USML | Licentiate of Sacred Theology (S.T.L.)

Pontifical Faculty of Theology

Licentiate of Sacred Theology (S.T.L.)

The Licentiate of sacred theology is a research degree in dogmatic theology.  In the civil system, the S.T.L. would be similar to the course work and exams of a Ph.D. program.  It is structured around a cycle of five courses that provide in-depth study of the Christian theological tradition from the New Testament to the present. Special attention is given to Doctrine of God, Christology, Theological Anthropology, and Sacramental Theology. This program builds on the foundational understanding of these areas from the S.T.B.-level studies, seeks to deepen the student’s grasp of how the Christian community's understanding of these issues has developed, and prepares the student for doctoral studies in theology. A graduate of the S.T.L. program is equipped to teach theology in a college, seminary, or university, to function as a chaplain to various professional groups, and to act as a theological resource for diocesan agencies.


Admission Requirements

  • An S.T.B. or a M. Div.

 i.  with a minimum cumulative GPA of at least 3.2 (in canonical-equivalent courses)

 ii. courses with a grade lower than a “B” will not apply toward this requirement. (See S.T.B. Schedule of Courses above.)

  •  Official transcripts of all undergraduate and post-graduate work.

  •  Three letters of recommendation:

 i. one from the ecclesiastical superior (for clergy or religious) or from the proper pastor (for laity). 

ii. two letters from a professor or academic instructor, preferably in theology or a related field.

  •  A personal essay explaining the applicant’s intellectual interests and reason for pursuing the degree.

  •  Language competency must be demonstrated before final acceptance into the program. Competency is demonstrated by passing the USML language examinations [with a score of 83% (B-) or better] in Latin and one other research language (Biblical Hebrew, Greek, French, German, Italian, or Spanish). These exams are administered at the University twice a year.  See the calendar on the back cover of the Bulletin for the scheduled dates.  Aspirants to the S.T.L. program are encouraged to sit for the exams before submitting the application. 

  •  Completion of the application packet, which can be obtained from the Office of the Registrar.

Length of the Program and Residency Requirement

The S.T.L. generally requires two years (four semesters) of study. Candidates are expected to spend at least one year in residence. According to article 37 of the statutes, "no ordinary student in this faculty can be at the same time an ordinary student in some other faculty."

Residency also means a quality of presence, which is spelled out in part in article 39 of the statutes: "Students enrolled in the Faculty are expected to observe all the regulations of the Faculty (See Graduate Student Handbook). They should moreover, comport themselves in a professional, ethical, and Christian manner consonant with the goals and purposes of the Pontifically-recognized Faculty of theology of which they are a part." While a student who is a cleric may offer sacramental assistance to local parishes on an occasional basis, his principal task must be participation in and completion of the degree program in which he is enrolled.

Those students who are unable to stay in residence for the second year may complete this requirement by attending a series of four six-week summer sessions that run roughly from mid-June to mid-July. Each course meets four times a week for 90 minutes. The normal summer course load is six hours. A quorum of at least four students is necessary to schedule a summer course.

The 2014-2018 Summer Schedule is as follows:  


























S.T.L. Program Requirements

  • Completion of coursework with maintenance of a cumulative GPA of at least 3.2 

  •  Completion of the Schedule of Courses.

History of Christian Thought I: 33-381 (3 cr.)
History of Christian Thought II: 431-763 (3 cr.)
History of Christian Thought III: 800-1500 (3 cr.)
History of Christian Thought IV: 1500-1900 (3 cr.)
History of Christian Thought V: 1900-present (3 cr.)
Theological Research and Method Seminar (2 cr.):
S.T.L. Elective (3cr.)
S.T.L. Elective (3cr.)
S.T.L. Elective (3cr.)
Teaching Assistantship (3cr.) [optional]
Thesis Guidance (2nd semester) (2 cr.)
Thesis Writing (3rd and 4th semesters) (2 cr.)
Ongoing Thesis Writing  (1 cr.)

