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?