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Which female saints has the Church declared “doctors”?

Throughout history, God has raised up extraordinary teachers—doctors—to guide and enlighten His Church. Did you know that four of these Doctors of the Church are women?

The word doctor comes from the Latin docere, “to teach.” In common parlance, “doctor” denotes the holder of a Ph.D., the highest level of education in a subject.

Similarly, a Doctor of the Church is someone whom God has chosen to be a learned teacher of His people—someone who has played a major role in the development of Catholic theology.

Four of the Doctors of the Church were women: St. Teresa of Ávila, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, and St. Hildegard von Bingen. Their inclusion in the ranks of the Doctors and the value the Church places on their teachings reveal the esteem in which the Church has always held her female saints and thinkers.

St. Teresa of Ávila. The contributions of this 16th-century Spanish Carmelite are centered around her teachings on mental prayer. Her enduring works on the subject—The Interior Castle, The Way of Perfection, The Book of Her Foundations, and her autobiography, to name the most famous titles—are invaluable contributions to the Church’s teachings on prayer.

St. Catherine of Siena. This 14th-century Dominican was not particularly well-educated or prolific in terms of her spiritual writing. Nonetheless, her unity with Christ—illustrated by her innumerable visions and discourses with Him—places her among the masters of mystical theology. The Dialogue of Divine Providence, her main work, is written as a conversation between God and the soul and is a transcription of her own ecstatic experiences.

St. Thérèse of Lisieux. The humble little Thérèse decided that she couldn’t aspire to the celestial heights of sanctity that her namesake, St. Teresa of Ávila, ascended. So she created a “Little Way” of spiritual childhood, a universally beloved method of holiness that has made her one of the most popular saints of modern times. Her famous autobiography is The Story of a Soul.

St. Hildegard von Bingen. St. Hildegard, a 12th-century Benedictine, was an astonishingly talented woman with skills that included natural medicine and musical composition. Her preeminent works are those based on her extraordinary mystical visions, astounding in their vividness and the vast scope of their celestial subject matter. Topics covered include salvation history and the relationship between God and man. Her wisdom provides the perfect devotional.

Are you a bit intimidated? Does a whole book written by a Doctor seem too much right now? How about a book that introduces you to a Doctor’s thinking in bite-size pieces? I Believe in Love: A Personal Retreat Based on the Teaching of St. Therese of Lisieux offers short, daily meditations based on St. Thérèse’s Little Way. A perfect companion when you can only spare a few minutes a day! Pick up your copy here!

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