Prophecy and Prediction: Best Left to the Professionals

Some words spring up as the fashion “du jour” and linger longer than others. There are annoyances like the overwrought “awesome” and now the incessant “iconic” which betray a weak understanding of the meaning of those words and a limited vocabulary. A little more irritating a few years ago was “gravitas” which appeared in an election campaign and still is used by pundits unable to identify its declension.

On a somewhat loftier plane is misuse of “prophecy” to mean predicting. Columnists, statesmen, stock analysts are “prophetic.” True, Aquinas includes prediction as an aspect of what prophets do, but not exclusively or even primarily so. The first role of the prophet is contradiction, or denouncing what is false. Before any prediction comes an infused knowledge of what God intends to reveal. Revelation needs a source: “Thus speaks the Lord.” Some mystics had an ability for predicting events: Edward the Confessor, Phillip Neri, Bridget, Paul of the Cross, John Vianney, Padre Pio to name a few, but the essential service of prophecy is to disclose an inner mystery about God’s will for guiding the Church. Where there is prediction, it is a warning of the consequences of not attending the Voice.

But a lot of holy figures were capable of error, like Pope Innocent III proclaiming that the world would end in 1284, a fatal 666 years after the founding of Islam, and Vincent Ferrer who announced the immediate end of the world, and Bernard who envisioned the success of the dismal Second Crusade. Then there was the forgery known as St. Malachy’s “Prophecy of the Popes” whose ambiguous predictions are a Rorschach test for the gullible. Not every pope was as sensible as Sylvester II, one of the true scientific geniuses ever to sit on the papal throne: when Romans anxiously gathered at the turn of the millennium to ask him to stop the end of the world at midnight, he told them to quiet down and go home, and some cursed him for it. They were more subdued the next day. That resembled the Y2K hysteria in the year 2000 when even more than a few Catholics fled to the hills.

The last canonical revelation was in the last book of the Bible. It is not the Book of Revelations, as it is so often carelessly called, but the Revelation that all prophecies longed for and after which all else is commentary. It is also beyond satisfactory interpretation. Ronald Knox said that two sure signs of insanity are: 1) questioning Shakespeare as the actual author of his plays and 2) claiming a full understanding of the Apocalypse. It is not a game plan for the politics and economics of future centuries. In “Against Heresies” Irenaeus writes: “The word “revealed” refers not only to the future—as though the Word began to reveal the Father only when he was born of Mary; it refers equally to all time. From the beginning the Son is present to creation, reveals the Father to all, to those the Father chooses, when the Father chooses, and as the Father chooses. So, there is in all and through all one God the Father, one Word and Son, and one Spirit, and one salvation for all who believe in him.”

This point is lost on those fellows who carry signs outside Grand Central Terminal announcing the world is about to end. For New Yorkers the end of the world would only be a source of complaint if it slowed down the Lexington Avenue subway. The end of time should only agitate people who have no limited life expectancy. For mere mortals, the concern should be about when we are going to relinquish this mortal coil. “Estote et vigilate….” We need only be vigilant for that private last moment. Thus Cardinal Newman: “I do not ask to see the distant scene, one step enough for me.”

Our Lord’s warning against false prophets was made from full knowledge that there would be plenty of them, even though “no one knows the day nor the hour” (Matt 24:36). Only a couple of centuries later the schismatic Montanists were getting ready for the imminent end of the world. Even the spiritually arid eighteenth century had its false seers like Joanna Southcott, and in 1806 a Prophetic Hen of Leeds was said to lay eggs predicted the coming of Christ. The Jehovah’s Witnesses made a cottage industry of predictions, regularly revised. The Mormon “prophet” Joseph Smith predicted that the Son of Man would return to earth in 1891, but the closest thing to that was the visit of President Benjamin Harrison to San Francisco.

