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Wednesday, 13 February 2013

The Pope, The Antichrist and Peter the Roman

WARNING: The above video is sensationalist hype!!!
It is an advertisement for a non-catholic book written about the alleged Catholic prophecy of Saint Malachy. A few Evangelical Protestants have put their own apocalyptic spin on this prophecy that equates the Pope with the Antichrist.  The authors of the book advertised here are sensational conspiracy theorists.  They are about to release another book, wherein they claim the Vatican is preparing for the arrival of extraterrestrial aliens.

In truth, I would rather not write about this stuff.  Unfortunately, it is necessary, especially considering the area in which I live.  With the recent resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, followed by the upcoming conclave to elect a new pope next month, the predictable apocalyptic hysteria has begun yet again, both among some Catholics and some Protestants (but most especially Protestants).  So the record needs to be set straight.

At the centre of the storm is a twelfth century prophecy by an Irish bishop named Saint Malachy,  Legend has it that Bishop Malachy was summonsed to Rome by Pope Innocent II for what was presumed to be a routine account of his ministry.  Pope Innocent II rose to the papacy during tumultuous times, in which he had to contend with an antipope (Anacletus II), and due to a twist of legalities, was himself briefly declared an antipope, before he was later exonerated.  Innocent II was also briefly in exile from Rome during the early years of his pontificate.  It is said that by the time of Bishop Malachy's visist, the pope was deeply troubled about affairs both within and outside the Church.  Weighing heavily on his mind was the situation with Muslims in the East, as well as heretics causing trouble in central Europe, and general corruption within the hierarchy of the Catholic Church itself.  On his way to Rome, Saint Malachy was allegedly given a vision by God.  It was a list of Latin phrases, each one said to represent a future pope, starting with Pope Innocent's successor (Celestine II), all the way down to our modern time.  The prophecy was meant to comfort Pope Innocent and assure him that God had long plans for the Church before things, as he knew it, would come to an end.  Again, all of this is legend, as Saint Malachy's prophecy was supposedly stored in the Vatican archives until it was "re-discovered" in the fifteenth century.  There are those who claim the prophecy is a fraud, and it very well could be.  Then there are those who believe it is legitimate, and it very well could be.  Whether it is a fraud or legit, there is one thing that everyone should agree on.  It is a CATHOLIC prophecy, concerning CATHOLIC things, and intended for a CATHOLIC audience, in a totally CATHOLIC context.  Let's examine it shall we?

The Latin phrases are descriptions of popes, or something about their papacy.  They are not a record of the names of the popes themselves.  For example; the first phrase on the list is translated to English as: "from a castle of the Tiber."  The Tiber is the river that runs through Rome and separates the Vatican from the main city.  Now, as it turns out, the immediate successor of Pope Innocent II was Pope Celestine II, who just happened to be born in Città di Castello, Umbria, on the banks of the Tiber River.  Coincidence?  Who knows?  And so the prophecy goes on, one phrase after another, one-hundred and twelve in total, each having some kind of uncanny connection to each successive pope all the way down to the modern times.  Now by the time we get to the last five descriptions on the list, it starts to get interesting.  The phrase that corresponds to Pope Paul VI, who reigned from 1963 to 1978 is: "flower of flowers."  His papal coat of arms depicted three flowers in triangle pattern, with one on top and two on the bottom.  The phrase that corresponds to Pope John Paul I, who reigned from August to September of 1978 was: "from the midst of the moon."  His papacy lasted exactly one lunar cycle, beginning and ending when the moon was half full.  The phrase that corresponds to Pope John Paul II, who reigned from 1978 to 2005 is: "from the labour of the sun."  The word "labour" here is understood to imply an eclipse.  Pope John Paul II was born, and was entombed, during a solar eclipse.  The phrase that corresponds to the current Pope Benedict XVI, who reigned from 2005 to 2013 is: "glory of the olive."  For centuries, the Benedictine religious order claimed this referred to one of their own members, because the olive is the symbol of their order.  As it turned out, the man elected pope, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, was not a Benedictine. However, quite unexpectedly, he chose the name Benedict XVI for his papacy, naming himself after Saint Benedict, the man who founded the Benedictine religious order in the Catholic Church.  The last statement, representing the final pope on the list, is the longest and most interesting.  It is also the source of the most hysteria.  It reads as follows...
"In the extreme persecution of the Holy Roman Church, there will sit Peter the Roman, who will nourish the sheep in many tribulations; when they are finished, the city of seven hills will be destroyed, and the dreadful judge will judge his people. The end."  -- source
It sounds very cryptic.  However, if we are to assume the prophecy is legitimate, and that is a big "IF," and it's not just a long string of coincidences, then it must be interpreted in context and in a dispassionate way.  The prophecy was allegedly given by Saint Malachy, a Catholic bishop, to Pope Innocent II, a Catholic pope.  It was allegedly given to him to comfort the distressed pontiff in his worries about the future of Rome, the Holy Roman Empire, and Christendom in general.  The pope was particularly worried about Muslims and heretics in Europe and what would become of Rome.  Saint Malachy's prophecy allegedly gave the pope comfort in knowing that Rome still had a long future ahead of it, and many more popes would follow him.  The list does not start with the first pope ever.  So there is no reason to believe the list ends with the last pope ever.  It's just a list of popes that appears to span the time period from Innocent II's reign to the coming of the "dreadful judge."  There is no reason to believe that the end of the list means the end of the papacy, the Roman Catholic Church, or of history itself.

