DECREE ON PRIESTLY TRAINING
Proclaimed by His Holiness, Pope Paul VI On October 28, 1965
Animated by the spirit of Christ, this sacred synod is fully aware that
the desired renewal of the whole Church depends to a great extent on the
ministry of its priests. It proclaims the extreme importance of priestly
training and lays down certain basic principles by which those
regulations may be strengthened which long use has shown to be sound and
by which those new elements can be added which correspond to the
constitutions and decrees of this sacred council and to the changed
conditions of our times. Because of the very unity of the Catholic
priesthood this priestly formation is necessary for all priests, diocesan
and religious and of every rite. Wherefore, while these prescriptions
directly concern the diocesan clergy, they are to be appropriately
adapted to all.
I THE PROGRAM OF PRIESTLY TRAINING TO BE UNDERTAKEN BY EACH COUNTRY
1. Since only general laws can be made where there exists a wide variety
of nations and regions, a special "program of priestly training" is to be
undertaken by each country or rite. It must be set up by the episcopal
conferences, revised from time to time and approved by the Apostolic See.
In this way will the universal laws be adapted to the particular
circumstances of the times and localities so that the priestly training
will always be in tune with the pastoral needs of those regions in which
the ministry is to be exercised.
lI THE URGENT FOSTERING OF PRIESTLY VOCATIONS
2. The duty of fostering vocations pertains to the whole Christian
community, which should exercise it above all by a fully Christian life.
The principal contributors to this are the families which, animated by
the spirit of faith and love and by the sense of duty, become a kind of
initial seminary, and the parishes in whose rich life the young people
take part. Teachers and all those who are in any way in charge of -the
training of boys and young men, especially Catholic associations, should
carefully guide the young people entrusted to them so that these will
recognize and freely accept a divine vocation. All priests especially are
to manifest an apostolic zeal in fostering vocations and are to attract
the interest of youths to the priesthood by their own life lived in a
humble and industrious manner and in a happy .spirit as well as by mutual
priestly charity and fraternal sharing of labor.
Bishops on the other hand are to encourage their flock to promote
vocations and should be concerned with coordinating all forces in a
united effort to this end. As fathers, moreover, they must assist without
stint those whom they have judged to be called to the Lord's work.
The effective union of the whole people of God in fostering vocations is
the proper response to the action of Divine Providence which confers the
fitting gifts on those men divinely chosen to participate in the
hierarchical priesthood of Christ and helps them by His grace. Moreover,
this same Providence charges the legitimate ministers of the Church to
call forward and to consecrate with the sign of the Holy Spirit to the
worship of God and to the service of the Church those candidates whose
fitness-has been acknowledged and who have sought so great an office with
the right intention and with full freedom.
The sacred synod commends first of all the traditional means of common
effort, such as urgent prayer, Christian penance and a constantly more
intensive training of the faithful by preaching, by catechetical
instructions or by the many media of social communication that will show
forth the need, the nature and the importance of the priestly vocation.
The synod moreover orders that the entire pastoral--activity of fostering
vocations-be methodically and coherently planned and, with equal prudence
and zeal, fostered by those organizations for promoting vocations which,
in accord with the appropriate pontifical documents, have already been or
will be set up in the territory of individual dioceses, regions or
countries. Also, no opportune aids are to be overlooked which modern
psychological and sociological research has brought to light.
The work of fostering vocations should, in a spirit of openness,
transcend the limits of individual dioceses, countries, religious
families and rites. Looking to the needs of the universal Church, it
should provide aid particularly for those regions in which workers for
the Lord's vineyard are being requested more urgently.
3. In minor seminaries erected to develop the seeds of vocations, the
students should be prepared by special religious formation, particularly
through appropriate spiritual direction, to follow Christ the Redeemer
with generosity of spirit and purity of heart. Under the fatherly
direction of the superiors, and with the proper cooperation of the
parents, their daily routine should be in accord with the age, the
character and the stage of development of adolescence and fully adapted
to the norms of a healthy psychology. Nor should the fitting opportunity
be lacking for social and cultural contacts and for contact with one's
own family. Moreover, whatever is decreed in the following paragraphs
about major seminaries is also to be adapted to the minor seminary to the
extent that it is in accord with. its purpose and structure. Also,
studies undertaken by the students -should be so arranged that they can
easily continue them elsewhere should they choose a different state of
With equal concern the seeds of vocations among adolescents and young men
are also to be fostered in those special institutes which, in accord with
the local circumstances, serve the purpose of a minor seminary as well as
among those who are trained in other schools or by other educational
means. Finally, those institutions and other schools initiated for those
with a belated vocation are to be carefully developed.
