Saturday, September 10, 2005


Is the biblical passage (Matthew 23:9) always bandied about by Protestants when they want to stick it in a Catholic's ear. But not so fast my friend, as Lee Corso says. Protestants have a history of doing the same thing. Karl Keating introduces some research done by David L. Holmes, who teaches in the religious studies department at the College of William & Mary.
Holmes was prompted to write by the then-new intrusion of female priests into the Episcopal Church. How should such women be titled? For many years the male clergy in the high-church wing of that denomination commonly had used the title "Father." Holmes quotes writers who argued that the appropriate title for newly-ordained female priests should be "Mother," to keep the usage in parallel.

He backs up this suggestion by noting that until the nineteenth century it was common for Protestant clergy, whether male or female, to use titles that nowadays are pretty much restricted to Catholics. We use "Father" when referring to priests and "Mother" when referring to heads of women's religious orders. It turns out that Protestants used to do much the same.

Holmes noted that in the early years of our country, "Father" was a term of respect given to older men, including clergy. "Congregationalists, Baptists, Methodists, and German Reformed commonly addressed older ministers as 'Father' well into the nineteenth century."

The title also was given to younger ministers who "served as spiritual fathers." "Herman Melville, for example, based his character Father Mapple--the whaleman-chaplain in 'Moby Dick'--on Father Edward Thompson Taylor, the Methodist pastor of Boston's Seamen's Bethel."

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, was known not only as "Mr. Wesley" but also as "Father Wesley," and "the Shakers called their matriarch 'Mother' and their male leaders 'Father.'"

Mary Baker Eddy, the foundress of the Christian Science Church, was known as "Mother Eddy." Likewise for the foundress of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, Ellen Gould White, who was called "Mother White."

Read Keating's e-letter and Holmes's research.


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