The Doctors of the Church are teachers of the faith who have demonstrated exemplary holiness and have deepened the whole Church’s understanding of the Catholic faith. They must be officially declared doctors by a papal proclamation. Such men and women also are known particularly for the depth of understanding and the orthodoxy of their theological teachings.
Though their teachings are not infallible, being a “doctor” means that they contributed significantly to the formulation of Christian teaching in at least one significant area in a way that has impacted later generations.
Through the Middle Ages, the title and process of being named a doctor remained a fluid and informal one. In the 13th century, however, the Church formalized the process by which the Church could honor persons with the title and then put out the first official list of Doctors of the Church.
There are three requirements for being named a Doctor of the Church. First is great sanctity. Thus only those who have already been declared to be saints by the Church may be named a doctor. A second requirement is eminent learning. This is often demonstrated by the fact that they were known to be great teachers of the Faith. The third requirement is a proclamation by the Church. Usually, such proclamation is made by the pope.
Msgr. Charles E. Pope is a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C.