What is shocking about this whole affair is that this alleged prophecy has gained so much traction among non-Catholics.  It has become the sensationalist hype of a few Evangelical Protestants and end-of-the-world apocalyptic doomsayers.  As history would have it, it now falls on the heels of the 2012 Mayan Calendar doomsday hype.  We've barely recovered from that sensationalist nonsense, and now it seems we are on to the next.  Before I go on, allow me to set the record straight about a few things.  First, this alleged prophecy of Saint Malachy is just that -- ALLEGED.  We do not know if it really came from Saint Malachy.  The alleged prophecy just emerged from the Vatican archives hundreds of years after it was allegedly given.  The chances of it being a fraud are extremely high.  Second, this alleged prophecy has never been approved by the Vatican or any episcopal source.  So it has no weight in the Catholic Church.  It remains as is -- an unverified alleged prophecy.  Third, if you're going to interpret any Catholic prophecy, you simply MUST do so in context of other similar prophecies that come from verified sources or approved private revelation.  You simply can't pluck out one particular prophecy, isolate it in a vacuum, and then come up with your own interpretation that has no connection to the overall narrative of all Catholic prophecies.  Unfortunately, this is exactly what a few Evangelicals and apocalyptic doomsayers are doing right now with the alleged prophecy of Saint Malachy.  Had they bothered to consult the treasury of Catholic prophecies for a little context, they would have stumbled across this gem that might have given them some insight into who this "Peter the Roman" might really be.  It is known as "The Worthy Shepherd Prophecy," given between 1319-1377 AD, by Blessed Tomasuccio de Foligno, which allegedly details how a future pontiff will heal the Church of schism following a time of turmoil:
"One from beyond the mountains shall become the Vicar Of God. Religious and clerics shall take part in this change. Outside the true path, there will be only disreputable men; I shrug my shoulders when the Bark of Peter is in danger and there is no one to lend it help... The schismatic shall fall into the scorn of the Italian faithful... By about twelve years shall the millennium have passed when the resplendent mantle of legitimate power shall emerge from the shadows where it was being kept by the schism. And beyond harm from the one who is blocking the door of salvation, for his deceitful schism shall have come to an end. And the mass of the faithful shall attach itself to the worthy Shepherd, who shall extricate each one from error and restore to the Church its beauty. He shall renew it." -- source   
As coincidence would have it, it has just been "about twelve years" since the millennium has passed, and we are about to elect a new pope, who also happens to coincide with "Peter the Roman," from the alleged prophecy of Saint Malachy.  So any attempt to link the next pope with "Petrus Romanus" or "Peter the Roman" must be done in context of the above similar prophecy of Blessed Tomasuccio de Foligno, otherwise, we are just not being intellectually honest with ourselves.  They both coincide perfectly with the time period we have just entered.  What does "The Worthy Shepherd Prophecy" of Blessed Tomasuccio de Foligno actually say about this coming pope?  It says he "shall extricate each one from error and restore to the Church its beauty. He shall renew it."  Hmm.  That doesn't sound like such a bad guy, and in fact, it coincides perfectly with the alleged prophecy of Saint Malachy which says this "Petrus Romanus" or "Peter the Roman" will: "nourish the sheep in many tribulations."  Well, what do you know?  If this alleged prophecy of Saint Malachy is about to come true, then we are in for the election of a very good pope, who will do much to revive the Church in a time of worldly persecutions.  In other words, he's a good guy!

That contextual voice of reason will likely fall on deaf ears when it comes to some Evangelicals and apocalyptic doomsayers.  Since the days of Martin Luther in the sixteenth century, many Protestants have been looking for ways to link the pope with the Antichrist, and now this abuse of this alleged Catholic prophecy is just the latest example.

