Page 4, 27th June 1969

27th June 1969
Page 4
Page 4, 27th June 1969 — Seminaries—melting pots not moulds

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Locations: Paris, London


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Seminaries—melting pots not moulds


SOME friends were bring ing me back to my seminary in Paris after a day in the country. As we arrived at the imposing gateway in the rue d'Assas, their eight-yearold daughter came out with the inquiry—or the comment —"Crest la, ton cimetiere?". She might have been Zazie, with her unmalicious but devastating comment on the Siminaire de Carmes and its (presumably) gibbering inhabitants.

There is a sense in which seminarists are rightly told to regard themselves as dead men .. . "Un s6minaire, messieurs, c'est un pourrissoir," said one retreat-giver. But the thought of being so much compost is hardly encouraging, and the point of dying is after all, rising again.

Farmers in England compare the clergy to manure, nasty in heaps, but handy when spread around. And priests will agree, vastly preferring real life on the parish to the preliminary years of decomposition.

Vatican II has set English seminaries to work on their four-hundred-year-old inheritance. Last year's celebrations at Douai, Old Hall Green and Ushaw looked back to Cardinal Pole, the Council of Trent and the scholars and missionaries from England, the Low Countries and France who gave seminaries and seminary priests a good name. Today the public reputation is sagging. and there is, to put it mildly, no lack of outside and inside pressure towards change.

Seminars are in, but seminaries are not. Whether Gilbert and Sullivan did the damage, or whether we have only ourselves to blame, the word now has a pale and faded air. It is no good talking about seed-beds or hotbeds, people just think of nurseries and gla'sshouses instead.

But there is something in the seed-bed idea, all the same. Cardinal Pole wanted the English bishops to set up schools linked with the cathedrals which would serve as seed-beds (tanquan2 seminaria) of future clergy. The decree which his London synod passed became a basis for discussion at Trent, when the new policy for diocesan colleges which would keep up a regular supply of clergy was formulated.

Without the pious and religious life which these colleges would foster, young men would not persevere in their calling; only by an extraordinary gift of God's grace would they be prepared to accept the discipline of the Church.

Hence the minor seminary. And when people talk of seminaries in England today, this is the sort of seminary, surprisingly enough, that they often have in mind. When they visit present-day St. Edmund's, they find something quite different from what they expected: no small boys in cassocks, a school which is not a seminary, and a seminary where the average age is higher than that of university undergraduates.

The seminary programme is in too much of a state of flux to be easily described; since I am involved in it myself, I should prefer to read what one of the visiting lecturers. male or female; lay or clerical, might write about it than attempt a personal report.

To explain the situation at the moment, all one can do is try to convey a certain awareness of the direction in which we are moving. In the first place, it is the whole diocese, and not just one small institution, which is now the seminary, the seed-bed.

The call to the service of the Church as a deacon, presbyter or even a bishop (why not?) can be heard at any age and in any social group. Any parish, any school, any movement in the Church is part of the seminary, in the sense in which the Council of Trent understood the term. Many different agencies now do the work for which the Council made special provision.

But a diocese does need to have a collegiate institution in which the particular knowledge and skills needed by those who are ordained to the ministry can be developed and communicated. And the form which this institution should take is governed not by the narrowly specialist needs of a particular class of men, engaging, like all professions. in their own brand of conspiracy against the laity, but by the apostolic concerns of the whole local Christian community.

It cannot train future priests in isolation from the continuous training needed by all and without that sharing in the knowledge and life of the Gospel which is the common privilege of all members of the Church. The study and teaching which goes on there must draw upon the expertise of the whole diocese and must push forward the construction of the whole People of God.

This must be done not by a self-contained, package deal, six-year cramming course which turns out production-line priests who will then live on their puppy fat for the next fifty years of their existence, but by a process of education which, while it has its intensive moments, especially at the beginning, is planned out as a life-long process.

This means, for example, that priests and laity normally active outside are needed in the college both as teachers and as students, as well as the body of those who are preparing for ordination or who live there as resident tutors.

It means that the college must have links with universities, where theological teaching and research are conducted on a scientific basis, so that concern for truth is given its proper place within the life of faith; and it must be linked with every kind of work for social welfare, in order that this faith may be truly alive, producing all the fruits which belong to the Kingdom of God.

A college of this kind will be at the same time a pastoral and an ecumenical institute for the region which it serves. We very easily make the mistake of over-specialisation at the present time, while we should be seeing faith in Christ as the great unifying factor in human society. The sacrament of Holy Order makes men into representatives of Christ in the world; this point of reference does not narrow them down, but opens them out to the full range of our common humanity.

Their whole work consists of making Christ known among men; they are not defined by their commitment to this or that trade, profession, piece of research or tech nological achievement, but by the person and message of Jesus of Nazareth. God-made-man, the source of meaning and central transforming influence in human life.

In the matter of internal organisation and outward relationships, places like St. Edmund's are going to be very different in a few years' time, and are already changing rapidly — more rapidly, some qualified observers say, than any other educational


One line of continuity will remain: the fact that in the ministry of the Catholic Church men are called to give themselves entirely to a work which is not their own choosing and involves complete absorption in the deathand-life cycle of the Gospel.

Those who begin the training that the sacrament of Christian ministry involves can see themselves as called to work today at the focal point of a new civilisation. The Catholic Church is beginning again in England, not, now, as a social minority which preserves its existence by borrowing life-patterns from some previous age or some other place, but as the carrier of the seeds of restored humanity. There is a man-shaped blank in the minds of our contemporaries, as well as a God-shaped one; and nowhere but in those institutions which used to be called seminaries and which are now seeking for another name you will find men dedicated. purely and simply. to humanity itself. Everywhere else, we study fragments. Only here, because men study Christ, do they learn human completeness.

It is no use waiting until the aggiornamento is perfected before taking the plunge into this new training in humanity. The imperfections and inadequacies of the present system have to be accepted, along with everything else, if they are to be properly assessed and dealt with; and it is one of the features of the present time that both staff and students are involved in planning and making the changes that are needed.

I do not think there are any educational institutions in the country where there is between staff and students a greater sense of a common vocation to be followed and a common purpose to be achieved, and more participation in a joint work of construction, than there is in the English Catholic seminaries Those who expect the staff to do all the planning and adaptation will certainly be dissatisfied; those who are prepared, year after year. to go through the grinding effort of creating something new will discover that something can be made of these places after all.

A seminary today is a melting-pot, not a mould; those who have "that mind that was in Christ Jesus" can see in a place like the one good fortune to live, a laboratory, a research establish ment, a prolonged happening, in which human material for the future development of ,English life is at present undergoing the essential preliminary to every advance, the baptism of the Spirit and of fire.

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