The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Education, Theological

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The Encyclopedia Americana
Education, Theological
Edition of 1920. See also Seminary on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

EDUCATION, Theological. A system of training for the work of the ministry. From remotest times religion centred in ritual acts and gave rise to a system of training men to fill the office of the necessary priesthood. The priests of the great temples in ancient Babylonia, Egypt and other lands, as well as those at the prehistoric shrines, naturally took pains to train young men to perform the duties of the sacred office which eventually they had to surrender. When religion consisted in the main of the public performance of ritual acts the training of the priest was a simple affair. It consisted, of course, in imparting a knowledge of the principles underlying established practices but mostly it was a course of ritualistic instruction. The case of Samuel (1 Samuel c. i ff) brought up at the shrine of Shiloh is an illustration of this early sort of training for the priesthood. When religious systems clashed in a strife for supremacy in the world, the priest had not only to administer the ritual of the altar but to defend and proclaim the doctrines of his faith with converting power. This was conspicuously the situation when Christianity sought to get a foothold. Among the early Christians the preaching of doctrine outranked the performance of ritual. With the increasing importance of doctrine a fuller and more thorough instruction on the purely intellectual side of religion necessarily entered into the preparation for the ministry. During the first few centuries of Christian history individual enthusiasm was so intense that the ministry was adequately supplied by men who in a sense were self-educated, self-prepared. As churches multiplied and the need of uniformity in Church teaching and practice became more urgent, systematic efforts had to be made by the bishops to train men to fill the priestly offices. The simplest and surest way was for the bishops to take young men into their own homes and educate and train them. In New England it was for a long time quite the common thing for young men who thought of entering the ministry to take up residence with a regularly ordained clergyman and read divinity with him very much as a young man preparing for the law entered the office of a lawyer and read law there. Eventually the monasteries became the training schools for priests and the universities naturally became a place of theological education. Down to as late a time as the Council of Trent theological training was in an exceedingly chaotic condition, a condition greatly emphasized by the events of the Reformation. One of the steps taken by the Catholic Church to meet the situation of this stormy period was the establishing of the theological curriculum for the diocesan seminaries, a curriculum which has continued practically unchanged to the present time. In Europe where the Protestant religion became the religion of the state Protestant theological education was from the first provided by the great public universities. The Protestant denominations dissenting from the established Church provided schools of their own.

