Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/Vicar of Christ

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Catholic Encyclopedia (1913), Volume 15
Vicar of Christ

by William Henry Windsor Fanning


(Lat. Vicarius Christi).

A title of the pope implying his supreme and universal primacy, both of honour and of jurisdiction, over the Church of Christ. It is founded on the words of the Divine Shepherd to St. Peter: "Feed my lambs. . . . Feed my sheep" (John 21:16-17), by which He constituted the Prince of the Apostles guardian of His entire flock in His own place, thus making him His Vicar and fulfilling the promise made in Matthew 16:18-19.

In the course of the ages other vicarial designations have been used for the pope, as Vicar of St. Peter and even Vicar of the Apostolic See (Pope Gelasius, I, Ep. vi), but the title Vicar of Christ is more expressive of his supreme headship of the Church on earth, which he bears in virtue of the commission of Christ and with vicarial power derived from Him. Thus, Innocent III appeals for his power to remove bishops to the fact that he is Vicar of Christ (cap. "Inter corporalia", 2, "De trans. ep."). He also declares that Christ has given such power only to His Vicar Peter and his successors (cap. "Quanto", 3, ibid.), and states that it is the Roman Pontiff who is "the successor of Peter and the Vicar of Jesus Christ" (cap. "Licet", 4, ibid.). The title Vicar of God used for the pope by Nicholas III (c. "Fundamenta ejus", 17, "De elect.", in 6) is employed as an equivalent for Vicar of Christ.

WILLIAM H.W. FANNING