Friday, September 14, 2012

Meet the Less-Famous Doctors of the Church...

It's an exciting time for those of us Catholics who follow news on the saints - two new Doctors of the Church are about to be proclaimed on October 7th!  St. Hildegard of Bingen and St John of Avila will soon be declared as being teachers of the faith par excellence, and I for one couldn't be more thrilled at this.

But it brings to light something I've noticed about the Doctors of the Church - while a good chunk of these 33 Doctors so far are well known, there is a portion of them too that never seem to be talked about at all.  I confess that St. Hildegard is a favorite of mine, and more than warrants the title of Doctor in my opinion, but St. John of Avila I know very little of.  And then I begin to dream of who I would pick, as though it were that simple - I know a few friends who would love to see St. Gregory of Nyssa given the title for sure.  And what about St. Maximus the Confessor?  Could anyone think of any greater potential Marian Doctors than St. John Eudes or St. Louis de Montfort?  Frankly, my own patrons - St. Anthony the Great and St. Francis of Assisi - are inexplicable in their not being Doctors in my view.

One could speculate for ages.

Now, in light of all this news and fervor over new Doctors of the Church, I thought it would be good to do a series of posts on the Doctors themselves.  Though everyone knows St. Augustine, I've noticed that other Doctors like St. Lawrence of Brindisi are hardly ever spoken of.  I aim to correct this in some small way, by posting on the Doctors no one ever seems to mention, putting a personal spin on my own experiences in reading them, studying them, and sometimes, just getting to know them.

Here we go!

1.  St. Peter Chrysologus (406-450 A.D.)

"Do not forfeit what divine authority confers on you. Put on the garment of holiness, gird yourself with the belt of chastity. Let Christ be your helmet, let the cross on your forehead be your unfailing protection. Your breastplate should be the knowledge of God that he himself has given you. Keep burning continually the sweet smelling incense of prayer. Take up the sword of the Spirit. Let your heart be an altar. Then, with full confidence in God, present your body for sacrifice. God desires not death, but faith; God thirsts not for blood, but for self-surrender; God is appeased not by slaughter, but by the offering of your free will."1

Sometimes I wonder if this Doctor of the Church is lesser known because he was born a little too late for the heyday of 4th-century orthodoxy as exemplified by the famous St. Athanasius, St. Augustine, St. Gregory Nazianzus, and the like.

Known as the Doctor of Homilies, St. Peter was known to give incredibly short sermons due to his concern that he might bore the audience - I think there are a lot of priests out there who might think like this, but I could be wrong.  But instead of delivering a quick ditty of a homily and getting on with it quick, he would deliver a condensed and yet profoundly impacting homily that was absolutely immaculate in its teaching, striking home in the hearts of his listeners.  It was these homilies that earned him the name Chrysologus, meaning "the golden-worded".

Oddly enough, his homilies are not listed in New Advent's fantastic online library of the Church Fathers, and I've really had to do some digging to even find his words anywhere.  I'm not sure why this is the case, but it's easy to see that this saint is not very well-known despite his being a Doctor of the Church.

St. Peter was a staunch opponent of the Monophysite and Arian heresies, a defender of orthodoxy, and set the standard, along with St. John Chrysostom, for sermons.

2.  St. Lawrence of Brindisi (1559 - 1619 A.D.)


"One only is my dove, one my perfect one (Cant. 6,7). The Hebrew reads: my immaculate one. There are three words in Hebrew very similar: tham, thamah, and thamim, of which the first means simple, the second immaculate, and the last perfect. The Hebrew text here, however, uses the second. For this reason, therefore, the all-holy Virgin is unique above all queens... and young maidens (Cant. 6,7) because She is immaculate, like the purest dove, like the sun itself, which was made full of light. Hence it is written: you all fair, my love; and the stain not in you. The singular for you is used: You all (tota tu); not in you; this denotes the uniquely singular grace of Mary."2

One would think of this saint as the "glory of the Capuchins", having been raised to such a status as Doctor of the Church.  The Apostolic Doctor, St. Lawrence of Brindisi's relative lack of fame is to me inexplicable.  His writings alone fill fifteen volumes, he was a military chaplain whose only weapon was the crucifix and who led armies to victory against the Turks, he was able to preach in several languages, and was obviously an incredibly spiritual, holy, and intelligent man.

And yet, I rarely see any mention of this man as a spiritual authority, nor any mention of him as a theological authority - why?  Let us hope this changes.