The United States. — The earliest educational institutions in New England were theological in purpose and inspiration as is evident from a contemporary account (1643) of the founding of Harvard University: “After God had carried us safe to New England and wee had builded our houses, provided necessaries for our livelihood, rear'd convenient places for God's worship, and settled the civill government: One of the next things we longed for and looked after was to advance learning and perpetuate it to posterity; dreading to leave an illiterate ministry to the churches, when our present ministers shall lie in the dust.” That this purpose might be doubly ensured against miscarriage free tuition was offered to candidates for the ministry, while students for other purposes were charged a fee. This practice has been almost universally followed. These early institutions did not confine themselves to the teaching of theological subjects and by the end of the 18th century secular students had so outrun divinity that it became necessary to create within these old universities separate schools of theology. When toward the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th centuries different denominations began to establish their own theological seminaries there was manifest a widespread desire to isolate these schools from all institutions of higher learning by building them at considerable distances from such institutions. This guarded against secularization and helped to make the minister a more ardent denominationalist. Of the existing theological schools three were established before the 19th century: the seminary at New Brunswick, N. J., of the Dutch Reformed Church, founded in 1784; the Roman Catholic Seminary of Saint Mary's, Baltimore, Md., 1791; and the United Presbyterian Seminary, established 1794, at Service, Beaver County, Pa., and later removed to Xenia, Ohio. Later other denominations established seminaries. The first Congregational seminary was opened in Andover, Mass., 1808 (now located in the neighborhood of Harvard University). The Protestant Episcopal Church founded its first seminary in New York city in 1819, At Hartwick Seminary, N. Y., the Evangelical Lutherans built their first theological school in 1815; Colgate Seminary, now a part of Hamilton College, was established by the Baptists in 1820; at Newbury, Vt., the Methodist Episcopal Church opened its first theological school in 1841; this school is now a department of the Boston University. In 1819 the divinity school of Harvard University was organized as a separate institution and became the first non-sectarian divinity school in the country. During the first 25 years of the 19th century 18 seminaries were organized representing 11 denominations. Four of these were Presbyterian; three Congregational; Baptist and Protestant Episcopalian 2 each. The period of greatest activity in establishing theological schools was from 1850 to 1875, 71 being the number of new schools founded. Of the 169 theological schools reported by the United States Commissioner of Education for the year 1916 26 were organized after 1899. Of the 165 seminaries reported in the statistics of 1899, 38 are not found in the statistics for 1916, having disappeared by amalgamation or otherwise. The 169 theological schools reported in 1916 represent 27 denominations. (For statistics see Education, Professional). In 1916, seven were listed as non-sectarian, four as interdenominational, three had no sectarian designation. Since the beginning of the 20th century three important theological schools have abandoned sectarian designation: Union Theological Seminary, New York city, changed its designation from Presbyterian to interdenominational; Yale from Congregational to undenominational; the theological school of Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tenn., from Methodist Episcopal to non-sectarian. Of these 169 schools 41 admit both men and women. In 1898 1,693 were graduated from 165 schools and in 1916 2,088 were graduated from 169 schools. The practice generally followed for over a century was to establish theological schools fairly remote from other institutions of higher learning. It has come to be recognized that this practice has seriously impaired the scholastic and practical value of these schools. The past 20 or 25 years has witnessed an increasing movement toward bringing these schools into closer touch with colleges and universities. As instances of this, the moving of Andover Theological Seminary to Cambridge, Mass., and its affiliation with Harvard; the affiliation of the Chicago Theological Seminary with Chicago University; the arrangement effected by the Meadville, Pa., Theological School to send its students to the Chicago University for a part of their course may be cited. A century ago the importance of this plan was recognized by Thomas Jefferson and advocated by him in his report as rector of the University of Virginia.

Roman Catholic — In the diocesan seminaries for the training of men for the priesthood the curriculum of to-day is but little changed from that outlined by the Council of Trent. The course extends over a period of six years divided into a philosophical course of two years followed by a theological course of four. Candidates for admission to the seminary must offer a B.A. from some college of recognized standing or a satisfactory equivalent. This latter provision is made so that the Church may not lose the services of a man peculiarly fitted by nature for the office of priest who has not been able to secure a collegiate training. Unlike Protestant seminaries, where the courses of like subjects are by no means the same even in schools of the same denomination, the courses are alike in all Catholic seminaries though the quality of scholarship may not be uniform. The first two years are devoted to logic, ontology, psychology, natural theology, Church history, general history, Old and New Testaments, Latin, Hebrew, Greek, science, biology and chemistry. The purpose of science in this curriculum is well explained by Leo XIII: “It is enough that their (the seminaries') pupils have an accurate knowledge of the main principles and summary conclusions (of physical and natural sciences), so as to be able to solve the objections which infidels draw from these sciences against the teachings of Revelation.” These two years are designed to furnish a sufficient preparation for the rigorous and intensive study of theological subjects of the next four years. The subjects pursued are apologetics (an exposition and defense of the grounds of Catholic beliefs), dogmatic and moral theology (the aim of moral theology is to prepare the future priest for the competent and practical care of souls, teaching him how to judge and estimate the morality of the actions of those who may fall within the province of his direction as a priest and confessor), pastoral theology (the proper care and government of the charges entrusted to him and the faithful and successful discharge of his sacred ministry), homiletics, canon law, Church history, biblical exegesis. Sociology is a seminary subject and is intended to afford an opportunity for the students who so wish to secure a thorough knowledge of modern social and economic problems and movements. By constant participation in the ritual the young priest is trained to the proper administration of the Church's sacraments. Similarly the student is prepared to organize and manage the Church's many social activities through service in those societies which have to do with the immediate work of human helpfulness.

