Featured Saints: The 36 Doctors of the Church

In our 2000-year history, we’ve had thousands of saints (we don’t know how many for sure because we only started keeping an official list in 933 AD).

Of those thousands, 36 are considered “doctors” because their teachings are considered valuable for Catholics of all time periods, not just the time period in which the doctor lived.  The person in charge of naming a doctor is the Pope- a practice which started in 1298 AD.  The last doctor to be named was St. Gregory of Narek in 2015.

ST. ROBERT BELLARMINE

"Whoever finds God finds everything, whoever loses God loses everything."

  • Lived from A.D. 1542-1521 in Italy

  • Served as a priest in the Jesuit Religious Order.  Later as bishop of Capua and cardenal under Pope Clement III.  

  • Taught the Catholic faith to both priests and laity; defended it against attacks by the Protestant reformers

  • His most popular works are "Brief Christian Doctrine", a book explaining the Catholic faith, and "Controversies", which explains the Catholic position on the sacraments and institutional church.  

  • Proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 1931

ST. PETER CANISIUS

"I received a promise from you of a garment made of three parts: ..they were peace, love and perseverance. Protected by this garment of salvation, I was confident that I would lack nothing." 

  • Lived from A.D. 1521-1597

  • Served in Germany to people who have left the Catholic faith during the Protestant Reformation

  • Guided people in cultivating a strong relationship with Jesus through public worship and individual devotion.  

  • His most famous works are three different Catechisms, for varying ages of students.  These Catechism we used in Germany to teach the faith for centuries after his death.

  • Proclaimed Doctor of the Church in 1925

ST. BEDE THE VENERABLE

"We are making our way toward the light of our heavenly home with the grace of Christ leading us and showing us the way." 

  • Lived from A.D. 673-735

  • Served as a Benedictine priest in present-day England

  • His most famous work, The Ecclesial History of the English People, tells how the gospel was shared throughout England. 

  • Explained the Bible and other aspects of the faith by utilizing the teachings of the most famous theologians of the 1st-6th centuries.  

  • Proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 1899

ST. ALPHONSUS LIGUORI

 "God wishes all to be Saints, and each one according to his state of life: the religious as a religious; the secular as a secular...the soldier as a soldier; and so of every other state of life."

  • Lived from 1696-1787

  • Served in Italy as a priest, founder of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, and Bishop of Sant’Agata dei Goti (Italy) 

  • His main work, "Moral Theology" explains how human beings are called to use our freedom and conscience to apply God's law and therefore reach our complete fulfillment.  

  • Dedicated to serving and teaching the rural poor, who suffered from both material and spiritual poverty.  

  • Proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 1871

ST. HILARY OF POITIERS

"God knows not how to be anything other than love, he knows not how to be anyone other than the Father. Those who love are not envious and the one who is the Father is so in his totality."

  • Lived from around A.D. 310-367

  • Served as a bishop in the city of Poitiers (in France) 

  • His most famous work, De Tirinitate (on the Trinity) explains how Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all God. 

  • Preached against Arianism, a false belief that Jesus was a creature and therefore not equal to God the creator.  

  • Proclaimed a  Doctor of the Church in 1851

ST. BERNARD OF CLAIRVAUX

"Love is its own merit, its own reward.  Love looks for no cause outside itself, no effect beyond itself.  Its profit lies in its practice."

  • Lived from A.D. 1090-1153

  • Served as a Cistercian monk in France

  • Worked to give a good example of the monastic life, living out humility and material poverty.  Numerous new Cistercian monasteries were founded because of his example  

  • His most famous writings are his sermons, letters, and theological commentaries.  Of special fame are his "Sermons on the Song of Songs" and "De Consideratione", which is a letter to his former student, Bernardo Pignatelli (Eugenio III) on how to be a good Pope. 

  • Proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 1830 

ST. BONAVENTURE

"The good is said to be diffusive of itself; therefore the Most High Good is most highly diffusive of Itself."

  • Lived from A.D. 1218-1274

  • Served in the Franciscan Order, primarily as a professor of other Franciscans and later as the Minster General of the entire order.  

