A stained-glass window by Lucien Bégule depicting St. Irenaeus at the Church of St, Irenaeus in Lyon, France./ Gérald Gambier via Wikimedia (Public Domain).
Pope Francis said today 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, 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 Oct. 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.
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 be 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.”