Church doctors

Have you ever said or written something that keeps getting mentally regurgitated like the cud in a cow’s multiple stomachs?  You want to swallow it, but it just doesn’t want to stay down?

Well, that’s what happened since my September fifth blog post entry.


While I was totally taken by what I read about St. John Chrysostom (Sept 13th), I had a tough time accepting the quote I read describing him as “one of the four doctors of the church.”

Hmm.  I used the quote but felt bothered.  My doubting Thomasina kept me on edge for ten days.  What if there are more than four?  What if someone reads this and quotes the error?  I’ve gotta look into it, or the Monk within won’t let me rest! (Monk is a TV detective with an overly meticulous personality.)

To silence the discomfort, I deleted the quote from my entry.  I was still curious, mind you; but I lacked the oomph to check into the topic.  And what about the fathers of the church?  I searched for worthwhile links on this week’s saints and serendipitously discovered— gasp— another doctor!

St. Robert Bellarmine (September 17th).  Oh, my! 

I know St. Anthony of Padua (June 13th) is a doctor, and St. Lawrence Brindisi (July 21st) is another.  This is four already! 

I couldn’t delay my search any longer.


For those of you who, like me, are curious to learn more about the fascinating doctors of the Catholic church, Tommy Ferris lists thirty-three on his homepage and provides noteworthy links to each of these saints.

But wait! 

Wasn’t there someone else?  I know I’ve recently seen someone else who writes on this topic.

Father or doctor?

I revisited Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio, who has St. Irenaeus (June 28th) listed as both church father and church doctor.  But how can one saint be both? 

What’s the difference between a church father and a church doctor?  This inquiring mind really wanted to know.

Among New Advent‘s (2009) copious definitions is one for church father that makes sense to me.

It follows that, as our own fathers are the predecessors who have taught us, so the fathers of the whole church are especially the earlier teachers, who instructed her in the teaching of the apostles, during her infancy and first growth.

On the other hand, church doctors are “certain ecclesiastical writers [who] have received this title on account of the great advantage the whole church has derived from their doctrine.”

The Catholic encyclopedia also lists and differentiates among saints, fathers, and doctors but doesn’t include all thirty-three of the church doctors on the existing list.

Church doctors

Additionally, my searches yielded three important considerations regarding church doctors:  (1) The Western church had four doctors: Sts. Gregory the Great, Ambrose, Augustine, and Jerome; the Eastern church, three: Sts. John Chrysostom, Basil, and Gregory Nazianzen.  Then others were added over time.  (2) To be called a doctor of the church, a saint had to meet three criteria: “eminent learning, a high degree of sanctity, and proclamation by the church” (New Advent).  However, unlike those of us mere mortals who must go before a dissertation defense committee, the bar, or the medical board to receive the title of doctor, saints don’t appear before a council.  Instead, the title is conferred after the saint’s death.  (3) And, finally, not all extraordinary saints can be doctors of the church.  Martyrs, like St. Irenaeus, are honored only as fathers of the church.

Regardless, I did find the answer to my original question: The Catholic church has thirty-three doctors.  But what about the number of church fathers?  And who are they?

June 22, 2012

“God did not tell us to follow him because he needed our help, but because he knew that loving him would make us whole” (St. Irenaeus in the Word among us, June 2012, p. M81).

February 21, 2015

Pope Francis proclaimed St. Gregory of Narek (950-1003) the thirty-sixth doctor of the Church.

June 30, 2015

Hold firmly that our faith is identical with that of the ancients.  Deny this, and you dissolve the unity of the Church (St. Thomas Aquinas).

June 28, 2016

“God did not tell us to follow him because he needed our help, but because he knew that loving him would make us whole” (St. Irenaeus).

Links of interest…  5 reasons to read & love the fathers of the church…  Apostles, major saints, & feast days…  Catholic church doctors / fathers (& the Eucharistearlymore – patriarchs) / martyrs…  Back to the beginning: A brief introduction to the ancient Catholic church…  Doctors of the Catholic church: about / audios / book (more / rating) / “faithful people” (more) / list (more) / two new (more)…  Even doctors of the church make theological mistakes…  Learning to appreciate church documents…  Monk (TV show)…  St. Gregory of Narek: about (more) / Armenian mystic / Catholic / church / monk /  newest doctor / tenets of prayer (about – book)…  St. Irenaeus of Lyons: about (more) / bishop / five Marian factsgnostics (more) / quotes (more) / ten things to know / theologian / writings…  St. Jerome

WP posts…  Budding relationships…  Church time blues…  Concrete abstraction…  Golden…  Kindred acorns…  Picturing God…  Seven dwelling places…  Simple yet profound…  St. Anthony…  St. Chrysostom…  Teresa of Avila