Eastern Priestly Formation

I know that the basic academic formation of priests in the Latin Church consists of an in-depth study of philosophy for several years, ofter with other humanities subjects. This is followed by a longer period studying theology and other sacred sciences.

I want to ask if the formation of priests in the Eastern Churches is similar: philosophy + theology. If it is somewhat different, how does it differ? What are the basics for the academic formation of Eastern clergy?

Check this out: bcs.edu/main/home.php It’s the website for the ByzCath seminary in Pittsburgh.

The requirements for ordination in the United States is laid out in the Program for Priestly Formation, 5th edition.

This document has been signed off on by the Major Religious Superiors as well as the Eastern Catholic Bishops so it is not just a document for the Latin Church.

To enter the major seminary a man must have 30 credit hours of philosophy and 12 credit hours of theology. The Masters of Divinity is the norm for the degree that is required for ordination.

Thank you both very much for your responses.

It would appear that the programme of priestly formation, based principally on philosophy and theology, is similar in the Eastern and Western Catholic Churches.

Supplementary question: I can understand the need for priests to be well-educated in theology. Why does the Church place great store on an education in philosophy?

Some philosophy is needed. I am not sure that a whole undergraduate degree is required which is what the 30 credit hours requirement works out to be. That requirement kind of handicaps later vocations who already have a degree, it adds at the very least two years of full time study to their formation. Not really much of an issue with a religious institution who already have long formation periods, mine will last at least 8.5 years.

I have heard that one of the leading bishops behind the PPF, 5th ed., is a proponent of college seminaries, hence the larger philosophy requirements,

Back to the question thought. Some philosophy is needed as some philosophical terms are used in theology and this way they would not need to take the time to teach them in the theology class. Philosophy is much of the ground work of Theology.

When I was applying to one of our eparchies I was told that I should get some philosophy classes and that those should focus on Plato and earlier. Aristotle would be okay but nothing after that. I am sure that is different now as 30 credit hours is a lot of stuff to fill.

Hope that helps.

I’m not sure how much emphasis Sts. Cyril and Methodius Seminary actually put on the study of philosophy. Although they claim to follow the Program for Priestly Formation, I have a friend there right now who didn’t study a lick of philosophy prior to entering the seminary. Perhaps he’s studying some now, but I haven’t gotten that impression in the conversations we’ve had.

The Maronites, on the other hand, follow very closely the Latin seminary structure.

To be a accredited MDiV program the philosophy requirements are there before one can take any theology classes.

Having said that, there are ways around it. As I started university before the PPF came into effect I did not need the 30 credit required by it. If this man you speak of started university before the PPF came into effect as well then what he must have would be different.

It was the rector of Sts. Cyril and Methodius Seminary that told me to get some ancient philosophy before I started there. But alas things worked out differently and I did not end up there.

So what happens in the US? I don’t understand what you mean by “30 credits”. It sounds like you’re doing an undergraduate course followed by a postgraduate one. Have I got that right? What entry requirements do you need? I have no knowledge of the American education system. Are they different if you’re from a religious order? If you’re from a religious order at what stage in your monastic formation do you begin studying for the priesthood?

If I’ve got it right the following happens here in GB: priests enter seminary with the qualifications required to enter an undergraduate university course. The ‘benchmark’ qualification would be the General Certificate of Education (GCE) at the Advanced (‘A’) Level. There are others.They spend six years at seminary. In years 1 and 2 they do a good deal of philosophy and other humanities subjects as well as church history. The latter 4 years concentrate on theology but the students also cover scripture, church history, and canon law. I believe that the whole six years is at undergraduate level. What seems to happen in many after year 3 is they receive a degree, e.g. B.A., which is validated by a British university. At the end of their sixth year they receive a degree such as S.T.B… This latter degree is usually validated by a European university: there’s no Catholic or pontifical universities or faculties in the UK.

