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History Of The Education Of Priests

History Of The Education Of Priests

Without getting into discussion about the validity of Holy Orders, I decided to write a few words about the education of candidates for the Priesthood.

In the post Vatican II era, the Church faced with various serious problems in the education of priests. Those who accepted the reforms of Vatican II say that, taking into account the spirit of time, they teach candidates in the best traditional way. On the other hand, those who rejected the reforms of the Vatican II and call themselves traditional Catholics, say that they give better training to candidates for the Priesthood. Both camps blame each other for lack of training.

Also, a certain "most trained" group, claims that although other congregations have their own seminaries, this group is the only one that provides the best training for future priests, and if priests have not been "formally" trained in this "best of the best" seminaries, they do not have the right to teach men what they ought to believe and what they ought to do.

Of course, such claims do not have any reasonable basis. They rather are based on "the pride of life, which is not of the Father, but is of the world."

The "most trained" should know that the current system of seminary education had its origin only in the Sixteenth Century in a decree of the Council of Trent, and that it also has varying methods and time frames that depend on many factors.

The system of education of priests in different historical periods was not always the same. I hope it is clear to every one that the system of education in times of persecution or in wartime cannot be exactly the same as in peacetime or in times when the Church enjoys relative freedom.

For example, St. Charles Borromeo, who had taken a leading part in the work of the Council of Trent and who was also most zealous and successful in enforcing of the decisions of the Council, was not ashamed to give various courses for the education of his priests:

"St. Charles Borromeo, Cardinal Archbishop of Milan, who had taken a leading part in the work of the Council of Trent, was also most zealous and successful in enforcing its decisions. For his large diocese he established three seminaries: one of them furnished a complete course of ecclesiastical studies; in another, a shorter course was provided, especially for those destined to country parishes; the third was for priests who needed to make up the deficiencies of previous training." (THE CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA, VOLUME XIII, p. 696)

If one agrees with the absurd claims of the "most trained", then one can logically come to a more ludicrous conclusion that St. Paul should be stripped of the title the Apostle, and St. Basil the Great and St. John Chrysostom should be stripped of the title of the Doctor of the Church, because neither St. Paul nor St. Basil the Great or St. John Chrysostom did not study at seminaries.

Some facts about St. Basil the Great and St. John Chrysostom.

St. Basil the Great (329-379), Bishop of Caesarea, one of the most distinguished Doctors of the Church. He ranks after Athanasius as a defender of the Oriental Church against the heresies of the fourth century. He was well advanced in rhetoric, grammar, philosophy, astronomy, geometry, and medicine. We know the names of two of his teachers at Athens, Prohseresius, possibly a Christian, and Himerius, a pagan. But he never studied at a seminary. He was teached the Faith by his Christian parents, by Dianius Bishop of Caesarea, and he also learned by himself from the Gospel and from Origen's writing. To learn the ways of perfection, Basil visited the monasteries of Egypt, Palestine, Coele-Syria, and Mesopotamia. St. Basil became known as the Father of Oriental monasticism, the forerunner of St. Benedict.

"Basil himself tells us how, like a man roused from deep sleep, he turned his eyes to the marvellous truth of the Gospel, wept many tears over his miserable life, and prayed for guidance from God" (THE CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA, VOLUME II, pp. 330-331).

St. John Chrysostom (347-407), Bishop of Constantinople, the most prominent doctor of the Greek Church and the greatest preacher ever heard in a Christian pulpit. His natural gifts, as well as exterior circumstances, helped him to become what he was.

