A few times, recently, some have thought it insulting to me to address me as “Mr Chadwick” so as to refuse recognition of my status as a cleric or a priest. Sometimes I would just be called Chadwick like when I was a schoolboy, Mister or Sir being reserved to schoolmasters and not even the house or school Monitors (prefects in some establishments).
It is a difficult one, knowing whether to treat me as a gentleman or a cleric – or both. Ecclesiastical titles have changed over the centuries and differently in various countries. In pre-Reformation England, a priest would be called Sir Forename, as in this famous quote from Reformation polemics:
When the bell once rings … they forsake their seats and run from altar to altar, from sacring to sacring, peeping here and touting there, and gazing at that thing which the pilled-pate priests holdeth up in his hands. And if the priest be weak in his arms, and heave not up high enough, the rude people … will cry out to the priest: “Hold up, sir John, hold up; heave it a little higher”. And one will say to another: “Stoop down, thou fellow afore, that I may see my Maker: for I cannot be merry except I see my lord God once in a day”. (Becon, The Displaying of the Popish Mass, fol. 270; Becon, A Comparison, fols 359-360).
A correspondent wrote to me today:
I always think that addressing a secular priest as mister is so classy because it’s so Anglican.
Indeed, this is standard Anglican practice, though Father has been increasingly imported from Roman Catholic practice. When I was a boy at home, my parents, middle-of-the-road Anglicans, would also refer to a clergyman as Mr Surname. This is the custom. We in the ACC have adopted widespread Anglo-Catholic usage and use Father. I generally invite people to address me as Father Anthony, unless they are intimate friends or family. It is for their sake, not mine. Friends just use my Christian name, and I don’t bat an eyelid.
Calling someone by their surname implies a position of authority over them, as at school or in the army. That is quite rude when the person calling me Chadwick (or the same to anyone else) has no authority over me.
Comparison with other countries is interesting. The French Monsieur l’Abbé comes from the days of the abbés commendataires in the seventeenth century, when the benefice of an abbot could be held by any cleric, even if not a monk. Then came the custom of calling all clerics by that title unless they were a curé of a parish, a canon, prelate or bishop. The priests of Saint Sulpice, community and seminary founded by Monsieur Olier, were simply called Monsieur Surname. When I was in seminary some of us used Monsieur instead of Monsieur l’Abbé as an old-fashioned affectation, a mark of distinction. It is simply the old usage in France. In common use, it is equivalent to the English Sir or Mister. In our days, the title is used for all men, including those of modest families.
In Italy, the title of a cleric is Don, as in Don Camillo. It comes from the Latin Dominus. In Portuguese usage, it is Dom, like in the Benedictine Orders. In German, the title is Hochwürden Herr (Pfarrer for a parish priest). Vocatively, a German priest is called Pater. Eastern Orthodox priests are called Vater.
Properly speaking, the title Father is that of a religious or monastic priest, and only come into use for the secular clergy in the nineteenth century.
So, if certain polemicists on the internet think they insult me by not calling me Father, they can save their breath. It is only for their good that I suggest their using an ecclesiastical title. I once remember a vagante bishop here in France showing me a letter from a dicastery in Rome calling his S. Exc. Monseigneur, and using that as evidence that he (or his “validity”) was in some way recognised by Rome. I later asked a Roman official about this. It is simply a courtesy, a matter of protocol, using the same title as the person used when he wrote to the dicastery in question. That is all, a simple courtesy.
It doesn’t cost us anything to use a clerical title when addressing someone. It doesn’t mean that we agree with him or what he believes, or whether or not he is truly a priest according to my Church’s discipline and criteria. It is just a mark of respect.
I’m a bit of a rough diamond myself, something of an anarchist and rather informal in my ways. At the same time, I was brought up and educated to be a gentleman, and I try to continue in this way as much as possible. An old-fashioned seminary has the same quality in this way as an English college. It isn’t always easy with those who are insulting in their manner. Life is a learning curve and there is always room for progress and growth.