Revolution in the educational offer of Theology in Spain

Can lay people do a postgraduate or master's degree in Biblical Theology, in Joseph Ratzinger or St. Ignatius of Loyola, Church History, Missiology, Moral Theology, or in Arabic or Jewish Language and Culture? Until very recently, no. Now it is. It is a model promoted by Pope Francis.

Rafael Miner-June 6, 2021-Reading time: 6 minutes

Photo: ©Jan Canty

Until recently, the studies of Theology had to be carried out as an organic whole, either in the Faculties of Theology or in the Institutes of Religious Sciences. What the Church had until now are the degrees and doctorates proper to the ecclesiastical faculties, and then the diplomas and degrees of the Institutes of Higher Religious Sciences (ISCR). These are academic degrees, to which the Holy See gives a value to cover certain offices.

But after the Bologna process, which laid the foundations of the so-called European Higher Education Area (1999), "civil universities are given the opportunity to make their own degrees, which go beyond what are the established careers, and the Church has joined in allowing that beyond the official degree in Sacred Theology, you can get an expert degree in Judaism, for example, by the University X. And what value does that have? The value given by the corresponding Faculty of Theology, without it being an academic degree of bachelor or bachelor's degree. Of course, all the titles have the endorsement of the previous approval by the Holy See".

This is explained by Professor Nicolás Álvarez de las Asturias, professor and vice-rector of Academic Planning at the Universidad San Dámaso in Madrid, who summarizes the concept in this way: "Now the same centers are beginning to offer the model of their own degrees or experts, equivalent in the civil world to a postgraduate or master's degree, or diplomas. And many of them are online.

In other words, the Holy See allows each university to offer its own degrees with its own authority, which must be approved by the Congregation for Catholic Education, whose prefect is Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi, although they do not constitute an ecclesiastical degree. An Anglo-Saxon model.

Is this to the detriment of the traditional faculties of Theology or the Institutes of Religious Sciences? Not at all. "Because these degrees offer formation in some very specific aspect of Theology or Philosophy, at different levels. In some cases very specialized, and in others at a more informative level, but focused only on one aspect, without seeking to give a complete organic vision, which the Faculties and the ISCR offer, with philosophical and theological studies that the Church considers necessary for an adequate formation", adds Professor Nicolás Álvarez de las Asturias.

In addition, this boost to the dynamization of Philosophy and Theology studies comes from Pope Francis himself, and the Apostolic Constitution Veritatis Gaudiumwhich we will quote at the end. The Holy Father wishes that "the worldwide network of ecclesiastical universities and faculties" face "a courageous cultural revolution".

Civilian intellectuals

Omnes has been in contact with executives of universities that have begun to offer their own Expert degrees. For example, San Dámaso, Navarra, Pontificia de Comillas, or UNIR, among others. The first piece of advice for all those who wish to participate in an Expert or Diploma course is to check the enrollment dates. Many of them are still open. In others it has already closed, but an admission period is scheduled for August, as in Navarra.

The degrees that constitute the offer are being and will be for lay people interested in some aspect of Theology; intellectuals from the civil sphere who consider it necessary to complement their training at university level in matters that are unfamiliar to them; and thirdly, people who wish to complement the more standard degrees, San Damaso points out.

"In this case, to cite an example, if a Lebanese bishop were to send a priest to do a degree at our University, for example in moral theology, with a little more effort, he could take his own degree on Islam, which could be very useful for him to develop his mission in the multi-religious context of his country; and the examples could multiply in light of our offer and the needs of the different dioceses," adds the vice rector of San Damaso.

Ana Moya, head of institutional management at the same university in Madrid, explains the double modality: "we have the diplomas, which are simpler, more informative, and the expert level, in which there are specific subjects and are specialized, aimed at people who already have a university degree". They can be consulted here.

In the 21/22 academic year, two new degrees will be offered at San Damaso: Expert and Diploma in Church History, in addition to those already offered in Philosophy, Missiology, Jewish Culture and Language, Arabic Culture and Language, or the one that deals with the Relationship between Christianity and Islam.


