Manipulating Malachy

I found this little bit of prophecy on the back of an old World Series program from 1950. See what you think about it:

It was a dark day for the City of Brotherly Love. Their hopes of victory lay in shambles, destroyed by the four day onslaught by the hated bombers of the Bronx. As he sat in the visiting dugout, Robin Roberts the pitcher looked at the scoreboard, and had a vision of the promised land. A land of hope, a land of success, a land where this day’s tears would be turned to joy.

It would be a distant time, when dreams would be in color and a woman named Martha would hold a nation rapt with music videos. There would be a Bull in Left Field for the Phillies, and a Rose at first; the great archangel Michael would protect the scalding corner, and the Split Fingered Lefty would confound all who stood against him. Led by Dallas, they would indeed subdue the Red Legged Lord and his minions, ascending the heights and victoriously dance in the center of the Diamond in the City of Brotherly Love. And all the faithful of that land would rejoice, yeah, even those who once jeered the Dutch saint of Myra.

Prophecy’s a funny thing, and as we approach this Conclave it’s been noted that the Prophecy of St. Malachy has foretold this to be the last election, which will produce a pope called “Peter the Roman”, who will rule a troubled Church until Christ returns. Do I believe it? You tell me.

The problem with this prophecy is like the prophecies of Nostradamus: they only seem to work when you look back at them, and I’ve yet to see anyone who’s used them to peg what’s happening next. If you’re a baseball fan, you can decipher the little bit of prophecy above: the Phillies beat the Royals in the 1980 World Series with a Bull (Greg Luzinski) and (Pete) Rose, Mike Schmitz and Steve Carlton, and if you’re really good you can put together the rest of it. Like a lot of supposedly accurate prophecy, it’s accurate because I’ve predicted what’s already happened. I don’t even have a copy of a 1950 World Series program.

This is the case of the Prophecy of St. Malachy: it claims to be from 12th century, but it appeared in the 1590s, and every Pope before 1590 is absolutely right. Since then, they’ve had to bend the lines a bit to get them to fit who’s elected: it’s a huge stretch to call Benedict XVI “the glory of the olives” since the original Benedict was associated with them. There is only one Peter who’s a candidate this time (who clearly isn’t a Roman), and I’d be shocked if any Pope takes “Peter” as his regnal name, partly because of this prophecy. We shall see.

It’s a nice trick to convince people your forecasts are right when you step back through time and call a bunch of them right before venturing into unknown territory. I could do a 200 year history of Batting Champions in obscure verse and get the first 100 years right. I bet people after me would be bending my words to get the prophecy to fit.

Biblical prophecy is usually never a detailed road map of the future: it’s almost always a call to resistance in the present. The book of Daniel was written to encourage 2nd century BCE Jews to resist the Greek kingdom of Syria. The book of Revelation was written to encourage 1st century Christians not let Roman culture subdue them and their movement. Even in Americana there is such prophecy: the story going around of Washington’s vision at Valley Forge was to encourage Union troops to keep going during the Civil War.

We know what the final outcome of the eternal struggle of Good vs. Evil is: Good wins. It has to win, no doubt. The challenge of our vision is to remember that, to see it, and to ponder how are actions should conform to that reality. Only someone who’s really dumb picks a losing side from the start. Trying seriously to predict the future other than figuring out where the Present will likely take us is also a dumb activity, as is believing it.

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