views updated


SEMINARY. The Council of Trent (15451563) required the creation of diocesan seminaries with the canon Cum Adolescentium Aetas, adopted during the council's twenty-third session in 1563. It became compulsory for every diocese to erect a seminary for the purpose of educating the local clergy.

Some historians claim that this legislation was fundamentally a return to the concept of cathedral school, where, from the beginning of Christianity, young men were prepared for priesthood. It was thus conceived as a restoration and renovation of the traditional way in which priests received their training. In its original design, the Tridentine seminary legislation was influenced by three factors. First, petitions coming from Italy, France, and the Holy Roman Empire had highlighted abuses in the education of the clergy, and had proposed either the reformation of cathedral schools or the erection of special schools attached to cathedral churches. Second, the Society of Jesus insisted on the necessity of providing adequate means for clerical education, and had already pursued this aim in founding and running colleges, including the famous Germanicum, founded in Rome by the Jesuit Claude Le Jay in 1552. Finally, the synodal legislation, promulgated for England by Cardinal Reginald Pole (15001558) in his Reformatio Angliae (1556), was taken as a model. Pole's solution was to cure the carelessness of the clergy by erecting seminaries at every cathedral church. This directly inspired the fathers of the council in their writing of the Tridentine decree.

According to this decree, the diocesan colleges were to be seminaria ('breeding grounds') for the future priests. The students were to be adolescents at least twelve years of age, who were born of lawful wedlock and were already able to read and write. They also had to show a sincere desire to dedicate themselves to the service of the church. Under the local bishop's control, students were to receive a liberal education first, then an ecclesiastical one. The young men were thus to study letters, humanities, chant, liturgy, sacred scripture, and dogmatic, moral, and pastoral theology. Their spiritual formation included daily attendance at Mass and monthly confession. However, the decree did not specify that all priests should pass through the seminaries. On the contrary, the seminary seemed rather a means to help poor but deserving young people to become priests. The rich could be admitted on the condition that they paid for their education. In fact, what is most important in this decree is that it placed the formation of future priests, or at least a good number of them, under the direct responsibility of the bishops. The local bishop, as the chief administrator of the school, had to have an eye on the content of the courses and the quality of the professors who provided them. The rest of the diocesan clergy was also closely associated in the project. Not only was it asked to finance the seminary, in paying a special tax imposed on its revenues, but it also had to delegate four of its members to help in the administration of the new institution.

The creation of seminaries became the main concern not only of the popes attached to the Catholic Reformation, such as Pius V and Gregory XIII, but also of the political powers (principally the Catholic sovereigns and sometimes the local authorities) who saw in this measure a good way to reinforce the expansion and the control of higher education. The number of seminaries expanded quickly in Europe under these conditions. Two small Italian dioceses disputed the honor of having founded the first Tridentine seminary in 1564, Larino in Umbria and Rieti in the kingdom of Naples. The seminary of Milan, founded by Archbishop Cardinal Carlo Borromeo, followed shortly, a year before his uncle Pope Pius IV founded the Collegio Romano. A great many seminaries were created in Italy but their spread was uneven. In fact, certain large dioceses, such as those of Genoa and Florence, had to wait until the seventeenth and even the eighteenth century before being endowed with a seminary.

Pope Pius IV and his successors worked hard to implement the Tridentine decision in countries where Catholics were in a majority. Thus, from 1564 onward, the number of seminaries spread quickly. In the German countries, seminaries were founded in Eichstätt, Breslau, Würzburg, Bamberg, Trier, Salzburg, Gurk, and Graz. Poland opened its first seminary in 1564 (Poznan, Warmia) and Hungary in 1567 (Tyrnau). However, the colleges established in Rome such as the Germanicum and the Hungaricum (united in 1580) had more impact on the formation of priests than the diocesan seminaries created in central Europe.

In the Netherlands, the development of seminaries progressed more slowly because of the 1566 uprising against the religious policies of Spanish king Philip II. These troubles led in 1579 to the revolt of the Calvinist provinces of Holland and Zeeland against Spanish domination and ended in 1609 with the independence of the United Provinces. Tridentine seminaries were thus erected almost exclusively in the southern provinces, in cities such as Ypres (1565), Namur, Bruges, Liège, and Malines.

Contrary to other countries, Spain had already secured training for its priests through a solid network of university colleges. Some of them, such as those of Grenada, Malaga, and Sigüenza, were used as diocesan seminaries. However, most of the Spanish bishops were willing to obey the Tridentine decree. At least twenty new seminaries were founded from 1565 onward, among them Burgos (1565) and Teruel (1566). In 1651, twenty-six out of fifty-four Spanish dioceses had a seminary. However, the expansion was not without difficulties. Because of hostility from the local chapters, many seminaries were short of financial and human resources. The need for training of the local clergy was also felt in the Spanish colonies. It took only ten years before the first seminary was founded in Antequera in Mexico (1574). Before the end of the sixteenth century, under the initiative of Saint Toribio, archbishop of Lima, the seminaries of Santiago de Chile, Lima, Bogota, Cuzco, and Sucre were created.