In the United States the Major Seminary is a graduate school. To enter the Major Seminary and start studies for the Masters of Divinity (which is the degree required for ordination in the US) is 30 credits of philosophy and 12 credits of theology. That is the equivalent of a bachelors degree in philosophy.

So if one attends a Minor (also called a College) Seminary (which is an undergraduate school) they would get a bachelors in philosophy. For those who start of with a bachelors degree already, then they must fill in what they are missing. How this is done is up to the diocese/religious institute.

When I entered into the pre-novitiate with the Carmelites, I did not have my philosophy requirements. I attended the local Catholic University to complete them as I had to work on my bachelors degree as well, those that I lived with that had bachelors degrees took classes at both the University and the Major Seminary. There was no College Seminary in the city we lived in. Now the pre-novitiate has moved to a city with a College Seminary so the men go to both that and the Major Seminary as needed.

For us in the US if one starts right out of high school it is an 8 year process of schooling. Four years for the bachelors in philosophy and four years for the Masters of Divinity. Then there may be additional pastoral years or such depending on the program. Religious are longer as they usually have an additional year of pre-novitiate (also called postulancy) as well as the novitiate (which is at least a year but could be two). But then most religious institutes today require some sort of undergraduate degree.

Hope that helps.

Yes it does, thanks!

I don’t want to keep going on about this but one last question. If a man in US did an undergraduate degree and then discovered a vocation and accepted by the Church would he still need to do the full 8 years, could he go straight on to the major seminary programme or could he at least get some remission from the 4 years of undergraduate study?

If he had the philosophy credits required he could go straight into the Major seminary. Some dioceses have a candidate house and require such men to live and work within a parish before entry. Religious institutes have the time of pre-novitiate (postulancy) and then the novitiate before one enters into the Major Seminary so if they had their philosophy requirements they would take classes while in the pre-novitiate that would cover some of the Major Seminary courses. No classes can be taken during the novitiate year.

Myself as an example. I entered the pre-novitiate with an associates degree. I needed my bachelors degree and needed to fill the philosophy/theology requirements (as I started before the PPF was enacted I only needed 24/9 credits) so I finished my bachelors degree with 21 philosophy and 9 theology credits. I did this in a year and a half. I then entered the novitiate for a year. After the novitiate I did a summer course to get the final 3 credits of philosophy I needed and started the Major seminary that next fall. We have a man now who is in the Major seminary and is taking a philosophy course at the University as well as you only need to have the philosophy requirements to enroll in the theology courses at the Major seminary, if you do not meet them you can still take the other classes in the MDiV program until you get them. The only requirement that you must have to enter is a bachelors degree.

Thanks for all the info. One thing struck me when you said no classes can be taken during the novitiate. I thought that is one thing novices did: study. Is the novitiate year one only of spiritual formation?

Yes. The classes taken during the novitiate are not for credit and taught by the novice master and those he designates.

The classes are in spiritual formation, charism and history of the religious institute.

In the east ( at least I heard from one eastern priest ) there is no focus on credits or having a masters degree to obtain ordination. Afterall the apostle Peter was a fisher man. God doesnt call the qualified, he qualifies the called. Christ did not choose St.Peter because he was a scholar…no but because he was a man of God.

The priest is given some education on Theology but the focus and what makes a priest is his extreme love for God and to serve the people in simple faith. This is what the eastern priest explained and I agree with him.

I therefore absolutely detest the whole ‘‘masters degree’’ nonsense in order to ordain someone when the focus should be more about that persons spiritual disposition and his love for the Church.

A lot of good men who have no high school behind them ( yet would make great priests ) are being turned away from their true calling just because of educational purposes.

This is something that we are going to have to agree to disagree on.

To learn theology and the other things a priest needs takes more than just a high school aptitude.

Also they are not just in a “masters degree” program but receive spiritual formation as well.

As for being turned away. I am one that believes that God works within and through His Church. God does not call those who can not respond. A calling is not present until it is comes from the Church through the bishop or religious superior.

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