By STEVE ELWART, K-HOUSE —
Pope Benedict XVI (born Joseph Ratzinger) announced Monday that he will officially resign on February 28 of this year. When he does so, he will be the first pope to voluntarily leave the post since Pope Gregory XII in 1415. Speculations about possible cover-ups have already started, but Ratzinger has been in poor health for some time, and rumors that he could resign have circulated for more than a year. The Pope explained himself, saying, “In order to govern the bark of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.”
Just in time for the Lenten Season, the main topic of conversation will dwell on the next pope, due to be elected by Easter on March 31st. Papal candidates are called “Papabili”, a Latin term which literally means, “popeable” or “one who might become pope.” According to modern church law, a pope is selected only from the College of Cardinals who meet in conclave to select the successor. A Papabile must be a cardinal, so the list of Papabili is fairly short, usually four of five men.
Throughout modern Catholic Church history, the man who emerges from the conclave to lead the estimated 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide has sometimes been a surprise. Those that people may think will be pope many times are not elected. There is a saying in the Vatican, “He, who enters the conclave as Pope, leaves it as a cardinal.” The present pope was thought to be a Papabile, but considered a long-shot since he was 78 years old when elected pope – the oldest man to be elected pope since Pope Clement XII (1730-40). John XXIII, John Paul I, and John Paul II were all elected pope, but not considered papabili.
While there has been a great amount of speculation in modern times about who would be the next pope, many Catholics are watching closely the next conclave, for they believe that whoever succeeds Pope Benedict XIV will be “The Last Pope”.
The Prophecy of St. Malachy:
St. Malachy (Maelmhaedhoc O Morgair) lived in 12th Century Ireland and was the Archbishop of Armagh, now a town of 14,000 in Northern Ireland. Attracted to the monastic life, Malachy established the first Cistercian abbey in Ireland in 1142. He also reformed the Irish Church and aligned it more closely with Rome.
What Malachy is more known for is the so-called Prophecy of the Popes, which is attributed to him. The prophecy is a list of 112 short phrases that supposedly describe each of the Roman Catholic popes beginning with Pope Celestine II (elected in 1143) and concluding with the successor of Benedict XVI.
This last pope is described in the prophecy as “Peter the Roman”, whose reign as pope will see the destruction of the city of Rome.
The prophecy did not hold much interest among Catholics up until the mid-20th century because it seemed as if it would be a long time before the world would see the election of “The Last Pope”.
Until the pontificate of Pius XII (1939-58), the average tenure of recent popes had been approximately 20 years. This change in 1958 with the election of Angelo Roncalli who took the name John XXIII. Elected when he was 77 years old, John XXIII was considered a “caretaker pope” who would keep the papal throne warm until the College of Cardinals could decide on a longer serving pontiff. He served for four years, but put the Catholic Church on a new course by calling the Second Vatican Council. Giovanni Montini was elected to replace John XXIII on his death and called himself Paul VI. His reign lasted 15 years. Albino Luciani followed and took the name John Paul I, combining the names of his predecessors. John Paul 1 reign lasted one month and his death was clouded in controversy.
John Paul 1 was succeeded by Karol Wojtyła who took the name John Paul II. Fairly young in papal terms when he was elected (58), his was the second-longest pontificate lasting 26 years, 168 days,; only Pope Pius IX (1846-1878) who served 31 years, reigned longer.
Interest in the Prophecy of the Popes increased as John Paul II’s health declined and Vatican watchers were shocked when Joseph Ratzinger, a cardinal of advanced age, was unexpectedly elected Pope Benedict XVI. According to the Malachy Prophecy, whoever succeeded Benedict would be the Last Pope. (The Catholic Church discounts the Prophecy, saying that they have no connection with Malachy except their erroneous attribution to him.)
The prophecy connected with the most recent popes is as follows:
Pope #263 – John XXIII (1958-1963) – Pastor et Nauta (pastor and marine). Prior to his election he was patriarch of Venice, a marine city, home of the gondolas.
Pope #264 – Paul VI (1963-1978) – Flos florum (flower of flowers). His papal coat of arms displayed three lilies.
Pope #265 – John Paul I (1978) – De medietate Lunae (from the midst of the moon). Albino Luciani was born in Canale d’Ogardo, diocese of Belluno, (beautiful moon) Elected pope on August 26, his reign lasted about a month, from half-moon to half-moon.
Pope #266 – John Paul II (1978-2005) – De labore Solis (of the eclipse of the sun) Karol Wojtyla was born on May 18, 1920 during a solar eclipse. There was also solar eclipse on April 8, 2005, the day of his funeral.
Pope #267 – Benedict XVI – Gloria olivae (The glory of the olives) It was originally thought that this pope would be from the Order of St. Benedict (The Benedictines were known also as the Olivetans.) Traditionally, the olive branch has been associated with peace, but in both the Old and New Testaments it also has been ascribed as an emblem for the Jews. Putting the two together, some commentators believed that the reign of this pope would be a peaceful one during which, according to the Catholic Church, the prophesied conversion of the Jews will take place. People who believe in the prophecy believe that the current pope, by taking the name Benedict, fulfilled the prophecy.
Pope #268 – The Last Pope – In persecutione extrema S.R.E. sedebit Petrus Romanus, qui pascet oues in multis tribulationibus: quibus transactis ciuitas septicollis diruetur, & Iudex tremedus iudicabit populum suum. Finis. – (“In the final persecution of the Holy Roman Church there will reign Peter the Roman, who will feed his flock amid many tribulations, after which the seven-hilled city will be destroyed and the dreadful Judge will judge the people. The End.”)
Proponents of the prophecy say that it is interesting that at least one pope had a similar mystical vision to the “Last Pope” part of the prophecy. During a papal audience in 1909, Pope Pius X claimed he had a vision of the pope leaving Rome, and in leaving the Vatican, he will have to “walk over the dead bodies of his priests.”
While many may hold the Prophecy of Malachy to be true, there is a far more authoritative source to tell us what is coming in the end times. Revelation 4:1 introduces a section of Scripture that detail “things which must be hereafter.” What follows are prophecies of the end times. We have not yet reached the Tribulation, the revelation of the Antichrist, or other end-time events. What we do see is a preparation for those events.
Jesus said that the last days would be preceded by several things: many false Christs would come, deceiving many; we would “hear of wars and rumors of wars”; and there would be an increase in “famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in diverse places. All these are the beginning of sorrows” (Matthew 24:5-8).
Today’s news is full of false religions, warfare, and natural disasters. We know that events of the tribulation period will include all that Jesus predicted (Revelation 6:1-8); the events of today are only a prelude for greater trials ahead.
Paul warned that the last days would bring a marked increase in false teaching. “In later times, some will abandon the faith, and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons” (1 Timothy 4:1). The last days are described as “perilous times” because of the increasingly evil character of man and people who actively “oppose the truth” (2 Timothy 3:1-9 and 2 Thessalonians 2:3).
What is important is how we live our lives in preparation for Christ’s return. What witness are we giving to the world to help non-believers accept the saving grace of Jesus Christ?
In 1 Thessalonians 5:6, Paul concludes a lesson on Christ’s coming with these words: “Therefore, let’s not fall asleep like others do, but let’s stay awake and be sober.” (ISV)
The apostles understood that Jesus’ imminent return meant they must busy themselves with God’s work. They lived life to the fullest, as if every day were their last.
(Large portions of this article were excerpted from “The Last Pope” by Koinonia Institute analyst Steve Elwart, first published in the Koinonia House March 2012 Personal Update news journal.)