Monday, December 17, 2012

Call no man father...the definitive post

I am honestly surprised at how often Gottesdienst is called upon to defend our editorial practice of referring to clergyman as Father. I'm also not a little surprised at the direction from which the questions come. But one thing almost all of the questions have in common is a quoting of Matthew 23:9-10   "And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven.  Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ."

Fair enough: let's get a post up that covers all the Biblical ground and be done with it. You can link your questioning friends, neighbors, and Fathers here. So how did this title develop in the Church with this clear statement from Jesus? Doesn't calling a pastor Father violate it? 

Let's examine what Jesus says. It's an absolute statement: call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. The statement is either literal and means "call no human being on earth by the term father" or it is in some sense figurative, with the figure in the word "call," that is, "realize that no man on earth is really your father, even though you have many fathers on earth, for there is only One True Father." 

Well, if it's the former then how is it that we all call our fathers father? How does one justify that in light of Jesus' statement? "Call no man father" does not make room for biological exceptions. That is, if there is a figure here it certainly can't be in the negative particle because the whole force of the statement is most obviously aimed at earthly, biological fathers. There is no way the statement means "Call your dad father but nobody else." 

So the figure is obviously in the word "call:" realize that some words we use towards men are used only in shadowy ways because they belong to God. To "call" something by name in the Bible has great importance. Think of all those name changes in the Bible: God calls a thing what it is. To name something is supposed to directly speak of its essence. But when we call our earthly fathers father we just can't be using words that way. Our fathers are shadows, reflections, images (often poor ones) of the ultimate reality. We could just as well say that no wife should call her husband husband because there is only One Husband who is in heaven, Christ the Lord. Or, no one ought to call the lords in the House of Lords lords because there is only One Lord. In every case we are not thereby calling for some silly undoing of plain speech (let's make up a new word we can call our fath...um, I mean maleparent), but for a realization that God is the reality and things down here are the shadow.

And, indeed, it is clear from the rest of the New Testament that "father" was already a term used in this shadowy sense:

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.

Philemon 1:10  I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment.

Philippians 2:22  But you know Timothy's proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel.

1 Thessalonians 2:11-12  For you know how, like a father with his children,  12 we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.

1 Timothy 5:1-2  Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father. Treat younger men like brothers,  2 older women like mothers, younger women like sisters, in all purity.

So there you go: St. Paul, speaking in the Spirit, uses the term father in reference to men on earth, specifically to preachers vis a vis their parishioners. QED

+HRC

17 comments:

  1. Thank you for a brilliant and succinct post (per normal)
    Father Jay Watson SSP

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  2. I feel sorry for St. Stephen, who fell into this sin twice in Acts 7:2 shortly before his death. Hopefully, he repented in those few crucial moments...

    Another transgressor was St. Paul, as evidenced in Acts 22:1.

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    1. Darn it, I missed those! I searched for the singular!

      +HRC

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    2. Dear Father Heath, I think you should go ahead and dovetail it in: take advantage of the medium's flexibility. I think you have captured the essence of the issue - as have many of the commentators. It should surprise no-one that in a nanny-state feminized and highly democratized culture, seeing the pastor as a father-figure (as a πρεσβύτερος in the words of the Bee Eye Bee Ellee) would be off-putting.

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  3. Here's the important part. Do they call you Father (First Name) or Father (Last Name)? :)

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  4. Forget for a moment the bronze-age, "grumble-grumble" lcms types (gee, I wish I could)... having the title "Father" used for confessional priests of the Augustana is salutary for another reason: It throws into fits of convulsion feminists and priestitutes. Ms Bulldykina M.Div, S.T.M. may dress in black, but she ain't now, nor never will be a "Father."

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    1. For my money that is the chief reason to recapture the title - and probably the only hope of getting the grumble-grumble types to accept it!

      +HRC

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    2. I will never forget the bronze-age, "grumble-brumble" lcms types.

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  5. Luther considered the highest title for a clergyman was Prediger, and at Bach's time, the Prediger only preached and gave the benediction, when other clergy were present. Germans are remarkably sensitive and focused on titles. Herr Professor Doctor Rumpelstilsken, and those titles are in order of importance. A professor is a higher title than a doctor. The large city churches usually had several clergy each with a special title, and this same staff was usually responsible for services at more than one parish and church.