III. THE SETTING UP OF MAJOR SEMINARIES
4. Major seminaries are necessary for priestly formation. Here the entire
training of the students should be oriented to the formation of true
shepherds of souls after the model of our Lord Jesus Christ, teacher,
priest and shepherd. They are therefore to be prepared for the ministry
of the word: that they might understand ever more perfectly the revealed
word of God; that, meditating on it they might possess it more firmly,
and that they might express it in words and in example; for the ministry
of worship and of sanctification: that through their prayers and their
carrying out of the sacred liturgical celebrations they might perfect the
work of salvation through the Eucharistic sacrifice and the sacraments;
for the ministry of the parish: that they might know how to make Christ
present to men, Him who did not "come to be served but to serve and to
give His life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45; cf. John 13:12-17), and
that, having become the servants of all, they might win over all the more
(cf. 1 Cor. 9:19).
Therefore, all the forms of training, spiritual, intellectual.
disciplinary, are to be ordered with concerted effort towards this
pastoral end, and to attain it all the administrators and teachers are to
work zealously and harmoniously together faithfully obedient to the
authority of the bishop.
5. Since the training of students depends both on wise laws and, most of
all, on qualified educators, the administrators and teachers of
seminaries are to be selected from the best men, and are to be carefully
prepared in sound doctrine, suitable pastoral experience and special
spiritual and pedagogical training. Institutes, therefore, should be set
up to attain this end. Or at least courses are to be arranged with a
proper program, and the meetings of seminary directors are to take place
at specified times.
Administrators, however, and teachers must be keenly aware of how much
the success of the students formation depends on their manner of thinking
and acting. Under the rector's leadership they are to form a very closely
knit community both in spirit and in activity and they are to constitute
among themselves and with-the students that kind of family that will
answer to the Lord's prayer "That they be one" (cf. John 17:11 ) and that
will develop in the students a deep joy in their -own vocation. The
bishop, on the other hand, should, with a constant and loving solicitude,
encourage those who labor in the seminary and prove himself a true father
in Christ to the students themselves. Finally, all priests are to look on
the seminary as the heart of the diocese and are to offer willingly their
own helpful service.
6. With watchful concern for the age of each and for his stage of
progress, an inquiry should be made into the candidate's proper intention
and freedom of choice, into his spiritual, moral and intellectual
qualifications, into his appropriate physical and psychic health--taking
into consideration also possible hereditary deficiencies. Also to be
considered is the ability of the candidate to bear the priestly burdens
and exercise the pastoral offices.
In the entire process of selecting and testing students, however, a due
firmness is to be adopted, even if a deplorable lack of priests should
exist, since God will not allow His Church to want for ministers if those
who are worthy are promoted and those not qualified are, at an early
date, guided in a fatherly way to undertake other tasks. The latter
should also be given sufficient direction so that, conscious of their
vocation as Christians, they might eagerly embrace the lay apostolate.
7. Where individual dioceses are unable to institute their own seminaries
properly, seminaries for many dioceses or for an entire region or for a
country are to be set up and developed, so that the sound training of the
students, which must be considered the supreme law in this matter, can be
taken care of in a more effective manner. These seminaries, if they are
regional or national, are to be regulated according to directives set
down by the bishops concerned and approved by the Apostolic See.
In these seminaries, however, where there are many students, while
retaining a unity of direction and of scientific training, the students
should be conveniently divided into smaller groups so that a better
provision is had for the personal formation of each.
IV. THE CAREFUL DEVELOPMENT 0F THE SPIRITUAL TRAINING
8. The spiritual training should be closely connected with the doctrinal
and pastoral, and, with the special help of the spiritual director,
should be imparted in such a way that the students might learn to live in
an intimate and unceasing union with the Father through His Son Jesus
Christ in the Holy Spirit. Conformed to Christ the Priest through their
sacred ordination they should be accustomed to adhere to Him as friends,
in an intimate companionship, their whole life through. They should so
live His paschal mystery themselves that they can initiate into it the
flock committed to them. They should be taught to seek Christ in the
faithful meditation on God's word, in the active participation in the
sacred mysteries of the Church, especially in the Eucharist and in the
divine office, in the bishop who sends them and in the people to whom
they are sent, especially the poor, the children, the sick, the sinners
and the unbelievers. They should love and venerate with a filial trust
the most blessed Virgin Mary, who was given as mother to the disciple by
Christ Jesus as He was dying on the cross.
