Pope to name St Irenaeus of Lyon a Doctor of the Church

The likeness of St. Irenaeus of Lyon is pictured in a stained-glass window at the Basilica of Our Lady Immaculate in Guelph, Ontario. During an Oct. 7, 2021, meeting with members of the St. Irenaeus Joint Orthodox-Catholic Working Group, Pope Francis said he will soon declare St. Irenaeus a doctor of the church. (CNS photo/The Crosiers)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Pope Francis said he intends to declare as a doctor of the church St Irenaeus of Lyon, the second-century theologian known for his defence of orthodoxy amid the rise of gnostic sects.

During a meeting on October 7 with members of the St Irenaeus Joint Orthodox-Catholic Working Group, the Pope praised the group’s efforts in creating a space for dialogue between Catholics and Orthodox Christians, much like their namesake.

“Your patron, St Irenaeus of Lyon – whom I will soon declare a doctor of the church with the title, ‘doctor unitatis’ (‘doctor of unity’) – came from the East, exercised his episcopal ministry in the West, and was a great spiritual and theological bridge between Eastern and Western Christians,” he said.

According to its website, the purpose of the St Irenaeus Joint Orthodox-Catholic Working Group is “to investigate the profound differences in mentality, ways of thinking and of doing theology which are related to current problems in Orthodox-Catholic dialogue, to understand their character, and to try to see how both traditions can enrich each other without losing their own identity”.

St Irenaeus, the group’s website said, “is revered as a patristic father in both the Eastern and Western churches” and “thus represents an example of the spiritual connection between the churches in East and West, which the working group seeks to promote through its discussions.”

Born in Smyrna, Asia Minor – now modern-day Turkey – St Irenaeus was known as a staunch defender of the faith.

Concerned about the rise of gnostic sects within the early Christian church, he wrote “Adversus haereses” (“Against Heresies”), a refutation of gnostic beliefs which emphasised personal spiritual knowledge over faith in Christian teachings and in ecclesiastical authority.

During their 2019 fall assembly, the US bishops’ conference added their assent to a motion made by the Archdiocese of Lyon, France – the region where St. Irenaeus ministered – to have the second-century bishop declared a doctor of the church.

Once declared, St Irenaeus would be the second doctor of the church named by Pope Francis after St Gregory of Narek, who was given the designation in 2015. He would bring the total number of doctors of the church to 37.

Photo: The likeness of St Irenaeus of Lyon is pictured in a stained-glass window at the Basilica of Our Lady Immaculate in Guelph, Ontario (CNS Photo)


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  1. Bruce Jones says

    Fortuitously the Catholic church promotes sanctity
    and wisdom through the focus on saints and martyrs,
    and gives to some titles, including Doctors of the church
    to dignify and also to guide, particularly with heresy as
    this can become a problem as it spreads through less
    interested persons and various forms of outright
    villainy. Athanasius was exiled five times, while
    attempting to correct the spread of the Arian heresy

    However there is a downside in every naming of some-
    one as indicated in Pope St John Paul II’s commentary
    to the first question put to him in “Crossing the Threshold
    of Hope”. when he points out that “Vicar of Christ” is not
    just for the Pope and cannot be considered apart “from the
    the dignity of the entire college of Bishops”.

    It is all too easy to name someone, and compartmentalize them
    and thus transfer the responsibility of the living,
    while allotting a place even in the Canon for saints.
    “Be not afraid” is not just a simple phrase; it is a directive
    also, and each Catholic can with the help of the Holy Spirit
    act within the church, and also in a mode of evangelism when
    there is an opportunity.
    Too often there is a temptation in educational institutions to
    sideline the religious, and go “secular’ fulfilling the secular
    ideals which are in their own way a denial of Christ, which
    is clear in the approach of the U.S. to make Secular Humanism
    the state religion, which has resulted in a promotion of legalising
    of abortion around the globe.
    Further, the question might be put to those in “Catholic” colleges
    and schools if the aforesaid Doctor of the church will be
    found in their RE programmes, and other doctors of the church.
    -Again it may be asked if this said Doctor of the church has
    found a place in the Catechetical work carried out by volunteer
    workers in state schools.
    Once again, the question may be put as to whether in general
    are doctors of the church a significant part of the culture in
    Catholicism itself as in the homilies that arrive on a Sunday.


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