Have you ever wondered what is meant by “a doctor of the Church”? Here is a definition and a complete, up-to-date (2017) list of all 36 of the men and women who have been proclaimed Doctors with links to biographies and excerpts from them as well.
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 2017, the official list includes thirty-six men and women 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, Gregory of Narek 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 era of the Church Fathers, (approximately AD 100-AD 800), eight Doctors 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 hailed from the Western (Latin-speaking) half of the Roman Empire.
Four of the Ecumenical Fathers also deemed Doctors 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. JohnChrysostom, 345-407
There are eight other Doctors from the patristic period making in total, sixteen (16) Fathers who are also recognized as Doctors of the Church:
- 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
There are eleven Doctors of the Church 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)
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
- St. Francis de Sales, 1567-1622
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
This list and definition of the Doctors 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.