Thursday, March 23, 2006
Why Is the Pope Called "Holy Father"?

Holy Father is not an official title of the Pope. As of this year, the Pope's official titles are "Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Primate of Italy, Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Roman province, Sovereign of the State of the Vatican City, Servant of the Servants of God." Traditionally, the Pope also has the title "Patriarch of the West."

The early Church even used the expression "Holy Father" to refer to other holy members of the Church at the time. St. Augustine wrote, "I beseech you to convey my respectful salutation to the holy father Alypius, worthy of all esteem" (cf. Letter LXXXI). And St. Athanasius wrote in the Life of St. Anthony: "the life and conversation of our holy Father, Antony: written and sent to the monks in foreign parts by our Father among the Saints, Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria." Both of these saints lived before 400 AD, so the origin of this expression is quite ancient.

Consequently, the custom was adopted to refer to the Pope as "Holy Father" as well. As the Catholic Education center writes: "On the part of the faithful, a filial, loving relationship, which recognizes in the one so addressed or spoken to, a mission of spiritual fatherhood, expressing that of God toward us, in the threefold charge confided to the Church of preaching the Good News of salvation, of sanctifying the believers, and of gathering together the dispersed children of God. This is a special and supreme responsibility of the Pope in the Church’s threefold mission of teaching, governing and sanctifying, as Prophet, Priest, and Shepherd."

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