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A seminary, theological college, or divinity school is an institution of higher education for educating students (seminarians) in philosophy, theology, spirituality and the religious life, primarily at the postgraduate level, to prepare students for ordination as clergy or for other ministry. The English word is taken from the Latin seminarium, translated as seed-bed, the image from the Council of Trent document Cum Adulescentium Aetas which called for the first modern seminaries. As such, in the West the term historically referred to Christian educational institutes, but has widened to include American Jewish institutions.


Since at least the 4th century there have been seminaries for the training of clergy. The first known group of seminarians was gathered by St. Basil of Ancyra. The term dropped out of general use in the Middle Ages, when most theological training was in monasteries, and later, in the universities.

The establishment of modern seminaries resulted from Roman Catholic reforms of the Counter-Reformation after the Council of Trent. Seminaries became live-in institutions under the direct control of senior clergy. This later led to the creation of minor seminaries to educate young boys for the priesthood at a time when literacy was not widespread. The Tridentine model of seminary was similar to that of a monastary. These seminaries stood in contrast to the freer intellectual atmosphere of the universities. The Tridentine seminaries placed great emphasis on personal discipline as well as the teaching of philosophy as a preparation for theology; an approach that was explicitly rejected by Protestant reformers such as John Calvin.

The Tridentine model of seminaries has since been adopted and adapted by other Christian denominations as well as by modern American Judaism, though now in a more open fashion than the Tridentine model and often without the Catholic emphasis on the pre-requisite study of philosophy and the Catholic requirement to live on campus within the Christian community of the seminary.

Academic program

While the Tridentine seminary model was one of in-house "formation", modern seminary institutions now sometimes co-exist with theological colleges, such as in the United Kingdommarker, where they are the live-in college of another tertiary institution. In this case the Academic Institutions are typically called a school of theology or divinity school. They usually offer undergraduate and graduate academic degrees (such as the Bachelor of Theology, Bachelor of Sacred Theology, Master of Divinity, Master of Theology, Doctor of Ministry, etc.).

Bible colleges and theological seminaries provide a type of religious and/or academic education, including the study of religious history and theology and may also award AA, BA, MA, and Ph.D or Th.D degrees. This type of institution can be Evangelical, fundamentalist, Pentecostal, Reformed, LDS (Mormon), Roman Catholic, or multi-denominational in orientation. Such institutions may also offer lay education. Some accredited Roman Catholic seminaries have their degrees conferred by a Pontifical University and through the Vatican Congregation for Seminaries and Universities.

Although a primary purpose of a seminary is to prepare and equip candidates for religious service in the church or synagogue— congregational leadership—many people not intending to become such leaders may study in seminaries. Qualifications may be obtained majoring in chaplaincies, counseling, teaching and more academic disciplines. It is common for lay people to study in a seminary to enhance their spiritual life, to explore academic interests, or to prepare for non-ordained ministries (such as, choir directors or Sunday school teachers).

Monks, priests and nuns attend seminary to qualify for service and usually belong to a particular denomination.Many Christian denominations cooperate in providing theological education for students preparing for ordination and a number of consortia or other cooperative arrangements have been established.

Christian seminaries offer courses in four key areas of studies, or formation: human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral.

Catholic seminaries' intellectual formation requirements for priestly ordination, as per Vatican papal directives and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops guidelines, require completion of four years of undergraduate study of philosophy and four years of graduate study in theology (for those persons proceeding directly from high school). Ordination to the diaconate takes five years of study in pastoral care and theology, history, Catholic philosophy and theology, and Biblical and sacramental instruction. Courses in formation for both programs are taken in: Sacred Scripture, Theology, Christian Ethics, Spirituality, Christology, Mariology, Metaphysics, Ontology, Ecclesiology, Liturgy, Music, Sacraments, Church History, Pastoral Theology, Homiletics, Social Justice, Canon Law and Catechetics.

Accreditation and recognition

Some seminaries elect to acquire accreditation. In North America, five entities that accredit religious schools in particular are recognized by the United States Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation: 1) the American Board of Theological Institutions, 2) the Association of Advanced Rabbinical and Talmudic Schools, 3) the Association for Biblical Higher Education, 4) the Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada, and 5) the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools.

Some seminaries are accredited by, recognized by, or otherwise affiliated with various church or denominational entities or non-government recognized faith-based accrediting agencies, instead of or in addition to government-recognized accreditation.

Other uses of the term

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sponsors religious education programs for secondary school students which are referred to as seminaries.

In some countries, the term seminary is also used for secular schools of higher education that train teachers. During the 19th century in the United Statesmarker, "Seminaries educated women for the only socially acceptable occupation: teaching. Only unmarried women could be teachers. Many early women's colleges began as female seminaries and were responsible for producing an important corps of educators."


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