From a reader…
Pope Francis has said that he is going to name St. Irenaeus of Lyon a “Doctor of the Church”. Is it possible that too many doctors, like too many pope saints, waters down the whole thing?
I am reminded of the line in the movie The Incredibles.
Too many “pope saints”…. Right. Yes, I think that the causes of recent pope saints should have been shelved until more time had passed. Just because the Congregations procedure for a cause is followed diligently doesn’t mean that it is the prudent thing to pass along with great speed. I was at the press conference for the Beatification of the founder of Opus Dei. It was one of the first causes that went through very swiftly after the death of the servant of God. The question was asked about that speed. The answer was, “Opus Dei is very well organized.” They had people and resources to throw at the cause like no one had before. They followed the procedure and got all the work done. The cause moved quickly and the Pope wanted it. Bada bing. That is not to say that quick causes (Mother Teresa, Padre Pio) are undeserving. I just think it is a good idea to slow down.
John XIII? Paul VI? John Paul II? Now, they say, John Paul I? Really?
It starts looking like a canonization of something else.
Back to Doctors of the Church.
Who are Doctors?
Doctors are saints (therefore holiness of life) whose lives and writings (greatness of learning) manifest something special about Holy Church as Magistra, Teacher. They make a profound contribution to her theology or spiritual life, beyond that of normal theologians and divines. The Church has, over time, designated three conditions for being declared a “Doctor”. The candidate must be, eminens doctrina, insignis vitae sanctitas, Ecclesiae declaratio … or eminent in learning, with a eminent degree of sanctity, and through declaration by the Church.
The Vatican News story points out Irenaeus will be called “Doctor Unitatis… Doctor of Unity”. Doctors get nicknames. For example, St. Thomas Aquinas is Doctor Angelicus, Angelic Doctor, John of the Cross is Doctor Mysticus, Mystical Doctor. Doctor Who is still just Doctor Who. If Karl Rahner were made a Doctor… and these days I wouldn’t rule it out… as one commentator here quipped he would be Doctor Equivocus, Equivocal Doctor.
Apparently it is thought that Irenaeus, through his striving against heresy of Gnosticism, helped to preserve the unity of the Church. That’s surely correct. Benedict XVI waxed eloquent about Irenaeus, and rightly so, in his Wednesday audience series on Fathers of the Church, a title Irenaeus truly merits.
Should Irenaeus be declared Doctor of the Church?
Look at it this way. At the request of Benedict XVI the question of whether Irenaeus should be named Doctor was given the Patristic Institute “Augustinianum” (my school – across the way from the Palazzo del Sant’Uffizio where the CDF is housed). The CDF entrusted very important tasks to the “Augustinianum”, such as the verification and proofing of all the references in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. As a matter of fact, I was asked to deliver the final copy to Ratzinger’s office. I digress.
At the request of Card. Ratzinger, the “Augustinianum” studied the question of Irenaeus as Doctor and concluded, “No.” Why? Because no Father before Nicea can really be a Doctor of the Church because they all lack a developed orthodox understanding of the Trinity.
That might have disappointed Card. Ratzinger a little, I don’t know. But, when he could have, Papa Ratzinger didn’t make Irenaeus a Doctor. He must have found it a) convincing because of the ante-Nicean angle or b) it wasn’t timely.
As far as “watering down the whole thing” goes, I am not sure that having more Doctors waters down their prestige… after all, the pool to draw on is pretty small. Some people were a little surprised, and not in a good way, about St. Therese. I think they have gotten over that. I am still asking, in the regard to St. Gregory of Narek… Who? Maybe that’s our Doctor… Who?
There is no question that Irenaeus is a great Father of the Church who made important contributions that echo to our own day. No question.
I guess we who celebrate the Vetus Ordo will have to figure out how to work with his Feast Day. Irenaeus feast was celebrated in Lyon on 28 June, which in the Church’s universal calendar is the Vigil of Sts. Peter and Paul. Benedict XV confirmed Irenaeus feast as 28 June. However, in 1960 Irenaeus was moved to 3 July, thus bumping poor St. Leo II – quite the saint – into the liturgical shadows. But because there were lots of vigils – “bad” in the eyes of the reformers – for the Novus Ordo the Vigil of Peter and Paul was suppressed and Irenaeus was transferred back to 28 June! That way St. Thomas the Apostle could be transfered from 21 December to 3 July which is the anniversary of the translation of his relics. One gets the impression of a calendrical pinball machine. Ping… boing… snak… ding ding… snak… boing.
I say, let’s slow down.
There weren’t a lot of liturgical changes between 1570 and the 20th century. Then the 20th hit and BAMMO! Things started to change really fast, both in the world outside and inside the Church.
Both in the outside world and within the Church.