Petrus Romanus, St. John Bosco, and the Pope of Fatima
Crucifixion of St. Peter, by Luca Giordano
There are some interesting parallels between the prophecy concerning Petrus Romanus and the vision of the pope being martyred in the Third Secret of Fatima. Although the validity of the prophetic list of popes attributed to St. Malachy is open to serious question, there is still enough accuracy involved in some of these mottoes to warrant some attention. The prophecy concerning Petrus Romanus (or "Peter the Roman") is by far the most detailed amongst the list of popes:
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 will be destroyed, and the dreadful judge will judge his people. The End.
Before we go any further into this subject, I would just like to highlight the fact that I'm wary of giving this prophecy too much credence. It is very much an unknown quantity. But for the sake of interesting discussion, for the time being, let's presume that it may indeed be valid, in order to explore some the wider implications of this particular verse. While the prophecy is fairly concise in nature, there is enough scriptural allusion here (as well as a certain symbolic depth) that can help to flesh out a fuller picture of the events actually being described. First off, is the fact that the prophecy alludes to the words of Jesus in John 21. The phrase "pasture his sheep" used in the verse concerning the last pope is a deliberate allusion to Christ's commission of St. Peter to look after the flock in His absence:
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep".
The threefold command to feed Christ's flock is juxtaposed with Peter's triple denial of Jesus before His Crucifixion. Perhaps even more importantly however, this apostolic commission to pasture the sheep is made in the immediate context of the famous prophecy of the means of the martyrdom of the very first pope:
Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”
So even taken separately, the words "pasture his sheep" in the prophecy of St. Malachy are loaded with meaning, and allude directly to the prophecy of the martyrdom of St. Peter. Whether the prophecy was made by St. Malachy or not, whoever it was that made this list certainly knew their theology of the end-times. This link to St. Peter is quite astute.
Another point worthy of consideration here is the fact that the martyrdom of Ss. Peter and Paul under the Emperor Nero provides the primary backdrop for narrative of the Two Witnesses being slain by the Beast that rises from the abyss in Rev 11:
"...when they have finished their testimony, the beast that rises from the bottomless pit will make war on them and conquer them and kill them, and their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city that symbolically is called Sodom and Egypt, where their Lord was crucified."
Scholars have long held that St. John had identified the Roman Emperor Nero with the Beast from the sea in Rev 13 by using Hebrew gematria (see the earlier post Hebrew 666?). Once transliterated from Greek into Hebrew, the name Kaiser Neron (Caesar Nero) has the numerical equivalent of 666 - an equation which was first noted by St. Irenaeus in the 2nd century AD. Given that Nero was identified with the Beast that rises from the abyss by the early Church, the preterist interpretation of the Two Witnesses of Rev 11 identifies these two figures as Ss. Peter and Paul. Tradition tells us that during the first persecution of Christians under Nero, St. Peter was crucified upside down at Vatican Hill, while St. Paul was beheaded at the site of Tre Fontane Abbey in Rome.
The Beheading of St. Paul, by Enrique Simonet
So by alluding to Christ's prophecy of the crucifixion of St. Peter in John 21, the verse relating to Petrus Romanus also highlights the significance of the relationship between the martyrdom of St. Peter and the narrative of the Two Witnesses in Rev 11. While the preterist meaning of the martyrdom of the Two Witnesses at the hands of the Beast that rises from the bottomless pit is certainly connected to the execution of Ss. Peter and Paul under the Emperor Nero (thus imbuing the text with a layer of meaning for the original audience), the Book of Revelation also makes it clear that this narrative also has an eschatological context that will only unfold towards the end of the world. The Two Witnesses are directly connected with the role of the end-time appearance of Elijah to "turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers” before "the great and awesome day of the Lord" (Mal 4:6). The author of the Apocalypse clearly adheres to the principle of cyclical history, and holds that past events are destined to repeat themselves in the future:
"What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done".
For the early Christian movement, the Emperor Nero embodied the very essence of the supreme antithesis of Christ. And just as the two main pillars of Christianity in the first century AD were martyred under the Roman Emperor Nero, so too will the two greatest figures in Christianity be put to death by the Antichrist at the end-time.
