Who Are the 36 Doctors of the Church…And Why You Should Care?

by History of the Church

Part 1: The 8 Ecumenical Fathers

Ever since I became Catholic, I’ve heard the title “Doctor of the Church” tossed about… but rarely have I gotten any further in my imagination than “that means he (or she) was really important.”

But what does it mean to have been given the designation “Doctor of the Church,” and why should regular Joe-Catholics care if they’re not studying to be theologians or youth catechists?

Why should you care?

We should all care because the Catholic Faith is a pearl of great price. It’s an absolute treasure. Martyrs have died. Persecutions. Much blood and ink has been spilled in elucidating and preserving the faith in all its precisions and distinctions to this day. We are but the beneficiaries – standing on the shoulders of giants. Whether you are Catholic by virtue of your birth or by conversion, everything we possess is a depository, through God’s grace and providence, of the work and prayers of those who came before us. To not care is like saying, “Meh, I don’t really care that I was born with two legs, or with the faculty of eyesight, or with fresh air to breathe.”

So, while you need not go read volumes or sign up for a Licentiate degree in Rome, we hope this series helps as a resource and a basic primer on our awesome patrimony.

What does the label mean?

The title “Doctor of the Church” is officially “bestowed by the Pope in recognition of the outstanding contribution a person has made to the understanding and interpretation of the sacred Scriptures and the development of Christian doctrine” (c/f Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio).

The Church comes to the determination that each of the following three qualifications has been met in order to merit this great title:

1. Preeminent holiness, even among saints

2. Depth of doctrinal insight

3. Extensive writings which the Church can recom­mend in any age of history as an expression of authentic Catholic Tradition

Today we present part 1, the 8 “Ecumenical Doctors,” 4 Western and 4 Eastern, declared Doctores Ecclesiae.

The 8 Ecumenical Fathers (4 Western, 4 Eastern Doctors of the Church)

1. St. Ambrose

Doctors of the Church St. Ambrose Quote

Along with #2-4 (St. Augustine, St. Jerome and St. Gregory), one of the four eminent Western Fathers of the Church.

Lived 340-397, Bishop of Milan 374-397.

Preeminent both in scriptural exegesis and preaching.

Baptized and received the worldly convert Augustine into the Church.

Patron of beekeepers, beggars, learners, Milan.

Feast Day: December 7th.

2. St. Augustine of Hippo

Gerard Seghers (attr) - The Four Doctors of the Western Church, Saint Augustine of Hippo

Aurelius Augustine of North Africa – aka St. Augustine of Hippo, lived 354-430.

Author of the famous spiritual treatise and autobiography, Confessions, as well as City of God, a prodigious work history of theology and apologetics.

Composed extensive commentaries on both the Old and New Testaments.

Died as bishop of Hippo under siege of the Vandals.

Patron of brewers.

Feast Day: August 28th.

3. St. Jerome

Doctors of the Church St. Jerome

Lived 342-420.

The Western Church’s foremost scholar of sacred scripture.

Responsible for the Vulgate translation of the original Hebrew and Aramaic biblical texts  into Latin, later codified as inerrant by the Council of Trent.

Patron of archaeologists, Biblical scholars, librarians, students, and translators.

Feast Day: September 30th.

4. St. Gregory the Great

Lived 540-604 AD. Gave up a prestigious and successful political career in Rome to become a monk ~574.

Despite his great reluctance to leave the cloistered life, he was elected to succeed Pelagius II as pope in 590.

Occupied the Chair of St. Peter from 590-604, instituting and reforming many of the practices, prayers, and traditions still in place today, and it’s after St. Gregory that to this day we refer to Gregorian chant, the great musical patrimony of the Western Church.

Feast Day: September 3rd.

5. St. Athanasius

St. Athanasius Doctors of the Church

Lived ~297-373 AD.

Champion of the Nicene profession of faith (known to us and recited still as the Nicene Creed).

Singular hero of opposition to the Arian heresy, for which he endured five separate periods of exile and persecution within the Church.

Patron of theologians.

Feast Day: May 2

6. St. Basil the Great

St. Basil the Great Doctors of the Church

Lived 330-379. Father of Eastern monastic rule.

Named bishop of Caesarea in 370.

Studied, wrote and preached in defense of orthodoxy against the heresy of Arianism (which cast doubt on the fullness of Christ’s divinity) in the East.

Renowned for his personal holiness, life of charity, in addition to his scholarship and statesmanship.

Patron of hospital administrators.

Feast Day: January 2nd.

7. St. Gregory of Nazianzus

St. Gregory of Nazianzus Doctors of the Church

Lived 325-389, born and died at Arianzus in Asia Minor.

Studied with St. Basil in Athens before returning to now-Eastern Turkey and being named a bishop of Nazianzen and later elevated to Patriarch of Constantinople.

Presided over the First Ecumenical Council of Constantinople in 381 AD (whence the Nicene Creed).

Feast Day: January 2 (along with his best friend, St. Basil)

8. St. John Chrysostom

St. John Chrysostom Doctors of the Church

Lived 345-407. Became a monk and priest at Antioch. His eloquent preaching earned him the name “Chrysostom,” i.e. golden-mouthed

Patriarch Archbishop of Constantinople in 398, succeeding St. Gregory Nazianzus, where he called for and modeled moral reform and repentance.

Composed and codified the Byzantine Divine Liturgy commonly celebrated in Eastern Catholic Churches as well as many Eastern Orthodox liturgies.

A prolific spiritual writer on par with St. Augustine in the quantity of his output.

Died in exile in 407, not technically a martyr by blood, but nevertheless suffering greatly for his holy witness.

Feast day: Sept. 13 and Jan. 27th

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