Monday, August 04, 2008

Prophecies of St. Malachy

The emblem of the House of Savoy, emblazoned with a great cross that some say was prophesied by St. Malachy in the 12th century.

Over vacation, I picked up an interesting little book on the prophecies of St. Malachy concerning the papacy. In case you are unfamiliar with the prophecies of St. Malachy, here is a brief excerpt from the Catholic Encyclopedia:

In 1139 he went to Rome to give an account of the affairs of his diocese to the pope, Innocent II, who promised him two palliums for the metropolitan Sees of Armagh and Cashel. While at Rome, he received (according to the Abbé Cucherat) the strange vision of the future wherein was unfolded before his mind the long list of illustrious pontiffs who were to rule the Church until the end of time. The same author tells us that St. Malachy gave his manuscript to Innocent II to console him in the midst of his tribulations, and that the document remained unknown in the Roman Archives until its discovery in 1590.

The prophecies are 112 in number, and consist in very short, mystical phrases that are interpreted to pertain to a pope's birth place, his coat of arms, or different aspects of his pontificate. For example, the "prophecy" concerning the "warrior pope" Julius II reads Fructus Jovis Juvabit ("the fruit of Jupiter will help"), and Julius' armorial bearings indeed featured and oak tree, the sacred tree of Jupiter.

There are almost as many ways to interpret these prophecies as there are the sayings of Nostradamus. Many popes have been familiar with these prophecies and have intentionally taken coats of arms that can be connected to the prophecies. Many assert these prophecies to be forgeries. The Catholic Encyclopedia continues:

[The prophecies] were first published by Arnold de Wyon, and ever since there has been much discussion as to whether they are genuine predictions of St. Malachy or forgeries. The silence of 400 years on the part of so many learned authors who had written about the popes, and the silence of St. Bernard especially, who wrote the "Life of St. Malachy", is a strong argument against their authenticity, but it is not conclusive if we adopt Cucherat's theory that they were hidden in the Archives during those 400 years.

I don't know what to make of these. They certainly could be forgeries from the mid 1500's when they were "discovered," but some of them hit pretty close to home. The prophecy for Pope Pius VII simply says Aquila Rapax ("a rapacious eagle"), and it was indeed Pius VII who was kidnapped by Napoleon and forced to suffer at his hands. Napoleon certainly can be described as rapacious, but more importantly, his personal emblem was an eagle. Another example is Pius IX, who has the prophecy Crux de Cruce ("a cross from a cross"). Pius IX suffered much from the atheistic Italian nationalist movement, spearheaded by the House of Savoy, whose emblem was a cross.

You may be aware that these prophecies are the origin of the oft repeated assertion that, following John Paul II, there were only two popes left until the end of the world. Now that Benedict is on the throne, only one more left after him, according to Malachy. Benedict's motto from St. Malachy reads Gloria Olivae, "the glory of the olive," and has long been associated with the Benedictines. It is interesting that in this book I am reading (written in the 1960's), this prophecy is interpreted as meaning that this pope will either be a Benedictine or will take the name Benedict. It is interesting that Ratzinger did in fact take that name. But did he do this in deference to the prophecies?

The final pope on St. Malachy's list is Petrus Romanus ("Peter the Roman"), of whom it says:

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 we assume that this Peter the Roman comes right after Gloria Olivae (and there is no textual reason to suggest he doesn't), then right now we are on the second to last Pope before the final persecution and judgment.

I don't give these prophecies that much more credence than the writings of Nostradamus (but maybe a little more than the Medjugorje prognostications) because they are so subjective in character, and that bit about them being written in 1139 but "discovered" in 1590 is a little suspicious.

Nevertheless, it interesting that so many Roman pontiffs have studied the prophecies and have given credence to them. So, perhaps we ought to take them a little more seriously. Any thoughts on this?


Anonymous said...

I remember when John Paul II died, I got on the internet and googled papal prophecies. Of course St. Malachy's prophecies popped up. Honestly I've never known what to think of them. Didn't Christ say that only the Father knows the day and the hour of the 'end of the world'? If that's the case, then how could we know how many more popes there will be in the future?

Anonymous said...

Just to add a note to the Benedict prophecy, he is a Benedictine Oblate and has been one for many years. This was a great event for all Benedictines and for the Oblates when Benedict came to be.

Anonymous said...

I forgot to mention that our Pope chose the name Benedict because of his high regard for the Benedictine spirituality and to honor our Father Benedict.

Boniface said...


Well, it looks like he just says that Peter will be the last Pope before the judgement. A pope's reign can be very long, over 30 years. I don't think this is necessarily pinpointing a day or an hour.

Remember, though Christ said we cannot know the exact time, He did say that we could get an idea of the general time by watching for certain signs. But, like you, I don't know what to make of these.

Kathleen said...

I wonder about your thoughts on this now?

Boniface said...


Well, further study on my part led me to conclude that the prophecies really did date from the 12th century. I wrote a lengthy article about it in March, available here:

So, I think they date from the 12th century rather from the 16th, but I have no comment or insight on whether they are "true" or not, only that some have been remarkably accurate.