Theology Degrees

Hi. Currently I am pursuing a degree in nursing at a local community college after leaving a university here in my state. I am doing quite well academically, and I do like the profession. However, I also feel that this is not the end of my studies by far, and I have been considering a degree in theology sometime in the near future after I graduate from my local program and work for a while to save money, and to get on my feet.

I want my mind to be challenged academically and I want my soul to be challenged spiritually. I don’t know–I don’t think–I have a vocation to the priesthood or religious life (although that is not out of the question) so I think the best way for me to respond to what I think is a prompting from God is to study theology in a formal manner. But I am a bit confused as to the differences between the degrees.

I know the academic difference between a baccalaureate, master’s, and doctoral degree. But this STL/Licentiate and STD/Doctor business has me confused. Are these latter two different in a qualitative, substantial way from “regular” theology degrees? What is the difference between a doctorate in theology and the Sacra Theologiae Doctor degree?

The STL the STD are essentially the equivalents of the MA and PhD, respectively, in terms of their academic requirements and rigor. However, the STL and the STD are only granted by universities or seminaries that have been granted faculties to offer these ecclesiastical degrees. The advantage to earning the STL and the STD, as opposed to the MA and PhD in Theology would be for those seeking positions within the Church.

Ecclesiastical Degrees (that is, the STB, STL, and STD) can only be conferred by colleges which have the permission to do so, and this permission comes from the Vatican.

A large part of it depends on what you would do. For instance, since Ecclesiastical Degrees are only awarded by Catholic faculties, it can look good on a résumé if you’d apply to a Catholic school or university for a teaching position. To teach at a Pontifical University, you used to be required to have an STD, not a PhD (I’m unsure if this is still the case).

That being said, an Ecclesiastical Degree does usually have many more requirements than a M.A., or PhD. Most degrees will require you to have a knowledge of more than one other modern language (they prefer German and French), as well as the ability to read Latin in most cases (especially Canon Law). The obtain an STL or STD also takes longer than obtaining a MA or PhD in most cases.

Your best bet may be to talk to an academic you know who has an Ecclesiastical Degree. They’d be most familiar with the course of studies. You could also try calling the recruiting office at a university that awards these degrees (the Catholic University of America comes to mind) and ask around there.

Normally for an ecclesiastic degree you would first need to get an S.T.B. (sacred theology baccalaureate) which is a graduate level program. It is roughly equivalent to a Master’s in theology and tends to be a 2-3 year program. The S.T.L. was an additional 2 years on top of that. A S.T.D. generally had extremely rigerous guidelines for admission and another 2 years to complete.

Think of the S.T.B. as the introduction to the various areas of theology. It would cover a broad swath of things (mariology, moral theology, sacramental theology). An S.T.L. used to be the minimum requirement to teach at an ecclesiastic university. That degree is more focused on research in a specific discipline like sacramental theology. The S.T.D. is almost a capstone to the S.T.L. in that it further focuses on the work one started with the S.T.L. For instance if the focus of the S.T.L. was in sacramental theology, your S.T.D. might further focus on specific aspects of the sacrament of matrimony.

I believe when I looked a couple years ago I would have to add two semesters of philosophy and Latin before I could enroll in the Catholic University of America’s S.T.B. program. So in total I would have needed 4 years to complete an S.T.B. or about 7 for an S.T.L. I then looked at a Masters of Theology program where I could immediately start focusing on the sacramental theology of marriage. In general I could complete it in about 3 years. For me the Th.M. is the better path for what I want to accomplish.

An ecclesiastical degree would spice up your resume, but it’s also not as though most places would scoff at a mere PhD. :wink: If you want to get a job teaching at one of the handful of universities in the U.S. that offer those degrees, you would want to go that route. As L Marshall said, it is usually a bit more intensive – particularly with the language requirements. That’s what puts me off. :o

Yes, I was thinking of CUA, but I just ROFL’d when I saw their tuition. More than most medical schools.

Yes, the initial cost is quite expensive for CUA. I did some digging for you, and I’ve assembled the following list of Pontifical Universities, and their current cost for one semester of full-time study. Keep in mind that you may need to take some more classes at one time or another to fulfill the entry requirements.
*]Boston College School of Theology – ~$43,940
*]John Paul II Institute (Only Awards Degrees in Marriage & Family Studies) – ~$10,470
*]University of St. Mary of the Lake –~$7,000
]Pontifical College Josephinum (Unsure if open to lay students)– No statistics available
*]St. Mary’s Seminary & University (Unsure if S.T.B. is awarded to lay students) – No statistics available

Please keep in mind that I’m grabbing these numbers from where I can. They may not necessarily be precise, but I hope they’re at least in the ballpark.

Hope you can find some use of this.

That’s not the case for a Ph.D. in Theology of Christian ethics, which generally require reading knowledge of both German and French, with possible other languages depending on your area of expertise. If it’s a Ph.D. in Biblical Studies, add on Greek and Hebrew. If it’s a Ph.D. in Church History, you’re generally looking at adding Greek and Latin, or others depending on your area of study.

