Doctor of the Church

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Title given to certain ecclesiastical writers on account of the great advantage the Church has gained from their doctrine.

Requirements. Three requirements are demanded: great sanctity, eminent learning, and proclamation as a Doctor of the Church by a pope or ecumenical council. Only canonized saints receive this title. There have been ecclesiastical writers of great influence who are not Doctors of the Church, e.g., Origen, because they are uncanonized. This requirement indicates that the title is not concerned exclusively with a person's ability to expound the faith. It is by the gifts of the Holy Spirit that one both savors and enables others to savor the things of God, that therefore one's exposition of the faith is effective in radiating the supernatural character of the faith that draws man to God. Hence the need for sanctity in a Doctor of the Church.

The requirement of eminent learning indicates the importance that the Church attaches to the knowledge of God and of divine things. It has sometimes been necessary for the Church to condemn systems that regard knowledge as the only way of salvation. There is, however, a sense in which the word of God enshrines the Word of God and the life that He makes available through the Church: "this is eternal life, that they may know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent" (Jn 17.3). Hence this respect shown to the great teachers of the faith.

The third requirement is that the Church, either by a pope or by an ecumenical council, proclaim a man of learning and sanctity a Doctor of the Church. Benedict XIV mentions that a council may do this, but in fact the most a council has done is acclaim the writings and influence of various Doctors. Apart from the great Doctors of the first six centuriesfour Western and four Easternall subsequent Doctors have been proclaimed since the Reformation. The procedure has been to extend to the universal Church the Office and Mass of a saint to whom this title is applied, after consulting the Congregation of Rites, which will first, if necessary, have had his writings carefully examined.

Original Doctors. The original four Western Doctors are ambrose, augustine, jerome, and gregory the Great, whose feasts were imposed by Boniface VIII in 1298. The original Eastern Doctors were john chry sostom, basil the great, and gregory of nazian zus, to whom athanasius was later added; Pius V recognized all four in 1568. All these Doctors lived after the era of the great persecutions; consequently none were martyrs, nor have any martyrs since then been nominated Doctors. Many of the early martyrs, however, did contribute greatly to the Church's understanding of the faith. It may be that the historical fact of martyrdom's being the only officially recognized form of sanctity was deemed to make it unnecessary to apply other encomia to martyrs who were learned, or it may be that the title martyr sufficiently demonstrated their having witnessed to Christ and His teaching; at any rate, the fact that the liturgical office of a confessor is used for Doctors is surely the consequence rather than the cause of martyrs' not being proclaimed Doctors.

The common teaching of theologians that a special reward in heaven is given to Doctors does not imply that only Doctors of the Church receive this reward; it would seem to be the right of all who distinguish themselves by their contribution to Christ's cause as teachers of the faith. Similarly many of the scholastic theologians were dignified with the general title doctor.

Doctors Proclaimed Later. The original eight Doctors were not added to until the Dominican Pius V recognized thomas aquinas along with the original four Eastern Doctors (1568). The Franciscan Sixtus V added bonaventure (1588). The number stayed at 10 until Clement XI nominated anselm (1720); Innocent XIII named isidore of seville (1722); Benedict XIII, peter chrysologus (1729). Benedict XIV gave belated recognition to leo the great (1754). Leo XII named peter damian (1828); Pius VIII, bernard of clairvaux (1830); Pius IX, hilary of poitiers (1851), alphonsus liguori (1871), and Francis de Sales (1877). Leo XIII took the number beyond 20 in nominating the three Easterners cyril of alexandria, cyril of jerusalem (1882), and john damascene (1890) and the English bede the venerable (1899). Benedict XV recognized ephrem the syrian deacon (1920); Pius XI: peter canisius (1925), john of the cross (1926), robert bellarmine (1931), and albert the great (1932). Pius XII named the Franciscan anthony of padua (1946), and John XXIII brought the number to 30 in nominating the Capuchin lawrence of brindisi (1959). Paul VI named the first two women doctors, teresa of Ávila (1970) and catherine of siena (1970). John Paul II followed by nominating thÉrÈse of lisieux (1997). There are 25 Westerners and 8 Easterners, 14 secular priests and 16 regulars, including 2 popes, 18 bishops, 9 priests, and 1 deacon.

See Also: doctrine.

Bibliography: e. valton, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al., 15 v. (Paris 190350; Tables générales 1951) 4.2:150910. Sacrae theologiae summa, ed. fathers of the society of jesus, professors of the theological faculties in spain, 4 v. (Madrid), v. 1 (5th ed. 1962) 1.3: 822823.

[b. forshaw/eds.]