'Call No Man Father': Why do Catholics call Priests ‘Father‘?

'Call No Man Father':
Why do Catholics call Priests ‘Father‘?

By Matt1618

I want to look at a passage that is often used to say that Catholics are unbiblical because we refer to the priests as Father. Matthew 23:9 is the passage where Jesus says 'Call no man Father'. How can we call priests Father, when Jesus explicitly says we shouldn't use such language except of God the Father? I want to start off by looking at the passage in the larger context with the Revised Standard Version, Matthew 23:1-10:

1 Then said Jesus to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 "The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat; 3 so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice. 4 They bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with their finger. 5 They do all their deeds to be seen by men; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, 6 and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues, 7 and salutations in the market places, and being called rabbi by men. 8 But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brethren. 9 And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. 10 Neither be called masters, for you have one master, the Christ. 11 He who is greatest among you shall be your servant; 12 whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. 13 "But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because you shut the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither enter yourselves, nor allow those who would enter to go in.
Here is the King James Version with Matthew 23:8-10 (because some of those most vehement against Catholics on this charge tend to use the King James Version):
[8] But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. [9] And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven. [10] Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ.

First, we see the context is Jesus' condemnation of the Pharisees and scribes. Even though they had authority to bind people (v.2-3), and were to be listened to and obeyed (except when they disobeyed the commandments, Mk. 7:8-9), they were hypocrites who did not practice what they taught (v. 3). They sought their own glorification, but did not do works of love (vv. 4-7). They exalted themselves and would put themselves in the place of God. Of course the special honor that should be given to God alone, should not be given to man. Of course Catholics do not think of priests as God the Father, and when we use the term Father it is never meant to be used in that way. That is what the Pharisees were in effect doing and Jesus was criticizing them on those grounds. Jesus is condemning the Pharisees exaltation of themselves. We know elsewhere that Jesus condemned them because they would justify themselves before men (Luke 16:15), and they had a tradition that would make the people disobey the commandment to honor their parents while obeying the Pharisees (Mk. 7, Mt. 15). This is at the root of the condemnation of the Pharisees and scribes. This is not a condemnation of the term 'Father' itself, otherwise Jesus and the rest of the Bible would be a pile of contradictions, as we shall see.

Now of course any anti-Catholic, realizes that if he quotes it the way that it actually is in the Bible and he takes only in a fashion that he interprets it against Catholics, it would make him a hypocrite. That is, because if he calls his own physical Father, 'Father' he would automatically violate his interpretation of Matthew 23:9. He would also just render saying a commandment "Honor thy Father”, sinful. This is foolish. We are to honor our Fathers and call our Fathers ‘father.’ And of course we honor our Fathers, in order to have a long life (Ex. 20:12).

The general idea that an anti-Catholic will use is that here Jesus is only condemning the use of the term 'Father' in a spiritual fashion. That here Jesus is condemning spiritual Fathers. Well, there is no distinction at all in Matthew 23, that says anything about 'well, it is ok, to refer to your mothers husband as 'Father' but I really mean 'no real spiritual Fathers'. Any such distinction is not found anywhere in the text, and is only a position constructed in order to use this verse against Catholicism.

Now, in the immediate context of the terms Jesus uses in Matthew 23:9, we also see the same treatment of the term 'Father' as the term 'teacher' (v. 8), or Master., (v. 10). When Jesus was teaching about the necessity of being born again to Nicodemus, he affirmed that Nicodemus was a teacher (RSV), or Master (KJV) of Israel (Jn. 3:10). To even say that a spiritual teacher is impossible would have Jesus contradicting himself in John 3:10 when he acknowledges Nicodemus as a teacher or Master in Israel. Throughout his many parables we would see Jesus refer to the servants of ‘Masters’ (in the following chapters no less, without giving any hint that the term master can not be used of one who is not God, Mt. 24:45-51, 25:1-30), as well as Paul (Rom. 14:4, for example).

