasts, and the first chairs in the synagogues, And salutations in the market place, and to be called by men, Rabbi. But be not you called Rabbi. For one is your master; and all you are 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’” (Matthew 23:1-10).

The Lord in the same statement tells us to call no man “father,” “teacher” (i.e., Rabbi), or “master.” Yet we refer to our earthly fathers as “father” and no one objects to that. And no one objects to calling our instructors as “teachers,” even though this would seem to be literally against the Lord’s words. 

A closer examination of the Sacred Scriptures reveals that our Lord refers to Abraham as “father” in the parable of the rich man in both Luke 16:24 and John 8:56. St. Stephen in the Acts of the Apostles refers to Abraham as “Father Abraham” in Acts 7:55. And St. Paul writes on the spiritual fatherhood of priests in his first letter 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 Corinthians 4:14-15).

The Scripture commentary on DRBO.org therefore explains the meaning of this passage by saying: “The meaning is that our Father in heaven is incomparably more to be regarded, than any father upon earth: and no master to be followed, who would lead us away from Christ. But this does not hinder but that we are by the law of God to have a due respect both for our parents and spiritual fathers, (1 Cor. 4:15) and for our masters and teachers.”

Our Lord Jesus Christ, St. Paul, and St. James all referred to Abraham as "father". St. John on two occasions refers to Church leaders in his letters as "fathers", and St. Paul refers to himself as "father" in 1 Corinthians. The Lord was telling His followers in 23rd chapter of the Gospel according to St. Matthew to not to give to another the authority that which God is entitled. Notice He said to call no one "teacher" also in the line after "Call no man Father". Therefore, the accusation that Catholics sin by referring to priests as “Father” is far from sinful. It is entirely baseless and comes from a superficial reading of Scripture and ignorance of the Lord’s own words before and after that line.


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