Summer 2019 Personal Update 3 of 3: And now we wait – The second year of seminary approaches; Basics About Seminary Formation
And now the last personal update in this series of three is that I am now in a moment of waiting. Right now I am in the middle of the very last week of summer vacation, and I leave this Sunday to go back to St. Meinrad. Where did the days go?
I’ve been spending most days serving Mass at my home parish and hanging out with Father, getting back to some personal projects, keeping the apostolate updated, trying to keep my prayer game good especially with the Liturgy of the Hours, and other stuff.
I haven’t started packing yet (I should probably start doing that).
And the second year of seminary is upon the horizon.
I am looking forward to getting back and greeting all the guys in my ordination class (2024) from across mostly the midwest and southern U.S. dioceses. They really are a good group of guys. I’m actually looking a little bit forward to the some of the daily routine of prayer and Mass and meals and free time. I’m keeping the class part out of mind for now – though I do really like the academics. Aug. 26 will kick off things again. One of the best aspects about starting up again at St. Meinrad is that classes themselves don’t immediately start back, but we spend a full week (and thus the rest of the month of Aug.) in a less intensive week of spirituality that eases us in. We do “classes'” that are more like parts of a week-long retreat than regular classes. This is true for both fall and spring semesters. The start of the spring semester is a similar week of spiritual formation followed by an actual week-long retreat off campus. I posted about the retreat we had the past school year in January here and here.
To explain my current stage of formation:
I am in year 2 of 2 in my philosophy studies as a Pre-Theologian. On the academic side, a seminarian studying for the priesthood has to study and obtain degrees in both philosophy and theology before he is ordained as a priest. There are two main paths to diocesan priesthood in the U.S., and I will provide a very basic break down of the each process. One takes at least 8 years and the other 6 years.
8 year path
[4 years of undergraduate studies for BA in philosophy + 4 years of master’s studies for MA/M.Div. in theology]
A man who either enters right out of high school or who decides to become a seminarian later in life but never obtained a four year college degree has to go through the first path. Because theological studies will be at the master’s level (MA/M.Div), if a man has never engaged in college-level studies, it would be very difficult for him to manage master’s level work. Thus, he must normally go through undergraduate level studies to not only obtain the philosophy degree but to get the academic experience required to be prepared for higher studies. This normally will take four years just like any other undergrad degree (2 years of general education classes along with some of the classes in the major + 2 years of major studies). He is at this stage referred to as being in “college year 1-4” stage of formation. He is also referred to a “philosopher” because that is what he’s studying. His formation can also be referred as “philosophy 1-4.” Once he obtains the BA in philosophy he moves onward to the masters in theology, which takes four years.
He spends four years in theological studies and acquires a firm grasp of Catholic theology and Church teaching. He is referred to a theologian. His formation levels are “theology 1-4.” After theology year 3 he is ordained a (transitional) deacon by his bishop. After theology year 4 he is done with seminary and is ordained a priest by the bishop for diocese.
6 year path
[2 years of master studies for MA in philosophy + 4 years of master’s studies for MA/M.Div. in theology]
This is the path I am in.
A man in this path is one who, before he ever decided to formally enter seminary, obtained at least an undergraduate degree any field of study. He is already acquainted with college level work and thus doesn’t need to do four years of undergraduate study. Just like someone going to get a master’s after undergraduate (even years later) he just enters master’s study for the field he is to go into. Thus, for seminary this does two things. 1 – it knocks off two years from the 8 year path he would have had to go through without the previous degree. This is because he has already completed gen-edu classes in his undergrad degree. He doesn’t need to do this again. So, all he needs is the major studies for the degree in philosophy. And 2 – it upgrades the BA in philosophy to MA in philosophy since, again, he is already a graduate. (I think this is could be the process for most, but other diocese might do getting another BA but in philosophy but still just 2 years maybe) He studies two years for philosophy. His path is referred as a “Pre-Theology” because it is before theology and distinguishes him from the college guys. He is a “pre-theologian” but can still be a “philosopher.” Then he moves on to the four theology years and this part of the process is the same as in the 8 year path.
