Q. Is it true that some anti-Catholics have claimed the pope is the “beast” in Revelation?
It is true. Since the time of the Protestant Reformation, some anti-Catholic apologists have claimed that Revelation 13:18 refers to the pope as the enemy of the true faith. His title, they say, is Vicarius Filii Dei (Vicar of the Son of God). Using the value of Roman numerals, the sum of the letters in that title is 666.
Here’s how the calculation works. As in Greek and Hebrew, some Latin letters are used for numbers. “I” = 1; “V” = 5; “X” = 10; “L” = 50; “C” = 100; “D” = 500; “M” = 1000. Letters that have no numerical value are to be ignored in calculating the numerical significance of a name. The letter “U” is treated as “V.” Since there is no “W” in Latin, it is rendered as “VV.”
The Latin title Vicarius Filii Dei, then, would be VICARIVS FILII DEI. Now apply this numbering scheme to it. You get these numbers: 5 (V) + 1 (I) + 100 (C) + 1 (I) + 5 (V) + 1 (I) + 50 (L) + 1 (I); + 1 (I) + 500 (D) + 1 (I). The total is 666. Therefore, according to these anti-Catholic apologists, Scripture plainly identifies the pope as one of the two beasts who tried to destroy the true faith.
To unwind all this, start with the fact that Vicarius Filii Dei is not the pope’s title. It is never used in any official Church document. His title is “Vicar of Christ” (Vicarius Christi), which according to the scheme given above adds up to 214. The pope has other titles: Servus Servorum Dei (Servant of the Servants of God), Pontifex Maximus (Supreme Pontiff), Successor Petri (Successor of Peter). None come even close to adding up to 666.
Incidentally, this false identification of the beast in Revelation 13:18 with the pope has often been made in Seventh-Day Adventist literature. Suppose we were to apply this numbering scheme to the name of the founder of the Adventists. Her name was Ellen Gould White. Her name in Latin adds up to 666. According to Adventist logic, then, must we conclude that the founder of their denomination is “the beast”?
Cardinal John Henry Newman commented on the polemical attempts to equate the pope or the Catholic Church with one of the beasts or with the anti-Christ. He saw in those attempts a dim, distorted perception of the truth about the Church. These opponents of the Church, he said, looking at her from the outside, recognize that she is no ordinary institution, that she is indeed supernatural. Since she cannot be of Christ, they reason, she must be of Satan.
That slander, in other words, at least acknowledges part of the truth about her, she who is the supernatural Mystical Body of Christ.