SSPX Bp. Williamson opposed to female “Doctors of the Church”: are his reasons good?

The SSPX’s rather odd Bp. Richard Williamsom, excommunicated in 1988 for having received episcopal consecration from the late Archbp. Lefebvre without pontifical mandate, has something to say about naming a woman as Doctor of the Church. 

You might know that the Church has called three women "Doctor".  To be named a Doctor of the Church, you must be a saint and your life and writings or preaching must reflect something of the Church in her God-given teaching mandate.


Let’s read what Williamson has to say. 

My emphases and comments.

A few days ago I met in Rome a gracious Roman lady who asked me why in
a sermon several years ago I had been opposed to the papal declaration
of St. Catherine of Sienna
as a Doctor of the Church. The problem, I
replied, lies in the confusion of roles.

Recent Popes have
declared three women Saints to be Doctors of the Church: Catherine of
Sienna, Theresa of Avila and Therese of Lisieux. Now no Catholic in his
right mind would call in question either the orthodoxy or the great
usefulness of each of their writings.
We have only to thank God for
their inspired and intuitive wisdom. Nevertheless for the Pope to
declare them Doctors, i.e. teachers, is to encourage Catholic women to
set up in public as teachers. St. Thomas Aquinas (IIa IIae, 177, art 2)
has three reasons against this. 
[He seems to be basing his ideas on the writings of the Angelic Doctor]

Firstly he quotes St. Paul (II
Tim II, 12): “I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to use authority over
the man: but to be in silence.
” St. Thomas distinguishes here public
from private teaching: in the home a mother must teach her children, in
a quasi-domestic setting a woman may well teach, especially girls and
little boys.  [A pretty strong argument, since it comes from St. Paul.]

Secondly, any woman set up in public view is liable to arouse unclean desire in men.  [This is not really a very strong argument.]

Thirdly, “women in general are not so perfect in wisdom as to be entrusted with public teaching.” [This also is not a very strong argument.]

is in question here is the whole design of God for man and woman as
complementary head and heart of the family.
Teaching of a public kind
is a function primarily of the reason, or head, just as teaching in the
home is as much a function of the heart.
[Ehem.] True, modern times are
destroying home and family, leaving woman frustrated, with little
alternative but to go out in public, where she does not belong and
where she often – bless her! — does not want to be.
But by giving to
women, even Saints, the title of “Doctor”, the modern Popes are giving
way to such modern times, instead of resisting them.

St. Thomas
Aquinas’ three reasons may look old-fashioned, but the question is
whether our new-fashioned world can survive, with women in authority,
making themselves constantly as attractive as possible, and still,
generally, “not perfect in wisdom”. O Lord, grant us some men! Kyrie

Bishop Richard Williamson
La Reja, Argentina

Let’s see if we can have some reasoned and reasonable discussion of this.  

Please avoid inflammatory comments.  Don’t just vent.  That contributes nothing but needless clutter.

I will delete comments that, in my opinion, lead to rabbit holes to skate too close to the edge.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in SESSIUNCULA. Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Michael says:

    The second two arguments don\’t seem as convincing as the first, but we still ought to ask the question why there were no women made doctors of the Church before the second half of the twentieth century. Surely, Popes understood the value of their writings, but they stopped short of declaring them doctors. Why? Probably for the reasons cited. I almost wish Williamson were wrong, because if the Church has erred in declaring women Doctors of the Church, that can\’t ever be undone. The Church has made her pronouncement, end of story. My fear is that the decision to break with tradition here might be related to feminism, which is an ill conceived philosophy but one that Popes and Catholics have tried to praise wherever it doesn\’t directly conflict with Church teaching. For example, not wearing veils, the disapearance of gender roles, altar girls and a rereading of Ephesians have in some circles been praised for improving the status and oppurtunities of women. The Pope is even seeking to move more lay women into positions of authority in the Vatican. People only condemn radical feminism, never just feminism. But is there really a visible line between the two, or is the entire philosophy uncatholic?

  2. David says:

    These arguments do not work. None of them have to do with naming a woman a Doctoor of the Church specifically. Rather, each argument from Williamson deals with a woman actually teaching in public. Whatever Williamson’s thoughts on that subject, it does not matter when considering if the Church should call a woman a “Doctor of the Church”. An injunction against any of these three women from teaching in public is mute, since none of them did. But all three did manage to teach us all, nonetheless. You can’t get around that last point. In short, they did not teach publically, but they did teach indirectly, and thus warrant the title, and the Church does not give it in contradiction to St. Paul or St. Thomas Aquinas (no matter how one might correctly or incorrectly interpret either). My 2 cents.

  3. Brian Crane says:

    With regard to the three reasons taken from St. Thomas:

    [1] I don\’t think any of these women saints who have been declared doctors ever presumed to set themselves up as teachers of men (males). The fact that their writings have been judged posthumously to be useful for teaching is based more on the content of their writing than on their gender.

    [2] None of these women were \”set up in public view\” as teachers, and in any event, anyone in whom unclean desires are aroused at the sight of a religious sister or nun teaching has serious problems.

    [3] There are many men who are teachers who are hardly \”perfect in wisdom\”; this statement as used here only serves to distract attention to the person\’s gender rather than to the content of what he or she said and how it has been recognized posthumously by Holy Mother Church.

    With regard to Williamson\’s further elaboration: The good bishop gives further evidence against women being named doctors on the basis of the woman\’s role as \”heart of the home\”. This could at best be applied only analogously to nuns or religious sisters who are not married and do not have a biological family to raise and teach.

    In summary: All of the reasons given could perhaps be useful if the problem in question were these saints, while they were still alive, holding positions of teaching and being recognized by the Church as such. At that point, we could engage the reasons given on that basis, and I still would find problems with it. But that is besides the point, since these saints had no intention of setting themselves over anyone as teachers, and the Church has recognized their writings postumously as useful for teaching and for expressing its doctrine.

    Wait a second… “Holy Mother Church”… a case of a woman teaching !! Given the good bishop\’s sloppy use of analogies (whether conscious or subconscious) in his faulty applications of the reasons from St. Thomas et al, he might as well condemn any acceptance of \”Church teaching\” also on the basis that the Church is a \”woman\”, and so forth, etc. etc…. *yawn*

  4. Matthew Mattingly says:

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong in having women Doctors of the Church in that there were many who were at least as learned as men.
    I always have an affection for St. Hildegard of Bingen, partly because I love her muscial compositions. She was also a noted theologian. But I don’t think She’ll ever be a Doctor of the Church.
    There really aren’t many women ranking a distinction for this title….nor many men left either.
    I presume the title Doctor of the Church comes from the theological writings of the Saint more than their lifestyle and witness.
    I think the Catholic Church has acknowledged and honored all the Doctors of the Church we are gong to have for a very long while. Except manye for St. John of the Cross. Is He a Doctor of the Church? If not, He should be. Saint Pius X too.

  5. Ttony says:

    David and Brian Crane have hit the nail on the head: Bishop Williamson is confusing their (non-existent) teaching role with the fact that their writings are amongst the most worthy of study, and therefore of being taught.

    Bishop Williamson is, as he so often is, off beam here.

  6. Christopher Sarsfield says:

    If you look at the traditional liturgy for a Doctor of the Church, it is clear that they were teachers with authority while they were living. For example the Collect:

    “O God, Who didst give blessed N. to Thy people as a minister of eternal salvation: grant, we beseech Thee, that we, who have had him for our teacher on earth, may deserve to have him for our advocate in heaven.”

    Clearly, the theology of what a Doctor of the Church has changed. Why did it it change? It seems clear that it was a compromise with the modern world, that considers the teaching of St. Paul on women to be misogynistic. One thing is clear, that no women will ever be celebrated as a Doctor of the Church in the TLM, unless they compose a new Mass for a Virgin/Doctor. To place “her” in the traditional liturgy for him with regard to Doctors makes the prayers contradictory.