This passage says also, don't call one 'rabbi' or teacher (23:8), just before Jesus’ use of the term ‘Father‘ in 23:9. If someone in a Protestant church has a pastor and someone terms him a 'teacher' of spiritual things, then if the Catholic Church use of the term 'Father' is sinful, then so is the Protestant. Do Protestants go out of their way, to never use the term 'teacher' of their Pastor, in the same way that some think that Catholics should not use the term 'Father'? I don't think so. After all, their pastors are 'teachers' of spiritual things. Remember, Jesus' condemned the use of the term 'teacher' (Matt. 23:8) in the same fashion as in the use of the term 'Father' in Matthew 23:9. There are no Protestants that I am aware of, who say Catholics shouldn’t use the term 'Father' for Catholic priests, who in the same way are afraid to use the term 'teacher' (which is what rabbi means) of their pastors in Matthew 23:8.

Besides the fact that Protestants (those Protestants that criticize the Catholic using the term ‘Father’, it must be acknowledged that there are many Protestants who will not use this passage against Catholics) are inconsistent in applying this term in spiritual matters to Catholics in Matthew 23:9, but not applying to themselves in reference to their own pastor in Matthew 23:8. The fact is however, Jesus does not say 'do not say 'Spiritual Father'.’ Jesus made a general statement, 'call no man Father.’ We have seen that Jesus was criticizing the Pharisees and scribes supplanting God.

Now, specifically we want to see if the use of the term 'father' is used in the Bible in a spiritual sense. Does God give legitimacy to the use of the term 'Father' as Catholics do? Since it is Jesus’ teaching which is at issue, it might be best to look at how he himself uses the term 'Father' to people in the gospel. We have already seen him use the term 'teacher' in Matt. 23:8 of Nicodemus in John 3:10 and in various parables the term ‘master’ in Matt 23:10 in other places.

The opponents of Jesus attempted to use the term 'Father Abraham' as claiming to be his spiritual children. Let us see if Jesus condemned their use of the term 'Father' Abraham, John 8:37-39:

37 I know that you are descendants of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me, because my word finds no place in you. 38 I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father." 39 They answered him, "Abraham is our father." Jesus said to them, "If you were Abraham's children, you would do what Abraham did,
We see that Jesus heard them refer to Abraham as their Father. Now Jesus did condemn them, however, not because they used the term Father. The Jews claimed Abraham as both their physical and spiritual Father. Now, Jesus did not say that they could not be Abraham's children, that it was impossible, but because of their refusal to accept Jesus that they were not Abraham's Children, but they were children of the devil (John 8:44). However, if they followed and accepted Jesus, they would be Abraham's children spiritually. He criticized them for not being Abraham's children because they rejected Jesus, not because the term ‘father‘ was disallowed of Abraham.

Jesus himself says in Luke 16:24-25:

24 And he called out, 'Father Abraham, have mercy upon me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish in this flame.' 25 But Abraham said, 'Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish.
Now, if someone will say, 'well, it is ok to use the term Father about someone, but Matt. 23:9 precludes one of calling someone 'Father' (which is another way of using Mt. 23:9 against Catholics) who is spiritual, Jesus himself shows that is not his way of thinking. Here there is someone who appeals for mercy from Abraham. He specifically calls and uses the term 'Father' directly to Abraham. Now, Jesus himself uses the term 'Father' to apply to Abraham in the parable, with Abraham not only accepting the title but legitimizing the title by calling the person 'Son' (Lk 16:25) even if he refuses the request.

This acceptance of Abraham as Father is also accepted in the New Testament by Paul. Paul uses the term of Abraham as a Spiritual Father, the Father of us all (Romans 4:16-18 ) spiritually, as he is a father of faith. Paul’s concentration is not a physical, but spiritual descent.

