Doctor of the Church

Doctor of the Church
St. Isidore of Seville, a 7th century Doctor of the Church, depicted by Murillo (c. 1628) with a book, common iconographical object for a doctor.

Doctor of the Church (Latin doctor, teacher, from Latin docere, to teach) is a title given by a variety of Christian churches to individuals whom they recognize as having been of particular importance, particularly regarding their contribution to theology or doctrine.


Catholic Church

In the Catholic Church, this name is given to a saint from whose writings the whole Church is held to have derived great advantage and to whom "eminent learning" and "great sanctity" have been attributed by a proclamation of a pope or of an ecumenical council. This honour is given rarely, and only after canonization. No ecumenical council has yet exercised the prerogative of proclaiming a Doctor of the Church.

Saint Ambrose, Saint Augustine, Saint Jerome, and Pope Gregory I were the original Doctors of the Church and were named in 1298. They are known collectively as the Great Doctors of the Western Church. The four Great Doctors of the Eastern Church, John Chrysostom, Basil the Great, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Athanasius of Alexandria were recognized in 1568 by Pope St. Pius V.

St. Teresa of Ávila (1515–1582)
St. Thérèse of Lisieux in the Carmelite Brown Scapular, 1895

The Doctors' works vary greatly in subject and form. Some, such as Pope Gregory I and Ambrose were prominent writers of letters and short treatises. Catherine of Siena and John of the Cross wrote mystical theology. Augustine and Bellarmine defended the Church against heresy. Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People provides the best information on England in the early Middle Ages. Systematic theologians include the Scholastic philosophers Anselm, Albertus Magnus, and Thomas Aquinas.

Until 1970, no woman had been named a Doctor of the Church, but since then three additions to the list have been women: Saints Teresa of Ávila (St. Teresa of Jesus), Catherine of Siena, and Thérèse de Lisieux[1] (St. Therese of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face), "the Little Flower". Saints Teresa and Therese were both Discalced Carmelites.

Traditionally, in the Liturgy, the Office of Doctors was distinguished from that of Confessors by two changes: the Gospel reading Vos estis sal terrae ("You are the salt of the earth"), Matthew 5:13-19, and the eighth Respond at Matins, from Ecclesiasticus 15:5, In medio Ecclesiae aperuit os ejus, * Et implevit eum Deus spiritu sapientiae et intellectus. * Jucunditatem et exsultationem thesaurizavit super eum. ("In the midst of the Church he opened his mouth, * And God filled him with the spirit of wisdom and understanding. * He heaped upon him a treasure of joy and gladness.") The Nicene Creed was also recited at Mass, which is normally not said except on Sundays and the highest-ranking feast days. The 1962 revisions to the Missal dropped the Creed from feasts of Doctors.

As of 2011, the Catholic Church has named 33 Doctors of the Church. Of these, the 17 who died before the Great Schism of 1054 (marked * in the list below) are also venerated by the Eastern Orthodox Church. Among these 33 are 25 from the West and 8 from the East; 3 women; 18 bishops, 29 priests, 1 deacon, 2 nuns, 1 consecrated virgin; 24 from Europe, 3 from Africa, 6 from Asia. More Doctors (12) lived during the 4th century than any other, while the 2nd, 9th, 10th, 15th, and 20th centuries possessed no Doctors at all (though St. John of Ávila, whose declaration as a Doctor is apparently forthcoming, lived briefly during the 15th).

On August 20, 2011, Pope Benedict XVI announced that he would soon declare St. John of Ávila a Doctor of the Church. No date, however, was set for this declaration.[2]

List of Doctors of the Catholic Church

(For earlier authorities on Christian doctrine see Church Fathers and Ante-Nicene Fathers).

