“Crazy” rumor about what Francis might do during the August consistory

Church news, especially having to do with the papacy, has lately become a hybrid between a long-delayed forensic autopsy and Fawlty Towers, sickeningly hilarious.

Yesterday, I saw this tweet from Damian Thompson.

Today I saw this.

Today in texting with friends I put my money on Becciu. Or else Benedict, who has a strong CV, though his employee history in the job is a little iffy.

Meanwhile, Pope Benedict is obviously still with us.   There are those who believe that Benedict is still the true Pope, that is to say, holds both the offices of Vicar of Christ and Bishop of Rome as Successor of Peter.

In Donnelly’s tweet, the phrasing was interesting: “If – (pope) Bergoglio appoints a coadjutor bishop of Rome with right of succession, then the papacy becomes a monarchy.”

Well, maybe not.  Firstly, it is not entirely clear that a Pope can name a successor.  He would have to entirely abolish the rules for conclaves, etc., and attempt a simultaneous enthronement abdication.  Not likely.  But Francis… who knows?  Time is greater than space … God of Surprises.

I’ve gone through this mind exercise before, but my thought has evolved a little.  Allow me a little space to spin it out.  Again, I am musing through a mind exercise.  I’ll try to take you along with as much clarity as I can muster without 20 rewrites.

From the onset, we must acknowledge and then set aside the fact that “pope… papacy” are concepts that evolved in late antiquity.  It is anachronistic to refer to Peter as “Pope”, although that is what he was in potency, as it were, in view of the future developments of the role he held as Vicar of Christ and head of the community in Rome, it’s Bishop.

It seems to me that the “Benedict is Pope” argument, at least the better argument, stems from the premise that Benedict did not have “free will” to resign.  His will might have been pressured by bankers who were screwing with the Vatican’s “Swift”.  Perhaps it was the cumulative effect of the “dossier” and betrayal.  It may be because he was trying something innovative, a kind of bifurcation of the papacy into active and a contemplative functions, one being Bishop of Rome and the other remaining Vicar of Christ.  If he was wrong about that, if that was impossible because the offices are inseparable, then he was in “substantial error” about his resignation and that would have rendered it null and void.  Hence, he would still be both Vicar of Christ and Bishop of Rome and Francis would be, at least, an antipope, albeit a virtually universally accepted antipope.

However, if it was possible to separate the two offices, and Benedict truly managed to renounce being the active component (Bishop of Rome), then the College of Cardinals, being the clergy of Rome, elected a new Bishop of Rome without electing a new Vicar of Christ.

Remember that in the 6th century, Belesarius arrested and exiled Pope Silverius and then imposed Vigilius as Pope on 29 March 537.    Silverius died on 2 Dec 537.  When Silverius died, Vigilius was recognized as Pope by Rome’s clergy.   Successions of Pope can be messy.

Rome’s special “clergy” are the College of Cardinals, whose Electors have the role of electing the Bishop of Rome.  Under normal circumstances (i.e., the Pope dies) the Electors elect a new Bishop who is also, as Successor of Peter, the Vicar of Christ.  But – and here we go back to the idea that there are two offices which are, in fact, separable, namely Bishop of Rome and Vicar of Christ – if a Pope legitimately resigns only being Bishop of Rome, and the Electors elect a new Bishop of Rome, then that new Bishop of Rome (who isn’t also Vicar of Christ) can name all the Cardinals he wants because Cardinals are Roman “clergy”.  That’s why they get churches assigned to them in Rome, even if it is only symbolic.  Meanwhile, when the former Bishop of Rome (emeritus) who remained Vicar of Christ dies, it would be supposed that that office would then automatically inhere in the one who had been elected only as Bishop of Rome (cf. Vigilius).  Otherwise, alternatively, the office of Vicar of Rome would be vacant (as sometimes it is for a while, as is normal), until the new non-Vicar Bishop of Rome died.  The man the College would then elect would be both Vicar of Christ and Bishop of Rome and things would be back to…. normal.

Hence, there is no worry about the integrity of the See of Peter or a problem of “sedevacantism” in the case of the failed resignation of a Pope and imposition of a new Bishop on the City.

