Doctorate in Sacred Theology (S.T.D.)

The Doctorate in Sacred Theology (S.T.D.) is a specialized degree program in Thomistic studies. It offers a terminal degree (the ecclesiastical doctorate) that is granted by the authority and in the name of the Holy See. Candidates may specialize either in the domain of Thomistic systematic theology or Thomistic moral theology.

The program consists of two parts. First, the candidate must complete a specialized S.T.L. program consisting of 36 credits, a tesina, and a lectio coram. This program has specific course content that is historical and systematic in kind, and which is ordered toward doctoral research in Thomistic theology. This stage normally takes two years to complete. Second, the candidate must complete the official proposal, research and composition of the doctoral thesis, which are subject in various stages to both internal and external examination.

Degree Requirements

The Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception offers a terminal degree in theology, the Doctorate in Sacred Theology (S. T. D.). This degree program is specialized in Thomistic theology. It requires that the candidate complete specialized course work in Thomistic studies. Normally this takes the form of an S.T.L. in Thomistic studies, which is then followed by the doctoral research program. Doctoral candidates may conduct specialized research in both the domains of systematic theology and moral theology. Doctoral research may focus on historical topics in Thomistic theology, or Thomistic engagement in modern and contemporary theology. The doctoral degree is granted by the authority of and in the name of the Holy See.


The S.T.D. program is open to qualified clerical and lay students. The following prerequisites for admission will be evaluated by the Committee on Admissions which may, in individual cases, allow the student to remedy particular deficiencies during the first year of the program:

  1. The Baccalaureate of Sacred Theology. Holders of a Masters of Divinity or of another, similar first professional degree in theology will have their previous academic record evaluated to determine what further work is required to establish equivalence to the S.T.B. degree, and before beginning the S.T.L. portion of the doctoral program. In the case of those who hold only a Master of Arts degree in theology, this will typically involve at least one-and-a-half-additional years of full time study of theology before beginning the S.T.L. program in Thomistic studies. Those who have already completed an S.T.L. degree program may also apply to the S.T.D. program (See “Course Work” below).
  2. Superior achievement and the ability to pursue graduate work as indicated by the transcript of previous studies (with a minimum GPA of 3.25).
  3. Three letters of recommendation by persons who are in a position to judge the applicant’s ability in this academic area, along with a current photo, and a completed application form.
  4. A Curriculum Vitae.
  5. Results of the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) indicating aptitude for graduate studies in theology. GRE scores will be required for admission to the S.T.D. program even if the candidate has experience studying at the graduate level. The PFIC is listed under Dominican House of Studies, code 2498.
  6. A writing sample, such as an essay or published article, that demonstrates the applicant’s writing skills.
  7. A statement of intent regarding one’s reason for doctoral study in the Thomistic Tradition [500-700 words]
  8. A reading knowledge of Latin and Greek.
  9. Normally an in-person interview is required as part of the application process.

Course Work

A minimum of 36 semester hours of credit is required in twelve special courses of theological studies. This includes three specialized sections: Historical Context of Aquinas’ Thought (6), Thomism in Modernity (9) and Special Topics in Speculative and Moral Thomistic Thought (9). Students who enter the program and who have already completed an S.T.L. degree in another institution will be asked to complete an appropriate proportion of these courses. The program of studies that is particular to such a student will be determined by the Director of the doctoral program, in consultation with the Thomistic Institute Committee and the Dean of Studies.

Candidates admitted into the S.T.D. program who already hold an S.T.L. from another institution are not required no completed an S.T.L. in Thomistic studies, but the President of Doctoral Studies in consultation with the Academic Dean may require the candidate to complete additional course work in Thomistic studies as part of his or her program.

Language Requirements

Since Latin and Greek are required for the S.T.B. degree, S.T.L. candidates must have satisfied the Pontifical Faculty’s requirements for these languages within the first year of matriculation in the S.T.L. program. Reading proficiency in French and one other modern foreign language (e.g. German, Italian or Spanish) are to be demonstrated by written examination or six credits of graduate coursework. The modern foreign language requirements are normally demonstrated within the first three years of study. Language proficiency exams are offered twice per semester.

Grade Point Average

In order to advance to the stage of dissertation composition, the student must maintain a grade point average of 3.5 in the coursework of the S.T.L. program.

Lectio coram (magisterial lecture)

In early March of the Candidate’s second year, he or she must present to the Dean ten theses for the lectio coram. These will be reviewed and corrected by the Faculty. If necessary, they will be returned to the candidate to be redone. Each thesis should contain a bibliography of seven to ten items, generally as current as possible and clearly related to the point of the lectio. This indicates the candidate’s ability to pinpoint the relevant literature for the topic and guide those who will be following (and judging) the lectio. The lectio coram consists of a presentation of forty-five minutes before a board of four examiners followed by a ten minute period of questioning by each examiner. Follow up questions may be permitted after each examiner has completed his or her period of questioning. A minimum average grade of 3.25 is required for successful completion of the lectio coram.