It is clear that there was a great desire among European bishops to apply the decree of the council, even in France, which had not yet officially accepted the council's decisions. In effect, many French bishops bypassed the offical position against Rome and tried to implement the Tridentine Reformation, especially the decree concerning the training of the local clergy. This explains why as early as 1567, Charles de Guise, the cardinal of Lorraine, founded the first seminary in Reims. However, because of the Wars of Religion, it was difficult to gather the necessary money for the founding of seminaries. After the wars ended, competition with colleges (which had chairs of theology) and universities impeded the growth of seminaries, which still remained optional for the aspiring priests. All this explains why, between 1580 and 1620, only sixteen seminaries were created in a country that counted 108 dioceses. The number increased from 1641 onward, however, and in 1790, most French dioceses had a seminary. This development was due to astounding founders of new orders for secular priests, such as Pierre de Bérulle, Vincent de Paul, Jean-Jacques Olier, and Jean Eudes, who founded, respectively, the seminaries of the Priests of the Oratory, the Lazarists, the Sulpicians, and the Society of the Sacred Heart. These institutions were to have considerable influence later in the erection of similar houses in the British Isles, Canada, and the United States.

Most of the Tridentine seminaries were modeled on that created in Milan by Cardinal Borromeo. He first opened a major seminary, that of St. John the Baptist, with facilities for 150 students. But recognizing that all candidates did not have the intellectual capacity to be admitted to this institution, he established La Canonica, a preparatory school for about sixty students who would receive a basic education about the care of souls, through classes on holy Scriptures, cases of conscience, and Roman catechism. He then founded three preparatory seminaries: one for younger boys, another for adolescents, and a third for older students. From these three institutions the candidates were to pass either to the major seminary or to La Canonica. Borromeo also wrote rules dictating students' life and piety, which were adopted by almost all the European seminaries. Most of them also adopted the Milanese way of giving the management of the study program to the Jesuits. In reality, the majority (excepted that of Pavia) were closely associated with the local Jesuit college. They ended up being boarding houses that lodged a rather small number of young men (sometimes fewer than ten, through lack of money) who attended classes with the Jesuits. In fact, the existence of these first seminaries was often brief and always difficult because of financial and political problems. In the seventeenth century, their failure was imputed to the young age of the students. Catholic reformers such as Vincent de Paul promoted the education of adults rather than that of adolescents with the "seminaries for ordinands," centered on a more practical religious education and destined for grown men ready to take the orders.

In fact, if the intellectual and moral qualities of the European clergy were stronger in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, that strength was due less to the Tridentine seminary training than to a better selection of candidates and better control of the local priests (by the bishop's visit and by the frequent holding of synods). Above all, the improved qualities were due to the Jesuit colleges, who trained a growing part of the European clergy. A strict schedule, tamed behavior and attitudes, the practice of prayer, the conferences about piety and spiritual examinations, the weekly confession and communion, all this prepared the priest to live and behave as dictated by the Council of Trent.

See also Clergy: Roman Catholic Clergy ; Education ; Jesuits ; Reformation, Catholic ; Trent, Council of .


Broutin, Paul. La réforme pastorale en France au XVIIe siècle. Recherches sur la tradition pastorale aprés le Concile de Trente 2 vols. Tournai, 1956.

Darricaud, Raymond. La formation des professeurs de séminaires d'après un directoire de M. Jean Bonnet (16641735), supérieur de la congrégation de la mission. Piacenza, 1966.

. "Le traité des séminaires d'Antoine Godeau et la formation des premiers séminaires français." In Antoine Godeau, 16051672, de la galanterie à la sainteté: actes des journées commémoratives, Grasse, 2124 avril 1972. Edited by Yves Giraud, pp. 167187. Paris, 1975.

Degert, Antoine. Histoire des séminaires français jusqu'à la Révolution. 2 vols. Paris, 1912.

Julia, Dominique. "L'éducation des ecclésiastiques en France au XVIIe et au XVIIIe siècle." In Problèmes d'histoire de l'éducation. Actes des séminaires organisés par l'école française de Rome et l'Università di Roma-La Sapienza, janviermai 1985. Rome-Paris, 1988, pp. 141204.

. "Le prêtre." In, L'homme des Lumières. Edited by Vovelle Michel, pp. 391429. Paris, 1996.

O'Donohue, J.-A. Tridentine Seminary Legislation: Its Source and Its Formation. Louvain, 1957.

Quéniart, Jean. Les hommes, l'Église et Dieu dans la France du XVIIIe siècle. Paris, 1978.

Tallon, Allain. Le concile de Trente. Paris, 2000.

Taveneaux, René. Le catholicisme dans la France classique: 16101715. 2 vols. Paris, 1980.

Venard, Marc. "Les séminaires en France avant saint Vincent de Paul." In Vincent de Paul (colloque de Paris, 1981), pp. 117. Paris, 1983.

Dominique Deslandres


views updated

sem·i·nar·y / ˈseməˌnerē/ • n. (pl. -nar·ies) a college that prepares students to be priests, ministers, or rabbis. ∎ archaic, fig. a place or thing in which something is developed or cultivated: a seminary of sedition. ∎ archaic a private school or college, esp. one for young women.DERIVATIVES: sem·i·nar·i·an / ˌseməˈne(ə)rēən/ n.sem·i·na·rist / -nərist/ n.


views updated

seminary †seed-plot XV; place of production, cultivation, or education XVI. — L. sēminārium, sb. use of n. of sēminārius, f. sēmen, sēmin- seed; see -ARY.
Hence seminarist one trained in a seminary. XVI.