Vicarius Filii Dei (Latin: Vicar or Representative of the Son of God) is a phrase used in the forged mediaeval Donation of Constantine to refer to Saint Peter. Some Protestant groups claim that it is a title of the Roman Catholic pope, and that the letters add up to 666, the “number of the beast” in the Book of Revelation. The Catholic Church dismisses the claim as an “anti-Catholic myth” and states that popes have never possessed such a title.The story seems to owe its modern origins to a written answer to a question published in an American Roman Catholic magazine, Our Sunday Visitor of 15 November 1914, in which a contributor, a priest, referred to the supposed title
. The author who repeated the claim later in April 1915 then withdrew it. Among the errors he said he made was to mix up tiaras (about which the question was concerned) and mitres (the word he used in the answer). Though the magazine itself discussed the topic again in September 1917 and August 1941, it never denied the claim of the 1915 article that the title had appeared on the miter. Critics of the Seventh-day Adventist interpretation of the comment have argued that, firstly, if there was some secret Catholic title that the Church was denying, it would have been unlikely then to publish the “secret” in a widely available magazine read by people from all faiths. Secondly, they argue that if it was such a secret, and the questioner was asking about papal tiaras, why then would the priest-author have proceeded to answer a question he wasn’t asked, about supposedly secret mitres. When questioned, the magazine wrote to the Seventh-day Adventist Church to inform them that the contributing priest had gotten his facts wrong. The Seventh-day Adventist Church no longer regards the magazine article as anything other than an error and no longer promotes belief in the claim that Vicarius Filii Dei is a papal title.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church abandoned the search for the ‘evidence’ after years of searching. However, some minority groups within the church still hold on to the belief that such a tiara with such a title existed. The search was resurrected by a minority of individual members when a member of the Church reproduced the original Our Sunday Visitor article, the article itself being treated as evidence that efforts of the Roman Catholic Church to ‘suppress’ the truth had failed. (Because the magazine’s claim was being used by anti-Catholic campaigners in the United States as proof that the pope was the antichrist, the magazine removed that particular issue from its archives, leading to further accusations of a Catholic conspiracy to suppress the ‘truth’.)
Though no other evidence apart from one article in one magazine in 1914, repeated in 1915, which subsequently stated twice that it had got its facts wrong, has ever been produced, and photographic evidence disproves claims about the 1939 papal coronation using a tiara with the words emblazoned on it, some groups, both within and outside of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, continue trying to prove both existence of such a papal title and of a tiara bearing the title.
Due to the failure to provide any evidence for the existence of the title over the two-thousand year history of the Roman Catholic Church, other than a forged mediaeval document and a mention in a minor magazine, subsequently disowned, and the failure of any of those promoting the claim to provide photographic evidence (while claiming a photograph exists) historians, academics and religious leaders view the story as a classic anti-Catholic urban legend, for which not the slightest shred of evidence has been found.