The apostle John writes, 1 Jn 2:1, 13-14:

1 My little children, I am writing this to you so that you may not sin; 13 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 overcome the evil one. I write to you, children, because you know the Father. 14 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 abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.
The apostle John sees himself as a spiritual Father, and the readers of the epistles are his spiritual children. He also refers to others as ‘fathers’, and the context is only a spiritual one.

We next see Paul call himself a spiritual Father to the readers of his epistle to the Corinthians:

1 Cor. 4:14-15 I do not write this to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. 15 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.
First, Paul himself refers to the Corinthians as children. He is single (1 Cor. 7). He refers to himself as a Father. He did not father a bunch of physical children, he is speaking about how he is a Father to these Corinthians spiritually through the Gospel.

This is affirmed elsewhere in his writing to Timothy, 2 Tim. 2:1-2:

You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. 2 and what you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.
In what way is Timothy his son, except spiritually? Does Inspired Scripture contradict Jesus? Paul again affirms his spiritual Fatherhood over Timothy. We see that Timothy is then spoken of as becoming a spiritual Father to those who will follow him. Not only is succession of teaching implied, so is succession of spiritual Fatherhood implied.

The Martyr Steven, before he is stoned, uses the term Father, or Fathers 20 times in his defense, just before he is stoned to death (Acts 7). Sometimes it was used it was spoken as fathers in a spiritual sense, other times in a physical sense. So, on the brink of his martyrdom, was he sinning 20 times? No, the Bible says he was full of the Holy Spirit (Acts 7:55). Jesus stood at the right hand of God receiving his first martyr. He did not tell Steven, "Ok, everything else you did was great, but you ignored my command of Mt. 23:9 and you should not use the term 'Father' all these times!" or, "Begone with you, I never knew you!!!' On the contrary, on the verge of martyrdom, he is declared to be filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 7:55). Jesus stands up, and welcomes Stephen into the kingdom, applauding everything that he did on the verge of martyrdom, which obviously includes his use of the term ‘Father‘ to others besides God the Father.

The fact is that when Jesus says 'call no man Father' he is not attacking the use of the term Father but in fact as he is dealing with the Pharisees, they were putting themselves in the place of God. In fact no Catholic that I know of attributes divinity to the Priest. We all realize that when we die, we will face God, not the priest, in judgment. We realize that the priest did not make the world and will not come to judge the living and the dead. If any Catholic uses the term in that way, he would violate Mt. 23:9 if he considers the priest God, instead of being the instrument of God that he is. However it doesn't apply to any Catholic that I know of. We only worship God and do not attribute divinity to priests. However, to consider them spiritual Father is in fact very biblical.

Scripture, which is profitable for instruction in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16) thus says that Paul sees himself as a spiritual Father of both Timothy and the Corinthians. John sees himself as a Spiritual Father (1 Jn 2:1), and he refers to his readers as fathers (1 Jn 2:13-14). Steven, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (Acts 7:55) refers to the Jewish priests and scribes as "Brethren and Fathers" (Acts 7:1 , besides using the phrase Fathers of men throughout all of Chapter 7.) How can someone be filled with the Holy Spirit if it is a sin to call someone Father? It is not the Catholic Church, but Paul, Steven, John, and Jesus himself that you argue against when you attempt to use Matthew 23:9 in that way.

In fact, Paul in Eph. 3:14-15 says

14 For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named,
I do not know Greek but I do have a Strong's concordance. The term used for family in Ephesians, patria, 3965, is this:
as if fem. of a der. of 3962: paternal descent. i.e. a group of families for a whole race (nation).
Thus, it is the feminine derivative of pater in Strong's concordance, which is 3962, Father, parent.

appar. a prim. word; a"father" (lit. or fig., near or more remote: father, parent.'
Thus, it could legitimately translated "From whom all fatherhood in heaven and on earth is named," meaning that all fatherhood on earth-both natural, physical and biological fatherhood and supernatural, spiritual fatherhood comes from God our Father. Thus, all fatherhood that is here on earth is derived from Our Father in heaven. Thus, fatherhood is not to be rejected, but accepted and is central in our understanding of God.

