Rorate Caeli

Vatican orders reforms in the philosophical formation of seminarians

NB: The decree has not yet been published on the Vatican website. However, it is now available (in Italian) from Pax Books: DECRETO DI RIFORMA DEGLI STUDI ECCLESIASTICI DI FILOSOFIA

From the blog of the Vatican Information Service:

VATICAN CITY, 22 MAR 2011 (VIS) - At 11.30 a.m. today in the Holy See Press Office a press conference was held to present the newly-published Decree on the Reform of Ecclesiastical Studies of Philosophy. Participating in the event were Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education; Bishop Jean-Louis Brugues O.P., secretary of the same dicastery, and Fr. Charles Morerod O.P., rector of Rome's Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (Angelicum).

Cardinal Grocholewski explained how the normative documents concerning ecclesiastical studies - and hence also philosophy - currently comprehend John Paul II's 1979 Apostolic Constitution "Sapientia christiana" and its norms of application issued in the same year by the Congregation for Catholic Education. "Nonetheless", he said, "'Ecclesia semper est reformanda' in order to respond to the new demands of ecclesial life in changing historical-cultural circumstances and this also (perhaps especially) involves the academic world".

The reasons for the reform are, the cardinal explained, "on the one hand, the shortcomings in philosophical formation at many ecclesiastical institutions, where precise points of reference are lacking especially as regards the subjects to be taught and the quality of teachers. ... On the other hand there is the conviction - expressed in John Paul II's 1998 Encyclical 'Fides et ratio' - of the importance of the metaphysical component of philosophy, ... and the awareness that philosophy is indispensable for theological formation". For this reason today's decree of the congregation aims to re-evaluate philosophy, above all in the light of that Encyclical, ... restoring the 'original vocation' of philosophy; i.e., the search for truth and its sapiental and metaphysical dimension".

The preparation of the text dates back to 2004 when the congregation established a commission of specialists in philosophy. That commission, possessing both intellectual and institutional expertise and representative of the principal linguistic and geographical areas, was charged with presenting a reform project. The definitive version "was ratified in the Congregation for Catholic Education's ordinary meeting of 16 June 2010", while Benedict XVI "approved 'in specific form' the modifications made to the Apostolic Constitution 'Sapientia christiana' and confirmed the rest of the text 'in common form'. In fact", the cardinal explained, "only three articles of 'Sapientia christiana' have been reformed while the vast majority of the modifications concern the congregation's own applicative norms".

For his part Bishop Brugues focused on some of the details of the new reform in ecclesiastical theological faculties, including the length of the course which from now on will last three years. As regards the syllabus, "the document adds a subject: ... logic, and in particular highlights the role of metaphysics", he said. The reform will likewise affect academic staff who must be full-time and adequately qualified.

The reform also concerns the first cycle of studies in ecclesiastical faculties of theology and affiliated institutes, defining the duration of formation and explaining that "strictly philosophical disciplines must constitute at least sixty percent of the number of credits in the first two years". This condition also holds for affiliated major seminaries.

In his remarks the rector of the Angelicum affirmed that "the study of philosophy helps theologians to an awareness of their own philosophical criteria, to examine them critically and to avoid imposing a conceptual framework incompatible with the faith on their theology or preaching. In order to be correct, critical reflection on philosophical theories must seek the truth beyond appearances. A non-Christian philosopher can be useful to theology whereas a Christian philosopher who wishes to prove the existence of God can have the opposite effect".


  1. Anonymous11:31 AM

    Luke 18:17
    Amen, I say to you: Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a child, shall not enter into it.

  2. Does this mean an end to Freudian-Jungian psychodynamics and situation ethics?

  3. Where can we get a copy of the decree?

  4. A priest who was there to witness the revamping of seminary formation in the disastrous 1960's once told me that, significantly, "the first course they threw out was Logic." Its restoration at this time is certainly welcome, if long overdue.

  5. will this mean a gravitation to "Thomism" which I've read is the correct way?

  6. It appears that the last sentence would rule out St. Thomas Aquinas and Scholasticism. St.Thomas has five proofs for the existence of God by reason alone. I hope I am wrong about my reading of the sentence. I also do not understand the usefulness of a non Christian philosopher unless it is a reference to Aristotle.

  7. Well let's hope this is the beginning of a restorative process. I know of priests who have never even read the Summa Theologica.

  8. Anonymous3:11 PM

    I would interpret the last sentencve to be refering to 'Christian' philosophers such as Descartes and Leibniz who give 'proofs' for God's existence but whose influence on Theology has been pernicious. In contrast a non-Christian philosopher might have something more worthwhile to say philosophical. Aristtotle, after all, wasn't a Christian.


  9. Anonymous4:40 PM

    Poeta wrote "the first course they threw out was Logic".

    If this is so, then I understand now why their thinking is so convoluted.