Not really. S.T.D. programs will generally required reading knowledge of Latin, French, and German. Ph.D. programs in Christian Theology, Christian Ethics, Biblical Studies, and Church History generally all require at least reading knowledge of French and German. Many require from one to three additional foreign languages, depending on your area of specialization. For example, if your area is Church History with a specialization in say, the Syriac Fathers, you will need German, French, Greek, Latin, and Syriac.

There are other places that offer pontifical degrees, such as Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit and … well, I guess that’s the only one I can think of that’s not on your list. :stuck_out_tongue:

Good point. I’m always on the lookout for doctoral programs in theology with no language requirement. :stuck_out_tongue:

Joe, thank you for your work.

One thing I do not understand from viewing the STB requirements is that most institutions require a bachelor’s degree… to get a bachelor’s degree (???).

For example, the USML’s first admission requirement for the STB is “an accredited bachelor’s degree.” It furthermore requires letters of recommendation from theology and/or philosophy professors. Essentially you have to have theology and/or philosophy experience already just to get in to the first of the Pontifical theology degree programs. :confused::confused::confused:

It strikes me that the Church makes these programs available, but only for rich people.

I don’t think you will find one that does not have a language requirement. At the very least you would have to know Latin. There are PhD programs in religious studies that do not require a language. I think Fordham has one. You could also look into Doctor of Ministry Programs. These are professional doctorates that are basically for those working in ministerial positions. They don’t require a language and you don’t write a research dissertation but do a doctoral project (which does require research but not as in depth as a PhD or STD.). To get into the DMin program you need to have a MDiv or equivalent. I have a DMin so if you want some info on it PM me.

An S.T.B. is actually a graduate degree, not an undergraduate degree like B.A.'s or B.S.'s are. To enter into an S.T.B. program, they generally prefer you have a B.Phil., or a B.A. in Philosophy. Likewise, to enter into an S.T.L. program, they prefer you have an M.Div., or sometimes a M.A. in Theology. This can vary school to school though.

I thought the same thing when I started looking into them a few years back until I read through what they are.

The STB is actually more like a Master’s of Theology or Master’s of Divinity despite having baccalaureate in the degree name. The STL is really more like a PhD. And the STD??? Well I guess that is whatever degree someone that’s not satisfied with a PhD gets. :rolleyes:

The cost issue isn’t really the Church’s fault, but the institutes that offer them. Since they are basically only offered through private universities, they only have funds from tuition without any type of public funds. That being said I have never understood why an undergraduate degree might be $200-300/credit hour and then the same school will charge $700-1200/credit hour for a graduate degree. I suspect it is because there are fewer people in the graduate classes, but that’s not the full story (i.e. why does an MBA have higher cost then a M.Th.).

The biggest problem I have is lack of geographic availability. I have zero interest in moving to the north east or Chicago for 3 or 4 years for the hand full of pontifical programs in the US. Since I am more interested in sacramental theology as they apply to everyday life I would not be doing deep theological research implied with an ecclesiastic degree. As such I am fine pursing a regular Master’s degree from a catholic university closer to home or via distance education.

One thing I wish is that more seminaries would open their classes to the laity. Outside of giving the laity access to religious education, it could also help defray the cost of educating our priests and even deacons.

With your interest in nursing you might find bioethics a challenging field:

The STL is the equivalent of a master’s degree, not a PhD The STL does involve writing a master’s thesis, but not a dissertation. I have both the MDiv and the ThM, and I’ve looked into the STL and the STD, as well as PhD programs. The STL is very close to the ThM and MA in theology, whereas the STD is basically the same degree as the PhD in terms of rigor and degree requirements.

Okay, thesis and disertaion has always seemed like the same thing to me, but I’ll take your word for it since upper academic studies aren’t in my wheel house.

The question then is if the STB and STL are both graduate degree’s where do they fit in in comparison to academic degrees? In other words most STL programs require either an STB or a M.Th./M.Div. That implies that the STB is roughly equivalent to a M.Th./M.Div. So if the STL is like an M.Th. then why would an M.Th. equivalent be the prerequisite?

So in essence the progression is bachelors -> Masters -> Masters -> PhD (BA -> STB -> STL-> STD)?

A doctoral dissertation is much more extensive than a master’s thesis.

The STB and the MDiv are essentially the same degree, but the STB is offered only by institutions with pontifical faculties. The MDiv and the ThM are not the same degree, at least not in most US institutions that offer the ThM. The ThM generally requires a previous, foundational theology degree, such as the MDiv or the MTS. The ThM is generally used to gain additional competence in a more narrow area of theology. The STL, like the ThM, requires a previous, foundational theology degree, but, unlike the ThM, can only be offered by institutions with pontifical faculties.

In my case, I earned an MDiv, and followed it with a ThM to gain additional competence in historical and systematic theology. With the MDiv, I could have qualified for admission to an STL program.

Thanks for the clarification. :thumbsup:

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