Now, that defends the practice of the term 'Father' and any attempt to say that the term 'father' used of Priests is wrong, is wrong. But here I want to go deeper and see why, Catholics use this term 'Father' of priests. Here I will recommend and refer to the Scriptures and references found in a chapter in the book 'Catholic for a Reason, Scripture and the Mystery of the Family of God‘, Emmaus Road Publishing, Inc., Steubenville, Oh, 1998. It is a compilation of chapters which speak of several issues. Many were written by Converts. The chapter I refer to is Father Pablo Gadenz, chapter 10, 'The Priest as Spiritual Father' pp. 207-228. This book can be purchased here: Catholic for a Reason, Scripture and the Mystery of the Family of God.

The first point in background that when we come to be in Christ, we become part of a family. We become adopted children of God, and become brothers and sisters in Christ with each other. We are children by grace and God's power (John 1:12, Gal. 4:4-8, Rom. 8:14-17, 1 Jn. 3:2). Now in the Bible, we have brothers and sisters in Christ, we also have spiritual sons and daughters. Paul refers to Timothy not only as his son, but also his spiritual brother (1 Tim. 2:1, cf., 2 Cor. 1:1; Col. 1:1). The Catholic view is of both brotherhood and fatherhood (Gadenz, p. 212).

Now priesthood is associated with fatherhood in the Old Testament before the ascension of the Levitical priesthood. Now Fr. Gadenz notes this in his study:

During the age of the patriarchs such as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the priestly functions (such as offering sacrifice) were carried out by the father of a family. In the case of an extended family or clan, the priest was the patriarch or head of the clan. In his classic work Ancient Israel, Roland de Vaux writes that "there was no official priesthood in the time of the Patriarchs; acts of public worship (especially sacrifice, the central act) were performed by worship (especially sacrifice, the central act) were performed by the head of the family (Gen. 22; 31:54; 46:1)." Priesthood was the head of the family (Gen. 22; 31:54; 46:1)." (Roland de Vaux, Ancient Israel, New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1961, 345). Priesthood was therefore associated with fatherhood. Even after the patriarchal period, following the establishment of the Levitical priesthood, the association of priesthood with fatherhood is still found. One good example is in Judg. 17:10, in which a traveling young Levite is welcomed into the house of Micah: "And Micah said to him, 'Stay with me, and be to me a father and a priest." The significance of this remark, according to De Vaux, is that "the priest had inherited those religious prerogatives which, in the patriarchal period, had belonged to the head of the family.” (Father Gadenz, p. 214).
Father Gadenz also notes that in the Patriarchal period prior to the time of the Golden calf that the first-born became the head of the family after the Father's death, and exercised the priesthood.

Father Gadenz also shows some Old Testament passages which clarify with some commentary from a Jewish scholar, Nahum Sarna:

A number of Old Testament texts clarify the concept of pre-Levitical priesthood of first-born sons. Ex. 13:1-2 states: "The Lord said to Moses 'Consecrate to me all the first-born; whatever is the first to open the womb among the people of Israel, both of man and of beast, is mine." This consecration of the first-born refers to priesthood, as is made clear by comparison with Num. 3:12, in which God tells Moses: "Behold, I have taken the Levites from among the people of Israel" (cf. Num. 8:16, 18). Jewish scholar Nahum Sarna explains Ex. 13:1-2 as follows:"
It is explicitly related in Num. 3:12 and 8:16, 18, that in the course of the wilderness wanderings the Levites supplanted the first-born in assuming priestly and ritual functions. It may therefore be safely inferred that Moses is here instructed to install the first-born to fulfill priestly duties. Father Gadenz, pp. 215-216.
We thus see in these passages that prior to the establishment of the Levitical priesthood (which was established because the Levites were the only faithful ones who got the office of priesthood by killing those who were worshipping the golden calf, Ex. 32:25-32) the first born sons, who were heads of families, were also the priests. Then, because of the faithlessness of the Jews at the time of the golden calf, the first-born were desacralized and one had to be a Levite to be a priest. With a change to Levitical priesthood came a change in the law (Num. 3:11-13, 8:14-19, Num. 3:40-51, cf. Heb. 7:12), Father Gadenz, p. 223.

