Sunday, October 7, 2012


St. H. Church, Ruhrpark, Germ.  RF Gelsernk

Today before the Marian prayer at the start of the Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, Our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI proclaimed St. John of Avila and St. Hildegard of Bingen as Doctors of the Universal Church. This ups the total to 35 Doctors of the Church and makes St. Hildegard the 4th woman to be thus proclaimed.

“Doctor of the Church" is a title given to those whose writings deem to be in accord with the doctrine of the Church and which the Church believes can be used as teachings. While the writings of the Doctors are often considered inspired by the Holy Spirit this does not mean they are infallible. It does mean that they contributed significantly to the formulation of Christian teaching in at least one area.

W. Graaff, Esse, 1950

The Doctors of the Church are great saints known for their defense and explanation of the truths of the Catholic Faith. The original eight Doctors of the Church, four Western (Sts. Ambrose, Augustine, Pope Gregory the Great, and Jerome) and four Eastern (Sts. Athanasius, Basil the Great, Gregory Nazianzen, and John Chrysostom) were named by acclamation, or common acknowledgment. The rest have been named by various popes, starting with the addition of St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-74), the great doctor studied by most theologians today.

Some Doctors which you may recognize are The Venerable Bede (673-735), Sts. Anthony of Padua (1195-1231) patron of lost items, Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153), and John of the Cross (1542-91) both mystics. They came from countries across the globe. In the West: England, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Germany, France, and the Netherlands, and in the east: Algeria, Jerusalem, Syria, Egypt, Cappadocia, Dalmati a (to name a few).

There are three requirements that must be fulfilled by a person in order to merit being included in the ranks of the Doctors of the Catholic Church”:  First of all, holiness that is outstanding, even among saints.

(St.H-Benedictine Srs. Ferdnand, In.)
Secondly a depth of doctrinal insight, and thirdly, an extensive body of writing which the Church can recommend as an expression of authentic and life-giving Catholic Tradition.

Hans Gottfried- Koblenz

In 1970, the Church declared two women saints to be Doctors of the Church: St. Catherine of Siena (1347-1380), a Dominican tertiary, and St. Teresa of Avila (1515-1582), founder of the Discalced Carmelites. Both were mystics.  In 1997 Saint Thérèse of Lisieux (1873-97) was added as Doctor of the Church. She also, was a Carmelite nun and is our most modern doctor.

Sts. Benedicta, Teresa, Therese & Catherine

St. Benedicta of the Cross

It is hoped that the 20th Century Carmelite saint, Edith Stein, Sr. Benedicta of the Cross, will soon join the ranks, as she is one of the greatest scholars of modern times. She was born Jewish, but converted to Catholicism. She died in Auschwitz.

 Ulm Cathedral- German
I have said for years, the best homilies ever written were by these great saints. We are fortunate to be able to read them as lessons at Matins (morning prayer) and we each have our favorites.  I love St. Augustine, but not Thomas Aquinas (for Mother Catarina it is the opposite). St. Ephrem the Syrian is best known for his prolific hymn-writing and his hymns for the Christmas season are magnificent!

Perhaps soon we will be reading the works of the great German St. Hildegard of Bingen.  As a saint, she may have been easy to dismiss (as Dorothy Day once put it), but as a Doctor of the Church, her intellectual and artistic legacies may come to be more thoroughly appreciated among the Catholic laity and religious as well.

Oberhausen, Germany

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