Now let us dissect this alleged prophecy of Saint Malachy phrase-by-phrase...

"In the extreme persecution of the Holy Roman Church;" this phrase should be self explanatory.  The pope that corresponds to this prophecy reigns during a time of extreme persecution of the Roman Catholic Church.  This is already happening in places like communist China and Islamic nations.  In recent years however, it is becoming more apparent that hostility toward the Roman Catholic Church is building in Europe and North America, particularly in government policies related to contraception, abortion and gay-marriage. It would appear that Western powers are preparing to launch an all out persecution of Catholic bishops and priests who refuse to comply with laws that violate the Catholic moral conscience.  So regardless if the prophecy is legit or not, a time of "extreme persecution" is indeed coming upon the Roman Catholic Church, even in those places where it has been historically safe.

"There will sit Peter the Roman;" is probably not necessarily a reference to a name (though it could be), but rather a characteristic of some type that will not be known until some time after the new pope is elected, presumably in March of 2013.

"Who will nourish the sheep in many tribulations;" refers to the role of this pope.  He nourishes or feeds the Roman Catholic faithful.  In other words, he's a good guy. Christian "sheep" are "fed" with the word of God, and by that is meant both the written word (as in the Scriptures) and the Word made flesh, as in the Eucharist. He would appear to be a good orthodox pope, who helps the Catholic faithful as they struggle through difficult times.

"When they are finished, the city of seven hills will be destroyed;" probably means exactly what it says it means.  Rome is traditionally understood as the city on seven hills.  Jerusalem was built on seven hills too, and it was destroyed in 70 AD, according to the prophecy concerning the "Whore of Babylon" in the Book of Revelation.  We do not know how long the pontificate of this "Peter the Roman" is supposed to last.  It could be as long as Pope John Paul II's reign.  Based on the phrase "many tribulations" above, this would appear to suggest a rather long papacy.  Whatever the case, when his reign is complete, it would appear that something happens to Rome.  We do not know if this "destruction" will be literal or symbolic, but if the prophecy is true, we could expect to see a significant change.  We should take note here, that the prophecy does not state that the papacy will be destroyed, but that Rome will be destroyed,  There is a difference.  While the papacy has long been associated with the City of Rome, and it is a long standing tradition for the pope to reign from Rome, it is not required that this be the case.  The pope could move his papal residence, as did happen in the past, during the middle ages.  In the beginning of the papacy, Saint Peter himself resided in Jerusalem and then Antioch before finally moving to Rome.  The office of the pope is connected to succession from Saint Peter, not to the City of Rome.  We could say that the removal of the papacy from Rome in and of itself would spell certain destruction for the city, as its spiritual heart and soul would be cut out.   It is difficult to say exactly what is meant by "destroyed," but even if it is a reference to literal destruction, it wouldn't be the first time this has happened to Rome.  The city was burned under Nero Caesar.  It was later sacked no less than seven times between AD 410 - 1527.  In World War II it was pulverised by allied bombs.  In each case it was rebuilt.  If Rome is literally "destroyed" again, there is no reason to believe it won't be rebuilt again, that is, Lord willing.

"The dreadful judge will judge his people;" is the most peculiar phrase and the last line in the prophecy.  Of course many are quick to jump to the conclusion that this is a reference to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.  There is a problem with that interpretation though and it has to do with the last two words -- "his people."  You see, when Jesus Christ comes back at the end of time, the Bible tells us he is going to judge ALL people, not just "his people."  So here we have a clue that the identity of this "dreadful judge" may not be Jesus Christ after all.  Additionally, the man who supposedly gave the prophecy was a Catholic bishop, wouldn't he just say that it was Jesus Christ if that's what he meant?  I mean, why all the mystery?  If it's Jesus, just say so.  He's a bishop for heaven's sake!  He talks about Jesus all the time.  Why be coy about it, and veil it in a such a reference as "the dreadful judge?"  Unless, of course, he isn't talking about Jesus at all.  There are many other Catholic prophecies that talk about the coming of a future Christian monarch in Europe, who will put an end to Modernist persecutions in the Western world, and liberate Christian lands from godless atheists and Muslim extremists.  Granted, these prophecies are also highly speculative, and no Catholic is required to believe them.  They are not taught by the magisterium of the Church, but rather fall into the realm of "private revelation," just as this alleged prophecy of Saint Malachy.  But when we are talking about privately revealed lesser prophecies, like what we have here, they should be put into the greater context of all canonically approved private revelations.  The prophecies concerning the coming of a future "Great Monarch" who will liberate Christians from future persecution is subscribed to by many Catholics, and this prophecy of Saint Malachy falls into the same category of prophecy concerning this supposed future "Great Monarch."  In all probability, this "dreadful judge" Saint Malachy writes of here is a reference to this future European king who will sit in judgement over Europe, particularly those who persecuted Catholics during this times of "extreme persecution of the Holy Roman Church."