The ISCR of the University of Navarra notes the gratitude of people who have studied theology at the academic center. For example, Dario Malaver, responsible for Hispanic family ministry in Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates). This is his email: "I ask you from the bottom of my heart to pass on my deepest gratitude to each and every one of the professors of this Diploma, their charisma and dedication have served me as an example for my life in the Church. I will not have enough words to describe how enjoyable, productive, fulfilling and inspiring my participation in this Diploma has been".

Natalia Santoro, academic secretary of this ISCR, underlines that "the valorization of the laity" was one of the great intuitions of the Second Vatican Council, as Archbishop Jean-Louis Brugés pointed out in the presentation of the 2008 Instruction on the ISCR: "For the laity to be able to carry out the services proper to them, they must receive an appropriate formation. They have the right to ask for it and the Church has the duty to offer it to them".

The Institute of Religious Sciences of the University of Navarra, where people from more than 20 countries study, has five Diplomas, exhibited at navigation that is easier to perform one at a time, in the drop-down menu under Courses and Conferences. And their "demand is growing", Natalia Santoro.

Among the students are teachers and professors, managers, consultants, doctors and scientists, engineers, communicators, catechists, parents, and religious and lay people from all movements of the Church. Among the motivations are the formation of formators; participation in social debate; vocational discernment; and the search for truth.

The TUPs, UNIR...

The studies of University Theology for Postgraduates (TUP) of the Universidad Pontificia Comillas are well known in the sector, and "are aimed at people with university degrees, especially laymen and laywomen, who are looking for a reason for their faith, offering them an afternoon schedule compatible with their working day", at the Comillas ICADE headquarters in Madrid.

The TUPs at Comillas are taught by the same professors who teach in the morning, and grant the canonical title of Bachelor of Theology (Bachelor's Degree). It is a Theology aimed at people who wish to deepen their knowledge of Catholic doctrine, and directed especially to lay people, reports Comillas.

But the TUPs are different from the degrees we are talking about. Comillas also has its own postgraduate master's degrees such as Pastoral Care of the Family, Vocational Discernment and Spiritual Accompaniment and Ignatian Spirituality. As our own degrees, those of Spiritual Exercises and Biblical Spirituality.

As we have just seen, biblical studies are one of the most attractive subjects when it comes to designing their own degrees. Other centers are announcing degrees in biblical studies, such as the UNIRwhich also offers an Expert Course in Philosophy and Religion according to the thought of Joseph Ratzinger.

The UNIR encourages to "discover the influence of the Bible, in order to: - rigorously analyze the different texts of the Bible; - understand the historical, political, social and cultural context in which they were written; - and interpret the Bible and apply its content to today's society."

Global network of universities and colleges

It has been three years since Pope Francis gave the starting signal for this educational revolution. "The time has come for ecclesiastical studies to receive that wise and courageous renewal that is required for a missionary transformation of a Church outbound from this rich patrimony of deepening and orientation," the Holy Father pointed out in the Apostolic Constitution Veritatis Gaudium.

"Faced with the new stage of evangelization, the appropriate renewal of the system of ecclesiastical studies is called to play a strategic role," the Pope noted. "In fact, these studies must not only offer places and itineraries for the qualified formation of priests, consecrated persons and committed lay people, but constitute a kind of providential cultural laboratory."

Francis referred to the challenge of "a courageous cultural revolution". And "in this endeavor, the worldwide network of ecclesiastical universities and faculties is called to bring the decisive contribution of the leaven, salt and light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and of the living Tradition of the Church, which is always open to new scenarios and new proposals".

The Roman Pontiff pointed out among the fundamental criteria of this revolution "inter- and trans-disciplinarity exercised with wisdom and creativity in the light of Revelation. The vital and intellectual principle of the unity of knowledge in diversity and in respect for its multiple, related and convergent expressions is what qualifies the academic, formative and research proposal of the system of ecclesiastical studies".

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