Name Born Died Promoted Ethnicity Post
St. Gregory the Great* 00540 540 (ca.) 00604-03-12 March 12, 604 01298 1298 Italian Pope
St. Ambrose* 00340 340 (ca.) 00397-04-04 April 4, 397 01298 1298 Italian Bishop of Milan
St. Augustine, Doctor Gratiae (Doctor of Grace)* 00354 354 00430-08-28 August 28, 430 01298 1298 North African (Ethnic Latin) Bishop of Hippo
St. Jerome* 00347 347 (ca.) 00420-09-30 September 30, 420 01298 1298 Dalmatian Priest, monk
St. John Chrysostom* 00347 347 00407 407 01568 1568 Syrian (Ethnic Greek) Archbishop of Constantinople
St. Basil the Great* 00330 330 00379-01-01 January 1, 379 01568 1568 Cappadocian (Ethnic Greek) Bishop of Caesarea
St. Gregory Nazianzus* 00329 329 00389-01-25 January 25, 389 01568 1568 Cappadocian (Ethnic Greek) Archbishop of Constantinople
St. Athanasius* 00298 298 00373-05-02 May 2, 373 01568 1568 Egyptian (Ethnic Greek) Patriarch of Alexandria
St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor Angelicus (Angelic Doctor), Doctor Communis (Common Doctor) 01225 1225 01274-03-07 March 7, 1274 01568 1568 Italian Priest, Theologian, O.P.
St. Bonaventure, Doctor Seraphicus (Seraphic Doctor) 01221 1221 01274-07-15 July 15, 1274 01588 1588 Italian Cardinal Bishop of Albano, Theologian, Minister General, O.F.M.
St. Anselm, Doctor Magnificus (Magnificent Doctor) 01033 1033 or 1034 01109-04-21 April 21, 1109 01720 1720 Italian Archbishop of Canterbury, O.S.B.
St. Isidore of Seville* 00560 560 00636-04-04 April 4, 636 01722 1722 Spanish Bishop of Seville
St. Peter Chrysologus* 00406 406 00450 450 01729 1729 Italian Bishop of Ravenna
St. Leo the Great* 00400 400 00461-11-10 November 10, 461 01754 1754 Italian Pope
St. Peter Damian 01007 1007 01072-02-21 February 21, 1072 01828 1828 Italian Cardinal Bishop of Ostia, monk, O.S.B.
St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Doctor Mellifluus (Mellifluous Doctor) 01090 1090 01153-08-21 August 21, 1153 01830 1830 French Priest, O.Cist.
St. Hilary of Poitiers* 00300 300 00367 367 01851 1851 French Bishop of Poitiers
St. Alphonsus Liguori, Doctor Zelantissimus (Doctor Most Zealous) 01696 1696 01787-08-01 August 1, 1787 01871 1871 Italian Bishop of Sant'Agata de' Goti, C.Ss.R. (Founder)
St. Francis de Sales, Doctor Caritatis (Doctor of Charity) 01567 1567 01622-12-28 December 28, 1622 01877 1877 French Bishop of Geneva
St. Cyril of Alexandria, Doctor Incarnationis (Doctor of the Incarnation)* 00376 376 00444-07-27 July 27, 444 01883 1883 Egyptian Patriarch of Alexandria
St. Cyril of Jerusalem* 00315 315 00386 386 01883 1883 Jerusalemite Bishop of Jerusalem
St. John Damascene* 00676 676 00749-12-05 December 5, 749 01883 1883 Syrian Priest, monk
St. Bede the Venerable* 00672 672 00735-05-27 May 27, 735 01899 1899 English Priest, monk
St. Ephrem* 00306 306 00373 373 01920 1920 Syrian Deacon
St. Peter Canisius 01521 1521 01597-12-21 December 21, 1597 01925 1925 Dutch Priest, S.J.
St. John of the Cross, Doctor Mysticus (Mystic Doctor) 01542 1542 01591-12-14 December 14, 1591 01926 1926 Spanish Priest, mystic, O.C.D. (Founder)
St. Robert Bellarmine 01542 1542 01621-09-17 September 17, 1621 01931 1931 Italian Archbishop of Capua, Theologian, S.J.
St. Albertus Magnus, Doctor Universalis (Universal Doctor) 01193 1193 01280-11-15 November 15, 1280 01931 1931 German Bishop of Regensburg, Theologian, O.P.
St. Anthony of Padua and Lisbon, Doctor Evangelicus (Evangelizing Doctor) 01195 1195 01231-06-13 June 13, 1231 01946 1946 Portuguese Priest, O.F.M.
St. Lawrence of Brindisi, Doctor Apostolicus (Apostolic Doctor) 01559 1559 01619-07-22 July 22, 1619 01959 1959 Italian Priest, Diplomat, O.F.M. Cap.
St. Teresa of Ávila 01515 1515 01582-10-04 October 4, 1582 01970 1970 Spanish Mystic, O.C.D. (Founder)
St. Catherine of Siena 01347 1347 01380-04-29April 29, 1380 01970 1970 Italian Mystic, O.P. (Consecrated virgin)
St. Thérèse de Lisieux, Doctor Amoris (Doctor of Love) 01873 1873 01897-09-30 September 30, 1897 01997 1997 French O.C.D. (Nun)

In addition, parts of the Roman Catholic Church have recognized other individuals with this title. In Spain, Fulgentius of Cartagena and Leander of Seville have been recognized with this title.[citation needed] Though not named Doctors of the Church or even canonized, bl. John Duns Scotus has been called Doctor subtilis (Subtle Doctor), and the priest and professor Francisco Suárez Doctor eximius (Excepted Doctor).

