St John of Avila"The Church's Newest Doctor
Pope Benedict XVI has declared that he will soon give the high honor of Doctor of the Church to St John of Avila. He is not to be confused with St John of the Cross who was named a Doctor of the Church in 1926, although the two did know each other.
There are three important criteria for a saint to be named a Doctor of the Church; they are:
- insight into doctrine
- and an extensive body of spiritual writing
John of Avila wrote extensively on what is called his theology of the priesthood and fought for reforms of the priesthood during the tumultuous 15th century. He was denounced to the Inquisition in 1531 and sent to prison for a year; it was during this time that he began his major work, Audi, filia (Listen O Daughter), a guide to the spiritual life, written for a young woman who was living a consecrated life under his direction. While in prison, he also studied the writings of St Paul and is quoted as saying: "I have heard St Paul interpreting St Paul."
St John of Avila is the patron of parish priests in Spain. His feast day is May 10.
Until now, not much has been known about St John of Avila; we don't really hear him referred to much, at least not in North America. With his elevation to Doctor of the Church, I think we will be hearing more about him, and like the other 33 Doctors of the Church, we will learn much from his writings.
St John of Avila on the Priesthood
The Blessed Virgin Mary gave the Word of God his being as a man, begetting him from her most pure blood and becoming his true natural mother. In this no one was, is, or will be her equal. But the sacramental being which the priest gives to God made man, through so exalted a means is similar to what Mary gave. It is a being that at first the Word did not have.6
Since by the power he exercises, the priest has the supreme dignity of acting as mediator between God and man, he must be holy. The Old Testament required holiness for priests who would instruct and offer sacrifice but would not have the sublime dignity of the New Testament priest: "The priests of the Lord offer incense and bread to God; therefore they shall be holy to their God" (Lev. 21:6). Avila interprets the "offering of incense to God" as a reference to the priest's role as mediator. Christ is the only true Mediator and the great High Priest, but the priest shares in Christ's priesthood and thus, at the altar, represents Christ as he offers himself to the Father.7 For this, the priest must live in loving intimacy with the Lord, and be conformed to his image. The other side of his role as mediator is to care in Christ's name for those committed to his care. These he must love more than earthly fathers love their children.
Links of Interest
On the life of St John of Avila (lengthy but worth a perusal)