Doctor of the Church

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Doctor of the Church is a title conferred, in the Roman Catholic church by the pope, and in other churches by equivalent authorities, on "certain Christian theologians of outstanding merit and acknowledged saintliness" (Livingstone, 2006). A canonized Saint whose understanding and interpretation of scripture and doctrine has taught the church in general, including a substantial body of writings, is, on proclamation by The Pope, to be regarded as a Doctor of the Church. The earliest of these are foundational in Christian theology, long pre-dating the Great Schism and even more the development of Protestantism.

Doctors of the Church are traditionally grouped into periods. The first is the group of Ecumenical Doctors, four from the Latin church - that is, they lived and taught in the western half of the Roman Empire:

Four of the Ecumenical Fathers also deemed Doctors came from the Eastern (Greek-speaking) half of the Roman Empire:

Eight other Doctors from the patristic period (~ to 700CE):

  • St. Ephraem the Deacon, 306-373 (Syriac)
  • St. Hilary, 315-368 (Latin)
  • St. Cyril of Jerusalem, 315-387 (Greek)
  • St. Cyril of Alexandria, 376-444 (Greek)
  • St. Leo the Great (Pope), 390-461 (Latin)
  • St. Peter Chrysologus, 400-450 (Latin)
  • St. Isidore of Seville (last of the Latin Fathers), 560-636
  • St. John Damascene (last of the Greek Fathers), 676-749

Eleven Doctors of the Church are recognized from the Middle Ages, all of them except the last from the Latin or Western Church:

  • St. Bede 'the Venerable', 673-735
  • St. Peter Damian, 1007-1072
  • St. Anselm, 1033-1109
  • St. Bernard of Clairvaux, 1090-1153
  • St. Hildegard of Bingen, 1098-1179
  • St. Anthony of Padua, 1195-1231
  • St. Albert the Great, 1200-1280
  • St. Bonaventure, 1217-1274
  • St. Thomas Aquinas, 1225-1274
  • St. Catherine of Siena, 1347-1379
  • St. Gregory of Narek 951-1003 (from the Armenian Church)

Seven Doctors of the Catholic Church were prominent in the 16th century Catholic Reformation (Protestants may call this the Counter-Reformation), all from the Latin Church:

There are two Doctors of the Church in the modern era, both from the Latin Church:

  • St. Alphonsus Liguori, 1696-1787
  • St. Therese of Lisieux, 1873-1897

Only four women have been proclaimed Doctor of the Church: St Catherine of Siena and St. Teresa of Avila by Pope Paul VI in 1970, St. Therese of Lisieux by Pope John Paul II in 1997, and St. Hildegard of Bingen by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012.

Much of the information on this page has been taken from the [Crossroads Initiative], the [Doctors of the Church website] and [the Catholic Encyclopedia]..