A Clandestine Hierarchy by Canon Jim Foley

A Clandestine Hierarchy by Canon Jim Foley

(‘Knowledge puffs up’ 1 Corinthians 8.1)

by Canon Jim Foley

There exists in the Catholic Church something I can only describe as a kind of clandestine hierarchy. With this clumsy expression I refer to a hierarchy hidden away in a world of scholarship and spirituality, not to be confused with the better known hierarchy of Popes, Cardinals, Bishops and prelates in which everyone knows his place and has his own dress code. Rather, the hierarchy I have in mind is the reserve of those who have been canonised as saints (and consequently are dead and buried) and who have also been designated by Popes down the centuries as Doctors of the Church (and are in a sense, still very much alive and well in their spiritual and academic legacies).

A third qualification completes the picture and it is here that my present interest lies. By the popular acclaim of scholars and faithful alike, honorific titles have attached themselves to these men and women in an attempt to define, in one word, their contribution to the academic and spiritual life of the universal Church and the reason why they should be honoured in this way. No small task. This process could be counted as a kind of medieval bonus ball.

St-thomas Aquinas 1224-1274

The Angelic Doctor 1224-1274

On occasion the thinking behind the choice of a particular handle is self-evident. Thomas Aquinas OP (1225-1274) enjoyed several, among them ‘Doctor Angelicus’, ‘The Angelic Doctor’, so close was his teaching to the angels and saints.

John Duns Scotus 1265-1308 Statue at Duns Berwiskshire

John Duns Scotus 1265-1308 Statue at Duns Berwiskshire

The same is true of John Duns Scotus OFM. His most prominent title was, and still is, ‘Doctor Subtilis’, ‘The Subtle Doctor’, in so far as he demonstrated a subtlety of insight into problems that had eluded his predecessors for centuries, leaving even Thomas Aquinas behind. It took a canny Scot to get his head round these problems and come up with a subtle solution that left the others with egg on their faces. His most memorable insight was the promotion of the Immaculate Conception.Other honorific titles are less easily diagnosed. Why, for instance, was Robert Cowton OFM acclaimed as ‘Doctor Amoenus’? He lived under the same roof as the Subtle Doctor who was his mentor at Oxford and who,no doubt, often caught him on the back foot. The nearest equivalent to ‘Amoenus’ that I can find is ‘Charming’ but it carries a hint of charming to the point of playing to the gallery. Robert Cowton may have been all smiles outside but his writings were all heavy-going inside. In fact, they have not yet found a publisher after 700 years and I don’t see any evidence of an upsurge in interest at present with the possible exception of Father C. Balic OFM and his confreres in Eastern Europe. Most of the monographs are written in Serbo-Croatian which is not readily accessible to our parishioners in St Augustine’s. Nevermind, interested parties can sometimes get lucky at occasional car-boot sales.

Catherine of Siena

Catherine of Siena

I have no intention of lingering over each title in my provisional list. I say provisional, because in recent times four women have been included among the doctors of the Church: Catherine of Siena (1347-1380),  Teresa of Avila (1515-1582), Theresa of Lisieux (1873-1897) and Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1117) and, to the best of my knowledge, only one has as yet laid claim to an honorific title, Theresa of Lisieux, appropriately enough,‘Doctor Amoris’.

Teresa di Lisieux 1873-1897

Teresa di Lisieux 1873-1897

I have published only a small sample of titles to avoid the tedium of a monotonous litany. I confess that I was surprised that so many Franciscan scholars managed to get on the short list. I was less surprised to find that the diocesan clergy were entirely absent from this exalted company! A more extensive list of candidates would imply that some got in through the back door and have staked a claim for themselves. It will not escape the attention of the Latinists among our readership that I have taken some liberties with the English versions of the titles which follow. Qui potest capere capiat. If the cap fits wear it.


