Decree on Priestly Training (Optatum Totius)
Decree on Priestly Training (Optatum Totius) proclaimed by His Holiness Pope Paul VI on October 28, 1965
Animated by the spirit of Christ, this sacred synod is fully aware that the
desired renewal of the whole Church depends to a great extent on the ministry of
its priests. It proclaims the extreme importance of priestly training and lays
down certain basic principles by which those regulations may be strengthened
which long use has shown to be sound and by which those new elements can be
added which correspond to the constitutions and decrees of this sacred council
and to the changed conditions of our times. Because of the very unity of the
Catholic priesthood this priestly formation is necessary for all priests,
diocesan and religious and of every rite. Wherefore, while these prescriptions
directly concern the diocesan clergy, they are to be appropriately adapted to
I. THE PROGRAM OF PRIESTLY TRAINING TO BE UNDERTAKEN BY EACH COUNTRY
1. Since only general laws can be made where there exists a wide variety of
nations and regions, a special "program of priestly training" is to be
undertaken by each country or rite. It must be set up by the episcopal
conferences, revised from time to time and approved by the Apostolic See. In
this way will the universal laws be adapted to the particular circumstances of
the times and localities so that the priestly training will always be in tune
with the pastoral needs of those regions in which the ministry is to be
II. THE URGENT FOSTERING OF PRIESTLY VOCATIONS
2. The duty of fostering vocations pertains to the whole Christian
community, which should exercise it above all by a fully Christian life. The
principal contributors to this are the families which, animated by the spirit of
faith and love and by the sense of duty, become a kind of initial seminary, and
the parishes in whose rich life the young people take part. Teachers and all
those who are in any way in charge of the training of boys and young men,
especially Catholic associations, should carefully guide the young people
entrusted to them so that these will recognize and freely accept a divine
vocation. All priests especially are to manifest an apostolic zeal in fostering
vocations and are to attract the interest of youths to the priesthood by their
own life lived in a humble and industrious manner and in a happy spirit as well
as by mutual priestly charity and fraternal sharing of labor.
Bishops on the other hand are to encourage their flock to promote vocations
and should be concerned with coordinating all forces in a united effort to this
end. As fathers, moreover, they must assist without stint those whom they have
judged to be called to the Lord's work.
The effective union of the whole people of God in fostering vocations is the
proper response to the action of Divine Providence which confers the fitting
gifts on those men divinely chosen to participate in the hierarchical priesthood
of Christ and helps them by His grace. Moreover, this same Providence charges
the legitimate ministers of the Church to call forward and to consecrate with
the sign of the Holy Spirit to the worship of God and to the service of the
Church those candidates whose fitness has been acknowledged and who have sought
so great an office with the right intention and with full freedom.
The sacred synod commends first of all the traditional means of common
effort, such as urgent prayer, Christian penance and a constantly more intensive
training of the faithful by preaching, by catechetical instructions or by the
many media of social communication that will show forth the need, the nature and
the importance of the priestly vocation. The synod moreover orders that the
entire pastoral activity of fostering vocations be methodically and coherently
planned and, with equal prudence and zeal, fostered by those organizations for
promoting vocations which, in accord with the appropriate pontifical documents,
have already been or will be set up in the territory of individual dioceses,
regions or countries. Also, no opportune aids are to be overlooked which modern
Psychological and sociological research has brought to light.
The work of fostering vocations should, in a spirit of openness, transcend
the limits of individual dioceses, countries, religious families and rites.
Looking to the needs of the universal Church, it should provide aid particularly
for those regions in which workers for the Lord's vineyard are being requested
3. In minor seminaries erected to develop the seeds of vocations, the
students should be prepared by special religious formation, particularly through
appropriate spiritual direction, to follow Christ the Redeemer with generosity
of spirit and purity of heart. Under the fatherly direction of the superiors,
and with the proper cooperation of the parents, their daily routine should be in
accord with the age, the character and the stage of development of adolescence
and fully adapted to the norms of a healthy psychology. Nor should the fitting
opportunity be lacking for social and cultural contacts and for contact with
one's own family. Moreover, whatever is decreed in the following paragraphs
about major seminaries is also to be adapted to the minor seminary to the extent
that it is in accord with its purpose and structure. Also, studies undertaken by
the students should be so arranged that they can easily continue them elsewhere
should they choose a different state of life.
With equal concern the seeds of vocations among adolescents and young men
are also to be fostered in those special institutes which, in accord with the
local circumstances, serve the purpose of a minor seminary as well as among
those who are trained in other schools or by other educational means. Finally,
those institutions and other schools initiated for those with a belated vocation
are to be carefully developed.