Jewish. — Theological education for the Jewish ministry differs somewhat from the Christian scheme. The course at Hebrew Union College extends over a period of nine years — four years preparatory and five years in the collegiate department. In the preparatory department the students are given a thorough grounding in the grammar and vocabulary, which enables them to read the unpunctuated text of the Pentateuch and other Hebrew literature. A general knowledge of Rabbinical literature and history of the prayerbook and Psalms and the doctrines and ceremonies of Judaism is also aimed at. The collegiate department is divided into two parts, “the three lower grades being devoted to the acquisition of material and the upper two to systematic and specific theological knowledge.” The principal subjects of study are Bible Exegesis and the Talmud and all the important Hebrew literature, as well as the New Testament; the history of the Jewish people. The study of the origin and development of Mosaic and Rabbinical Judaism paves the way to systematic theology. The study of comparative religions is pursued to give a foundation for Jewish apologetics. Practical theology divides itself into the study of homiletics and the rites and ceremonies of Judaism. Ethics and pedagogy are important subjects, the latter being designed to prepare the student for the task of religious instruction. Applied sociology or the science of philanthropy forms a part of the curriculum, and is designed to teach the rabbi “how to combine the new method with the ancient spirit of Judaism in the field of practical righteousness and Social Service.”


Autumn Winter Spring
First Year
Beginnings of Old Testament, literature and history  Old Testament, history and prophecy.
Church history   The ancient Church. Church history   The Reformation. Church history   The development of modern Christianity.
Practical sociology — The Church and society. Practical theology — Religious education. Practical theology — The organization of the Church.
Practice in observation and public speaking. Public speaking and music. Public speaking and music.
Second Year
New Testament — Jesus in Jewish history. New Testament — Primitive Christian life and literature.  New Testament — Teachings of Jesus.
Systematic theology I. Systematic theology II. Systematic theology III.
Practical theology — Theory of preaching. Practical theology — Preparation and delivery. Practical theology — Problems and methods of Church extension.
Third Year
Sequence courses in the student's principal department and electives under the direction of his faculty adviser.


Protestant. — In the education for the Protestant ministry the strictly theological subjects differ little from the major subjects in the Catholic curriculum. Systematic, dogmatic, practical theology, exegesis, church history and homiletics — these for many generations were the sum of Protestant theological education. A recent writer has summarized the instruction given in the leading theological schools until recently in such a way as to indicate the different values assigned to these subjects. Out of a possible 1,536 hours of study the time is actually divided in this way: Theology and apologetics, 480 hours; Hebrew and Old Testament, 288 hours; Greek and New Testament, 224 hours; ecclesiastical and Biblical history, 256 hours; preaching and social problems, 96 hours; rhetoric and elocution, 144 hours. A word or two by way of explanation will help to a better understanding of the actual significance and purpose of these studies. The study of Hebrew is designed to enable the student to get the text of “the divine law and covenant.” Greek is required that he may get “the letter of the New Covenant and the precise word of the latest inspiration.” Dogmatic theology “weaves into a single system the separate strands of truth gathered from Scripture” and tradition. Apologetics is studied that the preacher may go out equipped to defend “the established doctrines against critics and heretics.” The study of Church history acquaints the student with “the way in which previous dogmatic theologians have done their work; including the forms and institutions in which the Christian truth has found embodiment.” Homiletics “is the art of fitting a doctrine to a text and proclaiming it convincingly.” Practical theology is studied to prepare the student to conduct and administer properly the services of the particular Church the ministry of which he is to enter. While in a considerable number of theological schools this is the extent and character of the education given in these days, the modern minister must come to his position prepared to manage, initiate, inspire many secular or semi-secular enterprises as well as fill the place of a spiritual administrator. The services of worship and spiritual instruction have become the smaller part of a minister's activities. There are men's clubs, girls' societies, boys' clubs, reading-rooms, gymnasiums, banquets, sociables and many other activities designed to aid in the development of community life. In response to these new demands the theological seminaries are radically changing their curricula, not by abolishing the old subjects but by the addition of new ones, or rather by changing the rank of the subjects — studying the old subjects from an entirely different angle. To quote from one seminary's catalogue, “The social teachings of the Old and New Testaments are studied with the purpose of estimating the nature of the contribution of Biblical history and theology to moral and social progress.” The sociological now ranks with and in some cases ahead of the theological in an increasing number of schools. The much-debated question whether Hebrew and Greek should be required is being answered by putting these subjects in the elective groups. In some instances students are allowed to present themselves as candidates for the degree of B.D. by offering as substitute for Hebrew and Greek a satisfactory “acquaintance with scientific philosophical, or historical method.” The course on “Social Ethics” offered by the Divinity School of Harvard University is a good illustration of how the theological schools are trying to educate the minister to meet the problems which confront the clergyman of to-day. The subjects explain themselves. “Social Problems in the Light of Christian Ethics,” “The Development of Modern Philanthropic Theory and Practice,” “The Minister's Relation to Social Agencies,” “American Population Problems,” “The Housing Problem,” “Unemployment and Related Problems,” “Rural Social Development.” The intimate association of the theological schools of Chicago with the Chicago Commons Social Settlement and the Chicago Institute of Social Service are indicative of the attempts now made to educate the minister by introducing him while in the seminary into the midst of the complex human problems — a sort of sociological clinic. The preceding table presents a brief survey of the course of study planned out for a candidate for the ministry in some of the leading Protestant seminaries.

