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Who are the Doctors of the Church and why should I care?

Dear Dan, I am a convert and a mom. I have recently decided that my faith needed deepening and have begun to delve deeper into it through prayer, confession, reading, talking to my priest etc. He told me about your site and today I came across an article you answered on spiritual development. You said, “Otherwise, if you want a fool proof way to stay within the sublime wealth and spiritual tradition of the Church, stick with the Doctors of the Church.” Who ARE the Doctors of the church?

Dear Friend, what a wonderful treat to get your note and to hear about your newly invigorated journey of faith! Your question exhibits a rare combination of being very important and very easy to answer (which is good for me!).

The Doctors of the Church are those saints who have uniquely contributed to understanding of the Church and whose writings are thereby deemed beneficial for all people of all times. There are presently thirty three doctors and it is likely that a few more will be more added soon. If you would like to know more about the thirty-five current doctors, you can do so through this book or here on Wikipedia.

With respect to those doctors I referred to in this post, these are a subset sometimes called “spiritual” doctors of the Church. The designation “spiritual doctor” is not an official title but it is commonly held that these saints have notably contributed much to the Church by way of their writings about matters concerning prayer and what it means to live within a profound relationship with God. A few of these are:

St. Teresa of Avila (Carmelite)

St. John of the Cross (Carmelite)

St. Thérèse of Lisieux (Carmelite)

St. Catherine of Siena (Dominican)

St. Francis de Sales (Bishop)

St. Bernard of Clairvaux (Cistercian)

Depending upon what aspect of the spiritual life you are looking to grow in, any of these can provide deep wells of insights to draw upon. If you have not yet read any of their writings, I would recommend you begin with St. Thérèse of Lisieux or with Ralph Martin's Fulfillment of All Desire which provides a helpful overview of the spiritual life from the perspectives of many of these great saints.

Be assured of our prayers as you pursue Him.

Editors Note: For more in-depth treatment of these ideas, you can order Dan’s book, Navigating the Interior Life – Spiritual Direction and the Journey to God.

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About Dan Burke

Dan is the President of the Avila Foundation, the parent organization of, the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation, Divine Intimacy Radio and Divine Intimacy Radio - Resources Edition, Into the Deep Parish Programs, the Apostoli Viae (Apostles of the Way) Community, and the FireLight Student Leadership Formation Program, author of the award-winning book, Navigating the Interior Life - Spiritual Direction and the Journey to God, Finding God Through Meditation-St. Peter of Alcantara, 30 Days with Teresa of Avila, Into the Deep, Living the Mystery of Merciful Love: 30 Days with Thérèse of Lisieux, and his newest book The Contemplative Rosary with St. John Paul II and St. Teresa of Avila. Beyond his "contagious" love for Jesus and His Church, he is a grateful husband and father of four, the Executive Director of and writer for EWTN's National Catholic Register, a regular co-host on Register Radio, a writer and speaker who provides online spiritual formation and travels to share his conversion story and the great riches that the Church provides us through authentic Catholic spirituality. Dan has been featured on EWTN's Journey Home program and numerous radio programs.

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  • Jeanette

    Thank you for the links to books about some of the spiritual doctors of the Church. I’ve wanted to read about St. Catherine of Siena for some time now and this is my impetus to do so! God Bless You!

  • $20540928

    Saint Teresa of Avila had a prayer book written by Francisco de Osuna called the “the Third Spiritual Alphabet” which I found to be
    a very good but deep book…it was actually her prayer book that 
    she used for her spiritual devotions. 

    • LizEst

      Thank you for that, hammar22. It is reviewed very favorably by many people on line.

      • $20540928

        The Third Spiritual Alphabet copy I purchased was used and Mary E. Giles was the translator and she signed the book on the inside cover and wrote “As we learn our Alphabet of Love, Mary Giles”. Kieran Kavanaugh wrote the preface

        • LizEst

          Sound neat! I didn’t know translators also signed copies!!

          • $20540928

            What I wanted really to get across was besides it was a used copy was she wrote that as, “we learn our Alphabet of love”, she was saying it’s “Prayer”. The alphabet Osuna was writing about in his book and what Teresa was living, was Prayer. Which is the way the truth and the light of Jesus Christ, Prayer.

          • LizEst

            Yes, yes! Thank you for that. I just picked up the Baronius Press copy of “Divine Intimacy” yesterday. It looks wonderful as well.

  • Clare

    Any Servant of the Most High and The Divine King that takes a Charism unto thy self can be assured of one thing ……and only one thing………..that Charism will die a quick and simple death………….My Lord, how then can I grow in Holiness to receive thy Gifts and not grieve Thy Holy Spirit in this way?……………………daughter, My Gifts in My Holy Spirit are like a Barter to your soul……………..daughter, trade Them away and see what you get in return…………..Give Me the First Fruits and see your Treasure stored in Heaven…………………You Teach Well, My Lord,My Master, So Crucified………………………………
    a Blessed Pentecost you All!……………………………………….Clare……………………………….* the Breath between us as we speak,when posted is lost, without the help of punctuation marks.  

  • Rowenalitorja

    St Teresa of Avila, her book “The Way of Perfection” by Kieran Kavanaugh, to those interested in prayer, in need of education for contemplation and interest to grow spiritually. Reading this book will help us to change to be more close to God.  The Story of a Soul of St. Therese of Lisieux is the way of spiritual childhood is path which to  to leads to eternal life. Story of a Soul has a very interesting history. This story of the Soul, the humble, simple and joyful acknowledgement of God’s mercy and love to St Therese. 

    • To avoid a potential confusion, St. Teresa is the author of The Way of Perfection, Kieran Kavanaugh is the translator.

      • Rowenalitorja

        Thank you Dan for your correction, Kieran Kavanaugh is the translator, …

  • Mary Elizabeth

    I would also suggest Saint Faustina and “Divine Mercy in my Soul”.

    • Good suggestion and well worth reading, however, just to be clear, St. Faustina is not yet a doctor of the Church.

      • Mary@42

        Hey, Dan, we are praying that soon, she will be elevated to the Honour of the Doctor of the Church – her Class 3 Education level notwithstanding!!!!!!!

        • LizEst

           Another one I’ve heard talk about naming as a possible doctor of the Church is St. Teresia Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein)…yet another Carmelite 😉

          • Well – no need to guess about the two latest. St. John of Avila and St. Hildegard Von Bingen.

  • Phil Morgan

    My favorite is St Ignatius. His spiritual exercises have influenced my life.

    • St. Ignatius writings are very profitable to the soul but he is not a doctor of the Church.

  • Alicjadobner

    Hi I will recommend some books for you to read :
    Mother Angelica’s private and pithy lessons from the scriptures (awesome!)
    The seven storey mountain Thomas Merton
    Scriptural Rosary
    God bless alicja

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