  7. Brian Crane says:

    It seems clear that it was a compromise with the modern world, that considers the teaching of St. Paul on women to be misogynistic.

    This doesn’t seem clear to me. No more clear than to say that it was simply a development in the Church’s understanding of what a doctor of the faith is. Is a development the same thing as a compromise? To call it a compromise seems to be an application of the hermeneutic of suspicion; to call is a development seems (to me) to give the benefit of the doubt and open it up for a more positive-minded discussion. Thoughts?

  8. Michael says:

    A development that coincided with the rise of feminism and the dissolution of Christian culture and the family. Seeing as how the Church’s policy in 1970 when Teresa and Catherine were pronounced Doctor’s was one of concession, “opening up,” and reconstruction, if this is a development, it only makes sense to attribute it to the increased presence of secular ideas and forces in the Catholic Church.

  9. Cody says:

    1 Tim. 2:11-15

    11 Let the woman learn in silence, with all subjection. 12 But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to use authority over the man: but to be in silence. 13 For Adam was first formed; then Eve. 14 And Adam was not seduced; but the woman being seduced, was in the transgression. 15 Yet she shall be saved through childbearing; if she continue in faith, and love, and sanctification, with sobriety.

    Not only does this passage seem to be saying that women cannot teach whatsoever, it also seems to demand that women have children. So, not only is it wrong for nuns to teach, but it is wrong to have nuns at all.

    So either we must reject Paul here, we must conclude that the Church has erred, or we must conclude that our reasoning is bad. I’ll go with the last option.

    It seems to me that Paul is 1) referring to formal authority (women cannot teach as can a priest), and 2) Paul is extolling the value of motherhood as being salvific

  10. Chironomo says:

    What a civil and reasoned conversation going on here (I’m sure there have been deletions…)! Anyway… although it seems to us a reasonable thing to consider women as Doctors of the Church, we do have to then ask why there have been none prior to the second half of the 20th century. Is this a part of our tradition that was, dare we say, in error? If we allow this to be an error, to what else will we open up the door to be considered next?
    There was clearly a sound reason, since there were many women Saints, to not declare women as Doctors of the Church. I suspect it goes deeper than just misogyny and male domination. Perhaps it is the teaching of the Catholic Church that the roles of Men and Women are, dare I say, both important but clearly distinct and defined, and it is not within the definition for Women to be considered as Doctors of the Church?

  11. Cody says:

    Chironomo, I think you’re on a slippery slope when you start saying things like that. In fact, if you look at the saints, there are many more who are men than women. Is this because men are holier than women, or because there was some good reason for being hesitant to declare women as saints? No, if you start arguing like that for either saints in general or doctors of the Church, you’re putting yourself in a dangerous position of questioning the infallibility of the Church. Saints, more or less, when formally declared are infallible. But it is not infallible to not declare someone a saint. It is less theologically dangerous to explain the fact that there are more men saints/doctors than women on account of misogyny than to suggest that the Church has now come into error by positively affirming women saints/doctors.

  12. Monica says:

    I wonder what the radical elemental feminist, Mary Daly, thinks of this?…not that anyone would really care.

  13. Brian Crane says:

    if this is a development, it only makes sense to attribute it to the increased presence of secular ideas and forces in the Catholic Church.

    This is the easiest way to deal with it. Reduce it to the same type of reasoning that always looks for masonic plots and wants to reject (or at least severely marginalize) Vatican II, confusing its content with its application.

    Anyhow… masonic plots and the problems with Vatican II notwithstanding, can anyone not propose a theological reason why the practice of the Church could not be developed? Or is the only possible way to explain this matter to claim that nefarious churchmen have allowed the modern world to have yet another influence in the Church’s teaching… and this issue being a matter of Church teaching, thus to reach the really unbecoming conclusion that the Church has committed an error?

  14. Christopher Sarsfield says:

    Mr. Crane,

    One of the unfortunate realities that the Church will have to deal with, is that many of the changes in the Church in the last 40 years under a cloud of suspicion, because many of the people behind those changes clearly believed in the hermeneutic of rupture. It would be nice if none of the changes that were made in the last 40 years, were made in order to compromise with the world, or undermine traditional Catholic teachings, but I believe that would be naive. I confess, I am ignorant to the justifications given by Rome when they decided to make St. Catherine and St. Theresa doctors. But I would assume that they formed a commission to study the question before they did it (perhaps I assume too much). What were the reasons given for the change? I am open to hearing them, but coming at the time they did they are under a cloud. The same way alter girls are under a cloud. If we all admit that the understanding of what a Doctor of Church is, has changed, the next step would be to examine the reasons so that we can decide if the change was a development of the Church’s understanding, or a rupture with the past. Finally, I will say a consider this change to be a matter of prudence, where men of good will could easily disagree, and I am not in any way questioning the authority of the Church to do this, I am only wondering about the prudence of such a decision.

  15. Brian Crane says:

    Mr. Sarsfield,

    But the cloud of suspicion thing isn’t really helpful. Yes, some of the people involved were aiming for wholesale rupture. But we are dealing with a particular matter, not speaking in general here. And it is a matter of consequence. Therefore, the cloud of suspicion serves only as a way to categorize and then conveniently dismiss the matter, rather than looking at it more closely. I have to say, I find it really sort of breathtaking how folks (and I am not speaking about your in particular here, but speaking of a wider problem)… how folks nowadays are so given to looking at the Church with suspicion. We give the Church the benefit of the doubt, always looking for the positive, always willing to assume that we must have an error in our own reasoning, not the Church. We might look at individual churchmen with suspicion, but then we have to be careful to respect the office that they hold and the divine assistance given to them in that office. Finally, we might look at individual acts of the Church/churchmen with suspicion, but in doing so we do better to examine the theological reasons rather than entertaining wide-ranging conspiracy theories that don’t advance the discussion at all.

    I would still love it if someone could leave aside conspiracies and movements and look at this issue in particular. The person in particular that we are talking about here is no less than Pope John Paul II, who proclaimed these women doctors. We can very easily say that it was a commission that did the work that resulted in these women being proclaimed doctors, and that the commission was affected by the mentality of the hermeneutic of rupture. No matter… the pope, on his own authority, must have accepted the work of that commission and made it his own, and raised these women to the level of doctor. Therefore the question about commissions here really doesn’t matter. We are dealing the pope himself, and an authoritative act. We need to be generous and give him the benefit of the doubt and be open to the theological reasons that made it possible for him to do this act, then, and not reject them offhand as falling under some cloud…

  16. Scott N. says:

    Some statistics:

    There are 33 Doctors of the Church. Of these, 20 are bishops (including two Popes), nine are priests, one is a deacon, and three are the Doctoresses in question. This, along with propers from the Mass In medio from the Tridentine Missal, does suggest a link between the clerical/ordained state, and the teaching authority that comes with it, and being declared a “Doctor of the Church.”

    Brian Crane: and this issue being a matter of Church teaching, thus to reach the really unbecoming conclusion that the Church has committed an error?

    Declaring a saint a “Doctor of the Church” is a decision made and promulgated by the Pope or by a general council (per Benedict XIV). The Catholic Encyclopedia article on the Doctors of the Church has this to say: It [Conferring the title of Doctor of the Church] is not in any way an ex cathedra decision, nor does it even amount to a declaration that no error is to be found in the teaching of the Doctor. It is, indeed, well known that the very greatest of them are not wholly immune from error. Thus, although it might be presumptuous, I cannot see how questioning some saint’s worthiness for the title of Doctor calls into question the indefectibility of the Church.

  17. Rob Collorafi says:

    It’s truly amazing to me to watch history continuously move full circle, as we repeat the same old mistakes.

