Pope Francis has officially declared St. Irenaeus, 2nd-century bishop of Lyon, a Doctor of the Church, with the title "Doctor of Unity" in a decree issued on January 21, 2022.
Pope Francis has officially declared Saint Irenaeus, second century bishop of Lyon, Doctor of the Church with the title “Doctor unitatis” [Doctor of Unity, in Latin], in a decree issued on January 21, 2022. Irenaeus is the 37th Doctor of the Church, and the fifth from France.
“May the doctrine of such a great Master encourage more and more the journey of all the Lord’s disciples towards full communion,” Pope Francis wrote in his decree. He emphasized that the saint, who was originally from the East and served as a bishop in the West, was a “spiritual and theological bridge” between Christians of the East and West.
“His name, Irenaeus, expresses the peace that comes from the Lord and that reconciles, restoring unity,” said the Successor of Peter, who conferred on him the title: “Doctor Unitatis.”
The Church officially attributes the title of Doctor to theologians it recognizes as having a particular authority as witnesses of doctrine, because of the certainty of their thought, the holiness of their life, and the importance of their work.
The day before the announcement, Cardinal Marcello Semeraro, prefect of the Congregation for Saints’ Causes, officially proposed that the Pope accept the “positive verdict” of the plenary session of cardinals and bishops who considered the proposal to give the saint this title.
In October, Pope Francis had already announced that he would soon declare St. Irenaeus a Doctor of the Church in an address to a group of Catholic and Orthodox theologians named after the Church Father.
In January 2018, Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, then primate of the Gauls, while traveling in Rome, had asked the Argentine pontiff to make St. Irenaeus a Doctor.
Champion against heresy
The second bishop of Lyon, between 177 and 202, Saint Irenaeus distinguished himself by his denunciation of the dualistic heresy which affirmed that human beings are divine souls imprisoned in a material world. Concerned about the unity of the Church, St. Irenaeus intervened with the Pope to prevent the excommunication of communities that celebrated Easter on a date other than the Roman Church.
The Catholic Church now has 37 Doctors of the Church, five of whom are French: Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, Hilaire of Poitiers, François de Sales, Thérèse of Lisieux and today Saint Irénée.
Pope Francis has only proclaimed one other doctor: Gregory of Narek (c. 954-1010), a poet and philosopher from Armenia, in 2015.