St. Irenaeus of Lyon, one of the great bishops and theologians of the early Church, will be declared a Doctor of the Church and given the specific title of “Doctor of Unity” (“Doctor Unitatis“), Pope Francis told a group of Catholic and Orthodox theologians on October 7 in Rome. (Here is the full text of the Pope’s speech.)

    ***

    St. Irenaeus is perhaps best known for an oft-cited phrase which is in just a few words a kind of synthesis of Christian theological and anthropological thinking: “The glory of God is man alive, but the life of man is the vision of God.”

    The phrase makes a powerful assertion — that “the glory of God” is “man alive” — and then folds back on itself to give a marvelous new insight into how that first assertion can be true — “but the life of man is the vision of God.”

    So, St. Irenaeus is telling us, if we wish to understand God and His glory, we must realize that God’s “glory” — his most compelling, striking, luminous, attractive, splendid, inspiring quality or characteristic, His “glory,” is… “man alive”… or “man fully alive.”

    That is, the very existence of a universe like ours, a universe in which human beings exist, reveals “God’s glory,” is God’s glory.

    The very existence of a universe in which there are beings who are persons, capable of love and of choice, beings who, living fully, are able in their free will to choose the right and the good and the just, are able in their free will to use their will to sacrifice themselves for others in selfless love, to be faithful, and to set out on the path toward holiness, toward sanctity, toward full communion with God, toward full communion with the holy, with the divine — all this, and just this, reveals God’s glory, is God’s glory.

    And then St. Irenaeus adds: “But the life of man is the vision of God.”

    And with this phrase, Irenaeus’ thought folds back upon itself, deepens, intensifies, shoots off sparks(!), for what makes man into “the glory of God” — what makes man alive, what gives life to men and women — is “the vision of God.”

    Seeing God.

    Seeing the holiness, eternity, lovingkindness, justice and mercy of God, and in seeing it, comprehending it, grasping it, being inspired by it…

    And in that seeing and comprehending, entering into true life, for “man does not live by bread alone, but by every words that proceeds from the mouth of God.”

    So, for Irenaeus, man receives his true life from God by seeing God, and once man receives this true life, he is able to live, and live fully, and in living and living fully, he becomes, and is, marvelously, “the glory of God.”

    This is the teaching of St. Irenaeus, and in teaching these truths, Irenaeus is a great Doctor of the Church, and soon will become a great “Doctor of Unity,” and a guide for all who seek to overcome the divisions in the body of Christ, the Church.

    Our own writing and “bridge-building” work for many years — meetings, concerts, pilgrimages, charitable gifts, study scholarships — has been animated by the hope that the Great Schism between the East and the West dating from 1054 A.D. might be overcome, and unity increased, and eventually restored.

    (Note: if you would like to support this work, click here or here.)

    Here below are several recent news reports about this latest development concerning St. Irenaeus.—RM

    The glory of God is man alive, but the life of man is the vision of God.” —St. Irenaeus of Lyon

    St. Irenaeus… was a great spiritual and theological bridge between Eastern and Western Christians.” —Pope Francis, October 7, 2021

    ***

    Pope Francis to declare St. Irenaeus a Doctor of the Church with title “Doctor of Unity” (link and link)

    By Junno Arocho Esteves, Catholic News Service

    October 7, 2021

    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 defense of orthodoxy amid the rise of gnostic sects.

    During a meeting 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 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.

    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 emphasized personal spiritual knowledge over faith in Christian teachings and in ecclesiastical authority.

    During their 2019 fall assembly, the U.S. 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.

    [End, CNS article by Junno Arocho Estevez]

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)

    Pope Francis to Declare St. Irenaeus a Doctor of the Church with Title ‘Doctor of Unity’ (link)

    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.

    By Courtney Mares/CNA Vatican

    October 7, 2021

    VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis said on Thursday that he plans to declare St. Irenaeus of Lyon a Doctor of the Church with the title “Doctor unitatis,” meaning “Doctor of Unity.”

    The Pope made the announcement in a speech to the St. Irenaeus Working Group (photo above), a group of Catholic and Orthodox theologians who conducted a study together 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 on October 7.

    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.

    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. That is the peace of Jesus.”

    ***

    The Pope spoke about synodality and primacy during his meeting with 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.

    “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 a centralized authority.

