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It has always been a cottage industry to speculate on the anti-christ and also to wonder -- especially among evangelical Protestants -- if the anti-christ will one day reign in Rome.

For an interesting review of anti-christ speculation, from days of old to the current, see: Defiance, the Anti-Christs of History and Their Doomed War Against the Church, by Father Joseph M. Esper (who also gave us Spiritual Dangers of the Twenty-First Century). We'll be reviewing this book soon.

It's interesting to note that the word "anti-christ" itself is used just twice through Scripture, in 1 John 2:22 and 2 John 1:7, where it's also used in the plural: anti-christs (2:18). "Children, it is the last hour," we are told by 2 John, "and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour."

Anti-christ is defined as one who "denies the Father and Son," and in the plural could relate to the many diabolical leaders from the Caesars and Antiochus onward (most recently, men like Marx, Lenin, and Stalin).

Anti-Christ, more than anything, is written of as a spirit.

The "spirit of anti-christ" -- which is alive in Godless materialism.

At the time that 2 John was written -- perhaps in the 90s (in Ephesus) --  men like Caligula Caesar, Nero Claudius Caesar, Tiberius Julius Caesar, and Domitian Caesar already had reigned. Many believe that the number of the "beast" in Revelation is a coded reference to one of the Caesars, perhaps Nero, whose name in Greek transliterates into Hebrew as נרונ קסר, and yields a numerical value of 666  (letters did double duty as numbers). Others argue that this could not be the case because Revelation indicates a future figure, a beast, as well as a dragon, and a false prophet on the world scene -- in the last days (one and the same or in league with one another: figures of perdition).

Whatever the case or "whoever" he is, the prophetic pulse for two millennia now has been that mankind will one day face an unusual personage of evil who will affect a new world order after mankind has been broken down through those "tribulations."

Might this coming "beast" be of greater effect than even a Hitler or Caesar -- although not necessarily out front as a public leader -- and even be a figure who operates in or around the religious scene as the Great Deceiver?

Many point to the alleged prophecies of Saint Malachy O'Morgair, archbishop of Armagh, Ireland, who purportedly formulated a coded list of the remaining Catholic pontiffs and ends with one called "Petrus Roman" who follows another, "the glory of the olive."  

The current Pope chose the name Benedict after Benedict XV (the Pope during Fatima, above left) and the name derives from St. Benedict who started the Benedictine order -- the Crest for which is an Olive Branch.

Does that mean the next Pope -- "Petrus Romanus" -- will be the last (at least on Saint Malachy's list)?

There is argument over whether others through the centuries have meddled with Malachy's list -- and whether the saint, who lived in the twelfth century, even formulated it.

He is quoted as saying that the final Pope on his list, Petrus, "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 (Finis)."

You may recall that in the Book of Revelation (Chapter 17), the "great whore of Babylon" (interpreted by many as an or the anti-christ) is represented as sitting on "seven mountains," and those who like to think of it as related to the Vatican point out that there are the famous Seven Hills of Rome (though, actually, the Vatican itself is across the Tiber River, on an eighth hill called Latin Collis Vaticanus).

Thus, interpretations imputing the Vatican are not just speculative but potentially dangerous, popular among those who tend to be antagonistic to the Vatican (both Protestant evangelicals and schismatic Catholics). In recent days, an evangelical type named Tom Horn has been promoting a book called precisely Petrus Romanus that even seeks to relate it all to Marian prophecies such as Fatima and LaSalette; and, indeed, it is intriguing, for at LaSalette, there was mention -- in a part of the message the Church never accepted -- that "Rome will lose the faith and become the seat of the Anti-Christ."

But does that mean the Vatican?

The theory, as far as Fatima, is that the Vatican put a "seal" around visionary Sister Lucia dos Santos and muscled her into keeping a text of the famous third secret just that: secret -- revealing only an image (the angel with flaming torch, the felled "bishop in white," etcetera) that accompanied the still-hidden message.

Claim Horn and co-author Chris Putnam:

"After all, the first two parts of the Message of Fatima had been publicly issued by her Bishop in 1941, and the third secret sent to the Holy See with instructions that it be made public in 1960. That year was chosen according to Lucy because the 'Holy Mother' had revealed to her that it would then be when 'the Message will appear more clear.' And lo and behold it was immediately following 1960 that Vatican II set in motion what many conservative Catholics today believe is a crisis of faith in the form of Roman heresies. 

"And though there could have been much more to the revelation than just a Vatican II warning, and the secret was not released in 1960 as it was supposed to be anyway (so we may never know), when Pope John XXIII read the contents of the secret, he refused to publish it, and it remained under lock and key until it was supposedly disclosed in the year 2000.

