On 27 September 1970, Pope St Paul VI made an historic break with tradition and declared St Teresa of Avila a Doctor of the Church, the first woman to be given this title. One week later he also conferred it on St Catherine of Siena. At present there are 36 Doctors of the Church, four of whom are women. The title is given to Saints whose teachings are considered to have made a significant contribution to the Church.
We are proud that three of our Carmelite Saints have been named Doctors of the Church: St Teresa, St John of the Cross and most recently St Thérèse of Lisieux, who was given the title by Pope St John Paul II in 1997. It is hoped that one day St Edith Stein will also join them.
As we celebrate the 50th anniversary, we look back to the homily of Pope St Paul VI on 27 September 1970, in which he first of all praised Teresa’s personality: “We see Teresa appear before us, an exceptional woman and a religious. Veiled with humility, penitence and simplicity, she radiates around her the flame of her human vitality and of her spiritual vivacity. Then we see her as the reformer and founder of an historic and eminent religious order, a prolific writer of great genius, a teacher of the spiritual life, an incomparable contemplative who was tirelessly active. How great she is, how unique! How human, how attractive is this personality!”
The Holy Father then highlighted St Teresa as a teacher of prayer: “St Teresa’s prerogative of being a mother, a teacher of spiritual persons, had already been acknowledged – we might say by unanimous accord. She was a mother who was full of entrancing simplicity, a teacher who was full of marvellous depths. The tribute of the tradition of the saints, of theologians, of the faithful and the learned was already assured to her. Now We have confirmed it. We have taken care to see that, having been adorned with this magisterial title, she may have a more authoritative mission to perform in her religious family, in the praying Church and in the world, through her perennial, ever-present message – the message of prayer.”
There is only one extract from Teresa’s own writings in the homily, which St Paul VI considers to be at the heart of her doctrine: “Mental prayer in my opinion is nothing else than an intimate sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with Him who we know loves us.” After quoting this, the Pope went on to say: “This is, in summary, the message to us from St Teresa of Jesus, Doctor of the Church. Let us listen to it and make it our own.” St Paul VI also turned his thoughts to the significance of the first female Doctor of the Church: Having entered into being a part of the Church through Baptism, woman partakes of the common priesthood of the faithful. This enables and obliges her to ‘profess before humankind the faith received from God through the Church.’ So many women have reached the highest summits in such profession of faith, to the point that their words and writings have given light and guidance to their brethren. That light was nourished daily by intimate contact with God, even in the noblest forms of mystical prayer, and St Francis de Sales did not hesitate to say that women have a special capacity for it.” Finally we share an extract from the decree in which Pope St Paul VI proclaimed Teresa to be a Doctor of the Church: “Therefore, since this servant of God has always been exalted, not only for the extraordinary facts of her life, but also for the rare virtues of her soul and the acumen of her spirit, we consider with certainty this fact a just and noble reason for which, as our predecessor Gregory XV decreed that she be honoured as a saint so that all the faithful of Christ might understand with what abundance God had filled his servant with the Holy Spirit (cf Lett. Decr. Omnipotens sermo), We do not hesitate to proclaim her Doctor of the Church, the first among women, especially for her knowledge and doctrine of divine things. In fact, We have confidence and trust that Teresa of Jesus, who was declared by a solemn decree Teacher of Christian life, will also strongly stimulate the people of our time to grow in the love of contemplation in the soul and to the attainment of heavenly things.”
Forgetting all things creaturely, remembering the Creator, attending to the interior, and loving the One loving thee. - St. John of the cross, O.C.D.