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St. Isidore of Seville, a 7th-century Doctor of the Church, depicted by Murillo (c. 1628) with a book, common iconographical object for a doctor.

Doctor of the Church (Latin doctor, teacher, from Latin docere, to teach) is a title given by a variety of Christian churches to individuals whom they recognize as having been of particular importance, particularly regarding their additions to theological or doctrinal matters.


In Catholicism, this title is given to a saint from whose writings the whole Church is held to have derived great advantage and to whom "eminent learning" and "great sanctity" have been attributed by a proclamation of a pope or of an ecumenical council. This honour is given rarely, only posthumously, and only after canonization. No ecumenical council has yet exercised the prerogative of proclaiming a Doctor of the Church.

Saint Ambrose, Saint Augustine, Saint 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 of Alexandria were recognized in 1568 by Pope St. Pius V. Although the revered Catalan philosopher Ramon Llull was dubbed "Doctor Illuminatus," he is not officially considered a Doctor of the Church.

St. Thérèse of Lisieux in the Carmelite Brown Scapular, 1895.

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 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.

Until 1970, no woman had been named a Doctor of the Church, but since then three additions to the list have been women:Saints Teresa of Ávila (St. Teresa of Jesus), Catherine of Siena and Thérèse de Lisieux[1] (St. Therese the Little Flower of the Child Jesus). Saints Teresa and Therese were both Discalced Carmelites.

Traditionally, in the Liturgy, the Office of Doctors was distinguished from that of Confessors by two changes: the Gospel reading Vos estis sal terrae ("You are the salt of the earth"), Matthew 5:13-19, and the eighth Respond at Matins, from Ecclesiasticus 15:5, In medio Ecclesiae aperuit os ejus, * Et implevit eum Deus spiritu sapientiae et intellectus. * Jucunditatem et exsultationem thesaurizavit super eum. ("In the midst of the Church he opened his mouth, * And God filled him with the spirit of wisdom and understanding. * He heaped upon him a treasure of joy and gladness.")

As of 2009, the Catholic Church has named 33 Doctors of the Church. Of these, the 17 who died before the Great Schism of 1054 (marked * in the list below) are also venerated by the Eastern Orthodox Church. Among these 33 are 25 from the West and 8 from the East; 3 women; 18 bishops, 29 priests, 1 deacon, 2 nuns, 1 consecrated virgin; 24 from Europe, 3 from Africa, 6 from Asia.

List of Doctors of the Catholic Church

(For earlier authorities on Christian doctrine see Church Fathers and Ante-Nicene Fathers).

Name Year Born Died Promoted Ethnicity Post
St. Gregory the Great* 540 (ca.) March 12, 604 1298 Italian Pope
St. Ambrose* 340 (ca.) April 4, 397 1298 Italian Bishop of Milan
St. Augustine, Doctor Gratiae* 354 August 28, 430 1298 Berber from Numidia Bishop of Hippo
St. Jerome* 347 (ca.) September 30, 420 1298 Dalmatian Priest, monk
St. John Chrysostom* 347 407 1568 Syrian (Ethnic Greek) Archbishop of Constantinople
St. Basil* 330 January 1, 379 1568 Cappadocian (Ethnic Greek) Bishop of Caesarea
St. Gregory Nazianzus* 329 January 25, 389 1568 Cappadocian (Ethnic Greek) Archbishop of Constantinople
St. Athanasius* 298 May 2, 373 1568 Egyptian (Ethnic Greek) 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, Minister General, O.F.M.
St. Anselm, Doctor Magnificus 1033 or 1034 April 21, 1109 1720 Italian Archbishop of Canterbury, O.S.B.
St. Isidore* 560 April 4, 636 1722 Spanish Bishop of Seville
St. Peter Chrysologus* 406 450 1729 Italian Bishop of Ravenna
St. Leo the Great* 400 November 10, 461 1754 Italian Pope
St. Peter Damian 1007 February 21/22,1072 1828 Italian Cardinal 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 1696 August 1, 1787 1871 Italian Bishop of Sant'Agata de' Goti, C.Ss.R. (Founder)
St. Francis de Sales 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 Northumbrian Priest, monk
St. Ephrem* 306 373 1920 Syrian Deacon
St. Peter Canisius 1521 December 21, 1597 1925 Dutch Priest, S.J.
St. John of the Cross, Doctor Mysticus 1542 December 14, 1591 1926 Spanish Priest, mystic, O.C.D. (Founder)
St. Robert Bellarmine 1542 September 17, 1621 1931 Italian Archbishop of Capua, Theologian, S.J.
St. Albertus Magnus, Doctor Universalis 1193 November 15, 1280 1931 German Bishop, Theologian, O.P.
St. Anthony of Padua and Lisbon, Doctor Evangelicus 1195 June 13, 1231 1946 Portuguese Priest, O.F.M.
St. Lawrence of Brindisi, Doctor Apostolicus 1559 July 22, 1619 1959 Italian Priest, Diplomat, O.F.M. Cap.
St. Teresa of Ávila 1515 October 4, 1582 1970 Spanish Mystic, O.C.D. (Founder)
St. Catherine of Siena 1347 April 29, 1380 1970 Italian Mystic, O.P. (Consecrated virgin)
St. Thérèse de Lisieux, Doctor Amoris 1873 September 30, 1897 1997 French O.C.D. (Nun)

In addition, 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, 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 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.

Eastern Orthodoxy

The Eastern Orthodox church honours many of the pre-schism 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 Nectarius 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 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. (See also Vardapet)

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.


The churches of the Anglican Communion tend not to use the term "Doctor of the Church" in their calendars of saints, preferring expressions such as "Teacher of the Faith". Those thus recognized include figures from before and after the Reformation, most of whom are also recognized as Doctors of the Church by Rome. Those designated Teachers of the Faith in the Church of England's calendar of saints are as follows:

Since all of the above appear in the calendar at the level of Lesser Festival or Commemoration, their celebration is optional. Similarly, because "In the Calendar of the Saints, diocesan and other local provision may be made to supplement the national Calendar",[1] those Doctors of the Church recognized by Rome may also be celebrated in the Church of England.


The Lutheran calendar of saints does not use the full term "Doctor of the Church," but the calendar of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod does refer to Martin Luther by the title of "doctor," in recognition that he held a doctoral degree and not in the sense used in "Doctor of the Church."

See also


  1. Common Worship (Main Volume), p. 530
  • Holweck, F. G., A Biographical Dictionary of the Saint. St. Louis, MO: B. Herder Book Co. 1924.

External links