When the evangelist Harold Camping predicted the “Rapture” which is totally outside Christian revelation, students at Columbia University littered the streets at the appointed hour on May 21, 2011 with empty pajamas. In 1932, Father Divine mistakenly decided that he was God and got quite a following when the Suffolk County judge who convicted him, suddenly dropped dead. Father Divine did not disabuse the reporters who suggested that this was a prophetic judgment, and he went on to become a very rich man. Sometimes predictions are right for the wrong reason. In a book I wrote on coincidences, I mentioned that Jonathan Swift described in “Gulliver’s Travels” the two moons of Mars: Phobos and Deimos, in 1726, 151 years before they were discovered with Hall’s telescope. But he may have got some information from Kepler who inferred their existence ironically by misconstruing an anagram of Galileo.

Niels Bohr liked quoting the man who said that predicting can be very difficult, especially about the future. Even the most level-headed empiricists with acute insight can lack foresight. Some of their famously wrong predictions are amusing, but only in retrospect. In 1876 an officer of Western Union saw no commercial use for the telephone, and before that, in 1830, an inventor said that rail travel at high speed would cause people to die from asphyxia. Even before then, it is said that Napoleon stomped out of a room indignantly when he thought his intelligence had been insulted by Robert Fulton describing a boat propelled by a steam engine. Then in 1807, a crowd gathered along the Hudson River to jeer “Fulton’s Folly,” but the Clermont did work albeit at five miles per hour. The Michigan Savings Bank decided against funding Henry Ford’s horseless carriage because it was only a fad.

Likewise, Charlie Chaplin, of all people, declared the cinema “little more than a fad.” In 1878 Oxford professor Erasmus Wilson sniffed: “When the Paris Exposition closes, electric light will close with it, and no more will be heard of it.” Hiram Maxim said of his own invention in 1893, “The machine gun will make war impossible.” Marconi would say the same of the wireless. Here is Einstein in 1932: “There is not the slightest indication that nuclear energy will ever be obtainable.” The New York Times displayed its infallible intuition for fallibility in 1936: “A rocket will never be able to leave earth’s atmosphere.” In 1943 the Chairman of IBM said that there would be a world market for no more than five computers. Werner von Braun looked forward to the year 2000 by which time there would be a baby born on the moon. In 1969, Surgeon General William Stewart gave thanks that “We can close the book on infectious diseases.”

If theologians should heed Cardinal Baronius’s dictum—“The Scriptures tell us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go”—the counsel applies as well to natural sciences. In a secular society, science is tempted to don the vestments of religion and skeptics become heretics. For instance, these days there are various predictions about climate change, formerly called global cooling and then global warming and after that climate change and lately climate disruption. It is a concern that should be tempered by caution about treating hypotheses as absolutes. Because climate issues involve the stewardship of creation, it is a moral matter that properly should have the attention of Church leaders, but they are not scientists nor are scientists prophets of some arcane covenant whose predictions are prophecies. The latter is not science but its corruption as scientism. Fifty years ago we were told from many quarters that by now there would be massive starvation caused by overpopulation, and Stanford professor Paul Ehrlich, with the perspicacity of the Prophetic Hen of Leeds, envisioned England covered in ice by now, just as the meteorologist Albert Porta thought that an exploding sun would engulf the earth in 1919.

In 2005 the United Nations Environment Program warned that rises in sea level would cause 50 million “climate refugees” to flee the Caribbean and Pacific islands by 2010. Then there is the problematic extent of man-made change or any sweeping claim about the anthropogenic effect on the environment. As Galileo’s error was to propose his theory as fact and not hypotheses (his various superstitions notwithstanding), clerics should humbly avoid making what is disputed into dogma. That would be clericalism, and clericalism is as unworthy of religion as scientism is unworthy of science. The balance is expressed by Athanasius in “Against the Pagans,” with a clear gloss on Colossians 1:17: “…in his goodness he governs and sustains the whole of nature by his Word (who is himself also God), so that under the guidance, providence and ordering of that Word, the whole of nature might remain stable and coherent in his light.”