Now, Melchizedek is the first person in the Old Testament, who is termed a priest. Here is the passage:

Genesis. 14:17-20
17 After his return from the defeat of Ched-or-lao'mer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King's Valley). 18 And Mel-chiz'edek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was priest of God Most High. 19 And he blessed him and said, "Blessed be Abram by God Most High, maker of heaven and earth; 20 and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!" And Abram gave him a tenth of everything.
Notice what this priest brings out: bread and wine, in the context of being named a priest. In the very context of naming Melchizedek a priest, he offers bread and wine. As he is a priest, he offers sacrifice. This is no coincidence at all. Now the Eucharistic implications are easy to see, especially since in Hebrews, Jesus is called a priest according to the order of Melchizedek. For the implications and prefiguration of the Eucharist as found in this passage I recommend the following section in my piece: The Eucharist: A True Sacrifice or a Denial of the Sufficiency of the Cross?: Section on Melchizedek (If you wait a little, it will advance to this section.)

Here, I want to concentrate though on the priesthood of Melchizedek, as it relates to Israel’s priesthood and as it relates to Fatherhood.

Psalm 110:4 elaborates on how this priesthood of Melchizedek is to be a permanent priesthood:

The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind, "You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek."
This text is referred to in the New Testament as Jesus as the fulfillment of this passage. This was the priesthood that was meant to be in the Old Testament, until the people, including the first born sons who were Fathers were priests, worshipped the Golden calf. The first born sons were the ones who were the priests, (and fathers) to the people of Israel, as noted earlier. Now in the New Covenant, Jesus is said to be the High Priest, in the order of Melchizedek(Heb. 5:5-10, Heb 6:18-7:1-22).

Before I go further, I would bring up a few things on the Jewish tradition on Melchizedek. Rabbi Juday bar Simon held that the three patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob received blessing because of the merit of having Abram's having given Melchizedek a tithe. Philo and Josephus note that Melchizedek is the first priest mentioned in the Torah (in Gen. 14). They saw Melchizedek as not just a priest, he was the progenitor of all priesthood. For Rabbinic Judaism, the priesthood was passed on to Abraham and his offspring recorded in Genesis 14:18. Jewish tradition held that Melchizedek was identified as Shem, the Son of Noah. According to the age laid out in Genesis, Shem lived 210 years after the birth of Abraham, 35 years longer than Abraham lived (Fred Horton, The Melchizedek Tradition, Cambridge University Press, Melbourne, 1976, pp. 122, 157-9, 114).

Father Gadenz also notes this tradition of Melchizedek as being Noah’s son Shem. Melchizedek is a title, not a name per se:

