Saint Thomas Aquinas, Priest and Doctor of the Church


You are not “to be called rabbi” and especially “not by men,” nor are you to love to be called righteous by someone else. “For you have one teacher, and you are all brothers” to each other. For you have been born anew, not only from water but also from the spirit, and you have received the “spirit of adoption,” so that it might be said of you that you were “born not of the flesh, nor of the will of man” but from God. It is hard to imagine this being said of anyone or any son until now. You do not call anyone on earth “Father” in the sense that you say “our Father” of the one who gives all things through all ages and according to the divine plan. Whoever ministers with the divine word does not put himself forward to be called “teacher,” for he knows that when he performs well it is Christ who is within him. He should only call himself “servant” according to the command of Christ, saying, “Whoever is greater among you, let him be the servant of all.”1


“You are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers.” One has nothing more than another. For in respect to his knowledge he knows nothing from himself. This is why Paul says, “For who is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers?”—not masters. Again, “call no man your father.” This is said in order that they may know whom they ought to call Father in the highest sense. It is not said frivolously as if no one should ever be called father. Just as the human master is not the divine Master, so neither is the father the Father who is the cause of all, both of all masters and of all fathers.2


Remember this distinction. It is one thing to be a father or a teacher by nature, another to be so by generosity. For when we call a man father and reserve the honor of his age, we may thereby be failing to honor the Author of our own lives. One is rightly called a teacher only from his association with the true Teacher. I repeat: The fact that we have one God and one Son of God through nature does not prevent others from being understood as sons of God by adoption. Similarly this does not make the terms father and teacher useless or prevent others from being called father.3


I wish everyone might hear this, and most of all deacons, priests and bishops, especially those who think to themselves that these were not the words written: “He who exalts himself will be humbled.” On this basis, they then act as if they do not know that he said, “He who has humbled himself will be exalted.” They do not hear him who said, “Learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly of heart.” They thought themselves to be self-inspired and through this inspiration fell “into the judgment of the devil.” They had not thought of critically examining their false humility. They would have done better to have remembered the word of wisdom that says, “The greater you are, the more you must humble yourself, and you will find grace before God.” It was the Lord who provided the pattern for this process. No matter how great he was, he humbled himself. For “though he was in the form of God, [he] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name.”4


Since concerning everything that must be explained in the light of faith and love, there are many things to say and many ways in which experts can speak about them, who knows, at the present moment, what would be useful for us to say or to hear, except the one who sees the hearts of all? And who makes us say what should be said, in the right way, if not him in whose hands are both we and all of our words? Therefore, even if one learns everything there is to teach, all that he ever wanted to know and teach, and acquires the ability to speak, as is appropriate to a church leader—when the moment comes to speak, he should remember that what the Lord says is more fitting than all his valid arguments. “Do not worry about how and what you are to say, because what you are to say will be given you in that moment. Indeed, it will not be you who are speaking but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you.” If, then, the Holy Spirit speaks in those who have been handed over to persecution for Christ, why would he not also do so in those who hand over doctrine to those who want to know Christ?5


  1. COMMENTARY ON MATTHEW 12.  Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2002). Matthew 14-28 (p. 167). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  2. THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW, HOMILY 72.3.  Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2002). Matthew 14-28 (p. 167). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  3. COMMENTARY ON MATTHEW 4.23.10.  Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2002). Matthew 14-28 (p. 168). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  4. COMMENTARY ON MATTHEW 12.  Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2002). Matthew 14-28 (p. 169). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  5. CHRISTIAN INSTRUCTION 4.15.32.  Voicu, S. J. (Ed.). (2010). Apocrypha (p. 93). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
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