Benedict and Malachy
“The trouble with having an open mind, of course, is that people will insist on coming along and trying to put things in it.” — Terry Pratchett
So, Pope Benedict XVI is resigning, which can mean only one thing: It’s time to consult the twelfth-century papal prophecies (falsely) attributed to Saint Malachy.
These prophecies are mostly short, vague, two- or three-word Latin phrases that purportedly describe some essential attribute about the each of the popes — his hometown, ethnicity, religious order, coat of arms, family name, the nature of his ministry, his titles or dignities, accomplishments, or maybe just some event that would take place during his tenure.
It’s worth mentioning that Benedict XVI is also purportedly next-to-last before the Apocalypse.
Far be it from me to say that by the time you become a pope, you are likely to be well-connected and well-honored enough that almost anyone can match you somehow to a given short phrase that was known in the twelfth century. Pseudo-Malachy supposedly called Benedict XVI “gloria olivae” based on such rock-solid links as these:
Prior to the papal conclave, this motto led to speculation that the next pontiff would be from the Order of Saint Benedict, whose symbols include the olive branch.
Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, elected in April 2005, is not a Benedictine, but did choose Benedict XVI as his regnal name, partially named after Benedictine founder Benedict of Nursia, which might be regarded as a fulfillment of this prophecy.
By choosing the name Benedict, the Pope became linked with St. Benedict, who in turn is distantly connected to the Olivetans, a small sub-order of Benedictines. Although it is frequently stated that the Order of St Benedict is also known as that of the Olivetans, this is not true: while all Olivetans are Benedictines, few Benedictines are Olivetans.
Before Ratzinger became Benedict, other speculations included the possibility that he might have had olive-colored skin. Given the natural variation in the color of olives, he might have come from Africa, Orion, or Oompa-Loompa Land, which makes for a very serviceable prophecy.
Except that he was a pasty-white German dude, and olives don’t grow in Bavaria.
But perhaps he would extend an “olive branch” to the Eastern Orthodox? Or the events of the Olivet Discourse would come to pass, marking the beginning of the end of the world? (No and no, if you’re keeping score.)
But enough about Benedict. After gloria olivae is when things get really interesting:
In the extreme 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 will be destroyed,
and the terrible judge will judge his people.
So now we’re all going to die, you credulous fools.
Can I have your stuff? And whatever you do, please don’t actually go and destroy Rome. It’s beautiful, even despite the occasional outbreak of madness in the environs.
More seriously, as I noted when Benedict XVI was elected:
[T]he Last Judgment will be rather hard to overlook, coincidences or mistaken identities will be unlikely, and attempts at deception will be exceedingly difficult, what with corpses rising from their graves, Jesus Christ returning in glory, and each of us departing for an eternity in Heaven or Hell.
You can’t fudge stuff like that, which means that pseudo-Malachy’s next prediction is at long last subject to falsification, the scientific process whereby bunkum is eliminated.
Finally! And just think: What if a claim were never subject to falsification? In that case we’d have to go on believing it forever. What an interesting, if cluttered, mental world to live in.
And in another old-time rant:
What does it matter who the next pope will be? Why would God even write a prophecy about stuff like that?
I mean really, there’s just no comparison. Look at Daniel, or Ezekiel, or Isaiah. Now those were some prophets. They wrote on timeless, eternal matters: Faith, hope, love, betrayal, fortitude, deliverance. These guys are like Shakespeare; next to them, Malachy’s papal prophecies are as awesome as a misspelled grocery list.
Answer honestly: How many of you have read about Malachy’s so-called prophecies—but have not read Jeremiah, or Ecclesiastes, or even the Gospels? […] Come on now. I’m an atheist, and I’ve read them all. I’m only fooling around with this pseudo-St. Malachy because I enjoy provoking the gullible.
But I would enjoy it even more if you were not among them.