Through recourse to Jewish traditions of interpretation, we discover that Melchizedek is identified in the Jewish Targums and midrashic sources as Shem, the first-born son of Noah. (Father Gadenz footnotes this as follows: footnote 14: Joseph Fitzmyer cites the Targum Neofiti I, the Fragmentary Targums, and the Targum Pseuto-Jonathan, all of which identify Melchizedek as Shem; see his article “Now This Melchizedek...’(Heb. 7, 1)’Catholic Biblical Quarterly 25 (1963), 313, fn. 32.) In this interpretation, the blessing by Noah of Shem-Melchizedek in Gen. 9:26 is understood as the patriarchal priestly blessing, which is then passed on by Shem_Melchizedek to Abraham in Gen. 14:19. Hence, Shem-Melchizedek, the first-born son of Noah, is the chief priest and patriarch (father figure) over his house, that is over all of his extended family which through ten generations includes Abraham as well (cf. Gen 11:10-26). Abraham, after receiving the blessing from Shem-Melchizedek, is designated to become the new chief priest and patriarch over all his descendants. (Father Gadenz, pp. 217-218).
Father Gadenz also notes that Saint Ephrem the Syrian, a fourth century doctor of the Church, and Saint Jerome, who studied under the Jews, also identified Shem as Melchizedek (St. Ephrem the Syrian Commentary on Genesis section XI, in the The Fathers of the Church, vol. 91 (Washington: The Catholic University of America Press, 1994), p. 151), and St. Jerome, Epistle 73 Patrologica Latina, vol. 22, 676-81). St. Jerome in his commentary on Genesis (Corpus Christianorum: Series Latina, vol. 72, 19), where in speaking of the Jews’ assessment of Melchizedek, writes:
They say that he [Melchizedek] was Shem, the son of Noah, and calculating the years of his life, they declare that he lived to the time of Isaac, and that all the first-born [from] Noah, until Aaron exercised the priesthood, were high priests (Fr. Gadenz, p. 218).
Scott Hahn, saying he is drawing upon Jewish Tradition, argues that it went without argument that Shem actually was Melchizedek. He argued that the early Christians assumed that was so, (as seen above by Sts. Jerome and Ephrem). Shem was the one blessed by Noah (Gen. 9:26). Noah was the Father, and priest, of all the earth. Thus, Shem received the blessing from Noah, and thus he now would be the priest over all the earth. That indeed shows how since Shem is priest-king, and would thus be a priest-king over all the earth, not just Salem. This shows even further how the type of the figure of Melchizedek (Which is a Title, not a Name, per se) is fulfilled in Jesus being a priest-king over all the earth (Scott Hahn, Tape series The Epistle to the Hebrews 8 tapes, tape 3, St. Joseph Communications.) That is how he could be the source of blessing for Abraham, who would therefore accept it. That Melchizedek was Shem, is thus accepted by both Jewish and Christian traditions.

Let us look again at Psalm 110:4, which is quoted in Hebrews 5-7:

4: The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind, "You are a priest for ever after the order of Melchiz'edek."
Notice that in Psalm 110 it says that coming will be a priesthood that is after the order of Melchizedek. And there is an eternal priesthood. As of the time of writing of the Psalm, the priesthood was the Levitical priesthood that offered predominantly animal sacrifices (though grain offerings were also done). The Levitical priesthood was based solely on proof of physical descent of the Levites. If proof was not shown, possible priests were excluded (Neh. 7:64). However, the future priesthood that was Jesus' priesthood is eternal and not based on bloodlines. Jesus is the first-born Son, who is the eternal priest. We do note that Jesus is termed the first born Son (see Luke 2:7). Notice however, that as we saw in Genesis 14, the only sacrifice that was offered in the order of Melchizedek was the sacrificial offering of bread and wine. We see that the order of Melchizedek offered bread and wine, which was sacrificial, foreshadow a superior priesthood which comes to offer bread and wine, which is transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ. As a priest, he must offer sacrifice (Heb. 5:3, 8:3). The sacrifice of Jesus' Body and Blood as offered in the Eucharist is the only offering that fulfills the sacrifice of the order of Melchizedek found in Psalm 110:4. Directly related to this topic at hand, however, we also remember that the first-born sons were Fathers, who became priests. This is the order, that Psalm 110:4 predicts, and is fulfilled in Jesus.