    I believe one of the reasons the liberal nuns revolted was due to the sexist and clerical mindset that relegated the teaching nuns (as in my Diocese) to spend their summers cleaning the Seminary dorm rooms and bathrooms of the male students and faculty members who were off enjoying their summer recess.

    There were other sisters (this is documented in the history of our Diocesan Seminary) who worked year round doing the cooking, cleaning and laundry for these same men.

    Having grown up in the so-called traditionalist movement, I distinctly remember that in the Priory where I went to Mass, the Priests had the best accomadations, the finest clerical clothes (and presumably controlled all the purse strings, while the nuns taught all day at the parish school,
    while living in second class, crowded accomodations in the rear of the property and wore shabby looking habits and shoes.

    Now, fifty years after the first revolt of the poor nuns, we are seeing another attempt being made to ‘put women back where they belong’, namely into an inferior second class, lower tiered, silent ‘caste’ existence.

    Let me be clear. I am a homeschooling father of six children belonging to the most conservative parish in my Diocese, so I am no lib.

    However, I would lay down my life before letting any of my daughters be treated in such a poor manner, and although I have prayed for many years for the re-emergence of the old rite, and the reconciliation of the SSPX, if this is the direction they are going to keep heading in, I will have no part of it.

    Lastly, I have spent the last twenty-five years of my life studying attentively every biography written on our late Polish Pope, and I can tell you unequivocally, and without hesitation, that he not only never treated women or the dear Polish nuns like this, he would have been apalled
    at this disussion.

    I cannot positively enough share my dissapointment that this is even being brought up, and not immediately dismissed out of hand.

  18. Christopher Sarsfield says:

    Mr. Crane,

    I am not rejecting the reasons, for I do not see any reasons being given. JPII allowed alter girls against his own better judgment by most accounts. Does this mean I have to accept this discipline as divinely inspired? I do not think that is required. Making women eligible to be doctors of the Church was dangerous, because Rome never gave (that I am a ware of) a new definition of Doctor. This is the logic that proceeds:

    St. Catherine is a doctor of the Church. Doctors of the Church were great teachers of the Faith in their lives, therefore the Church is saying that women can teach, and St. Paul is wrong, or at least he has been misunderstood for the past 2000 years. So clearly eventually women will be made Cardinals, and eventually priests and bishops.

    Now I am not saying that you believe this is a legitimate understanding of what the Church was saying when they made these women doctors of the Church. However, this is I believe a common understanding of it, and unfortunately Rome has done nothing (that I am aware of) to say this understanding is wrong, and to explain what the change (making women doctors) means as far as the role of women in the Church.

    Finally, I would say that Bishop Williamson has given a very good theological reason, why women should not be made doctors. You may disagree with Bishop Williamson, but perhaps you do not, as much as you think. It seems to me that Bishop Williamson and you have a different understanding of what a Doctor of the Church is. Essential to Bishop Williamson’s understanding is that a doctor of the Church was a public teacher of the Faith, the type of which St. Paul says women can not be. You seem to say that that is not an essential aspect of being a doctor, and if it were then of course it would wrong to make women doctors of the Church. The problem of course is Rome has never said that that is not essential. Rome has never said that the Church has a new understanding of what a doctor of the Church is. This is why I consider it dangerous. Rome did this, and they gave no guidance with regard to how it is to be understood. They basically left the world to speculate. And when you do that, you should not be surprised when the speculation becomes a frankenstein monster.

  19. Brian Crane says:

    Thus, although it might be presumptuous, I cannot see how questioning some saint’s worthiness for the title of Doctor calls into question the indefectibility of the Church.

    Point taken. But anyhow, it is still unbecoming, or presumptuous as you say, to suggest that the Church committed an error in proclaiming someone, or three people, doctors. We are in agreement on that. So let’s move to advancing the discussion in the direction of looking at the specifics of these cases.

    Rob: many good points which, although peripheral to the issue at hand, nevertheless unmask the general attitude that is present in those who would relegate women to a second-class existentce on principle alone, as would, it would seem, Bishop Williamson and some who have commented in this space.

  20. Brian Crane says:

    Mr. Sarsfield,

    I would be surprised if many people — other than Bishop Williamson, who is always looking for reasons to be at odds with “Rome” — have thought the matter through as much as you have outlined. In any case, even if “Rome” did not give a reason at the time that these women were proclaimed doctors, the question we could and should ask now — rather than dismissing the matter out of hand or automatically putting it under a cloud of suspicion even if we don’t dismiss it — is can a good theological reason be given for this apparent development?

  21. Damian says:

    I think St. Paul was drawing a distinction between public teaching with the authority of the apostles, which every bishop, priest and deacon may do from the pulpit during the public worship of the Church. None of the female doctors ever taught in this manner. I see absolutely no contradiction between the actions of St. Catherine, St. Theresa or St. Therese and the prescription of St. Paul.

    Neither do I see any contradiction between the private teachings of Mother Theresa and Mother Angelica and this passage from St. Paul. The fact that their teachings receive wider dissemination than those of the three Doctors is more a function of the evolution of the mass media. In any case, they have all enriched the faith immeasurably, and it would be tragically ungrateful to reject, or to minimize, these great gifts from God because of an overly legalistic interpretation of St. Paul.

    As for the comment that here are more women than men saints, the poster has absolutely no way of knowing this. I am not even certain if there are more canonized men than women, but it is quite beside the point. I am certain that the fact that the greatest of Saints, greater than all the saints (male and female) and all the Angels taken together is a woman is far more probative than the calculation of relative numbers. And extrapolating the fact that there were no woman Doctors before 1970 as evidence that this is creeping modernism is no more persuasive than arguing that there were no approved Marian apparitions before (x) date and that therefore all such apparitions are to be discounted. Once the Holy Father has given someone the title of Doctor, that concludes the matter. Because he speaks for Christ in such matters and is informed by the Holy Spirit as is his interpretation of St. Paul, I decline to question his decision even if my reason would tell me otherwise. In the case of these three great saints, my reason is completely congruent with my faith.

  22. Christopher Sarsfield says:

    Mr. Collorafi,

    You are universalizing your experiences and projecting them on to Bishop Williamson. Obviously, you do not believe that it is wrong for certain nuns who have that vocation, to cook and clean for men in the Church. The polish nuns you were discussing were doing just that for JPII. I am sure JPII treated his servant nuns with great respect and dignity. This is all that Bishop Williamson is saying. He is not saying that women should be treated poorly, and have no control of their finances, or wear old habits. He is only saying that women should not teach publicly, and using St. Paul as his authority. Do you believe that women should hold positions of teaching authority in the Church?

  23. Piers-the-Ploughman says:

    Thanks to all for a good discussion. I had always wondered about the title of “Doctor” for these women saints. On the whole, with the explanations here, I am more comfortable with it, but as some have suggested, it would still be good to have the explanations for the change spelled out by Rome, or better yet, have had such discussions available to the public for understanding before these pronouncements.

  24. Ed says:

    Two things come to mind. First, Chironomo and Cody had a brief discussion about the development of the Church’s understanding of herself and the world. Could Churchmen have committed misogyny in the past? I certainly think so. We came to the conclusions, after all, that slavery was wrong and that, hey, maybe the pope’s being the temporal prince of the Papal States called some of his motives into question. If St. Paul tells us that there is no longer “Jew nor Greek, male nor female,” then we must admit that the Church has, at times, incorrectly relegated women to second class status. Could it be that Paul VI (who also issued Humanae Vitae, lest we too quickly charge him with modernism!) recognized this when he named the female doctors of the Church? We must remember not to proof-text, too, but to see the over-all picture of Christ’s message. Do we not learn from Mary what it means to be Christian?

