On the Nature of Prophecy

Regarding the resignation of Benedict XVI

Patrizia Norelli-Bachelet
Director, Aeon Centre of Cosmology

Recently the world received the unexpected news of the resignation of Benedict XVI, pope of the Roman Catholic Church. Newspapers and TV channels have given us statistics: this is the only voluntary resignation of a pope since the 13th Century when circumstances were very different. On the surface it is apparent that a lack of vitality was impeding Benedict from fulfilling his duties. His diminishing strength has been evident for some time. There will be any number of theories floating about which are justified in the circumstances; and certainly this pope had been carrying a heavy burden on his shoulders.
For the most part, I will leave speculation to those best qualified for the task, but of course we can expect more news on this fascinating turn of events, foremost of which will be the selection of the next Pontiff. There is speculation that the time has come for a black pope, or else one of the cardinals from South America. If the papal selection were a reward for the number of converts or the size of the existing laity, that might be the case. But the position held by the head of Roman Catholicism has geo-political value which may not be fulfilled by the candidates from those continents.

Benedict’s resignation is indeed fascinating because in perhaps the most important prophetic text of Christianity, The Revelation of St John, the condition of the Church today was foreseen some 2000 years ago. Regarding certain specific verses, I wrote in my commentary on John’s text that they describe an ‘end of the papacy as it is now known’. The visionary described events surrounding the popes of the 20th Century – that is, approximately 2000 years into the future from the time the verses were written. To my knowledge no one before me had made a convincing connection with our times, but the verses themselves prove the point. In 1976 I published The Hidden Manna, a commentary on The Revelation. I am bringing the relevant portions of my book to readers today because of the light they throw on the nature of prophecy itself.
I found John’s text to be of a more universal character than appears on the surface, in keeping with the atmosphere prevailing today in which a more global consciousness seeks to replace the old way of viewing the world. Ostensibly his prophecy was centred on the Second Coming of Jesus, but this may not have been entirely the case. However, given the recent resignation of Benedict, I will set aside that aspect of the text and concentrate on the verses that pertain specifically to these current developments and the state of the Church in the last century, carried over into the 21th through the 8th pope and culminating with the 9th, Benedict XVI.
The verses in question speak of five ‘kings’; however, I understood them to be popes. At the time of John’s vision, immediately following the death of Jesus, it is unlikely that the term pope was in vogue. But with the right key to decipher the enigmatic Revelation, the verses themselves make it clear that he was foreseeing the line of popes from the beginning of the 20th Century up to the present Pontiff. Here are the verses from Chapter XVII:

9 And here is the mind which hath wisdom. The seven heads are the seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth.
10 And there are seven kings: five are fallen, and one is, and the other is not yet come; and when he cometh, he must continue a short space.
11 And the beast that was, and is not, even he is the eighth, and is of the seven, and goeth into perdition.

The key to understand the above verses lies in the ability to know when the text could be deciphered, insofar as that future time was written into the prophecy itself. (Readers in India would not be surprised by this statement insofar as the Brighu readings of natal horoscopes often follow a similar pattern.) The clue was given by the prophet himself. It can be noted that John wrote in the present tense (‘…one is…’). As I explained in my commentary, the decipherer would have to read the verses at a specific point in time for them to be comprehensible. Thus, in 1976, concerning these enigmatic verses I wrote,

‘But John soon describes the downfall of the Whore (Babylon), for the time of her end is the last century of the second millennium, the time of the unveiling of the Revelation. Yet as she is also Rome we may find a clue in her twentieth century life which can be equally appropriate regarding the ‘mystery’. We find therefore that in this century there have been six Popes to date [1976]. As the prophecy is given with the time of its deciphering built into its structure, the angel would be able to speak as if projected into the future when the veils of the text are lifted. Therefore it is said, ‘five (kings) are fallen’. Regarding the Popes of this last century of the second millennium, there are Pius X (1903-1914), Benedict XV (1914-1922), Pius XI (1922-1939), Pius XII (1939-1958), and John XXIII (1958-1963). ‘One is’, - this is Pope Paul VI, the present pontiff who began his office in 1963. He is the sixth, and he is also Paul the sixth.
‘The verse continues: ‘and the other is not yet come; and when he cometh, he must continue a short space.’ This indicates that there will be a seventh and after his entry into office the turn of the millennium will occur. But before that, it is possible that there will be an eighth. If so, he may well be the last pope; the eighth may bring an end to the papacy as it is now known.’ (THM, Chapter XVII)