  • Comprehensive Exam 

i. All students are responsible for the New Testament foundations and Catholic dogmatic affirmations in each area of concentration. 

ii. Students are examined in the areas of concentration of the S.T.L. program: the Doctrine of God, Christology, Theological Anthropology, Sacramental/ Liturgical Theology, or Spirituality of Diocesan Priesthood. 

iii. For this exam, each student will select six theologians, one from each of the following periods: 

Patristic (33 - 381)
Early Middle Ages (431 - 763)
High Middle Ages (800 - 1500)
Reformation and Early Modern (1500 -1900)
Twentieth Century to Vatican II (1900 - 1965)
Contemporary Period (1965 – present)

iv. At least three of the theologians selected must be from the Catholic tradition.  

v. A list of approved theologians can be found below, under the “Required Reading List.” 

vi. Of the six theologians selected, the candidate is responsible for what two theologians write about the Doctrine of God, two about Christology, and two about Theological Anthropology, or for those in the Sacrament / Liturgical Theology concentration, two Sacramental Theologians, or for the Spirituality concentration, two Spiritual Theologians. 

vii. The student has a choice of either a written or an oral examination. The oral examination will last one hour with three examiners. The written examination will last three hours and will be based on three questions chosen from a list of five. Questions may be drawn from any of the three areas of concentration and from any of the authors selected. If a student is unable to take the oral exam on the days scheduled, he or she must take a written exam.  

viii. For those completing the STL program in the summer, the comprehensive exam will be given after the completion of course work, and ordinarily in the written format. 

ix. Grading of Comprehensive Exam: A student passes the S.T.L. comprehensive by earning at least a B (87%) based on the average of the grades given by each examiner. A student passes “with distinction” when each examiner gives a grade of 95-100%. A student fails the exam if any examiner gives a grade lower than 76%. Those who fail the examination may retake the exam once. 

x. Required Reading List


S.T.L. Course Descriptions

Required Courses

DT811 History of Christian Thought I (3 cr)

During this semester, we will make a close examination of the emergence and development of the Catholic Tradition in both the East and West from the New Testament to 381 AD. We will emphasize a critical reading of texts from significant authors that highlight the major themes of Christology, Trinitarian Theology and Theological Anthropology. The texts will be set in the context of the general history of the Christian Church during these centuries. We will place particular emphasis on the disputes over the doctrine of God in the course of fourth century Christianity.


DT812 History of Christian Thought II (3 cr)

In this course, we will continue our close examination of the development of the Catholic Tradition in both the East and West from 431 to 800 AD.  We will again emphasize a critical reading of texts from significant authors that highlight the major themes of Christology, Trinitarian Theology, and Theological Anthropolo­gy.  The texts will be set in the context of the general history of the Christian Church during these centuries.  We will begin with a survey of the doctrine of Christ as it emerged from the great Patristic conciliar tradition (Ephesus, 431 to Nicaea II, 787), and then move to a survey of the theological contribution of the foremost Latin Father, St. Augustine of Hippo (353-430).    The texts of St. Augustine will be set in the context of Peter Brown’s classic biography, Augustine of Hippo.


DT813 History of Christian Thought III: Monastic and Scholastic Period (3cr)

This course surveys the development of Catholic doctrine in from the 8th century to the 15th century, focusing on how Augustinian, Dionysian and Thomist theological paradigms functioned as the basis for the variety of theological schools and methods which formed the theological landscape of medieval Christendom.  Theological developments in the doctrine of God, Christology, and Christian anthropology will be discussed, with special emphasis on progress in understanding in the doctrines of the human person and the dynamics of salvation.


