With the sudden resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, there has been a whirlwind of speculation about what is next for the Church in both the secular and Catholic media. Many in the secular world wonder if the Church will change Her stance on certain doctrines. (No.) In the Catholic world, there has been much whispering and worry over what this means for the Church. Is there a chance the next Pope could be the Antichrist, like many suggest? Do the prophecies of St. Malachy from the 12th century indicate that the next Pope will be the last one EVER? Or are we freaking out over nothing?
Next Pope = Antichrist?
The “Papal-Antichrist” theory is frequently thrown around, and many Protestant sects hold this belief. This theory espouses that the system of the Papacy itself is the Antichrist, and therefore, each Pope is a tool of the Antichrist. Luther, Calvin, Cranmer, and the majority of Protestants during the time period of the Reformation held this view, as their way of justifying their break from the Catholic Church. Cardinal Newman has given great insight on this belief in his dissertation, “The Protestant Idea of Antichrist”:
“The Papal-Antichrist theory was gradually developed by three historical bodies: the Albigenses, the Waldenses, and the Fraticelli, between the eleventh and the sixteenth centuries: are these the expositors from whom the Church of Christ is to receive the true interpretation of the prophecies?” – Cardinal John Henry Newman
The “Pope is the Antichrist” assertion is NOT a Catholic one, but rather, one created by those who are most vehemently anti-Catholic; it addresses the Papacy as a whole, not just the next Pope. Besides some modern visionaries (whose visions are NOT approved by the Church), no Catholic with any authority has declared that the Antichrist will sit on the throne of Peter, nor has the Church ever held the belief that the Antichrist will come in the form of a Pope.
So what do actual Catholic theologians say about the Antichrist? That he “shall not come as a righteous king nor as a legitimate king in subjection to God, but as an impious, unjust, and lawless one” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies); “For even Antichrist, when he shall begin to come, will not enter into the Church [even though] he threatens” (Cyprian of Carthage); “he will constitute and call himself God, and will order himself to be worshipped as the Son of God” (Lactantius).
Even the term “antichrist” itself carries the connotation of one who does not profess the divinity of Christ. “For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist.” 2 John 1:7
The Antichrist is someone who will lead people away from the Truth. And since we know that the Catholic Church teaches the fullness of Truth, it does not seem like someone who will be the visible head of the Church of Christ on Earth. Considering the Antichrist will preach heresy and blasphemy, that would seem to fly in the face of Matthew 16:18 (the gates of hell shall not prevail), as well as the doctrine of Papal Infallibility (the Pope will not teach error on matters of faith or morals when speaking as the spiritual head of the Church.) And seeing as though this idea was proposed and promulgated by those who hold the Catholic Church in contempt, why would we want to give their theory any weight?
Next Pope = Last Pope?
St. Malachy was an Irish Archbishop from the 12th century. The “Prophecy of the Popes” are a series of prophesies attributed to him that supposedly predict the Papacy from his time to the end of the world. According to the proponents of the prophecy, Pope Benedict XVI is the Pope referred to in the 111th prophecy. The 112th prophecy states: “In the extreme persecution of the Holy Roman Church, there will sit … Peter the Roman, who will nourish the sheep in many tribulations; when they are finished, the city of seven hills will be destroyed, and the dreadful judge will judge his people. The end.”
If the St. Malachy prophecy is true, the next Pope will be the last, and the end of the world is quickly approaching. Which means we are living in the time of the great apostasy, the coming of the Antichrist, persecution, potential wars, pestilence, famine.
It is important to note that these prophecies were supposedly originally received in a vision St. Malachy had in 1139, during a visit to Rome. However, they were not discovered until the 1590s. St. Bernard of Clairvaux, a close friend of St. Malachy, penned his biography and made absolutely no mention of them (although his gift of prophecy WAS mentioned.) Jimmy Akin has a truly excellent, in-depth analysis of the St. Malachy prophecy and why he believes it to be untrue. The veracity of these prophecies is dubious at best, and they are not Church-approved (unlike the prophecies and visions of Fatima, Lourdes, and the like.) While they are interesting to read through and to try to make connections, we should not allow them to hold much weight.
Does it matter? Why are we so concerned?
As humans, we have an often insatiable curiosity. We want to know the future, and our prediction for the future often determines our course of action. Will we buy black plastic to put over our windows for the three days of darkness? Will we increase our food storage to protect ourselves against the potential natural disasters that will come at the end of the world?
The world may very well end in 2 years, 3 years, 5 years. We may indeed go through intense persecution and suffer martyrdom. We may perish in a natural disaster sent by God as a precursor to The End. Or the world could end in 50 years, 100 years, or 2 millennia from now.
So what if it is in God’s plan for the world to end in 2015? Is it wrong to be concerned, to prepare? What if the next Pope is in fact the last Pope (regardless of the veracity of the St. Malachy prophecies)?
Here’s the thing. It is in our nature to be concerned about the end because we want to be prepared – hopefully, prepared to die well so that we can enter Heaven. But what if we don’t make it to the end of the world? What if you die in your sleep tonight? Are you prepared to meet God face to face, and to face His Just Judgment? The end of THE world may not be the end of YOUR world. Are you ready?
While it is a little thrilling to read prophesies and wonder about when the Earth is going to be consumed by fire (2 Peter 3:12), it’s important to remember that we will all die. It doesn’t matter whether we die at the end of the world or we die in our sleep. What matters is that we are READY for death. Go to confession regularly. Attend Mass. Pray. Pray the Rosary. Wear the scapular. We should pray for the grace of a holy death every day, since the most important thing we will ever do is die, and our disposition when we die determines where we will spend eternity. If we are doing these things, we have nothing to fear. We will always be ready for death, whether it comes “like a thief in the night” or if it comes at the end of the world. And while it’s fine to speculate about the end and to peruse predictions, we should not allow it to consume our thoughts, to worry us, or to distract us from our vocations. Stop stressing over it! – no one gets out of here alive, anyway.
And let us pray for the Cardinals as the conclave commences, that they may allow their hearts to be guided by the voice of the Holy Spirit and elect a holy and worthy successor to the See of Peter.