The emphasis in much, of theological education to-day then is put on “Psychology, sociology, philanthropy, legal principles, and practical problems involved in applying the spirit of Christianity to modern life.” In some schools the comparative study of religions is given an important place, on the ground that the more one knows of the religious systems of the world the sounder is one's understanding of his own religion.

Two recent developments deserve fuller mention than can be made here. A few words from the charter of the Hartford Seminary Foundation (1913) are to the point (this is the reincorporation of the old Hartford Theological Seminary). The object of the Seminary Foundation in addition to preparing men for the ministry is said to be “to train men and women for the work of religious education in all its branches and for such other callings and forms of service as seek to promote Christian worship and work; to train men and women for service in such institutions as are established for the social welfare of mankind in the name and spirit of the Christian faith; to train men and women for service in the foreign field.” To this end there has been added to some of the seminaries a school of religious pedagogy which aims to offer its theological student fuller opportunities to prepare himself on the Sunday school and social service work of the church, and also to educate men and women to fill what might be called the office of assistant to the pastor. A school of missions has been added to give those who plan to enter the foreign field a chance to specialize in studies peculiarly fitted to that end. Another feature is the summer schools of theology, which offer to men already in the regular work of the ministry an opportunity to pursue the old seminary studies or take up new ones in the hopes of better fitting themselves for the tasks met with in their parishes. The work pursued in these summer schools, conducted by several of the leading seminaries, may be credited toward a degree. Another and not less useful innovation is the correspondence courses in theology carried on by a few of the seminaries. These correspondence courses afford the man in the field an opportunity to secure the education he feels in need of under the guide of competent instructors. In some instances the work done in these courses may be credited toward a degree. All this is simply indicative of the desire on the part of the seminaries to create a finely educated ministry for the churches.

The question of educational qualification for admission to theological seminaries has been pretty thoroughly debated for many years. While there is evidently a constant stiffening of these requirements, a college training being more and more in demand, it is felt now, as it has been all along, that the terms of admission should be flexible enough to let in persons who, lacking collegiate training, nevertheless have intellectual and spiritual qualifications which make them desirable additions to the ministry. To compensate for this lack of scholastic preparation most of the seminaries provide courses in essentially preparatory subjects, and so pass these students on into the regular courses or else the students are admitted to special courses. However, many of the seminaries award degrees only to those who enter with a collegiate degree; though usually any student is allowed to present himself as a candidate for the degree if he submits evidence of scholarship fully equivalent to a college training. In most instances tuition is free in the theological schools, and financial assistance is readily granted to needy students. This has been severely criticised. But whether it deserves the criticism or not, it is difficult to break up a long established custom and one that has been productive of some excellent results.

Rev. Charles Graves.