    I’d like, too, to apply John Paul the Great’s theology of the body here. Woman, who stands in active receptivity before man, manifests for men the stance that all of humanity is to take before God. Priests, then, standing in persona Christi most clearly image this aspect of God called “the initiation of the gift” to their congregation (the Church is, after all, the Bride of Christ). We see this especially at the Eucharist, when Christ offers himself bodily to us through the priest. Religious, then, spiritually live and witness this active receptivity before God, though religious nuns and sisters most clearly image this to us due to their biology. Ephesians 5 deals specifically with the husband/wife relationship and how it images the love Christ had for his Church–that is, he gave up his life for her, and he now nourishes her with his very body.

    Now, with the issue of the female doctors: did they claim that they were imaging God, or standing in persona Christi? If not, if they stood in active receptivity before God, if they lived a life truly manifesting the relationship with God that all of humanity is to have, then they were “teachers” simply in that. Indeed, as the Church is our home, these religious–one might say all religious–were the “hearts” of the home, teaching the children of the Church how one is to love and fear God. I must, then, draw the conclusion that as long as they did not claim to be in persona Christi, there is no heterodoxy or confusion of roles in naming them as doctors of the Church.

    If we can come to see how wrong slavery is, if we can come to recognize the equality of all humanity (until the mid-twentieth century, how many of Africa’s, Latin America’s, and Asia’s bishops were European?), then surely we can, with Paul, see the equality of man and woman. Only a man can be a priest because only a man can be a father; just so, only a woman can be a mother, and is a mother’s duty not to teach? If we all stand in active receptivity before God, surely some who show us the way are male while others are female. This has nought to do with ordained ministry: each part of the Body is called to help and work with the others, submitting to all others for fear of Christ.

    May God be praised, now and forever! Servant of God, John Paul the Great, ora pro nobis!

  25. Josh says:

    Scott N. accurately describes why this is not an “error”, but I would question whether the Church’s indefectibility is even in play here. “Doctor of the Church” is just a liturgical designation that entitles certain saints’ festivals to take elements from an additional Common, that of Doctors. They are already saints – is allowing a different antiphon on the Magnificat of their Office even within the scope of indefectibility?

  26. Scott N. says:

    I would offer the reminder that the three reasons in Msgr Williamson’s note originate not with His Excellency, but with Saint Thomas.

  27. Athanasius says:

    A development that coincided with the rise of feminism and the dissolution of Christian culture and the family. Seeing as how the Church’s policy in 1970

    This is not entirely true. In 1925 the faculty of the University of Salamanca declared St. Teresa of Avila a doctor of Spain, and asked the Bishop to petition Pius XI to name her a doctor of the Church. Concurrently Pope Pius XI was also being petitioned by the Bishops in Normandy to make St. Therese of Lisieux a doctor of the Church. Pius XI declared that sex may be a problem, but made no official ruling and decided to pass the buck to another Pope. Then it got forgotten about during the war and its aftermath.

    It was not an idea that was invented during the 70’s. Now it may be that feminism had some to do with it, but they didn’t invent it, and good solid pre-vatican II theologians suggested it.

    I think the issue is moot, because when the Church declares a doctor, she does not say that person X is a archetype of a Theologian, but rather the Church utilizes the teachings of the said doctor. She does not make them an official teacher in the sense St. Paul was applying that, which was a liturgical context. Otherwise the Church could not have abbesses, or have tolerated female rulers such as Eudoxia in 4th century Constantinople. Thus I don’t see a problem with a female doctor. The Church isn’t making the female saint into a priest, and it provides no basis for raising women in the liturgical context, such as altar girls and women priests. I think it is in fact a development of theology, not a mere innovation.

  28. Brian Crane says:

    I would offer the reminder that the three reasons in Msgr Williamson’s note originate not with His Excellency, but with Saint Thomas.

    Scott: this has already been addressed, and we have concluded that Msgr Williamson was applying St. Thomas’ teaching incorrectly. We are looking to give theological reasons why it is not a problem for women to be proclaimed doctors of the Church. Athanasius has proposed some in the post following yours.

  29. Michael says:


    How did those doctors from Salamanca deal with the fact the St. Teresa was a woman? This was a departure from tradition so I assume they at least addressed it.

  30. Diane says:

    Speaking of the “nutty aunt in the closet”, that is how St. Teresa of Avila has been looked upon, in her own time, and moreso now on the campuses of colleges who are Catholic in name only.

    Perhaps by naming her a Doctor of the Church, the Pope gave her writings one more notch of credibility for those earnestly seeking perfection in the spiritual life. The finest priests I know have learned well from the “teachings” of this saint.

    Perhaps at the root of the issue is what a Doctor of the Church is and it seems to mean something different for various groups of people. What is the mind of the Church and is it limited to tradition or history?

  31. Berolinensis says:

    I am quite amazed that everyone here seems to agree that the Holy Father simply declared these women Doctors of the Church without further explanation. Perhaps you would care to read John Paul II’s quite lengthy Apostolic Letter on that occasion, Divini Amoris Scientia:

  32. Berolinensis says:

    The occasion of St. Thérèse of Lisieux’s proclamation as a Doctor of the Church, that is.

  33. Rob Collorafi says:

    Dear Christopher,

    Yes, the Polish Pope did have nuns who helped take care of the household,
    both in Krakow and in Rome.

    He also had nuns as well as laymen who taught theology, as well as in his theological circles helping him among other things prepare the submission of the so-called ‘Krakow school’texts to Pope Paul VI in 1968, some of which (sadly not all of which), was used in Humanae Vitae.

    Additionally,he was very close to a large group of Catholic Polish intellectuals(many of whom, suprise – suprise, were women!) with whom he would go hiking and kayaking, discussing the most crucial questions of life and theology in the Tatra mountains.

    As these young people entered into marriage, he both celebrated their marriages and baptized their children. It was the insights gained from these encounters with these people that he formulated his thoughts on married love, which in the book Love and Responsibility caused an ‘ecclesiastical shockwave’ by being one of the first works by an ecclesiastic to focus on the needs of women in the intimacies of married love.

    I would also add that as Pope, his discourses on Ephesians 5:22 caused additional stir by emphasizing the fact that both husband and wife need to ‘be subject to one another’ in marriage.

    So what made this Pope truly beloved to laypeople both then and now was that he believed that the first role of a pastor was to walk with his people in everything but sin, and not to remain aloof from them outside of Mass and Confessions.

    This meant that he entered into their real life existence, teaching and guiding them to enter into the fullness of their participation in the ‘royal Priesthood of Christ’, whether in their married love, work in the world or participation in the sacred liturgy.

    That’s true love for the sheep, not the remote, pompous, barely civil ecclesiastic who tries to drive women into a inferior status in the church (and home!), good for one thing – namely having as many little Catholics as possible, as praiseworthy (within due limits) as that is.

    Why don’t we spend our time focusing on the real needs of women–which we can discern by simply asking them.

  34. Gil Garza says:

    It should be noted that in context, 1 Tim 2:12 is concerned with the role of women in Liturgy. Since the presence of women in Christian worship was itself new, certain safeguards were taken to avoid any pagan associations. These safeguards included:

    1. Women were not to dress like Temple prostitutes (vs 9-10).
    2. Women were not to behave like Temple oracles (vs 11-12).

    Therefore, Paul reminds Timothy that women have the same role as lay men in Liturgical worship while being careful to avoid pagan ritual associations. Paul also reminds the Corinthians (1 Cor 14:34) that women should be quiet during worship. The Greek verb for “be quiet” indicates that Paul is asking women to “hush” in the liturgical assembly and stop the whispering and bantering.

    It would be a clear abuse of the texts, in my opinion, to try to use them to silence women in every regard and in every circumstance as Bp Williamson appears to do.

