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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? (Matthew 23:9)
  • 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.


Mike replied:

Dear Sydney —

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

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

Under the section titled: Call No Man Father?, I said:

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 forbids any acknowledgement of fatherhood that obscures the fatherhood of His Father God, nothing more. If we make no allowance for the concreteness and brevity of His phrases, we either reduce them to absurdity or reduce Him to being inconsistent. 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.

  1. Luke 14:26 - Jesus says, "Anyone who comes to me without hating father"
  2. Acts 6:14 to Acts 7:2 - St. Stephen calls the Jewish leaders fathers
  3. Acts 21:40 to Acts 22:1 - St. Paul calls Jerusalem Jews fathers
  4. Romans 4:16-17 - Abraham is called "the father of us all"
  5. 1 Corinthians 4:14-15 - St. Paul says,
    I became your father in Christ through the Gospel
  6. 1 Thessalonians 2:1 - we treat you as a father treats his children
  7. 1 Timothy 1:2 - St. Paul says, "my true child in faith"
  8. Titus 1:4 - St. Paul says, "my true child in our common faith"
  9. Philemon 10 - whose father I became in my imprisonment
  10. Hebrews 12:7-9 - we have earthly fathers to discipline us
  11. 1 John 2:13-14 - "I write to you, fathers, because you know him"

In reference to Romans 4:16-17 and 1 Corinthians 4:14-15: I think you will agree that Abraham and St. Paul were religious leaders.

Althoug the word Catholic is not literally in the Bible, we still see the biblical basis for the word in Oral Tradition, which sadly, many Protestants reject.

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. St. Ignatius of Antioch who lived up to 107 A.D. preaches:

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 would be remiss if I also didn't mention St. Pacian of Barcelona, (c. 310-375 A.D.), bishop of Barcelona. During his lifetime he argues:

"But, under the Apostles, you will say, "no one was called a Catholic".
Grant this to have been the fact; or suppose it to have been so.

  • When heresies, after the Apostles days, arose, and, under diverse names, strove to tear and scatter piecemeal the dove of God, and His queen, did not the apostolic people require a peculiar name whereby to distinguish the unity of the people that had not been corrupted, for fear lest the error of a few might tear limb by limb the unstained virgin of God?
  • Was it not beseeming that the principal head should be designated by a suitable title?

Suppose I entered, this very day, into a populous city, and found there Marcionites, Apollinarists, Cataphrygians, Novatians, and others of the same sort, all calling themselves Christians.

  • By what name should I be able to recognize the congregation of my own people, were it not from its being called Catholic?

Come, tell me, you who bestowed so many names on the other peoples!

  • Why have so many cities, so many nations, each their own description?
  • The very man who calls in question the name Catholic, will he be ignorant of the cause of his own name, if I shall inquire its origin?
  • Whence was it delivered to me?

Assuredly, that which has stood during so many ages was not borrowed from man.

This name Catholic sounds not of Marcion, nor of Apelles, nor of Montanus, nor does it take heretics as its authors. . . . . Christian is my name, but Catholic my surname. That names me, this describes me; by this I am approved; by that designated.

And if at last we must give an account of the word Catholic, and express it, from the Greek, by a Latin interpretation, Catholic is "everywhere one", or, as the more learned think, obedience in all the commandments of God. . . . Therefore he who is a Catholic, the same is obedient to what is right. He who is obedient, the same is a Christian, and thus the Catholic is a Christian.

Wherefore when our people are named Catholic, they are separated by this appellation from the [other] heretical names.

As a side note, the Catechism also tell us:

CCC 830 The word catholic means universal, in the sense of [the faith] according to the totality or in keeping with the whole.

I appreciate your interest in getting the facts on what we believe.

Sometimes you will run into Catholics who have been poorly catechized and 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.

I hope this helps, if not, just get back to us.


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)

In Corinthians, St. 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 and 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,

14 For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named..."

Ephesians 3:14-15

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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