Call no man father

From Cor ad Cor
Jump to navigation Jump to search
My father's last boat ride (1999).

"As for you, do not be called 'Rabbi.' You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers. Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven. Do not be called 'Master'; you have but one master, the Messiah" (Mt 23:9).

Jesus is not talking about the words we say but the things we think.

Honor your Father and your Mother

If we took this passage literally, we could not teach the Commandment: "Honor your father and your mother" (e.g., Eph 6:2).

The Gift of Teaching

We clearly cannot give up using the word "teacher" of human beings because teaching is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit: "And he gave some as apostles, others as prophets, others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers, to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the extent of the full stature of Christ, so that we may no longer be infants, tossed by waves and swept along by every wind of teaching arising from human trickery, from their cunning in the interests of deceitful scheming" (Eph 4:11-4).

NT scriptures speak of fathers

St. Paul

  • St. Paul says that "Abraham, ... is the father of all of us. ... He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into being what does not exist" (Rom 4:16-17).
  • Paul addresses a group of Jerusalem Jews as "brethren and fathers" (Acts 22:1).
  • "I am writing you this not to shame you, but to admonish you as my beloved children. Even if you should have countless guides to Christ, yet you do not have many fathers, for I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel" (1 Corinthians 4:15).
  • Paul implicitly claims spiritual fatherhood when he wrote to the Galations, "My children, for whom I am again in labor until Christ be formed in you! I would like to be with you now and to change my tone, for I am perplexed because of you" (Gal 4:19-20).
  • Paul calls himself the father of Onesimus: "I urge you on behalf of my child Onesimus, whose father I have become in my imprisonment ..." (Philemon v. 10).
  • 1 Timothy 5:1 uses the word “presbytero” (elder) when teaching that elders are not to be rebuked, but to be approached as a "father."

1 Do not rebuke an older man [πρεσβύτερος], but appeal to him as a father. Treat younger men as brothers,

2 older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters with complete purity.

Other NT passages

  • Stephen says, "Brethren and fathers, hear me" (Acts 7:2).
  • "Where is the promise of his coming? From the time when our ancestors [literally, "fathers"--πατέρες] fell asleep, everything has remained as it was from the beginning of creation" (2 Pet 3:4).
  • The Benedictus speaks of "our father, Abraham" (Lk 1:73).
  • The rich man calls Abraham "Father" and Abraham responds by calling him "son" (Luke 16:24-31).
Joe Heschmeyer, "Why It's Important that We Call Priests 'Father.'"
Some Christians, based upon Matthew 23:9, are opposed to the practice of calling priests "fathers." They’re mistaken in this opposition, and risk doing a disservice to God out of their misreading of this text. Now, we already know that the practice of referring to spiritual fathers as "father" is in found throughout the New Testament (e.g., Luke 16:24; Luke 16:30; James 2:21; Acts 4:25; Romans 9:10; 1 Cor. 4:15; cf. Romans 4:11-18), and that taking Matthew 23:9 literally would forbid virtually every manner of referring to spiritual leaders (including "reverend," "pastor," "doctor," etc.) as well as acknowledging one’s biological father as such (which would be a problem for the more than 400 times that the New Testament uses the term "father").
  • James 2:21: "Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar?"
  • Acts 4:25: "You said by the holy Spirit through the mouth of our father David, your servant, ..."
  • Romans 9:10: "Rebecca had conceived children by one husband, our father Isaac."
  • "I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have conquered the evil one. I write to you, children, because you know the Father. I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you are strong and the word of God remains in you, and you have conquered the evil one" (1 Jn 2:12-13).
"Call No Man Father."
For example, Joseph tells his brothers of a special fatherly relationship God had given him with the king of Egypt: "So it was not you who sent me here, but God; and he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt" (Gen. 45:8).
Job indicates he played a fatherly role with the less fortunate: "I was a father to the poor, and I searched out the cause of him whom I did not know" (Job 29:16). And God himself declares that he will give a fatherly role to Eliakim, the steward of the house of David: "In that day I will call my servant Eliakim, the son of Hilkiah . . . and I will clothe him with [a] robe, and will bind [a] girdle on him, and will commit . . . authority to his hand; and he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah" (Is. 22:20–21).
This type of fatherhood not only applies to those who are wise counselors (like Joseph) or benefactors (like Job) or both (like Eliakim), it also applies to those who have a fatherly spiritual relationship with one. For example, Elisha cries, "My father, my father!" to Elijah as the latter is carried up to heaven in a whirlwind (2 Kgs. 2:12). Later, Elisha himself is called a father by the king of Israel (2 Kgs. 6:21).
It also doesn’t exclude calling one’s ancestors "father," as is shown in Acts 7:2, where Stephen refers to "our father Abraham," or in Romans 9:10, where Paul speaks of "our father Isaac."
The first problem is that although Jesus seems to prohibit the use of the term "teacher," 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). There is no doubt that Paul was not violating Christ’s teaching in Matthew 23 by referring so often to others as "teachers."
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 them.
"The spiritual fatherhood of New Covenant priests is an extension of its application to Old Covenant priests" (Judg 17:10; 18:19; Ignatius Study Bible, fn Mt 23:9).

NT scriptures speak of teachers

“And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, then healers, helpers, administrators, speakers in various kinds of tongues” (1 Corinthians 12:28).

