Theology for the laity: why and what for?

With regard to the Congress of the Laity to be held this weekend in Madrid, on which Palabra has been reporting, here is an article by Raquel Pérez Sanjuán on the theological formation of the laity, published in March of last year, and of great relevance to current events

Raquel Pérez Sanjuan -February 13, 2020-Reading time: 5 minutes

It would be necessary to establish a first clarification as to what is meant by "theological formation for the laity": in the criterion "laity" we will include those who are not preparing for ordained ministry, that is, also members of lay male institutes of consecrated life, as well as all women, whether or not they belong to an institute of consecrated life.

In terms of "theological formation", it is important to keep in mind that, in addition to the classical studies of Baccalaureatus in Theologia, Licentiatus in Theologia o Doctor in Theologia (the three academic cycles of Theology) there is a specific modality oriented to the formation of lay people who are going to carry out ecclesiastical tasks or offices such as the teaching of Religion, catechesis, formation of pastoral agents, etc. These studies, whose academic offerings are regulated by the Holy See (Congregation for Catholic Education) at the end of the 1980's, are called Scientiis Religiosis (Religious Sciences), consist of only two cycles (Baccalaureatus in Scientiis Religiosis y Licentiatus in Scientiis Religiosis), and are taught in Institutes of Higher Religious Sciences (ISCCRR) sponsored by the Faculties of Theology.

As the introduction to the Instruction for the Institutes of Religious Sciences (2008), "With the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, a lively interest in the study of theology and other sacred sciences intensified among the faithful - lay and religious - in order to enrich their Christian life with them, to be able to give a reason for their faith (cf. 1Pt 3:15), to exercise their apostolate fruitfully and to be able to collaborate with sacred ministers in their specific mission (cf. can. 229 §§1-2 CIC 1983). In the post-conciliar period, while the ecclesiastical Faculties, which already had a long-standing tradition, have been shaped by the In accordance with the provisions of the Apostolic Constitution Sapientia christiana (1979), the need to ensure an adequate formation of the lay faithful by means of specific modalities has become increasingly important in the Church".

 The arduous task of training

In this regard, it is worth recalling what the Council said in this regard: "The Church expects much from the diligence of the faculties of sacred sciences. For to them she entrusts the very serious task of forming her own students, not only for the priestly ministry, but above all for teaching in ecclesiastical centers of higher studies, for scientific research, or for carrying out the most arduous functions of the intellectual apostolate. To these faculties also belongs the task of conducting in-depth research in the various fields of the sacred disciplines in such a way as to attain an ever deeper understanding of Sacred Revelation, to discover more fully the patrimony of Christian wisdom handed down by our elders, to promote dialogue with our separated brethren and with non-Christians, and to respond to the problems raised by the progress of the sciences. For this reason, the ecclesiastical faculties, once their laws have been duly recognized, should promote with great diligence the sacred sciences and those related to them, and, making use of the most modern methods and means, should train students for the most profound research." (cfr. Gravissimum Educationis on Christian Education, n. 11)

Growing number of students

It is, therefore, since the Second Vatican Council when the laity first gained access to ecclesiastical studies in the Faculties of Theology, their presence in the classrooms always being a minority compared to those preparing for Holy Orders. However, since the last decade of the 20th century, with the emergence of Religious Sciences as a specific formation for the laity, the total number of students in the ISCCRR has tripled the total number of students enrolled in the Faculties of Theology, although there is also a significant presence of lay people in the latter.

It is certainly important that this theological formation exists, both for what it supposes in terms of systematic reflection and in order to be able to dialogue with the current culture. Moreover, for more than a decade, the Spanish Episcopal Conference (CEE) has established as a requirement for teaching Religion in Secondary and Baccalaureate classes to have attained at least the academic degree of Baccalaureatus in Scientiis Religiosis and have specific pedagogical training for the teaching of Religion.
We do not know the number of lay people studying Theology and Religious Sciences, as this category was not explicitly asked for when requesting the statistical data provided annually by the Faculties of Theology for the preparation of the Annual Report on the Activities of the Catholic Church in Spain.

We can affirm that, in the Higher Institutes of Religious Sciences, 100 % of the student body are lay people (as we said at the beginning, this includes members of institutes of consecrated life who are not being formed to receive Holy Orders); their number, according to the latest statistics we have, is close to four thousand students enrolled in all of Spain (academic year 2016-17).

As for the Faculties of Theology, of the almost two thousand students that are distributed among the 11 Faculties of Theology present in the territory of the EEC, the number of lay people does not reach a third of the students in their classrooms, although it is possible that this proportion varies depending on the Faculty of Theology to which we refer. In this sense, it is important to remember that there are several faculties, or theological centers or theological institutes incorporated to them that have among their students seminarians from Seminaries affiliated to said Faculty.

Universities and faculty

The studies of Theology are taught in Faculties of Theology, which can be autonomous, or belong to a Catholic university (i.e., it also has civil studies) or to an ecclesiastical institution (i.e., only ecclesiastical disciplines are taught, i.e., under the regime of the Holy See). In addition, they can be taught in centers that offer first and second cycle (attached to the Faculty of Theology), or second and third cycle (incorporated to the Faculty of Theology). In all these cases, the classrooms are open to both lay people and candidates to the priesthood, whether they are seminarians, members of religious institutes or clerical societies of apostolic life.

As for the teaching staff, it also depends on each case: in some Faculties and ISCCRR there is a greater proportion of lay faculty (in several, mostly women), and in others there is practically no lay presence, which is reserved for auxiliary disciplines and/or classical languages. If we consider that only after the Second Vatican Council the laity have had access to theological studies in the Faculties, and the requirement of the academic degree of Doctor for teaching, the effort of formation made by the laity in the theological field is really significant - it is important to mention that, in most cases, the laity access the studies of Theology or Religious Sciences with other previous university degrees-.

Contribution to the individual

As we have pointed out above, besides offering the possibility of enabling the faithful to give a reason for their faith and to enter into a fruitful dialogue with the sciences and the culture of their time, the study of Theology or Religious Sciences - like any systematic study of a discipline - provides scientific rigor and research capacity, as well as human formation. In this case, it is also an opportunity to deepen one's knowledge of Sacred Scripture, Tradition and the Magisterium, which is always an occasion for growth in one's own experience of faith.

Certainly it is important to promote these studies, it assumes that both priests and consecrated and lay people are well trained and prepared in the theological field. Also due to the fact that Spain is one of the countries in the world where we have a greater presence of Faculties of Theology (11) and aggregated or incorporated centers (10) and Institutes of Religious Sciences (almost half a hundred, counting the distance sections of the UESD).

The authorRaquel Pérez Sanjuan 

Director of the Secretariat of the Episcopal Subcommission on Universities

In collaboration with
Do you want independent, truthful and relevant news?

Dear reader, Omnes reports with rigor and depth on religious news. We do a research work that allows the reader to acquire criteria on the events and stories that happen in the Catholic sphere and the Church. We have star signatures and correspondents in Rome who help us to make the background information stand out from the media noise, with ideological distance and independence.

We need you to face the new challenges of a changing media landscape and a reality that demands reflection, we need your support.

In collaboration with
More on Omnes
La Brújula Newsletter Leave us your email and receive every week the latest news curated with a catholic point of view.