Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Why Do We Call Priests 'Father?

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Why Do We Call Priests 'Father?

Article excerpt

This delightful question serves as a reminder that fathers--and mothers--are not just biological realities but symbols as well. The role and work that parents perform in the raising of children naturally lends itself to this symbolism. When we think of good parents, we think of kindness, nurturing, and unconditional love. They bring to mind strength, protection, loving care, and attentiveness. We use the symbols of parenthood to describe other contexts as well. Mary is the mother of the church. Mahatma Gandhi is the father of Indian independence. The early leaders of our nation are referred to as Founding Fathers.

This symbolic understanding of parenthood goes back to biblical times. In 1 Cor. 4:15, St. Paul uses his own life as a model for Christian living.

Paul reminds the Christians of Corinth that it was he who brought the faith to them. "I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel," he writes. Though he sometimes has to engage strong emotions in his letters, Paul seems to prefer a tone of gentle reproof: "I am writing you this not to shame you but to admonish you as my beloved children" (1 Cor. 4:14). It is easy to see why he presents himself as a spiritual father.

Those who tend toward biblical literalism sometimes express concern for Paul's presentation of himself as a father of the church, a concern that carries over to using the word "father" in other religious contexts as well. This is due to a passage in the Gospel of Matthew, in which Jesus cautions his listeners that they should "call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven" (Matt. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.