The Fundamental Principles of Training for the Priesthood

Author: Pope Paul VI


Pope Paul VI

Pope’s Allocution to the Commission for "The Fundamental Principles of Training for the Priesthood"

On Thursday 27th March the Holy Father received the Prelates, Presidents and Members of the Episcopal Conferences who took part on 25th, 26th and 27th March in the work of the Episcopal Commission, drawn from various countries, which is making a study of the "The Fundamental Principles of Training for the Priesthood", in accordance with the desire of the Synod of Bishops. The Commission is operating under the auspices of the Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, as directed by the II Ecumenical Council of the Vatican.

After Cardinal Garrone had addressed the Holy Father, telling of the work done by the Commission in connection with the "Ratio Studiorum", the Holy Father spoke as follows, in Latin:

Venerable Brothers,

It is with a glad and fraternal heart that We greet you, the Presidents of the Episcopal Commissions for Seminaries, and thank you for having come to this meeting in order to forward your work on a task which is not a light one and which consists in establishing "The fundamental principles of training for the priesthood". You who are engaged in this grave and difficult matter have it greatly at heart that students for the priesthood shall be property instructed; the very fortunes of the Church are involved in the highest degree with what you are doing.

It may rightly be asked, "What art is equal to that of guiding souls and forming youthful minds?" (St. John Chrysostom, Hom. 59 in Matth. 7; P.G. 58, 584). What then is to be said of that art which is concerned with preparing men in the flower of their age for undertaking the highest, most holy and most arduous of functions? The greatest importance should indeed be attributed to such education, and those who impart it should bear well in mind that they are serving the Church in a wholly special way.

We have no need, Venerable Brothers, to call upon the vast evidence which shows with what care the Church has concerned herself and will continue to concern herself with this matter. We all remember how the Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican, reading the signs of a new age, devoted not a little care to the question. Our recent Predecessors in the Apostolic office seemed to be on fire with concern for it, and We Ourself, a few months after We were called, in God's mysterious counsels, to minister to the whole of the Lord's flock, sent out an Apostolic Letter, on the occasion of the fourth centenary of the institution of sacred Seminaries by the Ecumenical Council of Trent, so that at the very beginning of Our service in the Pontificate We should be able to communicate to the Church the care We have for seminaries.

Now your presence gives Us the opportunity of briefly setting before you a number of considerations in this respect.

No one is unaware how many and how great difficulties have arisen in recent times in relation to the education of those who are being prepared for reception of the Priesthood. Indeed the difficulties are plain for all to see, as you all know. They have not only affected, are not only affecting candidates for holy orders, but are spreading everywhere. The youth of almost all sections are being roused and stirred up; a new state of mind is being induced, which they describe as maturity, and by virtue of which they wish to know about what concerns them and to be the judges of their own actions. They are unwilling to have rules simply made for them by those set over them, but desire on the one hand to have a share in the task of training and improving, and on the other to enjoy liberty and the use of their free will. These are the two special and peculiar characteristics of the "crisis" with which youth of today is said to be troubled.

New educational discipline

Whichever way we regard it, it follows that authority itself is being controverted. This is a matter that must be carefully considered. Although prime and well tested educational precepts ought not be thrown away, nevertheless there should also be respect for the views of the new age and the new mentality. The necessary disciplinary relationship between the educator and the pupil is no longer regarded as something depending on exterior command, a relationship in which one gives orders and is active, and the other, as they say, passively obeys. Let mutual discipline now rather be established between them by virtue of which assent to a command may come as it were from an interior relationship. The educator's function, as We have said, is undoubtedly always necessary to be a guide on the way; it is also necessary that it be exercised with equilibrium and equity; it should be considerate and thoughtful, and ready and able to persuade.

We do not deny that a teacher has greater difficulty in fulfilling his task in this manner, but it must be stated that this new educational discipline, when joined with upright and proper firmness, is more in accordance with the Christian spirit. For in this work of education more attention should be given to those factors which derive from the sacred character of the teacher, and we should remember that the ancients, who did not have tile Christian religion, believed that "pedagogues require the greatest consideration, they should not be disregarded, but valued in another way" (cf. Cicero, De Am. 74). Those factors also derive from the very ends proposed for education, namely those connected with spirituality, discipline, doctrine, the pastoral ministry, and also from the example given by the teacher, who should be a teacher of how to live, by virtue of the fact that true virtue, but above all humility and strength of mind, shine in him.

Charity should be supreme

That education or training which needs to be based on such principles or considerations, also requires to be accompanied by the power of the word, in personal conversations and discussions, especially as regards what the teacher has to say to students singly. Affability, sincere spiritual affection and patience cannot be too much commended in this regard; and charity should be supreme, as "the sweet and healthful bond among minds" (St. Augustine, Sermon 350, 3; P.L. 39, 1534).

But let close and diligent attention be given to this following principle, as a light to guide the whole task of training. The master or teacher's function is certainly necessary, yet, since he is like an artist or craftsman who shapes the early outlines, let him gradually efface himself in some way, so that his help may no longer have to be sought; lie ought to be able to impart virtue and doctrine to the minds of his pupils in such a way that their own powers will eventually be sufficient for them and they will know how to act freely and out of their own consciences. The road along which this height is reached is charity.

A teacher should not fear lest his own ability or influence will be diminished if he acts in this way; on the contrary, his effectiveness will be increased, because his powers will have to be more awake and active. Nor should his conversations with his pupils be solely concerned with minor and transitory affairs; he should rather seek to make such familiar talks occasions for instilling into their minds and hearts those lofty ideas upon which a priestly life entirely depends. He should therefore be discreet but persistent, and seek to inculcate the two principal nations: thenotion of the fellowship of the priesthood of Christ, in which they are going to share and of the pastoral ministry, which they are going to exercise in the midst of the People of God.

Who will deny that this mode of educating is very difficult? It demands that there shall be more intense and franker intercourse, in imitation of the ways of the Divine Teacher, who, "meek and humble of heart" (Matth. 11, 29) as he was, gave himself to the task of training his formerly rough and ignorant disciples to take on the apostolic task through which they might "renew the face of the earth",

Unity and variety

We see that much study and diligence has been devoted to preparing this document of "The Fundamental Principles of Training for the Priesthood", which has been composed in conformity with the Decree "Optatam totius" issued by the Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican and the resolution adopted by the Synod of Bishops, but has not yet been brought to a conclusion. The opportune counsel has been offered that attention should be given to unity in this very grave matter of education, but that at the same time there should be room for variety, in accordance with regional requirements. No one can fail to see the importance of and ponder upon the importance of this as the first law on priestly training, and both the effectiveness of that training and of the ministry that the students will one day exercise, will depend upon this document in no small measure. It ought to draw its strength from that same charity which We have indicated above, since it, is going to be the instrument of those whose task it is to guide young men to the altar, and to do so above all by means of charity. Whatever form the "Ratio" may take, it will meet its purpose only if that best teacher of all, experience acquired through practice and love that not only gives but seeks to guide, shall have been added by you.

Therefore We humbly beg Christ Our Lord to favour your labours, and draw good and happy benefit for the Church from them .We utter this prayer, Venerable Brethren, in a spirit of concern that arises from Our awareness of the importance of the matter. May the Apostolic Blessing which We now impart to you with burning charity confirm it.  

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
10 April 1969, page 5

L'Osservatore Romano is the newspaper of the Holy See.
The Weekly Edition in English is published for the US by:

The Cathedral Foundation
L'Osservatore Romano English Edition
320 Cathedral St.
Baltimore, MD 21201
Subscriptions: (410) 547-5315
Fax: (410) 332-1069