"Pagans, Manichaeans, Gnostics, Arians, Apollinarians, Jews, made their proselytes at Antioch, and the Catholics were themselves separated by the schism between the bishops Meletius and Paulinus. Thus Chrysostom's youth fell in troubled times. His father, Secundus, was an officer of high rank in the Syrian army. On his death soon after the birth of John, Anthusa, his wife, only twenty years of age, took the sole charge of her two children, John and an elder sister. Fortunately she was a woman of intelligence and character. She not only instructed her son in piety, but also sent him to the best schools of Antioch, though with regard to morals and religion many objections could be urged against them." "It was a very decisive turning-point in the life of Chrysostom when he met one day (about 367) the bishop Meletius. The earnest, mild, and winning character of this man captivated Chrysostom in such a measure that he soon began to withdraw from classical and profane studies and to devote himself to an ascetic and religious life. He studied Holy Scripture and frequented the sermons of Meletius. About three' years later he received Holy Baptism and was ordained lector. But the young cleric, seized by the desire of a more perfect life, soon afterwards entered one of the ascetic societies near Antioch, which was under the spiritual direction of Carterius and especially of the famous Diodorus, later Bishop of Tarsus (see Palladius, "Dialogus", v; Sozomenus, "Hist, eccies.", VIII, 2). Prayer, manual labour, and the study of Holy Scripture were his chief occupations, and we may safely suppose that his first literary works date from this time, for nearly all his earlier writings deal with ascetic and monastic subjects" (THE CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA, VOLUME VIII, pp. 452-453).

I'm also afraid to imagine what the "most trained" could have done with St. Cyprian of Antioch, Bishop and Martyr, formerly a heathen magician who had dealings with demons, and became deacon, priest, and finally bishop.

"CYPRIAN, SAINT, and JUSTINA, SAINT, Christians of Antioch who suffered martyrdom during the persecution of Diocletian at Nicomedia, 26 September, 304, the date in September being afterwards made the day of their feast. Cyprian was a heathen magician of Antioch who had dealings with demons. By their aid he sought to bring St. Justina, a Christian virgin, to ruin; but she foiled the threefold attacks of the devils by the sign of the cross. Brought to despair Cyprian made the sign of the cross himself and in this way was freed from the toils of Satan. He was received into the Church, was made pre-eminent by miraculous gifts, and became in succession deacon, priest, and finally bishop, while Justina became the head of a convent. During the Diocletian persecution both were seized and taken to Damascus where they were shockingly tortured. As their faith never wavered they were brought before Diocletian at Nicomedia, where at his command they were beheaded on the bank of the river Gallus. The same fate befell a Chistian, Theoctistus, who had come to Cyprian and had embraced him. After the bodies of the saints had lain unburied for six days they were taken by Christian sailors to Rome where they were interred on the estate of a noble lady named Rufina and later were entombed in Constantine's basilica." (THE CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA, VOLUME IV, p. 583).

According to the same Catholic Encyclopedia, "Before St. Augustine no trace can be found of any special institutions for the education of the clergy."

Now a "leap" from the 5th century to 20th century, and a few words about the Greek Catholic Church in the USSR.

On March 8-10, 1946, about 200 Greek Catholic priests were forced by the NKVD to gather on the pseudo-synod in Lviv Cathedral of St. George, and under pressure of the NKVD the Unia of 1596 was condemned by the synod, the exit of the Greek Catholic Church from the jurisdiction of the Pope and immediately joining the Russian Orthodox Church was announced.

In 1945-1947, Soviet authorities arrested, deported, and sentenced to forced-labor camps in Siberia and elsewhere the Church's Metropolitan Yosyf Slipyi and nine other Greek Catholic bishops, as well as hundreds of clergy and leading lay activists. In Lviv alone, 800 priests were imprisoned. All the above-mentioned bishops and significant numbers of clergymen died in prisons, concentration camps, internal exile, or soon after their release during the post-Stalin thaw. Only Metropolitan Yosyf Slipyi, after 18 years of imprisonment and persecution, was released by the intervention of John XXIII and took refuge in Rome.

The Ukrainian Byzantine Rite Catholics continued to exist underground for decades, until 1989. The clergy had to give up public exercise of their priestly duties, but secretly administered Sacraments for many faithful. They also provided studies for those who had vocations to the Priesthood. Private houses and apartments were used for the Divine Liturgy and for the education of candidates to the Priesthood. Many priests took up civilian professions and celebrated the Divine Liturgy in private. The identities of many priests could have been known to the militia (police) who regularly watched them, interrogated them and put fines on them, but stopped short of arrest unless their activities went beyond a small circle of people. New, secretly ordained priests were often treated more harshly.

