The seminary and its programs foster the formation of future priests by attending specifically to their human, spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral formation—the four pillars of priestly formation developed in Pastores dabo vobis. These pillars of formation and their finality give specificity to formation in seminaries as well as a sense of the integrated wholeness of the different dimensions of formation. “Although this formation [in seminaries] has many aspects in common with the human and Christian formation of all the members of the Church, it has, nevertheless, contents, modalities, and characteristics which relate specifically to the aim of preparation for the priesthood . . . the Seminary should have a precise program, a program of life characterized by its being organized and unified . . . with one aim which justifies the existence of the Seminary: preparation of future priests” (Pastores dabo vobis, no. 61)
The foundation and center of all human formation is Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. In his fully developed humanity, he was truly free and with complete freedom gave himself totally for the salvation of the world.44 Pastores dabo vobis, no. 5, expresses the Christological foundation of human formation: “The Letter to the Hebrews clearly affirms the ‘human character’ of God’s minister: he comes from the human community and is at its service, imitating Jesus Christ ‘who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin’ (Heb 4:15).”
The basic principle of human formation is to be found in Pastores dabo vobis, no. 43: the human personality of the priest is to be a bridge and not an obstacle for others in their meeting with Jesus Christ the Redeemer of the human race. As the humanity of the Word made flesh was the instrumentum salutis, so the humanity of the priest is instrumental in mediating the redemptive gifts of Christ to people today.45 As Pastores dabo vobis also emphasizes, human formation is the “necessary foundation” of priestly formation.
Human formation leads to and finds its completion in spiritual formation. Human formation continues in conjunction with and in coordination with the spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral dimensions of formation. It steadily points to the center, which is spiritual formation. “For every priest his spiritual formation is the core which unifies and gives life to his being a priest and his acting as a priest” (Pastores dabo vobis, no. 45).
The basic principle of spiritual formation is contained in Pastores dabo vobis, no. 45, and is a synthesis of the teachings in Optatam totius: to live in intimate and unceasing union with God the Father through his Son, Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit. This is the foundational call to discipleship and conversion of heart. Those who aspire to be sent on mission, as the apostles were, must first acquire the listening and learning heart of disciples. Jesus invited these apostles to come to him before he sent them out to others. St. Augustine alluded to this double identity and commitment as disciple and apostle, when he said to his people, “With you I am a Christian, for you I am a bishop.”
To live in intimate and unceasing union with God the Father through his Son Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit is far more than a personal or individual relationship with the Lord; it is also a communion with the Church, which is his body. The spirituality that belongs to those who are priests or preparing for priesthood is at one and the same time Trinitarian, Christological, pneumatological, and ecclesial. It is a spirituality of communion rooted in the mystery of the Triune God and lived out in practical ways in the mystery of ecclesial communion.
There is a reciprocal relationship between spiritual and intellectual formation. The intellectual life nourishes the spiritual life, but the spiritual also opens vistas of understanding, in accordance with the classical adage credo ut intelligam (‘I believe in order to know’). Intellectual formation is integral to what it means to be human. “Intellectual formation . . . is a fundamental demand of man’s intelligence by which he ‘participates in the light of God’s mind’ and seeks to acquire a wisdom which in turn opens to and is directed towards knowing and adhering to God” (Pastores dabo vobis, no. 51, citing Gaudium et spes, no. 15).
The basic principle of intellectual formation for priesthood candidates is noted in Pastores dabo vobis, no. 51: “For the salvation of their brothers and sisters, they should seek an ever deeper knowledge of the divine mysteries.” Disciples are learners. The first task of intellectual formation is to acquire a personal knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the fullness and completion of God’s revelation and the one Teacher. This saving knowledge is acquired not only once, but it is continuously appropriated and deepened, so that it becomes more and more part of us. Seminary intellectual formation assumes and prolongs the catechesis and mystagogia that is to be part of every Christian’s journey of faith. At the same time, this knowledge is not simply for personal possession but is destined to be shared in the community of faith. And that is why it is “for the salvation of their brothers and sisters.” Intellectual formation has an apostolic and missionary purpose and finality.
In virtue of the grace of Holy Orders, a priest is able to stand and act in the community in the name and person of Jesus Christ, Head and Shepherd of the Church. This sacramental character needs to be completed by the personal and pastoral formation of the priest, who appropriates “the mind of Christ” and effectively communicates the mysteries of faith through his human personality as a bridge, through his personal witness of faith rooted in his spiritual life, and through his knowledge of faith. These elements of formation converge in pastoral formation.
The basic principle of pastoral formation is enunciated in Pastores dabo vobis, no. 57, in its citation of Optatam totius, no. 4: “The whole training of the students should have as its object to make them true shepherds of souls after the example of our Lord Jesus Christ, teacher, priest, and shepherd.” To be a true “shepherd of souls” means standing with and for Christ in the community, the Christ who teaches and sanctifies and guides or leads the community. The grace to be a shepherd comes with ordination. That grace, however, calls for the priest’s personal commitment to develop the knowledge and skills to teach and preach well, to celebrate the sacraments both properly and prayerfully, and to respond to people’s needs as well as to take initiatives in the community that holy leadership requires.