Why are priests referred to as Father?

The priestly title of "Father" is one of spiritual fatherhood, taken from 1 Corinthians 4:14-15, wherin the Apostle Paul writes, "... as my dear children... in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel." Much like a biological father, who provides nurturing, support, and guideance in this earthly life, so the priest provides spiritual upbringing to the born again life, such as Paul's relationship with Timothy (Philippians 4:22), Onesimus (Philemon 10), and towards the Thessalonians, "For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory" (1 Thessalonians 2:11). The members of a Catholic parish have been entrusted to a priest's spiritual care, so they have a filial affection for him and call him Father. In turn, priests refer to the members of their fold as "my son" or "my child."

Although the New Testament has many such comparisons and uses the term father both for biological and spiritual ancestry, the fact remains that Jesus said, "And do not call anyone on earth 'father,' for you have one Father, and he is in heaven (Matthew 23:9). To be a father figure, whether physically or spiritually, is one thing, but to assume the title of Father is a different issue, especially when it was used specifically for God's role as the Heavenly Father. 1 Peter 2:5 and 9 declares that believers in Christ are together a royal priesthood. Revelation 1:6 says that Jesus has made his believers to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father. If Christians, then, are collectively a priesthood who serve but one Father, then the question remains as to why elected priests of the Roman Catholic Church (and Orthodox and Anglican churches) should assume God's title as Father.

To Catholics, this is a fundamentalist argument, to which the counter-argument is Matthew 23:8-11, wherin Jesus also says that no one is to be called Rabbi, for Christ is the only Master, or teacher, because Christ is the one true Teacher. True, there doesn't seem to be many qualms with calling people rabbi, master, teacher, or even father, however, whether or not Jesus meant what he said literally in regards to the application of such titles, Catholic priests are exalted with the divinely reverent title of Father. According to Matthew 23:12, "For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted." Taken in context, this should be a clear indication that the titles Jesus was referring to just prior to this were not to be used by believers as titles of reverence.

        "But you are not to be called 'Rabbi,' for you only have one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth 'father,' for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called 'teacher,' for you have one Teacher, the Christ. The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted." (Matthew 23:8-12)

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Reference sources: Catholic Answers (http://www.catholic.com); ReligiousTolerance.org - Early Christian History as Viewed by Roman Catholics (http://www.religioustolerance.org/chr_hirc.htm); Fast Facts on False Teachings - Roman Catholicism (chapter 14, pp 211-232), by Ron Carlson and Ed Decker, ©1994 by Harvest House Publishers; New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/); Wikipedia (http://www.wikipedia.org/)