III. THE SETTING UP OF MAJOR SEMINARIES
4. Major seminaries are necessary for priestly formation. Here the entire
training of the students should be oriented to the formation of true shepherds
of souls after the model of our Lord Jesus Christ, teacher, priest and shepherd.
They are therefore to be prepared for the ministry of the word: that they might
understand ever more perfectly the revealed word of God; that, meditating on it
they might possess it more firmly, and that they might express it in words and
in example; for the ministry of worship and of sanctification: that through
their prayers and their carrying out of the sacred liturgical celebrations they
might perfect the work o salvation through the Eucharistic sacrifice and
the sacraments; for the ministry of the parish: that they might know how to make
Christ present to men, Him who did not "come to be served but to serve and
to give His life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45; cf. John 13:12-17), and
that, having become the servants of all, they might win over all the more (cf. 1
Therefore, all the forms of training, spiritual, intellectual, disciplinary,
are to be ordered with concerted effort towards this pastoral end, and to attain
it all the administrators and teachers are to work zealously and harmoniously
together, faithfully obedient to the authority of the bishop.
5. Since the training of students depends both on wise laws and, most of
all, on qualified educators, the administrators and teachers of seminaries are
to be selected from the best men, and are to be carefully prepared in sound
doctrine, suitable pastoral experience and special spiritual and pedagogical
training. Institutes, therefore, should be set up to attain this end. Or at
least courses are to be arranged with a proper program, and the meetings of
seminary directors are to take place at specified times.
Administrators, however, and teachers must be keenly aware of how much the
success of the students' formation depends on their manner of thinking and
acting. Under the rector's leadership they are to form a very closely knit
community both in spirit and in activity and they are to constitute among
themselves and with the students that kind of family that will answer to the
Lord's prayer "That they be one" (cf. John 17:11) and that will
develop in the students a deep joy in their own vocation. The bishop, on the
other hand, should, with a constant and loving solicitude, encourage those who
labor in the seminary and prove himself a true father in Christ to the students
themselves. Finally, all priests are to look on the seminary as the heart of the
diocese and are to offer willingly their own helpful service.
6. With watchful concern for the age of each and for his stage of progress,
an inquiry should be made into the candidate's proper intention and freedom of
choice, into his spiritual, moral and intellectual qualifications, into his
appropriate physical and psychic health-taking into consideration also possible
hereditary deficiencies. Also to be considered is the ability of the candidate
to bear the priestly burdens and exercise the pastoral offices.
In the entire process of selecting and testing students, however, a due
firmness is to be adopted, even if a deplorable lack of priests should exist,
since God will not allow His Church to want for ministers if those who are
worthy are promoted and those not qualified are, at an early date, guided in a
fatherly way to undertake other tasks. The latter should also be given
sufficient direction so that, conscious of their vocation as Christians, they
might eagerly embrace the lay apostolate.
7. Where individual dioceses are unable to institute their own seminaries
properly, seminaries for many dioceses or for an entire region or for a country
are to be set up and developed, so that the sound training of the students,
which must be considered the supreme law in this matter, can be taken care of in
a more effective manner. These seminaries, if they are regional or national, are
to be regulated according to directives set down by the bishops concerned and
approved by the Apostolic See.
In these seminaries, however, where there are many students, while retaining
a unity of direction and of scientific training, the students should be
conveniently divided into smaller groups so that a better provision is had for
the personal formation of each.
IV.THE CAREFUL DEVELOPMENT OF THE SPIRITUAL TRAINING
8. The spiritual training should be closely connected with the doctrinal and
pastoral, and, with the special help of the spiritual director, should be
imparted in such a way that the students might learn to live in an intimate and
unceasing union with the Father through His Son Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit.
Conformed to Christ the Priest through their sacred ordination they should be
accustomed to adhere to Him as friends, in an intimate companionship, their
whole life through. They should so live His paschal mystery themselves that they
can initiate into it the flock committed to them. They should be taught to seek
Christ in the faithful meditation on God's word, in the active participation in
the sacred mysteries of the Church, especially in the Eucharist and in the
divine office, in the bishop who sends them and in the people to whom they are
sent, especially the poor, the children, the sick, the sinners and the
unbelievers. They should love and venerate with a filial trust the most blessed
Virgin Mary, who was given as mother to the disciple by Christ Jesus as He was
dying on the cross.
Those practices of piety that are commended by the long usage of the Church
should be zealously cultivated; but care should be taken lest the spiritual
formation consist in them alone or lest it develop only a religious affectation.