    I believe a clergyman could be the liturgist/deacon at a monrning service, could be the Prediger/preacher at an afternoon/night service at the same or any of several other churches. At Bach's time in Leipzig there were only 2 parishes Nicholai and Thomas, but many churches, and the clergy moved from church to church parish to parish as assigned by the Superintendent's very detailed schedules. Oh, and there were several services at each church each day/week. Function/title could change several times a day, but personal title, Prediger or deacon, stayed the same. Your beichtvater/beichtkind connection was long term and you had some selection ability in choosing who of the many clergy would be your Father Confessor. Bach had about 3 over his 25 years at Leipzig (some retired or moved away).

    Situational titles is what it was in Leipzig. Herr Prediger Schmidt was probably called that everywhere he went and not to use his "higher" title would have been like mistaking a military rank. Guten Tag, Herr Prediger Doctor Schmidt. To call him a deacon would be a major faux pas and you'd have to work for months to make up for it. And, the Prediger is the highest ranked clergy at any service (if the Superindent was preaching, then he was that service's prediger). If you preached that day, that meant that you also said the benediction. (The hour glass on your pulpit had to be empty before you could finish your sermon on the assigned text). And, the Superintendent knew the pericope texts as well as you did and his policy was that he had the preaching texts for every church and Prediger and every church organized in his planning books, at least a year in advance, but certainly 6 months in advace (Bach was good, but he couldn't write a good cantate with 1 week's notice every Sunday).

    Now, if on market day, you bumped into someone in clerical street garb, and you responded, excuse (what?). Excue me reverend sir/entschuldigen bitte, Herr Pastor (sondern was?). Entschldigen mich Herr Vater. I suspect that vater was a personal title that you would have used only if you quickly recognized him as your Beichtvater or a clergyman you see almost every Sunday at your church. I think it could be a personal/affectionate title that Germans made a distinction when using. If you were currently that persons "father in the faith" in actuality, he might very will call you father, but not an unknown clergyman whom he would call pastor.

    Much of this is extention of what I've read but not to the specificity to German titles used in market places, obviously. I'm pastiching bits and pieces of knowledge and applying common human behavior. Now, there must be Herr Professors who do know exactly what an 18th century German would have called an unknown clergyperson to ask to be excused from an accidental bump. And it would be lovely if they would tell us what they know.

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    1. (part II)
      Now Herr Professor Guenther Hiller tells us that confession and communion records were kept in minute detail, (along with the sacristan's daily note book about colors and responses to be skipped in the afternoon service, for example) and are still extant. According to these records we pretty much know how often Bach went to confession (about once a quarter). However, the data only list a name when the person confessed before communion, so Guenther and I assume that Bach went to communion at least once a week, but those who communed without going first to confession, were only counted in a total number. In about 1780s when the rationalists had taken over Leipzig, you can imagine how these number went down precipitously. Confession stops at a certain point (no more count), and attendance at communion fell off from about 7,000 a week, to 4 (given in the sacristy after the service so as not to waste time).

      Can you imagine a rationalist professor scientist philosopher wanting to be called anything but (Big Boss Man)?

      But in Bach's day, when you look at those statistics can you imagine how busy the clergy were getting 7,000 communicants at 6 churches with about 1/4 also seeking confession before. And Bach was responsible that the proper and expected music was provided for all of this every week.

      I don't think I've added anything new here; I'm just ruminating of the bits and pieces I do sorta know.

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  6. I remember an amusing poem published years ago on this "debate." I don't remember if it was in The Bride of Christ or the St. James' Society journal (Pro Ecclesia? Don't remember its name either). It's just been too many years for my poor memory, but I think the poem was called "No Farther." Anyway, the last line was "What do you call your dad?" Does anybody else know of this poem?

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  7. We also have the fourth commandment, which Christ Himself uses to reference earthly fathers in Matt 15.

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  8. Bill,

    Does this help? http://blog.trinityaustin.com/2009/02/24/you-are-a-father/

    Tim Landskroener

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  9. Herr Professor Doctor Rumpelstilsken, and those titles are in order of importance. A professor is a higher title than a doctor.

    The mind reels. A beggar is higher than a professor, as the beggar but receives, and God deigns that the last shall be first. Good Lutherans are receivers, at heart. A professor is but a a school-master, in a mortar-board, who delivers. And if the constipated (i.e., the withholders) among us insist on the literalness of Mt 23:9, surely they ought to attend to Mt 23:10 with an equal force.

    Your (unworthy) servant, who mostly placebos,
    Herr Doktor

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  10. I maintain that I have often been cured and, most of the time, kept in solid health by good and well made placebos administered by a healing hand.

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  11. Tim,

    That's it! Thanks for finding it. I always thought it was spot on and funny.

    Bill

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  12. Here's Fr. Mark Braden's article on the topic: http://ziondetroit.org/index.php?page=publicat&action=view&uid=33

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