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, who is regarded as the first Pope by the Catholic Church.[1]

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]

Johann Peter Kirsch 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 Holy Catholic Roman Church, therefore the Christ Church 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 Eastern Romans. 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."[4]

Despite the Donation later being recognized as a forgery, initially the whistleblower Laurentius Valla who discovered the forgery had his work suppressed by the Index Librorum Prohibitorum[5]

Gratian included the phrase in his "Decretum" in Distinctio 96 chapter 14.[6] The title was also included in some collections of Greek canons. Though it was derived from a forgery (The Donation of Constantine) and some[4] have said it carried no dogmatic or canonical authority, Protestants pointed to the weight and authority proscribed within Gratian's Decretal Distinctio 19 Chapter 6 which stated that the decretal epistles were reckoned part of the canonical scriptures.[7][8] It was previously also used as such for hundreds of years in the past.

Papal title[edit]

Latin Gematria or Isopsephy employed for vicarius filii dei.
A depiction of the gematria principle employed by Andreas Helwig in 1612.
An example of a papal tiara.

The Protestant writer Andreas Helwig suggested that Vicarius Filii Dei 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.[9]

Catholic apologist Patrick Madrid answers the Protestant assertions by claiming that Vicarius Filii Dei has never been an official Papal title. Catholics answer the claims that "Vicarius Filii Dei" is written on the Papal Tiara by stating that a simple inspection 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—shows that none have this inscription, nor is there any evidence that any of the earlier papal tiaras destroyed by invading French troops in 1798 had it.[10] Though other Catholic Sources such as Our Sunday Visitor did in fact admit to the title being inscribed on a tiara.[11] While Catholic scholars such as professor emeritus at the Catholic University of America Dr Johannes Quasten (1900–1987) stated that "The title Vicarius Filii Dei as well as the title vicarius christi is very common as the title of the pope".[12]

Protestant view[edit]

Some Protestants have the view that Vicarius Filii Dei can be applied to the Bishop of Rome.

Origins of a controversy[edit]

The earliest extant record of a Protestant writer on this subject is that of Professor Andreas Helwig in 1612. In his work Antichristus Romanus he took fifteen titles in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin and computed their numerical equivalents using the principle of Isopsephy 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, for the reason that it met "all the conditions which [Cardinal] Bellarmine[13] had thus far demanded."[14]

Helwig's criteria was as follows:[14]

  1. must yield the required number
  2. must agree with the papal order
  3. must not be a vile name applied by enemies, but acceptable to Antichrist himself
  4. must be one of which he can boast.[14]

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. Additionally, he said nothing about the title appearing on tiaras or mitres. Helwig's interpretation did not become a common one until about the time of the French Revolution.[15]

Historical Seventh-day Adventist views[edit]

In 1866, Uriah Smith was the first to propose the interpretation to the Seventh-day Adventist Church.[16][17] 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'."[18]

Uriah Smith maintained his interpretation in the various editions of Thoughts on Daniel and the Revelation, which was influential in the church.[16]

In November 1948, Le Roy Froom, a Seventh-day Adventist ministerial leader, editor of the church's Ministry, and a church historian, wrote an article to correct the mistaken use of some of the denomination's evangelists who continued to claim that the Latin words "Vicarius Filii Dei" were written on a papal tiara.

Each pope, like any other sovereign, has his own tiara, which is the papal crown. There is, therefore, no one tiara that is worn by the full succession of papal pontiffs. Moreover, personal examination of these various tiaras, by different men back through the years, and a scrutiny of the pictures of many more, have failed to disclose one engraved with the inscription Vicarius Filii Dei ... As heralds of truth, we are to proclaim the truth truthfully. No fabrication should ever becloud our presentation of truth. The present truth of the threefold message [the Three Angels' Messages of Revelation 14] is so overwhelming in its logical appeal, and so inescapable in its claims, that it needs no dubious evidence or illustration to support it.[19]

Froom also stated in the 1948 article that at one point a prominent Adventist went to Rome to take some pictures of the papal tiaras, but "the photographs were without any wording of any sort on any one of the three crown, front or back." Later, an Adventist artist who wanted to illustrate a standard Adventist text on prophecies added the words "Vicarius", "Filii", and "Dei", one word on each of the three tiaras in the photograph taken. He submitted his image for publishing in a standard church text on Bible prophecy; the image was to serve as an illustration in the book, not as a visual proof. However, when an Adventist publishing house and the Adventist General Conference received it, they "emphatically rejected it as misleading and deceptive, and refused to allow its use. (All honor to them!)." Froom concluded his 1948 article with the following words: "Truth does not need fabrication to aid or support it. Its very nature precludes any manipulation or duplicity. We cannot afford to be party to any fraud. The reflex action upon our own souls should be a sufficient deterrent. We must never use a quotation or a picture merely because it sounds or looks impressive. We must honor the truth, and meticulously observe the principle of honesty in the handling of evidence under all circumstances."[19]

It is worth noting however that the equivalent title "Vicarius Christi" is indeed known to be inscribed upon the Belgium Tiara given to Pope Pius IX on 18 June 1871 by the Ladies of the Royal Court of the King of the Belgians and designed by Jean Baptist Bethune of Ghent.[20][21] Adventists have proposed that the alternate "Vicarius Christi" is no better than Vicarius Filii Dei, because of the correlation in Leviticus 24:18 between the substitute Vicarium in the Vulgate[22] and the substitute ἀντί "life for life" in the Greek text.[23] They have proposed Vicarius Christi therefore means "Antichrist".[24]