When it comes to predictions, Abraham Lincoln’s self-effacement resulted in a most memorable miscalculation in the Gettysburg Address: “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here….” The Mother of our Lord made an opposite and very accurate prediction, stunning as it was: “Henceforth all generations shall call me blessed….” In her case, perfect humility dispensed with natural modesty. John the Baptist was the last of the Messianic prophets, which is why any religion that proposes Christ as a prophet but not the Son of God misses the whole point of true prophecy itself. Christ did make some predictions—the death of Judas, the destiny of Peter, and the destruction of the Temple—but he counseled against anxiety about the future. His only prediction we need to know is fulfilled in every generation: “Heaven and earth will pass away but my words will never pass away.”

 Editor’s note: The image above titled “Frieze of the Prophets” was painted by John Singer Sargent and is located in the Boston Public Library.

Fr. George W. Rutler


Fr. George W. Rutler is pastor of St. Michael's church in New York City. He is the author of many books including Principalities and Powers: Spiritual Combat 1942-1943 (South Bend, IN: St. Augustine’s Press) and Hints of Heaven (Sophia Institute Press). His latest books are He Spoke To Us (Ignatius, 2016) and The Stories of Hymns (EWTN Publishing, 2017).

  • Bedarz Iliaci

    I would make this distinction between scientific predictions that are obtained after following some procedure or algorithm and “prophesy” that is not born from any calculation but is inspired.

    • Rev Mr Flapatap

      Many scientific predictions rely on a number of assumptions that are basically inspired.

    • TommyD6of11

      Global Warming … err, Climate Change … whatever … is neither science nor inspiration, but is conspired.

  • JP

    In 1985 Steve Jobs asked his developers, “Why would anyone want to network a Mac? A user has everything he needs on his desktop?”

    In 1990 Bill said, “A PC predicted that a PC would never need more than 640KB of memory.”

    In March of 200 Dr David Viner, a senior research scientist at the climatic research
    unit (CRU) of the University of East Anglia,within a few years winter
    snowfall will become “a very rare and exciting event”.

    • Who needs a hard drive bigger than 100 megabytes?

  • John O’Neill

    Excellent essay, Father Rutler. It is always interesting to note the intensity that the end of the world crowd creates. So many fundamentalists, so sure that they know exactly when the world will end and the so called rapture will start but cannot tell you what the weather next week will be. Obiter dicta, Father be careful , you criticized the climate change religion of the current American State and the heresy police might be on your trail.

    • St JD George

      Oh no, maybe he should be punished by making him attend the summit in Davos right now where he can be “educated” with the elite who wish to re-make the world in their image.
      Never mind, I see the airport and now the adjoining military base are filled to capacity with all the private jets who flew in to see and be seen.

    • bosco49

      I suggest ‘apocalyptic’ is the word most used and abused these days though it need not necessarily be synonymous with ‘The End of the World’.
      There are simply too many ecclesiastically approved appearances of the Blessed Virgin Mary from Our Lady of Good Success through Fatima, Divine Mercy, Akita, etc. (with accompanying miracles) within which Our Blessed Mother warns of imminent cataclysmic chastisements to be visited on all of mankind if men fail to do penance and amend their ways.
      Chastisement does not mean “Second Coming” but there would be an enormous price to be paid in any event.
      There is (in my opinion) a terrible lingering dread among men, a sense of looming catastrophe, which perhaps is akin to a sensus fedei.
      Our Lady of the Rosary, Pray for Us!

  • Enoch14

    St. Malachy’s “prophesy of the popes” is not a forgery. It is a true prophesy. We are right now two or three popes from the Second Advent of Jesus of Nazareth.

    • cestusdei

      Read the article again.

    • Dick Prudlo

      I believe that based on these “prophesies” Frank is the last.

      • fredx2

        The last Pope to be subject to these ridiculous prophecies, at least.

      • Enoch14

        Actually no. the time of Peter the Roman is still on the way. It is Peter the Roman who will be the last pope, During his reign Rome will be destroyed as prophesied in Revelation 18; and as prophesied by St. Malachy. There will be widespread disarray.
        And then after sometime – a brief period – the Lord Jesus will appear on the clouds of Heaven.
        We all need to be strong.

