Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

As we celebrate the 175th Anniversary of the Archdiocese, we look back… on July 16, 1978 when the first Mass was held at St. Monica Church, Northford.
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MsgrLiptak_TNQ. I have long been curious as to the courses in theology that a seminarian is required to study prior to ordination. Is there any set sequence, or does the seminary course of studies entail so-called "electives"? And why is it that some seminarians seem to go through more years of study than others?

A. Yes, there is a general "grid" of courses arranged in a sequence during the four or five years of theological study required of seminarians after completion of college studies.

During college, most seminarians take the usual courses in the humanities toward acquisition of a bachelor’s degree (e.g., the B.A.). This should include courses in history, literature, English composition, languages (college Latin, plus some foreign languages such as German, Spanish, French, Italian), educational psychology, college chemistry, physics, mathematics, sociology, etc. However, the last two years of college especially should focus on solid philosophy, not only because it really is the queen of the human sciences, but also because it constitutes the overall idiom in which theology is done. (Seminarians need to be introduced to logic, epistemology, metaphysics, etc., in order to theologize reasonably.)

Theology ordinarily constitutes a four- or five-year program following completion of college.

The sequence reflects the two principal approaches to theology, and (in my preference) can be described as dogmatic theology (e.g., the study of the Creed) and moral theology (the study of human acts – ethics, in other words).

In my own seminary days at St. Bernard’s in Rochester (then probably the West Point of America’s seminaries, as one historian has noted), we had major courses daily in these separate approaches: dogma and moral. When, as a priest, I was drawn into seminary administration beginning in 1980, I chose the St. Bernard’s model as the norm. This norm provides for all the necessary courses in proper sequence but also allows for alignment with requirements of the Regents of the State of Connecticut in the context of the Master’s Degree (in Divinity or Religious Studies). Full accreditation regulations can vary from State to State but generally fit readily into a solid seminary curriculum.

Dogmatic theology begins with courses in: (1) the nature of divine Revelation, (2) the existence and nature of God, the Creator of heaven and earth (monotheism), (3) the Blessed Trinity, (4) the Incarnation and Christology, (5) the Redemption, (6) the Church (ecclesiology), (7) the seven sacraments, (8) the four last things (eschatology), (9) divine worship and prayer, and, if not treated in one of the above areas, (10) the dignity of the human person.

Moral theology is as lengthy and intense, but it focuses on human acts. Thus, the very first course in moral theology constitutes: (1) an analysis of the human act, (2) either the Decalogue (the Ten Commandments) or else the Virtues, and (3) a study of the Divine Law and the nature of conscience, (4) the virtues which man is invited to emulate, (5) the nature of sin, and then, (6) conversion and reconciliation.

A knowledge of moral theology is obviously a critical requisite of a priest’s role as confessor.

Highly specialized courses in moral theology are also needed to prepare priests for contemporary challenges to God’s moral law. Such courses include so-called "liberation theology," justice in labor contexts, sexual morality, and (in Pope John Paul II’s phrase) "the theology of the body." Various issues involving the ethics of warfare, capital punishment, and countless problems in assessing new bioethical procedures, etc. (e.g., life and death decisions, "technological reproduction"), are discussed.

In addition to all these courses, seminaries must also offer studies in Sacred Scripture (e.g., the nature of divine inspiration), Biblical languages (especially Greek and Hebrew), and Mariology.

Furthermore, seminarians must take courses in liturgy (theory as well as practice), homiletics (how to write and deliver liturgical sermons, especially at Mass), and the all-important tract (six continuous years at St. Bernard’s in my time) of Church history, beginning with the catacombs and patrology, and closing with the Church in the United States of America and the contemporary world. (Church art is often included in the history courses.)

Finally, a seminary requires at least one course in spiritual theology, including a thorough study of the two main currents in spiritual theology: the kataphatic (reflecting, for example, Thomas à Kempis’s The Imitation of Christ) and the anaphatic (mirroring classics like The Cloud of Unknowing).

In addition to all these, various pastoral theology courses and practicums (e.g., how to confer the sacraments) must be offered. Finally, there are hours dedicated to field education.

alertAt the Spring Assembly of the U.S. bishops, Cardinal Joseph Tobin suggested that a delegation ofbishops go to the border to see for themselves what was happening to newly arrived immigrants, families and children. On July 1 and 2, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. bishops conference, and five other bishops conducted a pastoral visit to the diocese of Brownsville, Texas. Stops included Mass at the Shrine of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle with the community, a visit to anHHS/OBR Shelter and Mass for the families there, a visit to the Customs and Border Patrol processing center in McAllen, TX, and a press conference at the end of their visit. Catholic News Service accompanied the bishops on their border trip. 

  1. Backgrounder and analysis of the bishops’ trip to the border: Cardinal DiNardo told CNS, “You cannot look at immigration as an abstraction when you meet” the people behind the issue.
  2. At final press conference, Cardinal Daniel Dinardo said the church was willing to be part of any conversation to find humane solutions because even a policy of detaining families together in facilities caused “concern.”
  3. Bishops serve soup to immigrant families at a center run by Catholic Charities and listen to their stories. Scranton Bishop Joseph Bambera said he found hope in hearing the people in the room talk about what’s ahead. They didn’t speak of making money but of finding safety for their children, he said, driven by “the most basic instinct to protect your family.”
  4. At an opening Mass he Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle-National Shrine near McAllen, Texas, Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville told Massgoers, “The bishops are visiting here so they can stop and look and talk to people and understand, especially the suffering of many who are amongst us,”

A delegation of U.S. bishops goes on a fact-finding mission at the U.S.-Mexican border to learn more about Central American immigration detention.

Following their visit to an immigrant detention center, U.S. bishops said they are even more determined to call on Congress for comprehensive immigration reform.