The doctors of the Church are certain men and women who are revered by the Church for the special value of their writings and preaching and the sanctity of their lives. The title Doctor of the Church has been applied since the Middle Ages to certain saints whose writing or preaching is outstanding for guiding the faithful in every age.
There are three requirements for being named a doctor of the Church:
1. Great Sanctity. Only those who have already been declared to be saints by the Church may receive this title.
2. Eminent Learning. Those who are declared doctors of the Church are known to be great teachers of the Faith.
3. Proclamation by the Church. Typically, such proclamation is made by the Pope. (source)
Saint John of Avila
When I first heard, “John of Avila”, I immediately thought, “John of the Cross” because of his close association with Saint Teresa of Avila, but that didn’t make any sense because Saint John of the Cross is already a Doctor of the Church – considered a doctor of mystical theology. So who is this Saint John of Avila, then?
Born in 1499 in Toledo, Spain to a wealthy Castilian family of Jewish ancestry, John is called the Apostle to Andalusia in the southern part of modern-day Spain. He briefly studied law at the University of Salamanca, but rather chose to follow God’s call to the priesthood. His parents died while he was in the seminary, and after his ordination he sold the family property and gave the proceeds to the poor.
He deeply desired to be a missionary to the New World, but when the archbishop of Seville witnessed his zeal for the faith, the archbishop convinced John to stay in Spain and preach to the people of Andalusia. He did this for 40 years, crowding churches and evangelizing this area formerly ruled by the Moors.
Outspoken against the sin and excesses of the ruling class, Saint John made some powerful enemies along the way. He was brought before the inquisitor and accused of false teaching. Upon investigation, he was quickly released to the great rejoicing of the people of Seville.
He served as spiritual director to St. Theresa of Avila, Saint Francis Borgia, Saint John of God, Saint John of the Cross, Saint Peter of Alcántara, and Ven. Louis of Granada. (It strikes me that anyone who was the spiritual director to just one saint, is probably a pretty holy guy. When I consider his influence on all of these saints, my heart jumps. Wow!!! He must have been amazing!) His influence is credited with the spread of the Jesuit order in Spain. His writings, especially “On Christian Perfection” and “Spiritual Letters” still hold influence today.
St. Hildegard of Bingen
An amazing woman of faith and reason, Saint Hildegard of Bingen lived during the better part of the eleventh century, dying at the age of 81. She is only the fourth woman to be named a doctor of the Church, sharing good company with St. Catherine of Siena, St. Theresa of Avila, and St. Therese of Lisieux.
An advisor to popes, an anchoress, a writer of theology, a visionary, a naturalist, and a composer, Hildegard has been held up by people across the ages as one of the strongest women of that time period. Unfortunately in our day, she’s been somewhat hijacked by the New Age movement, especially her music and her love of nature.
At a bit over the age of about 40, God opened her mind to an understanding of faith beyond her education and ability and commanded her to write about it. It is believed that what she wrote about in her visions came directly from God. Hildegard submitted her writings to the authority of the Church, and Pope Eugenius, granting an imprimatur, encouraged her to finish and publish her writing. Her first work, Scivias (“Know the Ways of the Lord“) made her famous throughout Germany and into other parts of Europe.
I invite you to read more about her life and history here.
Let us rejoice today in the gift of these two new Doctors of the Church!
St. John of Avila, St. Hildegard of Bingen, pray for us! Anne