The most current self-proclaimed Vicar of Christ has been making the news again. Pope Francis recently wrote a scathing letter to a few tenacious African priests who rejected the papal appointment of their local bishop.
Francis compared the actions of these priests to the “murderous tenants” in Jesus’ parable of the vineyard, and declared their disobedience to his directives a “mortal sin”. To regain proper standing, the priests must first write a letter of apology, seeking the forgiveness of the Pope. And second, they must clearly manifest total obedience to him.
Do these actions of Pope Francis shock you? What about the time he said that trying to convince nonchristians to convert to faith in Christ is an illicit poison? Or when he declared that one of the ten secrets to a happy life is to not proselytize? And finally, what about the article he wrote in 2013 stating that even atheists have already been redeemed by the blood of Jesus and are children of God just like Christians?
Perhaps you’re wondering how someone would have the audacity to say and do such things. If that’s the case, maybe it would help to understand Francis’ point of view.
First, Pope Francis views himself as the Pontifex Maximus, which literally means that he believes he is the supreme bridge builder between God and mankind. Francis also believes that, because he possesses Papal infallibility, he is incapable of erring in even the slightest way when teaching on matters of faith and morality. And why would anyone come to such an extreme conclusion about themselves? The reason is that the Pope teaches that he is the Vicar of Christ, or the visible head of the Church on earth who is acting for and in the place of Christ.
So basically, if you disagree with the Pope, the Pope says you are disagreeing with God. If you disobey the Pope, the Pope says you are disobeying God.
But what did the early Christians believe about the Vicar of Christ? Who did they believe is the primarily agent acting on Jesus’ behalf on earth?
Our Lord Christ has surnamed Himself Truth, not Custom. … Whatever savors of opposition to truth, this will be heresy, even (if it be an) ancient custom. … The reason why the Lord sent the Paraclete was that, since human mediocrity was unable to take in all things at once, discipline should, little by little, be directed and ordained and carried on to perfection by that Vicar of the Lord, the Holy Spirit. “Still,” He said, “I have many things to say to you, but you are not yet able to bear them: when that Spirit of truth shall come, He will direct you into all truth, and will report to you the things that must take place.” – Tertullian 207CE, ANF Volume 4, p. 44-45 [CD-ROM]
Most of us would agree with Tertullian. The true Vicar of Christ on earth is the Holy Spirit. After all, Jesus told His disciples in John 14:16-17, “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.”
It’s one thing to intellectually agree that the Holy Spirit is Christ’s representative on earth, and thus speaks on His behalf with all authority. However, it’s another thing all together to have that intellectual belief become a functional reality in our lives.
So, who or what holds the functional place of God in your life? Your feelings? Cultural norms? Your finances? A certain person? A quest for more money, control or security? Your appearance? What is the actual driving-force behind your decision-making?