The feasts of the four original doctors of the church are celebrated during the second half of the year: St. Augustine on Aug. 28, St. Gregory the Great on Sept. 3, St. Jerome on Sept. 30, and St. Ambrose on Dec. 7.
Why the title “doctor”? A doctor is a top-ranking expert in a chosen field. The title is most common in medicine. There is an M.D. or a D.O., a medical doctor or a doctor of osteopathy, a physician or a surgeon — the best trained and highest qualified medical professionals. The title is also used academically; a Ph.D. is a doctor of philosophy, the terminal degree in a subject area. In spiritual studies there is the S.T.D., a doctor of sacred theology, or the S.S.D., a doctor of sacred Scripture.
The doctors of the church, in Latin “doctores ecclesiae,” are a special class of canonized saints who have distinguished themselves with lives of particular virtue and holiness. As theologians, they possess extraordinary intellect and insight, which has enabled them to make monumental contributions to the understanding of the faith through their preaching or writing. They have been designated as such by a pope or an ecumenical council.
The four great doctors of the West are Augustine, Gregory the Great, Jerome and Ambrose. The four great doctors of the East are John Chrysostom, Basil the Great, Gregory Nazianzen and Athanasius.
Doctors par excellence
The original Latin doctors are considered the doctors par excellence.
St. Augustine, the doctor of grace, wrote “Confessions,” “The City of God,” a rule of life, Scripture commentaries and numerous books on theological topics.
St. Gregory the Great was a fierce defender of the papacy and a liturgical reformer. He wrote “Pastoral Care,” a guidebook for bishops, “The Dialogue,” “Moralia” and volumes of homilies and commentaries.
St. Jerome is the father of biblical studies, the translator of the Bible from Hebrew and Greek to Latin, the Vulgate.
St. Ambrose was a fierce defender of the faith against the Arian heresy, a charismatic preacher, a prolific writer and the inspiration behind the Ambrosian liturgy.
Over the past 450 years, 24 additional saints have been declared doctors, and they are celebrated throughout the liturgical year.
Recently three women have been named doctors. In 1970, recognition was given to St. Catherine of Siena (April 29) and St. Teresa of Avila (Oct. 15), and, in 1998, St. Thérèse of Lisieux (Oct. 1) was added.
Christians can still be inspired by their holy lives, follow their good example, be guided by their wise teaching, and be protected by their prayers of intercession.
Father Michael Van Sloun is pastor of St. Stephen in Anoka.
Doctors added after the original four
» St. Hilary (Jan. 13)
» St. Francis de Sales (Jan. 24)
» St. Thomas Aquinas (Jan. 28)
» St. Peter Damian (Feb. 21)
» St. Cyril of Jerusalem (March 18)
» St. Isidore (April 4)
» St. Anselm (April 21)
» St. Athanasius (May 2)
» St. Venerable Bede (May 25)
» St. Ephrem (June 9)
» St. Anthony of Padua (June 13)
» St. Cyril of Alexandria (June 27)
» St. Bonaventure (July 15)
» St. Lawrence of Brindisi (July 21)
» St. Peter Chrysologus (July 30)
» St. Alphonsus Liguori (Aug. 1)
» St. Bernard (Aug. 20)
» St. John Chrysostom (Sept. 13)
» St. Robert Bellarmine (Sept. 17)
» St. Leo the Great (Nov. 10)
» St. Albert the Great (Nov. 15)
» St. John Damascene (Dec. 4)
» St. John of the Cross (Dec. 14)
» St. Peter Canisius (Dec. 21)
Recently added women doctors
» St. Catherine of Siena (April 29)
» St. Thérèse of Lisieux (Oct. 1)
» St. Teresa of Avila (Oct. 15)