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Expert Answer Forum

by Catherine Frakas 07 Mar 2002

Papal Crown QUESTION from Michael Kelsey May 3, 2000 Does the Papal Crown or tiara have an inscription on it and if so what does it say?
ANSWER by Mrs. Suzanne Fortin, B.A. on May 10, 2000 Dear Mr. Kelsey,
I think I understand where you’re coming from when you ask this question. Seventh Day Adventists frequently contend that the papal crown has an inscription which either has “666†or “Vicarius Filii Dei†(Eng: The Vicar of the Son of God), an informal papal title that has been used very rarely. The Roman Letters of Vicarius Filii Dei add up to 666, the number of the Beast of Revelation 13:18. Why do anti-Catholics make this false accusation? Because they are anxious to show that the Pope is the Beast of Revelation 13:18.
The whole controversy is a moot point because Pope John Paul II was not crowned with the papal tiara when he was enthroned. The last Pope to wear the crown was Pope Paul VI.
Sometimes an SDA will say that the inscription appears on the mitre, not the papal crown. If such is the case, why haven’t any Catholics noticed it? The Holy Father has met millions of people. If his mitre really did have an inscription with “Vicarius Filii Dei†or “666†someone would have noticed. As far as I know, no one has ever stepped forward to defend the SDA claim.
The notion that the pope purposely associates himself with the number 666 is beyond ludicrous. How could anyone with the slightest intention to deceive billions of Christians be so stupid as to associate himself with the devil in such an obvious manner? Any evil person with half a brain, bent on wreaking havoc would disguise himself! He would use “Angel of Light†or some other such deceptive title.
Aha! The Adventist would say—that’s why the pope uses the title “Vicarius Filii Deiâ€â€”which means “Vicar of the Son of Godâ€. He’s trying to deceive the people!
In fact, the pope never uses the title “Vicarius Filii Deiâ€. It’s not an official title of the Pope. The official titles of the Pope are:
Holy Father Bishop of Rome Vicar of Jesus Christ Successor of the Chief of the Apostles Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church Patriarch of the West Primate of Italy Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Roman Province Sovereign of the State of Vatican City.
He is also referred to as Summus Pontifex, Pontifex Maximus, and Servus Servorum Dei
There are a few instances in history where the pope has been referred to as the Vicar of the Son of God. The first document to use this title was the Donation of Constantine, an eighth century forgery. Subsequent uses of the phrase can be traced back to that one document. Since the Donation of Constantine did not originate with the Church, it cannot be said to prove that Vicarius Filii Dei was in any way an official title of the pope.
Sometimes anti-Catholics will cite a column written by Archbishop Noll in the April 18, 1915 issue of Our Sunday Visitor as proof that the pope does wear this title on his mitre. It is true that Fr. Noll does make this claim. However, the plain fact is, he was incorrect. The 1911 Catholic Encyclopaedia does not mention that title. James J. Drummey, author of Catholic Replies, examined several examples of mitres and various headdresses worn by priests, bishops and popes throughout the centuries, and none of them had any inscriptions of any kind.
Quite frankly, if the pope had had such an inscription on his mitre, more than one Catholic would have noticed. In fact, Fr. Noll is the only source that is cited, as far as I know.
I think I should also add a few words about the way that anti-Catholics figure that Vicarius Filii Dei equals 666. The Seventh Day Adventists reason that if you use the letters in Vicarius Filii Dei which are Roman Numerals, e.g. I= 1, V=5, X=10, etc, then the number adds up to 666.
Why this system? I don’t know. I don’t know how they can justify using this method of calculating the value for that title. It doesn't come from the Bible. It would have made more sense if they had used a Jewish or Greek system of numerology, where each letter has a value, and which was commonly used for exegetical and esoteric purposes.
It should also be noted that using the Roman numeral system, the number 666 can apply to a lot of people. It doesn’t make sense to think that St. John was trying to identify the name of the Beast (although some say he was referring to Caesar Nero). Rather, I think he was commenting on the Beast’s characteristics.
I realize that this does not directly answer your question, but some questions are not really worth the investigation. If an Anti-Catholic ever makes the claim that the pope’s crown or mitre has an inscription of any kind, insist that he provide visual proof. There are enough portraits and photos of popes that they shouldn’t have to dig for their information. If someone comes up with a picture of a mitre or crown with an inscription, I would be happy to look into the matter.
Thank you for your question.
God Bless, Suzanne Fortin
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