Friday, November 20, 2009

Calling fathers "father"

“while Mary’s motherhood is assimilated to the motherhood of the Church to the point of coinciding with it, Joseph’s fatherhood is never confused with the fatherhood of God. It is entirely a mystery of effacement before that from which it ‘is named,’ whereas motherhood is not named from anything else, but incarnates the human vocation and anticipates its fulfillment: ‘Perfect image of the Church to come, dawn of the Church triumphant, [Mary] guides and sustains the hope of your pilgrim people,’ as we hear in the preface to the feast of the Assumption.
“In order to understand why Mary’s motherhood and Joseph’s fatherhood are treated so differently, it is enough to remember that in Jesus’ double filial relation to Mary and Joseph, there is only one incarnate filial relation, his relation to his Mother. Joseph’s fatherhood is only representative: in other terms, it is priestly. Human fatherhood and motherhood are of course both images of the unique fatherhood of God, but they are such asymmetrically. If Mary is in her motherhood a figure of the Church, Joseph in his turn is a figure of the priest, who effaces himself before Him whom he represents (that is, both Christ the High Priest and the Father whom he makes present—‘Whoever has seen me, has seen the Father’) and who, in effacing himself, communicates him sacramentally to men.” . . .
“The spiritual reference to begetting from above, of which the heavenly Father alone is capable, confirms the ministerial status of human fatherhood. Far from it that man is unworthy of the name of ‘father’; rather, he will be declared worthy of it on the condition that he knows to cede his place to an Other who is Father in the strong sense, begetting to his own life those who were born ‘of blood and the flesh’ (Jn 1:13). So that this begetting from ‘above’ (Jn 3:3) might be accomplished, the child will be entrusted to the Church, who will confer on it baptism, and the human parents, through the Christian education they will give to their progeny, will make themselves servants of God, helping the new child of the Father to live according to its new condition. In this perspective, human fatherhood and motherhood appear not as ends in themselves, but as mysteries of effacement before the fatherhood of God and the motherhood of the Church.
“That which exists at the heart of the family finds itself in yet clearer form in the traditional titles of address for priests or monks. It is striking that such men are all the more readily called ‘Father’ when, in the natural sense, they have no children. Because their fatherhood is not particularized on any individual, it can be a pure sign of the universal fatherhood of God: it is sign only in the total non-possession of one who is called in a vocation to beget no one, accepting to be nothing to anyone in order to be a sign of God for everyone.”


Jean-Pierre Batut, "Calling fathers 'father': usurping the name of God?," trans. Michelle K. Borras, Communio: international Catholic review 36, no. 2 (Summer 2009): 303-304, 307.  Cf. http://liberlocorumcommunium.blogspot.com/2009/12/durand-on-aquinas-on-divine-paternity.html.

4 comments:

Elaine said...

So words only have their real meanings when the literal meanings are abandoned?

Steve Perisho said...

I'm not following you, Elaine.
For all three of us, you, me, and Batut, the "literal" meaning is theological, and the "prime analogate," our heavenly Father (Mt 23:8-10, Eph 3:14-15 (where there is that πατήρ-πατριὰ wordplay), etc.). In that meaning all other referents can be only participants, more or less, to the extent that the one true Father (through the Son and in the Holy Spirit) makes this possible. So how could this mere participation (so graciously granted) result in an abandonment of the literal meaning? Batut doesn't claim that it does. Indeed, the entire passage and article (Did you ever receive it?) argues precisely the opposite, such that everything depends upon the concept of effacement: in the insistence that my priest and I are only legitimately "fathers" (and we can be!) to the extent that we point away from ourselves to the "Father who is in heaven".
Those who think Catholics worship Mary should take note of Batut's other claim, that for motherhood, there is in the Godhead no such prime analogate.

Steve Perisho said...

Which is not to say that God is male!!!

Elaine said...

If that were Christ's perspective, why then would he say that his disciples should allow no one to call them "Father"? Batut seems to be saying that we (or at least church leaders) understand our relationship to God better than Christ does.
Scripture is worthless as a guide if we can abandon its apparent meanings in favor of contortions that match our tradition.