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Church History Forum: St. Malachy O'Morgain

by Catherine Frakas 10 Nov 2001

St. Malachy O'Morgain QUESTION from Steven on April 23, 2002 I have recently read a reference to the 'prophecies' of the Irish saint, Malachy O'Morgain, concerning the papacy. I understand that there is a legend that Malachy predicted the identities of all the remaining popes from the time of Celestine II in the 12th. Century, and that according to his 'predictions', there are to be only four more popes, the last calling himself Peter.
Whilst I take all this with a very large pinch of salt, as one of the more fanciful legends that tend to grow up around saints, I would nonetheless be very interested to know more about this story. Where did it originate? What exactly did St. Malachy say about each of the popes?
Thank you in anticipation of your reply,
ANSWER by Q & A Staff on May 13, 2002 Dear Steven,
Maelmhaedhoc O’Morgair (latinized to Malachy) was born in Armagh, Ireland in 1094. In 1148, he died in the company of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, who was writing his biography (at the request of the Abbot of Mellifont.). This saint has become very well known on account of the prophecies he allegedly made regarding 112 future popes, while on a trip to visit to Pope Innocent II in Rome in 1139-40.
The prophecies concern the papacy, starting with Pope Celestine II in 1143. A total of 112 popes are listed, each in a very brief description, from 1143 (Celestine II) to the end of the world“ (Peter the Roman). The prophecies were first mentioned by the Benedictine historian Arnold Wion (de Wyon) in his book Lignum Vitae in 1559. The Abbe Cucherat put forward his views in 1871 in his book Proph. de la succession des papes, namely that the prophecy originated in 1139-40 during Malachy’s Roman visit. Malachy then wrote the prophecies down, gave then to Pope Innocent II, who then threw them in a vault, to be forgotten for the next four hundred years.
In the 17th century, the Jesuit Menestrier claimed the prophecies were a forgery dating from the 1590 conclave election of Gregory XIV, and even names the forger as one of Cardinal Simoncelli's party, who, apparently, wanted his candidate to secure the victory. What better way than to have a prophecy fitting him exactly? On the other hand, one of the most outstanding historians of the 16th century, Onofrio Panvinio, accepted them in full. His interpretations of the first 69 popes of the 112 in the list in his book „Epitome Romanorum Pontificum“ which was written in the reign of Pope Paul IV (1555-9).
The most common objections to the authenticity of the prophecies are: a) St. Bernard never mentions them in his biography of Malachy, b) the inclusion of a number of antipopes in the list (only two of whom are listed by Malachi as antipopes) and c) the difficulty in ascribing the descriptions to some of the popes.
It is also claimed that the prophecies since Pope Urban VII (1590) are rather vague, giving rise to further speculation that they were the work of 16th century forgers, though how vague they are compared to the earlier ones is perhaps a matter of opinion.
A little about the prophecies themselves. From the Catholic Encyclopedia: St. Malachy we read:

These short prophetical announcements, in number 112, indicate some noticeable trait of all future popes from Celestine II, who was elected in the year 1130, until the end of the world. They are enunciated under mystical titles. Those who have undertaken to interpret and explain these symbolical prophecies have succeeded in discovering some trait, allusion, point, or similitude in their application to the individual popes, either as to their country, their name, their coat of arms or insignia, their birth-place, their talent or learning, the title of their cardinalate, the dignities which they held etc. For example, the prophecy concerning Urban VIII is Lilium et Rosa (the lily and the rose); he was a native of Florence and on the arms of Florence figured a fleur-de-lis; he had three bees emblazoned on his escutcheon, and the bees gather honey from the lilies and roses. Again, the name accords often with some remarkable and rare circumstance in the pope's career; thus Peregrinus apostolicus (pilgrim pope), which designates Pius VI, appears to be verified by his journey when pope into Germany, by his long career as pope, and by his expatriation from Rome at the end of his pontificate. Those who have lived and followed the course of events in an intelligent manner during the pontificates of Pius IX, Leo XIII, and Pius X cannot fail to be impressed with the titles given to each by the prophecies of St. Malachy and their wonderful appropriateness: Crux de Cruce (Cross from a Cross) Pius IX; Lumen in caelo (Light in the Sky) Leo XIII; Ignis ardens (Burning Fire) Pius X. There is something more than coincidence in the designations given to these three popes so many hundred years before their time. We need not have recourse either to the family names, armorial bearings or cardinalatial titles, to see the fitness of their designations as given in the prophecies. The afflictions and crosses of Pius IX were more than fell to the lot of his predecessors; and the more aggravating of these crosses were brought on by the House of Savoy whose emblem was a cross. Leo XIII was a veritable luminary of the papacy. The present pope is truly a burning fire of zeal for the restoration of all things to Christ. The last of these prophecies concerns the end of the world and is as follows: 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. It has been noticed concerning Petrus Romanus, who according to St. Malachy's list is to be the last pope, that the prophecy does not say that no popes will intervene between him and his predecessor designated Gloria olivoe. It merely says that he is to be the last, so that we may suppose as many popes as we please before Peter the Roman.
(Note: there is one small error in that passage. Celestine II was elected in 1143, not 1130.)
Detais of all 112 prophecies of the popes, along with an interpretation and a description of the lives of the Popes, is found online in Peter Bander’s Prophecies of Malachy. Bander’s work dates from 1973, during the reign of Pope Paul VI. Hence he speaks of four more popes in the list, (the first two being John Paul I and II).
One final comment I would make. Even if the prophecies are genuine, there is certainly no reason to suppose we are only two popes away from the end of the world. There is no good reason to suppose „Peter the Roman“ comes immediately after „Gloria olivae“. In fact, the testimony of many Catholic saints through the centuries who had the gift of prophecy points to a great era of peace for the Church before the final tribulation, none of which has come to pass as yet. So it would be unwise for anyone to jump to the conclusion that even if Malachy’s prophecies are genuine, that the end of the world is near. (I recommend Desmond Birch’s „Trial, Tribulation and Triumph“ for anyone who is interested in the area of Catholic prophecy.)

Thanks Steven, for your interesting question.
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