Some people deride the Prophecies of St. Malachy as forgery containing simple pious nonsense, while others fervently believe them to be accurate, if obscure, clues about all the popes from Malachy's day to the end of the world. Then there are those, like myself, who are somewhat skeptical but also willing to be convinced that they are, in fact, genuine predictions made by the Irish saint.
We may delve more deeply into these prephecies on this weblog, but for the moment, I wanted to post a few thoughts about his Latin motto pertaining to this next pope: Gloria Olivae or Glory of the Olive.
That's all he wrote. Literally. So it leaves hardly anything upon which to base speculation about what this phrase means.
I was being interviewed on a large AM talk radio station in Ohio a few days ago, and this issue was front and center in the host's and the callers' minds. On the show, I offered the following possibilities for understanding the meaning of "Gloria Olivae" [again, assuming for the sake of discussion that these statements about the popes by St. Malachy are in some way authentic and meaningful].
1) "Glory of the Olive" could refer to a Jewish cardinal or bishop being elected pope. In Romans 11, St. Paul descibes the Jews as a cultivated olive tree, and those Jews who, at the time of Christ, willfully rejected Him, are depicted by St. Paul as branches of that olive tree that were "snapped off." Gentile believers are likened to branches from a wild olive tree that were grafted on to the cultivated tree (i.e. Israel). The only current cardinal I am aware of who is Jewish by ancestry is Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, the retired former archbishop of Paris. His election seems to be a major long shot, but when it comes to papal conclaves, expect the unexpected (e.g. the election of Cardinal Karol Wojtiya)
2) "Glory of the Olive" could refer to some spectacular peace or peace initiative that would transpire during the reign of the next pope. I am under the impression, though, that the symbol of an olive branch as a connotation of "peace" is of relatively modern origin. Therefore, it may be purely anachronistic to assume that this refers to peace.
3) "Glory of the Olive" could refer to the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem (in this case, Archbishop Michel Sabbah, a Palestinian) being elected. The olive tree is a frequent symbol in Scripture, and the Mount of Oilves overlooking the Old City, is the location of such momentous events as Christ's weeping over Jerusalem, His Agony in the Garden, the Great Commission, and His Ascension. This, too, seems to me to be a long shot, in part because Archbishop Sabbah is not a cardinal, and it seems likely, if not certain, that whoever is elected will be one of the 115 cardinals who enter the conclave on March 18th.
4) "Glory of the Olive" could refer to a member of the Order of St. Benedict being elected pope. A branch of the Benedictines has been known historically as the "Olivetans," I haven't researched whether any of the cardinals who will vote in this conclave are Benedictines (techincally, when a religious is consecrated a bishop ordinary he becomes a member of the secular [i.e. diocesan] clergy), but even if there are none, it's possible, though not likely, that a man who is not a cardinal could be elected. I think this fourth understing of "Glory of the Olive" is the least likely.
I will try to post more on this general issue. I suspect that some who read this (and I'm thinking of a few in particular) will chime in with the obligatory “the prophecies of St. Malachy are a medieval forgery, not to be taken seriously,” etc. That's okay. It seems to me thatif nothing else, these alleged prophecies are an interesting topic for discussion. (Originally written on April 11, 2005.)