Vader and ShenFu: The Surprising Titles of Priests in Other Languages

This week a priest from Holland named Father Johannes van Voorst liked an Easter photo that I posted on Instagram (drtaylormarshall).

I clicked on his profile and saw that his title is Vader Johannes. Vader. You know, as in Darth Vader.

Vader in Church Procession

I have long known that Vader means “father.” That’s the hook in The Empire Strikes Back: Darth Vader is the “dark father” of Luke.

Yet somehow it never registered with me that those black cassock-wearing priests in Holland would be affectionately called “Vader” by the faithful. Super cool.

So here are some various titles for priest in various languages. I do this to celebrate the 46th nation now represented in the New Saint Thomas Institute for theological studies:

Titles for Catholic Clergy in Various Languages:

Shénfù. Mandarin Chinese refers to Catholic priests with the title “Spirit Father” or shénfù (神父). I was a (Protestant) missionary for a summer in college and I love learning more about Christianity in China. One name for “Catholicism” in Chinese is gongjiào (公教) meaning “universal teaching.”

Shinpu. The Japanese title for a priest. Similar to Chinese. It also means “spirit father.”

Abouna. Syriac or Aramaic for “our father,” as used by the Maronite Catholics.

Bathyushka. The Russian title for Orthodox priests, meaning “father.” Incidentally, the wives of Russian Orthodox priests also have a title: Matushka, meaning “mother.”

Otets. Ukrainian priest is usually addressed as “otets'” (отець), father, and his wife- dobro`dyjka, literally, “one who is doing good deeds” or “benefactress.”

Vader. Dutch for “Father.”

Vater. German for “Father.”

Padre. Spanish and Italian for “Father.”

Pére. French corruption of the Latin Pater meaning “father.” Though you also see Abbé which derives from the Aramaic “Abba” meaning “father.”

Papa. In Greek towns, priests are called Papa, which means “daddy.” Our Latin Papa or Pope is the same word. I suppose each Greek Orthodox priest is papal in his own town.

Monsignore. Italian for “my lord.” The final “e” is often dropped. In Romance languages, it’s used to denote bishops, but in English it is restricted to presbyteral Prelates or Chaplains to His Holiness.

Dom. This is actually a shortened version of the Latin Dominus meaning “Lord.”  Dom is an honorific prefixed to the given name. It derives from the Latin Dominus. It’s used for Benedictines, Carthusians, and Canons Regular in English and French.

Dõ. Portugese version of “Dom.”

Don. Italian, Spanish, and Filipino version “Dom.” Don is usually paired with the first name of the cleric, and it can be used in writing and in direct address. You see this among monastics, but Opus Dei also often refers to their Prelate as Don Avlaro or Don Javier. It’s not by any means restricted to clergy. Don is an honorific in all Spanish cultures. Don Juan of Austria is a notable example.

Question: Do you know of more priest titles in other languages. Please leave a comment below and I’ll add them to the list. You can leave a comment by clicking here.

 

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