Deal W. Hudson
April 15, 2005
The election of Benedict XVI set predictable cries of joy and sorrow. Fortunately for the Church, the cries of joy far outnumber the cries of sorrow, even if the media refuses to see it.
But another aftershock of April 19th is buzz sweeping the country about the medieval prophecies of Saint Malachi.
My own daughter came home from her Catholic high school in Fairfax, VA and informed me that there would be only one pope after Benedict XVI. She explained further that the last pope would also signal the Second Coming of Christ and the end of the world. “Dad, everyone at school is talking about the prophecies of Saint Malachi, all the students, and even the teachers.”
An internet search and calls around the country confirmed that a bit of Saint Malachi mania is sweeping through the country, especially among Catholic students. In an increasingly virtual age, such information, especially if it’s sufficiently exotic, can be sent nationwide by instant messaging, emails, and bloggers in the space of twenty-four hours.
With respect to prophecies and visions, there are several things to keep in mind. The canonization of a person, such as Saint Malachi, would imply that there is nothing in his prophecies and visions that is contrary to the faith. (Malachi was canonized the first Irish Saint in the Catholic Church by Pope Clement III in 1190 AD)
Thus, it’s important to question whether or not they are authentic. Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, who wrote an early biography of Saint Malachi, corroborates his gift of prophecy but does not mention any specific prophecies.
Personal revelations should always be read in conjunction with the Scriptural prophecy, especially the Book of Revelation, and the prophecies which the Church gives official credence. The final discernment of prophecies is judged in accordance with the Magisterium of the Church.
Saint Malachi’s prophecies, if you’ve never heard of them, are nothing new. It is claimed they were written by the Irish saint in the twelfth century, but not discovered until the sixteenth. They have been part of Catholic legend ever since.
But, the Saint Malachi prophecies have gained a large following over the last few years for their remarkable accuracy in predicting some attributes of recent popes, including Benedict XVI.
In 1139 Saint Malachi was visiting the Innocent II in Rome when he supposedly received a vision of all the future popes until judgment day. He gave a written account of his vision to the pope that was not discovered in the Vatican archives until 1590.
There has been much debate since then concerning their authenticity. Some scholars believe the prophecies are Jesuit forgeries from the sixteenth century intended to comment on the various popes of that period.
The prophecies of Saint Malachi have first pronounced a forgery by Fr. Menestrier, S.J., in the seventeenth century. He claims the forgery was intended to influence the conclave that elected Gregory XVI. Later scholars, such as J. J. Delaney, Pocket Dictionary of the Saints (1983), note that the descriptions of the 16th-century popes, around the time of the supposed forgery are exact, while their accuracy falls off quickly after 1590. The New Encyclopaedia Britannica (15th edition) pronounces the prophecies “a 16th-century forgery” pure and simple.
The vision itself contains a brief description of 112 future popes beginning with Celestine II who was elected in 1130. These descriptions are in the form of mystical titles referring to some trait, symbol, or biographical detail of the future popes.
Which leads to the question, why would such a document with no ecclesial authority and of undetermined authenticity claim so much attention?
One answer is that some of the recent predictions have been remarkably accurate. Hal Lindsey, the guru of all things apocalyptic, points out in his April 8th article on WorldNetDaily that the “descriptive predictions…Though they are a bit obscure, they have fit the general profile of each of the popes.” He points to the examples of the three popes before Benedict XVI: The prophecy for Paul VI “Flos Florum” (Flower of Flowers) and his coat of arms contained three fleurs-de-lis (Isis blossoms). The description for John Paul I was “De Medietate Lunae,” (the Half Moon). He was baptized Albino Luciani (white light), was born in the diocese of Belluno (beautiful moon), became pope when there was a half moon (Aug. 26, 1978), and died after an eclipse of the moon.
John Paul II was prophesied under the title “De Labore Solis,” (from the labor of the sun), and indeed he was born during an eclipse of the sun on May 8, 1920.
What about Benedict XVI? Lindsey’s article was written before the conclave. As it turns out Saint Malachi describes him as “Gloria Olivae” meaning “the glory of the olive.”
Guess what? The Order of Saint Benedict had a branch called The Olivetans.
The name chosen by Cardinal Ratzinger has put Saint Malachi speculators into high gear because of the prophecy, the saint’s last one, following the Gloria Olivae.
About the last pope, the prophecy reads, “In the final persecution of the Holy Roman Church there will reign Peter the Roman, who will feed his flock amid many tribulations, after which the seven-hilled city will be destroyed and the dreadful Judge will judge the people. The End.”
If Saint Malachi’s prophecy accurately described the last four pontiffs, could it mean that the end is near? The substance of the vision is no problem since it resembles that of the Book of Revelation. The issue is one of chronology: Are we to believe the Judgment Day is at hand?
Even aficionados of these prophecies disagree on this. Some say the prophecy fails to stipulate whether there is only one more pope after Benedict XVI, the Gloria Olivae. Thus, there could be any number of others before the arrival of Peter the Roman. For the others who ignore this ambiguity, Judgment Day seems to be drawing closer with the coming of the last pope.
Our new Pope Benedict XVI is 78 years old. The next pope can’t be that far off — perhaps no more than a decade. This explains why my daughter said sadly, “Dad am I going to live to old age, and have a family and children?”
We’ve seen apocalyptic fever before. Remember “Y2K”? Before anyone starts restocking their basement, I would suggest taking a look at the rest of the list.
Pius X (1903-1914) is “ignes ardens” (ardent fire), Benedict XV (1914-1922) as “Religio depopulate” (religion laid waste). Pope Pius XI (1922-1939) is described as “Fides Intrepida” (unshaken faith). These descriptions fit these popes in a general way but they could fit a variety of others as well, and so on throughout the list.
However, the uncanny accuracy of Saint Malachi’s last four predictions has fueled another round of apocalyptic curiosity and, unfortunately, fear among those too young to protect themselves from the incomplete information on the internet.
Before you or anyone you know starts to descend into apocalyptic gloom recall the Acts of the Apostles, Book One. Just before Jesus ascended into Heaven, one of his disciples asked him a final question, “‘Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?’ And he said unto them, ‘It is not for you to know the times or the seasons which the Father hath put in his own power.’” (1.6-7).
We never know when the end might come for each one of us. We have to be ready every day. Based upon a prophecy, can you feel safe in waiting to get ready later, say, during the pontificate of Peter the Roman — when and if that ever happens?
The spiritual purpose of a vision is to suggest some proper understanding or actions that are needed to avoid spiritual harm. Penance, prayer, fasting, redemptive suffering, the Way of the Cross and the Sacraments are our responses to prophecies and personal revelations.
The Hal Lindsey of the world has been predicting the end of the world since I was a teenager. This is just one more interesting and arresting chapter in the history of our attempts to know what may never be known, but which must always be expected.