Call No Man Father

priest, ordination

Over the passage of time, it had become clear that depending on which of the non-Catholic co-workers invited me to coffee, that established what the conversations may contain.  For example, if Josh stuck his head around the cube wall and asked me to go to coffee, the conversations would at least start on a more conversational footing.  If Steve was the one to invite me to coffee, it was most often because he had a question about what he perceived to be the Catholic cult, or had something that he could use to trap me and prove to Josh that Catholics were not Christian.

Steve stood at the entrance of my cube and asked me to go to coffee.  I said I was ready and we could go at any time.  The three of us made our way to the cafeteria and through the coffee line and to a reasonably clean table.

‘Call No Man Father = You Guys Are Wrong On This One’

Steve started and said “Christ said to ‘Call no man father’, but you guys call your priests ‘father’ and that is clearly against what Christ said. So, you guys are clearly wrong on this one.”

I responded by saying, “It would certainly sound that way, but let me ask you a question first…”

Steve replied, “No problem, go ahead.”

I asked, “What do you call your mother’s husband?”


I pressed a bit, “And isn’t that a shorthand term of endearment?”


I continued, “And along about the 3rd week in June, do you give him a card or anything such as that?  And what does it say on it?”

“Happy Father’s Day.”

I continued, “So, you guys also violate what Christ said since you call your mother’s husband Dad or Father or some similar title.”

“Now,” I continued, “let’s see what Jesus said.”  I reminded Steve and Josh that in the Gospel of Matthew, He had been asked what people needed to do to go to Heaven.  His response included things such as not to kill, and to honor your mother and father. Jesus also called Abraham, who was a human being “father”.

In the Gospel of Luke, He went about it in a backwards fashion when He said anyone who comes to him without hating his father and the balance of his family can never be His disciple.

Clearly, Jesus uses hyperbole frequently in his messages, that was the conversational convention of His time, but the message is still the same, He was not saying call no male on the face of the planet father.  If you look at the entire section of the Gospel, rather than taking a sentence out of context, you will find that Christ was telling the people not to imitate the Scribes and Pharisees since they were not all that deserving of respect in many cases.  That is, they were not deserving the respect of being referred to as a father.

Paul Got it Wrong By Getting It Right

I continued by telling them that Paul, who when he wasn’t busy falling off of horses, also got it wrong, but, in doing so he got it right.  Paul called himself “father”, even though he was unmarried and without child, in 1 Corinthians when he told the people, “I became your father in Christ.” He called Timothy his true child in faith, he also called Titus his child, and there are a couple of other examples that could be used as well.

So, the point remains that while Christ did say not to call any mortal man your father, it was said in a specific frame of reference with regard to specific people and under specific conditions.

Steve said, “O.K., I guess I can see your point.”

Archbishop Fulton Sheen

I told Josh and Steve that before we went back to the cube farm, I wanted to share one other item with them.  I went on to tell them that in the 50’s and 60’s, there was a Roman Catholic Archbishop who was on TV usually up against “Uncle Miltie”.  Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen had once commented that, “There are not one hundred people in the United States who hate The Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they wrongly perceive the Catholic Church to be.”  I said, “So it is with many of our Christian brothers.  They may take a sentence or section out of context to hold it up and say, ‘See the Catholics are just a cult who do not understand anything.'”

I reminded them that up until the mid-1500’s, if you were Christian, you were Catholic, there was only one major Christian denomination.  However, following Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Henry VIII, among others, there began a “reformation” of the church with one group of believers not accepting this or that and they split off, frequently only to have their membership again split over some point or other.

I asked Steve to please feel free to ask me about anything he wished to in terms of Catholicism, but please do it from a perspective of curiosity, and not an adversarial, or at least, confrontational manner.  Steve’s response was, “O.K., how about this magistrate body thing that you guys seem to hold in high regard.”

“Steve, that is the Magisterium, and that is a topic for another coffee break.”

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3 thoughts on “Call No Man Father”

  1. Hey Dan…What a great way to answer that objection. In my life and ministry, I’ve heard so much arguing on things like this. It saddens me to hear people tear each other apart and even dismiss others as “unchristian” because of taking a passage and interpreting it a certain way. I can talk about my earthly father, be a father, and refer to a priest as “Father” while always understanding who my heavenly Father is. Thank you for such a clear and informative piece.

  2. If you look at the entire section of the Gospel, rather than taking a sentence out of context, you will find that Christ was telling the people not to imitate the Scribes and Pharisees since they were not all that deserving of respect in many cases. That is, they were not deserving the respect of being referred to as a father.

    I think I would tweak this just a bit. Yes, the Scribes and the Pharisees had their flaws, but they were not unique in that regard; Steve’s father-in-law no doubt has his flaws, too. I would see this as being more parallel with the statement in Mark 10:18 that “No one is good but God alone.” That is, the goodness of any human being is not merely quantitatively different than the goodness of God, but qualitatively different; compared with divine goodness, human goodness is a flimsy imitation. It’s the same way with fatherhood. “For this cause I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom all paternity in heaven and earth is named….” (Ephesians 3:14,15) That is why “[h]e that loveth father or mother more than me, is not worthy of me….” (Matthew 10:37)

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