By Lauren Colegrove
Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY– While many people are making conjectures about the future in order to anticipate who will be the next pope, others are looking back to the writings of a 12th century Irish bishop to see if the prediction has already been made.
Saint Malachy O’Morgair, whose biography was written by his contemporary St. Bernard of Clairvaux, became a priest and eventual archbishop in Ireland during the early 1100s. Described as a strong promoter of morality and religious zeal, Malachy is said to have had “the spirit of prophecy” and has had numerous miracles attributed to him, including the healing of the son of a Scottish king.
In 1139 Malachy traveled to Rome to meet with Pope Innocent II, and according to writer Abbe Cucherat it is there that he had his visions of the papal prophecies. Legend has it that the pope was given the writings of Malachy’s revelations and placed the record in the Vatican archives, where it was “discovered” four centuries later by Benedictine historian Arnold de Wyon.
The prophecy describes 112 popes and antipopes in cryptic verses, beginning with the phrase “from a castle of the Tiber” which is attributed to the birthplace of Pope Celestine II. Verse 111 depicts the “glory of the olive,” which is usually connected to Pope Benedict XVI since his papal name refers to the founder of the Benedictine Order, which has a monastic branch called the Olivetans.
The end of the prophecy portrays “Peter the Roman, who will pasture his sheep in many tribulations, and when these things are finished, the city of seven hills will be destroyed, and the dreadful judge will judge his people.”
Because of the placement of the last few lines of text, interpreters of the prophecy are uncertain whether there are supposed to be other popes between the “prophecy of the olive” and the reign of “Peter the Roman,” and analyses of the text widely vary. Although no pope has been called by the name Peter since the time of the disciples, there is speculation that the prophecy could be referring to Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana, who gained the nickname “Peter the Roman” because of his studies in Rome.
Because St. Bernard’s biography of Malachy does not mention the specific prophecy and there is no documentation of it prior to its publication in 1595, many historians believe that the prophecy is a forgery from the late 16th century. Some people claim that the prophecy was created in order to influence a 16th century conclave, while others believe that even if Malachy did not write the prophecy the predictions are still compelling.
While the authenticity of the “Prophecy of the Popes” may be uncertain, it is undeniable that centuries later the trend of predicting who will be next in the long line of successors of Peter has not lost its appeal.
Lauren Colegrove is an intern in the CNS Rome bureau while she attends Villanova University’s Rome program.