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Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas BH Carroll Memorial Building Rotunda (Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, TX).JPG
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, North Carolina 2009-02-21 Binkley Chapel 1.jpg
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, North Carolina

A seminary, school of theology, theological college, or divinity school is an educational institution for educating students (sometimes called seminarians) in scripture and theology, generally to prepare them for ordination to serve as clergy, in academics, or mostly in Christian ministry. [1]


The English word is taken from Latin : seminarium, translated as 'seed-bed', an image taken from the Council of Trent document Cum adolescentium aetas, 'Since the age of adolescence' which called for the first modern seminaries. [2]

In the United States, the term is currently used for graduate-level theological institutions, but historically it was used for high schools.


The establishment of seminaries in modern times resulted from Roman Catholic reforms of the Counter-Reformation after the Council of Trent. [3] These Tridentine seminaries placed great emphasis on spiritual formation and personal discipline as well as the study, first of philosophy as a base, and, then, as the final crown, theology. [4] The oldest Catholic seminary in the United States is St. Mary's Seminary and University in Baltimore founded in 1791. [5] In the United States, Protestant institutions also widely adopted the term 'seminary' for independent graduate schools (separate from a university) to train their ministers. The oldest such Protestant seminary in the United States was founded in Andover, Massachusetts in 1807 as the Andover Theological Seminary and was affiliated with the Congregationalist Church. After two mergers and a number of relocations, Andover is now part of the Yale Divinity School, in New Haven, Connecticut.


General guidelines for seminary formation are set out in the governing document as of 2016 is Ratio Fundamentalis Institutionis Sacerdotalis, 1992's Pastores dabo vobis , and the Code of Canon Law . Seminaries are overseen by regional conferences of bishops. In the United States, the governing document is Program of Priestly Formation: in the United States of America (6th Ed.), published by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2022.

Seminaries in the Catholic Church are divided into minor seminaries for teenagers and major seminaries for adults, including both college seminaries, sometimes also known as minor seminaries, for undergraduate students and post-graduate seminaries for those who already have a bachelor's degree. There are also seminaries for older adults who are well out of school, such as the Pope St. John XXIII National Seminary in Massachusetts, and for other more specialized purposes.

All seminaries are run either by religious orders or by dioceses or other similar structures. Often a seminary will train both that particular order's or diocese's priests and the priests of other orders or dioceses that select that particular seminary for its priests. For instance, Saint John's Seminary in Boston, Massachusetts trains priests for many of the other dioceses in New England which are suffragan dioceses of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston. Either way, a man who seeks to enter a seminary to become a priest must be sponsored by either a diocese or by a religious order.

Often a diocese might be attached to or affiliated with a larger Catholic college or university so that the larger college and its faculty provides more general education in history or theology while the seminary focuses on topics specific to the needs of future priests, such as training in canon law, the sacraments, and preaching, or specific to the particular order or diocese. For instance the Theological College in Washington, D.C. is part of The Catholic University of America.

Further, in Rome there are several seminaries which educate seminarians or already ordained priests and bishops and which are maintained by orders or dioceses from outside of Italy. Many countries have their own pontifical seminary in Italy, usually very close to the Vatican. For instance, the Pontifical North American College, which trains priests from the United States and elsewhere, is supported by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. These colleges usually award degrees to seminarians and priests pursuing further education and specializing in specific fields such as Scripture, hagiography, moral theology, or Canon Law, among countless others. In addition to civil degrees, these pontifical seminaries confer ecclesiastical degrees (Baccalaureate of Sacred Theology, Licentiate of Sacred Theology, and Doctorate of Sacred Theology), which are backed by the Holy See. Only some Catholic universities may bestow these degrees; these are called ecclesiastical or pontifical universities. The only pontifical seminary outside of Italy is the Pontifical College Josephinum, in Columbus, Ohio.