Would there be a problem with that “Pope’s” legislation and magisterium?  Perhaps with the magisterium, but perhaps not with the legislation because of the concept of Ecclesia supplet.  Can. 144 says:

“In factual or legal common error and in positive and probable doubt of law or of fact, the Church supplies executive power of governance for both the external and internal forum.”

So, even if Francis is in a chair he shouldn’t be in, that of the Bishop of Rome, his juridical acts could be valid because the Church supplies the jurisdiction.  Hence, he can name clergy to Roman Churches… who are the Cardinals… who form the next conclave.

Magisterium is trickier. That would have to be dealt with by a legitimate successor, perhaps with the aid of a Council.

BTW… eventually Vigilius, too, would be exiled.  He wrote to his captors: “You may keep me in captivity, but the blessed Apostle Peter will never be your captive.” Interesting phrasing.

A great deal of this depends on the idea that the offices of Vicar of Christ and Bishop of Rome as separable.  This was debated somewhat at the time of Vatican I.  The problem was not resolved, though the majority of theologians thought that, because Peter shed his blood in Rome, that sealed the two offices together, such that they are, for all of his successors, inseparable.

On the other hand – and there’s almost always another hand – it would be easier to have One-Handed Theology, sometimes – one might ask the question of when Peter became Vicar of Christ.

In Matthew 16:19, Christ says to Peter “I will give you” the keys, future active indicative of didomi, not “Here are the keys” or “I give (contemporary) you the keys”.   Furthermore, being Vicar of Christ is certainly inextricably bound up with being the head of the College of Apostles (all the bishops).  Peter didn’t become a bishop (using the modern term) until the Last Supper and the conferral of the ordained, ministerial, priesthood with the institution of the sacrament of Holy Orders.  Is that when Peter became Vicar of Christ?  After all, in modern times, if a non-bishop were to be elected by the Electors in a conclave, upon acceptance he must immediately be consecrated as a bishop, because you can’t be the head of the College of the Apostles (Bishops) if you aren’t one.

Otherwise, I also have a sense that Peter became the Vicar of Christ and received the keys that Christ promised to give him in the future in John 21 at the shore of the Sea of Galilee… where Christ’s and Peter’s history started.  That is the moment of the reconciliation, the purification of Peter’s three-fold betrayal, and the description given by Christ to Peter of what his earthly destiny would be:

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 A second time he said to him, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.18 Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you girded yourself and walked where you would; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go.” 19 (This he said to show by what death he was to glorify God.) And after this he said to him, “Follow me.”

So, it seems from this passage that – if this is the moment when Christ definitively makes Peter His Vicar – that Peter’s role in the Church as Vicar is tied up, so to speak, also with the way that Peter will die.

Peter, Vicar of Christ, founded the Churches of Antioch and Alexandria, but he died in Rome.

Some might think of the description by Christ of Peter’s role in the Church, as in Luke 22:32: “I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren.”

Note that “when”, which is Greek is “when once” (pote, a disjunctive particle) and then “you have turned again” (epistrepsas… aorist active participle) and “strengthen” (sterison… aorist active imperative).  The point is that this is to be done in the future.  It is a job description depending on Peter’s conversion.  That is what would take place at the Sea of Galilee.

As an aside, if the legend is true, his “turning around” or conversion would also have taken place when Peter was fleeing Rome: on meeting Christ, going to Rome to be crucified again, Peter turned around and went back to be crucified as Christ’s Vicar would.

So there is a tension between two ideas.  First, Peter was Vicar of Christ long before he reached Rome.  Also, Peter, Vicar of Christ, left sees that he founded (e.g., Antioch).  On the other hand, Christ, during His threefold reconciliation of Peter, explicitly talks about Peter’s death.  So it would seem that Peter’s death and being Vicar of Christ have something to do with each other.  That would support the idea that the offices of Bishop of Rome and Vicar of Christ are not in fact separable.

And if Benedict thought they were, he was wrong.  And if he was wrong, and if he was attempting to separate them through his resignation… and the Latin of the resignation is, it must be admitted, a little odd in regard to the terms ministerium and munus… then he was in substantial error about what he was trying to do and, therefore, the resignation would have been invalid.

