The St. Irenaeus Joint Orthodox-Catholic Working Group is comprised of 13 Catholic theologians and 13 theologians from various Orthodox Churches (Constantinople, Antioch, Russia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, America).
The group has met annually since 2004, alternating between Catholic and Orthodox majority countries, including Italy, Russia, France, Romania, Austria, and Greece.
In line with the joint working group’s style, its responses to CNA’s questions were co-written by a Catholic and an Orthodox representative of the group and then approved by both of its co-secretaries: Assaad Elias Kattan, chair for Orthodox Theology at the University of Münster, and Johannes Oeldemann, the Catholic director of the Johann Adam Möhler Institute for Ecumenism.
“Irenaeus has left us a magnificent theological legacy written in a way particularly dear to the Orthodox, because it integrates intellectual and spiritual motifs, and at the same time so cherished in the West that his main writings have been preserved in Latin,” the group said.
With the new papal decree, Irenaeus became the first saint to hold both the titles of martyr and Doctor of the Church.
In the wake of the decree, some have raised the question of whether there is historical proof that Irenaeus was truly a martyr.
The St. Irenaeus Joint Orthodox-Catholic Working Group, however, explained why it holds that Irenaeus should have both titles.
“Though he is venerated as a martyr by both Catholics and Orthodox, there is little information about the actual manner of his death,” it said.
“However, martyrdom is not only measured by factual suffering, but also by a love expressing that eagerness to go through whatever God allows to happen. Irenaeus, in this sense, was at least a martyr of desire.”
“Moreover, in his influential writings, he was a powerful witness (‘mártys’ in Greek) to Christian faith, certainly deserving the title of martyr and ‘Doctor of Unity.’”
Cardinal Kurt Koch, the president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, has welcomed the St. Irenaeus Joint Orthodox-Catholic Working Group’s work over the past 18 years as a valuable support for the international Roman Catholic-Orthodox dialogue.
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The group’s next meeting will be held in Romania in October 2022.
“The teaching of this saintly pastor and teacher is like a bridge between East and West: this is why we call him a Doctor of Unity, Doctor Unitatis,” Pope Francis said in his Angelus address on Jan. 23.
“May the Lord grant us, through his intercession, to work together for the full unity of Christians.”