As outlined by the Ratio, Catholic seminary formation is composed of four major components, or dimensions: human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral. The human dimension focuses on the seminarian's ability to relate to others, show etiquette, and care for himself (in what he eats, frequency of exercise, healthcare, etc.). The spiritual dimension aids the seminarian in becoming more responsive to God and forming a habit of prayer throughout the day. It also emphasizes the importance of the Sacraments and liturgy. The intellectual dimension consists of academic classes, usually beginning with a college degree, usually a Bachelor of Arts or a Bachelor of Philosophy, and terminating in a higher degree, such as a Master of Arts in Theology or a Master of Divinity. The pastoral dimension helps to develop pastoral familiarity with situations such as bedside manner, marriage, and life in the parish.

For Catholic seminarians, seminary formation can be divided into four distinct stages of formation.

  1. Propaedeutic Stage: the seminarian primarily grows in prayer and his relationship with God, study of Scripture, and Church teaching. He also significantly grows in the human dimension. This stage lasts from 12 months to three years and can be compared in many ways to a postulant in religious life.
  2. Discipleship Stage: the seminarian begins his academic studies and continues to follow Christ as a disciple. If the he entered out of high school, he usually pursues the Bachelor of Arts, which takes four years. If he did some college, he pursues the same degree, but it may take less time. If he already achieved a college degree, he pursues a two-year Bachelor of Philosophy.
  3. Configuration Stage: the seminarian becomes configured to Christ. At this point, he has a regular habit of prayer. Focus in formation becomes more and more pastoral, as he gets closer to ordination. At the beginning of this stage, he receives candidacy (similar to Tonsure), which means he is expected to eventually be ordained. The seminarian may (depending on his region) begin wearing clerical attire. This stage usually lasts three to four years and ends in Masters degree.
  4. Vocational Synthesis Stage: the seminarian is ordained. He becomes a deacon and transitions into parish life for a period of at least six months. He becomes a priest thereafter, usually becoming a parochial vicar before becoming a pastor.


The International Council for Evangelical Theological Education was founded in 1980 by the Theological Commission of the World Evangelical Alliance. [6] In 2015, it would have 1,000 member schools in 113 countries. [7]

Other uses of the term

In some countries, the term seminary is also used for secular schools of higher education that train teachers; in the nineteenth century, many female seminaries were established in the United States. [8]

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) hosts seminary classes for high school students ages 14 to 18, as part of the Church Educational System. Unlike use in other religious contexts, the word "seminary", in an LDS Church context, does not refer to a higher education program designed to train students that they may obtain a church-based career. [9] LDS seminary students do not get high school credit for their seminary studies.

See also

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  2. XXIII Session, Council of Trent, ch. XVIII. Retrieved from J. Waterworth, ed. (1848). The Canons and Decrees of the Sacred and Oecumenical Council of Trent. London: Dolman. pp. 170–92. Archived from the original on June 10, 2009. Retrieved June 16, 2009.
  3. Glazier, Michael; Hellwig, Monika, eds. (2004). "Ecumenical Councils to Trent". The Modern Catholic Encyclopedia. Collegeville, Michigan: Liturgical Press. p. 263. ISBN   978-0-8146-5962-5.
  4. Rose, Michael S. (2002). Goodbye, Good Men. Regnery Publishing. pp. 217–25. ISBN   0-89526-144-8.
  5. "History and Mission: America's First Seminary". St. Mary's Seminary and University. Retrieved 22 August 2022.
  6. Bernhard Ott, Understanding and Developing Theological Education, Langham Global Library, UK, 2016, p. 23
  7. Brian Stiller, Evangelicals Around the World: A Global Handbook for the 21st Century, Thomas Nelson, US, 2015, p. 170
  8. "The Rise of Women's Colleges, Coeducation". The Women's College Coalition. Archived from the original on September 3, 2011. Retrieved June 24, 2011.
  9. Mauss, Armand L. (2003). All Abraham's Children. University of Illinois Press. pp. 84–85. ISBN   978-0-252-02803-8. Archived from the original on 2016-10-22. Retrieved 2008-09-12.