There are two basic types of seminaries. College seminary (those that only have philosophy studies) and major seminary (those that primarily have theology studies, though they may have philosophy as well for pre-theology guys and not have the gen-edu stuff. St. Meinrad, my school, is this way. Some seminaries have both full philosophy programs (gen-edu and philosophy) and full theology). Often guys in the 8 year path go to a college seminary for 4 years to get philosophy and then 4 years at a different (major) seminary for theology. Some in the same path might spend all 8 at one place. Some in the 6 year path spend pre-theology at one place (2 years) in a college or major sem. and then the 4 years theology in a major sem. Some in 6 year spend all 6 at a major sem. Some might even have to do (or choose) to do a pastoral year in a parish or ministry in either arrangement, It all depends on the diocese and desires of the bishop and vocation director with input from the seminarian.
Before seminary I went to regular college after high school and got a BA in history in 2016 from Middle Tennessee State University. Then I spent two years working (and thinking about God possibly calling me to be a priest). Then last year (2018) I finally made the jump. Last year I collaborated with Brad Schepisi, founder and leader of Laudare Outreach, in putting out a video detailing my journey. It’s on YouTube here.
I won’t go too deep into all the reasons why a man has to first study philosophy before theology instead of just straight theology (but as I’m writing I might end up going too deep anyway). That’s a different post on its own. But I what I will say is that philosophy and theology go hand and hand. A foundation for doing good theology begins with doing good philosophy. In other words a bad philosopher can often make a bad theologian. Theological expressions about God and Divine Revelation rests often on philosophical ideas and terminology. Examples: Talking about God as a Trinity of Three Persons rests on philosophical understandings of essence and nature. Theological conceptions concerning transubstantiation uses Aristotelian terminology of “substance.” Most of not all of the early Church Fathers, who were among the best theologians the Church has ever had, were well-versed in Ancient Greek philosophy. Reasoning effectively about the how there can only be one eternal, unchanging, non-contingent ground of all contingency that is the First Principle and source of all being and is being itself (what we call “God” before we even get to any particular religious doctrine about God) that is revealed in Divine Revelation as I AM requires having philosophy as a foundation.
The Catechism (CCC 36) teaches that: “God, the first principle and last end of all things, can be known with certainty from the created world by the natural light of human reason.” The “light of human reason” refers to man’s use of philosophy to reason about the Cause of all things, which is God. This is true as CCC 36 goes on: “Without this capacity [to know God exist through human reason], man would not be able to welcome God’s revelation. Man has this capacity because he is created ‘in the image of God.'” This gets us to know that God exists, but tells us little about Who God is. That is where theological expressions derived from the study of God’s self-revelation, which transcends man’s comprehension comes in, BUT man’s reasoning capacities are NOT left behind. That is why St. Anselm’s motto has always been so fitting for centuries: fides quaerens intellectum – “faith seeking understanding.” Philosophy gets us to the door of God; theology gets us through it. Then once through it God helps us ( revelation), and theology helps reveal, to the extent we can grasp in this life, the nature and content of this help. The Catechism continues:
37 In the historical conditions in which he finds himself, however, man experiences many difficulties in coming to know God by the light of reason alone:
Though human reason is, strictly speaking, truly capable by its own natural power and light of attaining to a true and certain knowledge of the one personal God, who watches over and controls the world by his providence, and of the natural law written in our hearts by the Creator; yet there are many obstacles which prevent reason from the effective and fruitful use of this inborn faculty. . .
38 This is why man stands in need of being enlightened by God’s revelation, not only about those things that exceed his understanding, but also “about those religious and moral truths which of themselves are not beyond the grasp of human reason, so that even in the present condition of the human race, they can be known by all men with ease, with firm certainty and with no admixture of error”.
For more on the “why philosophy” question I recommend this article from Catholic News Agency by Michelle McDaniel – “Why do priests study philosophy?”
I also recommend reading Pope St. John Paul II’s (pray for us!) 1998 encyclical on the relationship between reason and faith – Fides et Ratio [Faith and Reason].
Just remember – good philosophy, good theology.
I wanted to explain all this because many Catholic lay faithful over one year so far have asked me about seminary and the formation that is involved and how long it takes and what do I study. All good questions. But what I have noticed is that the vast majority of the laity who have asked me about my studies do not know even some of these basic things about formation, and I have often gotten the same questions multiple times. I never mind explaining the process! Ask away to a seminarian, if you don’t know! He should be happy to tell you! I provide some of the basics here if you have always wondered or have forgotten.
So, again, I am embarking on my 2nd year of seminary (Pre-theology year 2). And I have already been at this one post for too long so I will end it right here and end these summer updates.
Pray for me as I begin another year! I always offer up my morning offering for all of you.
Thank you and God bless!
PAX et CARITAS, yall!