Jesus, the Exaggerator

Jesus used hyperbole and irony to make a point, as He did in other instances:

  • Jesus said his followers should pluck out their eyes or cut off their hands or their feet, but we have no one-eyed, one-handed, one-legged Christians who have mutilated themselves in obedience to Jesus' command to rid ourselves of the causes of sin.
  • Jesus said that some men castrate themselves for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. When Origen took this verse literally in the third century, the Church rebuked him for doing so. He was never canonized as a consequence. People did call him "The Man of Steel," however; it takes a certain strength of character, however insane, to do what he did!
  • Jesus said, "Let the dead bury the dead," but Christians have not opened mortuaries staffed by corpses. The meaning of the word "dead" in the first part of the sentence is not the same meaning as the very same word at the end of the sentence. The "dead" who are to do the burying are spiritually dead, not physically dead; the "dead" who are to be buried are physically dead.
  • "How can it be that the Lord would declare that 'all others, as many as have come, are thieves and robbers' (John 10:8)? Is it true that all who came before are untrue and are blind leaders of the blind? What shall we say of Abraham, Moses, and Elijah? What of John the Baptist? Were these thieves and robbers? Certainly not!"[1]

No substitute works better

Simply changing our vocabulary to completely eliminate the word "father" from it would not solve the problem that God always possesses the attribute in an infinite degree.

  • progenitor
  • cause of my life
  • my mother's mate
  • closest ancestor
  • my origin
  • the proximate biological agent
  • impregnator of my mother

The bottom line

The point being made, in my view, is that "God has no grandchildren" (David Du Plessis). The instruction to "call no man your father" is not about the vocabulary we use to identify the biological cause of our first birth or to honor our elders in the Body of Christ; it is about the interior recognition that God, the Son, Incarnate, causes us to be born again as true children of God, the Father. The way in which God is our Father surpasses every form of human fatherhood in the order of nature and in the Christian community.

So, what Jesus is saying is that we must not confuse those whom we call "father" on earth with our Father in Heaven. Our new birth radically revises and relativizes all of our original human relationships. God is our Father in a surpassing fashion; all other father-relationships are secondary to our relationship to God the Father.

There isn't any honorary title that we could give anybody that God does not deserve in a surpassing degree. God is "all-in-all."


Monsignor means "My Lord" in Italian.

The plural in Italian is: "Monsignori."

Unlike Holy Orders (deacon, priest, bishop), there is no sacramental rank or particular office associated with "Monsignor." There are three kinds of ecclesiastical honors that cause people to call a priest "Monsignor":

  • Apostolic Protonotary, of which two types are retained:
    • de numero: the highest and least common form, customarily only seven. "De numero" probably means something like "of a [definite] number."
    • supernumerary: the highest grade of monsignor found outside Rome. "Supernumerary" probably means something like "beyond any [particular] number."
  • Honorary Prelate of His Holiness (formerly "Domestic Prelate").
  • Chaplain of His Holiness (formerly "Supernumerary Privy Chamberlain").
"Good Morning, Monsignor": {dead link}
No diocese is allowed to have more than 10% of its living clergy honored with the title. In other words, there is a ceiling number above which a local bishop may not exceed. When a bishop submits a name to the Holy See for consideration, an examination of files is conducted to make sure that there is nothing in the nominee’s background which might block him from receiving an honorary title. Not every name submitted receives approval and no reason is ever given. Finally, generally monsignors must begin at the “bottom level” (Chaplain to His Holiness), spend five years at that level before they can be advanced to the next level (Prelate of Honor to His Holiness). ...
Does it cost the diocese to make Monsignors? The answer is yes but it is very minimal given the record keeping and parchment issuing that is involved. The “taxa” or tax for Prelates of Honor is $200 and for Chaplains to His Holiness is $150. Should the new monsignor choose to obtain the proper dress which accompanies the honor, more cost is incurred by the priest himself.


Jesus talks about our fathers in Matthew 10:37 and Mark 10:29. Ephesians 6:2 reminds children, “honor your father and mother.” In fact, there are countless men referred to in the New Testament as fathers or father.
When Jesus tells the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, He has the rich man refer to Abraham by the title “Father Abraham” when praying to him (Luke 16:24; Luke 16:30). There's not a hint anywhere in the passage that he's wrong to call him that, either. James 2:21 likewise calls him “Abraham our father.” That's the exact formulation that seems to be banned by Matthew 23:9. Likewise, there's Acts 4:25, in which the Christians remind God of the words of “our father David Your servant.” Romans 9:10 refers to “our father Isaac.”
Romans 4:11-18 explicitly tells us that Abraham is our father through faith:
He received circumcision as a sign or seal of the righteousness which he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised and who thus have righteousness reckoned to them, and likewise the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but also follow the example of the faith which our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.
The promise to Abraham and his descendants, that they should inherit the world, did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.
That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants -- not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham, for he is the father of us all, as it is written, "I have made you the father of many nations" -- in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations; as he had been told, "So shall your descendants be."
And St. Peter refers to Mark as his (spiritual) son in 1 Peter 5:13 -- with the implication that Peter is his father in faith. So basically everyone in the New Testament uses father as a spiritual title. The Protestant formulation (that it's okay to call men father, but only if they're a biological ancestor) is clearly wrong.