Skip to comments.St. Gregory of Narek: Was the New Doctor of the Church a Catholic?
Posted on 02/26/2015 1:41:11 PM PST by NYer
St. Gregory is the first Doctor of the Church to have lived outside direct communion with the Bishop of Rome.
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 is only a short overview of the relations between these churches, and I hope the reader will be encouraged to explore the issue further and also to discover the writings of St. Gregory of Narek.
Armenia: The first Christian nation
Armenians recognize St. Jude Thaddeus and St. Bartholomew as the first evangelizers of their nation. The territory of Armenia once stretched from the Ural Mountains southward across modern Turkey and even to northern Lebanon. Its first kingdom was established in the sixth century BC and remained mostly independent, even amidst the regional power struggle between Rome and the Persian Empire.
In about the year 301 Tiridates III, the king of Arsacid Armenia, proclaimed Christianity the official religion of his state, making Armenia the first Christian nation. According to the oldest accounts, Tiridates had imprisoned St. Gregory the Illuminator for the faith for 13 years before being healed by him. He then appointed Gregory as Catholicos, or head, of the Armenian Church. Following the adoption of Christianity, the Church forged the first Armenian alphabet, which was used for a translation of Scripture and for the Armenian liturgy.
The rejection of Chalcedon and initial reunion
For about 450 years, from 428 to 885 AD, Armenia lost independence to the Byzantine Empire and later to Islamic conquest. It was during that time that schism ensued between Armenia and the Catholic Church. Along with the churches of Egypt and Syria, Armenia rejected the Council of Chalcedon, which took place in the year 451. Though initially repudiated, Chalcedon was officially condemned by the Armenian Church in 554 at the second council of Dvin, when communion was officially broken between churches.
In the year 629, the Byzantine Emperor Heraclitus was able to reach an agreement with Catholicos Ezra to reunite the churches. Unfortunately, in 651 at the Synod of Manzikert, the reunion was repudiated by the Armenians. The condemnation of montheletism (the heresy that Jesus Christ has only one will) at the Third Council of Constantinople only further distanced the Armenians.
Further reunion attempts
Though the Armenians had much more contact with the Byzantines, the Crusades brought Latin Catholics back into contact with the Armenians. In particular, the Armenian kingdom of Cilicia, in modern-day Turkey, had favorable relations, and even a short ecclesial reunion, with the Crusaders.
Formal attempts at reunion with Armenians more broadly occurred at the Second Council of Lyons in 1274 and the Council of Florence in 1439, though these moves did not result in a lasting reunion. The Council of Florence contains a bull of reunion with the Armenians (November 22, 1439), which, not surprisingly, sought to enforce the Christological decisions of the earlier Councils, and to enforce conformity in practice with the Church of Rome. It outlined details on the seven sacraments, and prescribes actions such as mixing water with the wine during the Liturgy and the celebration of certain feasts. It optimistically praises the Armenians:
Rightly we hold that the Armenians deserve great praise. As soon as they were invited by us to this synod, in their eagerness for ecclesiastical unity, at the cost of many labors and much toil and perils at sea, they sent to us and this council from very distant parts, their notable, dedicated, and learned envoys with sufficient powers to accept, namely whatever the holy Spirit should inspire this holy synod to achieve.
The creation of the Armenian Catholic Church
Efforts at reunion with Rome were begun in Armenia by a group of friars (related to the Dominicans, according to CNEWA), called the Friars of Reunion. Groups of Armenians also were brought into the Catholic Church beginning in the 1630s within the borders of the Polish-Lithuanian Empire. This is in accord with the acts of union at Brest in 1595 and Uzhhorod in 1464, which were undertaken with groups of Eastern Orthodox in the same territories.
In 1755 Pope Benedict XIV wrote extensively on questions pertaining to Eastern Catholics, noting clearly that some Armenians were observing the unions of Lyons and Florence (On the Observance of Oriental Rites). In his mind, the former acts of union had had an effect. Earlier in 1742, he had created a Patriarch of Cilicia for Armenians based in Lebanon and appointed a former bishop of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Abraham Ardzivian as first Patriarch. Bishops remained in Lebanon and were added to Constantinople and Armenia itself in 1850.
