VICARIUS FILII DEI, An Annotated Timeline
Foreword by Samuel Koranteng-Pipim
The volume you hold in your hands represents the culmination of years of extremely painstaking research. In some ways it represents the author’s lifetime achievement.
Let me explain. Twelve years ago, shortly after launching my own writing career, a friendship with Jerry Stevens began to form. It seems that we shared many of the same consistent, Bible-believing religious values, which led to some animated correspondence when certain issues aroused either our mutual interest or our deep concern. As time has gone by, we two more or less casual friends have evolved into true soul mates.
After Jerry took over the editorial helm at Adventists Affirm in 2004, we developed a very close working relationship. This is why I can state with absolute certainty that his exceedingly rare gift of close attention to detail helps explain why he is uniquely qualified for giving to the world this work, entitled Vicarius FIlii DeI, An Annotated Timeline: Connecting Links Between Revelation 13:16–18, the Infamous Number 666, and the Papal Headdress.
The reader may well ask, What is so important about this topic, and why bring it up now? Consider these words from Ellen G. White:
Every position of truth taken by our people will bear the criticism of the greatest minds; the highest of the world’s great men will be brought in contact with truth, and therefore every position we take should be critically examined and tested by the Scriptures. Now we seem to be unnoticed, but this will not always be. Movements are at work to bring us to the front, and if our theories of truth can be picked to pieces by historians or the world’s greatest men, it will be done.—Letter 6, December 30, 1886.
But what if most of the world, and even some thought leaders and laity in the Seventh-day Adventist Church in recent years, have been either fomenting or following cunningly devised fables (see 2 Peter 1:16)? What if a faulty understanding of Revelation 13 might jeopardize our church’s credibility just when the world so desperately needs the truth? Might not the result be a retardation, rather than an acceleration, of the closing work? Shall we not be judged for these things?These are not merely theoretical or empty questions. They are real. As I argued in the Fall 2005 issue of Adventists Affirm (see “Traditional Adventist View of Revelation 13: An Anachronism or Tomorrow’s Headlines?”), some within our ranks are actually calling for a revision of our long-standing explanation of the prophetic scenario portrayed in Revelation 13 in order to make it more “relevant.” In the opinion of those calling for the revision, the traditional Adventist position is not based on a “correct” understanding of the Bible, but rather on nineteenth-century cultural influences and the writings of Ellen G. White. The supposedly correct view is one constructed on the foundation of higher criticism and revisionist interpretations of history.
Others argue that it is simply “incredible” to believe that the prophetic scenario identified by our pioneers will ever happen. Still others suggest that we must “expand” our understanding of the beasts of Revelation 13 to include current social evils, political ideologies, and religious movements such as Islam. Other scholars, not willing to betray the fact that they have jettisoned our long-standing prophetic interpretation, tend to be conspicuously quiet (at least officially or in print) on the subject.
One of the areas that has received attack in recent times is our historic explanation of the apocalyptic number 666. Critics within and without the SDA Church are blasting many of our evangelists for declaring that the blasphemous Latin phrase has been inscribed on the papal tiara. Brother Stevens discusses whether such an inscription in itself really matters. Still further, what if, as certain modern, non-Historicist expositors report, the phrase Vicarius Filii Dei (Vicar of the Son of God) is not tied to the papacy at all? And what if, according to these same expositors, the number 666 is found to have any number of possible interpretations that do not necessarily include a specific reference to the papacy?
In this meticulously researched work in your hands, Brother Stevens addresses the subtle new attacks on our unique understanding of end-time events. Among other things, he discusses whether the blasphemous inscription of the phrase Vicarius Filii Dei on the papal tiara actually exists and whether that question really matters. He concludes: “To yield this point is to concede the entire centuries-long argument and thereby acknowledge twentieth-century Catholic criticism that Seventh-day Adventists have been making false accusations against their church.”
Fortunately, a thorough reading of the following Timeline will not fail to provide the open-minded reader with vital, timely, and correct answers. This work represents one of the most remarkable achievements in primary source documentation that I have encountered. The many voluminous endnotes are in themselves an absolute treasure trove to all future research into this topic, while they provide a very sturdy supporting framework both for the related research and its conclusions. Extraordinary effort has been made to procure primary source documentation of even the rarest of manuscripts, resulting in a file of electronic images of actual key pages that to my knowledge has no parallel in existing literary research on the topic of the truth about 666.
