The pope’s acknowledged title (among others) is Vicarius Christi (substitute for Christ). The title Vicarius Filii Dei (Substitute for the Son of God) comes from The Donation of Constantine, which is admitted to be a forgery, produced probably between 850 and 900 AD.
It is true that the popes made frequent use of The Donation of Constantine for hundreds of years, and that its authenticity was not questioned even by the papal opponents. But the forger did his work carelessly. While claiming the document to have Constantine as its author (died 337), it quotes the Bible from the Vulgate translation of St. Jerome (c. 342-420) who wasn’t born until after Constantine was dead. Eventually the forgery was unmasked, so that the fraud has now been recognized for 500 years.
Thus the title Vicarius Filii Dei has very dubious origins. I don’t doubt that it appeared as claimed in an early issue of Our Sunday Visitor. But the universal and official word from Roman Catholic scholars and administrators has been to deny the title. I believe it is winsome and tactically superior to accept their disclaimer.
Our own pioneers occasionally wrote some rather strange things in the early copies of the Review and Herald. Surely we would think it unfair if our opponents were to extract one of those articles and claim it to be the authentic and present teaching of the SDA church.
The main reason for continued interest in Vicarius Filii Dei is that its letters can add up to the figure 666. However that is a small point, since the same can be done for many other names, including that of eLLen goVLD VVhIte. (L+L+V+L+D+V+V+I; 50+50+5+50+500+5+5+1=666)
The book of Revelation has a main point: the struggle between truth in the person of Jesus Christ, and falsehood, in the person of Satan. Surely Satan himself has since his fall always wished to be the Substitute for Christ, or Substitute for the Son of God. And to the extent that anyone, Protestant, Catholic, Buddhist or atheist, denies the true Christ in favor of a substitute, he lends support to Christ’s opponent, the father of lies.
Thus theologically, the same problem exists should any human assume the (acknowledged) title of Vicarius Christi.
"It is important that in defending the doctrines which we consider fundamental articles of faith, we should never allow ourselves to employ arguments that are not wholly sound. These may avail to silence an opposer, but they do not honor the truth. We should present sound arguments, that will not only silence our opponents, but will bear the closest and most searching scrutiny..."
5T 707, 708 (1889); GW 297-300; CWE 39, 40.
And that’s why Adventists in recent years have had much less to say about the title, Vicarius Filii Dei.
re. Vicarius Filii Dei:
SDA Bible Students’ Source Book (Commentary vol. 9); Review and Herald, 1962, #1137, #1750, #1751.
re. Vicarius Christi:
The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church; Oxford University Press, 1957-1990 p. 1436.
Encyclopaedia Britannica Vol. 12 p. 344; "vicar".
re. "The Donation of Constantine":
Will Durant: The Age of Faith; pp. 525, 526.
The encyclopedia also has several references to "The Donation of Constantine."
© R. Wresch M.D., 1996.