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Scott Hoereth wrote:

Hi, guys —

I am a 66-year-old, retired, practicing Catholic studying Church history. The first four Doctors of the Church were:

These were all wise men and true saints. I have three questions that follow from this.

  1. Were these men chosen as Doctors of the Church by Pope Boniface VIII or was there a learned council of bishops who chose these four?
  2. Was there a specific Mass to invest these holy men (as well as subsequent Doctors) as Doctors of the Church?
  3. Is there an e-mail address for an office at the Vatican that can answer questions like this regarding Church history?

Thank you so much and God bless you.


  { Were the Doctors of the Church chosen by the Pope or a council of bishops and was a Mass said? }

Mike replied:

Hi, Scott —

Sorry for the delay in answering your questions. A good web site for [studying|researching] Catholic history is New Advent web site. It contains the 1909 Catholic Encyclopedia.

You said:

  1. Were these men chosen as Doctors of the Church by Pope Boniface VIII or was there a learned council of bishops who chose these four?

I found this on their web site:

A decree of Boniface VIII (1298) ordering their feasts to be kept as doubles in the whole Church is contained in his sixth book of Decretals.

It doesn't tell us whether these men were all chosen by Boniface, just that a decree was published ordering their feast.  Usually the naming of a saint as a Doctor of the Church is done by a reigning pontiff. e.g. Pope John Paul II declared the only two female saints as Doctors of the Church:

Nevertheless, I'm sure any reigning Holy Father appreciates the advice and counsel of his fellow bishops. This was certainly the case with Pope John Paul II and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger: now Pope Benedict XVI.

As a side note: I've met people who love Pope John Paul II, but can't stand Pope Benedict. I find this laughable, seeing that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (our current Pontiff) was a very close advisor to our previous pontiff, John Paul II, and probably consulted with him on some, if not many, of his encyclicals. For short, they were very good theology friends!

You said:

  1. Was there a specific Mass to invest these holy men (as well as subsequent Doctors) as Doctors of the Church?

There may have been, but I don't know for sure. Usually, the Holy Father makes a pronouncement on a special feast day of the Church. A Mass is usually celebrated on all special feast days.

You said:

  1. Is there an e-mail address for an office at the Vatican that can answer questions like this regarding Church history?

I don't know of any. If someone at the Vatican reads this posting and can provide me with more information to answer this question, I'll post it.

In your question you listed the four eminent Doctors of the Western church. I would be remiss if I didn't mention the the three eminent Doctors of the Eastern Rite Catholic Church. They are:

The feasts of these three saints were made obligatory throughout the Eastern Empire by Leo VI, the Wise, the deposer of Photius. A common feast was later instituted in their honor on January 30, called the feast of the three Hierarchs.

Hope this helps,


Scott replied:


Thank you for your research on my questions.

I too continued my research and believe I found the answer I was looking for in New Advent under the same heading you cited, Doctors of the Church. Under that heading, I found in the third paragraph where it explains other names have been added since the original four from the Roman and Eastern Churches and the conditions required for a saint to be considered as a Doctor of the Church.

Pope Benedict XIV called out those conditions and he further explained the third declaration (proclamation by the Church) as a declaration by a supreme pontiff or by a general council.
It further states that even though councils have acclaimed the writings of certain Doctors,
no council has actually conferred the title of Doctor of the Church. New Advent also has a heading for General Councils which explains their function. Based on what I have read, I would say up to this point in time, the supreme pontiffs throughout history have named the 33 Doctors of the Church, with some input from a learned general council.

I knew, in the archives of my ancient brain, I had read this once before but couldn't find it when
I wanted, therefore, I thought I would challenge AskACatholic to help locate the information. You know, there was approximately 440 years between the time of Boniface VIII and Benedict XIV.
You would think that somewhere along the line something would have been written that stated what conditions were required for this title to be conferred.

Generally, I answer most questions on my own, but this eluded me for a while.

  • the Bible
  • the Catechism
  • a good Bible Dictionary
  • The Catholic Source Book
  • and a few other tomes I have in my personal library, as well as the internet

    can provide answers or at least the seeds of where to look.

Researching questions of this nature provides hours of fun and advanced learning which I enjoy.

As a final note: I believe you are very correct in your assumption that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was consulted on numerous occasions by Pope John Paul II. Cardinal Ratzinger [was|is] an extremely learned scholar and I would respect his opinion on any ecclesiastical or theological subject which would arise in one of my discussion groups.

Several friends have said that when they listen to Pope Benedict talk or when they read some of his writings, they have a bit more difficult time understanding what he is trying to say compared to John Paul II. I believe this is because Pope Benedict is a scholar and like many college professors in lecture, sometimes forget their students aren't thinking on their level. I'm not condemning him or his teachings by any means, I'm only saying that many people have to stop to think deeper than they wish, in order to comprehend his statements.

Keep up the good work, Mike.

Thanks again for your assistance and God bless you,

Scott Hoereth
Related Information, Dateline: August 22, 2017:
[Current List of the Doctors of the Church: 36; 33 men; 3 women]

Please report any and all typos or grammatical errors.
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