Does the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI mean the world is coming to an end? Apparently yes, assuming you believe a 12th century prophecy attributed to the Irish Archbishop St. Malachy. In the latest in a very long series of apocalyptic predictions, it is now believed that Benedict’s successor will be the last pope, and that after him, the Day of Judgement will come. You know, I was wondering what the next one would be now that the Mayan Prophecy has passed us by.
The prophecy is dated to 1139 CE, at which point Archbishop Malachy predicted that their would be 112 popes before the world officially ended. Since Benedict XVI was number 111, that leaves only one before everything hits the fan. According to the legend, the list of popes originated from a vision Malachy said he received from God when he was in Rome while reporting on his diocese to Pope Innocent II.
After giving the list to Pope Innocent II, the document remained unknown in the Vatican Archives for some 440 years after until it was rediscovered and published by Benedictine Arnold de Wyon in 1590. The prophecy consisted of a series of brief, cryptic descriptions in Latin of each pope, culminating with the 112th, known as Petrus Romanus, or “Peter the Roman”.
According to the prophecy, Peter the Roman would “feed his flock amid many tribulations, after which the City of the Seven Hills shall be utterly destroyed, and the awful Judge will judge the people.” In short, the last pope will see his people through hard times, Rome will fall, and the apocalypse will soon follow. Talk about doom and gloom, and more than its fair share of apocalyptic cliches!
Nevertheless, this historic document has some people worried because some of its predictions have come true. For example, Malachy prophesied the first pope on his list would be “from a castle on the Tiber”, and Celestine II, elected in 1143, was born in Toscany on the shores of the Tiber River. Malachy further predicted that another pope would be “elevated from a hermit”, which Nicholas IV, pope from 1288 to 1292, had been at the monastery of Pouilles. The 45th pope in the prophecy was described as coming “from the hell of Pregnani”, whereas Pope Urban VI (1378-1389) came from a village near Naples called Inferno (hell).
But as my grandpa used to say, “even a blind squirrel finds the odd nut”. What’s more, most scholars believe that the document is a fake, that it was written in 1590 and all its predictions and claims were made retroactively. A convincing point here is the fact that after 1590, the predictions and epithets become much more vague.
But of course, we can expect some, Catholics for the most part, to take this seriously. Lord knows (no pun!) people love a good doomsday prophecy, and some people need really do love the idea of the world ending within their lifetime. So if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t like getting egg on their face or caught with their pants down, start saying your prayers and repenting your sins. And keep on eye on Rome and any other city built on “seven hills” just in case it really does get leveled. You never know…