Tesina (Thesis)

Candidates are required to complete a successful tesina (thesis) as part of the degree requirement. This is to show competence in methods of scientific research by completing a tesina under the direction of a member of the faculty on an approved topic relating to the student’s specialization. The tesina must represent a substantial and sustained intellectual endeavour in the student’s chosen area. Following the agreement of a faculty member to direct the tesina and the approval of the Dean, the student submits a tesina proposal. The proposal includes a statement and brief synopsis of the topic, reasons for the choice of the topic, a statement of methodology, a brief outline and preliminary bibliography. The proposal must be signed by the director and the candidate, and is sent to the Faculty for approval by the end of the first year of full-time study.

The tesina should be no less than 75, nor more than 100, pages of text in length. The tesina grade will consist of the average of the grades submitted by the tesina director, and a second reader appointed by the Dean. The tesina grade will be determined by satisfactory completion of the approved tesina proposal, thorough exploration of the state of the question within contemporary research, innovative reflections or approaches to the question, adherence to standards of graduate level scholarship and approved Faculty style regulations. Students who successfully complete a tesina receive three credits, which may be counted as part of the thirty-six required credits for the S.T.L. degree. The candidate is to submit three unbound copies of the tesina to the Dean by 1 April before anticipated graduation. No lectio coram will be scheduled before the completed tesina is submitted. In order to complete the tesina portion of the degree requirements, the student must receive an average grade of 3.25 or higher.

Model Curriculum for the S.T.L. in Thomistic Studies

Year I (Fall Semester)

  • Aquinas and the Fathers
  • Faith and Reason
  • Elective (Systematic Theology)

Year I (Spring Semester)

  • Aquinas and the Masters of the Medieval University
  • The Shape of Modern Theology
  • Elective (Moral Theology)

Year II (Fall Semester)

  • St. Thomas and the Thomists
  • Elective
  • Elective

Year II (Spring Semester)

  • Thomism in Modernity
  • Elective
  • Elective

Language Requirements

  • Latin Reading Comprehension Test (1st Year of Matriculation)
  • Greek Reading Comprehension Test (1st Year of Matriculation)
  • French Reading Comprehension Test (2nd Year of Matriculation)
  • Second Modern Language Reading Comprehension Test (3rd Year of MatriculatioN)

Timeline for S.T.L. Tesina and Lectio Coram

First Year S.T.L. Candidates

  • September. Candidates should begin discussing possible areas and topics for the S.T.L. tesina.
  • April 15. Deadline for candidates’ submission of a definitive proposal to the Dean, signed by the candidate and his or her advisor

Second Year S.T.L. Candidates

  • October 15.Deadline for candidates’ submission of the S.T.L. tesina prospectus (a formal proposal and outline)to the Dean. This includes a concrete description of the tesina, an outline, and a selected bibliography. At this time the Dean will appoint a second reader.
  • Early March. Presentation to the Dean of ten theses for the lectio coram. These will be reviewed and corrected by the Faculty. If necessary, they will be returned to the candidate to be redone. Each thesis should contain a bibliography of 7 to 10 items, generally as current as possible and clearly related to the point of the lectio. This indicates the candidate’s ability to pinpoint the relevant literature for the topic and guide those who will be following (and judging) the lectio.
  • 1 April. Last day for submitting the S.T.L. tesina to the Dean.

N.B. For students intending to complete their S.T.L. during the fall semester, the deadline for submitting the tesina prospectus is April 15. The ten theses for the lectio coram must be submitted to the Dean by October 15, and the tesina must be submitted to the Dean by November 1.

Doctoral Dissertation

Once the student has completed the S.T.L. in Thomistic Studies, (or the required equivalent coursework for those who begin the program with an S.T.L.) he or she may submit a proposal for the doctoral dissertation subject. If the student has completed the S.T.L., then a tesina proposal has already been submitted and accepted. This is not a substitute for a doctoral proposal but the tesina subject may be reviewed and submitted in modified form as a proposal in view of the doctorate. The proposal must be approved by the potential director and then submitted to the Thomistic Institute Committee, who discuss the proposal and must approve it by a two-thirds vote. The wider PFIC faculty is then sent the proposal in order to invite comments from other faculty members.

The Thomistic Institute Committee approves a director of the thesis and a second reader. The director is not required to be a member of the Committee, nor the second reader, but both must be members of the faculty and must have some expertise in the subject matter. Once the proposal has been accepted by the Committee, the student is to be accorded 4 years for the completion of the doctorate. After 4 years, the student may petition the Committee for a 1 year extension, up to two successive times.

Two years after the initial approval by the Committee, the progress and writing of the student are to be subject to evaluation by the director and first reader from the faculty. The doctoral thesis (S.T.D. or Ph.D.) should be no less than 100,000 words (including footnotes) and no more than 135,000 words (including footnotes). This measure does not include the obligatory bibliography of the thesis. After completion of the writing, the student can submit the thesis for acceptance only when the director has approved the thesis for submission.

The dissertation committee consists of: a) The director of the thesis, b) the first reader, from the faculty, and c) a second reader, from outside the faculty.

Readers must communicate written comments on the work of the students through the medium of the director of the thesis. The director should be made aware of any ongoing communications between the student and the readers.


The residency requirement for the S.T.L. degree is four semesters.

The residency requirement for the dissertation composition is an additional four semesters.

Scholarship Policies

Candidates to the doctoral program may apply for scholarships. Such scholarships, when available, normally consist in a waiver of tuition fees. However, they do not cover living expenses for the doctoral candidate.

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