Those practices of piety that are commended by the long usage of the
Church should be zealously cultivated; but care should be taken lest the
spiritual formation consist in them alone or lest it develop only a
religious affectation. The students should learn to live according to the
Gospel ideal, to be strengthened in faith, hope and ;charity, so that, in
the exercise of these practices, they may acquire the spirit of prayer,
learn to defend and strengthen their vocation, obtain an increase of
other virtues and grow in the zeal to gain all men for Christ.
9. The students should be so saturated with the mystery of the Church,
especially as described by this sacred synod, that, bound to the Vicar of
Christ in a humble and trusting charity and, once ordained priests,
adhering to their own bishop as faithful helpers and engaging in a common
effort with their fellow-priests, they bear witness to that unity that
attracts men to Christ. They should learn to take part with a generous
heart in the life of the whole Church in accord with what St. Augustine
wrote: "to the extent that one loves the Church of Christ, to that extent
does he possess the Holy Spirit." The students should understand most
clearly that they are not destined for domination or for honors but are
given over totally to the service of God and to the pastoral ministry.
With a particular concern should they be so formed in priestly obedience,
in a simple way of life and in the spirit of self-denial that they are
accustomed to giving up willingly even those things which are permitted
but are not expedient, and to conform themselves to Christ crucified.
The students are to be made clearly aware of the burdens they will be
undertaking, and no problem of the priestly life is to be concealed from
them. This is to be done, however, not that they should be almost solely
concerned with the notion of danger in their future labors, but rather
that they might be more readily conformed to a spiritual life that more
than in any other way is actually strengthened by the very pastoral work
10. Students who follow the venerable tradition of celibacy according to
the holy and fixed laws of their own rite are to be educated to this
state with great care. For renouncing thereby the companionship of
marriage for the sake of the kingdom of heaven (cf. Matt. 19:12), they
embrace the Lord with an undivided love altogether befitting the new
covenant, bear witness to the resurrection of the world to come (cf. Luke
20:36), and obtain a most suitable aid for the continual exercise of that
perfect charity whereby they can become all things to all men in their
priestly ministry. Let them deeply realize how gratefully that state
ought to be received, not, indeed, only as commanded by ecclesiastical
law, but as a precious gift of God for which they should humbly pray.
Through the inspiration and help of the grace of the Holy Spirit let them
freely and generously hasten to respond to this gift.
Students ought rightly to acknowledge the duties and dignity of Christian
matrimony, which is a sign of the love between Christ and the Church. Let
them recognize, however, the surpassing excellence of virginity
consecrated to Christ, so that with a maturely deliberate and generous
choice they may consecrate themselves to the Lord by a complete gift of
body and soul.
They are to be warned of the dangers that threaten their chastity
especially in present-day society. Aided by suitable safeguards, both
divine and human, let them learn to integrate their renunciation of
marriage in such a way that they may suffer in their lives and work not
only no harm from celibacy but rather acquire a deeper mastery of soul
and body and a fuller maturity, and more perfectly receive the
blessedness spoken of in the Gospel.
11. The norms of Christian education are to be religiously observed and
properly complemented by the newer findings of sound psychology and
pedagogy. Therefore, by a wisely planned training there is also to be
developed in the students a due human maturity. This will be made
especially evident in stability of mind, in an ability to make weighty
decisions, and in a sound evaluation of men and events. The students
should be accustomed to work properly at their own development. They are
to be formed in strength of character, and, in general, they are to learn
to esteem those virtues which are held in high regard by men and which
recommend a minister of Christ. Such virtues are sincerity of mind, a
constant concern for justice, fidelity to one's promises, refinement in
manners, modesty in speech coupled with charity.
The discipline of seminary life is to be reckoned not only as a strong
safeguard of community life and of charity but also as a necessary part
of the total whole training formation. For thereby self-mastery is
acquired, solid personal maturity is promoted, and the other dispositions
of mind are developed which very greatly aid the ordered and fruitful
activity of the Church. Seminary discipline should be so maintained,
however, that the students acquire an internal attitude whereby they
accept the authority of superiors from personal conviction, that is to
say, from a motive of conscience (cf. Rom. 13:5), and for supernatural
reasons. The norms of discipline are to be applied according to the age
of the students so that they themselves, as they gradually learn
self-mastery, may become accustomed to use freedom wisely, to act
spontaneously and energetically, and to work together harmoniously with
their fellows and with the laity.
The whole pattern of seminary life, permeated with a desire for piety and
silence and a careful concern for mutual help, must be so arranged that
it provides, in a certain sense, an initiation into the future life which
the priest shall lead.
