Pope Francis made the announcement during an audience with members of the Joint Orthodox-Catholic St. Irenaeus Working Group at the Vatican, describing the 2nd century theologian as a great spiritual and theological bridge between Christians in the East and in ‘West.
By Salvatore Cernuzio
Originally from the East but apostle in the West, “pastor” and “champion of the fight against heresies”, as Benedict XVI called him, Saint Irenaeus of Lyon will soon be declared Doctor of the Church with the title “Doctor unitatis”, that is, Doctor of Unity. The announcement was made personally by Pope Francis on Thursday morning, in a brief passage from his address to members of the Joint Orthodox-Catholic Saint-Irenaeus Working Group. “I will gladly declare your patron doctor of the Church “, he declared, describing him as a figure of first importance in the history of the Church and as” a great spiritual and theological bridge between the Christians of the East and of the West “.
“Her name, Irenaeus, contains the word” peace “, underlined the pope, recalling its Greek root Ειρηναίος (Eirenaios), which means” peaceful “,” peacemaker “,” seraphic “. The exact mission of the saint’s life.
An evangelizer of barbarians fighting Gnosticism
Originally from Asia, probably born in Smyrna and having set foot in Gaul in 177, Irenaeus was a disciple of Polycarp, therefore indirectly, of the apostle John. He was the first Christian theologian to attempt to develop a comprehensive synthesis of early Christianity. He spoke Greek, but to evangelize Celtic and Germanic peoples, he learned the languages of peoples considered barbarians. He conducted his work in a time of harsh persecution and in a historical period marked by two cultural events of great importance: the rise of Gnosticism in Christianity – the first form of heresy with a good doctrinal structure, and capable of fascinate many educated Christians – and the spread throughout the pagan world of Neoplatonism, a far-reaching philosophy that had many affinities with Christianity.
Defender of doctrine
Irenaeus strove to give a firm answer in order to highlight the errors contained in Gnosticism, a doctrine which asserted that the faith taught by the Church was only symbolism for the simple, unable to understand the complexities. , while the intellectuals who could understand what was hidden behind the symbols, would have formed an elitist and intellectualist Christianity. The parish priest of Lyon, however, opened a window for dialogue with Neoplatonism and accepted some general principles, developing them personally. Of his writings, two works remain: the five books entitled “Against Heresies” and “The Demonstration of Apostolic Preaching”, also known as the oldest catechism of Christian doctrine.
The catechesis of Benedict XVI in 2007
Through his writings, he pursues a double objective: “To defend the true doctrine against the assaults of heretics and to expose with clarity the truths of the faith”, as Pope Benedict XVI said, devoting a whole catechesis to this ” eminent personality “during his general audience of March 28, 2007.” Irenaeus is above all a man of faith and a pastor “, declared on this occasion the current pope emeritus.” Like a good pastor, he had a good sense of proportions, a wealth of doctrine and a missionary enthusiasm… Irenaeus can be defined as the champion of the fight against heresies. “Firmly rooted in the biblical doctrine of creation”, he “refuted the dualism and the Gnostic pessimism which would debase realities. He decisively claimed the original holiness of matter, of the body, of the flesh, no less than of the spirit.
But the work of Irenaeus goes far beyond the refutation of heresy: “in fact, one can say that he appears as the first great theologian of the Church who created systematic theology; he himself speaks of the system of theology, that is to say of the internal consistency of all faith, “Pope Benedict recalled.” At the heart of his doctrine is the question of the “rule of faith “and its transmission. For Irenaeus, the “rule of faith” coincided in practice with the Symbol of the Apostles, which gives us the key to interpreting the Gospel. Irenaeus brought the Gospel, received in an unbroken chain of the Apostles, who taught only “a simple faith”. Always disputing the “secret” character of the Gnostic tradition and noting its multiple and contradictory results, Irenaeus – said Joseph Ratzinger – took care to illustrate “the authentic concept of Apostolic Tradition” which is “public”, “a” and “pneumatic”, that is to say guided by the Holy Spirit “who brings it to life and makes it well understood by the Church”.