The phrase "in the final persecution of the Holy Roman Church" mentioned in the prophecy of Petrus Romanus is clearly meant to indicate that Peter the Roman is the pope who will reign during the last persecution of Christians under the Antichrist - a period in salvation history which the Catechism of the Catholic Church dubs the "final Passover" of the Church:
Before Christ's second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers. The persecution that accompanies her pilgrimage on earth will unveil the "mystery of iniquity" in the form of a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth. The supreme religious deception is that of the Antichrist, a pseudo-messianism by which man glorifies himself in place of God and of his Messiah come in the flesh...(CCC 675)
The Church will enter the glory of the kingdom only through this final Passover, when she will follow her Lord in his death and Resurrection... (CCC 677)
In the various footnotes concerning this final Passover of the Church mentioned in the Catechism, a number of prophecies concerning this final trial are highlighted:
"...they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name's sake. This will be your opportunity to bear witness. Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer, for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. You will be hated by all for my name's sake. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives."
"If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you."
It is this very same final Passover of the Church, during which the Catechism teaches that the Bride of Christ "will follow her Lord in his death and Resurrection", that is depicted visually in the Third Secret of Fatima:
And we saw in an immense light that is God: ‘something similar to how people appear in a mirror when they pass in front of it' a Bishop dressed in White ‘we had the impression that it was the Holy Father'. Other Bishops, Priests, men and women Religious going up a steep mountain, at the top of which there was a big Cross of rough-hewn trunks as of a cork-tree with the bark; before reaching there the Holy Father passed through a big city half in ruins and half trembling with halting step, afflicted with pain and sorrow, he prayed for the souls of the corpses he met on his way; having reached the top of the mountain, on his knees at the foot of the big Cross he was killed by a group of soldiers who fired bullets and arrows at him, and in the same way there died one after another the other Bishops, Priests, men and women Religious, and various lay people of different ranks and positions. Beneath the two arms of the Cross there were two Angels each with a crystal aspersorium in his hand, in which they gathered up the blood of the Martyrs and with it sprinkled the souls that were making their way to God.
In the third part of the Secret of Fatima, the Via Crucis of the Church is the final persecution of Christians that is still to take place under the Antichrist, who like the very first persecutor of Christians - the Emperor Nero, will put to death the two main evangelists who bring Christianity to the masses - one of whom various private revelations identify as the Angelic Pope. The Nero connection doesn't end there however. Just as the Emperor Nero famously burned Rome to the ground so that he could rebuild it again according to his own designs (pinning the blame for this conflagration on Christians), the theme of the "city in ruins" is a prominent feature of both the Third Secret and the prophecy of Petrus Romanus. In the Third Secret the "Bishop dressed in White" passes through a "big city half in ruins", making his way towards his own personal Calvary. This scenario is reflected in the prophetic list of popes, which describes the destruction of the "city with the seven hills" (i.e. Rome).
The city half in ruins in the vision of the Third Secret is highly symbolic in nature. The large cross at the top of the city clearly identifies it as Jerusalem - the place where the Lord was crucified, and the location of the martyrdom of the Two Witnesses (Rev 11:8). As such, it also symbolises the Heavenly Jerusalem - the Bride of Christ, which represents the Church as the New Israel. So the city can equally symbolise Rome, which for Catholics is none other than the New Jerusalem. The fact that this Holy City is lying half in ruins appears to represent the apostasy of a large number of the baptised members of the faith.
There could be another more literal layer to this prophecy that is still to be fulfilled in the future however, with either Rome or Jerusalem being devastated as a result of war or a major catastrophe. In my book, I outline the various prophecies of the eschatological earthquake centred in Jerusalem, which is described in the Bible as to accompanying the Second Coming of Christ. This event could very well account for the level of destruction foreseen in the Third Secret.
In the Book of Revelation, the Holy City is symbolically referred to as "Egypt" and "Sodom" at the death of the Two Witnesses - locations that were destroyed by fire coming down from heaven:
"and their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city that symbolically is called Sodom and Egypt, where their Lord was crucified."
Unveiling the Apocalypse: Petrus Romanus, St. John Bosco, and the Pope of Fatima:
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