Kings and emperors only receive a “surname”, or nickname, after having reigned sufficiently to be known – which is logical. How else could it have been known that Louis X would be “hutin”, or angry, Jean II good, Louis XIV great, etc.?… It is not the same for Popes who were “labelled” once and for all, almost nine centuries ago, in a curious prophecy attributed to the Irish monk Saint Malachie.
Experience has proven that each of the surnames proposed by the author of the prophecy corresponds admirably to the character of its bearer and marvellously resumes his pontificate.
Who is this Saint Malachie whose mysterious text intrigues theologians and of whom there is no trace in the calendar of the saints? History tells us that he lived in the XIIth Century, in Ireland, where he was a monk, and that his great intelligence had him noticed by his superiors. At the age of thirty-two, he is Bishop, at thirty-nine, Archbishop, at forty-eight Pontifical Legate.
In 1138, he goes to Rome where Pope Innocent II offers him his own mitre to show in what high estime he holds him. On his way home, he stops at Clairvaux and meets one of the greatest men of this time, and perhaps of all time: Saint Bernard. The two monks get along so well that, when the Irishman goes back to France, a few years later, he stops again at Clairvaux. But a strong fever seizes him and, after a few days, he expires in the arms of Saint Bernard. He is fifty-four years old.
This is all that History tells us, if we keep to what is said by Saint Malachie’s contemporaries. As we can see, at no moment is any prophecy mentioned.
However, four and a half centuries later, in 1590, a Benedictine in the Mount Cassin Abbey, Arnold de Wyon, reveals to the world the existence of a prophetic text by the Irish saint, concerning the Popes. He says:
“Saint Malachie composed a list of surnames suiting the one hundred and eleven Popes succeeding each other from 1143 to the end of the world. These surnames define them so well that it is a true prophecy, written under divine inspiration.”
This revelation is greatly discussed, particularly as Pope Urbain VII has just died and his successor is about to be chosen. Arnold de Wyon exhorts the members of the Conclave not to bother searching because
“the one whom you should elect according to God’s will is clearly designated in this text”.
Intrigued, the cardinals read the “prophecy” and notice that the surnames given by Saint Malachie correspond perfectly to what is known of the Popes who succeeded each other from 1143 to 1590.
The first, Celestin II, Malachie’s contemporary, is designated by these words : Ex castro Tiberis (From the Tiber castle). And he is called Guy du Chatel (castle) and was born in Titerna, on the Tiber. His successor, Lucius II, is surnamed Inimicus expulsus (enemy expulsed), and his family name, Caccia Nemici, signifies “chases the enemy”. The following, Eugene III, is designated by Ex magnitudine montis (From the mountain’s grandeur), and he was born in Montemagno (the great mountain), near Pisa. Adrien IV has the label De rure Albo (From the Albe field). Not only was he English, that is to say a child of Albion, but he was born of farmer parents in the little town of Saint-Alban and was named Cardinal Albano by Eugene III… Innocent III has for sign Comes signatus (the signed count), which suits him perfectly as he belonged to the line of the Counts of Signy and, according to certain documents in the Avignon archives, he had a dream revealing to him his future as Pope, that is to say a “sign”. Gregoire IX is called Avis Ostiensis (the bird of Ostie) and we know that, as Cardinal-Bishop of Ostie, he had an eagle on his arms. Etc.
The Benedictine shows the members of the conclave how Saint Malachie designates Urbain VII’s successor, the one that they should choose: De antiquitate urbis (From the antiquity of the town)…
There just happens to be someone to whom this surname exactly applies for he was born at Orvieto – whose etymology is: urbs vetus (the old town). It is Cardinal Simoncelli… Who just happens to be a close friend of Arnold de Wyon.
Does this troubling fact make the cardinals wary? We don’t know. But one fact is certain: Cardinal Simoncelli is not elected. This failure does not stop Arnold de Wyon from publishing Saint Malachie’s text five years later, accompanied by a commentary.
For a century, no-one questions the authenticity of the document discovered by the Mount Cassin Benedictine. On the contrary, it is considered sacred, and the surnames continue to perfectly fit the pontiffs who succeed each other.
But, in 1689, a real bomb explodes. A Jesuit, Father Menestrier, in a work entitled: Refutation de la prophetie des papes, clearly declares that the list of surnames attributed to Saint Malachie is a fake created by Arnold de Wyon with the aim of having his friend, Cardinal Simoncelli, elected.
On what does he found such an affirmation? On four reflections. To wit.:
1. That no-one had mentioned this prophecy before Arnold de Wyon.
2. That the list attributed by the Benedictine to Saint Malachie comports errors in dates and a dreadful mixture of Popes and antipopes.
3. That, if the surnames perfectly apply to the Popes who reigned from 1143 to 1590, the year in which Arnold de Wyon revealed the existence of the prophecy, it must be recognized that the motto De antiquitate urbis, which is perfect for Cardinal Simoncelli, does not at all suit Pope Gregoire XIV who had been preferred by the conclave.
4. That, if the following surnames seem to be right, it is because they are so vague that they can apply to any pontiff…
A few monks defend Arnold de Wyon and point out, with reason, that since 1590, most of the mottos exactly correspond to the Popes who bear them, notably Lilium et rosa (The lily and the rose) for Urbain VIII whose pontificate is marked by the alliance of England’s rose with France’s lily during the Thirty Years War; Jucunditas crucis (The joys of the cross) for Innocent X, elected Pope on the day of the Exaltation of the Cross; Sidus olurum (The star of the swans) for Clement IX, born near the river Stellata (star) and who occupies the Swan Chamber at the Conclave where he is elected, and many others; but Father Menestrier shuts them up by saying that it is all pure coincidence…
To be continued.