Do you know history, "And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven"?

Every Catholic has had Matthew 23:9 thrown at him: "And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven" (King James Version). Fundamentalist or Evangelical say, "This means you shouldn't call priests 'Father.' It's against the... show more Every Catholic has had Matthew 23:9 thrown at him:
"And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven" (King James Version).

Fundamentalist or Evangelical say, "This means you shouldn't call priests 'Father.' It's against the Bible."

Catholics and Protestants alike have worked on the assumption that opposition to the title "Father" has been part of the Protestant position from the beginning of the Reformation.

It turns out that not so long ago Protestants used to call their own clergymen "Father"--and their clergywomen "Mother."

For many years the male clergy in the high-church wing of the Episcopal Church denomination commonly had used the title "Father." Holmes quotes writers who argued that the appropriate title for newly-ordained female priests should be "Mother," to keep the usage in parallel.

Until the nineteenth century it was common for Protestant clergy, whether male or female, to use titles that nowadays are pretty much restricted to Catholics. We use "Father" when referring to priests and "Mother" when referring to heads of women's religious orders.

It turns out that Protestants used to do much the same.

In the early years of our country, "Father" was a term of respect given to older men, including clergy. "Congregationalists, Baptists, Methodists, and German Reformed commonly addressed older ministers as 'Father' well into the nineteenth century."
The title also was given to younger ministers who "served as spiritual fathers.

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, was known not only as "Mr. Wesley" but also as "Father Wesley," and "the Shakers called their matriarch 'Mother' and their male leaders 'Father.'"

Mary Baker Eddy, the foundress of the Christian Science Church, was known as "Mother Eddy." Likewise for the foundress of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, Ellen Gould White, who was called "Mother White."
In surveying early American usage, that "if calling clergy 'Father' had violated biblical norms, the Christian Church and Disciples of Christ surely would have opposed it, for these groups were formed in an attempt to restore not only the doctrine and practices of primitive Christianity, but also its very nomenclature."

Those denominations said that using "reverend" or "doctor" for clergy was unscriptural, and that the founders of these churches used "Father" "for their own clergy as well as for each other. And none of the movement's opponents ever seemed to exploit a contradiction in the movement's use of 'Father' as a clerical title. They apparently saw no contradiction."

But by the middle of the nineteenth century these usages began to disappear. "By the 1920s only Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and some Episcopal clergy and nuns were being addressed as 'Father' or 'Mother.'"

Until the great wave of Irish immigration in the 1840s, most Catholic priests in America were addressed as "Mister," "Monsieur," or "Don," not "Father." This was the Continental usage. The title "Father" was restricted to monks, and few priests in America were monks.

But the Irish had a different custom. They referred to all priests, whether religious or secular (that is, monastic or diocesan) as "Father." By the late nineteenth century "the Irish had influenced English-speaking Roman Catholicism to call every priest 'Father.'"

This bothered Protestants. So long as Catholic priests had been called "Mister," Protestants were comfortable calling their ministers "Father." But when Catholics changed their usage, Protestants, in order to distinguish their position from "priestcraft" and "popery," changed their usage too.

Matthew 23:9 now began to be used in a polemical sense. Protestants discovered in it a warning against the Catholic usage, a warning they had not seen when their own clergy were titled "Father."

As more and more Irish Catholic priests moved into the United States, Protestants began to assert that 'Father' was unbiblical. The literalist interpretation of Matthew 23:9 became a standard weapon in the arsenal of anti-Catholicism. ... As a result of this reaction, the twentieth century brought generations of American Protestants who knew nothing of ministers addressed as 'Father.'"
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