  • His most famous work, "Life of St. Francis" was proclaimed by the Franciscan order in 1263 as the official biography of St. Francis of Assisi.  

  • Taught about various aspects of the Christian life and God's goodness, particularly in his work "Journey of the Mind to God".  

  • Proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 1588

ST. JOHN OF THE CROSS

"The soul that walks in love neither tires others nor grows tired."

  • Lived from A.D. 1542-1591

  • Served as a priest in the Carmelite order, mostly in Spain

  • Worked to reform the Carmelites, which had grown spiritually lax and distracted by worldly priorities.  

  • His most famous work, Dark Night of the Soul, describes God's process in purifying our souls., since our natural efforts can only take us so far.  

  • Proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 1926

ST. LAWRENCE OF BRINDISI

"God truly listens to our prayers, even if we pray only with our hearts and minds. And that not only is he present and hears us, indeed he willingly and with the greatest of pleasure wishes to grant our requests"

  • Lived from A.D. 1559-1619

  • Served as a priest in the Capuchin religious order

  • His main works were his sermons that explained Catholic beliefs to people of all education levels  

  • Traveled to numerous countries in Europe defending the Catholic faith against Protestantism - the accusation that Catholics teachings oppose the Bible. 

  • Proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 1959

ST. GREGORY NAZIANZUS

"Be rich not only in possessions but also in piety; not only in gold but in virtue, or rather, in virtue alone."

  • Lived from A.D. 330-390

  • Served as a priest and later as bishop in Constantinople

  • Fought against Apollinarism, a false belief that Jesus didn't have a rational mind like we do.  

  • His most famous work, "Theological Orations'', is a clear articulation of our beliefs about the Trinity.  It earned him the nickname, "the theologian"

  • Proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 1568

ST. LEO THE GREAT

"What is more kingly than to find yourself ruler over your body after having surrendered your soul to God?"  And what is more priestly than to promise the Lord a pure conscience?"

  • Lived from A.D. 390-461  

  • Served as Pope from A.D. 440-661

  • His most famous work, the "Tome to Flavin" taught that Jesus's human and divine natures existed inside of him without confusion or separation.  The council of Chalcedon celebrated his teaching by stating, "Peter has spoken through Leo"

  • Taught the faithful that the liturgy (the public worship of God) was not simply the reminder of past events, but rather spiritual realities made present here and now.

  • Proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 1754  

ST. ALBERT THE GREAT

"This sacrament [the Eucharist] produces love and union.  It is characteristic of the greatest love to give itself as food."

  • Lived from A.D. 1206-1280

  • Served in the religious order of preachers (Dominicans) and as bishop of Regensburg (Germany)

  • Taught how the natural sciences (like astronomy and zoology) and philosophy (like Aristotle) aren't opposed to faith in God's revelation, but rather complement it.

  • Called the "universal doctor" because of his extensive knowledge in various different fields. 

  • His most famous work of theology, "Commentary on Peter Lombard's Sentences", gives insights on Bible verses and builds on earlier saint commentaries

  • Proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 1931

ST. GREGORY OF NAREK

"The soul's every movement is a reminder of God."

  • Lived from around A.D. 950-1005 in Armenia

  • Served as a priest in a monastery in Narek (Armenia)

  • Taught against the "Thondrakiani"- a sect that wanted the church to do away with the hierarchy, sacraments, and liturgy.   

  • His most famous work, "The book of Lamentations" (also known as the "Book of Prayer") is a series of prayers proclaiming God's mercy despite our sinfulness. Considered a masterpiece of Armenian poetry.    

  • Proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 2015

ST. JOHN OF AVILA

"Even if there were no hell to fear, nor heaven to celebrate, nor commandments to obligate, the just man would still love God."

  • Lived from A.D. 1500-1569

  • Served as a priest in various regions of Spain

  • Famous preacher, especially encouraging priests to live more simply and humbly.  

  • His most famous work, Audi Filia, is a reflection on how to love God by prioritizing him above everything else the world has to offer.   

  • Proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 2012

ST. JOHN DAMASCUS

"What we teach with words to those who hear, we teach with images to those who see.  Images are the faith teaching book for those who can't read"

  • Lived from around 675-749 A.D.