and their honorific titles

Acutissimus: ‘Very sharp’                               Pope Sixtus IV, OFM

Acutus: ‘Sharp enough                                   William of Ware, OFM

Admirabilis: ‘Admirable’                                 Roger Bacon, OFM

A doctoribus doctor: ‘One off’                      Anthony Francois,

Amoenus: ‘Charming’                                    Robert Cowton, OFM

Angelicus: ‘Angelic’                                       Thomas Aquinas, OP

Armatus: ‘Warming for a fight                       Matthias Daring, OFM

Authenticus: ‘The Real Thing’                        Richard of Middleton

Authoratus: ‘Well-connected’                          Richard of Middleton again

Breviloquus: ‘Tight-lipped                              Gui Terreni of Perpignan, OCarm

Brevis: ‘Short’                                                William of Vaurouillon, OFM

Bullatus: ‘Inflated’                                         Roberto Caracciolo, OFM

Clarus: ‘Clear-headed’                                    Peter of Aquila, OFM;

Communis:  ‘Common’                                   Richard of Middleton

Consummatus: ‘Frazzeled’                             Dominic of St. Theresa, OCarm

Contradictionum: ‘Mixed up’                         Johannes Wessel Gansfort

Copiosus: ‘Over the top’                                 Richard of Middleton yet again

Correctivus: ‘Pedantic’                                   William de la Mare, OFM

Curialis ‘Deranged’                                         Peter Aureoli, OFM

Devotus: ‘Dedicated’                                     Bonaventure, OFM

Difficilis: ‘Unintelligible’                                John of Ripa, OFM

Digressivus: ‘Wandered’                                Henry of Ghent

Dulcifluus: ‘Sweet’                                         Antonius Andreas, OFM

Dulcis: ‘Not quite so sweet’                           Humbert of Garda

Egregius ‘All over the place’                          Isidore of Seville

Elegans: ‘Dapper’                                           Peter Aureoli, OFM

Eminens: ‘Up-market’                                   John of Matha

Expertus: ‘Smart’                                            Smart Albert the Great, OP

Exstaticus: ‘Unhinged’                                   Jan van Ruysbroeck

Facundus: ‘Garrulous’                                    Peter Aureoli, OFM

Famosissimus: ‘Very Famous’                        Peter Alberti,

Famosus: ‘Less Famous than above’              Peter of Tarentaise

Firmus et indefatigabilis ‘Hard Man’             Robert Holcot

Fundamentalis: ‘Stubborn’                             John Faber of Borde.

Fundatissimus: ‘Very Basic’                           Richard of Middleton again!

Fundatus: ‘Entrenched’                                  William of Ware, OFM

Generosus:’Condescending’                           Peter de Tune

Illibatus: ‘Harmless’                                        Alexander Alamannicus

Illuminatissimus: ‘Well lit up’                       Thomas Aquinas, OP

Illuminatus: ‘Lit Up to a point’                       Raymond Lull, OFM

Illustratus: ‘Well-illustrated’                           Adam Marsh, OFM

Inclytus: ‘Renowned’                                     William of Macclesfeld, OP

Inflammatus: ‘On fire’                                    Luke of Padua, OFM

Ingeniosissimus: ‘Head well-screwed-on’      Andrew of Novocastro, OFM,

Irrefragabilis: ‘Cannot be beaten’                   Alexander of Hales, OFM

Magnificus: ‘Magnificent’                              Pope Sixtus IV, OFM again

Magnus: ‘Big Man’                                         Big Gilbert the Cistercian

Mellifluus: ‘Flookie-voiced’                           Bernard of Clairvaux

Memoriosissimus: ‘Great memory’                 Ludovicus Pontanus Romano

Nominatissimus: ‘Very good with words’       Stephen Langton

Noster: ‘Our Very Own’                                 Thomas Aquinas, OP

Notabilis: ‘Worth Knowing’                           Peter de Insula

Novus: ‘Trendy’                                              Peter Aureoli, OFM

Ordinatissimus: ‘Very Tidy’                           John of Bassols, OFM

Ornatissimus: ‘Well-groomed’                        John of Bassols, OFM

Perplexus ‘Perplexed’                                     Francis of Marcia OFM

Profundus ‘Out of his depth’                         James of Arcoli OFM

Seraficus ‘Serafic’                                           Bonaventure OFM

Utilis ‘Handy’                                                 Nicolas of Lyra OFM

Subtilis ‘Subtle’                                              John Duns Scotus OFM

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