  35. Matthew Mattingly says:

    I am always amazed by Bishop Williamson. He has always been the most ultra-traditionalist of the four bishops consecrated bby Archbishop Marcel lefebvre, and He apparently also has been in disagreement with his fellow bishops in the SSPX over relations with the Vatican, taking a much more negative view of Rome than the others.
    Some of his points are very valid. Others are very peculiar.
    He does not seem, an least, to be a very pleasant person. Maybe I am wrong.
    That he is such an untra-traditionalist Catholic (which absolutely is not a bad thing), I always found so humerous because Bishop Williamson was actually born into the Church of England (Anglican), which is absolutely one of the most ultra-liberal (except maybe for 20-30 Roman Catholic diocese around the world) of all Churches in the Christian world. Whenever I see an Anglican woman bishop dressed in full regalia, I always want to laugh. It looks so ridiculous!

  36. Michael says:

    Rob Collorafi,

    I think even better than asking women what they want would be to ask God what he wants for women. Scripture and the doctors of the Church have much to say on that. JPII was one of thousands of opinions.

    To be honest, I really don’t think clerics of the past were as misogynistic as NOW and every habitless nun in America would have us believe. There was no lack of vocations in those houses where women wrapped themselves up in wimples, and nothing has been gained by putting feminist nuns in charge of the the spiritual upbringing of our children or the direction of the Church.

    Yes, there were gender roles back then, but that was a good thing. This doesn’t translate in modern times, but it was perfectly acceptable to Christians before liberalism, and existed in every culture up until relatively recently. And I certainly think it’s possible for a husband and wife to read Ephesians as it always has been read and lead happy lives. The happiest wives I know CHOOSE to be obedient to the husbands. For this reason, many people disagree with the Pope on the matters you mentioned. But I guess that’s the difference between a traditionalist and conservative.

    Pius XI: “Domestic society being confirmed, therefore, by this bond of love, there should flourish in it that “order of love,” as St. Augustine calls it. This order includes both the primacy of the husband with regard to the wife and children, the ready subjection of the wife and her willing obedience, which the Apostle commands in these words: “Let women be subject to their husbands as to the Lord, because the husband is head of the wife, as Christ is the head of the Church.”” (Casti Connubii, 30).

    “For if the man is the head, the woman is the heart, and as he occupies the chief place in ruling, so she may and ought to claim for herself the chief place in love….Again, this subjection of wife to husband in its degree and manner may vary according to the different condition of persons, place and time. In fact, if the husband neglect his duty, it falls to the wife to take his place in directing the family. But the structure of the family and its fundamental law, established and confirmed by God, must always and everywhere be maintained intact.” (Ibid).

  37. Syriacus says:

    I am opposed to Bishop Williamson as “Doctor of the Church”. Period.

  38. Berolinensis says:

    Gil Garza,

    that is very insightful, thank you very much. Could you give any citations?

  39. Bernard says:

    It would be interesting to know whether Catherine, Teresa and Therese understood themselves to be, in any theological sense “teachers”. Or whether men would one day transform them into such. This discussion reminds me of the debate on Mary Magdalene in recent years and the ways in which we mythologise women and project our ideals onto them.

  40. John Hudson says:

    The status of Doctor of the Church seems to me an approval of the *writings* of a particular saint, as being reflective of the teaching authority not of that individual but of the Church. That is, it is the Church as a teacher that approves those writings of the saints as, if you like, textbooks to be used in conjunction with the teaching documents of the Popes and councils. We have the nihil obstat and imprimatur to signify that a particular work is free from doctrinal error, usually on the authority of a bishop; we have the status of Doctor of the Church to indicate that a saint’s writings are something more than free from error but are actually approved and recommended as reflecting the teaching authority of the Church.

  41. Marilyn says:

    I would like to thank everyone for the thoughtful discussion of this issue; I have wondered how to read Paul’s prohibition of women teachers, most especially because I AM a teacher. Many of your comments have given me much food for thought.

  42. cor ad cor loquitur says:

    Here is Bishop Williamson on women in trousers (from his letter of January, 1991).

    Clothing divided for the legs obviously liberates the mobile lower half of the body for a number of activities for which clothing undivided like a skirt is relatively cumbersome. Adam then having to earn his family’s bread by the sweat of all kinds of activities outside the home, it is entirely normal for the man to wear trousers, and if a girl gets it into her head to join him in these activities, obviously trousers likewise emancipate her to do so. Shorts are the outward and visible sign of her, liberation from the restricted range of homemaking activities.

    But, in the bishop’s view, the big problem with the world isn’t trousers or feminism (‘intimately connected to witchcraft and satanism’) or even the ordinary form of the Mass but that evil, semipornographic film, The Sound of Music.

    From his November, 1997 letter:

    The problem with The Sound of Music is that it is not just the innocent entertainment that it seems to be … Such romance [between the characters played by Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer] is not actually pornographic but it is virtually so, in other words all the elements of pornography are there, just waiting to break out. One remembers the media sensation when a few years later Julie Andrews appeared topless in another film. That was no sensation, just a natural development for one rolling canine female.

    From his January 1998 letter:

    As for the Catholic religion, it is powerless to restrain such horrors [sexual abuse of children] because it too has been made “cute” by the soft culture (e.g. “Sound of Music”), and it has been subordinated by Vatican II to American-style religious liberty.

    = = = = =

    If these bizarre remarks are at all characteristic of the bishop’s ‘insights’, then I think we can safely ignore any views he may have on Sts Catherine of Siena, Teresa of Ávila and Thérèse of Lisieux. [It would be respectful of the bishop to spell their names correctly, as well.]

    May these great Saints and Doctors of the Church continue to pray for and enlighten all of us.

  43. Dob says:

    Well, as a woman I think we may look at reality. It is my experience that men do not like woman teaching them. They seem to resent female correction and direction. It is my experience that women prefer men to teach them. Even if those men are less competent than a female alternative (although there are limits to the level of incompetance). I have found some exceptions but they are extraordinary in my experience.

    If these observations are a fair reflection of reality you then need to ask is it culturally inbred or is it an inate characteristic of the sexes. I believe it is inate. The most perfect way is to respect these differences and bring them to full fruits. Female thinking spans outward in all directions. Male thinking is quite focused. We need both to inform each other. Would you say John of the Cross and St Francis of Assisi have more in common with all the female doctors than most of the male? I believe it is so. Who would not recognise their lives as having great instructive value? So I would not have a problem with female Doctors of the Church but I do think public teaching roles are a bit problematic as a general principle. However, there are exceptions and there should be a way for theses exceptions to be harnassed.

    Men and woman are not equal in gifts. The gifts are different and to speak of equality is impossible. It would be better to respect the different gifts and
    ensure there is a way for all the gifts to come through for the good of the Church.

  44. WRiley says:

    The idea that a woman cannot be a Doctor of the Church is error. The Mother of God, as a human person, is in reality the Supreme Doctor of the Church, she is the “Sedes Sapientae.” St. Ambrose states that Mary is, “the prototype of the Church.” The Church is the teacher of humanity, thus Mary is the truest doctor of the Church. Last time I checked Mary is a woman, with a glorified woman’s body. Perhaps bishop Williamson should confess the Catholic faith, while there is still time.

  45. Nick says:

    First of all the “proofs” given by the Bishop were simply silly and the level of reasoning wasquite embarrassing for someone of that status.

    Anyway, I was going to post asking if the REAL problem here is that the limited title/status/honor of “Doctor” was being some how cheapened by tossing the title around to every Saint that became popular. Similar to how the PhD (often translated: Piled high and Deep) has been cheapened due to the fact so many have PhDs and they are not as difficult to obtain (not to mention just about EVERY field of study offers doctorate programs).

