SpiritualDirection.com / Catholic Spiritual Direction

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 SpiritualDirection.com, 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, the High Calling Seminary Preparation Program, 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. In 2018, he launched the annual Avila Summit held at Hanceville, Alabama. Beyond his "contagious" love for Jesus and His Church, he is a grateful husband, father of four, and grandfather of one, the President and Chief Operating Officer of EWTN News, Inc., a regular co-host on Register Radio, a writer, speaker and pilgrimage director 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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