Like many I was caught totally surprised by the naming of St. Gregory of Narek as a Doctor of the Church. Although the same is true when Pope Benedict XVI named St. Hildegard of Bingen as a Doctor of the Church in 2012 along with St. John of Ávila. Still at least I was somewhat aware of the ones Pope Benedict XVI named. St. Gregory of Narek was a total unknown to me.
After the naming I started seeing grumbling threads about him not even being Catholic. I thought surely that can’t be right.
On February 21, Pope Francis announced his decision to make St. Gregory of Narek (950–1003) a Doctor of the Church. Once again, Pope Francis has caught us off guard and now many people are scrambling to figure out who St. Gregory was and what the implications of the new honor bestowed upon him are. One key question that is arising is: was St. Gregory a Catholic?
The short answer to this question seems to be no. He was a member of the Armenian Apostolic Church, which is a non-Chalcedonian Church (sometimes referred to somewhat pejoratively as a Monophysite Church), because of its rejection of the Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon.
However, the relationship of the Armenian Apostolic Church to the Catholic Church is long and complicated. I would like to provide a brief overview to help us consider the implications of the new Armenian Doctor of the Church.
This excellent article at Catholic World Report gives a overview regarding the Armenian Catholic Church along with its reconciliation with the Catholic Church under Pope St. John Paul II in 1996. It also details information about St. Gregory of Narek and references to where he is quoted in the Catechism and the encyclical Redemptoris Mater.
An update to this post included this information:
Thanks to the comments of readers, I have learned that the 2005 martyrology included not only St. Gregory of Narek on February 27, but also two other Orthodox saints, the Russians St. Stephen of Perm (1340–1396) and St. Sergius of Radonezh (1314–1392).
The first article I had read about this was Mark Movesesian at First Things who pondered about this:
As far as I can make out, it’s this. When Rome receives part of an Eastern church into full communion, it accepts all of the Eastern church’s saints, as long as they did not explicitly contradict Catholic doctrine. So, when part of the Armenian Church united with Rome in the eighteenth century to form the Armenian-rite Catholic Church, Rome accepted the Armenian saints, including Gregory of Narek. He was, as it were, grandfathered in, and has been a Catholic saint ever since. That’s how, in light of his great contributions, he can be declared a Doctor of the Church today.
So now this makes much more sense to me regarding the process. This was first under the purview of the Vatican’s Congregation for Causes of Saints which made the recommendation to the Pope. How this came about would be interesting in and of itself.
What annoys me is that I had to piece together information from news sources to see what was going on. You would think the Vatican just might communicate some clue when a non-Catholic is named a Universal Doctor of the Church. That just possibly some people might be scratching their heads over this. Yes that even the infamous “teaching moment” that constantly evades Vatican communication could be invoked and that some background information might be provided. Hope springs eternal that the Vatican could ever get ahead of the curve.
Still mostly the press has almost totally ignored the naming of a new Doctor of the Church and is confining itself, as usual ,to unimportant stories about the Church.