Monday, March 10, 2014

Counting on the popes

Flexible figures

I confess: My weekend television viewing includes Jack Van Impe Presents. “Dr.” Van Impe claims multiple doctorates (but not from accredited institutions) and is probably best known for his facility at spewing Bible verses. He likes to make a statement and then append a string of chapter-verse citations. Occasionally Van Impe pauses to catch his breath, during which time his wife Rexella (also the holder of uncertain doctorates) offers praise to her husband or exhortations to the viewers.

During the episode scheduled for the first weekend in March 2014, Van Impe returned to a favorite topic: the pope in Rome. While most television evangelists are content to decry Roman Catholicism and its extra-biblical excesses, Van Impe frequently speaks positively about Pope Benedict and even cites passages from the Church's official catechism. His affection for Catholicism does not, however, extend so far as to endorse Francis, the current pontiff. Van Impe considers Pope Francis to be theologically unsound and suspects that he is fated to be the last man to occupy the papal throne.

Over the years, Van Impe has frequently referred to the supposed prophecy of St. Malachy. Apparently Malachy, a 12th-century Irish bishop, was favored with a vision that presented him with the identities of the next 112 popes. Each pope is described by a very short phrase that Malachy aficionados have not hesitated to twist into shockingly accurate (or shockingly strained) prognostications.  For example, Angelo Roncalli, elected in 1958 as Pope John XXIII, corresponds in Malachy's list to description #107, “Pastor and sailor.”  In what respect was John XXIII a sailor? The best anyone has come up with relates to Roncalli's position at the time of his election as Patriarch of Venice. The city has canals, you know. Hello, sailor!

Fortunately, I looked up from my Sunday crossword puzzle when Van Impe began his breathless description of the Malachy prophecy. The TV screen was crowded with a numbered list of papal names, beginning with Celestine II (the pope in office at the time of St. Malachy). Subsequent screenfuls displayed more names, progressing through the 112 of the alleged prophecy. A problem arose, however, with the last two screens:

It just so happens that John Paul II was the immediate successor of John Paul I. What is going on with Jack Van Impe's list, which displays the names of Gregory XVII, Michael I, and Pius XIII in the positions #108 through #110? These men were (are) antipopes and have no place in this roster. Michael, in fact, is a self-proclaimed pope who washed out of a seminary program; he's not even a priest. I suspect he's read Baron Corvo's Hadrian VII a few times too many.

Thus Van Impe's list is badly screwed up. Shall we all breathe a sigh of relief and rest easy that we are spared the anxiety of an apocalyptic last pope? Sorry! There are plenty of papal lists that correct Van Impe's mistakes and end up matching Francis with #112, the last pope on Malachy's list (not #113). This final pope is supposed to be “Peter the Roman,” but Cardinal Bergoglio disappointed many superstitious prophecy fans when he chose to name himself after Francis of Assisi instead of St. Peter. However, the father of St. Francis was named Peter—and that's proof enough that Malachy was right! Sort of!

Really and truly, these people should dress up in funny outfits and go to Comic-Con.


Gene O'Pedia said...

There's one big difference between you and me, Zeno. If I were doing a crossword with the TV on in the background and Mr/Dr. Van Impe came on, I'd just turn off the TV.

Which might explain why you're writing a blog and I'm reading it!

Kathie said...

I'm with Gene on this: I'd turned off the TV too.