Father Gadenz notes the following:

The author of Hebrews understands the priesthood of Christ in terms of the twofold relationship of Christ as Son of God and brother of mankind. He presents Christ the Priest precisely in terms of the familial priesthood of first-born sons. By establishing the New Covenant, Christ brings about a change in the law and a change in the priesthood as well (cf. Heb. 7:12). Christ abolishes the Levitical priesthood and restores on a supernatural level--the priesthood of the first-born sons. In the new family established by the New Covenant of Christ, Jesus is the “first-born“ son (Heb. 1:6), the oldest brother who brings His many younger “brethren“ (Heb. 2:17; cf. Rom. 8:29), who are other “sons,” to glory (Heb. 2:10). Christ‘s status as first-born son allows Him to be a “merciful and faithful high priest“ Father Gadenz, pp. 223-224.)
Now, with the ascension of Christ as high priest, the abolishing of the Levitical priesthood takes place, and the establishment of a priesthood that lasts forever, there now again exists a new priesthood of first-born sons. Now in the Old Covenant, there was a priesthood of all believers, of the whole nation (Ex. 19:6), as well as being a priesthood of first born sons who became Fathers spiritually as well as physically. Now, in the same way, there is a priesthood of believers (1 Pet. 2:9), as well as a ministerial priesthood (Jn. 20:23, Mt. 18:18, Lk. 22:19), who are Fathers spiritually to the sons and daughters of Christ.

Father Gadenz also argues:

In the New Testament, Jesus, the new Israel (cf. Jn. 4:6, 11-12), confers first-born priestly status on the Church , which is the true and new Israel of God (Gal. 6:16), the “assembly of the firstborn” (Heb. 12:23). Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the first-born of the dead, loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father (Rev. 1:5-6); cf. Rev. 5:10; 20:6, 1 Pet. 2:5, 9). (Fr. Gadenz, p. 225).
In the Old Testament there was a priesthood based on patriarchy. There was a family of patriarchs, Shem passed on his authority to Abraham who passed on that authority to his descendants. He was the priest-king, but the first-born sons were priests as well.

Now, in the new covenant, Christ is the founder of the New Israel. The New Israel is the Church, Galatians 6:16. Now, Jesus established a church that had governing authority. He said to his apostles “He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me“ (Lk. 10:16). He commissioned the apostles to teach the good news of salvation throughout the world. He said, “Make disciples of all nations and go therefore baptizing them, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit (Mt. 28:19-20).” In the Old Covenant, before Exodus, the patriarchs, and the first-born were the priests, who were spiritual heads of the household of Israel. In the New Covenant, the apostles became the foundation of the New Israel (Mt. 19:28, Rev. 21:24).

Father Gadenz notes the difference between the priesthood and fatherhood of the priests of the New Covenant, as opposed to the priests of the (pre-Levitical, that is) Old Covenant:

Like the patriarchs of old, the apostles are priests and fathers. Unlike the patriarchs of old, they are not priests and fathers over their own natural families, but over the supernatural family of the Church. This new Church family, like the natural family, exists at various levels: from the "nuclear" family or local Church to the extended family or universal Church. The chief priest and father figure over the universal Church is the apostle Peter, who received a special priestly blessing from Christ (Mt. 16:17-19). In the Acts of the Apostles, we read that the apostles passed on their ministry by appointing elders or presbyters in every church (Acts 14:23). In this way, they as priest-fathers passed on the priesthood "over God's house" to the "first-born" sons, the "elder brothers" (cf. Acts 15:23). St. Augustine explains this apostolic succession in the priesthood in his commentary on Ps. 45:16 ("Instead of your fathers shall be your sons"):
What does that mean? The apostles were sent as fathers; to replace those apostles, sons were born to you who were constituted bishops...The Church calls them fathers, she who gave birth to them, who placed them in the sees of their fathers...Such is the Catholic Church. She has given birth to sons, who, through all the earth, continue the work of her first Fathers (Father Gadenz, p. 226)
The responsibilities of priests in the New Israel, the Church, are great. For example, these passages in Hebrews give a hint of those responsibilities, Heb. 13:7, 13: Heb. 13:7, 13:
7 Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God; consider the outcome of their life, and imitate their faith.
17 Obey your leaders and submit to them; for they are keeping watch over your souls, as men who will have to give account. Let them do this joyfully, and not sadly, for that would be of no advantage to you.
Priests have a big responsibility to rule over us. We are to submit to them. They keep watch over ours souls, if we take Hebrews 13 seriously. They have a Fatherly responsibility. They have a responsibility to teach us correctly. They have to give an account to God for their actions.

