There are numerous videos on the internet which purport to show the Pope, or other Catholic clergy, openly praying to Satan. All of those polemics revolve around an ancient Catholic hymn, known as the Exultet, using the Latin word lucifer in reference to Christ. Being that the subject comes up repeatedly on social media, it seemed prudent to put together a brief blog entry on the subject, which one could then easily refer back to when needed.
While it is easy to understand how modern minds might be scandalized by a hymn addressing Christ as lucifer, the reality is that, contrary to popular understanding today, the word is not an exclusive name for Satan. Employing it as a reference to Christ actually flows naturally from lucifer being a word that could mean morning star, and Christ being called the morning star. Consider, for example, the entry on lucifer in Lewis and Short’s Latin Dictionary:
Beyond that, however, the practice is derived from the Bible itself (or, more specifically, a certain interpretation of a specific translation of the Bible). 2 Peter 1:19 makes a reference to a certain “day star” or “morning star,” which many interpret as a reference to Christ (though there are others who take a different view). It just so happens that the Latin Vulgate renders the relevant word as lucifer.
In the Greek text, the relevant word is Φωσφορος (phosophoros). As is noted in Thayer’s Lexicon, the corresponding Latin term happens to be lucifer:
Such an understanding actually predates the New Testament. As is alluded to in the above-mentioned entry from Lewis and Short, this connection actually comes up in the writings of Cicero (who passed away around 43 BC). In Cicero’s De Natura Deorum, he writes: quae Φωσφορος Graece Lucifer Latine dicitur (“that which is phosphoros in Greek is called lucifer in Latin”).
The subject could be summarized with the following points:
(a) The Vulgate was the Bible of the Western Church for over a thousand years.
(b) The Vulgate, in 2 Peter 1:19, uses the word lucifer, in a verse understood by many to be referring to Christ.
(c) The Greek text of 2 Peter 1:19 has the word φωσφορος (phosphoros).
(d) The word φωσφορος (phosphoros) is a combination of two words, φως (phos, which means light) and a form of the verb φερω (phero, which means to bear or to carry).
(e) Similarly, lucifer is a combination of two words, lux (which means light) and the verb fero (which means to bear or to carry).
(f) Ergo, the word lucifer is the exact Latin equivalent of the Greek word φωσφορος (so its inclusion in a Latin translation of 2 Peter 1:19 makes perfect sense).
In conclusion, the ancient Latin practice of calling Christ lucifer practically comes right out of the Bible, even if that seems weird to modern English minds which have come to more narrowly associate the word only with Satan (and the relevant hymn, the Exultet, was produced in an ancient Latin speaking environment, not a modern English one).
(2) In a great many of the polemics, it is wrongly claimed that the hymn calls Christ the son of Lucifer. This incorrect understanding is often repeated because many of the polemics descend (or mechanically repeat claims) from a common source.
(3) Charlton T. Lewis & Charles Short, A New Latin Dictionary, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1891), p. 1080.
(4) See, for example, Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Part III, Question 83, Article 2, Reply to Objection 2.
(5) See, for example, John Edward Huther, Critical and Exegetical Handbook to the General Epistles of James, Peter, John, and Jude, (New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1887), p.395, which reproduces an English translation of Heinrich August Wilhelm Meyer’s commentary on the verse in his Kritischexegetischer Kommentar zum Neuen Testament.
(6) Joseph Henry Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, (New York: American Book Company, 1889), p. 663.
(7) Cicero, De Natura Deorum, book II, chapter XX, in Harris Rackham (ed./trans.), Cicero: De Natura Deorum, Academia, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1933), pp. 174-175.