Doctor of the Church

From New World Encyclopedia
Isidore of Seville, depicted with a book, common iconographical object for a doctor.

In the Roman Catholic Church, a Doctor of the Church (Latin doctor, teacher, from Latin docere, to teach) is a saint from whose writings the whole Church is held to have derived great advantage, and to whom "eminent learning" (eminens doctrina) and "great sanctity" (insignis vitae sanctitas) are attributed by a proclamation of a pope or of an ecumenical council, although historically no ecumenical council has yet exercised the prerogative of proclaiming a Doctor of the Church. This honor is given rarely, only posthumously, and only after canonization. The Roman Catholic Church has, to date, named 33 Doctors of the Church.

Ambrose, Augustine, 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, were recognized in 1568, by Pope St. Pius V. The revered Catalan philosopher Ramon Llull (1232-1315), dubbed "Doctor Illuminatus," is not officially considered a Doctor of the Church.

The Roman Catholic Church recognizes that the Doctors of the Church are not necessarily free from error. Furthermore, besides the 33 official Doctors in Roman Catholicism, some parts of the Catholic Church have recognized other individuals with this title, and some other Christian Churches such as the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Armenian Church, and the Anglican Church have created their own lists that may not be as tightly official as the official list of the Roman Catholic Church. All this indicates considerable flexibility, openness, and diversity on the part of the whole Christian Church.

Roman Catholic Church

Of the 33 Doctors of the Church named in the Roman Catholic Church, the 17 who died before the formal Great Schism in 1054 (marked * in the list below) are also venerated by the Eastern Orthodox Church. Among these 33 are 25 from the West and eight from the East; three women; 18 bishops, 29 priests, one deacon, two nuns, one lay woman; and 24 from Europe, three from Africa, six from Asia. No martyr is included, since inclusion in the list applies to confessors. Until 1970, no woman had been named a Doctor of the Church, but since then three additions to the list have been women. In this regard, it is interesting to quote a line from the New Catholic Encyclopedia (1967): "it would seem that no woman is likely to be named because of the link between this title and the teaching office, which is limited to males."[1] 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 Robert 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.

List of Doctors of the Church

Name Born Died Promoted Ethnicity Post
St. Gregory the Great * c. 540 March 12, 604 1298 Italian Pope
St. Ambrose * c. 340 April 4, 397 1298 Italian Bishop of Milan
St. Augustine, Doctor Gratiae * November 13, 354 August 28, 430 1298 Numidian Bishop of Hippo
St. Jerome * c. 347 September 30, 420 1298 Dalmatian Priest, monk
St. John Chrysostom * 347 407 1568 Syrian Archbishop of Constantinople
St. Basil * 330 January 1, 379 1568 Cappadocian Bishop of Caesarea
St. Gregory Nazianzus * 329 January 25, 389 1568 Cappadocian Archbishop of Constantinople
St. Athanasius * 298 May 2, 373 1568 Egyptian Patriarch of Alexandria
St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor Angelicus, Doctor Communis 1225 March 7, 1274 1568 Italian Priest, Theologian, O.P.
St. Bonaventure, Doctor Seraphicus 1221 July 15, 1274 1588 Italian Cardinal Bishop of Albano, theologian, O.F.M.
St. Anselm, Doctor Magnificus 1033 or 1034 April 21, 1109 1720 Italian Archbishop of Canterbury
St. Isidore * 560 April 4, 636 1722 Spanish Bishop of Seville
St. Peter Chrysologus * 406 450 1729 Italian Archbishop of Ravenna
St. Leo the Great * 400 November 10, 461 1754 Italian Pope
St. Peter Damian 1007 February 21/22,1072 1828 Italian Cardinal (Catholicism) Bishop of Ostia, monk, O.S.B.
St. Bernard, Doctor Mellifluus 1090 August 21, 1153 1830 French Priest, O.Cist.
St. Hilary of Poitiers * 300 367 1851 French Bishop of Poitiers
St. Alphonsus Liguori, Doctor Zelantissimus September 27, 1696 August 1, 1787 1871 Italian Bishop of Sant'Agata de' Goti, Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer
St. Francis de Sales August 21, 1567 December 28, 1622 1877 French Bishop of Geneva
St. Cyril of Alexandria, Doctor Incarnationis * 376 June 27, 444 1883 Egyptian Patriarch of Alexandria
St. Cyril of Jerusalem * 315 386 1883 Jerusalem Bishop of Jerusalem
St. John Damascene * 676 December 5, 749 1883 Syrian Priest, monk
St. Bede the Venerable * 672 May 27, 735 1899 English Priest, monk
St. Ephrem * 306 373 1920 Syrian Deacon
St. Peter Canisius May 8, 1521 December 21, 1597 1925 Dutch priest, S.J.
St. John of the Cross, Doctor Mysticus June 24, 1542 December 14, 1591 1926 Spanish Priest, mystic, Discalced Carmelites (Founder)
St. Robert Bellarmine October 4, 1542 September 17, 1621 1931 Italian Archbishop of Capua, theologian, Society of Jesus
St. Albertus Magnus, Doctor Universalis 1193 November 15,1280 1931 German Bishop, theologian, Dominican Order
St. Anthony of Padua and Lisbon, Doctor Evangelicus August 15, 1195 June 13, 1231 1946 Portuguese Priest, Franciscan
St. Lawrence of Brindisi, Doctor Apostolicus July 22, 1559 July 22, 1619 1959 NItalian Priest, diplomat, Order of Friars Minor Capuchin
St. Teresa of Ávila March 28, 1515 October 4, 1582 1970 Spanish Mystic, Discalced Carmelites (Founder)
St. Catherine of Siena March 25, 1347 April 29, 1380 1970 Italian Mystic, Dominican Order
St. Thérèse of Lisieux January 2, 1873 September 30, 1897 1997 French Discalced Carmelites (Nun)