I knew in person some Greek Catholic priests, who spent more than a decade in imprisonment. They celebrated Divine Liturgy daily and gave classes to candidates for the Priesthood even in force-labor camps.

The following should also be said. Most of the Latin Rite priests, who have spent many years in the prestigious seminaries and enjoyed beautiful churches and cathedrals, accepted reforms of Vatican II very easily. Ukrainian priests of the Byzantine Rite, who have been persecuted for more than forty years and were thrown out of their churches and seminaries, faithfully kept the traditional Catholic faith.

In December 1989, after the meeting between Karol Wojtyla/John Paul II and Mikhail Gorbachev, former Soviet President, the Soviet Union enacted a law to protect religious freedom and allowed the Ukrainian Catholic Church to come out from underground. From that moment the Vatican founded many reformed seminaries for the Byzantine Rite men who had the vocations to the Priesthood, and the process of "re-education" of Greek Catholic underground priests also began. It is very important to note that no underground priests were allowed to teach seminarians in the new seminaries, but only a few of them were allowed to work as librarians (however, I should clarify that I may be wrong on this point). Only those who had passports of the Western countries such as US, Canada, Brasil, Argentina, UK, Ireland, Belgium, Italy, France, Germany, Austria, Australia, New Zealand, etc, were appointed to be professors in the newly founded seminaries for Ukrainians. However, I must clarify here that although a few former underground priests and bishops were appointed as rectors of the seminaries, the curriculum was proposed, implemented and supervised by people from the above-mentioned countries.

This comparative example shows that training of future priests is a process of priestly formation that depends not on the system of the education or how prestigious the seminary is or how famous professors are, but on the vocation to the Priesthood and understanding of its mission.

Now, one more extract from the Catholic Encyclopedia.

