Tuesday, November 22, 2011

So, you want to become a Doctor of the Church?

Brethren, Peace and Good to you in Jesus' Name.

I've known some people that really like pursuing academic degrees, doctoral and post-doctoral studies, fellowships, etc. The most ambitious may even aim at this "Doctor of the Church" degree, probably granted by the Angelicum or the Gregorian in Rome. Uh, no. Though not unattainable, the requirements are pretty stringent.

The title "Doctor of the Church" is a title that the Church confers to men and women whose teaching present the Catholic Christian faith clearly and beautifully, exerting a great, salutary effect upon the entire Church for generations.

Then, are we talking about a huge academic thesis here presented to a solemn panel composed of Jesuits and Dominicans? Not quite. In order to become a Doctor of the Church you must:

  • First, be dead. Yep, the first board that will interview the candidate is out of this world. The candidate must be dead because death is a prerrequisite for the next requirement.

  • You must be a canonized saint. That means that the candidate must've lived the Catholic Christian faith to a heroic degree, and not merely ordinarily, like you and I are endeavoring to live it. That also means that the candidate is not "degreed" for merely having "book knowledge," but also - and perhaps, principally - for being a special reflection of Christ to others in the Church and beyond. There are no "venerables" in this league - except for "the Venerable Bede" who is really "St. Bede, the Venerable" - of beatified Catholics among these ranks, only canonized saints that are examples to the universal Church for their holiness of their life and the wisdom that only comes from the Holy Spirit.

  • Your writings must have had a profound impact upon the ways the Christian faithful receive, understand, and live out the Gospel. Your writings must be free from doctrinal error and preeminent in their view of the spiritual life. The volume of writing is irrelevant: St. Augustine of Hippo wrote over a hundred works; St. Therese of Lisieux only wrote one and yet both are Doctors of the Church. Long after the writings of say, Hans Küng are dry-rotting, long forgotten in old libraries, Christians will still pore over St. Therese's Story of a Soul, studying her "Little Way" to holiness. That's what the writing of a Doctor of the Church does, it moves his or her readers to pursue the path of holiness, to be extraordinary in the ordinary, for holiness is the normative life of a Christian, for all of us and not only for an elite few.

  • You must wait a while to receive the title from the Militant Church. For St. Catherine of Siena it took 590 years but for St. Therese it only took 100 years which is a rather short time. But you will be in heaven, so the wait will be a jiffy for you!
  • If you meet all the qualifications, you can indeed become a Doctor of the Church with the grace of God. It is a worthy goal and if you ask for this gift, the Lord may indeed grant it to you. You would become part of an elite that meets in heaven!

    There have been 33 men and women declared Doctors of the Church, with St. Juan de Avila soon to follow as the 34th as soon as the Holy Father Benedict XVI decides when. The list follows in alphabetical order:
    •St. Albertus Magnus (1200-80) - Added by Pope Pius XI in 1931

    •St. Alphonsus Liguori (1696-1787) - Added by Blessed Pope Pius IX in 1871

    •Saint Ambrose (340-97) - One of the original four Doctors of the Latin Church

    •Saint Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109) - Added by Pope Clement XI in 1720

    •Saint Anthony of Padua (1195-1231) - Added by Pope Pius XII in 1946

    •Saint Athanasius (297-373) - One of the original four Doctors of the Eastern Church

    •Saint Augustine of Hippo (354-430) - One of the original four Doctors of the Latin Church

    •Saint Basil the Great (329-379) - One of the original four Doctors of the Eastern Church

    •The Venerable Bede (673-735) - Added by Pope Leo XIII in 1899

    •Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) - Added by Pope Pius VIII in 1830

    •Saint Bonaventure (1217-74) - Added by Pope Sixtus V in 1588

    •Saint Catherine of Siena (1347-80) - Added by Pope Paul VI in 1970

    •Saint Cyril of Alexandria (376-444) - Added by Pope Leo XIII in 1883

    •Saint Cyril of Jerusalem (315-87) - Added by Pope Leo XIII in 1883

    •Saint Ephrem the Syrian (306-73) - Added by Pope Benedict XV in 1920

    •St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622) - Added by Blessed Pope Pius IX in 1877

    •Pope Saint Gregory the Great (540-604) - One of the original four Doctors of the Latin Church

    •St. Gregory Nazianzen (330-90) - One of the original four Doctors of the Eastern Church

    •Saint Hilary of Poitiers (315-68) - Added by Blessed Pope Pius IX in 1851

    •Saint Isidore of Seville (560-636) - Added by Pope Innocent XIII in 1722

    •Saint Jerome (343-420) - One of the original four Doctors of the Latin Church

    •St. John Chrysostom (347-407) - One of the original four Doctors of the Eastern Church

    •St. John Damascene (675-749) - Added by Pope Leo XIII in 1883

    •Saint John of the Cross (1542-91) - Added by Pope Pius XI in 1926

    •Saint Lawrence of Brindisi (1559-1619) - Added by Blessed Pope John XXIII in 1959

    •Pope Saint Leo the Great (400-61) - Added by Pope Benedict XIV in 1754

    •St. Peter Canisius (1521-97) - Added by Pope Pius XI in 1925

    •St. Peter Chrysologus (400-50) - Added by Pope Benedict XIII in 1729

    •St. Peter Damian (1007-72) - Added by Pope Leo XII in 1828

    •St. Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621) - Added by Pope Pius XI in 1931

    •Saint Teresa of Avila (1515-82) - Added by Pope Paul VI in 1970

    •Saint Therese of Lisieux (1873-97) - Added by Pope John Paul II in 1997

    •St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-74) - Added by Pope Saint Pius V in 1568
    Could you think of other candidates? I say Blessed Pope John Paul, whom I also think will be called "the Great" by the Church in the future. Like Sts. Leo and Gregory the Great, he would also be part of another elite, but that's a blog post for another time.