3.  St. Hilary of Poitiers

"For the present I forbear to expose their license of speculation, some of them holding that the Paraclete Spirit comes from the Father or from the Son. For our Lord has not left this in uncertainty, for after these same words He spoke thus,-- 'I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. When He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He shall guide you into all truth: for He shall not speak from Himself: but what things soever He shall hear, these shall He speak; and He shall declare unto you the things that are to come. He shall glorify Me: for He shall receive of Mine and stroll declare it unto you. All things whatsoever the Father hath are Mine: therefore said I, He shall receive of Mine and shall declare it unto you' (John 16:12-15). Accordingly He receives from the Son, Who is both sent by Him, and proceeds from the Father. Now I ask whether to receive from the Son is the same thing as to proceed from the Father. But if one believes that there is a difference between receiving from the Son and proceeding from the Father, surely to receive from the Son and to receive from the Father will be regarded as one and the same thing."3

The Hammer of the Arians, the Athanasius of the West - pretty big titles, if you ask me.  And yet he is not even close to be being mentioned as much as his great Eastern counterpart, and is not counted as one of the great Latin Doctors of the Church (being St Ambrose, St Augustine, St. Jerome, and Pope St. Gregory the Great). 

Like many of the great Doctors of the Church, he suffered exile and persecution for his opposition to the insidious heresy of Arianism.  Of course, we know that in the end, orthodoxy triumphed, and it was due in no small part to the efforts of this heroic saint.  Though he is not as overlooked as the others on this list (in my opinion, anyways), he is still unjustly little focused on in comparison to the other Latin Doctors. 

4.  St. Peter Canisius

"So, after daring to approach your most loving heart, and to plunge my thirst into it, I received a promise from you of a garment made of three parts: these were to cover my soul in its nakedness, and to belong especially to my religious profession. They were peace, love, and perseverance. Protected by this garment of salvation, I was confident that I would lack nothing but all would succeed and give you glory."4

Many know St. Francis de Sales as one of the greatest figures of the Catholic Counter-Reformation.  Aside from being one of the most endearing of the saints, a profound spiritual director, and learned apologist, St. Francis de Sales also worked to restore the faith in areas that had fallen to Calvinism, successfully bringing back 72,000 souls back to the bosom of the Church.  But who knows of St Peter Canisius? 

Much as St. Peter Chrysologus is to St. John Chrysostom, St. Peter Canisius is to St. Francis de Sales.  A Jesuit priest, St. Peter worked extremely hard to combat the errors of the Reformation, creating new catechisms in the process.  His way of bringing back those who had left the faith for that of the Reformers' was very much the same as St. Francis de Sales - through kindness, understanding, and education.  He was, in a sense, the opposite in his approach when compared to the polemicisms of others before him, such as the fiery figures of Tertullian and St. Jerome. 

5.  St. Peter Damian

“It is not sinners, but the wicked who should despair; it is not the magnitude of one’s crime, but contempt of God that dashes one’s hopes.”5

Beginning to notice a pattern?  It seems the name of Peter is quite a popular name with the lesser-known Doctors - but let us remember it is also the name of the most blessed of the Apostles too, the first Bishop of Rome. 

In St. Peter Damian, we find a Doctor who is at once a reformer and zealous monastic.  He re-introduced a more vigorous level of austerity and mortification into monastic life, and was involved heavily with invigorating the monasteries of the time with a greater zeal for the religious life.  He also waged ceaseless war against all forms of clerical corruption and sexual sin.

So there you have it - five Doctors of the Church that seem to slip under the radar of the faithful all too often.  It is my hope that in presenting them to anyone who happens to read this humble blog that I have done right by them, and in so doing, bring glory to God. 

1 - From HERE.
2 - From HERE.
3 - On the Trinity, VIII:20
4 - From HERE.
5 - From HERE.

4 comments:

  1. Can't wait to read some of St. John of Avila...St. Teresa of Avila was influenced by his preaching and he was known as the *Apostle of Andalusia*. He was able to incorporate the East with the West in his writings.

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  2. You have nominated for the 'Super sweet blogging award' over at 1catholicsalmon.com as a 'Thank You for a great blog.

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  3. "Frankly, my own patrons - St. Anthony the Great and St. Francis of Assisi - are inexplicable in their not being Doctors in my view."
    Don't you have to write something substantial to be a Doctor of the Church? In this respect neither of your patron saints qualifies...
    As for St. Juan of Avila, some of his writings have been published in the Classics of Western Spirituality series (John of Avila "Audi, Filia", New York: Paulinist Press, 2006).

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    1. I'm not actually sure Anonymous- I think of St Anthony of Padua, who is a Doctor, and yet I have never seen anything of his in writing...

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