"II. PURPOSE OF SEMINARY EDUCATION. - A seminary is a school in which priests are trained. A priest is the representative of Christ among men: his mission is to carry on Christ's work for the salvation of souls; in Christ's name and by His power, he teaches men what they ought to believe and what they ought to do: he forgives sins, and offers in sacrifice the Body and Blood of Christ. He is another Christ (sacerdos alter Christus). His training, therefore, must be in harmony with this high office and consequently different in many ways from the preparation for secular professions. He must possess not only a liberal education, but also professional knowledge, and moreover, like an army or navy officer, he needs to acquire the manners and personal habits becoming his calling. To teach candidates for the priesthood what a priest ought to know and to make them what a priest ought to be is the purpose of seminary education; to this twofold end everything in the form of studies and discipline must be directed." p. 694.
"IV. HISTORY. - A. Late Origin. - This system of seminary education, which has now become an essential feature of the Church's life, had its origin only in the sixteenth century in a decree of the Council of Trent. Since Christ's work on earth is to be continued chiefly through diocesan priests, the Apostles and the early popes and bishops always gave special care to the selection and training of the clergy. St. Paul warns Timothy not to impose hands lightly on any man (I Tim., v, 22). In the scanty records of the early Roman pontiffs we invariably read the number of deacons, priests, and bishops whom they ordained. But although the training of the clergy was ever held to be a matter of vital importance, we should look in vain during the first centuries for an organized system of clerical education, just as we should look in vain for the fully-developed theology of St. Thomas.
B. Individual Training in Early Times. - Before St. Augustine no trace can be found of any special institutions for the education of the clergy. Professors and students in the famous Christian schools of Alexandria and Edessa supplied priests and bishops; but these schools were intended for the teaching of catechumens, and for general instruction; they cannot, therefore, be considered as seminaries. The training of priests was personal and practical; boys and young men attached to the service of a church assisted the bishop and the priests in the discharge of their functions, and thus, by the exercise of the duties of the minor orders, they gradually learned to look after the church, to read and explain Holy Scripture, to prepare catechumens for baptism and to administer the sacraments. Some of the greatest bishops of the period had moreover received a liberal education in pagan schools, and before ordination spent some time in retirement, penitential exercises, and meditation on Holy Scripture.
C. From St. Augustine to the Foundation of the Universities. - St. Augustine established near the cathedral, in his own house (in domo ecclesiae), a monasterium clericorum in which his clergy lived together. He would raise to Holy orders only such as were willing to unite the community life with the exercise of the ministry. In a few years this institution gave en bishops to various sees in Africa. It was, however, rather a clergy house than a seminary. The example of St. Augustine was soon followed at Milan, Nola, and elsewhere. A council held in 529 at Vaison, in Southern Gaul, exhorted parish priests to adopt a custom already obtaining in Italy, to have young clerics in their house, and to instruct them with fatherly zeal so as to prepare for themselves worthy successors. Two years later the second Council of Toledo decreed that clerics should be trained by a superior in the house of the Church (in domo Ecclesiae), under the eye of the bishop. Another Council of Toledo, held in 633, urges that this training be begun early, so that future priests may spend their youth not in unlawful pleasures but under ecclesiastical discipline. Among those cathedral schools, the best known is that established near the Lateran Basilica, where many popes and bishops were educated ab infantia. Besides, not a few monasteries, such as St. Victor in Paris, Le Bec in Normandy, Oxford, and Fulda, educated not only their own subjects, but also aspirants to the secular clergy.
D. From the Thirteenth Century to the Council of Trent. - Out of the local episcopal schools grew the medieval universities, when illustrious teachers attracted to a few cities, e.g. Paris, Bologna, Oxford etc., students from various provinces and even from all parts of Europe. As in these schools theology, philosophy, and canon law held the first rank, a large proportion of the students were ecclesiastics or members of religious orders; deprived of their ablest teachers and most gifted students, the cathedral and monastic schools gradually declined. Still, only about one percent of the clergy were able to attend university courses. The education of the vast majority, therefore, was more and more neglected, while the privileged few enjoyed indeed the highest intellectual advantages, but received little or no spiritual training. The colleges in which they lived maintained for a while good discipline; but in less than a century the life of ecclesiastical students at the universities was no better than that of the lay students. What was lacking was character-formation and the practical preparation for the ministry.
