Friday, July 27, 2012

The Petrus Romanus Eschatological Quackery

Ordinarily I wait 3 years to put up older E-Block material, but given the short "shelf life" of this particular material, I wanted to put up at least some of it now. 

The latest fantasy to come out of dispensational eschatology is embodied in a book  by one Thomas Horn, joined also lately by putative apologist Cris Putnam (who happens to  be the poorly educated "fundamentalist" I was referring to in some earlier postings). Their recent book together, Petrus Romanus [PR], consists of nearly 500 pages of conspiracy theory that would be equally at home at a showing of the Zeitgeist movie. I plan to do some more postings here on PR, as well as more E-Block material.

The central claim of PR is that there is a hint of an end to come in an obscure little "prophecy" attributed to an 1100s century bishop known as St. Malachy, which gives us the hint that once the current Pope, Benedict XVI, takes his last breath as pope, the one after that will be the last of the papal line -- and perhaps even (gasp) the false prophet who will usher in the age of the Antichrist. 


Malachy allegedly experienced a vision revealing to him what became a document known as "The Prophecy of the Popes" (POP). Beginning with Celestine II (d. 1144), Malachy purportedly offered a series of pithy Latin phrases that are (supposedly) somehow prophecies of each successive pope. In all, that's about 140 "predictions" (though as we'll see, they hardly deserve to be called that). 

You may already suppose that there would be problems, and there are -- even ones the authors acknowledge. For one, they agree to disregard about half of Malachy's prophecies because they believe the Catholic Church may have tampered with them, and we have no earlier manuscript than the 1550s. So, about 70 of the 140 are dispensed with before PR reaches page 20 out of 500. They also admit that many credible scholars have argued the whole thing is a forgery, though for the sake of argument, we will assume it is not, at least from the 1500s on, as the authors allow. 

The authors then allow that in some cases, the Catholic Church -- apparently convinced this thing had some validity -- may have purposely rigged papal votes so that someone suitable to the "prediction" was elected. Or, they suppose, a Pope may have in some way seized on his assigned "prediction" in order to fulfill it. In the end, they don't seem to regard this as enough of a possibility to be worried that it makes their case a sham, although they should have. 

I put "predictions" in quotes because these aren't "predictions" at all -- they're just very short Latin phrases, usually 2-3 words each, and with that length there is as much hard content as a bowl of Jello. [I won't even get into the whole problem of why they bother to use a prophecy from a source like the Catholic Church that they identify with waywardness. The rationalizations (e.g., "God often uses the most unlikely people") speak for themselves as circular reasoning and/or a desire to see only what they want to see.] The authors also note another author's assessment that past 1590, Malachy's mottos have an 80 percent accuracy. The bad news is that by Deut 13, that would get Malachy 100% stoned. 

The authors, at least, have the sense to admit that critics say the phrases are vague enough to be twisted to be seen as fulfilled in anything. [42-3] They even allow that this is a "major weakness" and that only a few of the prophecies are precise enough to pass the test. The bad news for them is that their best examples are far worse than they realize, and we shall spend the balance of this article examining what they apparently take to be their "best case" fulfilments. 

Leo XIII, 1878-1903 - Phrase: "lumen in caelo," "light in the sky."
"Light in the sky" could mean just about anything, and that should really be enough to dismiss this one as worthless. But the authors excite themselves with the observation that Leo's coat of arms "features a shooting star." Since Leo had this coat of arms long before being pope, they believe this is particularly impressive and a "compelling fulfillment." 

No such luck here! The vagueness of the motto is shown in that other sources, like the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia, read it rather as fulfilled in calling Leo a "veritable luminary of the papacy" and specifically states that we don't need to bother with things like a coat of arms. Another Catholic site sees a fulfillment this way: 

Leo XIII wrote encyclicals on Catholic social teaching that were still being digested 100 years later. He added considerably to theology.
 
Obviously, if the motto is vague enough to accommodate such diverse readings, it is worthless as a “prophecy.” And of course, many popes could be vaguely described as "a veritable luminary" (for whatever reason) rendering such a description equally worthless. 