This is the most plain sense reading of the prophecy in a contextual and dispassionate way.  If the prophecy is legitimate, then it must be understood this way, or else we do gross violence to the context of the prophecy and the spirit in which it was written.

The problem arises when Fundamentalists get a hold of this text.  Among Catholic Fundamentalists are those who insist on the most literal reading of the text possible, all the while denying any possibility that it might be a fraud.  Among some Protestant Fundamentalists it even gets more interesting.

There is a rather large faction of Protestants that fixate on apocalyptic prophecies concerning the end times.  These people absolutely insist we are living in the "last days" before the return of Jesus Christ.  Many of  them are Dispensationalists, and I discussed this phenomenon in detail in another article entitled: Why I Don't Believe In The Rapture.  These people are living in an "end times" world view, in which everything in the news and current events must fit into this mental template.  They are convinced that the Antichrist and Second Coming of Jesus Christ are just around the corner.  When these people get a hold of a Catholic prophecy like this, you can just imagine what happens next.

Immediately, it is assumed to be a time-table counting down the number of popes until the end of the world.  It is assumed the "dreadful judge" is Jesus Christ at his Second Coming, and no other interpretation will do.  Since the Roman Catholic Church is viewed by these people as a "false religious system," they interpret the last statement of the prophecy entirely different.  The "extreme persecution of the Holy Roman Church" is re-imagined to be the "extreme persecution BY the Holy Roman Church" upon Protestants and Cafeteria Catholics who refuse to abide by the Church's teachings.  "Peter the Roman" is viewed to be the Antichrist, or at least associated with the Antichrist in some way, because they already view the papacy as the Antichrist anyway.  The destruction of Rome is viewed to be done by the wrath of Jesus Christ himself because of this.  Thus, what we are now seeing transpire on the Internet, television and radio, is a perversion of alleged Catholic prophecy into a type of "Mayan Calander" or "Y2K" event.

I'm not sure how these particular Protestants deal with the phrase that Peter the Roman will "nourish the sheep," and that doesn't seem to be something that bothers them that all much.  Maybe they just ignore that phrase.  What I do find curious however, is why some Protestants would find so much interest in an obscure Catholic prophecy like this, that has no weight in official Church teaching, when they are completely unwilling to take the Catholic Church seriously on anything else.  I mean, if you believe the Catholic Church is a "false religious system," and the pope is the "Antichrist," then why would you listen to the alleged prophecy of any Catholic bishop?  Doesn't the fact that he's a Catholic bishop automatically disqualify him from being credible?  They guy prayed to Mary for heaven's sake!  Why would they listen to him or take his writings seriously?  Could it be that they just have selective attention disorder?  If a Catholic prophecy can be twisted to work into their end-times template, then in their minds I suppose it's worth giving it a nod.

I'm pretty sure there is nothing I can say to convince such people that the next pope is not the Antichrist -- even if he is the much anticipated "Peter the Roman" from Saint Malachy's alleged prophecy.  These people will usually just believe what they want regardless of what is said to the contrary.  I will however leave you with an excerpt from my book CATHOLICISM FOR PROTESTANTS....

QUESTION: Is the pope the Antichrist? 
ANSWER: While this question may seem ridiculous to many people, you might be surprised to discover just how many Protestants actually believe it, or are at least suspicious of it.  The notion comes from the first Protestant reformer himself – Martin Luther – in the sixteenth century, who asserted that the office of the papacy is the Antichrist.  That's not to say any particular pope, but the office of the papacy itself. So when German Protestants began to mix with English Protestants in the United States during the nineteenth century, you can imagine what an explosive combination this created.  As new American-style Protestant denominations were formed, the office of the papacy went from being the Antichrist on a purely philosophical level, to the actual incarnation of evil itself!

