Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Father...


Was listening to the radio today, I don't think I need to say what station, and a Catholic priest was on with a humanist and they were debating certain issues relating to funeral services. The topic itself was interesting, but what was more interesting was the humanist calling the priest 'Father'. Here's a guy who doesn't believe in God (he said he didn't) and he was calling the priest 'Father'.
This is something I really don't understand. In some ways I can understand how the humanist just calls the priest 'Father' because that's what Irish people do. We've been taught from a very early age that priests are called 'Father'. This is not always taught directly, but it is always implicit.
The main thing I don't get is how the Catholic Church can stand over this. Matthews 23:9 says
And do not call anyone on earth 'father,' for you have one Father, and he is in heaven.

This seems pretty clear to me what Jesus means. The context has nothing to do with family relations so it's not a concern that we are not to call our biological fathers, father. It is a warning not to pride ourselves with titles.

Catholic scholars point to 1 Corinthians 4:15 to justify why they call priests father.
Even though you have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel.

Paul is not telling them to call him father, he was just reminding them of the special relationship he had with them as he had introduced them to the gospel. He was emphasising his love and concern for them, it was a not a proud notion of regard.
I wonder do Catholic apologists forget that Paul says "you do not have many fathers" in the very verse that they use to justify calling EVERY priest father. I think that adds up to many fathers.
I don't mean to offend but I will not be calling a priest I come in contact with Father. At this moment I also think that the 'Protestant' term reverend is not particularly appropriate either as there is only one who is to be revered. Perhaps Sir will do for these generally well meaning men of the cloth!

3 comments:

Wesley said...

Hey, I found your blog by clicking on your name in Denny Burk’s blog, decided to browse a bit :)

Here is the way I see this passage.

My short Observations:

First Jesus says to not call anyone three things: Rabbi, Father, or Teacher.

Second, the context is specifically in connection with the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees who teach, and then don’t actually do what they teach people they just like the titles and honor that comes with it. (even though the teaching is to be followed.)

Third, After this is the list of “woe” passages who miss the whole point of the law and do (correctly it appears) the small stuff, while neglecting the greater.

My Analysis:

Now when it comes to this, there is at least one problem. One thing Jesus said was not to be called teachers or instructors. However, he just got finished saying that the teaching of the scribes was correct to follow when they teach in the synagogue, plus we know from Paul that: It’s acceptable to be teacher (Rom 12:7) And lists “teacher” along with other positions that are called by the name of the position in 1 Cor 12:29 (Apostle, Prophet and Teacher).

So apparently it is ok to conceptually be a teacher/instructor, but if Jesus means it as absolutely as it can be taken, then one can be one without being called one. Actually it would mean they can been be called it, but not addressed as such. It would be like saying we can refer to Priests as “Father”, but not address them as “Father”. At this point you would have Jesus playing word games more then there being any real point to it all.

Now you mentioned the biological Father, which I agree is an obvious exception. But this should raise the question, if one exception, then are there others? If The Catholic Chruch (And High Church Anglican, some Lutheran, ect.) are not using the title in the same way that Jesus is condemning in Matthew, then they would also count as exceptions.

The analogous exception to “teacher” for Father, is found in the passage you cited: 1 Cor 4:15. Paul is their Father spiritually, and like the Teacher title, to say it is ok to use the title in third person, but not in second person address seems to miss the point of Jesus, and make him not saying enough. I would have to say they were allowed to call Paul “father” in a certain sense, that is different (even if similar) to what Jesus was condemning.

I don’t see Jesus condemning the titles as a concept, because he just allowed that conceptually they are in fact teachers. Nor then can it be the mere usage of the title that is condemned, because then all I would have to do is pick another title, and it would reduce the argument to a word-game. Instead what he is after is the motivation of the individual for how they use the title when in fact their actions prove they don’t deserve it, and using a bit of hyperbole to drive home the point (which is proven by the fact that even Jesus, and Paul didn’t hold to this in such a strict manner). Hence, all the talk of hypocrisy and misuse of the law.

The equivalent would be an individual Priest who uses the title for the wrong reasons while never doing and acting in such a way as to deserve the honor that comes with it.

Instead if they are fathers like Paul, where they act as those who nurture Christians in the faith, then the title is being used correctly.

And a side point, scripture most certainly uses “elder” for the title of NT religious leaders, which is not too far away form “Father”. Father is just more specific, but “elder” is certainly the idea of superior family members, and this is done certainly in a religious context to imply some type of leadership and mentoring.

-Wesley

steph said...

I am not a Christian but I address a priest as "Father" out of respect for what and who he is. As for Matthew 23.9 I don't think Jesus said that - it is only attested in Matthew's gospel and it looks very Matthean in style and his expansion of Mark 12.37ff.

BTW I am a Kiwi, doing my phd in the UK, with Irish roots in Fermanagh with the Maguires .... I'm impressed that you mention both Neil Finn and Flight of the Concords - both from little old us! What about Split Enz and Tim Finn and now more recently, Neil's own son who has put out an album here? It's nice to know we Kiwis can make others happy.

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