As two examples of the sorts of articles I am talking about, take this article by Dr. Donald Prudlo published on the Truth and Charity Forum at Human Life International, which basically denigrates the prophecies as "papal campaign literature from the 1590's" and says they are "vague utterances that a local horoscope page would be embarrassed to print." Or we could take this one by Gerald Korson from Catholic Online, who feels the need to "debunk" the prophecy and says they are "about as reliable as the Mayan calendar." These are some of the most recent example, but there have been many others as well.
When discussing whether the prophecies of St. Malachy are "authentic", there are two ways in which we can speak of "authenticity":
(1) Whether or not the prophecies were in fact uttered by Malachy or at least date to the 12th century
(2) Whether or not the prophecies are divinely inspired and can be expected to be fulfilled
Of course, we have no way have conclusively proving the second meaning of authenticity one way or another; no Catholic can have absolute certainty about any private revelation, so this discussion will be confined to looking at the first definition of authenticity: whether or not the prophecies are actually from the 12th century as they purport to be, or whether they are in fact 16th century forgeries.
The Simoncelli Hypothesis: Origins and Problems
Another edition of the prophecies was published by Girolamo Muzio in 1570. Muzio, likewise, believed in their authenticity. Muzio's 1570 edition of the prophecies was written in Italian and cumbersomely named Il Choro Pontifico Nel Qual Si Leggono Le Vite Del Beatissimo Papa Gregorio& Di XII Altri Santi Vescoui. Thus we have two editions of the prophecies in circulation prior to the 1590 date cited by Prudlo and the 1595 date preferred by Korson.
Arguments from Authority
Evidence of Malachy's Prophecies Before 1556
Even if we were to throw out the testimony of Lapide, Panvinio and all the others, there is also the interesting fact that bits and pieces of Malachy's prophecy of the popes seem to have been circulating around as far back as the 13th century. De Vaticina Summis Pontificibus is a collection of two manuscripts of papal prophecies later joined into one. The first part was written around 1280 and contains 15 papal prophesies beginning from the pontificate of Nicholas III (1277-1280); the second part was composed around 1330 and contains an additional 15 prophecies. Around the time of the Council of Constance (1414), the manuscripts were combined into one for a total of 30 papal prophecies. The prophecies consist of very short Latin phrases using plays on words, puns and allegories, as do the Malachy prophecies, and are strikingly similar in many respects. In the 14th and 15th centuries, these prophecies were even more well-known than the prophecies of St. Malachy would be in the 16th and 17th. It could of course be reasoned that Malachy was inspired by this earlier work, but it could just as easily be asserted that the vignettes of De Vaticina Summis Pontificibus represented hastily copied portions of Malachy that were circulating around and thus provide evidence that the prophecies of Malachy did in fact exist prior to 1556.
It is also interesting that, even before the appearance of the texts published by Panvinio and Wion, badges or medals with enigmatic engravings were circulated during papal conclaves, at least going back to the high Renaissance. These badges were used to influence several conclaves, and these medallions are described briefly in the work of the French author Roger Duguet in his book Around the Tiara (1997). Thus, even if the text of St. Malachy was not published until 1590, the people living at Rome at least several generations earlier were familiar with these sorts of papal "prophecies", which again could be evidence of earlier fragments of Malachy circulating around.
Vagueness of the Malachy Prophecies?
The reason Fr. Menestrier originally settled on 1590 as the date of the prophecies creation was because he opined that the prophecies before 1590 were incredibly accurate while those after 1590 were disappointingly vague. This criticism has been repeated ever since, and appears in both of the current articles of Korson and Dr. Prudlo.
However, a reading of the actual text does not bear this out entirely. Some of the pre-1590 prophecies certainly are specific; for example, Concionator Gallus ("French Preacher"), referring to Pope Innocent V (1276), who was both a Frenchman and a member of the Dominicans - Order of Preachers; likewise, many post-1590 prophecies are vague, for example, Rastrum in Porta (" The Rake of the Door") referring to Innocent XII (1691-1700), of whom no interpreter has found a satisfactory way to link up with the title in Malachy.
But this tendency is not at all universal; many of the pre-1590 prophecies are just as vague as the post-1590 collection, and in addition to this, many of the post-1590 prophecies are remarkably accurate. To give an example in the first case, Ex Ansere Custode ("From the Guardian Goose"), applying to Pope Alexander III (1159-1181), which is horrendously vague and can only be connected to Alexander III by the tortuous argument that the Pope must have been descended from the patricians who saved the Capitoline citadel from Brennus and the Gauls in 390 BC when a flock of geese sacred to Juno warned the Roman guards of a secret attack. This convoluted interpretation was put forward by Cucherat in 1871 and is the only attempted explanation to date. So clearly not all of the pre-1590 prophecies are recorded with "relative accuracy" (Korson) or are even close to "spot-on accurate" (Prudlo).