At the time of writing the above (1976), Pope Paul VI was still alive, hence John wrote, ‘One is’. At his demise, John Paul I followed. There can be no doubt to whom the prophet is referring when he wrote: ‘…and the other is not yet come; and when he cometh, he must continue a short space.’ He was pope for a brief ‘short space’ of 34 days. The prophecy was accurate – but, I repeat, the verses could only be understood correctly when deciphered in a particular decade of the 20th Century – i.e., when Paul VI was still on St Peter’s throne and the short reign of John Paul I had not yet started. The accuracy of my commentary was therefore proven when he did take office in 1978, two years after publication of The Hidden Manna.
The prophet goes on to speak of an 8th. This was John Paul II. In The New Way, published in 1981, I discussed the prominence of the number 8 in his life and in his ascension to the papacy. The prophet makes it clear that his reign begins in the 20th Century (‘…even he is of the seven’). But my interpretation of the verse, ‘And goeth into perdition,’ was that the nature of the papacy itself would change with his appointment. Indeed, his successor, Benedict XVI, would have to share the burden of this change, the details of which require no elaboration.
With the radical development of a pope resigning, we are forced to agree that the papacy might indeed never be the same again. In my view the change was already in evidence at the election of the non-Italian Polish John Paul II and the political character of his papacy, in large part a departure from previous popes. If this trend continues and Benedict XVI was an interim pope (a ‘placeholder pope’, to quote The Guardian) as many believe, his successor if not an Italian is more likely to be from Asia rather than Africa or South America, following indications given by John Paul II himself. It is even possible that unlike earlier elections there is a candidate-in-waiting, groomed for the papacy. Benedict’s resignation makes speculation about the changes inevitable. His principal mission seems to have been the beatification of his predecessor which, without his intervention, would have taken many more decades if not centuries.
The widespread belief is that the election of a pope lies in God’s hands. Whatever the case, the fact is this position cannot to be equated with an ordinary official who enjoys the right to resign as he wills. No doubt Benedict had very good reasons for doing so; yet questions will be asked. For example, there is the dogma of Infallibility. Does it set in at election and end at resignation?

The Revelation is, in my view, one of the most important documents in prophetic literature. But this assessment can be truly appreciated only when it is understood as the culmination of a process that began many centuries earlier, the details of which have been recorded in the Old Testament. The New Testament, of which The Revelation is the last book, loses its unique and most valuable sense if we do not follow the development from the Old Testament through to the New in an unbroken line. When a unity of perception is applied to the exercise then the historicity of both Testaments can be appreciated, albeit in a different light than the conventional interpretation – though not for that of lesser importance. Rather, such a treatment reconciles existing differences and draws people and nations together instead of dividing them, as is presently the case and for which reason endless wars are fought with no positive outcome in sight. On the basis of an all-inclusive, integral vision, the correct interpretation of the above cited verses and The Revelation in full carry us to the portals of fulfilment in the 21th Century, which in John’s prophecy is expressed as a triumphant Second Coming. But in the present context, fulfilment of what, we are forced to ask?
In the last century Sri Aurobindo wrote of our times in a style similar to what we find in both the Old and New Testaments. In his short prose piece, The Hour of God, written some time in the first quarter of the last century, he gave a warning to nations to be prepared because the ‘hour of the unexpected’ had arrived. It is timely to re-examine his piece in the light of recent happenings. The Hour of God indicated that the time of ‘fulfilment’ was near, but only after what Sri Aurobindo foresaw as a possible apocalyptic upheaval. Indeed, the First and Second World Wars justified his warning.
Have we reached a similar turning point that requires the descent of a Godhead in the form of the War God, as he is described in The Revelation as well as the last Avatar of Vishnu?

‘There are moments when the Spirit moves among men and the breath of the Lord is abroad upon the waters of our being; there are others when it retires and men are left to act in the strength or the weakness of their own egoism. The first are periods when even a little effort produces great results and changes destiny; the second are spaces of time when much labour goes to the making of a little result. It is true that the latter may prepare the former, may be the little smoke of sacrifice going up to heaven which calls down the rain of God's bounty.
‘Unhappy is the man or the nation which, when the divine moment arrives, is found sleeping or unprepared to use it, because the lamp has not been kept trimmed for the welcome and the ears are sealed to the call. But thrice woe to them who are strong and ready, yet waste the force or misuse the moment; for them is irreparable loss or a great destruction.
‘In the hour of God cleanse thy soul of all self-deceit and hypocrisy and vain self-flattering that thou mayst look straight into thy spirit and hear that which summons it. All insincerity of nature, once thy defense against the eye of the Master and the light of the ideal, becomes now a gap in thy armour and invites the blow. Even if thou conquer for the moment, it is the worse for thee, for the blow shall come afterwards and cast thee down in the midst of thy triumph. But being pure cast aside all fear; for the hour is often terrible, a fire and a whirlwind and a tempest, a treading of the winepress of the wrath of God; but he who can stand up in it on the truth of his purpose is he who shall stand; even though he fall, he shall rise again, even though he seem to pass on the wings of the wind, he shall return. Nor let worldly prudence whisper too closely in thy ear; for it is the hour of the unexpected, the incalculable, the immeasurable.
‘The Hour of God’
 Sri Aurobindo
SACE, Volume 17