Thursday, March 14, 2013

Popes and Prophecies

So now we've met the new pope Francis, formerly Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina. As I noted previously, a twelfth century prophecy made by the Irish Saint Malachy named this 112th pope "Peter of Rome," and on that basis I predicted that an Italian, probably Milan Archbishop Angelo Scola, would be selected if the prophecy were genuine. Meanwhile, in between bouts of sloth-bashing over on Facebook Rufus Opus writes:

Everyone saying the Malachy prophecy isn't fulfilled by Pope Francis I just because he isn't named Peter and he's not from Rome are just being lazy. You haven't even tried.

That's true! Malachy's prophecy, like most, is quite vague. Here's the full text:

“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 (Rome) will be destroyed and the dreadful Judge will judge the people.”

While the name doesn't seem to fit at all, some of the rest of it does. The Roman Catholic Church remains under attack over covering up sex abuse scandals worldwide. Bergoglio chose the name Francis to honor Francis of Assisi, a saint known for his work on behalf of the poor - "feeding his flock," so to speak. As far as the destruction of Rome goes, the financial situation in Italy is currently quite precarious, though whether that will lead to literal devastation of the city is anyone's guess.

The name "Peter of Rome" could be fudged a bit as well. Peter was the first pope, so it's not surprising given the "first and the last" imagery in Christianity that Malachy's final pope would also be named Peter. The pope has resided in Rome for most of the Church's history as well, so that's kind of a no-brainer. I saw another Facebook comment to the effect that the Romans mined silver and Argentina means "the land of silver," but that seems more like reaching to me than anything else. One might as well say that the Romans spoke Latin and Argentina is in Latin America, so Bergoglio fits - ignoring that "Latin America" is a figure of speech and nobody in South or Central America actually speaks Latin.

So really, the trouble with the Malachy prophecy is not that it's wrong, but rather that it's useless. For a prophecy to have any significance at all, it must have predictive power. In other words, one should be able to look at upcoming events and call them with some accuracy based on the information that the prophecy contains. If a prophecy's only real function is to enable you to construct a "just-so story" once you know all the facts, how can it possibly help anyone?

It does seem to me that the selection of Bergoglio is a smart move on the part of the Roman Catholic Church. The Church is still strong in South and Central America, whereas it is weakening in Europe and the Americas, but no Latin American has ever been selected as pope. Francis I now changes that.

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Anonymous said...

I might also be that this pope has Italian (Roman) descent - (wikipedia) "Jorge Mario Bergoglio was born in Flores[2], Buenos Aires City, one of the five children of Mario José Bergoglio, an Italian immigrant railway worker born in Portacomaro (Province of Asti) in Italy's Piedmont region, and his wife Regina María Sívori,[3] a housewife born in Buenos Aires to a family of northern Italian (Piedmontese-Genoese) origin."

Scott Stenwick said...

While it's true that Francis' parents were Italian, he's a lot less Italian than some of the other contenders.

That's what I mean about the prophecy being useless - while you can look back in hindsight and find connections, if those connections are not apparent ahead of time you can't regard the prophecy as testable. This makes it impossible to conclude whether it is or is not genuine.