Another aside, but an important one. The terms ministerium and munus, what they mean in relation to each other, is really murky.  On the one hand we can go to our dictionaries and obtain a little clarity.  On the other hand, we also have to go by how they are used in Church documents.  I was at one time pretty sure they were quite specific and meant obviously different things.  Then I read a paper written by a serious canonist about the problematic meanings of munus, ministerium and officium written back in 1989, long before 2013 and this controversy.  It was written by future Cardinal Peter Erdõ, considered papabile now.  Divine providence?  (Cf. ERDÖ, “Ministerium, munus et officium in Codice iuris canonici”, in Periodica, 1989, pp. 411-436.)  It’s in Latin.  Enjoy.

Bottom line, between the uses of the three terms in the 1917 Code, Vatican II, and the 1983 Code, according to Erdõ, there is confusion.  It is hard to fix definitions that don’t overlap to the point that they are sometimes interchangeable.  More work is needed on the problem.

Frankly, I think that in a document as important as an instrument of abdication from the papacy, even if somewhat informal as a read speech, the author would want to use precise terms.  Maybe Benedict thought those terms weren’t as precise as they seem to others, perhaps even because of Erdõ’s work.  I speculate.  Let’s move along.  I’m not sure we get very far with this.

The problem here is that, while we have a dreamy speech from Gänswein about what Benedict tried to do, and we have cryptic remarks by Benedict that he will always be Pope, in a sense, and he wears white, lives in the Vatican and gives blessings in the manner of a Pope, he has also said that Francis is Pope, Francis is pretty much universally accepted as Pope, and not a single Cardinal involved in the 2013 conclave has publicly said anything to the contrary.  Universal acceptance is not 100% conclusive, but it also not nothing.

Is any of this important to anyone on a daily basis?  Yes and no.

No, in the sense that we all have vocations to live and that we can go on fairly normally, though little in our time is normal.

Yes, in the sense that what Francis is doing sends massive ripples through the Church (whether he is truly the Pope or not, or just Bishop of Rome, or not… etc.).  Think “Traditionis custodes”, which has prompted many bishops to suppress the celebration of the Vetus Ordo.  Whether it was legitimately done or not, now many thousands of people suffer as a result and vocations to the priesthood and religious life or traditional group were undermined.   He has tried to change, not evolve, the Church’s teaching concerning the death penalty.  If he can do that, he can also try to change other moral teachings.  And he has: the infamous footnote in Amoris laetitia which has left many with the idea that the Church approves of Communion for manifestly objective adulterers.   And then there’s Pachamama, which I believe caused a ripple effect.. nay rather tsunami effect not only in the Church.  He had a demon idol Pachamama bowl placed on the altar of Sacrifice directly over the bones of Peter.

So, yes, “Who is Pope?” makes a difference.  You are or will be impacted by what he does.

What we must not let the question do is in anyway erode our active membership and participation in the life of the Church, even if we have to get creative about how that it to be done.

All of this will pass and will be resolved in the way that God desires it to be.  It is HIS Church.   She will suffer a Passion because the Lord suffered His Passion.  She will rise, because He rose.   Mary is her Mother and Joseph is her guardian.  Whether she is large and triumphal or small and humble, the Church will endure.

I take great comfort in the fact that Christ told Peter, when He promised Peter the keys in Matthew 16 that “the gates of Hades… pulai hadou” will not “overpower… katisxusousin” the Church, “ekklesia” which would be founded on Peter’s person.  Knowing that Peter continues in the Church (because the “keys” indicate from the Davidic priest kings a hereditary office passed down from one to the next), the Church is safe in regard to the “gates of Hades” even today, also because of the Petrine ministry which is a constituent element of the Church.

My comfort derives from the fact that “gates” are defensive structures. 

It is not Hell that is on the offensive, though it seems that way most of the time.  It is the CHURCH that is on the offensive and Hell’s gates will not “overpower” the Church’s battering rams.  No matter how small the Church might become, Hell cannot win.  Even if the Church is reduced to a handful, that handful – like Gideon’s band, like the Maccabees – will be enough.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. The question of whether the offices can be separated also have implications for the eastern churches as well (especially those eastern churches in communion with Rome). If the offices can be separated, then which hierarch can be called the Patriarch of Rome, which the eastern churches which profess communion with Rome would then be in communion with and whom we would commemorate during the Divine Liturgy?

