What is a “doctor of the Church”?
Institution of higher learning confer doctorates on those who make significant contributions to a particular discipline. Likewise the Church, as in institution of higher enlightenment, confers the title “doctor” on those who have significantly illuminated Christ to his disciples.
Doctor is derived from the Latin docere, “to teach.” While all saints are recognized for their exceptional holiness, popes or an ecumenical council may bestow the honorary title of “doctor of the Church” to saints with exceptional wisdom and learning. These rare individuals have contributed profoundly to a greater understanding of the faith, making a monumental tehological or doctrinal impact on the Church.
The Church has thirty-six doctors. Saint Gregory of Narek was the most recently named in 2015. Saints Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine, and Gregory the Great were the original four. Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) was accorded the distinctions “doctor angelicus” and “doctor communis” for his purity of life and clarity of thourgh that were thought to stretch beyond the confines of the human intellect. Saint Catherine of Siena (1347-1380) became a “shuttle diplomat” as she developed peace treaties between warring political factions in Italy in the fourteenth century. Saint Teresa of Avila (1515-1582), whose feast day is October 15, remains the hallmark of those seeking to engage in a more mystical spirituality. Saint Alphonsus Luguori (1696-1787) was named a doctor for the quickest of all, a mere eighty-four years after his death.
These doctors proved themselves to be trustworthy guides for both protecting and developing the great treasure that is our faith.