St-Malachy, The Man Who Foresaw Petrus Romanus

The Man Who Foresaw the Final Pope?

In the modest settlement of Armagh, in the beautiful, sweeping, emerald lands of Northern Ireland, in the year 1094, a nobleman and chief by the name of Lector Ua Morgair and his well-cultured wife celebrated the dawning of new life in their son, Máel Máedóc Ua Morgair. Neither of them could have known how the tiny boy they had just delivered would become a central figure in End-Times prophecy.Little Máel Máedóc Ua Morgair (anglicized to the more modern “Malachy”) lived his early, boyish days skipping amidst the comfortable sounds and familiar, candlelit ambiance of the Armagh Cathedral.

He remained educated under the personal tutelage of his learned father, Lector of Armagh, until the fateful day of Lector’s death in the year 1102. Malachy and his brother and sister were then raised by his mother alone, a woman who had been described as “A dutiful, Christian woman”[i] by St. Bernard de Clairvaux.As the years progressed, Malachy continued his studies under the mentorship of Imar (also spelled “Imhar”) O’Haglan: a man who focused his teachings on renouncing earthly pleasures to preserve the eternal soul.

Following in O’Haglan’s ascetical footsteps, Malachy showed astute perception within the walls of the cathedral and the shabby cell beneath where O’Haglan spent his days like a hermit. Despite the protests of his sister and school acquaintances when self-flagellation, penance, and other religious practices grew to be ultimately more important than becoming an inspired professor like his father before him, Malachy continued searching for opportunities to express his passion for the Church and the life he believed he was chosen to lead. Drawing everyday nearer to the effects of O’Haglan’s authority and vision, Malachy soon introduced Gregorian chants into his regime, and a zeal for Church reform.

By the age of twenty-two, the archbishop Cellach of Armagh (also spelled “Ceollach” and “Celsus”), a good acquaintance to O’Haglan, found such promise and exception in the young man that he put aside canonical law and ordained the youth as a deacon three years prior to custom. In 1119, he declared Malachy vicar-general and entrusted him with the duty of reforming the diocese while he was away. The changes observed in the diocese were immediate and extraordinary. Malachy’s sermons of penance ignited a passion in the common people and stirred the laity to respect canonical rules of the Church.

Eventually Malachy headed to Lismore to revise and sharpen his knowledge of the canon under the teaching and advice of well-known scholar Bishop Malchus. (St. Bernard writes that Bishop Malchus was “an old man, full of days and virtues, and the wisdom of God was in him.”[ii] He goes on to further explain that the bishop was later acknowledged as performing two miracles, one wherein he healed a young boy of a mental disorder who later became his porter, and another wherein “when the saint put his fingers into his ears on either side he perceived that two things like little pigs came out of them.”[iii] These distinctions of Bishop Malchus’ reputation are of importance to St. Bernard, “that it may be known to all what sort of preceptor Malachy had in the knowledge of holy things.”[iv] Needless to say, Malachy worked and studied with associates whose names circulated within the Church as significant.)


Though his trip to Lismore was meant for a time of quiet learning, Malachy’s was not idle there, taking opportunities to speak out on current affairs within the Church that concerned him, and was often sent by Malchus himself “to preach the word of God to the people and to correct many evil practices which had developed over the years. He achieved notable success. To reform the clergy he instituted regulations concerning celibacy and other ecclesiastical discipline, and reinstituted the recitation of the canonical hours. Most importantly, he gave back the sacraments to the common people, sending good priests among them to instruct the ignorant. He returned to Armagh in 1123.”[v]

This same year, Malachy was appointed Abbot of Bangor where he assisted in helping rebuild the abbey and establish a seminary. More importantly, from this time forward, a series of miracles and the gift of prophecy were attributed to him. One notable prophecy, especially hard to chalk up to pure coincidence, finds fulfillment in the twentieth century:

Ireland will suffer English oppression for a week of centuries [700 years], but will preserve her fidelity to God and His Church. At the end of that time she will be delivered, and the English in turn must suffer severe chastisement. Ireland, however, will be instrumental in bringing back the English to the unity of Faith.

