Thursday, December 2, 2010


Pastor in Valle over at Valle Adurni has run with an interesting posting on the history and future of English Seminaries. I can say 'English' seminaries as these are they that remain in the British Isles. One of these is scheduled to close in the next year and now the good father notes that the question of having a single national seminary is being discussed again. At what level these discussions are taking place is not clear and I suspect that such discussions having become publicly known is not an accident, but rather a 'testing of popular opinion', before any embarrassment can be suffered. It's one of those tools that PR firms use, indeed governments seems to use, to avoid any 'awkward' confrontation. If the scream is not too loud then they know they can proceed without threatening their popularity ratings.

It is sad to see historic institutions under threat however the training of clergy is very important and what is the best for the formation of faithful pastors should be the litmus test. Historically seminary education has been pretty much the norm for the last couple of centuries, that is but a fraction of the history of the Church. Other 'models' of priestly formation have existed across that history which might be better 'fit for purpose' in the current situation. In some places an 'apprenticeship' system has operated whereby the academic side of things is dealt with by sourcing from existing institutions with the pastoral side of things being dealt with in the presbytery that the seminarian lives in. Most important is a close relationship with the bishop concerned. Those models that have really flourished in recent years have been where the bishoip has taken an active role in the formation of his clergy. On an academic level that may not work where the educational standard of the bishops themselves is a problem but on the pastoral spiritual level it has some merit drawing the seminarian in the reality of pastoral situations. on a day to day basis. at the same time as giving bishops a clearer insight into where the Church's pastors of the future are heading. Mmm...I can see why they would favour the current system.


  1. Historically seminary education has been pretty much the norm for the last couple of centuries, that is but a fraction of the history of the Church. Other 'models' of priestly formation have existed across that history which might be better 'fit for purpose'...

    Hmmmm...I've thought about this a lot, recently. The Orthodox Church is shockingly practical on priestly formation (as on evertything else): "The Church needs priests. You're a decent family man, pious, and one who takes a compassionate interest in his neightbour. You can read and write. With a bit of training you'll be able to do the services. If the parish is in agreement, we'll ordain you to serve at the altar. You can also do a bit of theology and a series of retreats in due course."

    Does it "work"? My parish priest is also my spiritual father. He was an architect before (very serious) ill-health forced him to retire. His training consisted, according to him, of "three weeks at the cathedral". Would I, or the parish, or the Archbishop, wish to trade him for one of those "three little maids from school"? Not in a million years.

  2. I think that you have raised a very important point about the Bishop's involvement in a person's formation toward priesthood. The reality is that the Bishop may visit the Seminarian a few times a year when the Bishop visits the Seminary on other business. These are mainly formal meetings (timetables) and do not really build a personal relationship. Even when the candidate gets the call to the orders from the Bishop it is normally through a letter rather than a face to face encounter. Perhaps we need a model where Seminarians have a "deep" relationship with their local Bishop (that is sustained in Holy Orders).

  3. I can think of no better example of a bishop’s involvement with, and concern for, his seminarians than Cardinal Raymond Burke. As Archbishop of St. Louis, Cardinal Burke was known to take this responsibility very seriously. Some quotes from reports in 2008 when there were over 100 students at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary/University – half of whom were seminarians.

    “A frequent visitor to the seminary, the archbishop sometimes drops by unannounced for lunches with the students.”

    “Archbishop Burke has a habit of inviting each student at the Kenrick-Glennon Seminary for a walk near his residence. ‘The walks,’ as the seminarians call them, are opportunities for the young men to have heart-to-heart talks with their archbishop.”

    Then Archbishop Burke on these walks:

    "The conversations we have on our walks are substantial," Archbishop Burke said. "The men tell me if they are having serious doubts or some particular challenge. We talk about those things, and I try to offer them whatever wisdom I have."

    Finally, on the bishop's responsibility:

    "A bishop's principal responsibility is to provide priests for the people in his pastoral care," the archbishop said in an interview last week from Rome. "Ordinations have to be absolutely right at the top of my priorities."

  4. Anagnostis (Moretben): while the Roman church is undergoing a crisis, your explanation above confirms why I put my trust "in a million years" in the Orthodox sect.

  5. ...could you imagine a blog post on the Orthodox priesthood headed up by "Three Little Maids From School"? What does that tell you, just for starters?

  6. That the term 'seminary' has only recently been restricted to ecclesiastical establishments. That was the intention.

    Three little maids who, all unwary
    Come from a ladies' seminary
    Freed from its genial tutelary
    Three little maids from school
    Three little maids from school

    [W.S. Gilbert] Mikado.

  7. Rhetoric aside, the point is that my parish now has a wonderful, holy priest; a reverent celebrant of the Divine Liturgy, a tireless and compassionate pastor and a marvelous confessor and spiritual father, absolutely rooted in the Tradition and faithful to the canons. Your inflexible (and very recently developed)insistance on "four years of philosophy" and what have you, would have deprived us of him, for absolutely no good reason. Remember that your "crisis", which is not our crisis, is largely a matter of trahaison des clercs.

  8. I thought that the seminary system was introduced to counter the inadequacies of on-the-job training before the Council of Trent, leaving the Church with priests who could not counter the assaults of the 'reformers'.

    Would we be going backwards if we abandoned the seminary system? I wonder.

    I suppose that distance learning for the academic side is far more feasible these days than in was pre-Trent.

  9. I certainly don't think you should "abandon the seminary system". I think you should abandon what amounts to a universal insistance on seminary formation for all candidates to the priesthood. Seminaries are good things - but like everything of human institution, they're useful when they're useful, and not when they're not.

    Lest anyone suspect me of indulging in mere partisan polemics, let me hasten to insist that even as a Catholic Traditionalist I was strongly in favour of ordaining viri probati to the presbyterate as well as the diaconate. Practical experience of their ministry has only convinced me of the justice and rightness of such a return to the ancient norm.

    The principle obstacle to such a development is, in my opinion, simply fear - fear that everything will fall apart if our human constructions appear to be weakened or undermined; the Latin fear of untidiness and loss of control; the instinct among clergy that others should not be admitted who haven't followed their own "professional" path to priesthood. In respect of the last point, I strongly suspect that the ridiculously daunting academic "formation" required of "Permanent Deacons" in the Latin Church represents a backdoor attempt to subvert this wholly salutary restoration, proposed by Vatican II.

    Administration of the Sacraments is not tied to academic training. They're Alieftikos al' ouk Aristotelikos, and we should never forget it.

  10. Sorry - "of the Fishermen, not the Philosophers" (St Gregory of Nyssa).


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