The students should learn to live according to the Gospel ideal, to be
strengthened in faith, hope and charity, so that, in the exercise of these
practices, they may acquire the spirit of prayer, learn to defend and strengthen
their vocation, obtain an increase of other virtues and grow in the zeal to gain
all men for Christ.
9. The students should be so saturated with the mystery of the Church,
especially as described by this sacred synod, that, bound to the Vicar of Christ
in a humble and trusting charity and, once ordained priests, adhering to their
own bishop as faithful helpers and engaging in a common effort with their
fellow-priests, they bear witness to that unity that attracts men to Christ.
They should learn to take part with a generous heart in the life of the whole
Church in accord with what St. Augustine wrote: "to the extent that one
loves the Church of Christ, to that extent does he possess the Holy Spirit."
The students should understand most clearly that they are not destined for
domination or for honors but are given over totally to the service of God and to
the pastoral ministry. With a particular concern should they be so formed in
priestly obedience, in a simple way of life and in the spirit of self-denial
that they are accustomed to giving up willingly even those things which are
permitted but are not expedient, and to conform themselves to Christ crucified.
The students are to be made clearly aware of the burdens they will be
undertaking, and no problem of the priestly life is to be concealed from them.
This is to be done, however, not that they should be almost solely concerned
with the notion of danger in their future labors, but rather that they might be
more readily conformed to a spiritual life that more than in any other way is
actually strengthened by the very pastoral work they do.
10. Students who follow the venerable tradition of celibacy according to the
holy and fixed laws of their own rite are to be educated to this state with
great care. For renouncing thereby the companionship of marriage for the sake of
the kingdom of heaven (cf. Matt. 19:12), they embrace the Lord with an undivided
love altogether befitting the new covenant, bear witness to the resurrection of
the world to come (cf. Luke 20:36), and obtain a most suitable aid for the
continual exercise of that perfect charity whereby they can become all things to
all men in their priestly ministry. Let them deeply realize how gratefully that
state ought to be received, not, indeed, only as commanded by ecclesiastical
law, but as a precious gift of God for which they should humbly pray. Through
the inspiration and help of the grace of the Holy Spirit let them freely and
generously hasten to respond to this gift.
Students ought rightly to acknowledge the duties and dignity of Christian
matrimony, which is a sign of the love between Christ and the Church. Let them
recognize, however, the surpassing excellence of virginity consecrated to
Christ, so that with a maturely deliberate and generous choice they may
consecrate themselves to the Lord by a complete gift of body and soul.
They are to be warned of the dangers that threaten their chastity especially
in present-day society. Aided by suitable safeguards, both divine and human, let
them learn to integrate their renunciation of marriage in such a way that they
may suffer in their lives and work not only no harm from celibacy but rather
acquire a deeper mastery of soul and body and a fuller maturity, and more
perfectly receive the blessedness spoken of in the Gospel.
11. The norms of Christian education are to be religiously observed and
properly complemented by the newer findings of sound psychology and pedagogy.
Therefore, by a wisely planned training there is also to be developed in the
students a due human maturity. This will be made especially evident in stability
of mind, in an ability to make weighty decisions, and in a sound evaluation of
men and events. The students should be accustomed to work properly at their own
development. They are to be formed in strength of character, and, in general,
they are to learn to esteem those virtues which are held in high regard by men
and which recommend a minister of Christ. Such virtues are sincerity of mind, a
constant concern for justice, fidelity to one's promises, refinement in manners,
modesty in speech coupled with charity.
The discipline of seminary life is to be reckoned not only as a strong
safeguard of community life and of charity but also as a necessary part of the
total whole training formation. For thereby self- mastery is acquired, solid
personal maturity is promoted, and the other dispositions of mind are developed
which very greatly aid the ordered and fruitful activity of the Church. Seminary
discipline should be so maintained, however, that the students acquire an
internal attitude whereby they accept the authority of superiors from personal
conviction, that is to say, from a motive of conscience (cf. Rom. 13:5), and for
supernatural reasons. The norms of discipline are to be applied according to the
age of the students so that they themselves, as they gradually learn
self-mastery, may become accustomed to use freedom wisely, to act spontaneously
and energetically, and to work together harmoniously with their fellows and with
The whole pattern of seminary life, permeated with a desire for piety and
silence and a careful concern for mutual help, must be so arranged that it
provides, in a certain sense, an initiation into the future life which the
priest shall lead.
