Following the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, the Cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church opened their conclave in Rome on Tuesday. At the end of their first day, black smoke rose over the Sistine Chapel, indicating that no decision had been reached regarding the next pope.
Lack of consensus on the first day was expected. When white smoke rises from the Chapel, a new Pope will have been selected.
But, does an ancient prophecy suggest that the successor to Pope Benedict XVI will be the last Pope?
While Catholic historians generally believe the prophecies attributed Saint Malachy, a 12-century Archibishop of Armagh, Ireland are a forgery, the prophecy says that the final Pope will be identified as "Peter the Roman" and this will bring about the destruction of Rome and the beginning of the Apocalypse.
A Benedictine named Arnold Wion first published the prophecies in 1595.
Of the final Pope the alledged prophecy says:
In the final persecution of the Holy Roman Church, there will sit Peter the Roman, who will pasture his sheep in many tribulations, and when these things are finished, the city of seven hills [Rome] will be destroyed, and the dreadful judge will judge his people. The End.
Allegedly, Malachy's prophecy names Benedict XVI as the 111th and next to last Pope. His prophecy ends with the 112th Pope.
But Roberto Rusconi, Professor of History of Christianity at Rome's University says, "There is no historical foundation at all to St. Malachy's list. Malachy's gift was to make other people believe in his predictions."
While the Prophecy of the Popes is well known in the Vatican, it is not accepted Catholic teaching.
According to Sister Madeleine Grace, historical theologian at the Univeristy of St. Thomas, "There are just a number of red flags. The material that implies they're talking about future popes is rather scanty indeed, and there are factual errors. The likelihood is that they're some kind of forgery." [NBC News via Catholic Online]
Much like the Mayan prophecy or Harold Camping who had predicted Christ's return, these prophecies seem to overlook a scripture.
But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.
~ Matthew 24:36
Will the next Pope be the last Pope? Maybe. Maybe not.
Either way, we likely won't be able to predict it.