Discourse, Dessert and the Doctors

Sister Judith Sutera | January 18, 2018Judith Sutera2

On Jan. 28, our Sophia Center will begin a series of Sunday afternoon presentations entitled “Discourse, Dessert and the Doctors.”

The subject of these sessions is not medical doctors, but women who have been named “Doctors of the Church.” Only 36 saints have ever been given this title to recognize that their lives and teachings have a significant and universal value that can be useful and important for Christians in any time and place.

It is similar to when modern universities grant the title “doctor” to people who have become experts in their fields. These men and women are declared to be real experts in the field of Christian doctrine. They are people whom the Church authorities feel have reached a noteworthy depth of understanding of the Church’s teaching about some belief or practice.

Some of them were great leaders in the church and well educated in theology, writing important works which explained or promoted Catholic beliefs. But not all of them fall into this category. Some were teachers by the way they lived their lives, and their writings are more about their own journey of faith. One way or the other, they contributed significantly to educating others about some aspect of the faith.

Of the 36 doctors, four are women. They will be the subject of the Sunday sessions: St. Hildegarde of Bingen on Jan. 28, St. Catherine of Siena on Feb. 18, St. Teresa of Avila on March 18, and St. Therese of Lisieux on April 15. Each led a very different type of life in a different century but each one has much to teach.

The subject of the first presentation, St. Hildegarde, was a Benedictine nun in the 12th century. Many modern people think that women in the Middle Ages did not have much influence but Hildegarde, an abbess with an extraordinarily brilliant mind, was quite famous and influential. It would be hard to think of any other person, male or female, whose name is found in books on the history of natural science, pharmacy and medicine, spirituality, drama and music. Recordings of her music are still being made, her books are readily available and she even appears on a German postage stamp.

In her time, she produced an amazing amount of creative work. Especially important for earning her title of doctor was her reflection on salvation history. She had pictures painted of “visions” or images she had experienced, and then she would write at length about their meanings. She was able to illustrate and teach about the great power and love of God, especially as expressed in creation, the conquest of Jesus over evil, and God’s deep relationship with human history and the Church. Her study of natural science and the healing arts was also deeply rooted in her appreciation that God’s love is shown through creation. Her musical compositions were another way of using her creative genius to praise God.

Secure in her own faith, she was not afraid to challenge the Church either. She wrote many letters to the emperor, pope and other leaders criticizing the weakness and corruption she saw. She also went on preaching tours to other cities. In all of it, she always saw herself as merely a “feather on the breath of God,” moving where God willed.

Anyone interested in learning more about the female Doctors of the Church can register (sophiaspiritualitycenter.org) for the 1:30-4 p.m. Sunday sessions, and attend any or all of the four talks. There is no charge but donations are welcome. As the name of the series suggests, a dessert will be served and there will be time for discussion and personal reflection as well as the presentation.