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Who is the Vicar of Christ?

June 2005 | by Richard Bennett

The election of Joseph Ratzinger as the new pope makes more relevant than ever the question, ‘Who is the Vicar of Christ?’ This article not only answers this question but also shows how serious it is to claim that a man can occupy an office that belongs distinctively to the Holy Spirit.

The Shorter Oxford English Dictionarydefines ‘vicar’ as ‘one who takes the place of, or acts instead of, another’. The Vatican thus teaches that the pope is the ‘substitute, representative or proxy’ for Christ Jesus. The official pronouncement states:

‘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, paras 882 & 937).

The Roman Catholic Church has, once again, appointed a man as the ‘Vicar of Christ’ so it is imperative to make clear who truly holds this office.

Who came in Christ’s place?

The Lord Jesus Christ entrusted the universal care of souls into the safekeeping of the divine person of the Holy Spirit. Taking leave of his disciples, he said, ‘I will pray the Father and he will give you another Helper, that he may abide with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth …’ (John 14:16).

Again he said, ‘It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart I will send him to you’ (John 16:7). As Christ Jesus had been Master, Counsellor and Guide to the disciples, so now he promised to send the Holy Spirit to continue that work.

There is a direct connection between the ministry of the Holy Spirit and the redemptive work of Christ. He convicts men of sin, showing them their lost condition and their need of Christ’s righteousness (John 16:8-11). It is he alone who brings to life souls dead in sin (Ephesians 1:19-20).

The Holy Spirit has full, immediate, and universal influence in believers’ lives: ‘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’ (2 Corinthians 3:17-18).

How much therefore should Christians prize the person and ministry of the Holy Spirit! To teach that the Lord left a mortal man to be his vicar on earth is a denial of the gospel.

The history of the claim

Rome’s outlandish assertion came relatively late in the history of the papacy. Originally, the Bishop of Rome claimed to be the vicar and rightful heirs of the Caesars.

Because the Bishop of Rome exercised authority in a city which was once the seat of power of the Roman Empire, other bishops and national monarchs gradually 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 (401-417AD) insisted that Christ had delegated supreme power to Peter and made him the Bishop of Rome. The Bishops of Rome, therefore, as Peter’s successors, were 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 master over all other bishops.

It was not until the eighth century, however, that the title ‘Vicar of the Son of God’ was found in a fraudulent documentcalled The donation of Constantine. Although this notorious document was proven false in the early sixteenth century, the Bishops of Rome, having used the title ‘Vicar of Christ’ since the eighth century, continued to do so.

This title represents 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’ recognises no authority but his own. He looks upon himself as master of all, and boldly proclaims, ‘The First See is judged by no one’.

Arch-conservative

Before his election as the new pope (Benedict XVI), Joseph Ratzinger headed up the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. As an arch-conservative many in the Church of Rome will warmly welcome him.

However, he will be unacceptable to many American Catholics because of his hardline stance. This rigid position was seen clearly in the document he issued on 5 September 2000 called Dominus Iesuswhich decreed that the Roman Catholic Church is the only ‘instrument for the salvation of all humanity’.

He further declared that ‘the ecclesial communities which have not preserved the valid Episcopate and the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic mystery, are not Churches in the proper sense’.

Since his election he has nevertheless avowed to reach out to other churches and religions. Even if he does it will still just be window dressing, for the papacy expects all dialogue to accomplish its stated aim – ‘little by little, as the obstacles to perfect ecclesial communion are overcome, all Christians will be gathered, in a common celebration of the Eucharist [the Mass] into that unity of the one and only Church. … This unity, we believe, dwells in the Catholic Church as something she can never lose’ (Vatican Council II, Document 42, p.541).

Counterfeit

The counterfeit nature of the pope’s claim to be the Vicar of Christ is shown both by his doctrine and deeds. The key role of the true Vicar of Christ is to glorify Christ (John 16:14). God the Father glorifies Christ in heaven, and the Spirit glorifies him on earth.

Again, the Lord Jesus promised the Apostles, ‘when he, the Spirit of truth, is come he will guide you into all truth’ (John 16:13). That truth is found only in the Spirit-inspired Bible – an indissoluble, balanced and harmonious whole that truly glorifies Jesus Christ.

In stark contrast, the pope teaches ‘rebirth’ by baptism, and purports to fortify men and women against the assaults of Satan by crucifixes, rosaries and scapulars.

He also maintains that indulgences can shorten the sufferings of souls in purgatory (itself an unbiblical invention). Presiding over fantastic wealth, he advocates vows of poverty. Countless children are corrupted by paedophile priests, yet he demands that priests be celibate. He releases his subjects from their marriage vows in self-declared annulments.

None of these deeds glorify Christ. The chief enemy of Christ and his gospel is not materialism or lust, but rather the spiritual pride and apostasy of those who usurp his headship of the church.

We have a Papa

The senior cardinal-deacon appeared on a balcony overlooking St Peter’s Square and announced: ‘Habemus papam!’- we have a Papa (father)! Catholics and the world are told that they now have a spiritual father to look after them.

Yet to Christ there was only one Father – ‘my Father and your Father … my God and your God’ (John 20:17).True believers ‘have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father’ (Romans 8:16).It is precisely because believers have a heavenly Father that they are commanded, ‘call no man your father [in a spiritual sense] upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven’ (Matthew 23:9).

The pontiff even calls himself ‘Holy Father’. Yet in John 17:11, Jesus describes the Father as ‘holy’ to emphasise the absolute perfection of the Father’s nature. A true believer will only use the words ‘Holy Father’ of God, never of a man.

Personal response

So do we honour God or man? As false ‘Evangelicals’ bow in admiration of the new pontiff, we should pause and consider where we personally stand as believers in Christ. The office of pope is paraded before the world – its holder claiming to mediate between God and man, to hold the keys of heaven and hell, and to possess the divine attribute of infallibility.

But let us take heart. Since there can only be one Vicar of Christ – who is infinite, supreme, omnipotent and all sufficient – earthly pretenders will eventually be judged and utterly condemned by the Lord.

The ecumenical allies of the earthly vicar multiply like mushrooms, yet we do not fear because we know that we are ‘more than conquerors through him that loved us’ (Romans 8:37). Our victory is assured, ‘for whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith’ (1 John 5:4).

Contending for the faith

The world has watched the fanfare, pageantry and pomp. The media have enhanced the power and the glory of the so-called ‘Vicar of Christ’. In the midst of all this, let us make clear where we stand!

I invite ETreaders to send me a few sentences expressing your personal faith in the one Lord Jesus Christ and his true Vicar – the divine Holy Spirit – resolving to obey our Lord’s command to ‘earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints’.

I will publish the statements I receive on my web site under the title, ‘True Evangelicals together in the Lord’. Rather than lamenting the false accords like ‘Evangelicals and Catholics Together’ that have deceived Christians in recent times, why not add your name to a true accord in Christ Jesus – to be faithful to him, by his grace and to his glory!

Send your statement to: [email protected] or mail it to Richard Bennett, Berean Beacon, P.O. Box 192, Del Valle, TX 78617, USA. The full article is on the author’s WebPage: http://www.bereanbeacon.org.