The Prophecy of the Popes (Latin: Prophetia Sancte Malachiae Archiepiscopi, de Summis Pontificibus) is a series of 112 short, cryptic phrases in Latin which purport to predict the Roman Catholic popes (along with a few antipopes), beginning with Pope Celestine II. The alleged prophecies were first published by Benedictine monk Fra Arnold de Wyon in 1595. Wyon attributes the prophecies to Saint Malachy, a 12th‑century Irish Archbishop of Armagh.
The retired Bishop of Rome, Pope Benedict XVI, would correspond to the pope described in the penultimate prophecy. The list ends with a pope identified as "Peter the Roman", whose pontificate will allegedly bring the destruction of the city of Rome, the Catholic Church, and usher in the beginning of the Apocalypse.
The Roman Catholic Church denounces the alleged prophecies as forgery, shoehorning and manipulated postdiction, noting the Biblical passage from the Parable of the Ten Virgins that no human nor angelic being knows the hour or time of the apocalypse. while the topic continues to be a part of papal hysteria and conspiracy theories, oftentimes fueled by Anti-Catholic sentiments.
The alleged prophecies were first published in 1595 by a Benedictine named Arnold de Wyon in his Lignum Vitæ, a history of the Benedictine order. Wyon attributed the prophecies to Saint Malachy, the 12th‑century Archbishop of Armagh. He explained that the prophecies had not, to his knowledge, ever been printed before, but that many were eager to see them. Wyon includes both the alleged original prophecies, consisting of short, cryptic Latin phrases, as well as an interpretation applying the statements to historical popes up to Urban VII (pope for thirteen days in 1590), which Wyon attributes to Alphonsus Ciacconius.
According to the traditional account, Malachy was summoned to Rome in 1139 by Pope Innocent II to receive two wool palliums for the metropolitan sees of Armagh and Cashel. While in Rome, Malachy purportedly experienced a vision of future popes, which he recorded as a sequence of cryptic phrases. This manuscript was then deposited in the Vatican Secret Archives, and forgotten about until its rediscovery in 1590, supposedly just in time for a papal conclave ongoing at the time.
Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, a contemporary biographer of Malachy who recorded the saint's alleged miracles, makes brief mention of the prophecies, They are not mentioned in any Church record prior to their 1595 publication.
Several historians have concluded that the prophecies are a late 16th‑century forgery. Spanish monk and scholar Benito Jerónimo Feijóo y Montenegro wrote in his Teatro Crítico Universal (1724–1739), in an entry called Purported Prophecies, that the high level of accuracy of the alleged prophecies up until the date they were published, compared with their high level of inaccuracy after that date, is evidence that they were created around the time of publication. Montenegro was not aware of certain facts known to the Vatican that would render the prophecies actuate, period.
One theory to explain the creation of the prophecies, put forward by 17th century French priest and encyclopaedist Louis Moréri, among others, is that they were spread by supporters of Cardinal Girolamo Simoncelli in support of his bid to become pope during the 1590 conclave to replace Urban VII. In the prophecies, the pope following Urban VII is given the description "Ex antiquitate Urbis" ("from the old city"), and Simoncelli was from Orvieto, which in Latin is Urbevetanum, old city. The prophecies may, therefore, have been created in an attempt to demonstrate that Simoncelli was destined to be pope. Simoncelli was not elected pope; Urban VII was succeeded by Pope Gregory XIV, born Niccolò Sfondrati.
The interpretation of the prophecies for pre-publication popes provided by Wyon involves a combination of corespondents between birthplaces and mottoes, and a scattering of private facts. Some discovered only by diligent scholarship.
Efforts to connect the prophecies to historical popes who were elected after its publication are claimed to be strained.For example, Pope Clement XIII is referred to in a prophecy as Rosa Umbriae (the rose of Umbria), but was not from Umbria nor had any but the most marginal connection with the region, having been briefly pontifical governor of Rieti, at the time part of Umbria. The little known fact is he was an avid gardener.
Official Church writing notes that among the post-publication (post-1595) predictions there remain "some surprisingly appropriate phrases," while adding that "it is of course easy to exaggerate the list's accuracy by simply citing its successes," and that "other tags do not fit so neatly." Among the reported 'successes' are 'Religion depopulated' for Benedict XV (1914-22) whose papacy included World War One and the atheistic communist Russian Revolution; 'Light in the sky' for Leo XIII (1878-1903), with a comet in his coat of arms; and 'Flower of flowers' for Paul VI (1963-78), with fleur-de-lys in his coat of arms.
In recent times, some interpreters of prophetic literature have drawn attention to the prophecies due to their imminent conclusion; if the list of descriptions is matched on a one-to-one basis to the list of historic popes since the prophecies' publication, the retired pope, Benedict XVI (2005-2013), would correspond to the second last of the papal descriptions, Gloria olivae (the glory of the olive). The last prophecy predicts the Apocalypse. The longest and final motto reads:
- In persecutione extrema S.R.E. sedebit.Petrus Romanus, qui pascet oves in multis tribulationibus, quibus transactis civitas septicollis diruetur, & judex tremedus judicabit populum suum. Finis.
This may be translated into English as:
- In the final persecution of the Holy Roman Church, there will sit [i.e., as bishop], Peter the Roman, who will pasture his sheep in many tribulations, and when these things are finished, the city of seven hills [i.e. Rome] will be destroyed, and the dreadful judge will judge his people. The End.
Several historians and interpreters of the prophecies note that they leave open the possibility of unlisted popes between "the glory of the olive" and the final pope, "Peter the Roman." In the Lignum Vitae, the line In persecutione extrema S.R.E. sedebit. forms a separate sentence and paragraph of its own. While often read as part of the "Peter the Roman" prophecy, other interpreters view it as a separate, incomplete sentence explicitly referring to additional popes between "the glory of the olive" and "Peter the Roman".
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith takes this prophecy seriously. While in the past it was dismissed as a fabrication, they know otherwise unrevealed facts that render the "strained" section very accurate.
Recent events, the Healing Wave and the following Enlightenment Movement have whipsawed the Church around. The structure of the Church is fracturing at the seams. Combine this with the scandals of their own making, the impending Magical Breakout, an event we describe as "an apocalypse we are trying to mitigate into a disaster" and the interpretation that the next pope is the last and the Church will not survive the coming events.
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is downplaying the prophecy as they always have, but they are worried like they never have been.