DT814 History of Christian Thought IV (3 cr)

This course explores some of the major themes in the history of Christian theology from 1500 until 1900.  It engages Martin Luther and John Calvin and discusses the Catholic response, especially as expressed in the Council of Trent.  It presents the Age of Enlightenment as also the logical outgrowth of these religious contestations. Taking Immanuel Kant and G.W.F. Hegel as the points d’appui, it discusses next the contributions of Friedrich Schleiermacher, Johann Adam Mohler,Søren Kierkegaard, Vatican I, John Henry Newman and Matthias Scheeben.

de Gaal/Fall

DT815 History of Christian Thought V:  Classics for Contemporary Theology (3 cr)

This course will cover influential texts from the period of the Modernist Crisis in the early twentieth century to recent debates over the theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar, concentrating above all on controversies surrounding grace and the Church’s relation to the modern world. Texts covered will include selections from Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange’s attack on the so-called nouvelle théologie, Henri de Lubac’s writings on supernatural grace, and Hans Urs von Balthasar’s classic of ecumenical theology, The Theology of Karl Barth, as well as more recent reactions to these works in the last two decades. Works written before the Second Vatican Council will be chosen because of the signal contribution they made to the teachings of Vatican II. Postconciliar texts will be chosen according to their influence in continuing that same debate: how does the Church best relate to the modern world?


DT817 Theological Research and Method Seminar (2 cr)

The goals of this seminar are to give students practice performing the essential steps that comprise a written theological work and the opportunity to identify and shape the topic they will explore in their License Thesis. Sessions will cover: the types & weight of various sources; effective scriptural contribution; theological methodologies; theological argument; rhetorical strategies; and, library research and style issues.


DT818 Teaching Assistantship (3 cr)

A student may be apprenticed to a professor who is teaching a theology course in the seminary curriculum. Though credit is given for this assistanceship, it does not fulfill any course requirements of the curriculum, nor may it substitute for any of the required courses.  This course is optional.

Faculty Fall/Spring

DT819 Thesis Guidance (2 cr)

In their 2nd semester, the student will choose and meet every three to four weeks with a director to develop a proposal for the licentiate thesis.                                   Faculty/Fall/Spring

DT820-21 Thesis Writing  (2 cr)


DT822-828 Ongoing Thesis Writing (1 cr)

The Licentiate paper is completed in the final term of study. By exception, students may extend the work for up to three years, during which time they must register for this course each semester until the project is complete.

Faculty Fall/Spring

Elective Courses 2013-2014

DT831 Classics of Mystical Theology (3 cr)

In the late fourth century, the noted theologian and spiritual guide Evagrius of Pontus claimed, “a theologian is one who prays, and one who prays is a theologian,” articulating the intimate and necessary connection between knowing and speaking about God, and seeking a personal encounter with Him. This course will examine the integration of mystical experience and theological understanding through a study of texts that grounds their description of Christian mystical path to God, and the mystical encounter itself, in a profound theological understanding of the faith. In order to explore the diverse traditions of Christian mystical theology, we will engage with writings from both the Christian East and West, with a focus on primary, supplemented with secondary, texts.


DT832 Pauline Christology (3 cr)

St. Paul was the Church’s first theologian, and the history of Christian theology begins with him and can never wander far from his inspiration. Paul, however, wrote letters in response to pastoral problems. He did not leave any systematic essays. Therefore, there have been many attempts to summarize his theology using many different organizing principles. Our attempt will proceed by taking “Living in Christ” as Paul’s central concept. We will try to uncover the elements of Paul’s Christology by following the thread of this theme through the Pauline corpus of thirteen letters.


DT833 Soteriology (3 cr)

This course considers the dynamics of salvation in the Roman Catholic tradition.  It attempts to answer the questions: How does the death and resurrection of Christ initiate a dynamic of transformation and renewal in human history?  How do Christians participate in and how does the mission of the Church cultivate and apply this dynamic of transformation?  Emphasis will be placed on the contemporary appropriation of the classical tradition including theological, psychological and social dimensions.