Complete Anglo-Norman domination of Ireland was achieved a century after Malachy’s prediction. Independence for the southern part of Ireland came 700 years later in the early 20th century. If this utterance is not apocryphal, then it predates the schism between the Church of England and the Catholic faith by four centuries and implies that Anglicanism will falter sometime in our near future when the final pope finishes his reign.[vi]

Yet, Yves DuPont argues this began in the twelfth century and ended after WW2. He says, “The liberation has come in stages: World War I, independence within the British Empire; World War II, complete independence. Thus, Ireland was under British rule for seven centuries.”[vii] However, it just as likely applies to the rampant secularism in England ultimately being conquered by Christianity.

At thirty years of age, Malachy became Bishop Malachy of Down and Connor. John Hogue says of Malachy’s new position: “The bishopric was considered one of Ireland’s blackest holes for the faith. Malachy would face a moratorium on church tithes, a shortage of priests and an even greater shortage of celibate clerics; he would wince at the improvised performances of the sacraments based on the rejection of canon law in favor of native and often semi-pagan Irish rituals.”[viii] With passion, yet still humble as a true servant of God, Malachy spoke out about Church reform and continuously brought more and more attention to himself as a true trailblazer.

Never before had Malachy seen such lax cohesion to the laws of God within the walls of the Church. Discipline, offering, tithing, giving of the first-fruits, and going to confession were things of the past; marriages were made illegally. Christians behaved like pagans. “Never had he found men so shameless in regard of morals, so dead in regard of rites, so impious in regard of faith, so barbarous in regard of laws, so stubborn in regard of discipline, so unclean in regard of life.”[ix] Nevertheless, believing that he was a “shepherd and not a hireling,”[x] Malachy fought the issues head-on and in his enthusiasm, discovered followers who were willing to flock to his side to reestablish devotion to the rituals.

About this time according to legend, Malachy had a dream in which a woman appeared to him and revealed her identity as Archbishop Cellach’s wife. She handed Mallachy a pastoral staff, and then disappeared. He shared this with those in his company and it was esteemed important because for approximately fifteen generations by this time in Armagh, people high up in both secular politics and the Church had maintained office within family hierarchies. As a result, it was normal to nominate a successor to the seat of the archbishop by heritage instead of Church works. Archbishop Cellach, however, impressed by Malachy’s ministry, rejected the expectations of his family in this regard. Hoping that Malachy could bring new life and hope to the Church, and wanting to put a stop to hereditary succession of the office, Cellach charged those under him with the task of spreading word that Malachy would be given his seat as Archbishop of Armagh. When the word reached Malachy, it came as no surprise after the dream he’d had, and just days after Cellach passed away, Malachy received Cellach’s staff (the one from his dream), and a letter confirming the news of his latest promotion.

Cellach’s family was outraged. Feeling usurped by his decision to appoint someone outside the family as archbishop, tension rose between them and Malachy. Cellach’s cousin, Murtagh (also spelled “ Murtough” and “Muirchetrach”), fancied himself worthy of the role, and his family stood behind him in his campaign to become archbishop, ready even to use force to claim the position if necessary. The people of the Church fell in support of Malachy, equally ready for the hereditary succession of the office to end.

Three years passed while Malachy remained at the monastery, not refusing the archbishopric but unwilling to participate in a war between Murtagh and the Church. The papal legate eventually became revolted enough by Murtagh’s tyranny that the Church ordered Malachy, by threat of impending excommunication, to take his position. Malachy conceded and in response to the order, accepted his bishopric from a distance to avoid the mayhem of political/religious war. He made a deal with the legate that if the Church was ever fully restored to freedom in matters of succession, in return he wanted a leave from leadership so that he might find time to be alone in his studies and away from obligatory office. Remaining safely just outside the city, he maintained governance as the acknowledged Archbishop of Armagh, without immediately taking possession of his See.

