Who is the true Vicar of Christ?
The Roman Catholic Pope or the Holy Spirit?
As world attention focuses on Pope Benedict XVI, it is important to note that the Vatican officially teaches that the Pope is the substitute for Christ Jesus. The words of the official pronouncement are:
“The Pope, Bishop of Rome and Peter's successor, 'is the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity both of the bishops and of the whole company of the faithful.'
'For the Roman Pontiff, by reason of his office as Vicar of Christ, and as pastor of the entire Church has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise.” [Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second Edition (Washington, DC: US Catholic Conference, 1994, 1997) #882.]
[Definition: “vicar”—in the broadest sense means someone who is authorized to act as a substitute or agent for a superior / compare “vicarious”—serving in the place of someone else; assuming the position, place, or office of another person]
The world again has a man in the position of “Vicar of Christ,” so it is biblically imperative to examine the true office of the Vicar of Christ. The Lord Jesus Christ entrusted the universal care of souls into the safekeeping of the Divine Person of the Holy Spirit. Concerning this Third Person of the Trinity who was to be His substitute, the Lord promised that, “when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment” (John 16:8). The Holy Spirit convicts of sin as He makes the sinner realize his lost condition and convicts him of his need of Christ's righteousness. He it is who brings a soul dead in sin to life.
This miracle of grace is spoken of in Scripture as, “the exceeding greatness of His power to usward who believe, according to the working of His mighty power, which He wrought in Christ when He raised Him from the dead” (Ephesians 1:19).
The majesty, greatness and indescribable power of the true office of Vicar of Christ are such that a believer stands in awe of His divine Person. That any human being should lay claim to the office of Vicar of Christ seems totally absurd and blasphemous.
The True Vicar of Christ
Because there is a direct connection between the redemption of Christ and the ministry of the Holy Spirit, it is extremely dangerous to confuse the work of the Holy Spirit as Vicar of Christ with the position or work of any man.
As Christ Jesus had been the Master, Counselor and Guide to believers, He promised to send the Holy Spirit as His substitute so that He might abide with them for ever (John 14:16). In believers' lives, the Holy Spirit has full, immediate, and universal influence, as the Scripture so wonderfully teaches, “now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” (II Corinthians 3:17-18).
The work of the Spirit is transforming; we are changed from one degree of glorious grace unto another, until by that same grace one day we will be perfected with Him in glory forever. How much therefore should Christians prize the full and complete ministry of the Holy Spirit!
In the face of these awesome truths concerning the role and ministry of the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ, it is horrendous to learn that the Vatican proclaims,
“The Pope enjoys, by divine institution, supreme, full, immediate, and universal power in the care of souls” (Catechism, paragraph 937).
Persuading men and women that Christ the Lord left a mortal man to be His vicar on Earth attempts to gainsay the very purpose of Christ Jesus.
The History of the claim to be Vicar of Christ
This outlandish assertion came relatively late in the history of the Papacy. To begin with, the Bishop of Rome claimed to be the vicar of Caesar—and his successors the rightful heirs to the Caesars. The city that had been the seat of power for the Roman Empire became the city for the Bishop of Rome to exercise his authority.
Gradually, other Bishops and national monarchs accepted him as vicar and successor to Caesar with the same supreme title of “Pontifex Maximus.”
Next, the Bishops of Rome claimed to be “The vicar of the prince of the apostles”, that is, the vicar of Peter. Thus, in the early fifth century, Bishop Innocent I (401-417 A.D.) insisted that Christ had delegated supreme power to Peter and made him the Bishop of Rome. Following this, he held that the Bishop of Rome as Peter's successor was entitled to exercise Peter's power and prerogatives. Boniface III, who became Bishop of Rome in 607, established himself as “Universal Bishop,” thus claiming to be vicar and master of all other bishops.
It was not until the eighth century, however, that the particular title “Vicar of the Son of God” was found in the fraudulent document called “The Donation of Constantine.” Although this notorious document was proven false in the early sixteenth century, the Bishops of Rome have used the title “Vicar of Christ” since the eighth century. This title has been the Pope's supreme claim to spiritual and temporal supremacy. The taste of divine power, with which the title resonates, has proven to be addictive. The “Vicar of Christ” is able to recognize no authority other than his own. He looks upon himself as Master of all, and boldly proclaims, “The First See is judged by no one.”
It is truly significant that Joseph Ratzinger was elected as the new Pope as Benedict XVI (April 2005). Before this, he headed up the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith [formerly known as the Office of the Inquisition] . Archconservatives in the Church of Rome warmly welcomed him; however, he will not be acceptable to many American Catholics because of his hard-line stance.