The Armenian Catholic Church was devastated by the Armenian Genocide of 1915, and the Church was suppressed in Armenia during the Communist regime. Numbers in 2008 placed the population of Armenian Catholics at just over 500,000.
On December 13, 1996, Pope St. John Paul II issued a common declaration with the Armenian Apostolic Catholicos Karekin I, which spoke of a common faith in Christ, which has been obscured by different linguistic expressions:
The reality of this common faith in Jesus Christ and in the same succession of apostolic ministry has at times been obscured or ignored. Linguistic, cultural, and political factors have immensely contributed towards the theological divergences that have found expression in their terminology of formulating their doctrines. His Holiness John Paul II and His Holiness Karekin I have expressed their determined conviction that because of the fundamental common faith in God and in Jesus Christ, the controversies and unhappy divisions which sometimes have followed upon the divergent ways in expressing it, as a result of the present declaration, should not continue to influence the life and witness of the Church today. They humbly declare before God their sorrow for these controversies and dissensions and their determination to remove from the mind and memory of their Churches the bitterness, mutual recriminations, and even hatred which have sometimes manifested themselves in the past, and may even today cast a shadow over the truly fraternal and genuinely Christian relations between leaders and the faithful of both Churches, especially as these have developed in recent times.
The declaration expresses the hope that the divergence of Christological language should no longer be an obstacle to seeking reunion. This is an important point in light of St. Gregory of Narek’s new honor as a Doctor of the Church.
St. Gregory of Narek
St. Gregory is the first Doctor of the Church to have lived outside direct communion with the Bishop of Rome. From the history of the relations between the churches and the common declaration, it seems that we should say that he belonged to a church that was apostolic and in possession of genuine sacraments. The question remains of his adherence or rejection of Chalcedon. I do not have any definitive evidence one way or another, but many people are claiming that St. Gregory upheld Chalcedon. Here is one example: “The hieromonks of the monastery of Narek, from among whom we have the remarkable mystic St. Gregory of Narek, are indisputably for the two natures in Jesus Christ” (citing J. Mecerian, La Vierge Marie dans la Littérature médiévale de l’Arménie [Beyrouth, 1954], 9).
St. Gregory has recently shown up a couple of times in Magisterial writings. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, for instance, contains a reference to him:
Medieval piety in the West developed the prayer of the rosary as a popular substitute for the Liturgy of the Hours. In the East, the litany called the Akathistos and the Paraclesis remained closer to the choral office in the Byzantine churches, while the Armenian, Coptic, and Syriac traditions preferred popular hymns and songs to the Mother of God. But in the Ave Maria, the theotokia, the hymns of St. Ephrem or St. Gregory of Narek, the tradition of prayer is basically the same. (§2678)
Pope St. John Paul II also referred to him in his encyclical, Redemptoris Mater:
In his panegyric of the Theotokos, Saint Gregory of Narek, one of the outstanding glories of Armenia, with powerful poetic inspiration ponders the different aspects of the mystery of the Incarnation, and each of them is for him an occasion to sing and extol the extraordinary dignity and magnificent beauty of the Virgin Mary, Mother of the Word made flesh.
With the formation of the Armenian Catholic Church St. Gregory received his first liturgical veneration within the Catholic Church on his feast day, October 13. He has not been officially canonized by the pope. Some have speculated that the declaration of Gregory as a Doctor of the Church might have served as an equipollent canonization (see more on this below). Others have simply stated that the recognition of the Armenian liturgy and liturgical calendar by the Catholic Church served as a confirmation of the cultus of saints in that rite.
However, Pope Francis is now giving St. Gregory a universal role in the Church. It is extremely interesting that a news story from Catholic News Service says, in the present tense, that St. Gregory “is remembered in the Roman Catholic Church Feb. 27,” but the Vaticanist Andrea Tornielli clarifies, using the future tense:
The cult of St. Gregory of Narek will be marked on 27 February in the Roman Martyrology. He will be defined as “monk, doctor of the Armenians, distinguished for his writings and mystic science.” The papal decision comes just weeks before Francis is due to commemorate the centenary of the Armenian massacre on 12 April in St. Peter’s Basilica.