12. In order that the spiritual training rest upon a more solid basis and
that the students embrace their vocation with a fully deliberate choice, it will
be the prerogative of the bishops to establish a fitting period of time for a
more intense introduction to the spiritual life. It will also be their charge to
determine the opportuneness of providing for a certain interruption in the
studies or of establishing a suitable introduction to pastoral work, in order
that they may more satisfactorily test the fitness of candidates for the
priesthood. In accordance with the conditions of individual regions it will also
be the bishops' responsibility to make a decision about extending the age beyond
that demanded at present by common law for the reception of sacred orders, and
of deliberating whether it be opportune to rule that students, at the end of
their course in theology, exercise the order of deacon for a fitting period of
time before being promoted to the priesthood.
V. THE REVISION OF ECCLESIASTICAL STUDIES
13. Before beginning specifically ecclesiastical subjects, seminarians
should be equipped with that humanistic and scientific training which young men
in their own countries are wont to have as a foundation for higher studies.
Moreover they are to acquire a knowledge of Latin which will enable them to
understand and make use of the sources of so many sciences and of the documents
of the Church. The study of the liturgical language proper to each rite should
be considered necessary; a suitable knowledge of the languages of the Bible and
of Tradition should be greatly encouraged.
14. In revising ecclesiastical studies the aim should first of all be that
the philosophical and theological disciplines be more suitably aligned and that
they harmoniously work toward opening more and more the minds of the students to
the mystery of Christ. For it is this mystery which affects the whole history of
the human race, continually influences the Church, and is especially at work in
the priestly ministry.
That this vision be communicated to the students from the outset of their
training, ecclesiastical studies are to be begun with an introductory course
which should last for an appropriate length of time. In this initiation to
ecclesiastical studies the mystery of salvation should be so proposed that the
students perceive the meaning, order, and pastoral end of their studies. At the
same time they should be helped to establish and penetrate their own entire
lives with faith and be strengthened in embracing their vocation with a personal
dedication and a joyful heart.
15. The philosophical disciplines are to be taught in such a way that the
students are first of all led to acquire a solid and coherent knowledge of man,
the world, and of God, relying on a philosophical patrimony which is perennially
valid and taking into account the philosophical investigations of later ages.
This is especially true of those investigations which exercise a greater
influence in their own nations. Account should also be taken of the more recent
progress of the sciences. The net result should be that the students, correctly
understanding the characteristics of the contemporary mind, will be duly
prepared for dialogue with men of their time.
The history of philosophy should be so taught that the students, while
reaching the ultimate principles of the various systems, will hold on to what is
proven to be true therein and will be able to detect the roots of errors and to
In the very manner of teaching there should be stirred up in the students a
love of rigorously searching for the truth and of maintaining and demonstrating
it, together with an honest recognition of the limits of human knowledge.
Attention must be carefully drawn to the necessary connection between philosophy
and the true problems of life, as well as the questions which preoccupy the
minds of the students. Likewise students should be helped to perceive the links
between the subject-matter of philosophy and the mysteries of salvation which
are considered in theology under the higher light of faith.
16. The theological disciplines, in the light of faith and under the
guidance of the magisterium of the Church, should be so taught that the students
will correctly draw out Catholic doctrine from divine revelation, profoundly
penetrate it, make it the food of their own spiritual lives, and be enabled to
proclaim, explain, and protect it in their priestly ministry.
The students are to be formed with particular care in the study of the
Bible, which ought to be, as it were, the soul of all theology. After a suitable
introduction they are to be initiated carefully into the method of exegesis; and
they are to see the great themes of divine revelation and to receive from their
daily reading of and meditating on the sacred books inspiration and nourishment.
Dogmatic theology should be so arranged that these biblical themes are
proposed first of all. Next there should be opened up to the students what the
Fathers of the Eastern and Western Church have contributed to the faithful
transmission and development of the individual truths of revelation. The further
history of dogma should also be presented, account being taken of its relation
to the general history of the Church. Next, in order that they may illumine the
mysteries of salvation as completely as possible, the students should learn to
penetrate them more deeply with the help of speculation, under the guidance of
St. Thomas, and to perceive their interconnections. They should be taught to
recognize these same mysteries as present and working in liturgical actions and
in the entire life of the Church. They should learn to seek the solutions to
human problems under the light of revelation, to apply the eternal truths of
revelation to the changeable conditions of human affairs and to communicate them
in a way suited to men of our day.