Why do priests deserve the term Father? Well, we have seen much Scripture to show that it would be proper to give them that title Father, but their relation to us in our spiritual growth is important based on their role in the following matters:

1) He brings us into the kingdom of Christ by baptizing us. Christ gave the apostles the commission to baptize us in the name of the Trinity (Mt. 28:19, Mk. 16:16). Salvation is dependent upon that, according to Jesus (Jn. 3:5). Baptism saves us (1 Pet. 3:21). Baptism sets us free from the bondage of sin (Jn. 8:31, 36, cf., Rom. 6:3-7) and makes us children of God and makes us put on Christ (Gal. 3:27). Although in emergency cases, it is possible for a non-priest to baptize validly, in most cases, it is the Priest, as Father, who baptizes.

2) Bishops are given the authority to give to us the sacrament of confirmation, which gives us a special outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon us (Acts 8:14-17, 9:6`). Here is where we grow in our faith with a special gift of the Holy Spirit which empowers us to do God’s work.

3) Jesus gave to his apostles and their successors the authority and power to make bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Jesus. He commanded the apostles to ‘do this in remembrance of me’ (Lk. 22:19). Do what? To consecrate what was bread and wine, and make it the Body and Blood of Christ (Lk. 22:19-20, Mk. 26:26-28, Mk. 14:22-24, 1 Cor. 11:23-29). This is a flesh that becomes true food, and blood that is true drink for followers of Jesus (Jn. 6:54-56). This food is what nourishes us spiritually. This sacrament forgives sins (Mt. 26:28). Here we participate in a sacrifice much superior to anything in the old covenant (Heb. 9:23, 13:10, 1 Cor. 10:16-21). Now it is the priest that makes this happen. He is the means to communicate this Eucharistic grace to his children who partake of His Body and Blood.

4) If we fall short in sin, Jesus himself gives us the means of being reconciled to him. How does he do that? Well, in his commission after his death and resurrection, he established the sacrament of a confession of sin. He said that if you (the apostles) forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if they retained the sins of any, they are retained. This is done only through the Holy Spirit, (John 20:22-23, cf., Mt. 16:18, 18:18). Paul himself saw that he was a minister of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18).

5) It is the Ministers (or Priests), who were commissioned by God to pray for healing of both body and soul, for those who are sick (Jm. 5:13-14). The priests have the authority to save the sick man, and he will be forgiven sins, in that rite as well, and possibly heal those that are sick. The anointing of the sick is another gift for our spiritual benefit.

6) And of course the Priest speaks the word of God to us, and relates from the Bible and tradition, the truths of Christ (Heb. 13:7). The Bible says that holding on to correct doctrine is salvific (1 Tim. 4:16).

In sum, priests are instrumental in bringing us into his grace, giving us strength through the Holy Spirit, making possible for us that we can receive the marvelous gift of Jesus Body and Blood which forgives sins, are God’s instruments in bringing us back to God when we disfellowship ourselves from God with mortal sins, or cleanse us when we have only venial sin, and give grace on our deathbed. From the beginning of our spiritual life, to the end of our spiritual life, it is priests who nourish Catholics with the Sacraments, and are instrumental in bringing us the means of salvation, in the beginning, middle, and the end of our lives. Priests are God’s instruments for our benefit, and they surely deserve the title ‘Father’. This paper should show that any attempt to use Matthew 23:9 to say that we can’t use that title is wrong.

©2003, 'Call No Man Father': Why do Catholics call Priests ‘Father‘?, written by Matt1618. This text may be downloaded or printed out for private reading, but it may not be uploaded to another Internet site or published, electronically or otherwise, without express written permission from the author.

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Changes last made on December 20, 2003.