This rigid position was seen clearly in the document that he issued on September 5, 2000 called, “Dominus Iesus.” In that document, he boldly decreed that the Roman Catholic Church is the only “instrument for the salvation of all humanity.”
Dogmatically, he also rules out evangelical churches from being considered as, “Churches in the proper sense,” when he proclaimed, “the ecclesial communities which have not preserved the valid Episcopate [that is, rulership by Roman Catholic bishops] and the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic mystery [that is, partaking of Mass (the Lord's Supper) in the manner of Roman Catholics, including their teaching that the priest miraculously transforms the wine and bread into the actual blood and flesh of Jesus Christ], are not Churches in the proper sense.”
Rome's alleged office of Christ's Vicar on Earth is so all embracing and complicated that Benedict XVI, as one man, cannot exercise “supreme, full, immediate, and universal power.” Thus Joseph Ratzinger needs a vast hierarchy to command. The pyramid of power that constitutes his office of the “Vicar of Christ” consists of cardinals, patriarchs, major archbishops, metropolitans, coadjutor archbishops, diocesan bishops, coadjutor bishops, episcopal vicar, eparches, apostolic vicars, apostolic prefects, apostolic administrators and vicars general.
Doctrine and Deeds
The counterfeit nature of the Pope's claim to be “the Vicar of Christ” is shown by his doctrine and deeds. The key role of the True Vicar of Christ is to glorify Christ, “He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you” (John 16:14). The sending of the Spirit was the glorifying of Christ. God the Father glorifies Christ Jesus in heaven, and the Spirit glorifies Him on Earth. All the gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit are to glorify Christ.
God's truth is an indissoluble, balanced and harmonious whole. In the Bible we have “all truth,” in this the Holy Spirit truly glorifies Jesus Christ. In stark contrast, the Pope claims to possess “infallible teaching authority.” This neither glorifies Christ nor honors the Spirit of truth. Also the Pope, as “the Vicar of Christ” teaches “rebirth” by baptism, which demeans the glory of Christ. [See: “Is water baptism necessary for salvation?” and “Grace”]
By crucifixes, rosaries, and scapulars, the Earthly Vicar purports to fortify men and women against the assaults of Satan. He also maintains that indulgences can shorten the sufferings of souls in purgatory. While presiding over substantially the richest financial institution in the world, he maintains and advocates vows of poverty. Even as thousands of souls are corrupted by unbridled filthiness, he defends the vows of celibacy for his priests. By autonomous proclamations, he releases men and women from their marriage vows in self-declared annulments.
None of these deeds glorify Christ Jesus the Lord. The major enemy of Christ and His Gospel, however, is not materialism nor is it lust, but rather the spiritual pride and the apostasy of the very one who pretends to be His “Vicar”. The first lie of Satan, “ye shall be as gods” (Genesis 3:5) reaches its full fruition in the Papal claim to be “Vicar of Christ.” By this, the words of the Apostle Paul are literally fulfilled, “who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called Godshowing himself that he is God” (II Thessalonians 2:4).
“Habemus papam” we have a Papa!
The waiting is finished. The senior cardinal-deacon appeared on a balcony overlooking St. Peter's Square and announced: “Habemus papam! we have a Papa!” Catholics and the world are told that they now have a spiritual Papa to look after them.
Christ Jesus constantly spoke about His Father, the word “Father” was seventy times on His lips to show true believers that they have a Father, a Father in Heaven—“my Father, and your Father my God, and your God” (John 20:17). Distinctively true believers have an Abba Father, in the words of the Apostle, “for ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father” (Romans 8:15).
It is precisely because believers have an Abba Father that they are commanded not to call any man “Father” in the spiritual sense. Thus the Lord's command, “call no man your father upon the Earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven” (Matthew 23:9). The Lord Christ Jesus prayed to the only “Holy Father” that exists, “Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are” (John 17:11). The Lord used His usual appellation “Father,” but prefixed it with the word “Holy”. He wanted to emphasize the absolute perfection of the Father's nature.
So intimate and worshipful is this, that in a spiritual sense a true believer will only use the words “The Holy Father” of God alone! The Roman Pontiff not only takes to himself the office of “Vicar of Christ” but also the very title of the Godhead, “The Holy Father.” We must therefore ask the question that Apostle John asks, “Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son” (I John 2:22). In assuming these titles to himself, the Pope shows that he truly is “a vicar of Christ” in the biblical sense of the Antichrist!
