I Stand With Iggy!

Why isn’t St. Ignatius of Loyola a Doctor of the Church?

With recent news that Pope Benedict XVI will appoint Hildegard von Bingen as a Doctor of the Church, I am once again asking (okay, shouting), “Why isn’t St. Ignatius of Loyola a Doctor of the Church?!” No offense, Hilde. I’m really eager to get to know you better – after all, you will be just the fourth woman to make this esteemed list. But I am perplexed why someone who has made such lasting contributions to the Church hasn’t also been formally recognized as a Doctor. Now that legendary Chicago Cubs third baseman Ron Santo will finally be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, maybe I should champion the cause for Iggy to get his seat among the Doctors of the Church?

But let’s back up. Maybe I am asking the wrong question? Should the question(s) instead be: What is a Doctor of the Church and How does one become named a Doctor? 

Our Sunday Visitor’s Catholic Encyclopedia states: “‘Doctor of the Church’ is the title ascribed to a select few writers whose tremendous erudition and insight have been of fundamental importance in the development of Catholic learning. The title does not imply, however, that the entirety of their writing is free of errors.”

As asserted by Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio, Catholic theologian and speaker, there are three requirements that must be fulfilled in order to merit being included in the ranks of the Doctors of the Catholic Church:

    1. Holiness that is truly outstanding, even among saints;
    2. Depth of doctrinal insight; and
    3. An extensive body of writings that the church can recom­mend as an expression of the authentic and life-giving Catholic Tradition.

D’Ambrosio also asserts that the official designation of Doctor is bestowed by the Pope or a proclamation of an ecumenical council.

So let’s unpack this . . .

1. Holiness that is truly outstanding, even among saints

Ignatius was a sixteenth-century soldier-turned-mystic who founded a Catholic religious order called the Society of Jesus, also known as the Jesuits. The Jesuits have been responsible for some rather remarkable accomplishments including:

  • Revitalizing Catholicism and meeting the challenge of the Protestant Reformation;
  • Establishing schools, colleges, universities, and seminaries throughout the world. In the United States alone, Jesuits today run 28 post-secondary schools, dozens of high schools, and even some inner-city middle schools;
  • Founding religious missions in India, Japan, China, South & North America;
  • And for what it’s worth, 35 craters on the surface of the moon are named for Jesuit scientists.
How could all this be, if not for the truly outstanding holiness of St. Ignatius of Loyola?

2. Depth of doctrinal insight

Beyond the impact the Jesuits have accomplished for the Church, Ignatius left a mark unparalleled in modern times with his The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. These Spiritual Exercises have provided guidance and encouragement to millions over time. Pope Benedict XVI even states: “The Excercises are the fountain of your spirituality and the matrix of your Constitutions, but they are also a gift that the Spirit of the Lord has made to the entire Church: it is for you to continue to make it a precious and efficacious instrument for spiritual growth of souls.”

3. Extensive body of writings that the church can recom­mend as an expression of the authentic and life-giving Catholic Tradition

St. Ignatius of Loyola has an impressive body of writings. Beyond the aforementioned Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius of Loyola wrote nearly 7,000 letters which are regarded by Jesuits as an important source of their spirituality.

So I’m back to my original question: Why isn’t St. Ignatius of Loyola a Doctor of the Church? Granted I’m a simpleton in this area, but it seems he meets the criteria described above. Hasn’t he contributed significantly to the formulation of Christian teaching? Haven’t his works proved useful to Christians throughout several ages?

What am I missing? Educate me, please. 


  1. Karey M. says

    Lisa, I’m late commenting on this, but have you read “A Danger to the State” by Philip Trower? It is a historical novel concerning Spanish Jesuits, I found it very educational. My daughter chose Ignatius as her confirmation name.

  2. says

    Ok, you’ve settled it!

    We’ve been arguing over what our son’s middle name will be (he’s due in June)

    My husband wants: John Paul Isidore Isaac
    I want: John Paul Isidore Ignatius

    I think I’ve won, right?

    • says

      Not sure I want to get in the middle of THAT debate, but I sure do like Ignatius. Plus, his feast day, July 31 is the same day as my Dad’s birthday who passed away 3 years ago. Dad was a terrific human being. I would go with Ignatius! ;)

  3. says

    I am totally with you. I am a Spiritual Exercises junkie and I have been wondering for years why St. Ignatius isn’t a doctor of the church!


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