"Something about the third and final secret was different, a phenomenon evidently to be avoided and obfuscated at all costs by the hierarchy of Rome. At a minimum, it spoke of the apostatizing of the clergy and dogma that followed Vatican II. And yet perhaps these were simply devices to lead to something more sinister, elements so dark that it was keeping Lucia awake at night. When she finally had written down the Secret in 1944 under obedience to Rome, she had a hard time doing so because of its terrifying contents. It had taken a fresh visit from the 'Holy Mother' herself to convince Lucy it was okay. Then in the years following, she had been ordered by the Vatican to remain silent concerning its disclosure.

"Visits to her for hours at a time were made by [Secretary of State] Cardinal [Tarcisio] Bertone under orders from the Pope during which the two of them would go over the diminutive aspects of the vision in private. This happened in 2000, again in 2001, and again in 2003. When at age ninety-seven the Carmelite nun finally passed away (2005), taking whatever secrets remained with her to the grave, her behavior at the last seemed odd to Catholics who understood Roman doctrinal 'salvation' implications.

"[Author] Antonio Socci comments on this, pointing out how the long visits with the aged seer were not videotaped or recorded for posterity because viewers would have seen for themselves the psychological pressure that was being exerted on the cloistered Sister. 'These thoughts came back to my mind while I was reading a passage of Bertone’s book, in which the Cardinal remembers that at one point the seer was 'irritated,' and she told him 'I’m not going to confession!' About this, Socci wonders, 'What kind of question could Sister Lucy answer to so strongly? Maybe someone was reminding the old Sister of the ecclesiastical power, and hinting that she would ‘not get absolution’? We don’t know, because the prelate [Bertone]—who knows and remembers the Sister’s (quite tough) answer very well—says he literally ‘forgot’ what his question was.'”

It all gets very conspiratorial.

The theory: that Pope John Paul II and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger wanted to release the third secret in full (alleged text plus visual) but didn't when faced with the formidable opposition of then-Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano and others connected with a plot to introduce "Petrus Roman," the false prophet.

"'At the same time, wrote the Traditionalist, 'at the May 13 2000 beatification ceremony of Jacinta and Francisco, Pope John Paul II would "reveal" the other part—the most "terrifying part"—of the secret obliquely in his sermon. It was here that John Paul II spoke on the Apocalypse: 'Another portent appeared in Heaven; behold, a great red dragon' (Revelation 12: 3). These words from the first reading of the Mass make us think of the great struggle between good and evil, showing how, when man puts God aside, he cannot achieve happiness, but ends up destroying himself… The Message of Fatima is a call to conversion, alerting humanity to have nothing to do with the 'dragon' whose 'tail swept down a third of the stars of Heaven, and dragged them to the earth (12:4).

"The Fathers of the Church have always interpreted the stars as the clergy, and the stars swept up in the dragon’s tail indicates a great number of churchmen who would be under the influence of the devil. This was Pope John Paul II’s way of explaining that the Third Secret also predicts a great apostasy."

"If Socci is correct, in this analysis,"  continue Protestants Horn and Putnam, "Bishop Richard Nelson Williamson, an English traditionalist Catholic and member of the Society of St. Pius X who opposes changes in the Catholic Church brought on by Vatican II, may have verified his hypothesis in 2005 when he related how a priest acquaintance of his from Austria shared privately that Cardinal Ratzinger had confessed: 'I have two problems on my conscience: Archbishop Lefebvre and Fatima. As to the latter, my hand was forced.' Who could have 'forced' Ratzinger’s hand to go along with a false or partial statement on the final Fatima secret? Was it pressure from the papal office, or, as Williamson questions, 'Some hidden power behind both Pope and Cardinal?'" 

It's pretty exotic stuff -- and one of the co-authors is certainly known for exotic stuff (including a lot of conspiratorial speculations on Nephilim, transhumanism, and UFOs). To imply that the next Pope will be the "false prophet" of Revelation (making way for the Anti-Christ, or an anti-christ himself) is very perilous, perhaps even dark; one must be extremely careful here.

The Vatican is the easy target. The anti-christ is not bound to be so predictable.

The bottom line: if "Petrus Romanus" is the false prophet, why did Malachy allegedly say (to repeat) that "In the extreme persecution of the Holy Roman Church, there will sit [i.e., as bishop] Peter the Roman, who will pasture his sheep in many tribulations" [our italics]?

[resources: Defiance, the Anti-Christs of History and Their Doomed War Against the Church and The Prophecies of Saint Malachy]

[Michael Brown retreat in northern California]

[see also: Is Benedict the second-to-last Pope?]

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