Catholic response[edit]

Catholic apologist Patrick Madrid answers the Protestant claims by claiming that "Vicarius Filii Dei" has never been an official Papal title. He also argues that even if it were a Papal title, that would not 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). He answers the claims that "Vicarius Filii Dei" is not 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 any evidence that any of the earlier papal tiaras destroyed by invading French troops in 1798 had any such inscription either.[10]

Adventists Samuele Bacchiocchi responded to those claims, by pointing out that "interpreting 666 on the basis of the numerical values of the letters of names can give absurd results". He also notes the Donation of Constantine was considered as true to the point "this forged document was used by 10 popes over a period of six centuries to assert, not only their ecclesiastical supremacy over all the churches, but also their political sovereignty over what became known the Papal States, which included most of Italy." He also states the title "Vicarius Filii Dei" was considered as an official title of the pope.[25]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "St. Peter". Saints and Angels. Catholic Online. Retrieved 4 August 2013.
  2. ^ "Donation of Constantine".
  3. ^ "A COPY OF THE DONATION OF THE EMPEROR COSTANTINE I (306-337) TO POPE SYLVESTER I (314-335)". May 7, 2011. Archived from the original on 2011-05-07.
  4. ^ a b c Kirsch, Johann Peter. "Donation of Constantine". The Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. 5. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909. Retrieved 1 November 2017.
  5. ^ Index librorum prohibitorum. The Newberry Library. Romae : Ex Typographia Reuerendae Camerae Apostolicae. 1664. p. 195.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  6. ^ Gratien (1582). Decretum Gratiani emendatum et notationibus illustratum, unà cum glossis , Gregorii XIII, pont. max. jussu editum (in Latin). in aedibus populi romani. p. 623.
  7. ^ Gratien (1582). Decretum Gratiani emendatum et notationibus illustratum, unà cum glossis , Gregorii XIII, pont. max. jussu editum (in Latin). in aedibus populi romani. p. 107.
  8. ^ Whitaker, William (1849). A Disputation on Holy Scripture: Against the Papists, Especially Bellarmine and Stapleton. Printed at the University Press. p. 109.
  9. ^ Le Roy Edwin Froom (1948). Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers, vol. 2 (PDF), pp. 605–608. Review and Herald. Compare Ibid., p. 649; vol. 3 (PDF), pp. 228, 242.
  10. ^ a b Patrick Madrid. "Pope Fiction". Envoy magazine, March/April 1998
  11. ^ "Our Sunday Visitor" (PDF). Our Sunday Visitor. 3 (51). April 18, 1915. Archived from the original (PDF) on December 4, 2022.
  12. ^ Quasten, Johannes (March 10, 1943). "Quasten Document". Archived from the original on December 4, 2022. Retrieved December 4, 2022.
  13. ^ Bellarmino, Roberto Francesco Romolo (1615). Dispvtationvm Roberti Bellarmini Politiani ... de controversiis Christianæ fidei, adversvs hvivs temporis hæreticos, qvatvor tomis comprehensarvm, tomvs ... Accessere opuscula recenter nonnulla ... (in Latin). sumptibus Ioannis Gymnici & Antonij Hierat. p. 284.
  14. ^ a b c Helwig, Andreas (1512). Antichristus Romanus. VVttenbergae, Typis Laurentij Seuberlichs. pp. c2 (20).
  15. ^ See Leroy Edwin Froom, Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers, vol. 2, pp. 605-608. Compare Ibid., p. 649; vol. 3, pp. 228, 242.
  16. ^ a b Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, 223
  17. ^ Smith, Uriah (1866). "The Two-Horned Beast - A Review of H. E. Carver" (PDF). Review and Herald.
  18. ^ Uriah Smith, The United States in the Light of Prophecy. Battle Creek, Michigan: Seventh-day Adventist Publishing Association (1884), 4th edition, p.224.
  19. ^ a b "The Query Column: Dubious Pictures of the Tiara". Ministry, vol. 10, no. 21. p.35. November, 1948
  20. ^ "Belgium Tiara". Archived from the original on December 6, 2022. Retrieved December 6, 2022.
  21. ^ Collins, Michael (2014). The Vatican. Internet Archive. London : Dorling Kindersley. p. 266. ISBN 978-1-4093-4975-4.
  22. ^ 1462 The Gutenberg Bible Latin Vulgate. p. 102.
  23. ^ Swete, Henry Barclay (1896–1905). The Old Testament in Greek according to the Septuagint. Robarts - University of Toronto. Cambridge : University Press. p. 272.
  24. ^ Bohr, Stephen (2016). "Reflections on Pope Francis, The UN, and the 2030 Agenda" (PDF). Secrets Unsealed Newsletter. Archived from the original (PDF) on December 6, 2022.

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainHerbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Donation of Constantine". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

Further reading[edit]

  • 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.
  • Froom, Le Roy (1948). "Dubious Pictures of the Tiara." The Ministry, vol.10, no.21. November, 1948.
  • Smithe, Jefferson (1902). Roman Catholic Ritual, London.