Like a Bad Penny, The St. Malachy Prophecy


Papal Portraits; Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls. Image courtesy of Antoine Taveneaux

Like other false prophecies, the St. Malachy Prophecy about the popes just keeps turning up.

I’ve already shared my thoughts on a common misinterpretation (that I myself was guilty of for some time) of Anne Catherine Emmerich’s vision of the “Two Popes.” In my response to Ann Barnhardt’s declaration that Francis is an anti-pope, I tackled the alleged prophecy of St. Francis —  which also comes up all the time but is almost certainly not authentic. There are a number of contemporary prophecies that strike a discordant note or have been condemned, the most popular of which right now is probably Maria Divine Mercy/The Book of Truth. I wrote a brief commentary on the Maria Divine Mercy phenomenon a couple years ago and a followup after it was condemned. Since then, many sites have done more thorough debunking of MDM. For a few, see here, here, and here. (Note: links to other sites do not equal endorsement of their other content. Also, since MDM followers tend to get very aggressive in defense of the prophecies, I will moderate comments equally aggressively. Our editorial position is that while MDM messages often sound authentic, they have been condemned, and we must accept this decision barring an ecclesiastical decision to the contrary.)

The St. Malachy Prophecy itself is probably the most popular of all of these, probably because it’s so foreboding. It comes up all the time, especially during conclaves. In fact, it’s so popular that Archbishop Gänswein not only referenced it in his recent interview with Paul Badde, he actually said he believes Francis may be the last pope!

But most scholars of Catholic prophecy believe that the Malachy prophecy is a forgery. A fake. And though we all love to poke fun at his interminable “things to know and share” articles that attempt to explain away every papal impropriety, Jimmy Akin just published an article on the St. Malachy Prophecy (yes, to know and share!) that’s actually very good. A brief sample:

3. Why are people talking about the prophecy now?
The next-to-last motto in the prophecy of the popes has been associated with Pope Benedict XVI. Since he is now at the end of his papacy, that would bring us to the last name in the prophecy of the popes, which many have taken to indicate the final pope at the end of the world.

This passage reads as follows:

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.

4. Is this an approved private revelation?
No, it is not. Although it has been influential in some Catholic circles for several hundred years, it is not approved by the Magisterium.

5. What evidence is there concerning its authenticity?
A significant mark against its authenticity is the fact that it was not published until 1595, though St. Malachy died in 1148. There is no record of the prophecy existing in the intervening 447 years.

Allegedly, this was because the prophecy lay, forgotten, in a Roman archive, and it was not rediscovered until 1590.

This explanation is possible in principle, but the fact that we cannot establish its existence for hundreds of years until after its supposed author’s death is also consistent with the claim that it was a forgery composed around 1590 and then “salted” into the archive. (“Salting” is the term used for planting false records in archives.) It also may never have been in the archive but merely claimed to be.

While the fact that we have no mention of this document in the hundreds of years between the times of its reported composition and re-discovery does not prove that it is false, it does cast significant doubt on its authenticity.

It’s worth reading the whole thing. Most Catholics have heard of this prophecy, and very few have any idea about its questionable provenance.

You may be asking yourself why does this matter? Well, it mattered to Our Lord to warn us about false prophets. He said they would come, and He made no bones about how He felt about them:

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in the clothing of sheep, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. (Mt. 7:15)

Prophecy is a thing many people look to when trying to make sense of confusing events or ominous occurrences. They want some means by which to know what to expect, and how to deal with it — and probably most of all, whether they can expect things to get better or worse.

We are living in a time that almost certainly falls into line with various prophecies of various saints of the past. I have friends who have studied authentic prophecy for decades, and they talk to me about the parallels all the time. But these are the same people who are most concerned when they see people following a prophecy that has already been debunked, or continues to fool a lot of people.

We should take pains to make sure that we are not credulous consumers of every dubious claim about the future. We should not have, as St. Paul put it, “itching ears,” gathering to ourselves teachers according to our own desires, and not tolerating sound doctrine. (2 Tim. 4:3). It’s not wrong to want to get a handle on what’s happening and to have a clearer sense of heaven’s plan. But sometimes, it’s better to just trust that Christ asleep in the boat does not mean we’re going to perish in the storm.

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