( Latin Doctores Ecclesiae ) -- Certain ecclesiastical writers have received this title on account of the great advantage the whole Church has derived from their doctrine. In the Western church four eminent Fathers of the Church attained this honour in the early Middle Ages : St. Gregory the Great, St. Ambrose, St. Augustine, and St. Jerome. The "four Doctors" became a commonplace among the Scholastics, and a decree of Boniface VIII (1298) ordering their feasts to be kept as doubles in the whole Church is contained in his sixth book of Decretals (cap. "Gloriosus", de relique. et vener. sanctorum, in Sexto, III, 22).
In the Eastern Church three Doctors were pre-eminent: St. John Chrysostom , St. Basil, and St. Gregory Nazianzen. The feasts of these three saints were made obligatory throughout the Eastern Empire by Leo VI, the Wise, the deposer of Photius. A common feast was later instituted in their honour on 30 January, called "the feast of the three Hierarchs ". In the Menaea for that day it is related that the three Doctors appeared in a dream to John, Bishop of Euchaitae, and commanded him to institute a festival in their honour, in order to put a stop to the rivalries of their votaries and panegyrists. This was under Alexius Comnenus (1081-1118; see "Acta SS.", 14 June, under St. Basil, c. xxxviii). But sermons for the feast are attributed in manuscripts to Cosmas Vestitor, who flourished in the tenth century. The three are as common in Eastern art as the four are in Western. Durandus (i, 3) remarks that Doctors should be represented with books in their hands. In the West analogy led to the veneration of four Eastern Doctors, St. Athanasius being very properly added to the three hierarchs.
To these great names others have subsequently been added. The requisite conditions are enumerated as three: eminens doctrina, insignis vitae sanctitas, Ecclesiae declaratio (i.e. eminent learning, a high degree of sanctity, and proclamation by the Church ). Benedict XIV explains the third as a declaration by the supreme pontiff or by a general council. But though general councils have acclaimed the writings of certain Doctors, no council has actually conferred the title of Doctor of the Church. In practice the procedure consists in extending to the universal church the use of the Office and Mass of a saint in which the title of doctor is applied to him. The decree is issued by the Congregation of Sacred Rites and approved by the pope, after a careful examination, if necessary, of the saint's writings. It is not in any way an ex cathedra decision, nor does it even amount to a declaration that no error is to be found in the teaching of the Doctor. It is, indeed, well known that the very greatest of them are not wholly immune from error. No martyr has ever been included in the list, since the Office and the Mass are for Confessors. Hence, as Benedict XIV points out, St. Ignatius, St. Irenæus, and St. Cyprian are not called Doctors of the Church.
The proper Mass of Doctors has the Introit "In medio", borrowed from that of the Theologus par excellence, St. John the Evangelist, together with special prayers and Gospel. The Credo is said. The principal peculiarity of the Office is the antiphon to the Magnificat at both Vespers, "O DOCTOR OPTIME", and it is rather by this antiphon than by the special mass that a saint is perceived to be a doctor (S.R.C., 7 Sept., 1754). In fact, St. John Damascene has a Mass of his own, while Athanasius, Basil, Leo, and Cyril of Jerusalem have not the Gospel of Doctors, and several have not the collect.
The feasts of the four Latin Doctors were not added to until the sixteenth century, when St. Thomas Aquinas was declared a Doctor by the Dominican St. Pius V in his new edition of the Breviary (1568), in which the feasts of the four Greek Doctors were also raised to the rank of doubles. The Franciscan Sixtus V (1588) added St. Bonaventure.
St. Anselm was added by Clement XI (1720), St. Isidore by Innocent XIII (1722), St. Peter Chrysologus by Benedict XIII (1729), St. Leo I (a well-deserved but belated honour ) by Benedict XIV (1754), St. Peter Damian by Leo XII (1828), and St. Bernard by Pius VIII (1830). Pius IX gave the honour to St. Hilary (1851) and to two more modern saints, St. Alphonsus Liguori (1871) and St. Francis de Sales (1877). Leo XIII promoted (1883) the Easterns, St. Cyril of Alexandria, St. Cyril of Jerusalem, and St. John Damascene, and the Venerable Bede (1899).
[ Web Editor's note: Benedict XV added St. Ephraem (1920). Pius XI promoted St. Peter Canisius (1925), St. John of the Cross (1926), St. Robert Bellarmine (1931), and St. Albertus Magnus (1931), Pius XII added St. Anthony of Padua (1946). John XXIII named St. Lawrence of Brindisi (1959), and in 1970 Paul VI added St. Teresa of Avila and St. Catherine of Siena. John Paul II added St. Thérèse of Lisieux in 1997.]
Leo XIII, when, in 1882, he introduced the simplification of double feasts, made an exception for Doctors, whose feasts are always to be transferred.
[ Web Editor's note: There are therefore now thirty-three Doctors of the Church, of whom eight are Eastern and twenty-four Western. They include three Carmelites, two Jesuits, three Dominicans, three Franciscans, a Redemptorist, and five Benedictines. For some of these the Office had previously been granted to certain places or orders -- St. Peter Damian to the Camaldolese, St. Isidore to Spain, St. Bede to England and to all Benedictines. St. Leander of Seville and St. Fulgentius are kept as Doctors in Spain, and the former by Benedictines also, as he was in earlier times claimed as a monk. St. Ildephonsus has the Introit "In medio" in the same order (for the same reason) and in Spain without the rank of Doctor.]
The Catholic Encyclopedia is the most comprehensive resource on Catholic teaching, history, and information ever gathered in all of human history. This easy-to-search online version was originally printed between 1907 and 1912 in fifteen hard copy volumes.
Designed to present its readers with the full body of Catholic teaching, the Encyclopedia contains not only precise statements of what the Church has defined, but also an impartial record of different views of acknowledged authority on all disputed questions, national, political or factional. In the determination of the truth the most recent and acknowledged scientific methods are employed, and the results of the latest research in theology, philosophy, history, apologetics, archaeology, and other sciences are given careful consideration.
No one who is interested in human history, past and present, can ignore the Catholic Church, either as an institution which has been the central figure in the civilized world for nearly two thousand years, decisively affecting its destinies, religious, literary, scientific, social and political, or as an existing power whose influence and activity extend to every part of the globe. In the past century the Church has grown both extensively and intensively among English-speaking peoples. Their living interests demand that they should have the means of informing themselves about this vast institution, which, whether they are Catholics or not, affects their fortunes and their destiny.
Copyright © Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company New York, NY. Volume 1: 1907; Volume 2: 1907; Volume 3: 1908; Volume 4: 1908; Volume 5: 1909; Volume 6: 1909; Volume 7: 1910; Volume 8: 1910; Volume 9: 1910; Volume 10: 1911; Volume 11: - 1911; Volume 12: - 1911; Volume 13: - 1912; Volume 14: 1912; Volume 15: 1912
Catholic Online Catholic Encyclopedia Digital version Compiled and Copyright © Catholic Online