Introduction to the
DOCTORS OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH
Definition and Complete List
by Marcellino D’Ambrosio, Ph.D., Catholic Theologian and Speaker
The title “Doctor of the Church,” unlike the popular title “Father of the Church,” is an official designation that is bestowed by the Pope in recognition of the outstanding contribution a person has made to the understanding and interpretation of the sacred Scriptures and the development of Christian doctrine.
As of 2014, there are thirty-five male and female Doctors of the Catholic Church who hail from all ages of the Church’s history. Of these, four are women (Catherine of Siena, Teresa of Avila, Therese of Lisieux, Hildegard of Bingen) and twenty-four are quoted in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (Those who are not quoted are Saints Ephraem, Isidore, “the Venerable” Bede, Albert the Great, Anthony of Padua, Peter Canisius, Robert Bellarmine, John of Avila, Hildegard of Bingen, and Lawrence of Brindisi).
There are three requirements that must be fulfilled by a person in order to merit being included in the ranks of the
“Doctors of the Catholic Church”:
1) holiness that is truly outstanding, even among saints;
2) depth of doctrinal insight; and
3) an extensive body of writings which the church can recommend as an expression of the authentic and life-giving Catholic Tradition.
During the "golden age of the Fathers,” (300-600), eight Doctors of the Church particularly stand out and are called “Ecumenical Fathers” because of their widespread influence. Bronze statues of several of these eight are to be found in St. Peter’s Basilica. Four of these Doctors of the Church hailed from the Western (Latin-speaking) half of the Roman Empire.
· St. Ambrose, 340-397
· St. Jerome, 345-420
· St. Augustine, 354-430
· St. Gregory the Great (Pope), 540-604
Four of the Ecumenical Fathers who were Doctors of the Church came from the Eastern (Greek-speaking) Roman Empire:
· St. Athanasius, 295-373
· St. Basil the Great, 330-379
· St. Gregory of Nazianzus, 330-390
· St. John Chrysostom, 345-407
There are eight other Doctors of the Church from the patristic period:
There are ten Doctors of the Church during the Latin Middle Ages:
St. Peter Damian, 1007-1072
St. Hildegard of Bingen, 1098-1179
St. Albert the Great, 1200-1280
There are seven Doctors of the Catholic Church who were prominent in the 16th century Catholic Reformation, all from the Latin Church:
St. John of Avila 1499-1569
St. Teresa of Avila, 1515-1582
St. Peter Canisius, 1521-1597
St. John of the Cross, 1542-1591
St. Robert Bellarmine, 1542-1621
St. Lawrence of Brindisi, 1559-1619
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 (proclaimed Doctor of the Church by John Paul II 10/19/97)
This list of the Doctors of the Church was adapted and updated from that provided by Louis Miller, Beacons of Light: Profiles of Ecclesiastical Writers Cited in the Catechism (Liguori, MO: Liguori, 1995), 61-62.
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