Conversely, many of the post-1590 prophecies are strikingly appropriate. This is even noted by the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia, which was not at all given to superstition or unwarranted credulity. It states:
The case of Pius IX is particularly striking; Cross from a Cross. In losing the papal states and facing the atheist risorgimento, he suffered greater crosses than any other pope of the modern period. Furthermore, as these sufferings were brought about by the attempts of the House of Savoy to unify Italy, and as the emblem of the House of Savoy was a large white cross emblazoned on a red shield, the title "Cross from a Cross" for Pius IX is beautifully appropriate. Equally accurate is Aquila Rapax, "A Rapacious Eagle", applied to Pius VII (1800-1823), who was actually kidnapped by Napoleon Bonaparte, one of the most rapacious conquerors in all of history, whose emblem was an eagle. The title for Benedict XV (1914-1922) is also amazingly accurate: Religio Depoulata ("Religion Laid Waste"); the pontificate of Benedict XV was overshadowed by the deaths of millions of Christians in World War I, the slaughter of millions more in the Turkish genocide, the outbreak of the Communist revolution in Russia that would lead to millions more dead and the spread of atheism around the world. This prophetic title was fulfilled to the very letter.
Clearly there is not the strict pre/post-1590 division in the quality of the prophecies that Menestrier imagined - and remember, Menestrier died in 1705 and never witnessed the spectacular events of the above mentioned modern pontificates and their marvelous correlation with the titles found in Malachy.
Are the prophecies less precise than we would like? Granted; most of them are two or three words at most. But are the explanations and correlations always as torturous as critics state? Not at all, as we have seen. Let us also remember that vagueness is not necessarily an argument against the authenticity of a prophecy. Many legitimate prophecies from Sacred Scripture are extremely vague. I challenge anyone to go back and read Hosea 11:1 ("out of Egypt I called my son") in context and see how one could possibly deduce the Flight into Egypt from it before the fact; likewise, can anyone honestly say that the election of Matthias to replace Judas in Acts 1 is clearly and evidently found in Psalm 109:8 ("May his days be few, and may another his office take")? Not likely. Yet Divine Revelation tells us they are authentic prophecies nonetheless. These biblical prophecies are vague, even vaguer than the ones found in St. Malachy. Many times vagueness is a trait of genuine prophecy; in fact, extreme specificity is often times a sign that a prophecy is false.
The Inclusion of Antipopes
One problem often brought up with the Malachy prophecies is their inclusion of several anti-popes. Korson sees this as a strong indictment against the legitimacy of the prophecies. He says, "[The] list in itself is erroneous; in several instances, it leaves out legitimate popes in favor of anti-popes, those false claimants to the papacy who surfaced at various troubled moments in the history of the Church." Therefore, the prophecies must not be authentic.
Here we have a case of wanting to have our cake and eat it, too. Remember, if we are asserting that the prophecies were not written in 1143 but sometime around 1590, then we are presuming that the author had the benefit of retrospect; that is, though there frequently were anti-popes during the period of the Western Schism, by 1590 that would have all been resolved, and we could presume our forger in 1590 to have a single, accurate list of legitimate popes at his disposal. The fact that the Malachy prophecy contains anti-popes is actually a point in favor of legitimacy, not against it. Malachy scholar Peter Bander puts it this way:
"I consider those objections quite unreasonable...These antipopes are historical characters, they all held high episcopal offices before claiming the supreme title to the See of St. Peter and, they were, within limits, accepted as real popes by a large section of Catholic followers; the fact that events proved them wrong or even schismatic does not belittle the important function and position they commanded at the time. Giacconius, who in his commentary on Malachy's prophecy lists only canonically elected popes, quarrels with Panvinio for ranking popes and antipopes next to one another. This great schism in the Catholic Church, when popes and antipopes existed side by side, lasted for almost three centuries [reckoned from the time of Celestine II, within Malachy's life, to Felix V, 1449]. St. Antoninus himself comments on this and points out that much is written by different parties in defense of the one or the other ecclesiastical dignitary. All sides were well defended by excellent theologians and canon lawyers, and in the end, the argument was settled by establishing the rightful successor of St. Peter as the one who was canonically elected to the office. St. Antoninus goes further by saying that ordinary people could not possibly partake in such difficult and delicate discussions as they did not understand canon law; they followed the advice of their spiritual fathers and superiors. Personally, I consider the fact that antipopes are included in the list as a point in favor of Malachy" (The Prophecies of St. Malachy, edited by Peter Bander, Tan Books, 1973, pg. 14).
