Prince of Peace—Jesus, or Pope Francis?
September 20, 2015 13 Comments
On Fox News Sunday today, Chris Wallace interviewed Father Thomas Rosica, Advisor to the Vatican. This was prompted by the upcoming visit to the U.S. by Pope Francis. Here’s what Rosica said about the importance of this visit:
The visit to the White House, the President and his wife, and the whole team at the White House, are doing a very good job, and they have a certain decorum that’s required of them at that stage, to welcome the Pope as the great, greatest, I should say—not just the great, the greatest—the greatest moral leader in the world right now. And this is an opportunity for the President and his whole team to welcome him and to listen to the message of a peacemaker. The backdrop of this whole visit is not what’s happening in American politics, or a presidential campaign; the backdrop is a world steeped in violence, and bloodshed, and rancor, and hatred. And here we have, coming to your city [New York], to your diocese, a real prince of peace. If there’s any princely title that should be associated with Francis, it’s a prince of peace, it’s a bringer of peace. And when peacemakers come, they upset those who are not at peace. So [if] people are going to be upset, on any side of the spectrum here, let them look inside themselves and see what those issues are first, because in the presence of Francis, as you know and as I know, you’re in the presence of extraordinary goodness, of kindness, of intelligence, and of humanity. So humanity is coming to teach us how to be more human.
“Prince of peace” is biblical language. In other words, it derives from its use in the Bible as a descriptive title with a very specific context. The title “Prince of Peace” is used of the Messiah in Isaiah 9:6. It is, therefore—according to Christian orthodoxy—a reference to Jesus Christ. This is an extraordinarily honorific title. It denotes the full realization of messianic hope. In the Christian Scriptures it alludes to human reconciliation with God, and only by extension to the realization of peace within the human community. The agent, of course, is the Prince of Peace.
This agent is described in a series of four titles. The passage reads:
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder; and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
- This passage is prophetic.
- It refers to the messiah by “name.” This name is captured by four descriptive titles. They are combined to express complementary and mutually reinforcing attributes of the messiah.
- Within this complex of titles are the superlative designations “Mighty God” and “Eternal Father.” The Prince of Peace, then, is the almighty God, creator of the universe, the beginning and the end. As “Mighty Counselor,” he is wise without limit and all-knowing.
- This prophecy will be fulfilled with the coming of the messiah, the incarnate son of God to be born into this world.
- The name of this son—denoted by this magnificent fourfold description—is linked to the role he is to play: the government will rest on his shoulders.
- The implication is that those who are governed will declare this figure to be the “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.” These are the titles they will use when speaking of him.
Verse 7 enriches the sense of things:
Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
It is striking, then, that Father Thomas Rosica adopts this title when speaking of Pope Francis. In its biblical setting, which surely is Rosica’s source for the language he uses, “prince of peace” is an honorific title reserved for a specific individual who acts with uniquely divine authority. In a daring move, Rosica deploys the biblical language to express this pope’s gravitas as a peacemaker and as “the greatest moral leader” in the world today.
Rosica does not say that Francis comes as an emissary of the Prince Peace, the Lord of hosts. He simply calls him a prince of peace. In his defense, we might think that, in calling Francis a prince of peace, he does think of him as an emissary of peace. If asked, Rosica might explain that Francis is an emissary of the God who desires peace, an emissary of the Prince of Peace, as it were. In that respect, Francis would be an emissary of the Emissary of Peace!
But will this do as an explanation? There is overt and intentional grandeur in Isaiah’s use of the title for the messiah. This messiah, the Pope would no doubt agree, is none other than Jesus Christ. Christians boldly proclaim that Jesus is the incarnate son. He reconciles the world to Himself, and in this way he brings peace. He alone is worthy of the exalted titles ascribed to him in Isaiah 9:6. These titles should be reserved for the Lord of hosts who accomplishes these things, though he accomplishes them in part through the sons and daughters he has redeemed.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. the old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself, and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. – 2 Corinthians 5:17-19
The New Testament emphasizes the peacemaking role of individual believers in Christ. It’s called “the ministry of reconciliation.” Reconciliation here must be understood in the most basic sense; it is reconciliation between God and human persons. When a person is reconciled with God, He no longer counts their trespasses against them. Harmony with God is restored. That is true peace. And it falls to those who are in Christ, who are themselves restored creatures, who have been reconciled to God, to bear the “word of reconciliation” throughout the world.
There are two dimensions to peacemaking. The first and most fundamental is reconciliation with God so that personal sin is no longer a barrier to fellowship with God. The second dimension builds on this, pointing men and women to their need for fellowship with God through reconciliation with Him and making peace with others on that basis.
As I reflect on these things, it seems fitting to call the pope a peacemaker. That surely is one of his goals. And he has a useful platform for acting as a peacemaker. I would hope that both dimensions of peacemaking, carried out in their proper order, will be exhibited during the pope’s visit. But I would reserve the title “prince of peace” for him alone who has purchased peace between almighty God and human persons, namely, Jesus Christ. Is the pope a “peacemaker”? Yes. “Prince of peace”? I think not.