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Doctors of the Church

January 1, 2019 (343 words)

The term “Church Fathers,” or “Early Church Fathers,” or “Fathers of the Church,” describes those men of the first two generations after the Apostles of Christ, and for that reason are often referred to as the “Apostolic Fathers.” There is no definitive list.

A few of the more famous such Fathers include Clement of Rome (c. 30-100), Ignatius of Antioch (c. 50-117), and Polycarp of Smyrna (c. 69-155). Clement was Pope, and the other two were bishops. All three were martyrs, put to death for their belief in Christ.

“Doctors of the Church,” however, is a designation given to a specific list of thirty-six individuals who defend and explain the faith in an exemplary manner, through their writing or preaching. They are sometimes also referred to as “Scholastic Doctors.”

Their work continues to be an aid to our understanding. Pope Boniface VIII was the first to confer this title in 1205, and the first four people to be identified by Boniface as Doctors of the Church were Ambrose (340-397), Jerome (343-420), Augustine (354-430), and Gregory the Great (540-604).

The list of conferees is always open to discovery and expansion, as Pope Benedict XVI added three names in 2012, and Pope Francis added one in 2015. What follows is the list as it currently stands, in chronological sequence:

Athanasius (297-373)
Ephrem the Syrian (306-373)
Hilary of Poitiers (315-368)
Basil the Great (329-379)
Gregory Nazianzen (330-390)
John Chrysostom (347-407)
Cyril of Alexandria (374-444)
Peter Chrysologus (400-450)
Leo the Great (400-461)
Isidore of Selville (560-636)
Bede (673-735)
John Damaascene (675-407)
Gregory of Narek (951-1003)
Peter Damian (1007-1072)
Anselem of Canterbury (1033-1109)
Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153)
Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179)
Anthony of Padua (1195-1231)
Albert the Great (1200-1280)
Bonaventure (1217-1274)
Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274)
Catherine of Sienna (1347-1380)
John of Avila (1500-1569)
Teresa of Avila (1515-1582)
Peter Canisius (1521-1597)
John of the Cross (1542-1591)
Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621)
Lawrence of Brindisi (1559-1619)
Francis de Sales (1567-1622)
Alphonsus Liguori (1696-1787)
Therese of Lisieux (1873-1897)

Robert J. Cavanaugh, Jr.
January 1, 2019

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