St. Gregory of Narek: Was the New Doctor of the Church a Catholic? | Dr. R. Jared Staudt | CWR
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.