As Gregory does not appear currently in the Roman Martyrology, or Butler’s Lives of the Saints (though this is certainly unofficial), it seems that a new feast day for the Latin calendar is forthcoming.
Equipollent or equivalent canonization
It should be noted that when Pope Benedict XVI declared St. Hildegard von Bingen as a Doctor of Church he used the process of equipollent or equivalent canonization, as she also had not been formally canonized. Even St. Albert the Great was canonized in this fashion when he was declared a doctor of the Church in 1931 by Pope Pius XI. Pope Benedict used this process of canonization a few other times and Pope Francis has done so with even greater regularity, so much so, that Vatican Radio felt the need to explain the process:
When there is strong devotion among the faithful toward holy men and women who have not been canonized, the Pope can choose to authorize their veneration as saints without going through that whole process. … This is often done when the saints lived so long ago that fulfilling all the requirements of canonization would be exceedingly difficult.
From Andrea Tornielli’s commentary, referenced above, it seems likely that an equipollent canonization is forthcoming. Hopefully we will have clarification on this point soon. What is clear in the meantime is that there is a foundation for the equipollent canonization of saints in association with their being named a Doctor of the Church and there is a longstanding practice of celebrating St. Gregory of Narek’s feast day within the Armenian Catholic Church.
As many of you know, I am RC but practice my faith in a Maronite (Eastern) Catholic Church. Their liturgy dates back to Antioch where St. Peter served as bishop before going to Rome. They are also the ONLY Eastern Church that never separated from Rome. For this, they were punished by other eastern christians.
The region in which the Maronites lived was the crossroads of many cultures and beliefs. It was the arena for rich, but also controversial theological speculation. In the fifth century much debate took place regarding how the divine and human natures of Christ were to be taught. No good Christian doubted that Christ was both divine and human, but there was disagreement in explaining how the two realities related to each other. Some tried to say that the divine and human in Christ were two independent persons who worked together. This teaching, known as Nestorianism, was condemned by the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus in 431, because the bishops reasoned if God had not truly united Himself to our humanity, then we have not been redeemed. The Christians of Persia persisted in the Nestorian teaching and separated themselves from the universal Church.
Others took the opposite approach, teaching that there was only one nature in Christ, that the divine completely absorbed the human. This teaching, known as Monophysitism, was condemned by the Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon (a town near Constantinople) in 451. The Council taught that Christ was fully divine and fully human but one in person. Many Christians of Egypt (Copts) and Ethiopia persisted in the Monophysite teaching, as did many Christians of the church of Antioch, who were referred to as Jacobites (named after their founder, Jacob Baradai).
The Maronites (as well as the Melkites) were staunch defenders of the Council of Chalcedon. The monks of St. Maron took the lead in preaching the true doctrine and stopping the propagation of heresy. The monks describe their activity in a memorandum sent by the priest Alexander, who was head of the Monastery to the Bishops of the region. This memorandum was inserted in the acts of the Fifth Ecumenical Council of Constantinople in 553.
In a letter addressed to Pope Hormisdas in 517, monks of St. Maron address the Pope as the one occupying the Chair of St. Peter, and inform him that they are undergoing many sufferings and attacks patiently. They single out Antiochian Patriarchs Severus and Peter, who, they say, anathematize the Council of Chalcedon and Pope Leo, whose formula the Council had adopted. The Maronites are mocked for their support of the Council and are suffering afflictions. The Emperor Anastasius had sent an army that had marched through the district of Apamea closing monasteries and expelling the monks. Some had been beaten and others were thrown into prison. While on the way to St. Simon Stylite, the Maronites had been ambushed and 350 monks were killed, even though some of them had taken refuge at the altar. The monastery was burned. The Maronites appealed to the Emperor in Constantinople, but to no avail. Now, they appeal to the Pope for deliverance against the enemies of the Fathers and the Council. They exclaim: Do not therefore look down upon us, Your Holiness, we who are daily attacked by ferocious beasts. . . . We anathematize Nestorius, Eutyches, Dioscorus, Peter of Alexandria and Peter the Fuller of Antioch, and all their followers and those who defend their heresies. The letter was signed first by Alexander, priest and archimandrite of St. Maron. Over 200 other signatures follow, of other archimandrites, priests and deacons. The importance of the Monastery of Bet Maroun is evidenced by Alexanders name leading the list of delegates.