The authors’ rendition of a shooting star is likewise unhelpful. What escaped them on this point is that stars -- or, as they are sometimes called, estioles -- are standard symbols for a coat of arms, just as they are standard symbols for national flags. Leo has one. John Paul I (1978) had three stars of five points each. Pius X, the predecessor of Leo XIII, had one star, as did Gregory XVI (1831-46) -- and so did several other popes. Some others had more than one star; some had none. 

But, also of interest is that Leo's coat had more to it; namely, a tree and two fleur-de-lis (keep this in mind). That triples the chance to make some sort of connection, especially with a vague phrase like "light in the sky." One could readily connect this to one of several comets discovered during Leo's reign -- even those not visible in his area (as we shall see, this won't stop the authors in another case, so it need not stop us here), such as the "Comet Wells" in 1882.
Thus, this "fulfillment," far from being "compelling," is useless. 

Pius X (1903-1914) - Phrase: "ignis ardens" (burning fire).
 
As in the above, and for the same reasons , this one is easily deemed useless. The authors unwittingly admit as much when they point out that some apply this to a star on Pius' coat of arms (while failing to see how this affects their explanation concerning Leo XIII!), but choose instead to apply it to a vision Pius had of Rome burning. One may as well apply it to Pius having a liking for good barbeque, or having a tendency to get rashes or sunburn, or (more seriously) to some ardency of spirit on some issue. The aforementioned Catholic site adds its own variation as follows: 

The Pope had great personal piety and achieved a number of important reforms in the devotional and liturgical life of priests and laypeople.
 
At least the authors have the decency to call this one "debatable." Actually, it is worse than that. It is worthless. 

Benedict XV (1914-1922) - Phrase: "religio depopulata" (religion depopulated)
 
For this one, the authors figure they have an ace in the hole with the fact that during Benedict's reign, the following happened:
  • "World War I was devastating to the Catholic Church", though how this is so is not explained, nor is it explained how the war was any more or less "devastating" to the Catholic Church than to any other body or group. Put another way, the prediction means very little unless "religion" was specially and uniquely "depopulated."
  • 200 million people left the Russian Orthodox Church, having either left to join the Bolshevik revolution or been killed or persecuted by Communists. The authors cite figures of 43 million killed by Stalin, and 61 million killed by the Soviet Union. Their conclusion: Religion was "heavily depopulated during this period" and the prophecy offers "breathtaking accuracy."
Hold your breath. Once again, the vagueness of the terms causes a problem. The authors have allowed "religion" to be so vague as to encompass more than one religious tradition, which means all one would have to do is to find, during any papal reign, some instance of some religion, somewhere, suffering "depopulation" -- such as 7 million Jews in the WW2 era, or perhaps a million in Rwanda; or one might even appeal to Muslim deaths in the Iran-Iraq war.
Then, there's a real slipperiness, also, with "this period", where the 200 million figure doesn’t add up. It was hard to get accurate figures in this turbulent time when there was little means to conduct a rigorous census, but sources I have consulted place the population of Russia in 1914-1917 in the lower 100 millions. Furthermore, Stalin ruled and did his deathly work well after the reign of Benedict.

As such, it seems patently dishonest to use deaths from outside Benedict’s reign to fulfill this one. The Catholic site, by the way, also uses the Bolshevik revolution as a fulfillment, but only because it established Communism, not because of deaths, while another conspiracy theorist connects the motto also to millions of Christians being killed by the Spanish flu!

Pius XI (1922-1939) - Phrase: "fides intrepida" (intrepid faith).
 
"Faith" is so vague as to be of no use; all popes ought to have that. (NOTE: I mistyped it as "fire" earlier.) Beyond this, the authors seem to have a hard time finding a way to make Pius X "intrepid." They note that the dictionary definition is: "calm, brave and undisturbed." Noting an instance where Pius X made a deal with Mussolini to restore power to the Vatican, the authors ask plaintively, "Perhaps 'cold and calculating' fulfills this one?"

Sorry! No it doesn't. This prophecy is a fail.

