On January 21, 2022, Pope Francis issued a decree naming St. Irenaeus of Lyon a Doctor of the Church.
The title Doctor of the Church has its roots in the Latin docere, which means “teacher,” and signifies one whose teaching became understood as central to the Church’s understanding of her faith. The first four Doctors of the Church were St. Augustine of Hippo, St. Jerome, St. Ambrose of Milan and St. Gregory the Great. With St. Irenaeus, there are 37 Doctors of the Church, including four female saints: St. Teresa of Avila, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Therese of Lisieux and St. Hildegard of Bingen.
St. Irenaeus is the most ancient of Doctors, having been martyred (some dispute his martyrdom as there is little record of it) around 202. He is mostly known for a series of treatise called Against Heresies, written to dispute the Gnostics of the early Church and other heresies. The Gnostics were a group of Christian heretics who claimed that salvation depended on access to a special knowledge (the Greek gnosis means “knowledge”) available only to a select few. They taught a strict dichotomy between good and evil, light and darkness, and were anti-materialists, denouncing the physical body as unworthy.
After the first bishop of Lyon in Gaul was martyred, Irenaeus was named to succeed him. He sought to rebuild the Church and unify the faithful in the face of heresies and persecutions. Our Sunday Visitor has published an excellent article summarizing St. Irenaeus’ life and importance to the Church.
Pope Francis’ decree reads:
Decree of the Holy Father for the conferral of the title of Doctor of the Church on Saint Irenaeus of Lyon
Saint Irenaeus of Lyon, who came from the East, exercised his episcopal ministry in the West: he was a spiritual and theological bridge between Eastern and Western Christians. His name, Irenaeus, expresses that peace which comes from the Lord and which reconciles, restoring unity. For these reasons, having obtained the opinion of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, with my Apostolic Authority I DECLARE him a Doctor of the Church with the title of Doctor unitatis.
May the teaching of this great Master increasingly encourage the journey of all the Lord’s disciples toward full communion.
From the Vatican, 21 January 2022
Francis declared St. Irenaeus, whose name means “peace,” Doctor unitatis, or Doctor of unity, because of his association with both the East and the West and his teachings that sought to unite all believers under the one gospel of Jesus Christ. St. Irenaeus’ feast day is June 28.
St. Irenaeus, pray for us.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.