  2. thomistking says:

    For those interested in Benedict’s cryptic remarks about the sense in which he intended to remain Pope, I think the short interview at the end of Peter Seewald’s massive biography is helpful. There he proposes that a bishop might become an emeritus of his diocese and remain tied to the place in a concrete way (even having a measure of spiritual authority), while truly handing on his authority and ministry to his successor. Think of it as analogous to the way a grandfather maintains a certain measure of spiritual authority over his grand children, even though the full authority of a father is actually in his son.

  3. surritter says:

    Wow. Just wow.

  4. Robbie says:

    I’d have to think a move like this would cause a schism, or at least bring us perilously close to one.

  5. acardnal says:

    Saint Catherine of Siena, pray for us!

  6. robtbrown says:

    If the rumor is true, then Francis realizes that his efforts to stack the College of Cardinals with others who share his nostalgia for the leftie ideology of the 1970s has not succeeded.

  7. Suburbanbanshee says:

    If the crazy rumor were true, it doesn’t strike me as being… um… all that prudent to get involved with. I mean, I’m not saying “And then all these old guys just happen to die within a couple of days, totally coincidentally, no reason to believe that God struck them all dead,” but it seems like a smiting-adjacent action.

    Co-adjutors were regarded as kinda iffy, back in the day, even for normal cities. This is Rome.

    All that said, it’s way way above my lack-of-paygrade. Same thing for all this munus/ministerium stuff. If anybody continues to have the office separate from the pope d’jour, it would be St. Peter, yeah?

  8. Elizabeth D says:

    What a bizarre rumor. I hope it says more about how crazy people think Francis is, than about how crazy he really is.

  9. Mike says:

    Way back in 2013, one of my kids was majoring in classics (he’s a lawyer now) at an excellent state university. He said one of his Latin profs said “Benedict’s Latin in the resignation speech was in parts a bit odd”. At the time, I just shrugged it off.


  10. Rob83 says:

    If some crazy stunt like this is attempted, I suspect the title of the document will be something provoking like Sede Vacante.

  11. robtbrown says:

    Munus is predicated of both episcopal powers: Potestas Ordinis (the power to ordain priests) and Potestas Iurisdictionis (the power to forgive sin, thus over behavior, thus over teaching).

    And so, IMHO, BXVI resigned the ministerium because if he had resigned the munus, he would also be resigning from the episcopacy. He would then be Mr Joe Ratzinger.

  12. robtbrown says:

    should be “efforts . . . have not succeeded”

  13. jbpolhamus says:

    Your musings on the separable (?) natures of papacy and bishopric seem to have some congruence with what Jamie Bogle seemed to be trying to assert relative to the temporal and spiritual natures of the Holy Roman Emperor and the Papacy. Not that I agree with his position, but he seems inadvertently to be establishing a basis for arguing for the separation of the papacy’s spiritual and temporal elements, giving the Holy Roman Emeror temporal jurisdiction and some kind of headship over the church as a whole. That may be so in practical fact, depending on the weakness or strength of the papacy at any given time, but I think it simply derives from the same relative strength of worldly power. At present it seems that the church is being dominated by the uncrowned Masonic Kings of Davos…or am I missing something?

  14. zama202 says:

    Francis (whatever his status) has probably already begun the process of schism.


  15. TonyO says:

    Robbie, it is not outlandish to suggest that Francis has already brought us perilously close to a schism. Through his theological wanderings in AL and the Catechism, he made a lot of people look for a basis to say he isn’t the pope. Through his Traditionis (and Desideravi) he made a lot of people look for “legitimate” ways to not obey him. Through his abandonment of the Chinese church, he made quite difficult for them to stick with him. If he tries just one more thing that is rocky (even if not as outlandish as a coadjutor bishop of Rome) he may push a great many people to throw up their hands in “defeat” of the attempt to continue squaring the circle.