Likewise let the other theological disciplines be renewed through a more
living contact with the mystery of Christ and the history of salvation. Special
care must be given to the perfecting of moral theology. Its scientific
exposition, nourished more on the teaching of the Bible, should shed light on
the loftiness of the calling of the faithful in Christ and the obligation that
is theirs of bearing fruit in charity for the life of the world. Similarly the
teaching of canon law and of Church history should take into account the mystery
of the Church, according to the dogmatic constitution "De Ecclesia"
promulgated by this sacred synod. Sacred liturgy, which is to be considered as
the primary and indispensable source of the truly Christian spirit, should be
taught according to the mind of articles 15 and 16 of the Constitution on the
The circumstances of various regions being duly considered, students are to
be brought to a fuller understanding of the churches and ecclesial communities
separated from the Apostolic Roman See, so that they may be able to contribute
to the work of re- establishing unity among all Christians according to the
prescriptions of this holy synod.
Let them also be introduced to a knowledge of other religions which are more
widespread in individual regions, so that they may acknowledge more correctly
what truth and goodness these religions, in God's providence, possess, and so
that they may learn to refute their errors and be able to communicate the full
light of truth to those who do not have it.
17. But since doctrinal training ought to tend not to a mere communication
of ideas but to a true and intimate formation of the students, teaching methods
are to be revised both as regards lectures, discussions, and seminars and also
the development of study on the part of the students, whether done privately or
in small groups. Unity and soundness of the entire training is carefully to be
provided for by avoiding an excessive multiplication of courses and lectures and
by the omission of those questions which scarcely retain any importance or which
ought to be referred to higher academic studies.
18. It will be the bishops' concern that young men suited by temperament,
virtue, and ability be sent to special institutes faculties, or universities so
that priests may be trained at a higher scientific level in the sacred sciences
and in other fields which may be judged opportune. Thus they will be able to
meet the various needs of the apostolate. The spiritual and pastoral training of
these men, however, especially if they are not yet ordained as priests, is in no
way to be neglected.
VI. THE PROMOTION OF STRICTLY PASTORAL TRAINING
19. That pastoral concern which ought to permeate thoroughly the entire
training of the students also demands that they be diligently instructed in
those matters which are particularly linked to the sacred ministry, especially
in catechesis and preaching, in liturgical worship and the administration of the
sacraments, in works of charity, in assisting the erring and the unbelieving,
and in the other pastoral functions. They are to be carefully instructed in the
art of directing souls, whereby they will be able to bring all the sons of the
Church first of all to a fully conscious and apostolic Christian life and to the
fulfillment of the duties of their state of life. Let them learn to help, with
equal solicitude, religious men and women that they may persevere in the grace
of their vocations and may make progress according to the spirit of their
In general, those capabilities are to be developed in the students which
especially contribute to dialogue with men, such as the ability to listen to
others and to open their hearts and minds in the spirit of charity to the
various circumstances and needs of men.
20. They should also be taught to use the aids which the disciplines of
pedagogy, psychology, and sociology can provide, according to correct
methodology and the norms of ecclesiastical authority. Likewise, let them be
properly instructed in inspiring and fostering the apostolic activity of the
laity and in promoting the various and more effective forms of the apostolate.
Let them also be imbued with that truly Catholic spirit which will accustom them
to transcend the limits of their own diocese, nation, or rite, and to help the
needs of the whole Church, prepared in spirit to preach the Gospel everywhere.
But since it is necessary for the students to learn the art of exercising
the apostolate not only theoretically but also practically, and to be able to
act both on their own responsibility and in harmonious conjunction with others,
they should be initiated into pastoral work, both during their course of studies
and also during the time of vacations, by opportune practical projects. These
should be carried out in accordance with the age of the students and local
conditions, and with the prudent judgment of the bishops, methodically and under
the leadership of men skilled in pastoral work, the surpassing power of
supernatural means being always remembered.
VII. TRAINING TO BE ACHIEVED AFTER THE COURSE OF STUDIES
21. Since priestly training, because of the circumstances particularly of
contemporary society, must be pursued and perfected even after the completion of
the course of studies in seminaries, it will be the responsibility of episcopal
conferences in individual nations to employ suitable means to this end. Such
would be pastoral institutes working together with suitably chosen parishes,
meetings held at stated times, and appropriate projects whereby the younger
clergy would be gradually introduced into the priestly life and apostolic
activity, under its spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral aspects, and would be
able, day by day, to renew and foster them more effectively.
The Fathers of this holy synod have pursued the work begun by the Council of
Trent. While they confidently entrust to seminary administrators and teachers
the task of forming the future priests of Christ in the spirit of the renewal
promoted by this sacred synod, they earnestly exhort those who are preparing for
the priestly ministry to realize that the hope of the Church and the salvation
of souls is being committed to them. They urge them also to receive the norms of
this decree willingly and thus to bring forth most abundant fruit which will