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Sydney wrote:

Hi, guys —

I try to ask questions to Catholics but they always ignore my questions. They have always told me that I'm trying to mock them.  I find this a little offensive because I would never try to mock someone's religion. I only have two questions. They may be simple to some, but they aren't for me.

  • Why do Catholics refer to Church leaders as Father when Jesus strictly forbids the use of that title to designate religious leaders?
  • Where do you find the word Catholic in the Bible?

Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. If you can't answer them, thank you for taking the time to read them.


  { Why do you call your Church leaders "Father" and where is the word "Catholic" in the Bible? }

Paul replied:

Hello Sydney,

  1. We call them father for the same reason most people call their male parent by that name. Jesus said, "call no one father", not just religious leaders.

    • Why then do people, including priests, ministers, and the holiest of people, call their male parent "father"?
    • Why do we call Washington, Adams, and Jefferson "fathers" of our country? and
    • Why do theologians call the very first Christians, the early Church "fathers"?

    Perhaps it is because Jesus' words need to be interpreted properly. We should never refer to anyone as our ultimate Father or Teacher because that is God. No one can usurp God as:

    • the primary Cause of all
    • the Father of all, and
    • the one from whom all Truth emanates.

    God is our primary authority and Father but because God is the Father of all fathers, doesn't mean we can't use the term in a subordinate way for earthly fathers, whether they be physical or spiritual fathers. Priests are considered spiritual fathers since they minister to us God's Life of grace.

  2. The word Catholic is in the Bible wherever you see the word "universal". That is what catholic means in Greek. We've found documented evidence that the term was being used to distinguish Christ's Church from other religious sects as early as the beginning of the second century.

Thanks for the questions.



Sydney replied:

Hi, Paul —

Thanks! The second question's answer makes sense but, I'm still stuck on the first question.

Designated religious leaders are different from normal people so referring to normal people doesn't really help me. I think he meant that it's OK to use a term for parental reasons, and founders, but not religious leaders.

Da ze aka Sydney

Mike replied:

Dear Da ze —

This posting from our colleagues at Catholic Answers should help, in addition to what my colleague Paul has said:

You also may be interested in my list of Catholic Scripture verses that defend Catholic doctrines:

Under: Call No Man Father? (Matthew 23:9), I have:

Catholic Note:

All human titles are only shadows of God's authority from which they derive as understood in Ephesians 3:15. RE: "Call no one on earth father". "Father" is a term sometimes used of the great Rabbis. Note our Lord is not a grammarian regulating the use of terms: he is a doctor of the spirit. He forbids any acknowledgement of fatherhood that obscures the fatherhood of God, nothing more. If we make no allowance for the concreteness and brevity of His phrases we either reduce them to absurdity or him to inconsistency. He would not forbid a human son to use the word father nor would he forbid the term if addressed to one who is God's representative; in this second case, indeed, it serves to remind its readers of the fatherhood of God. Nor must the Christian disciple pose as an independent spiritual guide. He himself is subject to one Teacher and one Guide - to the Lord Himself.

— Luke 14:26 - Jesus says, "Anyone who comes to me without hating father, ... "
— Acts 6:14 to 7:2 - St. Stephen calls the Jewish leaders "fathers"
— Acts 21:40 to 22:1 - St. Paul calls Jerusalem Jews "fathers"
— Romans 4:16-17 - Abraham is called "the father of us all"
— 1 Corinthians 4:14-15 - St. Paul says,
    "I became your father in Christ through the Gospel"
— 1 Thessalonians 2:1 - we treat you as a father treats his children
— 1 Timothy 1:2 - St. Paul says, "my true child in faith"
— Titus 1:4 - St. Paul says, "my true child in our common faith"
— Philemon 10 - whose father I became in my imprisonment
— Hebrews 12:7-9 - we have earthly fathers to discipline us
— 1 John 2:13,14 - "I write to you, fathers, because you know him"

In reference to Romans 4:16-17 and I Corinthian 4:14-15: I think you will agree that Abraham and St. Paul were religious leaders.

The disciples of Jesus were first called Christians in Antioch. (Acts 11:26) In that same town of Antioch, less than eighty years after Our Lord's Ascension into Heaven, they were first called Catholic:

Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. It is not lawful without the bishop either to baptize or to celebrate a love-feast; but whatsoever he shall approve of, that is also pleasing to God, so that everything that is done may be secure and valid.