    Personally I don’t think Benedict really was trying to separate the two aspects, both because I think it is ridiculous to think they CAN be separated, and because of further remarks by Benedict, reported by Peter Seewald in his book. I quote Edward Feser’s comments on the citations from the book:

    Benedict also explicitly rejects “any idea of there being two popes at the same time,” since “a bishopric can have only one incumbent” (p. 537). Who does he think is the one current pope, then? The answer is obvious from the fact that Benedict explicitly refers to Francis as “Pope Francis” three times in the interview (at pp. 537 and 539). He also refers to Francis as “my successor” (p. 539), and speaks of “the new pope” (p. 520).

    That’s at Feser’s blog: http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2022/08/benedict-contra-benevacantism.html

    Nevertheless, I also think that Benedict’s abdication remains poorly explained (including the explanation given by Benedict, which remains thin to the point of being nearly hollow, in my ears), and the theories that he was not free remain impossible to definitively disprove. (Negatives are notoriously difficult of proof.) But 9 years of a pontificate in which not one cardinal – including those who detest the track record of Francis – has claimed there is some doubt about Francis’s election or status as pope, make it almost silly to continue to insist on the barest, remotest possibility that Benedict was coerced, somehow.

    My greater fear is not what further measures Francis will take, but the fact that he has engineered a College of Cardinals that is at least untraditional as himself, if not more so: the prospect of getting a GOOD pope out of that body, in the foreseeable future, is dim indeed. The Church is in for a whole series of bad popes.

  16. JackintheVox says:

    I heard Cardinal Mueller give an address to Ordinariate priests in 2014 that alluded to a certain flexibility in the form of Petrine munus.

    At the time I remember wondering if this was a sort of seed for reunion with the Orthodox. If the Petrine ministry could be born by two people.. Church breathes with both lungs.

  17. Rod Halvorsen says:

    Ecclesia supplet. Can. 144 says:

    “In factual or legal common error and in positive and probable doubt of law or of fact, the Church supplies executive power of governance for both the external and internal forum.”

    I cracked up when reading this.

    For 50 years it has been the Vatican administrators and even Popes who have given ground to the SSPX. Wouldn’t it just be the icing on the cake if said Roman authorities copied the Society’s broad understanding of supplied jurisdiction to clean up the convoluted “Hagan lio” Rome has caused!

  18. Cornelius says:

    Regarding taking comfort in the “non praevalebunt” promise, I think there are two (at least) possible interpretations of that promise:

    1. At no time in the Church’s life will hell prevail over her, i.e., the Church will never teach error or become a blind guide. Or . . .

    2. Hell will gain ascendancy over the Church at times in her life, but IN THE END the Church will prevail.

    I used to believe #1 was the correct interpretation but, in light of this horrendous heresy-spewing, Pachamama-worshipping “papacy”, I now think #2 is the more likely. The forces of hell will be defeated eventually, but maybe not in my lifetime, and meantime they savagely prevail.

    It’s like our Lady’s promise that “in the end my immaculate heart will triumph”. Yes, IN THE END, but not now and maybe not in my life.

  19. philosophicallyfrank says:

    ??????Could this be the work of the Holy Spirit with some kind of a “teaching moment”?????? It is a rather strange situation that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI should resign, much less with the phrasing that he used and then be followed by a Pope like Francis!!!!!! Are we being tested a to whether we follow Francis’ leads or stay ?? “true” to Church teaching and Benedict????

  20. TonyO says:

    Let me offer a slight clarification on the idea of separation between the “bishop of Rome” and “the papacy”. I would suggest that the two offices are indeed really distinct in office. [“Distinct” doesn’t mean separable.] I offer this because the period of the Avignon popes (which was a disgrace) points us to consider other kinds of disturbances: If Rome is completely destroyed, there might not be a city and the bishopric might be a moot point. Suppose the pope is off on one of his visits to foreign country, and Rome is is nuked so it is a burnt husk, uninhabitable for 1,000 years. The pope might decide, quite properly, to make his permanent home in a new city, (let’s assume it is a city that does not yet have a bishop appointed) and then be the bishop of that new city, X. If that were to occur, the papacy would then be tied to the “bishop of X” instead of being tied to the “bishop of Rome”. [Ummm…. no. Not if the death of Peter in Rome is an aspect of the Petrine Ministry considered as a whole. That was the debate of theologians, the majority of whom think that Peter’s death in Rome sealed the bond between the offices of the singular Petrine Ministry.]