E. The Decree of the Council of Trent. - After the Reformation the need of a well-trained clergy was more keenly felt. In the work of the commission appointed by the pope to prepare questions to be discussed in the Council of Trent, ecclesiastical education occupies an important place. When the council convened "to extirpate heresy and reform morals", it decreed in its Fifth Session (June, 1546) that provision should be made in every cathedral for the teaching of grammar and Holy Scripture to clerics and poor scholars. The council was interrupted before the question of clerical training could be formally taken up. Meanwhile, St. Ignatius established at Rome (1553) the Collegium Germanicum for the education of German ecclesiastical students. Cardinal Pole, who had witnessed the foundation of the German College and had been a member of the commission to prepare for the Council of Trent, went to England after the death of Henry VIII to re-establish the Catholic religion. In the regulations which he issued in 1556, the word seminary seems to have been used for the first time in its modern sense, to designate a school exclusively devoted to the training of the clergy. After the council reopened, the Fathers resumed the question of clerical training; and after discussing it for about a month, they adopted the decree on the foundation of ecclesiastical seminaries.
On 15 July, in the Twenty-third Session, it was solemnly proclaimed in its present form, and has ever since remained the fundamental law of the Church on the education of priests. In substance it is as follows: (1) Every diocese is bound to support, to rear in piety, and to train in ecclesiastical discipline a certain number of youths, in a college to be chosen by the bishop for that purpose; poor dioceses may combine, large dioceses may have more than one seminary. (2) In these institutions are to be received boys who are at least twelve years of age, can read and write passably, and by their good disposition give hope that they will persevere in the service of the Church; children of the poor are to be preferred. (3) Besides the elements of a liberal education [as then understood], the students are to be given professional knowledge to enable them to preach, to conduct Divine worship, and to administer the sacraments. (4) Seminaries are to be supported by a tax on the income of bishoprics, chapters, abbeys, and other benefices. (5) In the government of the seminary, the bishop is to be assisted by two commissions of priests, one for spiritual, the other for temporal matters.
So well did the Fathers of Trent understand the importance of the decree, so much did they expect from it, that they congratulated one another, and several declared that, had the council done nothing else, this would be more than sufficient reward of all their labours. An historian of the council, Cardinal Pallavicini, does not hesitate to call the institution of seminaries the most important reform enacted by the council.
F. Execution of the Decree of Trent in various Countries. - To provide for the carrying out of this important decree, Pius IV forthwith instituted a commission of cardinals. The following year (April, 1564), he decreed the foundation of the Roman Seminary, which was opened in Feb., 1565, and which for more than three centuries has been a nursery of priests, bishops, cardinals, and popes. St. Charles Borromeo, Cardinal Archbishop of Milan, who had taken a leading part in the work of the Council of Trent, was also most zealous and successful in enforcing its decisions. For his large diocese he established three seminaries: one of them furnished a complete course of ecclesiastical studies; in another, a shorter course was provided, especially for those destined to country parishes; the third was for priests who needed to make up the deficiencies of previous training. For these institutions St. Charles drew up a set of regulations, which have been ever since an inspiration and a model for all founders of seminaries. In other parts of Italy the decree of Trent was gradually put into effect, so that the smallest of the three hundred dioceses had its own complete seminary, including both collegiate and theological departments.
In Germany, war and the progress of heresy were serious obstacles to the carrying out of the decree of Trent; still seminaries were founded at Eichstadt (1564), Munster (1610), and Prague (1631).
In Portugal the Venerable Bartholomew of the Martyrs, Archbishop of Braga, established a seminary a few months after the close of the Council of Trent.
Various attempts by French bishops ended in failure, until St. Vincent de Paul and Father Olier opened seminaries in Paris (1642), and helped to establish them elsewhere in France. A feature of these seminaries and, it is claimed, one of the causes of their success was the separation of theological students from those who were studying the classics, of the theological from the preparatory seminary. In Paris the students of St. Sulpice usually followed lectures at the Sorbonne; some courses given at the seminary completed their intellectual training, while meditation, spiritual conferences, etc. provided for their moral and religious formation. In other places, especially when there was no university, a complete course of instruction was organized in the seminary itself. As there was no Church law requiring students to spend a fixed time in the seminary before ordination, and as the powers of the bishops were hampered by existing customs, some of the clergy, previous to the French Revolution, were not trained in these institutions.
In England and Ireland persecution prevented the foundation of seminaries; before the French Revolution priests for the English mission were trained at the English College of Douai. Irish aspirants to the priesthood, leaving Ireland at the peril of their lives, went to the colleges founded for them in Paris, Louvain, and Salamanca by Irish exiles and other generous benefactors, to prepare for a life of self-sacrifice often ending in martyrdom."