The Catholic site proves the vagueness of this phrase by applying it entirely differently:

This Pope stood up to Fascist and Communist forces lining up against him in the lead up to World War II.
 
Pius XII (1939-1958) - Phrase: "pastor angelicus" (angelic shepherd).
 
There is tremendous irony in this one. The authors uncritically accept the badly debunked findings of John Cornwell that Pius XII was too chummy with the Nazis, and so end up suggesting, rather lamely, that since Pius claimed the title for himself, it must be an "ironic sort of fulfillment." So, now they have made it so that even a complete 180 of the phrase can be a "fulfillment"?

In that light, Pius' real record as a benefactor to persecuted Jews actually does make a better fit for "angelic shepherd" -- not that it matters, since any pope with a decent heart could have fit this as well, and many of them would qualify. However, we may be thankful that the authors did foul up so badly by using Cornwell, since it helps expose their poor research skills, and their ability to strain and stretch the Malachy mottos to the breaking point in order to force a "fulfillment." (For the refutation of this see Dalin’s The Myth of Hitler’s Pope, and see the link below: Cornwell’s deception begins on the front cover with the picture!)

Adding to the proof of the vagueness of this motto, the Catholic site ignores all of that and sees the fulfillment this way:

This Pope was very mystical, and is believed to have received visions. People would kneel when they received telephone calls from him. His encyclicals add enormously to the understanding of Catholic beliefs (even if they are now overlooked because of focus on the Second Vatican Council, which occurred so soon after his reign).
 
John XXIII (1958-1963) - Phrase: "pastor & nauta" (sailor and shepherd).
 
Half of this prophecy , at once, dies a painful death since every pope could be called a "shepherd" in their very role as pope. So, can we find that John was ever in the navy somewhere? Or, maybe the merchant marines? Maybe he had a rubber ducky as a child?

Not even close. The authors strain for a match by noting that John was the "patriarch of Venice," where there are a lot of gondolas and a "nautical street system" (apparently meaning the canals). If that's the way they want to play it, then any port city overseen by the papal candidate at some time in his career would make them qualify, and they don't even have to get on the water for a split second to make this work. John wasn't a sailor, and if being "patriarch of Venice" fulfills this prophecy, then I too fulfilled it by having North Miami Beach as my hometown. Or, it could be fulfilled by getting a nice anchor tattoo that says MOTHER, or even eating a lot of spinach to funny music.

The authors underline their own foolishness by telling an uncertain story of how one papal candidate allegedly hired a boat, stuck some sheep on it, and rode up and down the Tiber River on it as a way to demonstrate a fulfillment to the papal conclave. This ought to be a warning to the authors (but it isn't) that a living pope, with only rare exceptions, has more than enough time to figure out a way to make himself an "intrepid fire" or a "light in the sky", or to fulfill any number of other conditions. Of all the mottos we will see here only "religion depopulated" seems like one that could possibly be beyond their control as popes. However, even then, it would not be hard to force some fulfillment by finding a religious massacre, or else making some statement about how Protestants, et al, are simply outside the fold of the true Catholic Church, which is declared to be "THE" religion. Effectively then, we just "depopulated religion" by merely defining it more closely. It also does not occur to the authors that the papal conclave (for whatever reason thinking these mottos meant anything) purposely chose a man from a port city to strain a fulfillment.

Finally, regarding John XXIII, it is worth nothing that he was only patriarch of Venice for 5 years, from 1953 to 1958. He was born in a mountain city of Italy. He spent a lot of time in that area and also spent some time in Bulgaria. If this “prophecy” can be fulfilled by spending any amount of time in a port city, it is just that much more worthless.

Paul VI (1963-1978) - Phrase: "fios florum" (flower of flowers).
 
