Seminary V Pt.I

Tony Sig

“Habits create necessities through which imagination is required to do something different than you thought you were doing in the past. The developments of the virtues, and the discovery of virtues that we didn’t know we had, are a real resource for development of institutions that hopefully have promise for the future. Universities, for example, are constantly recreating themselves through basic habits”. – Stanley Hauerwas

How many years should a seminary training be?  And what, again, are we trying to do by sending families and individuals off to seminary?  What kind of people are we attempting to create?

Because it is a myth that schools and institutions and social webs of relations can rise above the reality that we are always being shaped; for better and worse; by subtle and not so subtle ways; by our practices and interactions with our environments.  I recently had a disagreement with a professor who denied that the public university system had an goal of shaping people the way that say a private Christian school does.  I take this opinion to be understandable but wrong in a terrible way and it’s naivity to demonstrate that we aren’t often aware of the way that exchanges of power work.

Just as the public university acts to enhance and sustain the American narrative, the Seminary should act to enhance and sustain the Christian narrative.  The advantage of admitting this telos is that the Seminary need not hide the reality that it is trying to make people other than they are.  It is trying to prepare priests and pastors to serve the Church according the tasks and skills the Spirit has given them.  It also ought to train people in the Tradition that they represent.

The idea of forming people into something other than they are grates against our public understandings of what a person is and what education should do.  “The rights-bearing-cogito/individual has intrinsic qualities that it is born with.  These qualities need only freedom to become more fully itself. “Democracy” and the “free market” are aids in making room for this individual to come into being.”

That quite frankly is not what a Christian believes about what a human being is or is meant to be(come).

But as the modern seminary has based itself largely on the secular university system, it should be of little wonder that many seminarians come out looking not unlike a student of a public university,

only instead of knowing a little bit about a lot of natural science, math, history, etc…., the seminary grad knows a little bit about a lot of theology.



  1. Good thoughts Tony.

    I don’t know if this is on topic or off.

    I’ve wondered if its difficult for a seminary student to relate to the Gospel images.

    Perhaps some insight could be gain if a student spent 3 months doing the following tasks : fisherman, farmer, shepherd,& vineyard.

    Given that 85% of American lives and works in an urban environment how can they relate to Gospel passages that they probably only experienced on a field trip when they were in 3rd grade?

    Wouldn’t the seminarian who actually had to perform such tasks actually gain knowledge as to what those professions had to do and thereby be able to translate those skills and challenges to modern urban challenges?


  2. quickbeam,

    I’m not sure that this is a problem only for seminarians. There is an ever widening gulf between the urban who consume food and those ever shrinking groups of people that grow it. I myself am such an urbanite. But that particular discussion may take us off a bit too far.

    Returning, yes I think you’re right in certain respects. For instance after I spent some time with sheep I realized that they are loud, whiny, dirty, stupid and stubborn beasts. Though I suspect I learned more about myself then than about God or the priesthood!

    There seems to be a massive marginalizing of the rural and frankly, analogical theology begins to unravel without reference material. I don’t wonder if it is not only rationalism and atheism but our widening distance from that which sustains our life that natural theology has fallen on hard times.

    Also, if some small seminaries were able to create reasonably self-sustaining rural communities it would be an invaluable way to make seminary affordable and convenient for families. I hope to elaborate on possible shapes for seminaries in future posts.


  3. Also, if some small seminaries were able to create reasonably self-sustaining rural communities it would be an invaluable way to make seminary affordable and convenient for families.

    Not to be trite but traditionally they were called monasteries. I think it would do a world of good for seminaries to send their students off to work in a monastery for a time period. Most I would think still perform those types of tasks. It could be linked to a discernment process I would think.

    I agree with you on the rural and urban problem in relating theology. While we can’t expect that even a minority of laity could have a grasp of this lifestyle, it would help for the pastor to do so.


    1. quickbeam,

      Yes, my own thinking on the matter is profoundly shaped by Western monasticism. The largest problem that presents itself about sending seminarians off to monasteries in Anglicanism is that despite having by far the largest monastic population of any protestant church, there are simply too few monasteries to be counted on to teach substantial numbers of seminarians.

      Also, one would be rather hard pressed to find celibate clergy anywhere. So “sending one off” to a monastery is complicated by the reality of a family that would either need to be sent with them (and taken care of) or be without h/er for an extended period of time. The extent to which celibate clergy are more able to be subject to the needs of the Church is a profound witness to the possibility of a priesthood totally dedicated to the Church. We could use a renewal in monasticism and celibacy to be sure in addition to other movements including so-called “New Monasticism” which is really more like the Catholic Workers Movement.


      You pose insanely relevant questions. It is highly unlikely that one model of seminary, be it the one I’m working out or whatever, that would serve the whole church. It is possible that in a situation like yours that an extensive reading list and pastoral mentoring by local priests could fill in at least most of your education. I will be thinking a bit more about this for upcoming posts.


  4. One thought comes to my mind. I am a warden here in my home parish where we are in an interim period and will be beginning to search for a new priest. We are small but have a lot of heart… and hope. Our sense of community and our place here is growing. OK… this is pretty much a full-time job if you get my meaning… we are working together, trying to live together more and more, worship together, etc… in other words we are trying to “live together” more and more. I’ve considered a discernment process and seminary… one problem I am stumbling over is this… I leave this community where I’m learning to live with others as a community… being formed for ministry, worship, etc… to immerse myself in and become a member of another community? My point is this “process” seems a little artificial… is there another model more authentic and more beneficial to local parishes?


  5. “Where there is knowledge there is power.” You should give that prof some Foucault to read. And maybe some Deleuze to wash it down. It’s interesting what kinds of institutions and ways of organizing society we take to be neutral to questions of power. It’s also very interesting to read Foucault and replace “power” with “violence.”


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