Tomorrow is the feast of St. Lawrence of Brindisi, a Capuchin saint who is honored as a "Doctor of the Church." So this Capuchin will offer a few thoughts on what it means to be a Doctor of the Church, and why we need them.
The title "doctor" brings to mind first a medical doctor, a physician, who cares for our body. Those in academia use the title of doctor for advanced learning. Doctors of the church care for our mind and our heart and our soul.
The word "doctor" comes from Latin docere, to teach. The Anglican, Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic and some other Christian churches use the title of "doctor" for those who have helped us to understand our faith by making a significant contribution to theology. St. Anselm defined theology as "faith seeking understanding."
The spiritual leaders of early Christianity are known as the Church Fathers. These include such pillars of faith as Clement, Ignatius, Irenaeus and Athanasius.
In 1298, Pope Boniface VIII singled out four such theologians known also for their sanctity as Doctors of the Church -- Ambrose, Augustine of Hippo, Jerome and Gregory. The Eastern Greek Church recognized John Chrysostom, Basil, Gregory and Athanasius. St. Theresa of Avila was the first woman honored as a Doctor of the Church, followed later by St. Catherine and St. Theresa, the Little Flower.
Through the centuries, this select group has grown to a present total of 33. On Oct. 7, Pope Benedict XVI will add St. John of the Cross and St. Hildegard of Bingen to their ranks.
Tradition has given a nickname to each of the Doctors of the Church to characterize their unique contribution. Thomas Aquinas is known as the Angelic Doctor, Theresa of Avila is the Doctor of Prayer, Augustine is the Doctor of Grace, Theresa of Lisieux is the Doctor of Love.
Moderns might scoff at such titles and distinctions for saintly theologians, "All well and good, but who needs them?" We do. Today more than ever.
In our age of technical genius without a moral compass, we need learned people who are also holy people. We need them to help us articulate our faith in a world often hostile to faith.
Which brings us back to our Capuchin, St. Lawrence of Brindisi. He is called the Apostolic Doctor for his careful research into the foundations of the Christian faith. He wrote many theological volumes, including a commentary on the book of Genesis that is respected also by Jewish scholars. St. Lawrence lived during the 16th century when tension was high between civil government and religious faith.
Fluent in most European and many Semitic languages, he served as a papal ambassador to various countries where he combined secular learning, knowledge of the Scriptures and diplomatic skill to work for peace without compromising his faith.
We could use a Lawrence of Brindisi today.
Father Earl Meyer is from the Capuchin Center for Spiritual Life, Victoria.