    I agree that the CURRENT reality is that the papacy is tied into the office of the “bishop of Rome”. But this reality is based on historical factors that MIGHT have been different, or might have worked out differently: Rome was the capital of the Roman empire, and its centrality of purpose was useful to the Church – especially after the empire was Christianized. But other cities could have had similar – if not identical – values: Alexandria was “the” center of learning. [Peter and Paul didn’t die there.] At the end of the period of the persecutions, Constantinople became a home of the governing body of the empire, if not the sole such home. [Peter and Paul didn’t die there.] In the depths of the early Middle Ages, Rome became a dirty little backwater of a town, and Charlemagne’s Aachen was the center of his empire. [Peter and Paul didn’t die there.]

    So, while it is nearly unthinkable for the pope to remove his seat from Rome to some other city voluntarily, it is not unthinkable that the papacy COULD have been tied to the bishopric of some other city, and it is not at all unthinkable that the pope could be forced to remove his seat of office from Rome to some other city. [It makes no difference if it is voluntary or not. The question revolves around whether or not where Peter died makes a difference. John 21 suggests so.]

  21. Rod Halvorsen says:


    Yours is a good question. In this case I see no real difficulty. We have the Scriptures and 2000 years of the Church’s experience and Magesterium. We hang tight to all of that and if we hear something that sounds like it stands in contradiction, we simply back off and wait for clarification, following what we know and what has been made clear before. W/ the i-net we have access to the documents of the faith like no other generation, the virtual Library of Alexandria at our fingertips. we are well prepared to weather this storm.

  22. Peter Mitchell says:

    Francis will continue to cause confusion and controversy; it’s what he does best.

    The compelling and convincing thesis proposed by Andrea Cionci in “The Ratzinger Code” [Ummmm….] is that Benedict has fully retained the papacy in an “impeded see” as provided for by canon 412. As such, he and he alone possesses the legitimate line of papal succession. The title of “pope emeritus” of course has no canonical significance whatsoever. The Bergoglians have only a bishop dressed in white at their head. “Il Papa ‘e solo uno” as Benedict has been repeating for nine years. Viva Papa Benedetto.

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  24. If the 2013 conclave had given us another Gregory the Great or Pius X, we wouldn’t even be having this discussion.

  25. Vir Qui Timet Dominum says:

    Rumor volavit, sed tam fuit rumor tantum.

  26. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Agree with Anita. Also agree with Robbie’s “greatest fear,” except that God has obviously dealt with corrupt colleges of cardinals before, and even with colleges of cardinals controlled by outside influence and “veto power.”

    Papal elections can elect bad men or incompetent popes or “harmless non-entities,” and it is still Jesus Christ Who will have the last laugh. He allows a lot of stuff, but eventually it goes His way. Whether we want to help Him or not.

    And giving temporal power to a Holy Roman Empire, or a Roman Empire of the East, or any of that stuff, is just silly. The Church came into being within the boundaries of the Roman Empire; but there were always other legitimate temporal powers just a short ride/drive away. The Holy Roman Empire never ruled all of European Christendom, even. And there were plenty of Republics during the height of Christendom, whether or not we learned about them in school.

    Jesus Christ is mainly concerned with the Throne of David, which He is sitting on. Every other temporal power is either with Him or against Him, but we’re/they’re just “the nations” from a Biblical POV. It’s not that God loves us less; but we’re just not the center of salvation history. Duh.

  27. Kathleen10 says:

    Hagan lio. Job done.

  28. philosophicallyfrank says:

    I don’t aim this at any one in particular; but, I have a “pet peeve”. Jesus is not the son of Mr. & Mrs. Joe Christ and as such He is not properly referred to as “Jesus Christ”. He should be properly referred to as “Christ Jesus” or “Jesus the Christ”. “Christ” is not a name. It is a title and to give Jesus the proper respect that He is entitled to; it should be used as His title.

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