Vicarius Filii Dei
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. Its interpretation has been disputed, at times, during the past four centuries.
Origins and uses of the phrase
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.
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".
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.
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.
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:
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.
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. Some groups 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. The sum works as follows: VICARIVS FILII DEI = 5+1+100+1+5+1+50+1+1+500+1 = 666, where 'U' is taken as 'V' (two forms of 'v' developed in Latin, which were both used for its ancestor 'u' and modern 'v').
The earliest extant record of a Protestant writer on this subject and addressing the phrase Vicarius Filii Dei is Andreas Helwig in 1612. In his work Antichristus Romanus he took fifteen titles in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin and computed their numerical equivalents in those languages, arriving at the number 666 mentioned in the Book of Revelation. Out of all these titles, he preferred to single out Vicarius Filii Dei, used in the Donation of Constantine, for the reason that it met "all the conditions which [Cardinal] Bellarmine had thus far demanded." Besides being in Latin, the title was "not offensive or vile," but rather was "honorable to this very one."
Helwig suggested that the supposed title was an expansion of the historical title Vicarius Christi, rather than an official title used by the Popes themselves. His interpretation did not become common until about the time of the French Revolution.
Seventh-day Adventist views
In 1866, Uriah Smith was the first to propose the interpretation to the Seventh-day Adventist Church. See Review and Herald 28:196, November 20, 1866. In The United States in the Light of Prophecy he wrote
- The pope wears upon his pontifical crown in jeweled letters, this title: "Vicarius Filii Dei," "Viceregent of the Son of God;" the numerical value of which title is just six hundred and sixty-six The most plausible supposition we have ever seen on this point is that here we find the number in question. It is the number of the beast, the papacy; it is the number of his name, for he adopts it as his distinctive title; it is the number of a man, for he who bears it is the "man of sin."
Prominent Adventist scholar J. N. Andrews also adopted this view. Uriah Smith maintained his interpretation in the various editions of Thoughts on Daniel and the Revelation, which was influential in the church. Regarding 666 Ellen White stated ...
I saw all that ‘would not receive the mark of the Beast, and of his Image, in their foreheads or in their hands,’ could not buy or sell. I saw that the number (666) of the Image Beast was made up; and that it was the beast that changed the Sabbath, and the Image Beast had followed on after, and kept the Pope's, and not God's Sabbath. And all we were required to do, was to give up God's Sabbath, and keep the Pope's and then we should have the mark of the Beast, and of his Image.—A Word To The Little Flock, p. 19, Ellen White
Catholic apologists answer the Protestant claims by noting that "Vicarius Filii Dei" has never been an official Papal title. 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). Likewise, a similar construction involving Barney the CVte pVrpLe DInosaVr is a staple of anti-Barney humor.
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.
- "St. Peter". Saints and Angels. Catholic Online. Retrieved 4 August 2013.
- "Donation of Constantine". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913.
- Our Sunday Visitor, April 18, 1915, p.3
- Our Sunday Visitor, 11, No. 14, July 23, 1922
- A Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope, a Lutheran Confession in the Book of Concord
- Antichristus Romanus, in proprio suo nomine, numerum illum Apocalypticum (DCLXVI) continente proditus (Wittenberg, 1612)
- See Leroy Edwin Froom, Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers, vol. 2, pp. 605-608. Compare Ibid., p. 649; vol. 3, pp. 228, 242. These titles are available online: see the article on Froom
- Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, 223
- Uriah Smith, The United States in the Light of Prophecy. Battle Creek, Michigan: Seventh-day Adventist Publishing Association (1884), 4th edition, p.224.
- The Three Angels of Revelation XIV. 6-12, p.109. 1877 reprint. Cited from Adventist Bible Commentary
- "Pope Fiction" by Patrick Madrid, Envoy magazine, March/April 1998
- http://www.biblicalperspectives.com/endtimeissues/et_139.htm Samuele Bacchiocchi, Ph. D., ENDTIME ISSUES NEWSLETTER No. 139
- Science Askew. CRC Press. 2001. 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.