The authors here return again to heraldry, and their effort is no more successful. They point out that Paul had on his coat of arms a fleur-de-lis, which means "flower of lily." As before, though, this fails inasmuch as the fleur-de-lis is a fairly commonplace symbol. It is not even, as the authors claim, "unique to (Paul) among the papists," for as we have seen, it was part of Leo XIII's coat, and is also found in the coat of arms of John XXIII, Innocent X, Leo XI, Pius IV, Paul III, Clement VII and even Leo X of the famous fake “Christ a fable” quote. You can also find the fleur-de-lis in not a few famous places, ranging from the flag of Quebec to the helmets of the New Orleans Saints football team.
The authors claim that "flower of lily" matches "flower of a flower" "quite well" but it doesn't match it "well" -- it only matches it 50%. And, since it would hardly be any chore to somehow intentionally fulfill this, especially with a 15 year reign, this motto also fails miserably in terms of authentic and meaningful fulfillment.

John Paul I (1978) - Phrase: "de medietate lunae" (from the midst of the moon).
 
Here the authors think they have a whopper of a match, since John Paul was: 1) ”born in the diocese of Belluno" (and "luno" is Latin for moon); 2) John Paul ascended the papacy "on the precise day of a half-moon in its waning phase."
A "compelling match", as they say? Hardly! Again, the papal conclave would have little difficulty saying, "Hey, here's a guy who was born in Belluno. Ding. Forced match." (Not that this works anyway; the name of the city came from a Celtic phrase “belo dunums,” meaning “splendid hill”) And, if they hadn't had a guy from a place with a name like that, no problem because by just making sure his first day of service was on the half-moon day wouldn't be terribly hard (i.e., just dawdle in the conclave as long as needed so that it all works out). The authors' own records showed that it could take as long as 15-20 days to pick a new pope, and since there are two half moons, there were 2 chances each month to pin the tail on the donkey.

If all that failed, any papal candidate could have easily anticipated time to work out some fulfillment. John Paul ended up without that, since he died only a month into his reign, but he could hardly have known that would happen. As it is, a dawdling conclave makes for the quickest and easiest fulfillment.

We'll close by adding that the authors also uncritically accept the conspiracy theory that John Paul was poisoned. As with their acceptance of Cornwell's nonsense, this again reflects poorly on their research skills.

John Paul II (1978-2005) - Phrase: "de labore solis" (from the labor of the sun).
 
Yet another "light source" motto would make this an easy fulfillment in any event, but the authors, and Malachy, seemingly, got very lucky with this one. It is pointed out that John Paul was born during a solar eclipse, albeit one over the Indian Ocean, far away from Rome! And, he was also buried during one, albeit again, far away from Rome (over South America and the Pacific). Since it doesn't seem to matter to the authors (or maybe Rome) where a "fulfillment" occurs, even without the eclipse, it would not be hard to find something that would work like: sunspot activity, exceptional heat over some location, or even cloudy conditions where the sun "labors" to peek through the clouds. Also, it would not have been hard to delay John Paul's funeral to accommodate an eclipse. As it is, it took place 6 days after his death, but since he was born during one, this was just obvious "icing on the cake". And, of course, the papal conclave could easily select John Paul on that basis of having been born during a known eclipse. But, if they did not have such a candidate, there is, as noted, plenty of time to figure something out, especially with such a vague "prophecy."
As further proof of how useless this is, the Catholic site acknowledges the eclipse, but also suggests John Paul might have fulfilled it because he “comes from behind the former Iron Curtain (the East, where the Sun rises)” or “might also be seen to be the fruit of the intercession of the Woman Clothed with the Sun laboring in Revelation 12 (because of his devotion to the Virgin Mary).” Another conspiracy theorist connects it to John Paul’s origins in Poland, the “star of communism” or “sun of the workers.” Only Acharya S could do a semantic sashay to beat this one.

Pope Benedict XVI - Phrase: "gloria olivae" (glory of the olive).
 
The authors, by their reckoning, make this one a self-fulfiller, and it is an easy one. All Cardinal Ratizinger had to do, by their notion, is to pick the name "Benedict," for the olive branch is the symbol of the Benedictine monks. With typical “Left Behind” fervor, the authors also suppose this might connect to the soon fulfillment of the "Olivet Discourse", offering a series of potential future connections to Antichrist-like actions, which are little different than what we have heard from past failures like Hal Lindsey.