    Pope Francis thanked the group for its recently issued study, “Serving Communion: Re-thinking the Relationship between Primacy and Synodality.”

    “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.”

    Pope Francis expressed hope that the Catholic Church’s upcoming synod on synodality will allow Catholics around the world to reflect on synodality and Petrine primacy.

    The Pope kicked off the Church’s three-year synodal process this weekend with a Mass on Sunday, October 10. All dioceses have also been invited to offer an opening Mass this Sunday, October 17.

    “I am confident that, with the help of God, the synodal process that will begin in the coming days in every Catholic diocese will also be an opportunity for deeper reflection on this important aspect, together with other Christians,” Pope Francis said.

    Pope Francis noted that the group of Orthodox and Catholic scholars had chosen St. Irenaeus as their patron.

    “Dear friends, with the help of God, you too are working to break down dividing walls and to build bridges of communion,” he added.

    Cardinal Kurt Koch, the president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, also participated in the papal audience with the St. Irenaeus working group.

    The cardinal has argued that strengthening synodality is “the most important contribution” that the Catholic Church can make to ecumenical dialogue, especially dialogue with the Orthodox.

    “This synod will not only be an important event in the Catholic Church, but it will contain a significant ecumenical message, since synodality is an issue that also moves ecumenism, and moves it in depth,” Koch wrote in the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano on January 18.

    He pointed to the 2007 Declaration of Ravenna, in which Catholic and Orthodox theologians agreed that the bishop of Rome was the “protos,” or first among patriarchs, before the separation of East and West.

    “The fact that the two dialogue partners were able to declare together for the first time that the Church is structured synodally at all levels and therefore also at the universal level, and that she needs a protos is an important milestone in Catholic-Orthodox dialogue,” he said.    

    For this step to bear fruit in the future, Cardinal Koch wrote, it is necessary to deepen the relationship between synodality and primacy.

    [End, CNA article by Courtney Mares. Mares is a Rome Correspondent for Catholic News Agency. A graduate of Harvard University, she has reported from news bureaus on three continents and was awarded the Gardner Fellowship for her work with North Korean refugees.]

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    Here is another article on this subject (link):

    St. Irenaeus soon to be declared a Doctor of the Church

    Pope Francis made the announcement during an audience with members of the St. Irenaeus Orthodox-Catholic Joint Working Group in the Vatican, describing the second-century theologian as a great spiritual and theological bridge between Eastern and Western Christians.    

    By Salvatore Cernuzio

    October 8, 2021

    Hailing from the East but an apostle in the West, a “pastor” and a “champion of the fight against heresies,” as Benedict XVI called him, St. Irenaeus of Lyon will soon be declared a Doctor of the Church with the title “Doctor unitatis,” meaning doctor of unity.

    The announcement was made personally by Pope Francis on October 7, in a brief passage of his address to members of the St. Irenaeus Orthodox-Catholic Joint Working Group.

    “I will willingly declare your patron a Doctor of the Church,” he said, describing him as a figure of primary importance in the history of the Church and as “a great spiritual and theological bridge between Eastern and Western Christians.”

    “His name, Irenaeus, contains the word ‘peace,” the Pope stressed, recalling its Greek root Ειρηναίος (Eirenaios), which means “peaceful,” “peacemaker,” “seraphic.” It indicates someone who strives to bring and operate peace. The exact mission of the saint’s life.

    An evangelizer of the barbarians fighting Gnosticism

    A native of Asia, probably born in Smyrna and who set foot in Gaul in 177, Irenaeus was a disciple of Polycarp, thus indirectly, of the apostle John.

    He was the first Christian theologian to attempt an elaboration of a global synthesis of primitive Christianity.

    He spoke Greek, but in order to evangelize Celtic and Germanic peoples he learned the languages of the peoples who were considered barbarians.

    He conducted his work at a time of harsh persecution and in a historical period marked by two cultural events of great importance: the rise of Gnosticism in Christianity — the first form of heresy with a good doctrinal structure, and able to fascinate many educated Christians — and the spread in the pagan world of Neoplatonism, a wide-ranging philosophy that had many affinities with Christianity.

