It has been argued by both Orthodox and Protestants that the title ‘Vicar of Christ’ for the Pope is blasphemy and heresy. Because of the ignorance of Catholic teaching, it is misunderstood that this title means to literally “replace Christ” or to literally be “Jesus on Earth.”
The Catholic Church agrees that it would be blasphemy for one to claim to be Jesus Christ on earth or claim to take His place since there is only One Lord, Jesus Christ, and not many.
However, it must be noted that the phrases such as “The bishops are in the place of God” are pastoral metaphors that simply explain the responsibility of the Bishops for God’s ministry on Earth until He comes again in Glory on the last day!
Let’s first address what ‘Vicar of Christ’ means. “… the title Vicar of Christ is more expressive of his supreme headship of the Church on earth, which he bears in virtue of commission of Christ and with vicarial power derived from Him.” (Catholic Encyclopedia, Vicar of Christ.)
In other words, the Pope is the Vice President of the Church; since Christ is the literal head in where all power comes from, and the Pope carries out the duties given to him by Christ because of his earthly ministry to govern the Church. Because of the fact that the title “vicar of Christ” is argued to be an ‘innovative blasphemous Latin doctrine’, as many in the schism of the Eastern churches claim, let’s examine what the Early Church fathers have to say in this regard.
St Ignatius of Antioch’s epistle to the Magnesians, 6:1 : “your bishop presides in the place of God.”
According to Sacred Tradition, Saint Ignatius of Antioch is the same little boy that Jesus called over as an example for the disciples imitate. (Matt 8:2)
As a disciple of Jesus Christ and the apostles, can we say that this doctor of the Church is openly blaspheming God by saying that a bishop is in place of God?
Absolutely not, for these are metaphors to explain their ministry. The Pope is simply the head bishop of the Church; therefore, he himself would be the Vicar of the vicars of Christ since all bishops are vicars of Christ. (CCC: 1560)