Thursday, October 07, 2021

Doctor Unitatis

 Pope Francis has been reported as saying that he will soon declare St. Irenaeus of Lyons a Doctor of the Church. The report:

During a meeting Oct. 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.

There have been a few indications of interest in this in the past few years, but nothing much has come of it yet. Pope Francis occasionally says things that he doesn't really follow up on, and says things that get misunderstood, but it does seem quite plausible that he'd go through with this, making St. Irenaeus the 37th saint with the title of 'Doctor of the Church'. He would not have been my first guess for who would next be named, but Irenaeus does meet the essential requirements, which are to be a canonized saint, not a martyr (since 'Doctor of the Church' is a liturgical title, but 'martyr' is the highest possible liturgical title and so it supersedes 'doctor'), with a body of theological writings of enduring value suitable for recommendation to the whole Church.

If this happens, St. Irenaeus would be the earliest Doctor of the Church, beating out St. Hilary of Poitiers, the current earliest); as the most recent Doctor of the Church, he would also be the one with the largest gap between his death and receiving the title (beating out St. Ephrem of Syria, the current record-holder); he would be the twentieth bishop on the list. While his see was in the West, he was himself from the East, which is possibly why Pope Francis calls him the 'Doctor of Unity', despite the fact that this is not an immediately obvious title for him.