What is a Theological Seminary?

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  • Written By: J.M. Willhite
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 03 November 2019
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A theological seminary is an institution of higher learning used to educate and prepare individuals for ordination as clergy or other religious ministry. Throughout its progression since the Reformation, the theological seminary has shifted its focus from purely preparatory study to academic disciplines which foster a more congregational, non-ordained focus. Seminaries offer a diversified range of undergraduate and graduate degree programs, at the core of which remains Christian teachings and faith.

Theological seminaries were solely used for the purpose of training clergy from about the 4th century until the advent of the Middle Ages in the 5th century, when the Catholic Church became the unifying entity of religious teaching and monasticism gained popularity. During this time, the training of clergy became intertwined with monasticism and occurred exclusively within monastery walls. The traditional role of the theological seminary fell out of favor and soon became obsolete. Following the Reformation, however, the theological seminary re-emerged alongside the formation of the various denominations.

After the Council of Trent in the 1500s, Roman Catholicism was revitalized and its influence directly affected how theological seminaries were structured and overseen, which became known as the Tridentine model. Seminaries soon adopted the Tridentine model and became residential institutions, like monasteries, directly supervised by elder clergy. Individual obedience was strictly enforced as students were taught philosophy and theology as part of their preparation for ministry.


The Tridentine model was adopted throughout Europe and eventually made its way to America. As the various denominations adopted the seminary model, they adapted it as well. Though numerous theological seminaries structure their institutions according to the Tridentine model, the overall prominence of Catholicism as manifested by the importance of philosophical study has ebbed.

Catholic theological seminaries, whose sole function is to train clergy, follow strict guidelines and principles regarding the ordination process. Established by the Vatican and the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, seminaries in the US have guidelines that state that individuals must complete a four-year degree in philosophy and four years of graduate work in theology. To be ordained as a deacon requires an additional five years of specialized study.

In a theological seminary, religious and academic training can be dependent on denomination, such as Pentecostal, Mormon, Evangelical and fundamentalist; however, all study emphasizes four key areas of purpose: intellectual, pastoral, human, and spiritual. Areas of study may include Christian education, theology, philosophy, and pastoral ministry. Depending on accreditation, seminaries offer specialized certification programs and award bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees. Graduate programs are diverse, and include Master of Divinity (M.Div.), Master of Theological Study (Th.M.), and Cross-Cultural Ministries (M.A./CM) degrees.


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Post 3

@Vincenzo @Terrificli -- there are some online seminaries out there that are both affordable and are accredited. If you want the convenience and affordability of an online seminary as well as the peace of mind that comes with attending an accredited one, researching those schools might be a good step.

Post 2

Also, there is a trend developing in churches in the United States. Some churches don't require their ministers to graduate from accredited seminaries. People simply don't enter the ministry in the numbers they used to, and that means churches can't afford to be as selective as they once were.

That non-accredited seminary may actually have more merit than you realize. Of course, there are some bad ones out there, but some research will help you find one that will suit your purposes. Prospective ministers might find that they belong to a denomination which is moving away from only hiring pastors from accredited seminaries or may have already dropped that requirement.

Post 1

In the United States, there is a major issue brewing with seminaries. Namely, there's a fight over accreditation. You will find an increasing number of seminaries that are not accredited and a lot of those function online. Proceed with caution because there is very limited value to a seminary that is not accredited.

What is accreditation? It it usually granted by the Association of Theological Schools (ATS) and is viewed as a stamp of approval, in a sense. Many churches will only hire ministers that have graduated from an accredited seminary, thus it is important to make sure that you do check closely and graduate from such a school. There are a lot of seminaries out there, but how many of them offer degrees that can help you land a job?

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