Screenshot of James Cagney and Pat O’Brien from the film Angels with Dirty Faces (1938) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]
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Anti-Catholics often ask Catholics the following garden variety objection, “How can Catholics explain calling their priests ‘Father’ in light of Matthew 23:9 (RSV, as throughout): ‘And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven’?”
We reply as follows:
Jesus was simply teaching (using the common Hebrew method of exaggeration or hyperbole: see Mt 19:24, 23:24; Lk 6:42, 14:26) that God the Father is the ultimate source of all authority. He said this during the course of rebuking the Pharisees for spiritual pride (Mt 23:2-10). Those who use this argument neglect to see that it would prohibit all uses of the word father whatsoever; even biological fathers. Since that is an absurd outcome, it is clear that the statement cannot be taken in an absolute sense.
Acts 7:2 And Stephen said: “Brethren and fathers, hear me. The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham, . . .”
Romans 4:12 . . . the father of the circumcised . . . our father Abraham . . .
Romans 4:16-17 . . . Abraham, for he is the father of us all, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations . . .” (cf. 9:10; Phil. 2:22; Jas. 2:21)
1 Corinthians 4:15 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.