Charles Spurgeon quotes from “The Religion of Rome,” which consists of letters published in a Roman Journal, translated from the Italian, by Mr. William Howitt.
“In the seventh century…not only did the popes not have their feet kissed, but they themselves were obliged to kiss those of the emperor. Becoming sovereigns of Rome, they soon began to adopt the same custom. Pope Eugenius II., who died in 827, was the first who made it the law to kiss the papal foot. From that time it was necessary to kneel before the popes. Gregory VII. ordered all princes to submit to this practice.”
In the “Catholic Forum,” under the section “Ask an Apologist,” a trial member asks, “Why do Catholics kiss the pope’s feet?” He/she says: “I’m an adult Christian thinking of converting to Catholicism (RCIA coming soon!). I saw a painting once of some king kissing the pope’s feet. Why would a Catholic do this?
The Catholic apologist answers: “Although never widely done, and usually restricted to subordinate members of the hierarchy (e.g., bishops, cardinals) or Catholic sovereigns, such a gesture was intended to be an acknowledgment of the pope’s authority and his status as the Vicar of Christ. In the case of a Catholic king, kissing the pope’s feet would indicate that the spiritual authority of Christ, as represented by the pope, is infinitely higher than any earthly power wielded by a king. As for the particular gesture of honoring the feet of the man who represents Christ on earth, the gesture does have biblical precedent (cf., John 12:3). These days though, the current Pope likely would gently discourage anyone from trying to kiss his feet.”
“As a side note, there’s a humorous story of an early 20th-century pope who, upon election to the papacy, was approached by the cardinals to be given a ritual sign of their acknowledgment of his authority. By this time the custom was to kiss the pope’s ring. One cardinal, overcome by the moment, fell to his knees and bent to kiss the new pope’s feet. The pope is said to have told him firmly, ‘Don’t make me give your nose a boot.’”
One of the rules of “Ask an apologist” is “You may not post replies,” hence the reason for this post. Here is the biblical precedent that the apologist refers to; John 12:3:Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment.
Compare the above verse with Acts 10:24-26 24:
“24 On the morrow after they entered into Caesarea. And Cornelius waited for them, and had called together his kinsmen and near friends. 25 And as Peter was coming in, Cornelius met him, and fell down at his feet, and worshipped him. 26 But Peter took him up, saying, Stand up; I myself also am a man.”
Mary was kissing the LORD’s feet not His represenative’s (vicar’s) feet. The (pre-)precedent that the Catholic Church should have used is Acts 10:24-26. Can it be clearer? To wit, the popes claim to be “Peter” so why not follow his example instead of incorporating this pagan Roman practice?
Here is the entry on kissing feet in the Catholic Encylopedia:
“The veneration shown in the kissing of a person’s hand or the hem of his garment is accentuated in the kissing of the feet. This is probably implied by the phrase of Isaias (49:23): ‘Kings…shall lick up the dust of Thy feet.’ Under the influence, no doubt, of the ceremonial of king-worship, as manifested in the cultus of the Roman emperors, this particular mark of veneration came to prevail at an early date among the usages of the papal court (see Lattey, ‘Ancient King-Worship,’ Lond., 1909 C. T. S. pamhlet). We read of it in the first “Ordo Romanus” belonging to the seventh century, but even earlier than this the “Liber Pontificalis” attests that the Emperor Justin paid this mark of respect to Pope John I (523-26), as later on Justinian II also did to Pope Constantine. At the election of Leo IV (847) the custom of so kissing the pope’s foot was spoken of as an ancient one. It is not, therefore, wonderful that a practice supported by so early a tradition should still be observed. It is observed liturgically in a solemn papal Mass by the Latin and Greek subdeacons, and quasi-liturgically in the “adoration” of the pope by the cardinals after his election. It is also the normal salutation which papal etiquette prescribes for those of the faithful who are presented to the pope in a private audience. In his “De altaris mysterio” (VI, 6) Innocent III explains that this ceremony indicates “the very great reverence due to the Supreme Pontiff as the Vicar of Him whose feet” were kissed by the woman who was a sinner. With regard to the first part, namely, “”The veneration shown in the kissing of a person’s hand or the hem of his garment is accentuated in the kissing of the feet. This is probably implied by the phrase of Isaias (49:23): “Kings…shall lick up the dust of Thy feet.” Whose feet is being kissed? The LORD’s The Catholic encylopedia entry finds support for the practice of kissing feet in the Roman cultus. The last part of the entry was also used by the Catholic Answer’s apologist above: “In his “De altaris mysterio” (VI, 6) Innocent III explains that this ceremony indicates “the very great reverence due to the Supreme Pontiff as the Vicar of Him whose feet” were kissed by the woman who was a sinner.”
As I pointed out; surely, especially for a pope, it is Peter who should be the example to follow. It looks as if modern popes have given kissing popes’ feet the boot, as the Catholic apologist humourously points out in her reply to the aspiring Catholic.
See further discussion on the topic here.