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In 1595, a Benedictine monk name Arnold Wion published a history of the Benedictine order. Within it he included a prophetic list of popes that he claimed was written by Saint Malachy, a 12th-century Irish Archbishop. Malachy, it was said, experienced a religious vision on a trip to Rome, during which he supposedly learned of all the popes to come, from 1143 until the end of the papacy and Rome itself. 1
In the text, the popes are listed with small mottos attached to their number. The first entry, for example, referred to the pope being “from a castle of the Tiber”. Pope Celestine II, whose pontificate lasted from 1143 until the following year, was indeed born in a city on the Tiber river, whose name translates as “castle town”.
Since the prophetic list’s publication, the debate as to its authenticity has been ongoing, even extending into our own times. Some have decried the list as a forgery fabricated by Wion, and therefore not dating back to the 12th century. Certainly, it can be said that the popes’ mottos do seem to lose some of their accuracy after the publication date of 1595.
That being said, it has recently emerged that private correspondence from an Italian cardinal dating to 1587 may shed some light on the list’s provenance. In his letter, the cardinal stated that the next pope – who would be the 74th successor to Peter – would be “From the dew of the sky” (de rore coeli). Strangely, the cardinal, Giovanni Girolamo Albani, claimed that he knew this, not because of any personal prophetic abilities, but because of the existence of “ancient prophecies” (son profetie non moderne ma antiche) concerning the papacy, in particular the prophecy of Malachy. According to the cardinal, Malachy’s prophecy contained “more than 200 popes” (contiene piu’ di 200 papi). As this letter was written several years before Wion’s list was published, it indicates that Saint Malachy and his 12th century religious visions were already known in certain circles. Not only that, in the prophetic list of 1595, the 74th pope was assigned the very same description as given by the cardinal in his letter. If the list was indeed a hoax created by Wion in 1595, how was it that a cardinal appeared to possess knowledge of the very same predictions years before? 2
Intriguingly, the 74th pope, Urban VII, did seem to fulfil the “from the dew of the sky” motto. He had been Archbishop of Rossano in Calabria where sap called “the dew of heaven” is gathered from trees. 3
Those still sceptical of the list cite examples of mottos which appear to make no sense, such as the 109th pope – John Paul I – being referred to as “of the half moon”. They state that such a motto does not seem to relate to anything, and that defenders of the list are merely clutching at straws. Those defenders, however, state that John Paul’s papacy began with a half-moon and ended with a lunar eclipse very soon after, thus his motto refers to the brevity of his pontificate. This same logic could be applied to his successor, Pope John Paul II, who in prophecy is known as “from the labour of the sun”, which believers claim refers to the solar eclipse that occurred at the time of his birth in 1920, and the subsequent one that happened at his funeral in 2005.4
Yet, for those who believe in the prophetic list, it is the 112th pope which causes the greatest concern – for he is thought to be the last pope. Worryingly, this is the number of the current pontificate. Unlike the previous popes on the list, the 112th pontiff is not given a motto. Instead, he is referred to as Peter II. The prophecy also states the following:
“Peter the Roman, who will pasture his sheep in many tribulations, and when these things are finished, the city of seven hills [Rome] will be destroyed, and the dreadful judge will judge his people. The End” 5
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With Peter being the first pope of Rome, elected by Christ himself, the name Peter II could be said to have ominous undertones. If Peter I signalled the beginning of the Church, Peter II could very well be seen as signalling the end. It would be very difficult to imagine any pope choosing to call himself this, and thus may be more of a metaphor for how the 112th pope will act.
Even so, some have linked the name Peter to the current Pope Francis I, due to a vague connection to Pope Francis’s namesake, Saint Francis of Assisi, whose father was called Peter. However, others claim that Peter II is symbolic, and like the original Peter, the 112th pope will be a good leader of the Church and will help the faithful through many “tribulations” – as stated in the prophecy. Then, “when these things are finished” and the pope dies, it will be the end of the papacy and perhaps even the “dreadful” day of judgment itself.
Despite these unsettling claims, some have stated that the prophecy does not read Peter II to be the 112th pope, but rather since it forms a separate paragraph from the list, it could mean that there are more popes after the 111th before the final pontiff is reached. 6 Indeed, if one were to take the 16th century Italian cardinal’s words literally, there may somewhere exist a longer list of popes given by Malachy – meaning that mankind is safe from the apocalypse, for now.
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