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The Papacy and Malachy's Prophecy

Presently, I had wanted to re-commence my expose on conspiracy theory, however, as binnallofamerica HQ's resident theologian and secondary alternative education specialist, I've felt obliged to discuss two theology related events making headlines in the world. Today, I'll focus on the most current of the two that being the present health crises of Pope John Paul II.

The papacy is often much-ado with esoterica; the source of countless charges of conspiracy, manipulation, and cover-up, the Vatican has always been a favorite proving ground of enthusiasts and fanatics alike, and let us not forget to conclude a fair crop of end-time prognosticators as well. Although every prophet stands the chance of running the full gamut of the anti-christ claiming Peter's throne, the fall of the Mother Church, a great tribulation and persecution, and a few more rather outlandish fantasies I will not go into here, one invariably comes to the legendary Prophecy of Saint Malachy.

Doubtless, there is much to be written over the various factions readying themselves to take power when this present pontiff dies. Inside the Vatican lurks various groups all with their appointed leader whom they desire to place upon the throne of Peter. As such, we could well spend our time focusing upon this aspect of papal ascension, though, in all candor, everything we could possibly do would be a footnote to Malachai Martin and hardly as informed given that we lack any connections into the Vatican.

Be that as it may, we are well informed of perhaps the most renowned and reviled of all papal prophecies, that of Saint Malachy. As the legend goes, Malachy was an Irish bishop who, on his way to the Holy See, fell into trance just outside of the Vatican and while in trance wrote a list of 111-112 popes succeeding the contemporary pontiff. This list, to Malachy's credit, also included the anti-popes as well, or, those men who made claim to the papacy while having no juridical right to it. The prophecy, typical of all prophecy in the middle-ages, was written in code, Malachy utilizing mystical titles to describe the future popes. What is so special about this? Well, as they say, timing is everything, and according to Malachy's list of popes, our time is just about ready to run out; presently, the reigning pontiff, John Paul II, is the 110th of 111 or 112 depending upon which list of Malachy's prophecy one accepts as authentic.

What's that you say? Which list? Yes, it's true. There are two different lists of Saint Malachy's prophecy and two variants is not the only confusion surrounding this mysterious list. Malachy's prophecy of popes has a long, confusing, and sub-suspicious history surrounding it.

According to tradition, the prophecies were composed around 1139 when Malachy visited Rome at the behest of Pope Innocent II. Tradition further states Malachy handed these prophecies to Innocent II, perhaps to console him during one of the Roman church's darkest times. Allegedly, according to some researchers of the Malachy prophecies, there is Vatican documentation of Innocent III having received the prophecy. However, here is where the confusion begins. Though there might very well be some indication of Innocent III receiving prophecies from Malachy, the actual list known as the prophecies of Saint Malachy can be dated with no certainty until 1590. Though a Benedictine Historian of the 1500's allegedly mentions the prophecies of Saint Malachy in similar content as we have now (that of a list of popes until the end of time) in the course of his history of the Benedictine Order and its various derivatives in 1539, 1590 is the certain date when a list purported to be the prophecies of Saint Malachy, a list containing the names of either 111 or 112 popes, emerges from the Vatican library itself.

At this point, the difficulty of authenticity becomes unavoidable. The text of the prophecies does not appear until some four hundred years after Malachy's death. As early as the 17th century, historians of the very influential, and powerful, Jesuit order castled doubt upon the authenticity of the list, claiming the list was a forgery of one Cardinal Simoncelli to assuage himself as the new pontiff during his lifetime. Indeed, if Cardinal Simoncelli is behind the prophecies, he undoubtedly tapped into something very profound in the psyche of the Roman Cardinals, as since then at various times many Cardinals have gone through some lengths displaying their own fulfillment of the motto in the hopes of being elected. One apocryphal story insists Cardinal Spellman, of New York, during the conclave resulting in the election of Angello Guiseppe Roncalli as Pope John XII rented a boat, filled it with sheep, and began sailing down the Tiber river in the hope of fulfilling the prophecy for the pope due up on the counter in 1958: Pastor et Nauta.

Aside from the textual certainty of 1590, additional textual problems emerge in that some of the earliest recessions of the prophecies do not include the 112 pope, Petrus Romanus and his accompanying apocalyptic verse: In persecutione extrema S.R.E. sedebit Petrus Romanus, qui pascet oues in multis tribulationibus: quibus transactis ciuitas septicollis diruetur, & Iudex trema dus iudicabit populum suum. Finis. (In extreme persecution, the seat of the Holy Roman Church will be occupied by Peter the Roman, who will feed the sheep through many tribulations, at the term of which the city of seven hills will be destroyed, and the formidable Judge will judge his people. The End.). Rather, these witnesses end with the always ambiguous, but much more positive sounding Gloria olivae, Glory of the Olive, typically a symbol of peace and reference to Christ.

Plus or minus one pope notwithstanding, some scholars argue that if the list is a forgery there's nothing to be concerned about no reason to pay attention. That is, of course, until one investigates to see how well the popes from Innocent II fulfill the descriptives the prophecy has for them. Indeed, some researchers find a most perfect match for each successive pontiff. Leo XIII's intellectualism coupled with his purported vision of Satan and Jesus, leading to the composition of the prayer to Saint Michael the Archangel, seem to fulfill the mystical descriptive of Lumen in caelo. Pius X's love for the liturgy, restoration of Gregorian Chant and tenacious theological attack against every heresy in the beginning of the 1900's seems to accord him quite well the descriptive of Ignis ardent, ardent fire. Conversely, the lengths gone by many proponents of the prophecy to align John Paul II with De labore Solis are at times bordering on strenuous, anything from John Paul II's world travels, his devotion to Mary or alleging he was born during a lunar eclipse.

Whether the prophecy is a forgery or not is both inconclusive and irrelevant. Irrelevant because the list has proved something to contend with thus far and inconclusive because the available evidence implies Malachy wrote something pertaining to the future popes of the Catholic Church. Firstly, the text of the Cistercian office for the feast day of St. Malachy have always spoke of his prophetic abilities (and we're not talking from the Ed Dames school of remote viewing here). Second, the Benedictine historians were well aware of Malachy's prophetic abilities. Thirdly, even if we can verify Cardinal Simoncelli forged the prophecies, we still have yet further proof of common knowledge throughout the Church of a list of future popes as shown to St. Malachy. Thus, two facts may be proclaimed with confidence. Malachy received the gift of prophecy and he recorded a vision pertaining to the future succession of popes in the Roman Church. Is our extant list identical with that composed by St. Malachy? We may never know for certain. Certainly, however, as John Paul II reaches the twilight of his pontificate, many a weary eye will be cast upon the last two names completing Malachy's list. We are just two mortal men away from Iudex trema dus.