        • Dick Prudlo

          You may be right, but no one cares. Really

    • fredx2

      And Harry Potter is real.

    • John Albertson

      Superstition, such as taking the “prophesy” of St. Malachy seriously, is an offense against the virtue of religion.

  • St JD George

    Jesus told us in Mark “concerning that day and hour, no one knows” – I’m comfortable taking him at his word.

    • L

      I second that!

    • Be careful what you wish for..

      • St JD George

        Kind of a biggie, I know.

  • I can’t wait for January 28, 2015!!!

    • St JD George

      I’ll bite, is it your birthday or anniversary? I feel like maybe I should know this, but nothing pops into my mind and I know the synod as well as Pope’s visit are later this year so that must not be it.

      • The US central bank, the Federal Reserve, next meeting is 27-28 January. In tune with the article many are predicting short term interest rates will rise, the stock market will then crash, the dollar becomes worthless and ……. obtuse humor?

        • St JD George

          Missed that one by a mile … I was thinking in the church calendar.

          • St JD George

            Maybe. I hate those prophecies, but I am tightening my seat belt and preparing for the turbulence that surely lies ahead.

            • Fred

              well its March, 2015 & ZERO

        • Tell me when to short the S&P 500 index.

  • s;vbkr0boc,klos;

    The future belongs in the future. That’s why its called the future.

  • What an excellent essay Fr. Rutler—thank you so much! It is full of interesting information.

    I would like to make one important point: To say that John the Baptist is the last of the prophets I believe is definitely incorrect. For this statement to be true you would need to preface it with the word “Messianic”, that is to say that Messianic prophesy ended with John the Baptist, but not prophesy itself. To say that God cannot bring forth a prophet in this or in any epoch is to say that God cannot say or bring forth anything new. He can most certainly bring forth a prophet in this day if He so willed it.

    An example of a recent prophesy would be how the Blessed Virgin Mary prophesied through Lucia of Fatima that “In the end, My Immaculate Heart will triumph.” Once again, while Messianic prophesy ended with John the Baptist, prophesy itself has not ended, because God most certainly has more to say to His beloved children.

    -Glenn Dallaire
    Bristol, CT USA
    Webmaster/owner of

    • John Albertson

      That is a good distinction but I think the essay is speaking of prophecy
      here in terms of revelation. All revelation ended with the death of
      the Apostle John. “Private revelations” such as Fatima may be judged by
      the Church “worthy of belief” but they have no canonical authority.

      • Bruno

        I got curious about Padre Pio’s prophecies because I heard that he made some, and there is this one about 3 days of darkness and about a war in 1950.

        That distressed me as it is evident that there was no grand war in 1950 (I can only think of Korea but that is not grand). Does anyone know about that prophecy? What do you make of it?

        • John Albertson

          One should ignore hearsay. Moreover, even saints can make mistakes. There are countless evidence for that. Padre Pio was reported also to have said that when President Kennedy was shot he went right to Heaven !

          • St JD George

            When I lived in Italy about a decade ago I think I saw more pictures of JFK in store windows, etc, than I did of Father Pio, and he was pretty prevalent. I was kind of taken aback wondering what the fascination with JFK was, especially so many years removed. The fact that most were faded I guess was evidence enough that they had probably been there since he was still alive. I have a suspicion that they never knew the whole man and only embraced the glossy media image.

            • The 1980’s band “Living Colour” may have explained it well.

              Look in my eyes, what do you see?
              The cult of personality
              I know your anger, I know your dreams
              I’ve been everything you want to be
              I’m the cult of personality
              Like Mussolini and Kennedy
              I’m the cult of personality
              The cult of personality
              The cult of personality

              Neon lights, Nobel Prize
              When a mirror speaks, the reflection lies
              He won’t have to follow me
              Only you can set me free
              I sell the things you need to be
              I’m the smiling face on your T.V.
              I’m the cult of personality
              I exploit you, still you love me

              I tell you one and one makes three
              I’m the cult of personality
              Like Joseph Stalin and Gandhi
              I’m the cult of personality
              The cult of personality
              The cult of personality

