Women Saints: Female Doctors of the Church

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Female Doctors of the Church: Why So Few?

female saints
Women Doctors of the Church. (Getty Images)

"Doctor of the Church" is a title given to those whose writings are deemed to be in accord with the doctrine of the church and which the church believes can be used as teachings. "Doctor" in this sense is related etymologically to the word "doctrine."

There's some irony in this title for these women, as the church has long used words of Paul as an argument against ordination of women: Paul's words are often interpreted to forbid women from teaching in the church, even though there are other examples (such as Prisca) of women mentioned in teaching roles.

"As in all the congregations of the Lord’s people. Women should remain silent in the churches, They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church." 1 Corinthians 14:33-35 (NIV)

Image credits, from upper left clockwise: 

  • Fine Art Images / Heritage Images / Getty Images
  • The Print Collector / Print Collector / Getty Images
  • Whiteway / Getty Images
  • Fine Art Images / Heritage Images / Getty Images
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Doctor of the Church: Catherine of Siena

Painting: The Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine of Siena, by Lorenzo d'Alessandro about 1490-95
Painting: The Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine of Siena, by Lorenzo d'Alessandro about 1490-95. (Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

One of two women declared to be Doctors of the Church in 1970, Catherine of Siena (1347 - 1380) was a Dominican tertiary. She is credited with persuading the Pope to return to Rome from Avignon.  Catherine lived from March 25, 1347 to April 29, 1380, and was canonized by Pope Pius II in 1461. Her Feast Day is now April 29, and was celebrated from 1628 until 1960 on April 30.

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Doctor of the Church: Teresa of Avila

St. Theresa of Avila, in an 1886 illustration
St. Theresa of Avila, in an 1886 illustration from Butler's Lives of the Saints. (The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images)

One of two women declared to be Doctors of the Church in 1970, Teresa of Avila (1515 - 1582) was the founder of the order known as the Discalced Carmelites. Her writings are credited with inspiring church reforms.  Teresa lived from March 28, 1515 - October 4, 1582.  Her beatification, under Pope Paul V, was on April 24, 1614. She was canonized on March 12, 1622, by Pope Gregory XV.  Her Feast Day is celebrated on October 15.

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Doctor of the Church: Térèse of Lisieux

Saint Térèse of Lisieux statue
(Ented/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0)

A third woman was added as Doctor of the Church in 1997: Saint Térèse of Lisieux. Térèse, like Teresa of Avila, was a Carmelite nun.  Lourdes is the largest pilgrimage site in France, and the  Basilica of Lisieux is second largest.  She lived from January 2, 1873 to September 30, 1897. She was beatified on April 29, 1923, by Pope Pius XI, and canonized by the same Pope on May 17, 1925.  Her Feast Day is October 1; it was celebrated on October 3 from 1927 until 1969.

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Doctor of the Church: Hildegard of Bingen

Hildegard receies a vision; with secretary Volmar and confidante Richardis
Hildegard receies a vision; with secretary Volmar and confidante Richardis. Fine Art Images / Heritage Images / Getty Images

In October, 2012, Pope Benedict named German saint Hildegard of Bingen, a Benedictine abbess and mystic, a "Renaissance woman" long before the Renaissance, as the fourth woman among the Doctors of the Church.  She was born in in 1098 and died on September 17, 1179. Pope Benedict XVI oversaw her canonization on May 10, 2012. Her Feast Day is September 17.

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Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Women Saints: Female Doctors of the Church." ThoughtCo, Aug. 31, 2017, thoughtco.com/women-saints-doctors-of-the-church-3530251. Lewis, Jone Johnson. (2017, August 31). Women Saints: Female Doctors of the Church. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/women-saints-doctors-of-the-church-3530251 Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Women Saints: Female Doctors of the Church." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/women-saints-doctors-of-the-church-3530251 (accessed November 24, 2017).