The Syro-Malabar Catholic Church has recognized Ambrose, Jerome, Gregory, Augustine, Athanasius, Basil, Gregory of Nazianzus, and John Chrysostom, as well as Ephrem the Syrian, Isaac the Elder, Pope Leo I, John of Damascus, Cyril of Alexandria, Cyril of Jerusalem, Epiphanius of Salamis, and Gregory of Nyssa.[citation needed] The Chaldean Catholic Church has recognized Polycarp, Eustathius of Antioch, Meletius, Alexander of Jerusalem, Athanasius, Basil, Cyril of Alexandria, Gregory Nazianzus, Gregory of Nyssa, John Chrysostom, Fravitta of Constantinople, Ephrem the Syrian, Jacob of Nisibis, James of Serug, Isaac of Armenia, Isaac of Nineveh, and Maruthas.[citation needed]

Eastern Orthodox Church

The Eastern Orthodox church honours many of the pre-schism saints as well, but the application of the term Doctor or Father of the Church is somewhat more flexible than in the West, and it is misleading to look for lists of officially recognized Doctors. Indeed, the more usual term used is 'Father'. An Eastern Orthodox understanding of such pillars of the Church includes saints such as Photios I of Constantinople, Gregory Palamas, Nicodemus the Hagiorite and possibly even more recent saints such as Nectarius Kefalas. An exception to this flexibility is the grouping of Basil the Great, Gregory of Nazianzus and John Chrysostom, universal teachers or Doctors who are collectively known as the Three Hierarchs and represent the Christianization of the Hellenic tradition and education. In addition, besides St John the Evangelist, two other saints bear the title 'Theologian': they are St Gregory of Nazianzus and St Symeon the New Theologian.

Armenian Church

The Armenian Church recognizes as Doctors of the Church Hierotheus the Thesmothete, Dionysius the Areopagite, Pope Sylvester I, Athanasius of Alexandria, Cyril of Alexandria, Ephrem the Syrian, Basil the Great, Gregory Nazianzus, Gregory of Nyssa, Epiphanius of Salamis, John Chrysostom, Cyril of Jerusalem, and their own saints Mesrob, Eliseus the historiographer, Moses of Chorene, David the philosopher, Gregory of Narek, Nerses III the Builder, and Nerses of Lambron. (See also Vardapet)

Assyrian Church of the East

The Assyrian Church of the East recognizes as Doctors of the Church Eliseus, Diodore of Tarsus, Theodore of Mopsuestia, and Nestorius.


The churches of the Anglican Communion tend not to use the term "Doctor of the Church" in their calendars of saints, preferring expressions such as "Teacher of the Faith". Those thus recognized include figures from before and after the Reformation, most of whom are also recognized as Doctors of the Church by Rome. Those designated Teachers of the Faith in the Church of England's calendar of saints are as follows:

Since all of the above appear in the calendar at the level of Lesser Festival or Commemoration, their celebration is optional. Similarly, because "In the Calendar of the Saints, diocesan and other local provision may be made to supplement the national Calendar",[3] those Doctors of the Church recognized by Rome may also be celebrated in the Church of England.


The Lutheran calendar of saints does not use the full term "Doctor of the Church," but the calendar of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod does refer to Martin Luther by the title of "doctor," in recognition that he held a doctoral degree and not in the sense used in "Doctor of the Church."

See also

  • Fathers of the Church


  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ "Pope to proclaim St John of Avila Doctor of the Universal Church". Holy See. 20 August 2011.Ávila-doctor-of-the-univ. Retrieved 21 August 2011. 
  3. ^ Common Worship (Main Volume), p. 530
  • Holweck, F. G., A Biographical Dictionary of the Saint. St. Louis, MO: B. Herder Book Co. 1924.

External links

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