This notion has become very popular among some Baptist, Evangelical and Pentecostal groups in the United States, and is a bit humorous when you really stop and think about it.  Before we start levelling the accusation of "Antichrist" at anybody, or any office, it might help to actually understand what the Bible has to say about it.  After all, the whole idea of "Antichrist" is a Biblical concept.   
So what does the Bible say about the Antichrist?  Well, for starters, the Bible tells us that the "spirit of antichrist" was alive and well even during the Apostolic age (1st John 2:18).  It also tells us that in order to be antichrist in any way, one must deny that Jesus of Nazareth is the promised Jewish Messiah (1st John 2:22).  One must also deny that God the Son came to earth in the form of flesh and blood (1st John 4:3; 2nd John 1:7).  These are the only four times the word "antichrist" appears in the Scriptures.  So based on the Biblical definition, to be an antichrist (or even THE Antichrist) one must deny that Jesus of Nazareth is the promised Messiah and one must deny that God the Son came to earth in the form of human flesh.  Sorry, that's just the Biblical definition, and since the term "Antichrist" is a Biblical term, just like the term "Christ" itself, it has no real meaning outside this Biblical definition. 
Now since every pope since the time of St. Peter has affirmed that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messianic Son of God, that sort of disqualifies every pope in history from being an antichrist.  Of course, the office of the papacy itself was literally founded on Saint Peter's affirmation that Jesus of Nazareth is the promised Messianic Son of God (Matthew 16:15-19), so that disqualifies the papal office from being antichrist.  Since the pope literally teaches, and his office is literally founded upon, the belief that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messianic Son of God, it is literally impossible (in every Biblical sense) for the pope, or his papal office, to be the Antichrist in any way.  Again, sorry, but the Bible speaks for itself here.  To assert that the pope or the papacy is somehow, in any way, the Antichrist, is to completely deny the plain and clear teaching of the Bible on this matter.  Now, if some people want to go ahead and call the pope the Antichrist anyway, then they can go ahead, but in doing so, the rest of us need to understand they are directly contradicting the Bible when they do this. 
There is something else people should know about the prophecy of the last pope on Malachy's list, or more specifically, how it's being translated into English by some Protestant Fundamentalists and a growing number in the mainstream press.  The actual prophecy concerning Peter the Roman reads in Latin as follows...
"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."
S.R.E. is the abbreviation for Sancta Romana Ecclesia meaning the "Holy Roman Church."  The proper English translation of this statement is as follows...
"In the extreme persecution of the Holy Roman Church, there will sit. 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. The End."
You will notice I have underlined the Latin words persecutione extrema and its proper English translation "extreme perseuction."  Below is an actual photocopy of the original text so you can see the wording for yourself.  Click on the image to enlarge, and look in the lower right hand corner of the page....

Why is this important?  Because I'm seeing a growing trend on the Internet.  The phrase persecutione extrema is being mistranslated all over the place, both in Fundamentalist circles and in the mainstream press. It's supposed to be translated as "extreme persecution," but for some reason people are mistranslating it as "final persecution," which changes the entire meaning of the text, giving the reader the impression that Saint Malachy was talking about the end times, when the Church is supposed to go under the "final persecution" of the Antichrist.  But that isn't what this text says!  It says "extreme persecution," not "final persecution," and so there is no indication here that this alleged prophecy is talking about the last days persecution of the Antichrist.  I don't know why people are mistranslating this word, whether it be for sensationalism, or just by accident, but suffice it to say the word is being mistranslated out there, so watch out for that.

I honestly don't know if this next pope, who will presumably be elected by the conclave this March, will be the much anticipated "Peter the Roman."  I suspect he might be, and I suspect that because of this, he will become a very good pope.  I do not profess to fully understand what is meant by the destruction of Rome or the dreadful judge, but I have my suspicions, and again this does not frighten me, nor should it.  I interpret this alleged prophecy in its proper context, and when I do that, it is actually a relatively comforting thing, not a scary thing, and it has nothing to do with the end of the world, the Antichrist, or the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. It is only some Protestants who are frightened by it, but this is probably because  they do not understand it.  Protestants would do well to take in some Catholic context before trying to interpret Catholic prophecies.  They would do even better if they were to read real history concerning the popes and the Vatican, rather than conspiracy theories designed to justify the Protestant break with Rome in the sixteenth century.  There are plenty of real theological differences between Catholics and Protestants that could be discussed, without all of the end-times "new world order" conspiracy theories concerning the pope and his supposed connection to the Antichrist.  Let's get our heads out of the clouds and keep it real folks.


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Highly recommended by priests and catechists, "Catholicism for Protestants" is a Biblical explanation of Roman Catholic Christianity as told by Shane Schaetzel -- an Evangelical convert to the Catholic Church through Anglicanism.  The book is concise and formatted in an easy-to-read Question & Answer catechism style.  It addresses many of the common questions Protestants have about Catholicism. It is ideal for Protestants seeking more knowledge about the Catholic Church, and for Catholics seeking a quick refresher course on fundamental Catholic teaching. It's an excellent book for Catholics and Protestants alike!

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