DT834 St. Augustine: On the Trinity (3 cr)

The course consists of a critical reading and discussion of St. Augustine’s theological classic, De Trinitate - On the Trinity---its context, the structure of Augustine’s arguments, his theology, and the significance of this work in the Latin Catholic Tradition.



Licentiate Thesis

  • The licentiate thesis is written in the area of specialization and may be compared to a substantial scholarly essay, its length is sixty to eighty typewritten pages. The thesis demonstrates the student’s ability to do theological research, to present it in a coherent way, and concludes with a personal assessment of the findings. 

  • The topic of the research paper is to be approved by the Graduate Board, and the paper itself is to be approved by a Director and by one other reader. 

  • Schedule for Research and Writing 

i. During the second semester of the S.T.L. program, the student will enroll in Thesis Guidance during which he or she will choose a director who will agree to meet with the student on a regular basis (approximately every 3-4 weeks). The student will work with the thesis director to develop a proposal for the licentiate thesis. With the approval of the thesis director, the student will submit the proposal to the President of the Pontifical Faculty who asks another professor to review and accept the proposal.  The outline for this proposal is as follows: 

-Working Title
-Working Thesis Statement
-Working list of up to 10 primary sources
-Working list of up to 20 secondary and tertiary sources
-A minimum of five questions that will guide the student’s “conversation” with the chosen sources.

Once approved by another faculty member, the student may begin the process of research and writing.

ii. In the third and fourth semesters of the program, the student will enroll in Thesis Writing.  By the middle of the fourth semester of the program the student will submit a working draft of the S.T.L. thesis to the director. (Bishops of ordained students will be informed of this requirement. If a student is assigned to full-time responsibilities in a parish, the writing schedule can be negotiated with the President.) 

iii. By the end of the fourth semester of the program the student will submit the final draft of the thesis to be graded by the director.  Once graded, the student will request from the President a date for the Presentation and Defense of the Thesis. 

  • Presentation and Defense of S.T.L. Thesis

i. The candidate for the S.T.L. degree will give a 20-minute presentation of his or her thesis before a board appointed by the President of the Pontifical Faculty and constituted by the director of the thesis and two other professors. After the presentation, each member of the board will ask questions and discuss the presentation with the candidate for 20 minutes apiece. 

ii. Successful completion of the student’s defense of their thesis requires at least a “B” (87%) average of the grades given by the three members of the board. This grade is a separate grade from the grade given the Thesis by the thesis director. 

  • Time Limits 

i. The Licentiate paper is completed in the final term of study. By exception, students may extend the work for up to three years, during which time they must register for “Ongoing Thesis Writing” each semester until the project is complete. 

ii. After three years, guidance will no longer be provided and a diploma will not be granted. Students still wishing to be awarded the degree must reapply to the program.

  • In order to participate in the University Convocation at the end of the academic year, a student must have completed all work for the S.T.L. thirty (30) days before the Convocation.


S.T.L. Other Concentrations

S.T.L. Concentration in Liturgical/Sacramental Theology 

The Pontifical Faculty, in collaboration with the Liturgical Institute at the University of St Mary of the Lake offers a concentration in liturgical/sacramental theology. 

The student follows all the program requirements of the S.T.L. program as described above with the following exceptions:  

a) The five S.T.L. electives are designated STL-LI, with content geared toward the concentration (they are open to any registered S.T.L. student); 

b) HCT V is replaced by LI835 Sacramental Thought and Practice in the 20th Century; 

c) The S.T.L. thesis topic must be in an area of liturgical / sacramental theology; 

d) The oral exam includes themes and figures from sacramental / liturgical theology. For further information on the S.T.L. Sacramental / Liturgical concentration, see the Bulletin of the Liturgical Institute. 

S.T.L. Concentration in the Spirituality of the Diocesan Priesthood 

The Pontifical Faculty, in collaboration with the Institute for Priestly Formation, offers a concentration in the spirituality of the Diocesan Priesthood. 

This concentration has been temporarily suspended.  For further information contact the President of the Pontifical Faculty.


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