The role of Doctors of the Church


On another thread (now closed), someone wrote:

"Both Augustine and Aquinas were canonized for their holiness, but hey were declared Doctors of the Church for their inerrant theology. That’s the only way that you can become a Doctor of the Church.

They did not teach against a Church doctrine. That would be error.

They did not support the Immaculate Conception theology, but it was not a doctrine. It was on the table and a matter of debate. This is not error.

This was a judgement call that they made based on the reason that they had available to them at the time.

Error is to go against Church teaching. Giving an opinion that turns our to be mistaken is not what the Church calls error.

We have to make sure that we use the same language as the Church. Error means deliberate distortion of the truth.

A mistaken opinion because one lacks enough information is a neutral act. It is neither good nor bad.

Therefore, the positions of Augustine and Aquinas in their writings was neutral as far as the Church is concerned. That’s why they are Doctors. Because their theology is error free. It does not distort the truth. It may have incomplete answers, that’s not the same as a deliberate attempt to distort truth.

There is no error. There is simply a lack of knowledge on their part. This is not a sin."

What is the status of the teachings of the Doctors of the Church? It seems that some of them did indeed teach error, such as St Augustine’s view of marriage, that sex within marriage was still venial sin.

Some of the Doctors of the Church were not theologians at all, like St Ephrem the Syrian or St Therese of Liseux, whose spirituality was much more personal and Spirit-inspired, but who can’t be expected to be word-perfect on matters of doctrine. A poem is not a doctrinal statement, and cannot be read as if it was.

Are all the teachings of all the Doctors always correct? How are we to read them?


I don’t think that it is necessary for one’s doctrinal ideas to be inerrant in order to be declared a doctor of the Church.

Some of Augustine’s ideas have been disavowed by the Church.

One notable example is Augustine’s absolute position that salvation is impossible without baptism - including adults who never had the chance to learn about Jesus and including infants who die shortly after birth. This is not Catholic doctrine, but these questions were still being discussed in the early 5th century when Augustine was writing. He came down on the wrong side of the question, but he was sincere in his attempt to puzzle out such questions in his mind.

A theologian’s task is to propose well thought-out answers to religious questions. This he did, even though he was wrong sometimes.



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