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Doctor of the Church – Spiritual Dictionary

November 16, 2013 by  
Filed under Dan Burke, Doctor of the Church, Spiritual Dictionary

Doctor of the Church

A title given since the Middle Ages to certain saints whose writing or for post on Doctor of the Churchpreaching is outstanding for guiding the faithful in all periods of the Church’s history.

This Spiritual Dictionary Term is an excerpt from the Glossary of Dan’s book Navigating the Interior Life – Spiritual Direction and the Journey to God. To learn more, click here.

We have an excellent post on our site on the term Doctor of the Church titled:  Who are the Doctors of the Church and Why Should I Care?  To access it, click here.  Since that post was written, the Church has added three more Doctors of the Church to the list that stood at 33 Doctors, which was reached when St John Paul II added St Thérèse of Lisieux as a Doctor of the Church in 1997.  Those who have been named to the list since then and who now hold the title are:

  • St Hildegard of Bingen – named by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012,
  • St John of Avila – named by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012, and
  • St Gregory of Narek – named by Pope Francis in February, 2015.
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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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  • LizEst

    …and there are currently 33 doctors of the Church, of which three are women. The Pope will name two more doctors on October 7th, 2012: St. Hildegard of Bingen and St. John of Avila. That will give us 35 doctors. Each doctor is given a title reflecting what their specialty is. For example, St. Teresa of Avila is the Doctor of Prayer; St. John of the Cross is the Mystical Doctor; St. Augustine is the Doctor of Grace.

    • clare

      Wonderful- did not know of this great Happening for our Catholic Church and Faith!
      Do you know what St. Hildegard and St John of Avila will be titled for their speciality?

      • LizEst

        Good day, Clare! I don’t have that information right now, but hope to research it later.

      • LizEst

        Hi again Clare – I’ve looked but didn’t find that but wanted to get back to you. Perhaps something will turn up later. Thanks for your patience.

  • Janeen

    I hope John Paul II becomes a Doctor of the Church.

    • LizEst

      Good day, Janeen!

      Sorry to disappoint you. But, from what I read, it seems unlikely this will happen. That is because doctors are so declared because of the personal gifts of infused grace they received to explain certain aspects of the faith, not because of their authoritative explanations or teachings as popes. “It seems problematic…to grant the title of doctor of the universal Church to a saint who was a Roman pontiff. In fact, the documents of his magisterium are authoritative not because of the ’eminens doctrina’ possessed as a personal gift of grace, but by virtue of the office that constituted him supreme pastor and doctor of all the faithful.”(

      This does not mean that JPII was not a gifted writer and speaker. For from it. This honor just seems to be reserved for those who have these special gifts of grace outside of the papacy.

      • Becky Ward

        I think the “Theology of the Body” might just qualify him….and there are a couple other popes who have been declared doctors. (St. Gregory the Great and St. Leo the Great.)

        • LizEst

          Good catch! Hmm, I wonder if the site was referring to current thinking as opposed to prior thinking. Both these Popes were very early. Leo died in 461. Greg died in 604. Since then, Becky, did you catch if there have been any other significantly more recent popes?

          “Theology of the Body” was a result of JPII’s Wednesday audiences while Pontiff. So, I don’t know if that would meet the criteria as described in that article (non-pontifical writings)…though, I agree with you that that would be seem to be a logical basis for the designation.

    • Oh, this “Spark from Poland” whom Jesus promised Saint Faustina would fulfill His Wish to have the Divine Mercy Devotion spread world-wide and the Divine Mercy Sunday solemnly promulgated in the Universal Catholic Church will, no doubt, one day, join the list of the Revered Doctors of the Church. His entire Petrine Ministry was Ordained by God for these very difficult times in the History of Mankind and our Holy Mother Church

  • Tiffany Riebel

    I think St. Catherine of Siena is a Doctor of the Church? Who is the other female? It is interesting both Sts. John and Teresa of Avila.

    • LizEst

      The three women who are Doctors of the Church are:
      St. Catherine of Siena
      St. Teresa of Avila
      St. Therese of Lisieux.

      In October there will be a fourth: St. Hildegard von Bingen

      • $1650412

        REALLY? Hildegard? Oh that rocks! I have read her Physica, but not her mystical works… but I just really like this nun. So, I am excited to hear this. Isn’t St. Teresa Benedicta (Edith Stein) also considered for a doctor of the Church or no?

        • LizEst

          Yes, Hildegard, really! I’ve not read her but have read much good about her.

          St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross is NOT a doctor of the Church. About five years ago or so, there was a certain amount of talk that she might be named. But, I see that she is not even on the list of those in waiting. She was the first one I looked for when I saw that list included in this article:

  • Jeanette

    I pray that St. Faustina Kowalska will become a Doctor of the Church, specifically Doctor of Mercy.

    • LizEst

      Good day Jeanette!

      Alas, she is not on the list…yet. In addition to the two to be named this fall, there are 16 more on the list.

      This August 2011 article shows who is on the waiting list to be a doctor of the church

      • Jeanette

        Thank you for that interesting information re possible future doctors of the church.

    • Yes, Jeanette. I entirely agree with you. You will be glad to know the matter is under consideration. Reading this Saint’s Diary, the deep Theology therein written by a simple Polish Nun with just Three Years of Formal education, is an authentic Testimony that the Message of Divine Mercy is from Jesus Himself, which He has given to this Generation which so very much needs the Mercy of God.

      That from her, Jesus gave us the Feast of Divine Mercy – which is in reality the re-instated Day of Atonement in Leviticus Chapter 16 of the Old Testament – shows how much Jesus is determined to save this sinful, hopeless humanity of this Age.

  • ThirstforTruth

    LizEst….I was not aware that each of these wonderful Doctors of the Church has a “specialty”. So I went to a book a friend gave me some years ago titled The Catholic Source Book,published by BROWN- ROA, Edited by Rev, Peter Klein. The information given there is incomplete. I was wondering if you could give your source for that information you generously shared with us? Thanks and God bless!

    • LizEst

      Good day asydwy! Happy Feast of the Transfiguration!

      Thanks so much for citing your source. I have that, too. I see what you mean. There are a number of sites on-line that give titles. Although there is agreement for some, there seems to be some variation on the titles for others if one goes to different sources. It’s possible that the titles are not fixed by decree per se but by the common understanding of the infused grace(s) of their lives.

      This site seems fairly complete…but you have to click on each doctor to get the information:

      There is even a book by Pope Benedict XVI on 32 of the 33 Doctors (compiled from catechesis on each one…except one that he had not done a catechesis on when the book went to press). But, others have written books that include the 33…and soon there will be a whole new set of publications that list the 35!

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