  • Served as a priest in the monastery of Mar Seba, near Jerusalem

  • His most famous work, "Against Those Decrying Holy Images" (three volumes) is a defense of the practice using statutes and images as an aid to worship God.

  • His explanation of "dulia" (the honor we give to the saints) versus "latria" (the honor we give only to God) was cited in the second council of Nicea

  • Declared a Doctor of the Church in 1890

ST. ANSELM

"I long to understand in some degree your truth, which my heart believes and loves. For I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand."

  • Lived from 1033-1109 AD

  • Served as a Benedictine Monk (person who dedicates his life to prayer, work, and living with other monks in community), and named Bishop of Canterbury (England) in 1093 

  • Renowned teacher both in France and England

  • His most famous work, the Proslogion, utilizes human experience, faith, and intuition to come to a deeper understanding of God.  

  • Named Doctor of the Church in 1720

ST. ANTHONY OF PADUA

"In vain does one teach Christian doctrine if he contradicts it with his actions."

  • Lived from 1195-1231 AD

  • Served as a preacher in Italy and Southern France

  • First theology teacher in the Franciscan order (a religious order dedicated to proclaiming the gospel and helping the poor).  His teachings also converted people who held false beliefs about Jesus.

  • His most famous preachings, during Lent of 1231, spoke out against the greed and usury that was common at the time.  

  • Proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 1946

ST. CYRIL OF ALEXANDRIA

"Enriched by Christ's peace, we will easily conserve the life of our soul and guide our minds to obtain the virtuous life."

  • Lived from 370-444 AD

  • Served as Bishop of Alexandria, Egypt, from 412-444

  • His most famous teaching was on the unity of Jesus's divinity and humanity.  Because of this unity, we can call Mary "Mother of God", and not just "Mother of Jesus"  

  • His writings were the principal documents used in the Council of Ephesus in 431

  • Proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 1882

ST. AMBROSE

"You can at the same time be here in this world and be present to the Lord."

  • Lived from 340-397 AD

  • Served as bishop of Milan from 374-397 AD

  • His preachings gave clear directions on how to apply the Old Testament to the Christian life

  • Protected the civil rights for the church against aggressors 

  • Named Doctor of the Church in 1295

ST. BASIL THE GREAT

"You are going to leave your money behind you here whether you wish to or not.  On the other hand, you will take with you to the Lord the honor that you have won through good works."

  • Lived around 329-379 AD

  • Preached and wrote against false beliefs about Jesus’s divine status

  • Considered “Father of Monasticism in the East” because his advice on how religious monks should live in community influenced future monasteries’ rules on common living

  • Named a Doctor of the Church in 1568

ST. AUGUSTINE

"We cannot love unless someone has loved us first."

"You are walking now by faith, still on pilgrimage in a mortal body"

  • Lived from 354-430 AD

  • Bishop of Hippo (city in north Africa) from 396-430 AD

  • His sermons and writings taught on wide variety of topics regarding the Catholic faith. 

  • Called the “Doctor of Grace”, because his teachings on grace (God’s invisible presence here in our material world) have influenced all other Catholic teachers that came after him.   

  • Named a Doctor of the Church in 1298

ST. GREGORY THE GREAT

"All who follow the good shepherd in simplicity of heart will feed on the green pastures of eternity."

  • Lived from 540-604 AD

  • Served as Pope from 590-604 AD

  • Taught about morality and Catholic beliefs

  • His most celebrated work is the “Pastoral Rule”, a book on how priests and bishops should conduct themselves.  It was so popular that emperors for the next 300 years made sure their newly installed bishops were given a copy. 

  • Named a doctor of the church in 1298 AD

ST. CYRIL OF JERUSALEM

"Strengthen your heart, then, by receiving this bread as the spiritual bread, and bring joy to the face of your soul."

  • Lived from 315-386 AD

  • Bishop of Jerusalem from 350-386 AD

  • Taught against false beliefs about Jesus

  • The most famous of his works is his “Catecheses”, a series of teachings for candidates of Baptism. 