              Neon lights, Nobel Prize
              When a leader speaks, that leader dies
              He won’t have to follow me
              Only you can set you free

              You gave me fortune
              You gave me fame
              You gave me power in your god’s name
              I’m every person you need to be
              Oh, I’m the cult of personality
              I’m the cult of, I’m the cult of, I’m the cult of, I’m the cult of
              I’m the cult of, I’m the cult of, I’m the cult of, I’m the cult of personality

              (Ask not what your country can do for you)

              (The only thing we have to fear is, fear itself)

              Read more: Living Colour – Cult Of Personality Lyrics | MetroLyrics

              • St JD George

                I firmly believe many people are under the spell of the cult of personality, particularly for you know who, and others of his ilk.

        • christopher

          Bruno, Padre Pio prophecy on the three days of darkness is a lie. Check here for more info:

          If you scroll down the page to January 3 2015 – It must be said. (the information is there)

          • Bruno

            Many thanks, Christopher!

  • Robert Boehm

    Some recent prophecies of The Blessed Virgin Mary, at Fatima, and again at Akita seem also necessary to know.

  • ColdStanding

    What has happened once might happen again, but what has happened twice will definitely happen again.

    If there are no prophets around, a maxim can always be found.

    Why be in a rush for it to all end? Do you not want more souls in heaven? Are you, yourself, sure you are ready to face judgement?

    Want prophecy? Then meditate upon the four last things. Death, Judgement, Heaven, Hell. What more do you need?

  • Ruth Rocker

    I find it very amusing to know that even IF someone could accurately pinpoint the exact moment of the end of the world, there is not a single, solitary thing that anyone on the face of the Earth could do about it. Talk about a tempest in a teapot

  • Bruno

    Fair points. However, one gets the impression from the article that nothing can be said of the future things. But the very Catechism proclaims future events – right, no one knows the hour or the time, BUT at the same time we were advised by Jesus Himself to be attentive to the signs of the times.

  • fredx2

    What? You mean all those people over at the LWCR that say they are prophets, and that the Holy Spirit is whispering in their ear, telling them exactly what God wants – you mean they are frauds?

    • cestusdei

      Didn’t you know? Anyone who calls the Church patriarchal, homophobic etc. is a prophet? It is so novel and cutting edge and avant guarde. So very brave. As opposed to those who say…fight for the right to life…and have it so easy. I mean the media and culture respect the pro-life movement so much…

  • mft – Heath, MA

    This was a very interesting article with lots of facts. I think the point of the article was not to put too much into prophesy but more importantly live the christian message and God is control beyond any specific prophecies. Well agreed but what I found missing was the two sided extremes in regard to prophecy. One who will live only buy teaching and not here a word of prophecy sometimes not even church approved and those whom live day to day waiting to hear the latest tidbits and using all resources to chase such prophecy in disregard for daily duties. Jesus also said those who welcome a prophet shall receive a prophets reward – meaning there will be future prophets!!! Also he said to head the signs of the times – there will signs in the oceans etc etc. And often talked about our Lords second coming. He talked about for good reason because those in the end times will have to have a strong constitution to prayerfully perceiver to the end. St. Therese of Lesiux and many other saints longed to live in the latter days (whenever that may be). I personelly can say I see the signs of the times amongst our society and yes through some modern prophets. Pray mostly that I live each day though full of love for my neighbor weather a saint or sinner.
    blessings, Mary

  • Ryan

    The Joseph Smith prophesy is taken out of context completely. If you’re interested at all for context, here is the link that succinclty covers it.

    Other than that, I like the article in that we should live as if tomorrow is like any other day (normal) while always preparing spiritually for the second coming (for some this may mean their time on earth comes to an abrupt end).

  • Karen

    I enjoyed reading your article immensely, Fr. George. Thank you for opening my eyes to several indisputable truths. God’s richest blessings wished to you from Munich, Germany!

