Doctors of the Church are great saints known for their defense and explanation of the truths of the Catholic faith. The original eight Doctors of the Church were named by acclamation, or common acknowledgment; the rest have been named by various popes, starting with the addition of St. Thomas Aquinas to the list by Pope St. Pius V in 1568.
This title indicates that the writings and preachings of such a person are useful to Christians "in any age of the Church." Such men and women are also particularly known for the depth of understanding and the orthodoxy of their theological teachings. While the writings of the Doctors are often considered inspired by the Holy Spirit, this does not mean they are infallible. It does mean that they contributed significantly to the formulation of Christian teaching in at least one area.
Today, there are 35 Doctors of the Church: 27 from the West and 8 from the East; four women; 18 bishops, 12 priests, one deacon, three nuns and one consecrated virgin; 26 from Europe, three from Africa, six from Asia. Who are they? (Follow the links below to read more about each doctor.)
Pictured: A stained-glass image of St. Hildegard of Bingen, the newest Doctor of the Church, depicting her at work composing hymns
LATIN (WESTERN) DOCTORS
1 – St. Ambrose, 340-397 (Pastoral Doctor): Archbishop of Milan, one of the most influential Church figures of the 4th century.
2 – St. Jerome, 345-420 (Doctor of Biblical Science): A Christian apologist, best known as the translator of the Bible from Greek and Hebrew into Latin, what's known as the Vulgate.
3 – St. Augustine, 354-430 (Doctor of Grace): Bishop of Hippo, philosopher and theologian, and one of the most important figures in the Church.
4 – Pope St. Gregory the Great, 540-604 (Doctor of Hymnology): The first pope with a monastic background.
GREEK (EASTERN) DOCTORS
5 – St. Athanasius, 295-373 (Doctor of Orthodoxy): Remembered for his role in the conflict with Arianism and for his affirmation of the Trinity. He argued against political leaders and errant theologians so much and was exiled so often that he earned the nickname "Athanasius Contra Mundum" (Athanasius Against the World").
6 – St. Basil the Great, 330-379 (Doctor of Monasticism): Noted scholar, lawyer and public speaker, he converted from paganism in a dramatic fashion: selling everything he had, giving the money to the poor, and becoming a monk. His Monastic Rule forms the basis of virtually all religious life in the Eastern Churches. He, his brother, St. Gregory of Nyssa, and his best friend, St. Gregory Nazianzus, are known as "the Cappadocian Fathers" after the region of Asia Minor (modern Turkey) from which they came.
7 – St. Gregory Nazianzus, 330-390 (Doctor of Theologians, Doctor of the Trinity): Archbishop of Constantinople who once was attacked during Mass by an Arian mob, which wounded him and killed a fellow bishop. Convened the Ecumenical Council in Constantinople in 381 to resolve questions about the Nicene Creed and help unify the Eastern and Western Churches, but got so frustrated that he resigned in the middle of it.
8 – St. John Chrysostom, 345-407 (Doctor of Preachers): Perhaps the greatest preacher in Church history. Known for his eloquence in preaching and public speaking, he was nicknamed "chrysostomos" (Greek for "golden tongued"). The themes of his talks were always practical, explaining how to apply the Bible in everyday life, and he lived a simple, unpretentious lifestyle even after being pushed into becoming archbishop of Constantinople. There he denounced the lavish lifestyles of local Church and political leaders – making him popular with the laity but causing his exile to a desolate area along the Black Sea, where he died from ill health.
EARLY CHURCH DOCTORS
9 – St. Ephraem, 306-373 (Doctor of Deacons and Poets): Died tending plague victims in 373.
10 – St. Hilary of Poitiers, 315-368 (Doctor of Christ's Divinity): Sometimes called the "Hammer of the Arians," so popular that he was unanimously elected bishop of Poitiers in Gaul (modern France) in about 353.
11 – St. Cyril of Jerusalem, 315-387 (Doctor of Faith and against Heresy): Bishop of Jerusalem who was deposed and exiled more than once by jealous opponents. Disagreed at first with the Nicene Creed's clause that Jesus is "consubstantial with the Father," but by the Ecumenical Council of 381 he voted for the wording, seeing no better alternative to unifying the Eastern and Western Churches.
12 – St. Cyril of Alexandria, 376-444 (Doctor of the Incarnation): Bishop of Alexandria when the city was at its height of influence and power within the Roman Empire. He wrote extensively and was a leading defender of Christ's identity as fully divine and fully human.
13 – Pope St. Leo the Great, 390-461 (Doctor of Doctrine): First pope to have been called "the Great," reaffirmed papal authority, perhaps best known for having met Attila the Hun in 452 and persuading him to turn back from his invasion of Italy.
14 – St. Peter Chrysologus, 400-450 (Doctor of Homilies): Made Bishop of Ravenna, Italy, in about 433 by Pope Sixtus III, after Sixtus had a vision of St. Peter and St. Apollinaris (the first bishops of Rome and Ravenna) showed him a young man and said he would be the next Bishop of Ravenna. When Sixtus met Peter shortly afterwards, he recognized him as the young man in his vision and consecrated him as bishop even though he was only a deacon at the time.
15 – St. Isidore, 560-636 (Doctor of Education): Archbishop of Seville for more than three decades. At a time when the remnants of the Roman Empire were crumbling and aristocratic violence and illiteracy were spreading, he helped convert the royal Visigothic Arians to Catholicism and played a prominent role in developing Visigothic legislation – regarded by historians as having influenced the beginnings of representative government.
17 – St. John Damascene, 676-749 (The Icon or Image Doctor, or Doctor of the Assumption): A Syrian Christian monk and priest, and the last of the Church Fathers. Wrote extensively on the Assumption of Mary.
MIDDLE AGE CHURCH DOCTORS
COUNTER REFORMATION CHURCH DOCTORS
26 –Teresa of Avila 1515-1582 (Doctor of Prayer): The first woman to be named a Doctor, in 1970.
MODERN ERA CHURCH DOCTORS
34 – St. John of Avila, 1500-1569: Missionary, preacher, and reformer of clerical life in Spain. Pope Benedict said he was a "profound expert on the sacred Scriptures ... a man of God, he united constant prayer to apostolic action. He dedicated himself to preaching and to the more frequent practice of the sacraments, concentrating his commitment on improving the formation of candidates for the priesthood, of religious and of lay people, with a view to a fruitful reform of the Church."
35 – St. Hildegard of Bingen, 1098-1179: German Benedictine nun who was a named composer when most music was anonymous, a visionary who wrote three books describing the mystical visions she had since the age of 3, a preacher at a time when canon law forbade women to preach, prolific letter-writer to popes, and early scientist, botanist, herbalist, physician and healer. Even invented her own coded language.
At www.annusfidei.va: Read Pope Benedict XVI's take on Doctors of the Church including St. Augustine, St. Thérese of Lisieux, St. Jerome, St. John Chrysostom, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Ambrose and others. (Click on "We Believe.")