    WAS this a liberal/modernist/feminist trend? I decided to look at the actual data (the best source I found was Wiki with a table of Doctors):

    Check out that link.
    Here is a breakdown of the data:
    4 doctors in 1298

    5 doctors in 1568 (4 Eastern Saints)
    1 doctor in 1588

    3 between 1720-29
    1 doctor in 1754 (St Leo the Great)

    2 between 1828-30
    1 doctor in 1851
    2 between 1871-77
    3 doctors in 1883 (Both St Cyrils, St Damascene)
    1 doctor in 1899
    3 between 1920-26 (St John of the Cross)
    2 doctors in 1931
    1 doctor in 1946 (St Anthony of Padua ~1231)
    1 doctor in 1959
    2 doctors in 1970
    1 doctor in 1997

    This shows this title was a “late” development in Church history (700 years ago), further about half(!) of them were promoted in about the last 175 years. There were 7 between 1920 to 1959! I pointed out some names to give an idea of when certain people were canonized, including 2 “Eastern periods” likely when Rome wanted to reach out to the Eastern Catholics.

    It could very easily be argued this is a genuine development, and I will admit I wasnt expecting to find this data.

    The problem is the danger of making every saint a Doctor, however I would bet there is going to be some time gap before another is promoted.

  46. Ed says:


    With all due respect to your person, I must disagree with your assessment of John Paul’s theology of the body and its reading of Ephesians 5. He stresses multiple times the necessity of the submission of both the wife and the husband to Christ. At all times in the Gospels, Jesus lives the Christian life as “head” of the “body” via service. Surely, the Christian is to be obedient to Christ; yet how often do men today as well as the past fail in their duties, in which case, as you quoted Pius, “if the husband neglect his duty, it falls to the wife to take his place in directing the family.” A wife should be obedient to her husband as the Church is obedient to Christ, yet Christ never abuses his power by demanding that our submission should depersonalize us. In too many cases, the submission of women to their husbands objectifies them. On a related note, much of early Christian language is taken from the imperial language of the day. The emperors proclaimed “gospels,” claimed to be the “sons of God,” and called themselves “lord.” Jesus and Paul both routinely turned this imperial language upside down: the peasant whom you crucified is Lord, is alive, is truly the Son of God, and offers the Gospel to ALL men. Would we not be robbing Paul of his wits if we were to forget this fact? Is he not telling the flock: You are accustomed to the total submission of wives to husbands? Fine! You shall continue to practice this submission, but as Christians the wife is to submit to her husband as the Church submits to Christ! Finally, you refer to John Paul’s teaching as “one of thousands of voices” on the matter. His is magisterial, besides being well informed philosophically as well as theologically. That’s the trump card.

    What does this have to do with the on-going conversation? As I wrote earlier, part of our Christian duty is to help one another to live the Christian life. If the writings of these saints can so help us in that regard, there simply can be no issue in the declaration of “doctor”; regardless of gender, we all are offered the gift of God as members of humanity.

    That, anyway, is my reading of John Paul–the recognition that all is gift, that all are submissive to Christ, and that I, as a man, am called to offer my very body in the service of my wife, who submits herself to my spiritual gifts and spousal love, and, in so doing, she too “teaches” me what it means to be a follower of Christ.

    Thanks, too, to all who have submitted. It’s been a very interesting discussion to follow.

    God be praised, now and forever!

  47. Karen says:

    Has it occurred to anyone that it was still a fairly new concept in the early days of Christianity that women would be present in the assembly AT ALL? Typically women were not in the temple. My take on it is that Paul was telling the women what was proper behavior in the assemblies. One also has to remember that in the early church both men and women gave prophecy.

    Another poster points out that Williamson’s writings in their entirety point to at best a man harboring a grudge about an older sister who outclassed him in every way and at worst, the worst sort of misogynist. I consider him as much a clown in his own way as Cardinal Mahoney.

    What do women want? Hopefully, to do the will of God. But on a personal level we don’t like being treated as some sort of idiot who wants patronizing. While I fully respect the church’s teaching that women should not be ordained to the priesthood, given that we don’t know if we have the right to do so – I do not see that allowing girls and women to serve at the altar comes into it at all. I’m always mildly amused that the people who get the vapors at the sight of an altar girl never get upset when the women lock up the church grounds or assist in counting the collection, or ring the church bell. (All jobs of a porter — you know, one of those other former minor orders.) If they are going to get the vapors about women and girls serving at a Mass, they should get the vapors about a woman counting the collection. Funny how that never seems to happen. For years boys, who were certainly not in minor orders, were allowed to substitute for official acolytes – why should their sisters not be afforded the same opportunity?

    At any rate, I smile to remember that apparently one of the priests whom St. Therese of Lisieux knew as a child used to call her “his little doctor” so wise were her answers in going over the catechism.

  48. Sid Cundiff says:

    I wonder, sunk deep in my Egyptian Night, if this topic is … well, timely. May I offer two reasons for diplomacy, care, custody of the tongue, and custody of the keyboard?:

    1. I suspect that negotiations are in process working toward a reconciliation between the Holy See and the SSPX. Let us pray fervently and invoke the intercession of the Doctors of the Church that this reconciliation will happen, and will happen soon!

    2. Here in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, several kind laity who have attended the SSPX Mass for years have stepped forward and have helped us greatly with our local Mass in the Extraordinary Form. I’m mighty glad they have done so, and I pray they will continue to be so generous. They have a great gift to offer the Church. We need their help. Let’s make sure that they feel welcome.

  49. Mary says:

    Wasn’t it St. Thomas Aquinas who called Mary Magdelene the “Apostle of the Apostles”? Seems if you are going to use St. Thomas Aquinas as the argument against women being Doctor’s of the Church, one would have to explain this honor and title away.

  50. Christopher Sarsfield says:

    With regard to Mary being a doctor of the Church, Mary can not be a doctor of the Church because it is liturgically a much lower title than Mother of God. Also this is why no Martyrs are doctors of the Church. Martyr is a higher honor liturgically.

    With regard to those who dismiss Bishop Williamson\’s arguments because they come from Bishop Williamson, well that is just an ad hominem attack (I also believe it was what Father Z was trying to avoid). I mean really spelling their names wrong because he did not use accent marks. I didn\’t either, can anyone suggest a sufficient penance for my breach?!

    Finally, while a few have tried, the most important part of this discussion would be decide on what constitutes a Doctor of Church. All personal experiences of evil Churchmen subverting women to their domination, makes for excitement, but it does not spread much light on the subject at hand.

  51. JayneK says:

    I found this information at:

    “Paul VI was that eventual successor and less than two months after the conclusion of Vatican II, he instructed the Congregation of Rites to investigate whether “the title and cult of doctor of the church [may] be granted to women, who by their holiness and outstanding doctrine have greatly contributed to the common good of the church.” Cardinal Larrone, head of the congregation, charged a Carmelite, a Dominican, a Franciscan, and a Jesuit to study the question, and on December 17,1967, the congregation endorsed their positive response.”

    I have been looking to find this online to see the reasons they give. As I recall, it includes their interpretation of the II Timothy passage. I can’t find the document so I would appreciate it if anyone who can posts a link.

    I also want to add that I am a homeschooling mother who teaches reading, math, Latin, Greek, etc. to my children. I find that teaching my children is a function of my head just as much as my heart. So I think that part of his argument is wrong, much as I sympathize with his critique of the role of women in modern times. While I agree that there is something very wrong, I’m not convinced that, properly understood, declaring these women Doctors of the Church contributes to it.

  52. Cacciaguida says:

    1. 60 comments on anything said by Williamson is 59 too many.

    2. “I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to use authority over
    the man: but to be in silence.” This is the essence of why some Protestants (a dwindling minority) insist on an all-male clergy, since they have no sacramental reasons. And I think it’s valid as far as it goes — i.e., as far as preaching in an ecclesiastical setting. If it meant (for us) that women should never write books that Catholics in general should be urged to study — well, that would come as news, not only Paul VI, but also to Teresa of Avila’s male religious superiors who ordered her to writer her books.

