Who are the Doctors of the Church and why should I care?

Dear Dan, I am a convert and a mom. I have recently decided that my faith needed deepening and have begun to delve deeper into it through prayer, confession, reading, talking to my priest etc. He told me about your site and today I came across an article you answered on spiritual development. You said, “Otherwise, if you want a fool proof way to stay within the sublime wealth and spiritual tradition of the Church, stick with the Doctors of the Church.” Who ARE the Doctors of the church?

Dear Friend, what a wonderful treat to get your note and to hear about your newly invigorated journey of faith! Your question exhibits a rare combination of being very important and very easy to answer (which is good for me!).

The Doctors of the Church are those saints who have uniquely contributed to understanding of the Church and whose writings are thereby deemed beneficial for all people of all times. There are presently thirty three doctors and it is likely that a few more will be more added soon. If you would like to know more about the thirty-five current doctors, you can do so through this book or here on Wikipedia.

With respect to those doctors I referred to in this post, these are a subset sometimes called “spiritual” doctors of the Church. The designation “spiritual doctor” is not an official title but it is commonly held that these saints have notably contributed much to the Church by way of their writings about matters concerning prayer and what it means to live within a profound relationship with God. A few of these are:

St. Teresa of Avila (Carmelite)

St. John of the Cross (Carmelite)

St. Thérèse of Lisieux (Carmelite)

St. Catherine of Siena (Dominican)

St. Francis de Sales (Bishop)

St. Bernard of Clairvaux (Cistercian)

Depending upon what aspect of the spiritual life you are looking to grow in, any of these can provide deep wells of insights to draw upon. If you have not yet read any of their writings, I would recommend you begin with St. Thérèse of Lisieux or with Ralph Martin’s Fulfillment of All Desire which provides a helpful overview of the spiritual life from the perspectives of many of these great saints.

Be assured of our prayers as you pursue Him.

Editors Note: For more in-depth treatment of these ideas, you can order Dan’s book, Navigating the Interior Life – Spiritual Direction and the Journey to God.

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