St. Irenaeus was a second-century bishop and writer revered by both Catholics and Orthodox Christians
Pope Francis on October 7 said that he plans to declare St. Irenaeus of Lyon, who lived from 130 to 202, A.D. (shown in a stained glass window, right), a Doctor of the Church with the title Doctor unitatis (“Doctor of Unity”).
The Pope made the announcement in a speech to the St. Irenaeus Working Group, a joint Orthodox-Catholic working group from the Institute for Ecumenical Studies at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas in Rome, who conducted a study on synodality and primacy.
“Your patron, St. Irenaeus of Lyon — whom soon I will willingly declare a Doctor of the Church with the title Doctor unitatis — came from the East, exercised his episcopal ministry in the West, and was a great spiritual and theological bridge between Eastern and Western Christians,” Pope Francis said.
St. Irenaeus was a second-century bishop and writer revered by both Catholics and Orthodox Christians and known for refuting the heresies of Gnosticism with a defense of both Christ’s humanity and divinity.
The U.S. bishops voted last year in favor of having St. Irenaeus named a doctor of the Church at the request of Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, the then archbishop of Lyon, southern France, and sent their approval to the Vatican for the Pope’s consideration.
Pope Francis previously declared St. Gregory of Narek, a 10th-century Armenian monk, a Doctor of the Church in 2015. Benedict XVI named Sts. John of Avila and Hildegard of Bingen as Doctors of the Church in 2012. Seventeen of the 36 figures declared Doctors of the Church by the Catholic Church lived before the Great Schism of 1054 and are also revered by Orthodox Christians.
St. Irenaeus would be the first martyr to receive the title.
“His name, Irenaeus, contains the word ‘peace,’” Pope Francis said.
“We know that the Lord’s peace is not a ‘negotiated’ peace, the fruit of agreements meant to safeguard interests, but a peace that reconciles, that brings together in unity,” Francis added. “That is the peace of Jesus.”
The Pope spoke about synodality and primacy during his meeting with the St. Irenaeus Working Group.
“A fruitful approach to primacy in theological and ecumenical dialogues must necessarily be grounded in a reflection on synodality. There is no other way,” Pope Francis said. “I have frequently expressed my conviction that in a synodal Church, greater light can be shed on the exercise of the Petrine primacy.”
Petrine primacy refers to the absolute authority of the Pope as a pastor and governor with immediate and direct jurisdiction over the whole Church. The primacy of the Bishop of Rome is one of the major issues of disagreement that has kept Orthodox Christians apart from the Catholic Church. The Eastern Orthodox have a conciliar model of the Church, rather than one of centralized authority.
“Through the constructive patience of dialogue, especially with the Orthodox Churches, we have come to understand more fully that in the Church primacy and synodality are not two competing principles to be kept in balance, but two realities that establish and sustain one another in the service of communion,” the Pope said. “Just as the primacy presupposes the exercise of synodality, so synodality entails the exercise of primacy.
“Dear friends, with the help of God, you too are working to break down dividing walls and to build bridges of communion,” he added.