Conclusion and Personal Response
Today, some compromised and eclectic “Evangelicals” stop their ears and close their eyes to the true Vicar of Christ and mindlessly agree with the festivities that accompanied the white smoke that arose from the Vatican. Ignored once again are the questions: Whom do we honor? Whom do we fear? Is it God or man? As the world and false Evangelicals bow in admiration to the new Pontiff, we might well take a moment to pause and consider where we personally stand as believers in the One Lord Christ Jesus and the One Holy Spirit.
Those who hold the office of Pope claim to mediate between God and man and to hold the keys of heaven and hell. Most appallingly the Pope takes to himself the office of “Vicar of Christ” adding even the attribute of infallibility to his position, demanding that “a religious respect of intellect and will be paid to his teaching.” The Papal arrogance tallies well with the Scripture's prediction for such claims, “I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High” (Isaiah 14:14).
The words inscribed in the Pope's official miter are “Vicarius Filii Dei,” Latin for “Vicar of the Son of God.” Since there can be but one Vicar of Christ who is infinite, supreme, omnipotent, and all sufficient, the Earthly pretender can be none other than a self-energized apostate system which will eventually be judged and utterly condemned by the Lord.
It is the will of God that every true believer “should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3). Those of us who cling to Christ and His Word alone, and who are saved before the all-Holy God by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, with all glory and praise to God alone must give voice to our profession of faith.
- “Vicarius principis apostolorum” the official title in Latin. [Return]
- This has been a long-standing contention, since Scripture never mentions Peter as ever residing in Rome. [Return]
- “Vicarius Filii Dei” is the official title in Latin. [Return]
- The text of “The Donation of Constantine” states “as on Earth he (Peter) is seen to have been constituted vicar of the Son of God, so the pontiffs, who are the representatives of that same chief of the apostles” http://www.jmgainor.homestead.com/files/PU/PF/doco.htm (3/9/05) [Return]
- Code of Canon Law, Latin-English edition (Washington, DC: Canon Law Society of America, 1983), Canon 1404. All canons are taken from this volume unless otherwise stated. [Return]
- Formerly known as the Office of the Inquisition, then the Holy Office, it is still housed in the same building in Rome as it had been during six horrendous centuries of torture and death when it carried out the papal decrees. [Return]
- “Dominus Iesus” on-line at the Vatican (roman_curia congregations documents rc_con_cfaith_doc_20000806_dominus-iesus_en) [Return]
- “Dominus Iesus,” item 22. [Return]
- “Dominus Iesus,” item 17. [Return]
- For more details, see Our Sunday Visitor's Catholic Almanac 1998 (Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor, Inc) pp. 141-142. [Return]
- “The Supreme Pontiff, in virtue of his office, possesses infallible teaching authority when, as supreme pastor and teacher of all the faithful…he proclaims with a definitive act that a doctrine of faith or morals is to be held as such.” Canon 749. [Return]
- “Through baptism men and women are freed from sin, are reborn as children of God, and, configured to Christ by an indelible character, are incorporated in the [Catholic] Church.” Canon 849. [Return]
- “The Catholic Church has taken the Divine institution of marriage and used it for its own purposes. The Catholic Church has granted hundreds of thousands of annulments and allowed remarriage. Many such unions, called marriages, are in fact, before the Lord and His Word, nothing more than officially blessed whoredoms. Such sinful unions take away the hearts and souls that should be given to God.” Canon 1684. [Return]
- In Latin the full proclamation is “Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum. Habemus Papam,” “I announce to you great joy, we have a Papa.” [Return]
- “The Supreme Pontiff, in virtue of his office, possesses infallible teaching authority.” Canon 749. [Return]
- “A religious respect of intellect and will, even if not the assent of faith, is to be paid to the teaching which the Supreme Pontiff…” Canon 752. [Return]
Author: Richard Bennett. Copyright © 2005, Berean Beacon, All Rights Reserved—except as noted on attached “Usage and Copyright” page that grants ChristianAnswers.Net users generous rights for putting this page to work in their homes, personal witnessing, churches and schools.
More about Richard M. Bennett
The author of this article, Richard Bennett, was formerly a devout Catholic priest. Read his enlightening personal testimony. Like many others, he previously did not truly understood how to be eternally saved. When he joyfully discovered the truth, he accepted Christ's gift and gained assurance of eternal salvation. He gave up his religion (Roman Catholicism) to truly follow Christ. See why.
A native of Ireland, Richard Bennett returned there in 1996 on an evangelistic tour. He now lives in Portland, Oregon, U.S.A. He teaches a workshop at Multnomah Bible College on “Catholicism in the Light of Biblical Truth.” His greatest joy is door-to-door witnessing. He has produced four series of radio broadcasts. He is co-editor of this book and founder of the ministry named “Berean Beacon.” Richard has written a book compiling the testimonies of 50 converted Catholic Priests.
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