But as Jerry himself acknowledges in his “Purpose and Scope of This Timeline,” this current work is the product of the cooperative effort of three men: the author Jerry A. Stevens, Stephen D. Emse, and Edwin de Kock.
Jerry’s own original findings were largely concentrated in the nineteenth and the early twentieth century, with a special focus on Uriah Smith’s publications. For instance, he unearthed all the editions of Thoughts, Critical and Practical, on the Book of Revelation, from 1865, when it first appeared. With respect to the research that has gone into this historical Timeline, I wish to emphasize the fact that it involved contacts with librarians and other experts on every inhabited continent on planet Earth. I suppose that if there were a library in Antarctica, a “penguinic” reference librarian might have offered to help get out the truth! One of the more astonishing facts emerging from this research is that nearly all of it was performed by means of virtual library visits. Thus, both the breadth and depth of the investigations were tremendously accelerated by the use of Internet search engines, e-mail facilities, and electronic file document sharing capabilities. It seems strikingly obvious that the hand of the Lord was upon this project so that the truth would come out for just such a time as this.
A year or more before Jerry undertook his research, Steve Emse was already doing his. It also began as Internet archæology, ranging over centuries of the cyberspace-time continuum. To this, he added repeated journeys by car, sometimes at night through snow and ice, to one or the other of the twenty college or university libraries within driving distance of his home, including Yale and Harvard. Some of these libraries contain collections of rare publications, many originating centuries ago. His most astonishing discoveries were the many non-SDA authors from the middle of the eighteenth century and down to the end of the nineteenth who identified Vicarius Filii Dei as a papal title, many of them showing that this had a numerical value of 666. This has greatly extended the data found by LeRoy Edwin Froom, as published in his monumental The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers: The Historical Development of Prophetic Interpretation (1946–1954). Steve also acquired and paid for photocopies of material from Andrews University and the General Conference Archives at Silver Spring, Maryland. Another of his resources has been the many related books that he keeps on purchasing. Initially Steve brought his findings to the attention of Edwin de Kock, who shared them with Jerry. Afterwards, Steve sent his material to both of them.
Edwin de Kock, the third researcher who contributed to Jerry’s Timeline, provided the historical framework for Steve’s discoveries. He also did much further research, helped by others, in both America and abroad. His own work, The Truth About 666, which will also soon be published, brings together all these findings and much beside. For this, Jerry’s Timeline is a valuable stepping-stone and companion publication.
In my opinion, Jerry Stevens has done a very great service to the church and to the cause of truth by assembling together an irrefutable line of evidence on the subject. The luster of this work will shine brighter in the coming years. In a sense this work is also his fitting parting gift to the readers of Adventists Affirm, after serving admirably as editor for upwards of four years. We wish him and his family well.
Though hardly in common usage, the word philalethist means, in Greek, a lover of the truth. Only eternity will reveal how much the church is indebted to this faithful soldier of the cross and ambassador of truth. At a time when some professional thought leaders within our ranks are subtly and not so subtly undermining our distinctive teachings, it is gratifying to note that the Lord has once again caused the stones to cry out. God has “chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise,” and has “chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty” (1 Corinthians 1:27, NKJV). And by means of His humble servants, the truth that is being attacked is now shining ever brighter:
Opposition and resistance only serve to bring out truth in new, distinct lines. The more truth is spoken against, the brighter it will shine. Thus the precious ore is polished. Every word of slander spoken against it, every misrepresentation of its value, awakens attention, and is the means of leading to closer investigation as to what is saving truth. The truth becomes more highly estimated. New beauty and greater value are revealed from every point of view.—Ellen G. White, Manuscript 8a, October 21, 1888.
Seventh-day Adventists owe a debt of gratitude for this gift offering to the church. May it silence all our critics, and may it caution our members from hastily jumping on the bandwagon of our revisionist scholars.
All things considered, I wholeheartedly commend to you a careful and prayerful examination of Brother Stevens’s manuscript. My candid assessment is that this workman has rightly divided the Word of truth (see 2 Timothy 2:15). May God be praised.
Samuel Koranteng-Pipim, PhDAnn Arbor, Michigan
Director, Public Campus Ministries, Michigan Conference
Director, Public Campus Ministries, Michigan Conference
February 10, 2009