  10. This is something which I'm especially pleased about. I hope they don't just teach Aquinas though like they did in the late 19th-early 20th century; there are other great doctors like St. Augustine, St. Anselm, St. Bonaventure, Bl. John Duns Scotus, Francisco Suarez, etc.

  11. Br. Anthony:

    Nothing yet on the Vatican website. The decree is available only in Italian (at least for now), and you have to order it via Pax Books:

  12. Johannes2:45 AM

    William - why is the domineering influence of that particular pagan philosopher - who was consciously rejected by most of the fathers; they, unlike the schoolmen, could read him; Greek - preferable to that of any other, ancient, recent or present?

  13. First of all, philosophy, logic, and metaphysics could mean anything. Why is there no explicit mention of Thomism?! Honestly, the only solution is a return to the 24 Thomistic Theses and Pope St. Pius X's Doctoris Angelici.

    @LeonG: Amen!

    @poeta: I believe it. Even if it were included in the curriculum, it probably was not taught first as St. Thomas recommends it should be (Sententia Ethic., lib. 6 l. 7 n. 17 [1211.]): "the proper order of learning is that boys first be instructed in things pertaining to logic because logic teaches the method of the whole of philosophy. Next, they should be instructed in mathematics, which does not need experience and does not exceed the imagination. Third, in natural sciences, which, even though not exceeding sense and imagination, nevertheless require experience. Fourth, in the moral sciences, which require experience and a soul free from passions, as was noted in the first book (38-40). Fifth, in the sapiential and divine sciences, which exceed imagination and require a sharp mind." Can you believe this? If St. Thomas thinks boys (pueri in the Latin of Sententia Ethic., lib. 6 l. 7 n. 17) should be taught this, a fortiori priests should be!

    @benjoyce: We can sure hope and pray so.

    @william: "St.Thomas has five proofs for the existence of God by reason alone." No, his quinque viæ are not "by reason alone." They depend on observing the world; nihil est in intellectu quod non prius in sensu ("nothing is in the intellect that is not first in the senses").

    @the viking: Wow... All I can say is "wow"...

    @awatkins69: Do you mean with manuals? Also, the other scholastics you mention contradict St. Thomas on some points. Not one part of St. Thomas' philosophy and theology has been condemned by the Church once! This is why Pope Leo XIII wrote in Æterni Patris: "Among the Scholastic Doctors, the chief and master of all towers Thomas Aquinas, who, as Cajetan observes, because 'he most venerated the ancient doctors of the Church, in a certain way seems to have inherited the intellect of all.'" One finds similar quotes in Popes JPII's Fides et Ratio and Paul VI's Lumen ecclesiæ 29.

  14. The Italian version of the Zenit report is considerably more interesting than the English version. E.g., it says:

    Guardare al tomismo

    La Chiesa dà alla filosofia tomista “un posto di rilievo”, ma la preferenza che attribuisce al metodo di San Tommaso d’Aquino “non è esclusiva, ma esemplare”, ha ricordato il Cardinal Grocholewski nel suo intervento, citando la Fides et Ratio quando afferma che “non tutte le filosofie sono compatibili con la fede e anche con una ragione adeguata alla verità”.

    This is good that Card. Grocholewski recognizes that although the "method of St. Thomas 'is not exclusive, but exemplary,'" citing Fides et Ratio, he affirms that "not all philosophies are compatible with the faith and also with a reason fit for truth" and that the Church gives Thomism a "prominent place."

  15. @Alan: Not true. Aquinas' propositions on the conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary and her sinlessness were condemned as false, and Bl. John Duns Scotus' position became a Catholic dogma.

    There's plenty to disagree with in Thomas, and I think that in quite a few cases later (or earlier) Scholastics were right where Thomas wasn't.

  16. @awatkins69: St. Thomas definitely did not deny the Immaculate Conception. He wrestled with how she was immaculately conceived, not whether she was. Bl. Scotus's solution that sanctificatio post animationem followed the order of nature and not of time was genius, though. Are there any other issues Bl. Scotus clarified in relation to Thomism, though? He certainly did not have a Summa like St. Thomas's from which priests could obtain a solid formation and according to which doctrine and dogma could be transmitted and communicated without error, or did he? Is not Thomism more than a convention, language, or arbitrary framework?

  17. Anonymous4:53 PM

    "Ecclesia sempre reformanda"...
    I hate this phrase.

  18. St. Thomas definitely did not deny the Immaculate Conception. He wrestled with how she was immaculately conceived, not whether she was.

    Sorry, but that is not true. He undoubtedly concluded that she was not immaculately conceived.