  • douglas kraeger

    Thank you again Father Rutler, for a very informative article. You said, ” but the essential service of prophecy is to disclose an inner mystery about God’s will for guiding the Church. Where there is prediction, it is a warning of the consequences of not attending the Voice.” To “disclose” may mean nothing more than point to what God has already revealed, time and time again, but no one seems to be paying attention and therefore people are blindly ignorant of the simple things they should be doing, without foregoing the other good things they are already doing.

    Like the simple truth that God is Love and God loves all that exists, therefore God eternally loves even those going to hell forever and ever and ever… We do not need to know exactly what this means in application, we should just will to love all (even or especially those in most need, those destined to will themselves into hell) as God eternally wills to love them perfectly, willing them the best possible, willing them to be holy, willing them to be reconciled (2 Cor. 5:18-21) by His mercy and grace, Willing to save and make holy all creation by the Holiness of His Name (CCC 2814). If we consciously and resolutely unite our prayer with the prayer of Jesus and therefore with all the saints in heaven, adding or subtracting nothing of our own, we cannot go wrong because we have the Holy Spirit (CCC 2741).
    The question is: Has anyone heard the above from the pulpit lately? If not, why not?

  • joelfago

    St. Malachy’s “Prophecy of the Popes” has proven accurate so far. Between “Gloria Olivae”(The Order of St. Benedict is also known as the Olivetans) and the last entry, “Petrus Romanus,” is a blank area.

  • Lisa

    Loved it – never laugh so much and enjoyed so much, brilliant , thank you, God bless

  • John MacGovern

    Excellent essay, beautiful words, crisp clear thinking, and, permeating all, Rutler humor. Many thanks.

  • Martin Nystrand

    stringing together false prophesies and historical predictions proves nothing. If someone else strung together other predictions that proved true, that too would just be an edited list. Most of the successful predictions would be scientific, starting with Galileo, and one needn’t be a positivist to make that claim. Epidemiology, for example, is often quite accurate, which is why ebola has gripped west Africa but has failed to take hold here. Epidemiologists know enough to control it; they can fully predict the course of the disease. The history of progress in medicine is replete with such predictive controls. And all of these predictions, pace Galileo, are in a different category than the ad hoc list you cite.

    Physicists at CERN who have finally found the Higgs boson and all the other subatomic particles have all made accurate predictions. Einstein’s predictions continue, mainly, to find support. We definitively know how long ago the Big Bang happened.

    Climatology may not be as far along as epidemiology and particle physics, but it is making rapid progress. The fact that more than 97% of climatologists agree that our climate is warming due in large measure to human emissions supports this prediction. We would be reckless to ignore it (look at China).

  • Nestorian

    Father Rutler asserts that the Apostle John’s apocalyptic visions are “beyond satisfactory interpretation.” He goes on to assert that the book of Revelation “is not
    a game plan for the politics and economics of future centuries.” He even agrees with Ronald Knox in asserting that claiming a full understanding of the Apocalypse “is a sure sign of insanity.”
    Then, Father Rutler immediately goes on to quote Irenaeus at length in support of all these claims. Yet, surely Father Rutler himself knows that Book Five of Irenaeus’s “Against Heresies” makes it abundantly clear that Irenaeus himself DID regard Revelation as a game plan for the politics of the future, and that Irenaeus himself DID claim quite a comprehensive understanding of the Apocalypse.
    Are we to understand that Father Rutler is willing to appeal to Irenaeus at considerable length, even though Irenaeus is, according to Father Rutler’s own reckoning, insane?

  • Nestorian

    Like most of the Fathers of both the ante-Nicene Church, and of the Council of Nicea itself, Irenaeus was a Millenarian. He eagerly awaited the return of Christ to overthrow the Roman Empire, and then to reign as literal earthly King over Israel, and over the world. Father Rutler surely knew this when he quoted Irenaeus on behalf of his own, decidedly anti-Irenaean ideas.
    (For those who scoff at the notion that the Nicene Council was avowedly Millenarian, I refer you to the historical records of the fifth century Greek chronicler of Gelasius of Cyzicus. Even the 1917 edition of the “Catholic Encyclopedia” has the admirable even-handedness to admit the veracity of Gelasius’s testamony to the Millenarian consensus of the Nicene Fathers.)
    In other words, Millenarianism is about as strongly rooted in early Tradition as any other basic Christian doctrinal claim. The early dissent to this doctrine derives principally from Origen, whose wild allegorizing of Scripture is a manifest capitulation to relativism – and even to an elitist sort of gnosticism that does not do Origen himself credit.