From this historical outline, it is clear that the Church has at all times taken care of the education of priests and in no way questioned any education that depended on the circumstances which the Church faced.

Christ, the Prince of pastors and the Good Shepherd, does not require His priests to be "walking encyclopedias". He requires them to be good shepherds.

Giving lectures with bookshelves full of books behind one's back does not make a person a great theologian and a monopolist of seminary education. If at every occasion, he is trumpeting that he is both, it may rather be a sign that he is really neither. If, having hundreds of volumes, he has no idea what the Priesthood of Christ is, then what, besides arrogance and pride, can he teach seminarians?

One can be an eloquent preacher, but at the same time be a false teacher, who, instead of showing souls the way to heaven, leads them to hell.

The Rev. P. Chas. Augustine, O.S.B., D.D., commenting on SCIENTIFIC EQUIPMENT OF THE CLERGY (Can. 129-131) says that "faith is not gnosis":

"The Code, in insisting on knowledge or science in clerics, simply follows tradition and repeats old canons. St. Paul's warning to Timothy is as timely now as it was then, because faith is not gnosis, and the Church is the keeper of the depositum fidei."
A COMMENTARY ON THE NEW CODE OF CANON LAW, By THE REV. P. CHAS. AUGUSTINE, O.S.B., D.D., Professor of Canon Law, VOLUME II, Clergy and Hierarchy, B. HERDER BOOK CO., 17 SOUTH BROADWAY, ST. Louis, Mo., AND 68 GREAT RUSSELL ST. LONDON, W. C, 1918, Cum Permissu Superiorum, NIHIL OBSTAT Sti. Ludovici, die Sept. 7, 1918, F. G. Holweck, Censor Librorum, IMPRIMATUR Sti. Ludovici, die Sept. 8, 1918, +Joannes J. Glennon, Archiepiscopus, Sti. Ludovici, p. 75

Also, I think that everyone of you at least once heard these names: Arius, Hus or Luther. They were sufficiently educated clergymen of their time, but their education did not help them or their followers. To each of them can be applied the words of St. Paul (1 Cor. 8:1) "Knowledge puffeth up" without the last part of the verse "but charity edifieth."

Not getting "all knowledge" in a seminary with comfortable living conditions for seminarians, but Charity of Christ is exactly what makes a Christ's priest out of a seminarian. The same Apostle says: "And if I should have prophecy, and should know all mysteries, and all knowledge and if I should have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing." (1 Cor. 13:2)

And a quite recent example of Eugenio Pacelli, who at the end of his first academic year, due to the health issues, had to drop out of the two universities and continued his studies from home, and thus, spent most of his seminary years as an external student, and that was enough for the Cardinals to elect him Pope, who is known to everyone as Pius XII.

By the way, the REV. P. CHAS. AUGUSTINE, commenting on CAN. 972, says that the Ordinary, for grave reasons may dispense candidates to the Priesthood from living in the seminary throughout the entire course of their theological studies:

"Care should be taken that those who aspire to sacred orders be received into a seminary at an early age. All candidates for the sacred ministry are obliged to live in a seminary at least throughout the entire course of their theological studies, unless the Ordinary, for grave reasons and upon due deliberation, dispenses in individual cases.
Candidates for orders who lawfully dwell outside the seminary should be commended to a pious and worthy priest, who should watch over them and train them to piety."
A COMMENTARY ON THE NEW CODE OF CANON LAW, By THE REV. P. CHAS. AUGUSTINE, O.S.B., D.D., Professor of Canon Law, VOLUME IV, B. HERDER BOOK CO., 17 SOUTH BROADWAY, ST. Louis, Mo., AND 68 GREAT RUSSELL ST. LONDON, W. C, 1920, Cum Permissu Superiorum, NIHIL OBSTAT Sti. Ludovici, die 11 Martii, 1920, F. G. Holweck, Censor Librorum, IMPRIMATUR Sti. Ludovici, die 12 Martii, 1920, +Joannes J. Glennon, Archiepiscopus, Sti. Ludovici, p. 452

Finally, a few words about one more subject of priestly training, which is not a part of a seminary curriculum, but nevertheless is an integral part of the Priesthood itself.

Every priest, no matter how educated he may be, must be ready to be rejected, betrayed, persecuted, crucified, i.e., to be literally alter Christus. These things may happen any time regardless of the system of seminary education, be it short, academic or postgraduate, and no "most trained" professor - who has never experienced these things - can teach you this subject. Christ Himself is the Professor of this Subject.

Summing up, we can say that the goal of priestly education is not to make a narcissistic professor out of a seminarian, but to form a humble priest, "who is capable of bearing the burden of the Priesthood", who "is ready to live and to work among men as the ambassador of Christ" and "to carry on Christ's work for the salvation of souls."

Fr. Valerii

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