12. In order that the spiritual training rest upon a more solid basis and
that the students embrace their vocation with a fully deliberate choice,
it will be the prerogative of the bishops to establish a fitting period
of time for a more intense introduction to the spiritual life. It will
also be their charge to determine the opportuneness of providing for a
certain interruption in the studies or of establishing a suitable
introduction to pastoral work, in order that they may more satisfactorily
test the fitness of candidates for the priesthood. In accordance with the
conditions of individual regions it will also be the bishops'
responsibility to make a decision about extending the age beyond that
demanded at present by common law for the reception of sacred orders, and
of deliberating whether it be opportune to rule that students, at the end
of their course in theology, exercise the order of deacon for a fitting
period of time before being promoted to the priesthood.
V THE REVISION OF ECCLESIASTICAL STUDIES
13. Before beginning specifically ecclesiastical subjects, seminarians
should be equipped with that humanistic and scientific training which
young men in their own countries are wont to have as a foundation for
higher studies. Moreover they are to acquire a knowledge of Latin which
will enable them to understand and make use of the sources of so many
sciences and of the documents of the Church. The study of the liturgical
language proper to each rite should be considered necessary; a suitable
knowledge of the languages of the Bible and of Tradition should be
14. In revising ecclesiastical studies the aim should first of all be
that the philosophical and theological disciplines be more suitably
aligned and that they harmoniously work toward opening more and more the
minds of the students to the mystery of Christ. For it is this mystery
which affects the whole history of the human race, continually influences
the Church, and is especially at work in the priestly ministry
That this vision be communicated to the students from the outset of
their training, ecclesiastical studies are to be begun with an
introductory course which should last for an appropriate length of time.
In this initiation to ecclesiastical studies the mystery of salvation
should be so proposed that the students perceive the meaning, order, and
pastoral end of their studies. At the same time they should be helped to
establish and penetrate their own entire lives with faith and be
strengthened in embracing their vocation with a personal dedication and a
15. The philosophical disciplines are to be taught in such a way that the
students are first of all led to acquire a solid and coherent knowledge
of man, the world, and of God, relying on a philosophical patrimony which
is perennially valid and taking into account the philosophical
investigations of later ages. This is especially true of those
investigations which exercise a greater influence in their own nations.
Account should also be taken of the more recent progress of the sciences.
the net result should be that the students, correctly understanding the
characteristics of the contemporary mind will be duly prepared for
dialogue with men of their time.
The history of philosophy should be so taught that the students, while
reaching the ultimate principles of the various systems, will hold on to
what is proven to be true therein and will be able to detect the roots of
errors and to refute them.
In the very manner of teaching there should be stirred up in the students
a love of rigorously searching for the truth and of maintaining and
demonstrating it, together with an honest recognition of the limits of
human knowledge. Attention must be carefully drawn to the necessary
connection between philosophy and the true problems of life, as well as
the questions which preoccupy the minds of the students. Likewise
students should be helped to perceive the links between the subject
matter of philosophy and the mysteries of salvation which are considered
in theology under the higher light of faith.
16. The theological disciplines, in the light of faith and under the
guidance of the magisterium of the Church, should be so taught that the
students will correctly draw out Catholic doctrine from divine
revelation, profoundly penetrate it, make it the food of their own
spiritual lives, and be enabled to proclaim, explain, and protect it in
their priestly ministry.
The students are to be formed with particular care in the study of the
Bible, which ought to be, as it were, the soul of all theology. After a
suitable introduction they are to be initiated carefully into the method
of exegesis; and they are to see the great themes of divine revelation
and to receive from their daily reading of and meditating on the sacred
books inspiration and nourishment.
Dogmatic theology should be so arranged that these biblical themes are
proposed first of all. Next there should be opened up to the students
what the Fathers of the Eastern and Western Church have contributed to
the faithful transmission and development of the individual truths of
revelation. The further history of dogma should also be presented,
account being taken of its relation to the general history of the Church.
Next, in order that they may illumine the mysteries of salvation as
completely as possible, the students should learn to penetrate them more
deeply with the help of speculation, under the guidance of St. Thomas,
and to perceive their interconnections. They should be taught to
recognize these same mysteries as present and working in liturgical
actions and in the entire life of the Church. They should learn to seek
the solutions to human problems under the light of revelation, to apply
the eternal truths of revelation to the changeable conditions of human
affairs and to communicate them in a way suited to men of our day.
Likewise let the other theological disciplines be renewed through a more
living contact with the mystery of Christ and the history of salvation.
Special care must be given to the perfecting of moral theology. Its
scientific exposition, nourished more on the teaching of the Bible,
should shed light on the loftiness of the calling of the faithful in
Christ and the obligation that is theirs of bearing fruit in charity for
the life of the world. Similarly the teaching of Canon law and of Church
history should take into account the mystery of the Church, according to
the dogmatic constitution "De Ecclesia" promulgated by this sacred synod.
