Pope Francis declares a non-Catholic “Doctor of the Universal Church”

Gregory of Narek

Yesterday, on February 23, it was reported that Pope Francis formally declared Gregory of Narek to be a Doctor of the Universal Church. Gregory of Narek was an Armenian priest, monk, and poet who is greatly revered by Armenians but virtually unknown otherwise. Bypassing what must be dozens of qualified orthodox Catholics (Dom Prosper Gueranger is already de facto a doctor of this stature), Pope Francis instead chose an obscure mystic who died in schism, and who was presumably an adherent of the Miaphysite heresy in conflict with the Council of Chalcedon. Traditionally, a Doctor of the Church is chosen only among recognized Catholic saints.  So far as I can tell, Gregory of Narek is the first and only non-Catholic among only 36 doctors of the Church.

Is this a problem? Well, the words of the Catholic Encyclopedia are somewhat consoling:

“It is not in any way an ‘ex cathedra’ decision, nor does it even amount to a declaration that no error is to be found in the teaching of the Doctor. It is, indeed, well known that the very greatest of them are not wholly immune from error.”

And yet, and yet …. this is setting a potentially disastrous precedent. Gregory of Narek may have been a man of extraordinary sanctity; he may have been a great teacher; and it may be a laudable thing that his works become known to the larger Christian world outside of the Armenian community. But if a man is declared a “Doctor of the Universal Church”, the faithful have the right to assume that he is, at the very least, a Catholic. Furthermore, as Ann Barnhardt drives home, granting this title to a non-Catholic Armenian priest sends an unmistakable message to all the faithful: heresy and schism are no big deal.

Why this unsettling choice? It really makes no sense of any kind. Given what we know about Pope Francis and his appalling religious indifferentism, it is safe to assume that he has an ulterior motive. Let me make a little prediction: Pope Francis is preparing the faithful for the canonization of the first non-Catholic “Catholic” “saint”. Anyone care to guess who that might be?

14 thoughts on “Pope Francis declares a non-Catholic “Doctor of the Universal Church”

  1. A comment found on another page: “Well, we’ve learned this much anyway – Acceptance of the non-dogmatic Second Vatican Council is a non-negotiable essential for being in ‘full communion’ with Rome. Acceptance of the (very) dogmatic Council of Chalcedon? Not so much, apparently.”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Generally, the Catholic Church recognizes that the Armenian Orthodox saints are saints already, unless they were somehow openly anti-Catholic or something. In this case, there is also Armenian Catholic Church that venerates the same saints as the Armenian Orthodox. In fact, the Divine Liturgy at an Armenian Catholic Church uses the same Liturgy text as the Armenian Apostolic (Orthodox) Church.


    • Jane, thanks for the comment. First – the Armenian Apostolic Church is neither Catholic nor Orthodox. The Orthodox accept seven ecumenical councils, the Armenians only four. The Armenians broke away from the Church in the fifth century due to a refusal to accept the Council of Chalcedon which affirmed the two natures of Christ. The Orthodox are closer to Catholic belief than the Armenians on this crucial point. As to the claim that the tiny Armenian Catholic Church venerates the same saints as the Miaphysite Armenians, I can see that this has apparently been the case for some time – perhaps a concession that goes back to 1749. I have also seen the claim that Gregory of Narek was persecuted for defending the Council of Chalcedon, which is certainly to his credit if true, though the claim is disputed and one can’t say whether his arguments were orthodox. But all of this does not add up to Gregory of Narek being an orthodox Catholic in communion with Rome. He was not. That can’t be argued. And it is precisely this aberrant situation that will almost certainly be exploited by Pope Francis to the great confusion of the faithful.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t know. Some are saying Martin Luther, in conjunction with the pope’s upcoming celebration of the Reformation together with the Lutherans in 2017. But I think that’s a stretch: Luther has too much baggage (e.g., antisemitism, cruelty towards other sects). My best guess is someone like Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He’s widely respected, he has (unlike Luther) a reputation for sanctity, his theology is modernist enough for the pope’s liking, and he can be plausibly considered a martyr.


  3. I have a different conjecture: Maybe he did it to signal solidarity with the Copts who were recently killed by ISIS.

    Which would be a silly thing to do. It would be perfectly possible to say some nice things about the Copts killed by ISIS without declaring some obscure Armenian a doctor of the Catholic Church.

    I admit that my conjecture is a little far-fetched.

    Oh, wait: Maybe he’s preparing to declare the 21 Copts killed by ISIS to be saints?


    • Interesting angle, Lydia, and I wouldn’t be completely shocked if he did it. But his heart really isn’t in that sort of thing. Declaring the 21 Copts to be Catholic saints or martyrs would be too much about them and not enough about his ecumenical agenda. I could be wrong, but that’s my perception.


  4. According to Wikipedia:

    “Gregory of Narek is venerated as a saint by the Armenian Catholic Church and recognized as a saint of the Roman Catholic Church, his name listed officially among the saints for 27 February in the Martyrologium Romanum.

    Pope Saint John Paul II referred to Gregory of Narek in several addresses[4][5][6] as well as in his encyclical Redemptoris Mater[7] and in his Apostolic Letter for the 1,700th Anniversary of the Baptism of the Armenian People.[8]

    He is mentioned by name in Article 2678 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.[9]

    On 21 February 2015, Saint Gregory of Narek was named a Doctor of the Catholic Church by Pope Francis.[10][11][12] His being given this title is not an equipollent canonization since he had already been listed as a saint in the Martyrologium Romanum.”


    ## Was he a Catholic or not ? The most recent edition of the Martyrologium Romanum is that of 2005, which corrected some misprints in the 2001 edition. This is just completely confusing – and it totally obliterates the case against the SSPX, because if St Gregory of Narek can be a Catholic Saint & a Doctor of the Catholic Church, how does it make sense to call Archbishop Lefebvre not a Catholic ? The goings-in at Rome these days not make sense – they are not coherent with Sacred Tradition, but trample all over it :(

    Who will be made a Doctor next ? Simeon the New Theologian (died 1022) is quoted in the CCC – & he died in schism: so maybe him. If non-Catholics can be Doctors of the CC, maybe C. S. Lewis is a possible: his writings have been immensely helpful to a lot of Catholics, including this one.


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