Friday, August 17, 2012

Were the Doctors of the Church wealthy?

Were the Doctors of the Church wealthy? My answer is for the most part - yes.

I briefly read through the biographies of the 33 Doctors of the Church and found that most were explicitly stated to be from wealthy families. Only 3 were definitely from poor families. Doctors of the Church are largely known for their religious writings and for much of Christian history, only the wealthy could afford to learn to read and write. Therefore it makes sense that these saints came from these families.

However, this was not always the case. There could be more to it than that. Perhaps these saints had already experienced the benefits of material possessions so they were anxious to find deeper meaning in life. Wealth also provided a high level of security. People in poverty are constantly trying to make ends meet, wondering where their next meal is coming from. In this environment, a person does not have much time or energy to contemplate theological issues.

There may be many reasons, but the statistics clearly show that most Doctors of the Church were well off.

Here is a breakdown of my findings:

  • Definitely wealthy or of noble birth: 19
  • Unknown family socioeconomic status: 8
  • Unclear but probably well-off: 3
  • Definitely poor: 3

Doctors of the Church occupying the definitely poor group:
  1. Peter Damian
  2. John of the Cross
  3. Robert Bellarmine

Doctors of the Church occupying the unknown group:

  1. Bonaventure
  2. Peter Chrysologus
  3. Pope Leo I
  4. Albertus Magnus
  5. Cyril of Jerusalem
  6. Ephrem the Syrian
  7. Lawrence of Brindisi
  8. Teresa of Avila
Doctors of the Church occupying the probably fairly well-off group:
  • Cyril of Alexandria
  • Catherine of Siena
  • Therese of Lisieux

If anyone can shed more light on these, please post a comment. Thanks.


  1. Teresa of Avila would have been in the Spanish upper middle class, I'd say. Not rich, but definitely not poor.

    In the pre-modern era, the "rich" would have been over-represented because you needed money to be educated.

  2. Catherine of Siena's family was lower middle-class faction of tradesmen, she lived under a vow of poverty from the age of 16 and before that while living at home she lived in the garden tool shed and eat very little. She never learned to read or write. Her writings were dictated to someone else and when she read it was by miraculous Divine intervention.

  3. Why this obsession with making material wealth "okay"?!