Did an Irish archbishop predict that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger would choose the name Benedict when he was elected pope?
Scholars have generally concluded that the prophecies of St. Malachy were a forgery created centuries after the archbishop’s death. Nonetheless, the election of the latest pope has renewed interest in the prophecies, which, according to several histories, list mottoes for 111 — in some versions 112 — popes from Celestine II, to “Petrus Romanus, Peter the Roman,” who is said to be the last pope prior to the end times. Peter is supposed to lead the church through a time of great persecution, during which Rome will be destroyed. Hence, if you surf the Internet, you’ll find that some Web sites contend the election of Benedict portends the apocalypse.
Peter’s predecessor is listed in the prophecies as having the Latin motto De Gloria Olivae — “Of the glory of the olive.” A branch of Benedictine monks are known as the Olivetans, and Cardinal Ratzinger’s choice of Benedict as his name seemed to confirm for believers that St. Malachy had once again gotten it right. On the other hand, some St. Malachy prophecy-watchers believe the election of a real live Benedictine monk as pope has to happen for the prophecy to be fulfilled.
St. Malachy was in Rome between 1139 and 1140 when he allegedly had his visions, writing them down and entrusting them to Pope Innocent II. However, the prophecies were not printed until the mid-1500s, and some scholars contend that they were created to influence a papal election at that time. Depending on how you read them, the prophecies can be seen as vague and confusing or as eerily indicative of the nature of a pope’s origins or reign.
For example, John Paul II allegedly had the motto De Labore Solis — interpreted as “from the toil of the sun,” or “of the eclipse of the sun.” The recently deceased pope was born during a solar eclipse in 1920, and his funeral took place during a solar eclipse. Pope John Paul II was also known for his ceaseless traveling around the world — much like the journey of the sun each day.
Uncertain times lead people to cling to apocalyptic prophecies such as St. Malachy’s, according to Maryknoll Father Curt Cadorette, associate professor of Catholic Studies at the University of Rochester. Since the Book of Revelation was written, Christians have been presented with apocalyptic visions and literature that have tried to make sense of a chaotic world, he noted.
That position is also held by Dr. Nathan Kollar, professor emeritus of religious studies at St. John Fisher College in Pittsford. The professor stressed that the church has never endorsed the St. Malachy prophecies, and added that different groups of Christians over the centuries have become enchanted by visions of the end times. Nonetheless, St. Paul himself chastised Christians who had become idle waiting for the end of the world, Kollar said, adding that whether or not Christians choose to believe in such prophecies, their primary focus should be on living out a life of Gospel values.
“It’s like a Rorschach test — you see in there what you want to see,” he said of the prophecies. “Those who don’t believe it aren’t going to see it. Those who believe are going to see it.”