*Also venerated by the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Other parts of the Roman Catholic Church

In addition, some parts of the Roman Catholic Church have recognized other individuals with this title. In Spain, Fulgentius of Ruspe and Leander of Seville have been recognized with this title. The Syro-Malabar Catholic Church has recognized Ambrose, Jerome, Gregory the Great, 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. The Chaldean Catholic Church has recognized Polycarp, Eustathius of Antioch, Meletius, Alexander of Jerusalem, Athanasius, Basil, Cyril of Alexandria, Gregory of Nazianzus, Gregory of Nyssa, John Chrysostom, Fravitta of Constantinople, Ephrem the Syrian, Jacob of Nisibis, James of Serug, Isaac of Armenia, Isaac of Nineve, and Maruthas.

Other churches

Eastern Orthodox Church

The Eastern Orthodox Church honors many of the pre-schismatic 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. An Eastern Orthodox understanding of such pillars of the Church include saints such as Photios I of Constantinople, Gregory Palamas, Nicodemus the Hagiorite, and possibly even more recent saints such as Nektarios 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.

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 of 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.

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.


Anglicans accept the pre-Reformation Doctors of the Church, laying special emphasis upon Eastern theologians. Richard Hooker is generally counted amongst the Doctors of the Church, being the only "Anglican" to receive this distinction.[2] Amongst High Church believers, the "Caroline Divines" in the seventeenth century golden age of Anglican scholarship are usually awarded the status of Church Doctors. Anglo Catholics may recognize the post-Reformation Roman Catholic Doctors as well.


The Lutheran Calendar of Saints does not use the full term "Doctor of the Church," but it does refer to Martin Luther by the term "Doctor."

The nature of naming Doctors of the Church

The proclamation of a pope about naming a Doctor of the Church even in the Roman Catholic Church is not in any way an extra cathedral decision through the magisterium, nor does it mean to declare that the teaching of any Doctor is free from error. "It is, indeed, well known that the very greatest of them are not wholly immune from error."[3] "Their writings … are not necessarily free of error in all respects."[4] Doctrinally, for example, Roman Catholicism recognizes error in the theory of Ambrose and Jerome that the fall of Adam and Eve was a sexual sin, and says that this theory "cannot be accepted" by the Catholic Church,[5] although these two theologians were among the four original Latin Doctors of the Church. Furthermore, there are diverse lists of Doctors in some parts of the Roman Catholic Church and some other Churches such as the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Assyrian Church of the East, and the Anglican Church. All this shows a considerable level of flexibility and openness on the part of the Church. And yet, the Doctors of the Church have all been recognized as the most exemplary and inspiring believers.

See also


  1. New Catholic Encyclopedia, s.v., "Doctors of the Church."
  2. Society of Archbishop Justus, "Richard Hooker, Doctor of the Church." Retrieved February 16, 2009.
  3. Catholic Encyclopedia, "Doctors of the Church." Retrieved February 18, 2009.
  4. Catholic Forum, "Doctor of the Church." Retrieved February 18, 2009.
  5. Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma (Rockford, IL: Tan Books and Publishers, 1974), 107.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • McGinn, Bernard. Doctors of the Church: Thirty-Three Men and Women Who Shaped Christianity. Crossroad Publishing Company, 1999. ISBN 0824517717
  • Rengers, Christopher. The 33 Doctors Of The Church. Tan Books & Publishers, 2000. ISBN 0895554402

External links

All links retrieved January 29, 2024.


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