  • Nestorian

    Why is all this important? It is not important merely because Father Rutler’s quotation of Irenaeus validates the old adage that “a text without a context is a pretext.”

    It is important
    because, with the coming into being of the modern nation of Israel as an
    apostate counterfeit of the Millenial kingdom in 1948, an essentially necessary
    pre-condition for the unfolding of the divinely revealed apocalyptic endgame of
    the present age was put into place.


    All episodes of apocalyptic fervor preceding 1948 were invalidated on their
    face on this account alone – the absence of an apostate nation of Israel from the world stage. The littering of Church history with gross
    apocalyptic blundering thus does not invalidate in the least the distinct truth
    that our own epoch is indeed that of the long-awaited Irenaean/Millenarian


    And for those who have the spiritual eyes to see, the evidence is overwhelming
    that the soon-coming reign of Antichrist is destined to be identified with a
    coming world-dictator of the United
    States and its global “New World
    Order” system.


    For those who are intellectually and spiritually open to these ideas – ideas
    strongly rooted both in Scripture and Church Tradition – I refer you to for further details.

  • Martin

    The Roman Catholic Inquisition condemned Galileo not for proposing his theory of heliocentrism as fact rather than hypothesis, but rather for “vehement suspicion of heresy” and sentencing him to indefinite imprisonment. Galileo was kept under house arrest until his death in 1642.

    Prior to Galileo’s trial, “hypothesis” was understood in the sense of Plato and Socrates as a mere “clever idea,” which was Cardinal Bellarmine’s idea of hypothesis when he warned Galileo of his errors at Galileo’s trial. The modern sense of “hypothesis” (as in hypothesis testing) came into use after Galileo’s death, in no small part to his systematic empirical contrasts of geo- and heliocentrism elaborated in the work for which he was condemned, The Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems.

    Yet we now know as a matter of fact—as neither hypothesis or theory–that Galileo was right: the earth does orbit the sun. In 1992, Pope John Paull II proclaimed, “Thanks to his intuition as a brilliant physicist and by relying on different arguments, Galileo, who practically invented the experimental method, understood why only the sun could function as the centre of the world, as it was then known, that is to say, as a planetary system. The error of the theologians of the time, when they maintained the centrality of the Earth, was to think that our understanding of the physical world’s structure was, in some way, imposed by the literal sense of Sacred Scripture….
    (Pope John Paul II, L’Osservatore Romano N. 44 (1264) – November 4, 1992).

    • Michael Paterson-Seymour

      Both Bellarmine and Galileo beleived the crucial test would be the discovery of the stellar paralax.

      Needless to say, they were both wrong in their prediction: it was the discovery of the aberration of light by Bradley and Molineaux in 1729 that provided physical evidence for the revolution of the earth round the sun.

    • John Albertson

      Copernicus was a Catholic priest. Both Luther and Calvin denied his theory and were far more condemnatory that the Catholic Church. This is a case similar to that of the Gregorian calendar, rejected for various periods by various Protestant countries simply because it was the work of Papal astronomers and promulgated by Pope Gregory XIII.

  • Paddy S

    Did Christ predict the death of Judas?

  • Michael Paterson-Seymour

    I recall the reaction of a Doctor of Divinity at Oxford, on learning that one of his former students was writing a commentary on Revelation: “Oh, dear! How sad. Such a promising young man – and with a young family, too!”

  • Joan61

    Oh, come. Predicting prophetic disaster for the sinners of the world is one of the favorite pastimes of the uber orthodox. What else have they been doing the all those decades after Fatima?