Vicarius Filii Dei

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Vicarius Filii Dei (Latin: Vicar or Representative of the Son of God) is a phrase first used in the forged medieval Donation of Constantine to refer to Saint Peter, a leader of the Early Christian Church and regarded as the first Pope by the Catholic Church.[1] Its interpretation has been disputed, at times, during the past four centuries.

Origins and uses of the phrase[edit]

The earliest known instance of the phrase Vicarius Filii Dei is in the Donation of Constantine, now dated between the eighth and the ninth centuries AD.

It et cuncto populo Romanae gloriae imperij subiacenti, ut sicut in terris vicarius filii Dei esse videtur constitutus etiam et pontifices, ...[2][3]

The Catholic Encyclopedia states that "many of the recent critical students of the document, [i.e. Donation of Constantine] locate its composition at Rome and attribute the forgery to an ecclesiastic, their chief argument being an intrinsic one: this false document was composed in favour of the popes and of the Roman Church, therefore Rome itself must have had the chief interest in a forgery executed for a purpose so clearly expressed".[4]

However, it goes on to state, "Grauert, for whom the forger is a Frankish subject, shares the view of Hergenröther, i.e. the forger had in mind a defence of the new Western Empire from the attacks of the Byzantines. Therefore it was highly important for him to establish the legitimacy of the newly founded empire, and this purpose was especially aided by all that the document alleges concerning the elevation of the pope.[5]

Gratian excluded it from his "Decretum". Later it was added as "Palea". It was also included in some collections of Greek canons. As a forgery it currently carries no dogmatic or canonical authority, although it was previously used as such for hundreds of years in the past.[5]

The title "Vicarius Filii Dei" appeared again in Our Sunday Visitor, a Catholic journal. An article in the April 18, 1915 issue of 'Our Sunday Visitor' had the following question and answer:

What are the letters on the Pope’s crown and what do they signify if anything?
The letters on the Pope's crown are these: Vicarius Filii Dei, which is a Latin for Vicar of the Son of God.[6]
An example of a papal tiara. Contrary to some claims, no tiara has ever been inscribed with the phrase Vicarius Filii Dei.[7]

This has been used by some groups as evidence for the claim that the phrase appears on the papal tiara (see below). However, the writer of the article later withdrew his statements. A rebuttal was mentioned in a 1922 edition of the journal:

The Pope claims to be the vicar of the Son of God, while the Latin words for this designation are not inscribed, as anti-Catholics maintain, on the Pope's tiara.[7]

Protestant view[edit]

The conviction that the Pope is the Antichrist was once a common belief among Protestants and is still part of the confession of faith of some Protestant churches, such as those within Confessional Lutheranism.[8] Some groups like seventh-day Adventists controversially identify the Roman Papacy with the "number of the beast" (666) from the book of Revelation, and believe that the phrase Vicarius Filii Dei, reduced to its Roman numerals, sums up to 666, though alternate sums produce 664, depending on whether the IV in Vicarius is taken as a single number or two separate numbers. It must be said that Romans did not write vertically but horizontally. To produce 664, the sum works as follows: VICARIVS FILII DEI = 5+1+100+4+1+50+1+1+500+1 = 664, where 'U' is taken as 'V' (two forms of 'v' developed in Latin, which were both used for its ancestor 'u' and modern 'v'). To produce 666, the sum works as follows: VICARIVS FILII DEI = 5+1+100+1+5+1+50+1+1+500+1 = 666.

Catholic response[edit]

Despite the misunderstanding and the incorrect sum of "Vicarius Filii Dei", Catholic apologists answer the Protestant claims by noting that "Vicarius Filii Dei" has never been an official Papal title.[9] They also argue that even if it were a Papal title, that wouldn't be sufficient to associate the Pope with the number of the Beast, as, for example, the name of Ellen Gould White can also be similarly manipulated to get the same number (ELLen GoVLD VVhIte 50+50+5+50+500+5+5+1=666).[9][10] Likewise, a similar construction involving Barney the CVte pVrpLe DInosaVr is a staple of anti-Barney humor.[11]

They answer the claims that "Vicarius Filii Dei" is written on Papal Tiara by stating that merely looking at any of the more than 20 papal tiaras still in existence—including those in use in 1866 during the reign of Pope Pius IX when Uriah Smith made his claim—plainly shows that not even one of them has any such inscription, nor is there is any evidence that any of the earlier papal tiaras destroyed by invading French troops in 1798 had any such inscription either.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "St. Peter". Saints and Angels. Catholic Online. Retrieved 4 August 2013. 
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ Wikisource-logo.svg "Donation of Constantine". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913. 
  5. ^ a b
  6. ^ Our Sunday Visitor, April 18, 1915, p.3
  7. ^ a b Our Sunday Visitor, 11, No. 14, July 23, 1922
  8. ^ A Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope, a Lutheran Confession in the Book of Concord
  9. ^ a b c "Pope Fiction" by Patrick Madrid, Envoy magazine, March/April 1998
  10. ^ Samuele Bacchiocchi, Ph. D., ENDTIME ISSUES NEWSLETTER No. 139
  11. ^ Simanek, Donald E.; Holden, John C. (2001). Science Askew. CRC Press. p. 115. ISBN 9780750307147. Retrieved 2008-08-03. 


  • Bruinsma, Reinder. (1994). Seventh-day Adventist Attitudes Toward Roman Catholicism 1844–1965, Berrien Springs, Michigan. ISBN 1-883925-04-5.
  • Heim, Bruno (1978). Heraldry in the Catholic Church: Its Origins, Customs and Laws, Gerrards Cross, Eng.: Van Duren. ISBN 0-905715-05-5.
  • Noonan, James-Charles. (1996). The Church Visible: The Ceremonial Life and Protocol of the Roman Catholic Church, New York: Viking. ISBN 0-670-86745-4.
  • Smith, Uriah (1881). Thoughts, Critical and Practical on the Book of Revelation, Battle Creek, Mich.: Seventh-day Adventist.
  • Smithe, Jefferson (1902). Roman Catholic Ritual, London.