St. Ignatius of Antioch in 107 A.D. in his letter to the Smyrnaeans 8:2

I hope this helps,

If not, just get back to us. I appreciate your interest in getting the facts on what we believe.
Sometimes you will run into Catholics who have a poor attitude toward answering people's questions; it's probably because they don't know the answer and are too prideful to admit it.

I do apologize for any poor behavior on behalf of my brother Catholics.


Eric replied:

Hi, Sydney —

As for your second question, the term "Catholic" comes from the Greek words "katholikos", "according to the whole". In this exact form, it doesn't appear in Scripture, but neither does the term "Trinity", "incarnation", or, for that matter, "bible". It dates back to the year 107 A.D. in a letter from Ignatius, bishop of Antioch and martyr, where he says,

"Where the bishop is, there let the people gather; just as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church".

It arose as heresies in the early Church blossomed as a way to distinguish the authentic Church from heretical sects.

  • Why do we call priests "Father"?

  • For the same reason you call the man who conceived you "father".
  • Why you call your professor, esteemed cleric, or physician "doctor" (which means "teacher", another forbidden title), and
  • Why you call your cleric "pastor" (which means "shepherd", which while not expressly mentioned certainly seems to fit the passage.)

"Mister" and "Mistress" (Mrs.) are both forms of "Master", also literalistically forbidden.

Either you take it literalistically and strictly, as you are trying to apply to us, or you take it more figuratively and loosely, as we do. We can get ridiculous with this. Protestants, then, are rather selective about this verse. The fact is, Jesus did not have the Catholic Church in mind when he said this. What he meant is that we should not give to men the glory and honor that belongs to God alone.

When Jesus says what he says about calling no man father, he is using hyperbole. We know this because the Apostles frequently used this fatherhood imagery in their letters. Paul regularly referred to Timothy as his child:

  • "Therefore I sent to you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ" (1 Corinthians 4:17)
  • "To Timothy, my true child in the faith: grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord" (1 Timothy 1:2)
  • "To Timothy, my beloved child: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord" (2 Timothy 1:2)

Paul said:

  • "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 Corinthians 4:14–15)

There is such a thing as spiritual fatherhood.

He also referred to Timothy as his son:

  • "This charge I commit to you, Timothy, my son, in accordance with the prophetic utterances which pointed to you, that inspired by them you may wage the good warfare."
    (1 Timothy 1:18)
  • "You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus" (2 Timothy 2:1);
  • "But Timothy's worth you know, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel." (Philippians 2:22)

Peter does this as well:

"She who is at Babylon, who is likewise chosen, sends you greetings; and so does my son Mark." (1 Peter 5:13)

Occasionally the sacred authors treated entire churches as their children. Paul writes,

  • "Here for the third time I am ready to come to you. And I will not be a burden, for I seek not what is yours but you; for children ought not to lay up for their parents, but parents for their children" (2 Corinthians 12:14); and,
  • "My little children, with whom I am again in travail until Christ be formed in you!" (Galatians 4:19)

John said,

  • "My little children, I am writing this to you so that you may not sin; but if any one does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous" (1 John 2:1);
  • "No greater joy can I have than this, to hear that my children follow the truth" (3 John 4).

Paul also referred to one of his other converts in this way:

  • "To Titus, my true child in a common faith: grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior" (Titus 1:4)
  • "I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become in my imprisonment" (Philemon 10)

None of these men were Paul's literal, biological sons. Rather, Paul is emphasizing his spiritual fatherhood with them.

See also Galatians 4:19; 1 Timothy 1:18; 2 Timothy 2:1; Philemon 10; 1 Peter 5:13; 1 John 2:1;
3 John 4.

You may object that they aren't technically using titles, just referring to relationships, but we do see "Father" used in this fashion: See Acts 7:2 and 1 John 2:13–14. In any case, Jesus's objection applies to the relationship, not just the title.

Also, note that in Ephesians 3:14-15, Paul says,

"For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named..."

What he is saying is that the family, both the biological families and the heavenly family of God, are "named" after God the Father. In other words, fatherhood is patterned after God the Father. So there is a legitimate way they are linked, so long as we don't give human fathers the honor due to God alone.

I'd also recommend the write-up Mike suggested you read although I covered most of it.


Sydney replied:

Hi, guys —

Thanks for all your help.

I never originally intended for you guys to give me such long answers, so I didn't read most of the e-mails you sent me.

I don't believe in God; I am irreligious; but I still wanted answers and you gave them to me, literally.


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