Monday, February 12, 2024

Today, on the Christian History Almanac, we head to the mailbag and answer a question about the history of Seminaries.

It is the 12th of February 2024 Welcome to the Christian History Almanac, brought to you by 1517 at; I’m Dan van Voorhis.


Hey friends, there was a Super Bowl yesterday- as Rams fans, we are constitutionally incapable of rooting for the 49ers, so we were rooting for Taylor Swift’s boyfriend's team. And as we all know, the game ended 31-24 in favor of the Chiefs.

Ok- it’s Monday, and I have a mailbag full of questions to answer, and I believe I am heading for the first time on the show to West Virginia- a lot of Van Voorhis’s in West Virginia. And Rick in Huntington. Of course, I am the home of Marshall University and their “Thundering Herd.” I love a two-name team name. You’ve got a Hot Dog festival, Camden Park (home of the Big Dipper), and the hometown of the iconic Diamond Teeth Mary- half-sister of jazz legend Bessie Smith and a popular blues and then gospel singer.

Rick asked, “As someone who has often contemplated seminary, I was wondering if there was any interesting history behind seminaries as opposed to other colleges or Christian colleges.”

Yes, Rick, there is a history of the particular institution that is set apart as a “seminary.” Of course, the notion of higher education in general in the West comes from the Christian tradition, with the places of tiger learning developing from the Cathedral Schools in the Middle Ages. Part of what these Cathedral Schools did was to identify and train men for the ministry.

The term “seminary” comes from the Catholic Council of Trent in the mid-16th century- it’s a word meaning “seed bed” where seeds would be planted until they were ready to find fertile soil elsewhere to mature.

But specific education for clergy goes back at least to St. Eusebius of Vercelli in the 300s, who saw that the old method of apprenticeship could be improved upon, especially with the legalization of Christianity and the need for various overseers.  

Augustine will second Eusebius’ plan to combine a semi-monastic lifestyle with learning and training for the clergy.

From the time of Charlemagne in the 800s, the “Cathedral schools” would become specific training grounds for would-be clergy to come under the supervision of local officials to oversee the formation of a future minister.

Cathedral schools would morph into Universities in general, and these would grow and expand such that, at some, the first purpose to training future ministers. The whole world of University education became bloated but assumed by custom such that unhealthy institutions continued to exist (wait… I could have written that about today in some instances). Part of the anti-clericalism (that is, anti-church hierarchy) was blamed on these Universities losing their way.

And so, it was the council of Trent that wanted to divide the secularizing University from the Seminary. You would likely choose one of the two paths- the Seminary would give you a basic education but the focus was on theological training and spiritual formation.

This model would come to the New World with the Catholics and St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore, that early Catholic haven. With protestants, it wouldn’t be so easy. The early colleges taught theological courses; would those suffice in creating pastors? As with the Middle Ages, as these colleges became more secular, there was a need for distinct training in theology and spiritual formation. And thus, the Catholic model of a seminary came into being. This would, however, not become a separate path but part of a post-graduate education. Many seminaries have had to deal with the nature of higher education in America and ask if personal spiritual formation can still be offered, especially in online modalities. Some have answered this with robust communities of apprenticeships in conjunction with education, online or otherwise.

An American parallel might be interesting as the Great Awakenings were led by Methodists and Baptists because their models for “making pastors” were not as entrenched as the older denominations and their East Coast colleges and seminaries.

Whatever your thought, there is no “obviously standard historical” method for training pastors except a thorough line of theological reflection and spiritual formation and mentorship, which seems to be the closest thing to a historical consensus in the church.

So, Rick is in Huntington. You might think about how theological education, spiritual formation, and mentorship might look for you. What is being offered in your area and with whatever church body you belong to? Despite my skepticism about the prevailing model, I am not skeptical about the number of wonderfully trained and deeply concerned faculty at these schools who might be able to answer your questions and suggest concrete steps forward.

Thanks for the question, Rick- you can send me yours at


The last word for today is from the daily lectionary and heed to pay attention from the second book of the letter to the Hebrews.

We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For since the message spoken through angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.


This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 12th of February 2024, brought to you by 1517 at

The show is produced by a graduate of Fort Wayne Theological Seminary, he is Christopher Gillespie.

The show is written and read by a man familiar with Van Voorhis, West Virginia, a town on the banks of the Monongahela- I’m Dan van Voorhis.

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.

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