TEACHER/DOCTORS OF THE CHURCH
“Doctor” is the title of an authorized teacher. In the Old Testament, it was the duty of the doctors to expound the law (Deut. 29:10; 31:28). In the New Testament, Jesus encounters these doctors in Luke 2:46; 5:17. Under the New Law, the doctors are those who have received a special gift or charisma such as the “prophets and doctors” of the Church at Antioch (Acts 13:1) and of whom St. Paul says that “God indeed has set some in the church; first apostles, secondly prophets, thirdly doctors” (1 Cor 12:28; Eph.4:11). In the early Church, the catechetical schools’ teachers were known as doctores audientium (teachers of the hearers). In the course of time, some of the most illustrious theologians were designated as “Doctors of the Church”.
The use of Doctor as an academic title dates from the founding of the medieval universities and the degree implies a qualification to teach everywhere without undergoing further examination. The power of creating doctors belongs to the pope, but he may, and often does, delegate to universities, seminaries, and other institutions of learning. The candidate for the degree must be a baptized Christian and must subscribe to the profession of faith formulated by Pius IV. For doctorates, research is now generally considered the principal qualification and in consequence the candidate’s work is becoming more specialized.
Certain ecclesiastical writers have received this title on account of the great advantage the whole Church has derived from their doctrine. Thirty-six saints are honored with the title Doctor and St. Francis de Sales is one. “When the Magisterium proclaims someone a Doctor of the Church, it intends to point out to the faithful, particularly to those who perform in the Church, the fundamental service of preaching or who undertake the delicate task of theological teaching and research, that the doctrine professed and proclaimed by a certain person can be a reference point, not only because it conforms to revealed truth, but also because it sheds new light on the mysteries of the faith, a deeper understanding of Christ’s mystery.” (Pope St. John Paul II).
The requisite conditions are enumerated as three: eminent learning (the very heart of the message of revelation in a fresh and original version, presenting a teaching of eminent quality), a high degree of sanctity (only canonized saints may be declared Doctors) and proclamation by the Church (as a declaration by the pope or by a general council). The decree is issued by the Congregation of Sacred Rites and approved by the pope, after a careful examination, if necessary, of the saint’s writings. No martyr had ever been included in the list, since the Office and the Mass are for Confessors. Hence, Sts. Ignatius, Irenaeus and Cyprian were not called Doctors of the Church. Pope Francis has now announced St. Irenaeus (a student of St. Polcarp, who was a disciple of the apostle John and an apostolic Father of the Church) as a Doctor of the Church.
MAC AND MARCIA HICKEY
Resources: Catholic Answers and New Advent