In contrast, the Catholic site rejects the connection to the Benedictines and goes for the idea that maybe Benedict XVI will be a peacemaker, a bearer of the “olive branch.” Given that it would not be hard for a pope, as a respected world figure, to find a way to do this somewhere during his reign, I don’t expect that will be hard to fulfill. It should be noted that before Ratzinger was elected, some speculated that it would be fulfilled by the election of a pope with “olive” skin (e.g., someone from Latin or Central America, or maybe someone of Jewish descent, relating to the olive tree as a Jewish symbol). Just more proof of how useless these “prophecies” are!)

We have thus seen that the ten most recent Malachy "fulfillments" are either gross failures or are so vague that they could be easily and readily "fulfilled" in any number of ways -- especially given that Popes had their entire reign to work something out, and papal conclaves had every ability to make the process easier. We might add that past mottoes were no more difficult to fulfill, such as:

  • Pius VIII -- "religious man" (gee, how many popes has this one missed on?).
  • Innocent XIII -- "from good religion" (that's a hard one to match when you select from a conclave of bishops who are already considered to be part of a "good religion"!).
  • Alexander VIII -- "glorious penitence" (not hard -- either find a guy who did a lot of penitence; or have him do a lot of penitence during his reign; or have him issue some papal statement about the subject – one conspiracy-monger claimed it was fulfilled because Alexander’s surname was “Peter,” who denied Christ and then repented!).
Other mottoes may have been harder to fit -- such as Innocent XII, "rake in the door" (?! … supposedly fulfilled because his surname was the Italian word for “rake”), but given all the available options for intentional fulfillment, and the vagueness of the mottoes, Horn and Putnam are doing no more than engaging in eschatological con artistry. For whatever reason, the Catholic Church is apparently wanting to match on these mottoes, but that in turn makes it worthless as real prophecy (a point that escapes Horn and Putnam completely).
According to the list, up next is the authors' title character -- Petrus Romanus, or Peter the Roman. Horn and Putnam think this will be the false prophet. The Catholic Church, of course, does not see it that way, and I suspect they are thinking, "well, thank goodness, we'll be done with this list after this guy" and fully expects to continue the papal line without having to worry about making some sort of match to Malachy's list.

I imagine Horn and Putnam would be little impressed, no more so than Whisenant or Camping were when elements of their case were debunked. They would say we are missing the forest for the trees, and that their case was more complex (though we'll take on more aspects as we proceed with this series), or come up with some other sort of holier-than-thou threats of the wait-and-see variety.

Well, we will wait and see … and when Horn and Putnam find themselves on the ash heap of history, along with Whisenant and Camping, I'm sure we'll also see the same sort of skilled rationalization we got from those characters.

Discuss on Theologyweb 


Link on Hitler's Pope

***

And while I'm here, here's the rest of the E-Block's contents this round:

* Part 4 and last looking at Winn's "Questioning Paul."
* Part 1 of a series look at Earl Doherty's replies to Bart Ehrman.
* Part 1 of a series evaluating near death experiences.
* Part 4 of a series on Orthodoxy.

2 comments:

  1. "The authors, at least, have the sense to admit that critics say the phrases are vague enough to be twisted to be seen as fulfilled in anything."

    By the time I'd read this far, this was beginning to remind me of the skit called "Did Dinosaurs Build Stonehenge?" from the 1970's show "Steve Martin's Best Show Ever." The skit has Eric Idle of Monty Python fame narrating a documentary about some crackpot's theory that is what the title suggests. After describing the theory, he raises the question, "Did... dinosaurs... build Stonehenge? Or is this... complete nonsense?" The clip is on Youtube. Do a search for it.

    "Was... the Malachy prophesy legitimate?... Or is this... complete nonsense?"

    ReplyDelete
  2. Actually I think Malachy was just composing text strings for the anti-spam CAPTCHA widgets that appear in the comments section of certain blogs and forums.

    Imagine "ignis ardens" in twisty, blurry squished up letters.

    ReplyDelete