Do all Catholic seminarians learn Hebrew and Greek?

Or Aramaic or Latin?
How does one become a Biblical scholar? Do Catholic Bible scholars have to be priests?

The Code of Canon Law mandates that seminarians be proficient in Latin. Whether that happens in practice varies. Hebrew and Greek are offered but aren’t necessarily required. The basic credential for ministry from US seminaries is the M.Div, and those languages aren’t usually required for it. If one does more advanced academic studies at the seminary alongside the M.Div, an MA in Theology or an STB, then those languages might be required, particularly for a concentration in scripture. And one doesn’t need to be a priest to be a biblical scholar. Laymen can attend a Catholic university and earn an advanced degree in theology in any concentration.


Hebrew and Greek? Aramaic or Latin?
Depends on the seminary and how the seminarian came in (college seminary vs. later vocation). Generally speaking, there will be courses in Greek and Latin (more of an emphasis on Greek, given Ecclesial Latin seems to be declining in usage). There may be a course or two on Hebrew, and most likely no course in Aramaic at the M.Div./S.T.B. level.

That being said, again, depending on where and how the seminarian came to the seminary, there may be no languages.:rolleyes: Yes, it is true that Canon 249:

Can. 249 The program of priestly formation is to provide that students not only are carefully taught their native language but also understand Latin well and have a suitable understanding of those foreign languages which seem necessary or useful for their formation or for the exercise of pastoral ministry.

…calls for Latin, but really if you notice the wording, it sort of “punts” this to the Program for Priestly Formation, which is put out by each individual Bishops’ Conference, in our case the USCCB: (emphasis mine)

  1. Besides philosophical and theological studies, the pre-theology program should strive to provide seminarians with an understanding of the historical and cultural context of their faith. Those who begin pre-theology without a solid liberal arts education should be provided a curriculum that supplies for lacunae in this area. The Catholic intellectual tradition (e.g., literature and the arts) should be a part of such a curriculum. Education in rhetoric and communications as well as language study is appropriate for a pre-theology course of studies. Latin and Greek are especially important. The study of Spanish or other languages used where one will serve in pastoral ministry should be included in the course of studies throughout the period of priestly formation, including pre-theology.

As you can see, the wording is similarly “vague” in regards to how strongly learning Latin & Greek are as imperatives. Speaking from my experience in the seminary, this vagueness is a common complaint by those in charge of Formation.:shrug:

How does one become a Biblical Scholar?
“Officially”, by going to the Biblicum and earning a Licentiate in Sacred Scripture (S.S.L.) or a Doctorate in Sacred Scripture (S.S.D.).

Unofficially, there are many programs, even in the United States, which treat the various disciplines in scripture studies. One really becomes a “Biblical Scholar” by doing scholarship that relates to the Biblical texts. :compcoff:

Do Catholic Bible scholars have to be priests?
No, they can be any person willing to put in the work. :thumbsup:

Normally 6 credits in Latin. Most dioceses or orders will not let that slide, but some might. Greek is easier to slide by without.

Not many seminaries are equipped to teach Hebrew. None that I know of are equipped to teach Aramaic.

Spanish is the new Latin, at least in the States…

I knew many Catholic seminarians who did learn Hebrew and Greek.

I think that for one to properly understand and proclaim the Word of God, reading it in the original languages is crucial. It’s also important to be able to read Patristics in the original.

No they don’t have to! Lol but they should. Former seminarian myself. I studied Hebrew in my undergrad and LOVED it. Took two years. One of the best decisions I made class-wise was to take Hebrew.
I also took Greek my first year of seminary after undergrad. Enjoyed that too.
Yes, Latin is probably more important. But being able to point to the Stuttgartensia or the Septuagint to help clarify your parishioners with what the text is really saying is invaluable. Especially if the priest is in the Bible Belt, there are a lot of fundamentalists who all claim they know what an isolated verse means.
Given that the seminarian has a strong understanding of Church tradition, knowing Hebrew and Greek–I don’t think you could ever underestimate its usefulness. I kept telling my brothers in seminary that they should learn Hebrew and Greek. I’d talk all the time about how amazing Hebrew is as a language. It’s so incredibly fascinating.

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