    3. With due respect, the other two are not “not very strong arguments.” They aren’t even particularly good bad arguments. Of illicitly arousing experiences, I’d say reading a treatise by Teresa ranks in the bottom 5 percent (and in the top 5 percent of spiritually nourishing ones). If I’m missing something here and entering a near occasion of sin by opening The Interior Castle, I hope the community of this blog will warn me.

  53. Donatus Justin says:

    The title “Doctor of the Church” is reserved for men only. Why? Because women has no authority to teach in public and forbidden to speak (teach) in the Church. Women cannot and should not take over the roles of men. We must take heed of Bishop Williamson’s objection. Bishop Williamson has been excommunicated unjustly and yet we still call him by his title ‘Bishop’. Do we want (dare) to fiddle with the Sacred Tradition of the Church? What do we wish to gain by declaring three saintly women as Doctor of the Church? Pride. The time has come for us to be humble and submit to the Truth. The Church cannot give what She has none.

  54. John H. says:

    Mr. Sarsfield says, “the most important part of this discussion would be decide on what constitutes a Doctor of Church”

    I agree completely. What constitutes a Doctor of the Church. The 1918 Catholic Encycolpedia offers three criteria:i.e. eminent learning, a high degree of sanctity, and proclamation by the Church. ( Whithout a doubt these three saints fulfill all three precepts.

    However, if one reads the Traditional Mass for a Doctor in the Roman Missal, there will arise a few isues:
    1) The Mass is not divided between men and women doctors as are the Masses of martyrs.
    2) This is the case for the title Confessor as well, which is not applied to women, but divided amongst Bishops and non-Bishop laymen.
    3) The Mass itself speaks of the Doctor of the day in a specifically masculine sense (cf. The Introit’s use of Eccl. 15:5 “The Lord opened HIS mouth and filled HIM with the spirit of wisdom and understanding, and clothed HIM with a robe of glory.”) The Prayer, the Gradual or the Tract, the Alleluia, and the Offeratory). Thus, as this is a Liturgical title, and the Liturgy in which it was developed and applied seems to suggests its use only for men, the application to women would seem problematic.

    Given these problems, I think Bp. Williamson has a point and perhaps a distinction should be made for those women who contribute to Catholic Spiritual Theology, as these three have done. These were not systematic Theologians as were most of the other Doctors with few exceptions. And insofar as they had promoted a way of life, and not necessarily a system of thought, they could be considered Spiritual or Mystical Doctors, though the term Mistress would seem more suitable given the prohibitions of St. Paul.

  55. David says:

    I do not necessarily disagree with the naming of a woman “Doctor of the Church” as should be clear from my above post, but…

    To reply to some who think it wrong to do so, reducing their argument to make them say that “the Church, therefore is teaching error,” is disingenuous. Infallibility does not mean that everything that comes from the ordinary Magisterium is perfect and we have to accept it and like it no matter what. If the post-VCII Church has taught us anything it should be that the infallible Magisterium may not have ever taught anything in error, it has certainly made numerous pastoral blunders and inopportune pronouncements and actions.

    Perhaps the naming of women as Doctors of the Church was a bit pandering to modernists, and perhaps it needs to be rethought by the Church. No matter how you fall on that issue, no one is making the statement, that I can see, that the Church has taught error.

    2 more cents.

  56. Peggy Halpin says:

    These three Doctors of the Church,named so only after their deaths, must be soo amused by this conversation! Even the Angelic Doctor is purported to have said near his death “All I have written is as of so much straw.” To do God’s Holy Will is the true glory of men and women. To have as I do along with my husband of near 59 years, over 100 off-spring, causes me to cheerish my gender and I would like to transmit my insight to womanhood to every young woman of today. Our “culture” obcures the beauty of womanhood doesn’t it? I’m sure Bishop Williamson had a wonderful mother but one does wonder? She probably prays from beyond as I do from here “Do not let any You have given me be lost”. I join her in her prayer for all our children.

  57. Bailey Walker says:

    I have no difficulty at all with the Church declaring these three women saints to be Doctors of the Church. However, it does bother me that more than 35 years after the declaration regarding Catherine of Siena and Teresa of Avila, there is still no appropriate Office for them. The Liturgy of the Hours’ Common of Doctors of the Church states that everything is taken from the common of pastors except for what is specified. This is not a matter of so-called “inclusive language.” Rather, it is a humble request for richer liturgical texts would more appropriately celebrate the wisdom of these wonderful women saints.

  58. Michael says:


    That same article is the perfect example of why having female doctors is problematic:

    \”Since then too little attention has been paid to Paul\’s prophetic recognition. This twenty-fifth anniversary, should encourage more creative exploration of the role of women as teachers in the church. \”

    …which leaves us with seminaries with lay women teaching theology because \”it wouldn\’t be fair,\” to exclude them.

  59. WRiley says:

    “With regard to Mary being a doctor of the Church, Mary can not be a doctor of the Church because it is liturgically a much lower title than Mother of God.”

    Then there is no bar to women, because “Doctor” is an inferior honorific title. Thank you Mr. Sarsfield for making my point. In the end the competent authority is the Roman Pontiff and he, and he alone, has determined the orthodoxy of the title.

  60. Christopher Sarsfield says:

    Mr. Riley,

    Please read my posts, I am clear about who the competent authority is. But competent authorities can make mistakes in prudence. JPII was the competent authority, who decided that altar girls were fine, but again I believe that was mistake in prudence. I have never denied his authority to do these things. I would say that if they are going to have female doctors of the Church, they should compose a Mass for it. I attend the traditional liturgy, so I had assumed that there was a liturgy for a Doctor of the Church who was a virgin, but I guess the liturgists are too busy writing new Eucharistic prayers, and children’s liturgies. I would also like to see a Mass for a baptized child, who dies before the age of reason. I went a funeral Mass and was slightly offended that the liturgy was asking me to pray for the soul of the child, as if there were some doubt about his being in heaven. The priest was even changing the prayers at graveside, to reflect that the child was indeed in heaven.

  61. John H. says:

    Per my previous post, it is interesting to note the specific Doctrine JPII cited with regard to St. Therese saying, “The spiritual doctrine of Thérèse of Lisieux has helped extend the kingdom of God.” ( (no. 10). This is key I think. It is not Systematic or Dogmatic Doctrine we find in her works. We find in her words how to live a Spiritual life. This is fitting to come from women and men, insofar as many Biblical Canticles of a Spiritual nature were proclaimed by Woman (Mariam, Judith, Mary). We could say the same of St. Catharine and St. Theresa. There is a certain teaching that occurs here, but it is not the same instruction one would find in an Epistle of St. Paul, or even in the Words of the Evangelists. Thus, it would seem fitting to declare women Doctors only in a Spiritual sense as it seems to have been the case in JPII’s declaration of St. Therese as a Doctor.

    Thus, the declaration of these women as Doctors does seem to be a fitting proposal, but the lack of a proper Liturgical reflection of their distinct status as doctors makes their Liturgical celebrations incomplete and confusing.

  62. Jordan Potter says:

    Donatus Justin said: The title “Doctor of the Church” is reserved for men only.

    Not since 1970 it isn’t. Maybe in your church it is still reserved for men only, but in the Catholic Church the title has been granted to three women.

    Why? Because women has no authority to teach in public and forbidden to speak (teach) in the Church.

    We’re not talking about liturgically or public speaking, we’re talking about someone’s writings.

    Women cannot and should not take over the roles of men.

    True, but writing books that teach the Catholic faith is not an exclusively male role.

    Bishop Williamson has been excommunicated unjustly

    As far as I know, nobody held a gun to his head and forced him to receive an illicit episcopal consecration.

    and yet we still call him by his title ‘Bishop’.

    We call Protestant clergy “Rev.” and “Pastor” and even “Bishop,” so why wouldn’t we give the same respect to an episcopus vagantus?