When Murtagh passed away in 1134, he revealed that Niall, Cellach’s brother, would be his successor. During this time, the people generally believed that anyone in possession of the crosier of St. Patrick (the Bachal Isu, of “Staff of Jesus”) and the Book of Gospels (or Holy Book) was the true archbishop. In lieu of this, Niall saw and seized his opportunity to appear the legitimate and rightful archbishop by stealing these two artifacts from the cathedral of Armagh. Although history is cloudy when it comes to the issue of retrieving the stolen artifacts from Niall (most records point to a small war between the two sides, which was rumored to be brought to an end by diplomacy from Malachy, followed by his purchasing the artifacts back from Niall), Malachy did eventually get them back and take his place as primate in the cathedral city of Armagh. “In 1138, having broken the tradition of hereditary succession, rescued Armagh from oppression, restored ecclesiastical discipline, re-established Christian morals, and seeing all things tranquil, Malachy resigned his post as originally agreed.”[xi] Malachy retired to Bangor to live in rest for a time, among the camaraderie of his fellow monks, but with few demands on his schedule or solitary study.

Eventually Malachy felt the need to gain meeting with Pope Innocent II in Rome to officially recognize the archbishops (and the Sees) of Armagh and Cashel with a pallium, an official woolen cloak of authority, for each to signify the bishopric jurisdiction over the ecclesiastical provinces and to gain favor and blessing from the papal for the developments within the Church. In 1139, he gathered a few travelling companions and pack animals and headed to Rome through Scotland, England, and France. It was during his travels that he arrived at the Cistercian Abbey of Clairvaux, where he met the future-saint Bernard (who would later be his central biographer). Resting there for a short time, Malachy became enchanted with the Abbey and made a very close friendship with its abbot. Abbot Bernard was unusual in his approach to ministry. He maintained fitness of the body by practicing martial arts and kept those in his presence ready at all times to be counted upon for defending the Church at all costs. He proved to be such a wellspring of religious passion for Malachy that when the time came for him to leave the abbey and continue his pilgrimage to Rome, Malachy made a secret plan to ask for retirement in the seclusion of Clairvaux.

Sixteen months after the journey began Malachy finally arrived in Rome, his heart and mind lifted and hopeful. Quickly, he was brought to Pope Innocent II for official audience. Innocent approved Malachy’s request for the pallia but with strict conditions: Malachy would take on new responsibilities. He was now the Papal Legate of Ireland with all of its ensuing political intricacies. This was not what he had wanted; he so desperately desired the peace and serenity of the Abbey. It was upon leaving the seven-hilled city so frustrated, framed by the breathtaking Western view from Janiculum Hill that it came upon him. Because of the impiety of the popes, Rome would burn.

As the legend goes, Malachy experienced what is today considered a famous vision commonly called “The Prophecy of the Popes.” The prophecy is a list of Latin verses predicting each of the Roman Catholic popes from Pope Celestine II to the final pope, “Peter the Roman,” whose reign would end in the destruction of Rome. According to this ancient prophecy, the very next pope (following Benedict XVI) will be the final pontiff, Petrus Romanus or Peter the Roman.

The final segment of the prophecy reads:

In persecutione extrema S. R. E. sedebit Petrus Romanus, qui pascet oves in multis tribulationibus: quibus transactis civitas septicollis deruetur et judex tremendus judicabit populum. Finis.[xii]

Which is rendered:

In extreme persecution, the seat of the Holy Roman Church will be occupied by Peter the Roman, who will feed the sheep through many tribulations; when they are over, the city of seven hills will be destroyed, and the terrible or fearsome Judge will judge his people. The End.[xiii]

The Good News and the Bad News

After studying the history of the prophecy of the popes and the surrounding scholarly literature, we have some good news and some very bad news, which we will begin discussing in the next entry.

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