Does the pope claim to be God on earth?

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Adventists, and other anti-Catholics, claim that popes have taught that they are God.

Anyone who knows anything about the Catholic Church knows that the pope doesn’t consider himself to be God.

What the pope DOES consider himself to be:

  1. Peter’s successor, with Peter being left in charge of the Church after Jesus, who was God, returned to heaven
  2. The representative of God to his flock
  3. Sort of like a prime minister, left in charge by the king (Jesus) while he is away
Icon of St. Peter (15th century, Russian State Museum, Saint Petersburg).

Icon of St. Peter (15th century, Russian State Museum, Saint Petersburg).

I’ll deal with several of the common quotes supposedly claiming the pope is God.

The Pope takes the place of Jesus Christ on earth… by divine right the Pope has supreme and full power in faith, in morals over each and every pastor and his flock. He is the true vicar, the head of the entire church, the father and teacher of all Christians. He is the infallible ruler, the founder of dogmas, the author of and the judge of councils; the universal ruler of truth, the arbiter of the world, the supreme judge of heaven and earth, the judge of all, being judged by no one, God himself on earth.
– New York Catechism

The document doesn’t exist. Nobody has ever found it.

In the “Extravagantes” of Pope John XXII (Cum. Inter, title 14, chapter 4, “Ad Callem Sexti Decretalium”, Column 140, Paris, 1685), Roman Canon Law says that it is heresy to deny the power of “Our Lord God the Pope.” In an Antwerp edition of the Extravagantes, the words occur in column 153.

This is deceptive, for the following reasons:

1. The claim is false, adding in the word “God“. The original text reads “our Lord Pope“. “Lord” doesn’t mean God, it is just a title for an important person or leader. Think of the British system of commoners and nobility. They have Lords and Dukes and Barons etc. Try to think of this in the language of the time, when such appellations were the norm.

2. The words themselves were not the words of Pope John XXII, and did not form part of canon law. They were a gloss by a canon lawyer. A gloss in this context means a comment written in the margin to clarify something the glossist thinks he should clarify. It doesn’t form part of the actual text. This makes it a) an unofficial comment on the side, and b) not part of official Catholic teaching. The gloss itself is harmless, in the original form – all it does is express that the pope is the representative of Jesus, something Catholics believe anyway.

Pope Pius X. made the blasphemous claim that he was “Jesus Christ hidden under the veil of the flesh. Does the Pope speak? It is Jesus Christ who speaks.”
– Pope Pius X, Church Review, Oct 3 1895, also in Evangelical Christendom, 1 Jan 1895

In 1895 Protestant newspaper, “Church Review” and “Evangelical Christendom“, claimed that this was said by Cardinal Sarto, who later became Pope Pius X. The claim by the newspaper was investigated, and found to be false. Cardinal Sarto produced the original document, and all it claimed was that “the pope represents Jesus Christ himself“. Nothing like what was claimed by the anti-Catholics.

We hold upon this earth the place of God Almighty
– Pope Leo XIII, Encyclical Letter of June 20, 1894

This is from a letter titled “The Reunion of Christendom“. And all this says is that the pope is God’s representative, or prime minister, left in charge of the Church after Jesus ascended back into heaven.

The context:

But since We hold upon this earth the place of God Almighty, who will have all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth, and now that Our advanced age and the bitterness of anxious cares urge Us on towards the end common to every mortal, We feel drawn to follow the example of Our Redeemer and Master, Jesus Christ, who when about to return to Heaven, implored of God, His Father, in earnest prayer, that His disciples and followers should be of one mind and of one heart: “I pray…that they all may be one, as thou Father in Me, and I in Thee: that they also may be one in Us.”
– Pope Leo XIII, The Reunion of Christendom, 1894

Clearly the pope doesn’t consider himself to be his own “Redeemer and Master” whose example he follows and whose prayer he prays.

I am in all and above all, so that God Himself and I, the vicar of God, hath both one consistory, and I am able to do almost all that God can do… wherefore, if those things that I do be said not to be done of man, but of God, what do you make of me but God? Again, if prelates of the Church be called of Constantine for gods, I then being above all prelates, seem by this reason to be above all gods. Wherefore, no marvel, if it be in my power to dispense with all things, yea with the precepts of Christ.
– Pope Nicholas I, Decret. par. Distinct 96 ch. 7 edit. Lugo 1661

This is a made-up quote, and the source is the anti-Catholic book “Acts and Monuments” by John Foxe, who quote a lot of statements that never existed.

The Pope is not only the representative of Jesus Christ, He is Jesus Christ himself, hidden under the veil of flesh.
– Catholic National July 1895

Another bogus quote from a publication that doesn’t exist.

The appellation of God had been confirmed by Constantine on the Pope, who being God, cannot be judged by man.
– Pope Nicholas I, Labb IX Dist.: 96 Can 7 Satis Evidentur Decret Gratian Primer Para

Bogus source, real quote, but badly translated from the Latin to make Pope Nicholas appear to be saying that the pope is God. Pope Nicholas I is really saying that the pope gets his authority from God.

Don’t fall for misquotes and bogus quotes.

Further reading:

Have Popes Really Claimed to be God? … by Geoff Horton
A Response to Catholic “Inventions” … by Phil Porvaznik
The Truth about the title “Lord God the Pope” … by Sean Hyland [PDF, local]
Pope claimed to be God? … Catholic Point

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