  • Named a Doctor of the Church in 1882

ST. JOHN CHRYSOSTOM

  1. "To support one another in the things of the spirit is the true sign of good will between brothers."

  2. "Do you wish to honour the body of the Saviour? Do not despise it when it is naked. Do not honour it in church with silk vestments while outside it is naked and numb with cold." 

  • Lived from 349-407 AD

  • Reformed both priests and clergy so they would live more humbly

  • Named bishop of Constantinople, exiled two times by jealous royal court

  • The patron saint of preachers, nicknamed, “golden mouth”

  • Named a Doctor of the Church in 1568

ST. ATHANASIUS

"Christ himself is present for those who thirst and in his goodness invites them to the feast"

  • Lived from 295-373 AD

  • Became bishop of Alexandria in 328 AD

  • Preached against the popular, false belief that Jesus wasn’t really God

  • Nicknamed the “Father of Orthodoxy” (orthodoxy refers to correct belief, literally “upright praise”)  

  • Named a Doctor of the Church in 1298

ST. THOMAS AQUINAS

“Whoever wishes to live perfectly should do nothing but disdain what Christ disdained on the cross and desire what he desired” 

  • Lived from 1225-1274

  • Commonly viewed as the greatest of all Catholic theologians (a theologian is someone who explains God’s revelation in an orderly way) 

  • Belonged to the Dominican religious order from 1243-1274 

  • His most famous work, the Summa Theologiae, is still commonly used among Catholics as a resource for understanding our faith 

  • Named Doctor of the Church in 1567

ST. JEROME

  1. "Ignorance of scripture is ignorance of Christ."

  2. "What sense does it make for the walls of our churches to be covered with pearls, while Christ dies of hunger in the poor?"

  • Lived from 340-420

  • Served as a priest and secretary to Pope Damascus 

  • Lived a simple life, and the cave in Bethlehem where he worked (near the traditional site of Jesus's birth) is still a popular pilgrimage site.  

  • His translation of the Bible, from the original Hebrew and Greek to Latin, became the standard translation for the Catholic Church for many centuries

  • Named a Doctor of the Church in 1298

ST. ISIDORE OF SEVILLE

  1. "We must put into practice what we have learned in our course of study."

  2. "Teaching unaided by God's grace may reach our ears, but will never reach our hearts."

  • Lived from 560-636 AD

  • Bishop of Seville, Spain, from 600-636 AD

  • Presided at local councils to teach correct beliefs about Jesus 

  • Worked for political and religious unity after the king converted to Catholicism

  • Named a Doctor of the Church in 1722

ST. FRANCIS DE SALES

1. "The practice of devotion to God must be adapted to each particular person's strength, occupation, and duties."

2. "Love is the act where our free will unites to the happiness and well-being of another."

  • Lived from 1567-1622

  • Served as bishop of Geneva from 1602-1622

  • His most famous work, Introduction to the Devout Life, still serves as a model on how to live the Christian life in the context of our daily responsibilities

  • The patron saint of writers and journalists, because his letters were very effective at strengthening the faithful.   

  • Declared a Doctor of the church in 1877

ST. HILDEGARD OF BINGEN

"Grace rewards not only those who never slip, but also those who bend and fall."

  • Lived from 1089-1179

  • Served as a Benedictine nun in modern-day Germany as an abbess (meaning she was in charge of the other nuns in the convent)

  • Her writings about the faith are famous for their clarity and the captivating imagery she utilized

  • Her most famous works, Scivias and Liber Vitae Meritorum, speak of both the internal and external human senses contributing to the human experience of God. 

  • Declared a Doctor of the Church in 2012

ST. PETER DAMIAN

  1. "Those who do not love the cross of Christ do not love Christ."

  2. "Those who do not love the cross of Christ do not love Christ."

  • Lived from AD 1007-1072

  • Lived most of his life as a monk in Italy (a monk is a person dedicated to prayer and community life)

  • Served as Bishop of Ostia, Italy, from 1057-1067.  His main effort was to reform corruption in the clergy, especially bribery. 

  • His writings focused on living a good Christian life, especially through following the cross of Jesus 

  • Named a Doctor of the Church in 1828