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Who are the “Doctors of the Church”?

txt-DoctosChurch-FrVSThe feasts of the four original Doctors of the Church are celebrated during the second half of the year: St. Augustine on August 28, St. Gregory the Great on September 3, St. Jerome on September 30, and St. Ambrose on December 7.

Why the title “Doctor”? A doctor is a top-ranking expert in a chosen field. The title is most common in medicine. There is a M.D. or a D.O., a medical doctor or a doctor of osteopathy, a physician or a surgeon, the best trained and highest qualified medical professionals. The title is also used academically; a Ph.D. is a doctor of philosophy, the terminal degree in a subject area. In spiritual studies there is the S.T.D., a doctor of sacred theology, or the S.S.D., a doctor of Sacred Scripture.

Doctors of the Church. The Doctors of the Church, in Latin Doctores Ecclesiae, are a special class of canonized saints that have distinguished themselves with lives of particular virtue and holiness; as theologians, they possess extraordinary intellect and insight that has enabled them to make monumental contributions to the understanding of the faith through their preaching or writing; and they have been designated as such by a Pope or an ecumenical council.

Doctors West and East. The four great doctors of the West are Augustine, Gregory the Great, Jerome, and Ambrose; while the four great doctors of the East are John Chrysostom, Basil the Great, Gregory Nazianzen, and Athanasius.

The Original Latin Doctors are considered the doctors par excellence. St. Augustine, the Doctor of Grace, wrote Confessions, The City of God, a rule of life, Scripture commentaries, and numerous books on theological topics. St. Gregory the Great was a fierce defender of the papacy and a liturgical reformer. He wrote Pastoral Care, a guidebook for bishops, The Dialogue, Moralia, and volumes of homilies and commentaries. St. Jerome is the father of biblical studies, the translator of the Bible from Hebrew and Greek to Latin, the Vulgate. St. Ambrose was a fierce defender of the faith against the Arian heresy, a charismatic preacher, a prolific writer, and the inspiration behind the Ambrosian liturgy.

An Expanded List. Over the past 450 years, twenty-four additional saints have been declared Doctors and they are celebrated throughout the liturgical year.

Women Saints as Doctors. Recently three women have been named Doctors. In 1970 recognition was given to St. Catherine of Siena (April 29) and St. Teresa of Avila (October 15), and in 1998 St. Therese of Lisieux (October 1) was added.

Doctors for Today. Christians can still be inspired by their holy lives, follow their good example, be guided by their wise teaching, and be protected by their prayers of intercession.

DOCTORS ADDED AFTER THE ORIGINAL FOUR

  • St. Hilary (January 13)
  • St. Francis de Sales (January 24)
  • St. Thomas Aquinas (January 28)
  • St. Peter Damian (February 21)
  • St. Cyril of Jerusalem (March 18)
  • St. Isidore (April 4)
  • St. Anselm (April 21)
  • St. Athanasius (May 2)
  • St. Venerable Bede (May 25)
  • St. Ephrem (June 9)
  • St. Anthony of Padua (June 13)
  • St. Cyril of Alexandria (June 27)
  • St. Bonaventure (July 15)
  • St. Lawrence of Brindisi (July 21)
  • St. Peter Chrysologus (July 30)
  • St. Alphonsus Liguori (August 1)
  • St. Bernard (August 20)
  • St. John Chrysostom (September 13)
  • St. Robert Bellarmine (September 17)
  • St. Leo the Great (November 10)
  • St. Albert the Great (November 15)
  • St. John Damascene (December 4)
  • St. John of the Cross (December 14)
  • St. Peter Canisius (December 21)

RECENTLY ADDED WOMEN DOCTORS

  • St. Catherine of Siena (April 29)
  • St. Therese of Lisieux (October 1)
  • St. Teresa of Avila (October 15)

About Father Michael Van Sloun

Father Michael Van Sloun is pastor of St. Bartholomew Catholic Catholic Church in Wayzata, Minn. As a former school principal, high school instructor and athletic coach, he has always been a teacher. He now teaches the faith as a homilist, Bible study leader, retreat director, pilgrimage guide and author of numerous articles.

© 2011, Rev. Michael A. Van Sloun
Used with permission.