Pope Hormisdas, in a letter dated February 10, 518, tells the archimandrites, priests, and deacons of the region of Apamea that he read their letter describing the persecutions of the heretics. He consoles them in their sufferings and tells them not to despair for they are gaining eternal life through this. The Emperor Justinian restored the walls of the principal monastery of St. Maron.
“St. Gregory of Narek: Was the New Doctor of the Church a Catholic?”
May have been.
A Doctor of the Catholic Church may have been Catholic.
This makes me feel soooo much better.
It's not even remotely that simple, my friend. Was he a Latin? No. Was he a Catholic? Yes, as Catholic as you and I. He recited essentially the same creed as you and I do.
Oriental Orthodox Church The Oriental Orthodox Church is more severe than the Eastern Orthodox Church in terms of divorce and adopts an intermediate position between Rome and Constantinople, allowing it only in the case of adultery. This position is valid for both Copts and Armenians 
The Women Deacons of the Armenian Church
I think this gets into the rather confusing catholic vs Catholic thing. I generally reserve the large ‘C’ Catholic for those who are in communion with Rome which I think is the accepted convention and it’s just easier so as to avoid confusion. I use the smaller ‘c’ to refer to those churches that have a credible claim to apostolic origins with orders and sacraments. (Not getting into the debate over valid sacraments, that just adds to the confusion.)
I have no patience with the anti-Catholic bigotry that I see all over, but neither am I fan of doctrinal syncretism or relativism. The One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church referenced in the Creed is the Orthodox Church, and no other. Where the subject is the Creed it must also be noted that the Oriental Orthodox don’t recite the second part as far as I am aware. For their part the Roman Catholics recite the creed of the Second Council of Lyon (1272-74), which proclaims the double procession of the Holy Spirit, vice the Nicene Constantinopolitan Creed.
I absolutely agree that the differences between the OO’s and we EO’s are not nearly as great as they were once believed. But there are still differences. I also don’t believe any of the canonical Orthodox churches are commemorating any post Chalcedonian saints from the Oriental Orthodox Communion.
Privately I have no doubt of this man’s sanctity. Just as I have no doubt that the 21 New Martyrs of Egypt are true martyrs and saints. For that matter I also have a healthy respect for some of the post-schism Latin saints. But while private veneration is one thing, public veneration is another.
Do the Oriental Orthodox allow unlimited divorce and remarriage on account of adultery or two remarriages but only if there was adultery?
That’s a good question. I am not sure if they have a universal discipline. I know that the Copts only allow divorce with the possibility of remarriage in cases of adultery, and then only for the innocent party. Perhaps someone else has more information... ?
I’m thinking there are probably a limited number of remarriages allowed but only in the case of divorce, but I’m not finding specifics. I found one place that said Oriental Orthodox also allow it for apostasy, but not how many times it is actually allowed.
I think that horse has been out of the barn for about 250 years, though -- according to the article it seems that Armenian Catholics have always accorded a public cultus to St. Gregory, ever since their church was founded.
I think that depends on which side of the Bosporus your barn sits.
I appreciate that you do this because I thought that the Orthodox posters would say that he was Catholic based on the other "catholic".
I am really struggling with the fact that the pope made a non-catholic a doctor of the church. I am not a fan of the current pope. His words are confusing and mottled. Our past two popes spoke with concise words that adhered to Catholic doctrine. They spoke boldly and I never had a problem understanding their intent. This pope? Not even close. Please do not take my words as attacking the Holy See. I think that the pope really has no clear agenda or vision for the Church. Pope John Paul II’s vision was an end to the evils of communism. Pope Benedict’s was the threat of Islam to the world as well as the evil of moral relativism. Pope Francis? Not judging homosexuals for their perverse lifestyle and criticizing capitalism.
Here is Ann Barnhardt’s take.
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