On September 20, 1295 Pope Boniface VIII named Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine, and Gregory the first “Doctors of the Church.” This made official what had been accepted for centuries, that these men were:
- Great teachers who were
- Inspired of the Holy Spirit and
- were orthodox in what they taught
These were only the first. At last count there were 36 Doctors of the Church. Of these 17 were established before the great schism and so they are also recognized by the Eastern Orthodox Church although that church does not give them the same title. There are more being considered. According to Catholic.org:
“This is a very special title accorded by the Church to certain saints. This title indicates that the writings and preachings of such a person are useful to Christians “in any age of the Church.” Such men and women are also particularly known for the depth of understanding and the orthodoxy of their theological teachings. While the writings of the Doctors are often considered inspired by the Holy Spirit; this does not mean they are infallible, but it does mean that they contributed significantly to the formulation of Christian teaching in at least one area.”[i]
What a unique categorization! Here we have the Roman Catholic Church designating that there are some writers whose writings are inspired by the Holy Spirit. How similar this is to the Scripture that says “holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Spirit”.
“knowing this first, that no prophecy of scripture is of private interpretation. For no prophecy ever came by the will of man: but men spake from God, being moved by the Holy Spirit. (2Pe 1:20-21 ASV)
So what we have here with the naming of the title Doctor of the Church is similar to above scriptural proclamation of what defines Scripture, but there is a major difference. The difference is the writings of the doctors of the church are not considered infallible.
So what does that mean? How can writing be inspired by the Holy Spirit yet fallible? What it looks like to me is that the Roman Catholic Church then gets to pick and choose which writings of these men (there is a woman who may possibly be named a Dr. of the Church) are infallible and orthodox, while they can discard some of the writers’ other writings that they don’t deem orthodox. It looks like a huge fudge factor for the Roman Catholic Church.
In the Old Testament and throughout the New Testament what has been taught is what it says in first Peter, that it was prophets who gave us the word of God. Notice that the definition above by Catholic.org does not say these men are defining the word of God, but rather that they are “contributing significantly to the formulation of Christian teaching”. My question is what is the difference between the word of God and Christian teaching? If these men are not New Testament prophets, apostles, teachers, in other words, (wo)men gifted by the spirit to minister the word, then who are they? Who gets to formulate Christian doctrine other than (wo)men who are gifted by the holy spirit to speak for God?
When we are looking at some of these men, these doctors of the church, we will be looking at whether what they wrote and helped to establish as Christian doctrine is really in line with what was written in the old and new Testaments, or whether it was a case of the church glorifying these men to pretty darn close to the status of prophets to reinforce teaching that doesn’t line up with the word of God.
Of special interest will be doctrines that many Protestant denominations include as Orthodox yet are found to be products of these Doctors of the Church.
[i] https://www.catholic.org/saints/doctors.php. It should be noted that the date is a few years later on https://www.uscatholic.org/church/scripture-and-theology/2008/07/chronological-list-doctors-church.
last revised 8/16/2021