|A banner with an image of St. Hildegard, here called a prophetess, suspended from the façade of St. Peter’s for the ceremony in which she was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church.|
In the liturgical tradition of the Roman Rite, the four Doctors are also associated with the four Evangelists in the collections of homilies read at Matins, in which each appears as the principal (but by no means sole) commentator on one of the four Gospels. Broadly speaking, St. Jerome’s Commentary on Matthew, St. Ambrose’s Exposition of the Gospel according to Luke, and St. Augustine’s Treatises on the Gospel of John are commonly read in all uses of the Divine Office. St. Mark rarely appears in the traditional Mass-lectionary of the Roman Rite, but does provide the Gospel on the greatest feast of the year, Easter, and on the Ascension; on both of these feasts, the homily at Matins in most uses is taken from St. Gregory. Therefore, the first sense in which a Father might be called a Doctor was the frequent use of his writings in the Church’s public worship.
|St. Mark the Evangelist, with his traditional symbol, a winged lion, on the left, and St. Gregory the Great on the right, and a book of his sermons. From the ceiling of the church of Sant’Agostino in Cremona, Italy, by Bonfazio Bembo, 1452.|
Also prominent in the public prayer of the Church are the writings of Saints Leo the Great, Hilary of Poitier (especially in France), and Maximus of Turin. Bede, Leo and Hilary have all subsequently been made Doctors themselves; St. Maximus, on the other hand, has been the object of almost no liturgical devotion, although he is noted in the Martyrology as a man “most celebrated for his learning and sanctity.” Indeed, his writings often appear in the breviaries under the name of some other saint, usually Augustine. In the 13th century, many of the writings of St. John Chrysostom were translated into Latin, and began to find their way into the Office; in the Roman Breviary of 1529, sermons by him are read on three of the four Sundays of Lent.
|The Four Doctors of the Church, by Pier Francesco Sacchi, ca. 1516. Note that each is accompanied by a symbol of one of the four Evangelists.|
In 1588, Pope Sixtus V, a Franciscan and former vicar apostolic of his order, declared his confrere St. Bonaventure, the contemporary of St. Thomas, the tenth Doctor of the Church. Although another Franciscan, Duns Scotus, generally known as the “Subtle Doctor”, was far more influential at Trent, he had not been canonized; this emphasizes the fact that a Doctor of the Church in the formal sense must be recognized not only for his learning, but also for the sanctity of his life. Bonaventure had been canonized in 1472 by an earlier Franciscan Pope, Sixtus IV, (more famously the builder of the Sistine Chapel), in whose honor Sixtus V had chosen his papal name. (Duns Scotus was declared a Blessed in 1993.)
St. Anselm was quickly followed by two other new Doctors; St. Isidore of Seville, the great encyclopedist of the Middle Ages, was given the title in 1722 by Innocent XIII, and St. Peter Chrysologus by Benedict XIII in 1729. After a break of 35 years, Benedict XIV, one of the Church’s greatest scholars of hagiography, bestowed the title on St. Leo the Great, to whom more than any other of the Latin Fathers the honor was long overdue.
There then followed a pause of more than 70 years, until St. Peter Damian was given the title in 1828 by Pope Leo XII; subsequently, almost every Pope has declared at least one Doctor. (The exceptions are Gregory XVI, St. Pius X and the short-lived John Paul I.) Blessed Pius IX actually made three, including the first “modern”, St. Alphonse Liguori (1696-1787), but the record is four each by Leo XIII and Pius XI. The former’s Doctors are all of the Patristic era (including another long overdue honor, to St. Bede), while the latter recognized the fruits of the Counter-Reformation in two Jesuits, Ss. Robert Bellarmine and Peter Canisius, balanced with a Dominican, St. Albert the Great, the teacher of St. Thomas.
article on “Beatification and canonization”, for an explanation of ‘equivalent canonization’.)
|A famous vision of the Cosmic Man from the Book of the Divine Works by St. Hildegard of Bingen. (Biblioteca Statale, Lucca, Italy, 13th century)|
One notable point of difference between the pre- and post-conciliar liturgies is the absence in the former of any reference to the title of Doctor being given to women. If at some point in the future provision is made in the Extraordinary Form for the new class of Virgin Doctors, it would be sensible to use texts from traditional sources, such as the many medieval antiphons that refer to the “wise virgins” in St. Matthew 25. Another excellent source would be the proper Carmelite Office of St. Theresa of Avila, who was also spoken of informally as a Doctor by her own order long before the title was made official by the Pope. (E.g., all the chapters of her Office come from the same epistle that is read on the feast of St. Thomas Aquinas.) At the Magnificat of First Vespers, the Carmelites sing “I sought to take her to Me as my spouse, for she is the teacher (doctrix) of God’s discipline, and the chooser of His works.”, and at Second Vespers, “The nations will tell of her wisdom, and the Church will proclaim her praise.”