Father Anthony Churchill, STL, of Sussex, U.K. is one of my closest collaborators when it comes to my papal work. Do a search on this blog for ‘Fr. Churchill’.
He, as the STL, denotes (see below) is extremely knowledgeable on theology. He has spent much time in Rome and has has concelebrated Mass with Paul VI in Rome and Pope Benedict XVI in London.
The Vicar of Christ
The interesting fact about this new layout of the Vatican Year Book is political rather than theological. Such a change could hardly have been made without the knowledge and approval of the Pope himself. It is at once strange and, to my mind, most inappropriate.
This kind of decision does not in any way alter Catholic theology.
In Catholic teaching the Bishop of Rome is in virtue of that office the successor of St Peter, and as such he is the visible sign and instrument of the unity of the Church worldwide.
Various titles have been acquired over the centuries, which reflect historical realities. Thus the Pope is considered as the Primate of Italy and Archbishop of the Roman Province. Neither title is essential to his office, but have developed over the centuries.
The most important titles are “Servant of the servants of God” invented by Pope St Gregory the Great in the sixth century. It describes what Pope ought to be.
The other is “Vicar of Christ”.
This expresses the Pope’s function as Peter’s successor. I believe that it came into use in the late Middle Ages. Before that it had been more common to speak of the Pope as “Vicar of Peter”. Either way these titles describe what the Pope is called to be and to do.
Whether or not we use these titles does not take away from what we see as the God given function of the Pope as Peter’s successor, all that goes with that.
That said, I think this is a most odd decision. It seems to elevate the importance of the particular individual who happens to be the Pope at any one time.
In my view these ancient titles are part of our Catholic tradition and reflect the historical development of the Papacy over the centuries.
This decision, whoever was responsible, was ill judged.
The Pope is not to impose his own will on the Church without regard to the Faith and practice handed down. He is called to “preside in love” over the whole Church and to serve the unity of the Church as shepherd and teacher.
I fear that the present Pope does not always act wisely in this regard.