    Do we want (dare) to fiddle with the Sacred Tradition of the Church?

    The practice of granting the title of Doctor of the Church is included in the Deposit of Faith??

    What do we wish to gain by declaring three saintly women as Doctor of the Church? Pride.

    That seems pretty presumptuous a thing to say. Isn’t it possible that what we wish to gain might include a greater appreciation and wider audience for the writings of St. Catherine, St. Teresa and St. Therese?

  63. michigancatholic says:

    I think both “public teaching” and “teaching in the home” alike might require both brains and heart. Just saying. [Does this man not know that these lines are not very clear cut anymore, whatever one might think of that?]

    There’s this little habit that people often have of thinking that just because a person appears to be the front-man, they are doing all the thinking. Very funny, that. A bit of over-literal male logic to which Bp. Williamson falls prey, I suspect. But of course, he’s not the only person with this sort of opinion, not that it changes much of anything one way or the other.

    Reading this, one wonders if Bp. Williamson has ever really read either of the T(h)eresas, who both mentioned their gender occasionally in the context of their writing (particularly St. Theresa of Avila).

    Also it’s entirely appropriate to be able to read things like the works of St. Teresa of Avila because she, for instance, was commanded by the Church to write them and they do people demonstrable spiritual good.

    I’m not really sure what the title “doctor” adds to that except that maybe the church uses it to say “completely trustworthy->this”. Perhaps it’s not particularly important either way in any other sense. I’m not so sure.

    I rather think St. Theresa of Avila, and the other female doctors, would consider their contributions to the spiritual welfare of souls more important than their titles, but that’s just my opinion….

  64. Maureen says:

    One of Mary’s most ancient title patterns is “Queen of X”. It does go along with her preeminent role as Queen Mother of Heaven, yes. But the point is not her queenship; it is that she is a pre-eminent example of X. So yes, she is “Queen of Apostles”, because indeed God sent her on a mission long before Peter and Co. She was celebrated by the medieval poets as “Queen of Poets”, because she was not just her patron but also wrote the Magnificat. She was “Queen of Angels” not just because the angels served her as part of their service to God; it is because she too was a messenger and herald.

    So it should be remembered that she is also “Queen of Doctors”. It is a minor title not used in every litany, but not one invented yesterday or the day before.

    Finally, I would also remind everyone that there have always been a significant minority of women whose writings are part of collections of “Fathers of the Church”. If Hrideswitha and her plays, or some desert abbess, or even a couple hymns traditionally attributed to Boethius’ wife could be included by non-modern scholars as Fathers studied in patrology, I think it’s a tad late to complain that Therese is a Doctor. *g*

  65. Christopher Sarsfield says:


    Mary is preeminent in all the virtues of every vocation, but she is still Queen of Apostles, not an Apostle. She is not the perfect example of an Apostle, she is the perfect example of the virtues that make an Apostle. She was never sent on a mission that I am aware of in Scripture, unless you hold the Visitation and the flight into Egypt as apostolic missions. She is not the perfect example of a priest (she could not forgive sins, or confect the Eucharist), but she is the perfect example of the virtues that make a priest, therefore she is Queen of Priests.

  66. michigancatholic says:

    Actually Christopher, because of the thorough-going traditional identification of Mary with the Church, your analogy is a bit weak. However, you’re right in saying that Mary never was a particular Roman Catholic priest. It’s true that even though she is a teacher by example of the highest order, and many priests depend on her for their own vocations every day of their lives, she never was herself a priest. She didn’t need to be.

    Brian, I’m not so sure that all of what you say is true. Even though many links have been broken, the implicit modern line of thought is still there: “Why if I can be an altar server, I can’t be a priest?” You know that if moms can get their daughters to serve as altar boys, then they can talk them into the other line of thought too, and for the same exact reason you state.

  67. brenda says:

    I wanted to take issue with John H’s suggestion that the Traditional Mass for a Doctor is inappropriate for a female doctor.

    The failure to divide the Office between men and women, and the smaller number of categories for female saints, surely simply reflects history rather than constituting a problem in itself.

    And do we really want to suggest that the injunctions to seek after wisdom in Ecclesiasticus (in the Introit), or to fear the Lord in the Psalms (tract) literally means only men here, rather than being inclusive? Personally I can’t see why the Office as written couldn’t be used for the three female doctors.

  68. Clara says:

    This thread may be more or less dead, but I just wanted to say: aside from being generally a loose cannon, I think it’s clear that Bishop Williamson’s views on women are very seriously contrary to Catholic teaching, (including — perhaps especially! — St. Thomas’ teaching.) He gives his claims the trappings of a sympathetic argument (sympathetic to his intended audience, anyway) by talking about the need to re-emphasize “gender roles.” But when you delve more deeply into his ideas about the appropriate “role” for women, it turns out that they really are not supposed to exercise reason at all; indeed, he almost seems to think it unnatural for them to think discursively. In a Catholic understanding, that is tantamount to saying that women are not human.

    This is not just an ad hominem attack on the bishop. It’s relevant to the discussion, because the document in question includes some of his pernicious ideas in less-developed form, and I think it’s important for people to recognize how shockingly antithetical to the faith his line of thinking really is. That doesn’t necessarily imply, of course, that women *should* be called Doctors. I’ll remain silent on that point. But either way, Williamson is wholly unreliable and should not be used as a touchstone in any such debate.

    The best place for getting to the core of his views is his piece on “Girls at University.” You can read that here:

    About a year or so ago, I got fed up with hearing people praise this document, and wrote a rebuttal on my own blog, which explains at greater length my reasons for thinking that the Bishop is seriously unCatholic in his teachings on women. I don’t normally do this, but if you’d care to look, that’s here:

    It’s not all relevant, since the subject of that post was higher education, but as regards Williamson and women, I think it’s applicable. (But if anybody does check it out, don’t bother with the comments. Looking back, I was surprised to find that only about the last third of the conversation remains on the site. I don’t know who deleted the rest, but it may have been my husband, who sometimes gets quite angry when guests to our site are rude to me. Anyway.)

  69. John H. says:


    That’s fair enough. The passages do apply to women in a general way, but to place them in a Mass for women is inappropriate. Scripture is full of passages more suitble for a Common of women saints, that is why the Common of Martyrs has been divided among men and women. I am not slighting the TLM. The TLM was last revised 2 decades before the first female doctor was declared, so there is no problem there. The problem is that the declarations did not make the proper liturgical additions and adjustments as would seem appropriate. The Liturgy of the Common of Doctors is entirely and almost exclusively masculine in its tone. It does not fit well when honoring a woman. And if women are going to be declared doctors, they should be given a suitable liturgy that reflects their ‘femenine genius’.

  70. Mark says:

    Excommunication aside, Richard Willimason seems to believe that men in the Church have always been in the forefront of the fight since the days of St. Paul. Sadly this is not true, the vast majority of Catholic men are today, and have been for quite a few centuries, complacent with letiing the women take the lead in fighting “the good fight.” Thank GOD for these women Doctors of the Church! If men today had half the courage, to practice the Faith unabashedly as these and the Catholic women of today (with at least as much dedication as we give to our jobs, sports,and recreation the Church would be so much stronger for it.

  71. fr. Anselm says:

    Have a look at the collect today for the feast of St. Teresa of Avila from the ‘ancient use’ of the Roman Rite (1962 missal) : Exaudi nos, Deus, salutaris noster : ut, sicut de beatae Teresiae Virginis tuae festivitate gaudemus ; ITA CAELESTIS EJUS DOCTRINAE PABULO NUTRIMUR, ET PIAE DEVOTIONIS ERUDIAMUR AFFECTU (my emphasis). That says it all for me. The ‘doctrina’ of women saints should be recognised, especially when it feeds the members of the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church. And, yes, what about the TEACHING orders of women ?

  72. Okay… time to move along.

Comments are closed.