In the late 19th century, Ellen Gould White put together the splintered thoughts resulting from a couple of failed predictions of Christ’s second coming by William Miller. What started as an insistence by Joseph Bates that Christians should worship on the Jewish Sabbath (1846-1849) became White’s anti-Catholic beast (pun intended) which we know as Seventh Day Adventism. The SDAs took Bate’s charge that the Catholic Church changed worship from Saturday to Sunday, and came up with several other reasons why the Catholic Church must certainly be the “beast” of Revelation, or the “great harlot” riding the beast. I’ll address some of those here; but first, just a hair more background is in order.
Ellen Gould White is regarded as a prophetess by Seventh Day Adventists (who publish under the guise of “Inspiration Books”, “Amazing Truth Publications”, “Review & Herald Publishing Association”, and “Pilgrims’ Press”; and who often identify as “Seventh Day Apostle” or simply “Adventist”, but not often as “Seventh Day Adventist”). Her writings are believed by Adventists to be inerrant matters of doctrine (as is the Bible), though slightly less honored than the Bible. This fact puts SDAs in a tight predicament when they bring up one of their common charges against the Church:
The Official Title of the Pope, Vicarius Filii Dei equals the number of the beast (666).
For starters, “Vicarius Filii Dei” is NOT now, nor has it ever been, an official title for the Bishop of Rome (a.k.a. the Pope). I have run across one website which claims to have found two Popes using that phrase in two Papal documents. After clicking the links that this website provided, I was taken to the actual Papal documents where the Popes, as plain as day, used the official title “Servus Servorum Dei” (Servant of the Servants of God) in both cases. What that site also failed to see and convey was that 1) neither document used the exact phrase “Vicarius Filii Dei” as a title for the Pope, and 2) those document sections were talking about the fact that Christ, Himself, appointed a vicar on earth. If that SDA website concludes that the spliced-together and cherry-picked words/phrases found in these documents equals 666, and that this proves the identity of the anti-Christ, then SDAs must necessarily conclude that the SDA church has identified Christ as appointing the anti-Christ. That unfortunate conclusion, ludicrous as it may be, is the result of that particular SDA web author blindly accepting (or making) spurious claims without checking the facts and without discerning the logical conclusions of the claims.
Another reason this argument fails, as if being based on false information was not enough, is its reliance on faulty reasoning. Several names of people, places, or things could add up to the nefarious number of the beast. But, that doesn’t mean that they are necessarily the beast. This is akin to a false cause fallacy, or perhaps a non sequitur. Here’s how the number “game” works: you take the name in question, discard the letters which do not represent Roman numeration, account for letters with correlating Roman lettering (“u” is represented by “v” and “w” by “v + v”, etc.) and add them up according to their numeric value. “David”, for example, would be D + V + I + D = 500 + 5 + 1 + 500 = 1,006. “Briana” = I = 1, thus proving that my wife is #1.
What about "Barney the Cute Purple Dinosaur"? Sorry, folks...he's the Beast at a heart wrenching 666.
This is how the SDAs come up with “Vicarius Filii Dei” = V+I+C+I+V+I+L+I+I+D+I = 666. But, this isn’t a title for the Pope anyway. Vicarius Christi (Vicar of Christ), which IS an actual title for the Pope, adds up to only 214. Other titles used by Popes are Servus Servorum Dei (Servant of the Servants of God), Pontifex Maximus (Supreme Pontiff), or Successor Petri (Successor of Peter). NONE of these will add up to 666, which is why you never see any of them used by SDAs. (Never mind the fact that Revelation was written in Greek and that the value for "the beast" is based on the value of the Greek letters, not the Latin.)*
But here’s the clearest example of how faulty such reasoning is: Using the same formula as above, the name of the woman who started the Seventh-Day Adventist church, Ellen Gould White, ALSO adds up to 666. “Ellen Gould White” = L+L+V+L+D+V+V+I = 666. Does this fact prove that she is the beast and that the SDA is the harlot? I challenge any SDA to give an honest answer to this question, and explain why not.
But I believe the whole numbers argument is just a smokescreen to draw attention away from the original reason that the SDA group gave for claiming the Catholic Church was demonic:
The Catholic Church changed the day of worship from the Sabbath (Saturday) to Sunday.
Understood properly, there’s nothing inherently objectionable to that. But this claim is not normally made in the context of understanding that the Catholic Church was founded by Christ, is the Body of Christ, and the original Apostles were the first leaders of this Church and that Christ, not just His Church, changed the day of worship to Sunday.
Scripture shows that the Apostles, after Christ's Resurrection, gathered on the Lord's Day (Sunday), which was the Day Christ rose. It shows us that the Jewish Sabbath is no longer binding on us and that we should worship on the Lord’s Day, Sunday (Acts 20:7, 1Cor 16:2, Col 2:16-17, Rev 1:10). The Church worships God on the day of His Resurrection just like the Apostles did (who were the first leaders of His Church). History shows us that the first Christians understood this and that the Catholic Church has held fast to this through the ages, from the time of the Apostles to today.
Another SDA claim is often claimed by other protestant and fundamentalist groups who would otherwise want to distance themselves from the SDAs:
The Catholic Church removed the Second Commandment against idolatry.
Actually, the Catholic Church understands that the command against idolatry is part of the First Commandment, which says we should have no other gods before God and that we shall worship Him alone. The fact is, Scripture does not numerate the Commandments for us. There are 14 imperative statements in Exodus 20:2-17 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21. Neither of them lists the commands in numerical order. Both accounts make it clear that the prohibition of graven images is directly tied to the worship of those images (Ex 20:4-5, Deut 5:8-9).
SDAs and others that have divided the First Commandment into two often say that, by having statutes or icons, Catholics (and Orthodox, who ALSO numerate the Commandments as those protestant groups do) are breaking the Second Commandment. But God prohibits the making of images for the purpose of worshiping them. He does not prohibit image-making altogether. In fact, He condoned and ordered it. Of course, if what He issued was a blanket prohibition of graven images, we’d all be in big trouble for having crosses on our walls and pictures of pretty scenery or loved ones on our mantels. Recall that the command says “any likeness of any thing” (Ex 20:4, Deut 5:8, KJV, emphasis mine).
Look at Ex 25:18-19; God commands Moses to make the statues of cherubim. In Numbers 21:8, God tells Moses to make the bronze serpent, which the Israelites had to look at in order to be healed. The Israelites also used carved images in the Temple (1Kings 6 and 7). In fact, we are told that the Temple was full of these, and God approved this Temple. David gave Solomon the plan...“made clear by the writing of the hand of the Lord concerning it all” (1Chr 28:18-19). Ezekiel 41:17-18 describes graven images in the idealized Temple shown in a vision.
God warns us against worshiping graven images. As for the images in general, for God’s purposes, God Himself commanded, approved, and wrote with His own Hand concerning them. Catholics use images/icons/statues to remind us of the people they represent and to draw us closer to Christ by recalling Him, His life, and the lives of other Christians who have gone on before us.
There are other claims by Seventh Day Adventism regarding the Church, the Pope, the identity of the antichrist, a future millennium, soul-sleep, a temporary hell, etc. You can read about many of them, and their rebuttals in these Catholic Answers tracts: The Antichrist, The Hell There Is, Hunting the Whore of Babylon, The Whore of Babylon, and Sabbath or Sunday?.
*Many thanks go out to Patrick Madrid for his diligent work on educating folks on all things Catholic. His book "Pope Fiction" is a great resource for dispelling 30 myths about the Pope, including the claims about "the number of the beast".