Sacred liturgy, which is to be considered as the primary and
indispensable source of the truly Christian spirit, should be taught
according to the mind of articles 15 and 16 of the Constitution on the
The circumstances of various regions being duly considered, students are
to be brought to a fuller understanding of the churches and ecclesial
communities separated from the Apostolic Roman See, so that they may be
able to contribute to the work of re-establishing unity among all
Christians according to the prescriptions of this holy synod.
Let them also be introduced to a knowledge of other religions which are
more widespread in individual regions, so that they may acknowledge more
correctly what truth and goodness these religions, in God's providence,
possess, and so that they may learn to refute their errors and be able to
communicate the full light of truth to those who do not have it.
17. But since doctrinal training ought to tend not to a mere
communication of ideas but to a true and intimate formation of the
students, teaching methods are to be revised both as regards lectures,
discussions, and seminars and also the development of study on the part
of the students, whether done privately or in small groups. Unity and
soundness of the entire training is carefully to be provided for by
excessively multiplication of courses and lectures and by the omission of
those questions which scarcely retain any importance or which ought to be
referred to higher academic studies.
18. It will be the bishops' concern that young men suited by temperament,
virtue, and ability be sent to special institutes, faculties, or
universities so that priests may be trained at higher scientific level-
in the sacred sciences and in other fields which may be judged opportune.
Thus they will be able to meet the various needs of the apostolate. The
spiritual and pastoral training of these men, however, especially if they
are not yet ordained as priests, is in no way to be-neglected.
VI. THE PROMOTION OF STRICTLY PASTORAL TRAINING
19. That pastoral concern which ought to permeate thoroughly the entire
training of the students also demands that they be diligently instructed
in those matters which are particularly linked to the sacred ministry,
especially in catechesis and preaching, in liturgical worship and the
administration of the sacraments, in works of charity, in-assisting the
erring and the unbelieving, and in the other pastoral functions. They are
to be carefully instructed in the art of directing souls, whereby they
will be able to bring all the sons of the Church first of all to a fully
conscious and apostolic Christian life and to the fulfillment of the
duties of their state of life. Let them learn to help, with equal
solicitude, religious men and women that they may persevere in the grace
of their vocations and may make progress according to the spirit of their
In general, those capabilities are to be developed in the students which
especially contribute to dialogue with men, such as the ability to-listen
to others and to open their hearts and minds in the spirit of charity to
the various circumstances and needs of men.
20. They should also be taught to use the aids which the disciplines of
pedagogy, psychology, and sociology can provide according to correct
methodology and the norms of ecclesiastical authority. Likewise, let them
be properly instructed in inspiring and fostering the apostolic activity
of the laity and in promoting the various and more effective forms of the
apostolate. Let them also be imbued with that truly Catholic spirit which
will accustom them to transcend the limits of their own diocese, nation,
or rite, and to help the needs of the whole Church, prepared in spirit to
preach the Gospel everywhere.
But since it is necessary for; the students to learn the art of
exercising the apostolate not only theoretically but also practically,
and to be able to act both on their own responsibility and in harmonious
conjunction with others, they should be initiated into pastoral work,
both during their course of studies and also during the time of
vacations, by opportune practical projects. These should be carried out
in accordance with the age of the students and local conditions, and with
the prudent judgment of the bishops, methodically and under the
leadership of men skilled in pastoral work, the surpassing power of
supernatural means being always remembered.
VII. TRAINING TO BE ACHIEVED AFTER THE COURSE OF STUDIES
21. Since priestly training, because of the circumstances particularly of
contemporary society, must be pursued and perfected even after the
completion of-the course of studies in seminaries, it will be the
responsibility of episcopal conferences in individual nations to employ
suitable means to this end. Such would be pastoral institutes working
together with suitably chosen parishes, meetings held at stated times,
and appropriate projects whereby the younger clergy would be gradually
introduced into the priestly life and apostolic activity, under its
spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral aspects, and would be able, day by
day, to renew and foster them more effectively.
The Fathers of this holy synod have pursued the work begun by the Council
of Trent. While they confidently entrust to seminary administrators and
teachers the task of forming the future priests of Christ in the spirit
of the renewal promoted by this sacred synod, they earnestly exhort those
who are preparing for the priestly ministry to realize that the hope of
the Church and the salvation of souls is being committed to them. They
urge them also to receive the norms of this decree willingly and thus to
bring forth most abundant fruit which will always remain.