    "St. Thomas at first pronounced in favour of the doctrine in his treatise on the "Sentences" (in I. Sent. c. 44, q. I ad 3), yet in his "Summa Theologica" he concluded against it. Much discussion has arisen as to whether St. Thomas did or did not deny that the Blessed Virgin was immaculate at the instant of her animation, and learned books have been written to vindicate him from having actually drawn the negative conclusion. Yet it is hard to say that St. Thomas did not require an instant at least, after the animation of Mary, before her sanctification. His great difficulty appears to have arisen from the doubt as to how she could have been redeemed if she had not sinned. This difficulty he raised in no fewer than ten passages in his writings (see, e.g., Summa III:27:2, ad 2). But while St. Thomas thus held back from the essential point of the doctrine, he himself laid down the principles which, after they had been drawn together and worked out, enabled other minds to furnish the true solution of this difficulty from his own premises.

    "In the thirteenth century the opposition was largely due to a want of clear insight into the subject in dispute. The word "conception" was used in different senses, which had not been separated by careful definition. If St. Thomas, St. Bonaventure, and other theologians had known the doctrine in the sense of the definition of 1854, they would have been its strongest defenders instead of being its opponents."

  19. @Jordanes551: Read this in Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P.'s Christ the Savior:

    The Teaching Of St. Thomas On The Immaculate Conception

    It seems that we must distinguish between three periods in the life of St. Thomas as to his teaching on this subject.

    In the first period, which was from 1253 to 1254, he affirmed the privilege, for he wrote: "Such was the purity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who was exempt from both original and actual sin."[2467]

    In the second period, St. Thomas sees more clearly the difficulties of the problem, and, because some theologians said that Mary had no need of redemption, the holy Doctor affirms that, according to revelation,[2468] Christ is the Redeemer of the human race, and that nobody is saved without him. But giving no thought to preservative redemption, St. Thomas seems to deny the privilege of the Immaculate Conception, saying: "It remains, therefore, that the Blessed Virgin was sanctified after animation,"[2469] St. Thomas fails to distinguish, as he often does in other questions, between posteriority of nature, which is compatible with the privilege, and posteriority of time, which is incompatible with it. He says: "The Blessed Virgin did indeed, contract original sin,"[2470] not sufficiently distinguishing between the debt of incurring original sin and the fact of incurring it.

    Concerning the question as to the precise moment when the Blessed Virgin was sanctified in the womb, St. Thomas does not come to any conclusion. He only says: "This sanctification took place immediately after her animation,"[2471] and "it is not known when she was sanctified."[2472]

    It must be observed with Fathers del Prado, O. P.,[2473] Mandonnet, O. P.,[2474] and Hugon, O. P.,[2475] that the principles invoked by St. Thomas do not contradict the privilege and remain intact if preservative redemption be admitted. But St. Thomas, at least in this second period of his life as teacher, does not seem to have thought of this most perfect mode of redemption. Moreover, it must be noticed that the feast of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin was not as yet celebrated in Rome;[2476] but what is not done in Rome, does not appear to be in conformity with tradition.

    In the last period of his life, however, from 1272 until 1273, St. Thomas wrote a work that is certainly authentic.[2477] In a recent critical edition of this small work made by J. F. Rossi, c. M., we read: "For she [the Blessed Virgin] was most pure because she incurred the stain neither of original sin nor of mortal sin nor of venial sin."[2478] If it be so, then St. Thomas at the end of his life, after mature reflection, and in accordance with his devotion toward the Blessed Virgin, again affirmed what he had said in the first period of his life.[2479]

    We must note other passages indicative of this happy return to his first opinion.[2480]

    A similar change of opinion is often enough to be found in great theologians concerning very difficult questions that belong to Mariology. First something of the privilege is affirmed in accordance with tradition and devotion; afterward difficulties become more apparent which give rise to doubts, and finally upon more mature reflection, enlightened by the gifts of the Holy Ghost, the theologian returns to his first opinion, considering that God's gifts are more fruitful than we think and there must be good reasons for restricting their scope. But the principles of St. Thomas, as we have observed, do not decide against the privilege, they even lead to it, at the same time as the mind is acquiring an explicit notion of preservative redemption.

    Thus St. Thomas probably at the end of life reaffirmed the privilege of the Immaculate Conception. Father Mandonnet[2481] and Father J. M. Voste[2482] thought so.


  20. Thanks for providing further details of St. Thomas' unfortunate, mistaken denial of Our Lady's Immaculate Conception. It is good to know that he later seems to have abandoned his previous denial. Nevertheless you are still mistaken to claim that he "definitely did not" deny it. There is no doubt that he did.

  21. Copleston's writings on Thomas are an excellent modern source.

  22. I just discovered from this post on the Dominican History blog that the decree is now online on the Vatican website. It looks like at most 40% of the seminarians' training could include the natural sciences like physics!

  23. Alan:

    I posted the text of the decree on April 11, 2011:

  24. Pascal: Thanks, I missed that post.


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