    Defender of the doctrine

    Irenaeus strived to give a firm response in order to highlight the errors contained in Gnosticism, a doctrine that stated that the faith taught by the Church was mere symbolism for the simple, unable to understand complexities, while the intellectuals who could understand what lay behind the symbols, would have formed an elitist, intellectualist Christianity. The pastor of Lyon, however, opened a window of dialogue with Neoplatonism and accepted some general principles, developing them personally. Of his writings, two works remain: the five books entitled Against Heresies and The Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching, also known as the oldest catechism of Christian doctrine.

    Benedict XVI’s catechesis in 2007

    Through his writings, Irenaeus pursued a twofold purpose: “To defend true doctrine from the assaults of heretics and to expound with clarity the truths of the faith,” as Pope Benedict XVI had to say, as he dedicated an entire catechesis to this “eminent personality” during his general audience on March 28, 2007.

    “Irenaeus is above all a man of faith and a Pastor,” current Pope Emeritus Benedict said on that occasion. “Like a good Pastor, he had a good sense of proportion, a wealth of doctrine, and missionary enthusiasm… Irenaeus can be defined as the champion in the fight against heresies.”

    “Firmly rooted in the biblical doctrine of creation,” he “refuted the Gnostic dualism and pessimism which debased corporeal realities. He decisively claimed the original holiness of matter, of the body, of the flesh no less than of the spirit.”

    Beyond Heresies

    But Irenaeus’ work goes far beyond the refutation of heresy: “In fact, one can say that he emerges as the first great Church theologian who created systematic theology; he himself speaks of the system of theology, that is, of the internal coherence of all faith,” Pope Benedict further recalled. “At the heart of his doctrine is the question of the “rule of faith” and its transmission. For Irenaeus, the “rule of faith” coincided in practice with the Apostles’ Creed, which gives us the key for interpreting the Gospel.”

    Irenaeus brought the Gospel, received in an unbroken chain from the Apostles, who taught nothing but “a simple faith.”

    Always disputing the “secret” character of the Gnostic tradition and noting its multiple and contradictory results, IrenaeusJoseph Ratzinger said — took care to illustrate “the genuine concept of Apostolic Tradition” which is “public,” “one” and “pneumatic,” that is, guided by the Holy Spirit “who makes it alive and makes it be rightly understood by the Church.”

    [End, article by Salvatore Cernuzio]

    Below, Pope Francis greets Cardinal Kurt Koch in the Vatican on October 7 at the meeting of the St. Irenaeus Orthodox-Catholic Joint Working Group

    Who is Saint Irenaeus? (link)

    St. Irenaeus, one of the Fathers of the Church, fought against heresy, supported the papacy, and even helped define Matthew, Mark, Luke and John as the four Gospels.

    He was born in about 125 A.D. to Christian parents living in Smynra, Asia, which is now Izmir in Turkey, an area that was home to many Christians.

    Irenaeus enjoyed a rich education, studying the Scriptures as well as Greek philosophy and literature. More importantly, he associated with men who had actually known the Apostles. The words of St. Polycarp, who had known John the Evangelist, left a lasting impression on Irenaeus.

    As a young priest, Irenaeus was sent to the city of Lyons in Gaul (France) to serve under its first Bishop, St. Pothinus. Irenaeus quickly earned the respect of the local clergy and eventually became the second Bishop of Lyons.

    A period of peace allowed Bishop Irenaeus time to pursue his pastoral duties and to encourage missionary work in the surrounding towns of Gaul. It also allowed Irenaeus time to write.

    A prolific writer, most of his work has been lost; however, two remain. The first work, a treatise in five books, is titled “Adversus Haereses” or “Against Heresies.” It is here that we find Irenaeus’ much beloved quote, “The glory of God is man fully alive.”

    A copy of Irenaeus’ other remaining work, The Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching, was discovered around 1904. Very similar to Adversus Haereses, it continues Irenaeus’ passion but also adds a more practical guidance for those newly converted.

    Popular at Irenaeus’ time was a regional choice of which Gospel was preferred. Some areas liked John while other areas might prefer Matthew or Mark or Luke. In fact, use of the Fourfold Gospel was rare.

    Irenaeus asserted that four Gospels — Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John — were canonical, part of the Scriptures, and that all four were important.

    Around 203 A.D., Irenaeus died and his body was buried under the altar of St. John in Lyons. Later, the church was renamed St. Irenaeus.

