Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Il Papa, Holy "Father," and Blasphemy?

During the excitement of the conclave, a caller to the Hugh Hewitt Show voiced not only her dislike for all the coverage the Catholic Church and especially "the Pope" was getting, but she also threw out one of those now-traditional criticisms levied against the Catholic (and Orthodox too, if not more) practice of calling priests "Father." Moreover, how could we even go so far as to call the Bishop of Rome the "Holy Father." What blasphemy! she charged.

Leaving aside the former issue of the extensive coverage (what Pope John Paul the Great did during his pontificate for people around the world, especially behind the Iron Curtain of Communism, has changed the worldwide significance and reach of the person who is called "Il Papa"), was this caller on to something with her additional charge that Catholics are going against the Bible when they call priests "Father"? Is there any meat to this critique?

Well, let's see.

And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. (Mt 23: 9)

How does a Catholic reconcile this command of Jesus Christ with the time-honored tradition of calling a priest “father”? Should this apparent contradiction cause a Catholic to become either ashamed of the use of the title of “father” or, worse still, ashamed of the Gospel itself? Was Christ speaking of all references to anyone with the title of father? These are questions that may stump a Catholic when asked to explain such a practice. I, however, suggest that they are good questions that further vindicate Catholic Tradition in the light of Sacred Scripture. As well, I put forth that such a title does not contradict the command of Christ but, in fact, is even in sync with Sacred Scripture.

Christ could not have possibly meant to literally never call a man “father,” for, if so, we would be wrong in addressing our male parent as such. Is he not called “father”? To many, this is an exception that was not forbidden in Christ’s command. I grant that. But, I offer more.

When Christ speaks of the rich man and Lazarus (cf. Lk 16), he, himself, uses the title of “father” when speaking of someone other than God the Father. Christ quotes the rich man: “And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy upon me ...” The text continues with the rest of the story, yet Christ never mentions the reference to Abraham as "Father" as being wrong. In fact, Abraham is seen as a spiritual father to all children of God.

The same applies to the spiritual leaders of the Catholic Church. Catholics are merely following and attesting to the Word of God when they identify priests as “fathers.” St. Paul opens his First Letter to Timothy by addressing him as “my true child in the faith.” If St. Paul calls Timothy his “true child,” then basic logic tells us that Paul possesses some type of fatherhood. Since Timothy is not only a “child,” but a “child in the faith,” then Paul’s fatherhood is, as well, rooted in the faith.

Another scriptural text that highlights the distinctions of each in the faith is 1 Jn 2:12-14. St. John distinguishes between little children, young men, and fathers. It is interesting to note that in the ensuing lines the Apostle instructs the "children" and not the "fathers," nor for that matter the "young men" he has just spoken of. I merely said interesting.

Lastly, and most explicitly, if we turn our attention back to St. Paul we see that he is very clear about the fatherhood of priests, those who serve in the person of Christ (2 Cor 2:10). (On "person," see * NOTE below.) The Apostle writes, “I do not write this to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. 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.” (1 Cor 4:14-15; emphasis added) That’s right. The Apostle Paul identifies himself as father. He became our "father" ... and it was done "through the gospel" itself.

Does St. Paul contradict the Savior? To answer that, one must first ask if Sacred Scripture contradicts itself? As a Christian who believes in the “sacred writings which are able to instruct [...] for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim 3:15), the answer is no.

As a Christian who believes that “All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17), the answer is no.

St. Paul does not contradict Christ Jesus. Rather, he faithfully follows His commands and teachings, while exhorting us to do the same: Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ (1 Cor 11:1). We will, Father Paul, for we are “not ashamed of the gospel” (Rom 1:16).

And neither is our new Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI (to the consternation of many in the media and any others who dislike what Christ established).

* NOTE: Depending on the context, the Greek word "prosopon" can be translated as “person,” “continence,” “face,” or “presence.” However, it is translated into Latin as “persona” in the Church’s official Bible. As well, this word, prosopon, is the word used by Church fathers and the Council of Chalcedon to refer to the one person of Christ, who possesses two natures, divine and human, that are “preserved and coalescing in one prosopon…” Since the Latin version of the Bible reads, “in persona Christi,” and since some Church fathers used prosopon for the person of Christ, I follow suit.

1 comment:

Kathy Carroll said...

Well said! Christ's admonition about using the word "father" is, I believe, similar to his warning about applying the word "good." In Matt 19, Jesus tells us that "There is only One who is good," then immediately reminds us to obey the commandments. Similarly, in saying "Father," our underlying focus should always be on God. Our earthly fathers come from God, and so do the priests who serve in His name.

It seems to me that semantical exercises with powerful words were one of Our Lord's ways of helping us easily distracted humans to concentrate on God.