Why do Catholics call their priests “father,” when Jesus himself commands us in Mathew 23:9 to “call no man father?”
In Matthew 23:1-12, when Jesus tells us to call no man father or teacher, He is using figurative language to emphasize that all legitimate authority and truth ultimately come from God. We are not to take these passages literally.
Throughout the Bible men are called fathers and teachers. Both Catholics and Protestants call earthly men fathers and teachers. St Stephen and St. Paul call the Jewish religious leaders “fathers (Acts 7:2 and 22:1).” St Paul calls the Corinthians “my beloved children…for I became your father in Christ Jesus through the Gospel” (1 Cor 4:14-15; also see 1 Thess 2:11, 1 Tim 1:2, and Tit 1:4). St. Paul became their spiritual father because he cooperated with God in giving them spiritual life, just as biological fathers cooperate with God in giving physical life. Catholics call their priests “father” because, like St. Paul, priests cooperate with God in giving spiritual life to their flock by preaching the Gospel and administering the sacraments.
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