Doctors of the Church

I just finished reading Pope Benedict XVI’s Doctors of the Church, sent to me by the Catholic Company as part of its reviewer program. I have generally benefitted from the writing of Pope Benedict (particularly his Jesus of Nazareth and his contributions to Mary, Church at the Source) and this book was no exception.

Drawn from the Pope’s weekly general audiences, the chapters of the book present catecheses on thirty-two of the thirty-three Doctors of the Church, that is, individuals who have been recognized over the years for both their “holiness of life and profundity in learning.” For me, some of those selected were people I had no familiarity with, some were names I recognized but knew little or nothing about, and others were old friends. Thus, in reading I learned a lot about some of the Doctors and some new things about others. Even those chapters that gave me no new “information” about the Doctor (like the chapters on Teresa of Avila and Catherine of Siena) were good to read – like spending time with a good friend and being reminded of what I love about them.

What Pope Benedict does so effectively in these catecheses is to not just present a biography of people who are important in Church history, but to convey the core of each of their spiritualities. There are obviously some similarities in them – a deep personal relationship with Christ, a recognition of the importance of Scripture, a recognition of God’s love, and a real and consistent prayer life, which itself is an important lesson for us.

Although there are many things in the chapters on Doctors like Lawrence of Brindisi, Peter Canisius and Isidore of Seville I’m tempted to share, because we are in Advent and because I agree with Pope Benedict’s assessment of the beauty of the images presented, I’ll just share a snippet of the writing of the second Doctor included in the book. Here is an excerpt from St Ephrem’s hymn On the Nativity of Christ that you might like to pray with:

The Lord entered her and became a servant; the Word entered her, and became silent within her; thunder entered her and his voice was still; the Shepherd of all entered here; he became a Lamb in her, and came forth blessing.

The belly of your Mother changed the order of things, O you who order all! Rich he went in, he came our poor: The High One went into her [Mary], he came out lowly. Brightness went into her and and clothed himself, and came forth a despised form…

He that gives food to all went in, and knew hunger. He who gives drink to all went in, and knew thirst. Naked and bare came forth form her the Clother of all things [in beauty].

Lest anyone think Pope Benedict’s writings are only for those with a high degree of theological sophistication (although certainly such people will also benefit from reading his book), this book, as others of his, is written in a very accessible prose style, making it a worthwhile read for all Christians.