Pope Francis expressed his desire to name Irenaeus of Lyon a Doctor of the Church on October 7, 2021, in a speech to a group of Catholic and Orthodox theologians. And on January 21, it became official, with Irenaeus being named the 37th Doctor.
The pope explained how he thought this would help point to Irenaeus as an example of a “spiritual and theological bridge.”
This name, Irenaeus, contains the word “peace.” 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. For, as the apostle Paul writes, Christ “is our peace; who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility” (Eph 2:14).
St. Irenaeus will become the 37th Doctor of the Church, joining four other French saints, including St. Bernard of Clairvaux, St. Hilary of Poitiers, St. Francis de Sales, and St. Thérèse of Lisieux.
In 2015 Pope Francis proclaimed St. Gregory of Narek a Doctor of the Church.
St. Irenaeus is a saint who has a very close link to the apostles, as the Catholic Encyclopediaexplains.
It is certain that, while still very young, Irenaeus had seen and heard the holy Bishop Polycarp (d. 155) at Smyrna … [who was] the disciple of St. John [making St. Irenaeus], in a manner, belong[ing] to the Apostolic Age.
This succession further shows how the faith of the apostles was successfully handed on to others, who imitated their faith and kept it alive through some very rough years.
While St. Irenaeus may be a saint of the early Church, his example is still relevant today and Pope Francis wants us to rediscover his life so that we can be bridges in our modern society.