Since the line of succession had long been been clarified by 1590, had the prophecies been forged, there would be no incentive to include anti-popes in the list. However, if at the time of authorship these anti-popes were still to come, it makes perfect sense that their names would have appeared in the prophecy as at least putative holders of the See of Rome. To put it another way: A Englishman in 2013 reciting a list of the kings and queens of his kingdom would not include in the list usurpers such as Lady Jane Grey (d. 1554) and Edgar the Aetheling (d. 1126); they would only recite the officially established succession that had been settled by law over the the course of the centuries, omitting those who aspired, but never managed to retain, the throne. It would make sense that a list written in 2013 would omit these disputed claimants. However, suppose an Englishman living back in 1066 had a vision of all the men and women to sit on the throne of England until the end of time. In his case, it would make perfect sense that usurpers like Jane and disputants like Edgar would appear in the vision, since both claimed the royal authority and were acclaimed as monarch by large segments of the population for a time. Furthermore, if the vision was for a time off, it makes sense that the recipient might not know whether one in the vision was a true monarch or not. Similarly, the presence of anti-popes in the list of St. Malachy is an argument in favor of a 12th century composition, not against it.
But, just to be clear, many of the anti-popes in Malachy are in fact specifically called out as anti-popes, such as Corvus Schimaticus and Schisma Barchinonicum (Nicholas V and Clement VIII), so it is not as if the anti-popes are ranked exactly side by side, as the historian Giacconius opined.
Incorporation by Popes
Finally, we come to what is, in my opinion, one of the most overlooked and strongest pieces of evidence in favor of the authenticity of the prophecies of St. Malachy: the indisputable fact that for hundreds of years the popes themselves have taken the prophecy seriously and have gone out of the way to make sure they fulfilled it.
Carlo Marcora, an Italian historian who did an exhaustive six volume study on the papacy published from 1961 to 1974, noted that many of the maxims of Malachy were applied to specific pontificates with the approval of the popes. Thus Pius VI allowed himself to be referred to as the Peregrinus Apostolicus, Lumen in Caelo was applied to Leo XIII, and Pastor Angelicus to Pius XII; Pastor Angelicus was even the name of the officially sanctioned 1942 biographical documentary of the life of Pius XII and a posthumous book published in 1958. If Pius VI, Leo XIII or Pius XII thought the prophecies of Malachy were forgeries, allowing themselves to be publicly identified with them throughout their pontificates was a strange was to show it.
Many of the popes have also intentionally tried to show that a particular prophecy was fulfilled in them. Take Clement XI (1700-1721), who in Malachi's prophecy is Flores Circumdati ("Surrounded by Flowers"). When no one of the new pope's party could figure out how to connect the phrase with Clement, the pope had a coin struck which bore the motto Flores Circumdati on it. The pope and his circle were clearly trying to show the prophecy was fulfilled, which means they took it seriously. There are many anecdotal tales of popes consulting the prophesy upon their election and choosing their papal coat of arms accordingly in an attempt to fulfill the prophecy. Consider that since 1590, popes Urban VIII, Paul V, Alexander VII, Clement IX, Gregory XVI, and Leo XIII have all apparently incorporated elements of Malachy's prophecies directly into their coat of arms; many more if you include pre-1590 popes.
It can be objected that this sort of thing is self-fulfilling prophecy, but the point is irrelevant. I am not here seeking to prove that the prophecies are true, but that the successive popes have believed or acted as if they were true, which they clearly have right down to our own day. Even Joseph Ratzinger, clearly not ignorant that he was supposed to be Gloria Olivae and knowing the speculation connecting the name with the Benedictines, obliging chose the papal name 'Benedict.' The popes have clearly taken this prophecy seriously over the years and incorporated it into the emblems and symbolism of the papal office. Does this give the prophecy some sort of papal sanction? No. But it should give us pause - modern Catholic pundits blast the prophecies as fraudulent while for centuries pope after pope has given quiet credence to them by going out of their way to make sure they are fulfilled. If the Vicars of Christ on earth take St. Malachy seriously, how do we fare when we recklessly toss them aside and speak so derisively about them?
Do I believe the prophecies are authentic? The jury is still out for me, which I think is the best approach to this question. But clearly the evidence presented above should rule out any sort of automatic dismissal of the prophecies. Many, many scholars, much wiser than myself or the pundits, have spent a long time studying these prophecies and have given them credence. Many of the prophecies have been eerily fulfilled in very literal ways, and the popes themselves have given a nod to them. The prevailing hypothesis that they were forged by someone in the pay of Cardinal Simoncelli at the 1590 conclave is manifestly false, as the manuscript was discovered 34 years before the conclave of 1590 and there is good evidence to suggest that parts of the prophecy were known as early as 1280. While the scholars who fully believed in the authenticity of Malachy were legion, the dismissal of the text as a fraud can be traced to a single Jesuit scholar (Fr. Menestrier) who did not have all the facts at his disposal.
I am not saying the prophecies of St. Malachy are authentic, but the case is by no means closed on them. Fortunately, we are at a point in history where we will not need to wait too long to find out.
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