    In 1562, Calvinists destroyed St. Irenaeus’ tomb, and no relics remain, only Irenaeus’ hope that Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit — “the two hands of God” — touch us all.

    Feast Day — June 28th

    It is not you that shapes God, it is God that shapes you. If you are the work of God, await the hand of the artist who does all things in due season.

    Offer Him your heart,

soft and tractable, and keep the form in which the artist has fashioned you.

    Let your clay be moist,

lest you grow hard and lose the imprint of His fingers.

—attributed to St. Irenaeus

    Saint Irenaeus Joint Orthodox-Catholic Working Group (link)

    The Joint St. Irenaeus Orthodox-Catholic Working Group was founded in 2004 on the initiative of the Johann Adam Moehler Institute for Ecumenism and some Catholic experts on Eastern Churches from Germany, Austria, Belgium and the Netherlands. (link)

    The Working Group consists of 13 Orthodox theologians from various Orthodox Churches (Constantinople, Antioch, Russia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, America) and 13 Catholic theologians from Roman Catholic churches in various countries (Austria, Germany, France, Italy, Malta, Poland, USA).

    The members of the Working Group are not sent as delegates from their churches, but are selected on the basis of their theological competence. New appointments – for example after a member has withdrawn – are made by a vote of the entire Working Group.

    The Irenaeus Group is therefore not an official dialogue commission, but sees itself as an unofficial discussion group, meeting with the intention of promoting Orthodox-Catholic dialogue at an international level.

    The co-Chairmen are a Catholic bishop (since 2004: Bishop Gerhard Feige of Magdeburg, Germany) and an Orthodox bishop (2004-08: Bishop Ignatije Midic of Braničevo, Serbia; 2009-12: Metropolitan Youhanna Yazigi of Western and Central Europe, now Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch; 2013-17: Archbishop Job Getcha, now co-Chairmen of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue Between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church; and since 2018: Metropolitan Serafim Joanta of Germany, Central- and Northern Europe).

    The members of the Irenaeus Group, as an international Working Group that transcends linguistic and cultural boundaries, consider it to be their task 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. They hope that in this way they will be able to work for a growing mutual understanding in their respective churches, and they commit themselves to personal involvement towards this aim.

    The participants of the inaugural meeting in Paderborn (Germany) chose St. Irenaeus of Lyons as spiritual patron of the Working Group, because he is revered as a patristic father in both the Eastern and Western Churches; he grew up in the East (Asia Minor) and served as bishop in the West (Lyons), and his biography 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.

    Following the inaugural meeting, at which the Working Group initially analysed the status of the Orthodox-Catholic dialogue at different levels (international dialogue, national dialogues, unofficial initiatives), the second session dealt with the relationship between local church and universal Church in Orthodox and Catholic ecclesiologies, as well as with the respective view of the ecclesial status of the other churches.     

    After that, the Working Group decided to take a chronological look at church history, investigating the way in which the relationship between primacy and synodality has evolved throughout history. In particular, the Working Group considered it important to examine the development of the doctrine of primacy in the context of its actual practice. In studying primacy, the Working Group came to the understanding that the doctrine formulated in historical sources did not always reflect reality – and vice versa.

    The Irenaeus Group has met regularly once a year since 2004 for a four-day conference to discuss issues which the members consider to be of central importance for the Orthodox-Catholic dialogue. Meeting locations alternate between Catholic and Orthodox settings. Thus, the Working Group subsequently gathered at the following locations:

  • 2004: Paderborn (Germany)
  • 2005: Athens (Greece)
  • 2006: Chevetogne (Belgium)
  • 2007: Belgrade (Serbia)
  • 2008: Vienna (Austria)
  • 2009: Kiev (Ukraine)
  • 2010: Magdeburg (Germany)
  • 2011: St. Petersburg (Russia)
  • 2012: Bose (Italy)
  • 2013: Thessaloniki (Greece)
  • 2014: Rabat (Malta)
  • 2015: Chalki/Istanbul (Turkey)
  • 2016 Taizé (France)
  • 2017 Caraiman (Romania)
  • 2018 Graz (Austria)
  • 2019 Trebinje (Bosnia and Herzegovina)

    The results of the annual meetings are summarized in communiqués and presented to those being responsible for the international Orthodox-Catholic dialogue.

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