The Vicar of Christ
Did Jesus Christ before ascending to heaven authorize someone to act on His behalf on earth? Who is this person? Who is the Vicar of Christ?
For the Catholic Church, the Pope is the Vicar of Christ.
How did the Pope become the Vicar of Christ?
The Pope is a successor to St. Peter whom Jesus authorized to act on His behalf on earth.
Jesus built His Church upon St. Peter whom He likened as a rock, which is ideal for a good foundation.
And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church,
and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.
Many argue that the rock mentioned in Matthew 16:18 is not referring to St. Peter but to Jesus Himself. They reason that Jesus is mentioned in other books of the Bible as the rock or the chief cornerstone.
I do agree that Jesus is the rock or the chief cornerstone but in this particular verse, Matthew 16:18, Jesus was really referring to St. Peter as the rock upon which He will build His Church.
Jesus praised Simon (Peter) for recognizing Him as the Christ, the Son of the living God and for this He gave him a new name Peter which means rock and is good for a foundation and so He decided to build His Church upon this rock. That clearly indicates Jesus was referring to St. Peter and not to Himself as the rock in this verse.
But saying He would build His church upon Peter may not necessarily mean that He was authorizing Peter as His vicar.
Well, in Matthew 16:19, Jesus continued to say that He will give Peter the keys of the kingdom.
I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven,
and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven,
and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
To understand this verse better, to know what it means to give the keys of the kingdom, one has to know how a Davidic king ruled then. The king did not rule alone. He had ministers helping him and one prime minister or chief royal steward who is the highest-ranking official and to whom the keys of the kingdom were entrusted.
This royal steward was second to the king in authority. He managed the operations of the kingdom. He was the chief spokesperson for the king. He was the right hand of the king. He had the power to bind and loose as was indicated in the following verses:
.. and he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah. And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.
St. Peter who was familiar with the prophet Isaiah’s teachings most likely recalled these lines when Jesus told him that He will give him the keys of the kingdom and that whatever he binds and looses on earth will be so in heaven.
So, St. Peter became the Vicar of Christ just like the royal steward of the king. And just like the office of the royal steward of the king didn’t cease with his death but was succeeded by a new steward, St. Peter upon his death was also succeeded by a new vicar.
The royal steward was called father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. Thus, the successor of St. Peter became known as Pope which means father.
Another biblical basis for believing that Jesus appointed St. Peter to be His vicar is John 21:15-17.
Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.
Jesus specifically asked St. Peter to feed His sheep. We are His sheep and the Pope, successor to St. Peter, feeds us with His truth through the Church that Jesus founded.
St. Peter made many mistakes. He was but a human being. He tried to persuade Jesus to not go through His sacrifice. He rejected Him three times.
But when it comes to teaching the Truth, St. Peter could never make mistakes. Jesus promised him that he would be guided to the truth with the help of the Holy Spirit.
“I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak, and He will declare to you the things that are to come.
Jesus also prayed for Peter so that He will not fail.
“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren.”
The above verses support papal infallibility. Papal infallibility doesn’t mean that the Pope is without sin and cannot err. Papal infallibility happens when the Pope defines as truth a faith doctrine in question. There are criteria to consider when declaring that the Pope is infallible.
When the Pope says a personal opinion on matters that are not faith-related, the Pope is not infallible. He is liable to make mistakes just like St. Peter was before.
Some argue that the Vicar of Christ is the Holy Spirit Himself. But how can the Holy Spirit act on behalf of Jesus with clarity? Nowadays, many claim that they are filled with the Holy Spirit. And they come out to teach what they believe is revealed to them by the Holy Spirit. Many of these teachings contradict each other.
Many accuse the Catholics of worshipping the Pope. We don’t worship the Pope. We honor him because he is a father to us. And God said we should honor our father and mother.
Jesus said in Luke 10:16, He who hears you hears Me, and he who rejects you rejects Me, and he who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me.
We listen to the Pope and accept him because he is the Vicar of Christ.
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