St. Ephrem’s Theological College is a centre of priestly formation. This centre is intended to impart priestly formation to those who wish to serve primarily in the Syro-Malabar mission dioceses and the Religious Congregations in North India. His Eminence Cardinal Achille Sylvestrini, the former Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, in his letter approving the programme to start a theological college in Satna, wrote: “This congregation appreciates the importance of providing for the appropriate training of Syro-Malabar missionary priests in conformity with the conciliar directives through a seminary policy and programme that does justice to the Eastern Christian heritage, to its intrinsic significance and relevance in Gospel proclamation and pastoral service in the contemporary socio-cultural context.”
The Vision of the Seminary
Bishop Mar Abraham Mattam, the founder of St. Ephrem's Theological College, in his address at the inaugural meeting, outlined the vision and the specific purpose of the new theological seminary as follows:
1. Fidelity to the Truths of the Deposits of Faith
The truth revealed in Jesus Christ and the doctrine of the Apostles have been preserved and faithfully handed over by the living Magisterium of the Church. These are the basis of Christian life and hope. They are the words of the eternal life. There can be no deviation from the revealed truth. One is not free to choose some truths and reject others according to one's liking.
The whole theology is ordered to the nourishment of the faith.1 True theology proceeds from faith and aims at leading to the faith.2 Unfortunately there are in our times, theologians who call into doubt doctrines of the faith. Truths are sometimes falsely understood or explained in such a way that their essential meaning is distorted. Instead of strengthening faith they cause confusion and anxiety in the Church and do great harm to the spiritual life of the faithful. As a result there is a crisis in the Church concerning faith and doctrine.3
Under these circumstances this theological seminary could do immense service to the Church presenting the faith in its integrity, without equivocations.
2. Respect for and Adherence to the Magisterium
The Christian faith and the Magisterium of the Church are inseparably related. Truths of faith are received through the teaching authority, the living Magisterium of the Church, built by Christ. “The task of authentically interpreting the Word of God, whether written or handed on has been entrusted to the living teaching authority of the Church.4 Apostles, the Pope and the Bishops.” There is not a parallel Magisterium of the theologians.5 “There is only one Magisterium, that of Peter and the Here we speak not only of the extraordinary Magisterium, which is infallible, but also of the ordinary teaching authority in the Church. New questions arise not infrequently, or new situation occurs concerning faith and morals when the Church is called upon to clarify its stand for the guidance of the faithful. Also in such instances the official teaching of the Church is to be accepted with filial obedience and sincerely adhered to.6
But theologians sometimes place themselves above the Magisterium and busy themselves propounding their own personal theologies or hypotheses. Such things happen also in seminaries.One must be able to distinguish the common teaching of the Church from the pseudo theologizing, mere hypotheses and opinions of theologians. This seminary will remain faithful to the Magisterium while acknowledging the service of the theologians to the ecclesial community.7
3. Life of Holiness and Spirit of Prayer
Priesthood is a lofty vocation to pursue perfection.8 It is a “specific” vocation to holiness.9 By virtue of sacramental consecration the priest is configured to Christ, Head and Good Shepherd, the High Priest, “holy, innocent, undefiled, set apart from sinners.” The programme of priestly formation, therefore, should above all lay emphasis on holiness of life and a life of prayer, in other words on spiritual formation. But sometimes it happens that in the pursuit of studies, while acquiring academic excellence the importance of spiritual life is sidestepped.
“Spiritual formation should help the seminarian learn to live in familiar and constantcompanionship with the Father through Jesus Christ His Son, in the Holy Spirit.”10 The daily programme of the Seminary provides the opportunity to the priests and seminarians to foster their spiritual life. We must single out in this regard three powerful means to grow in sanctity: meditation on the Word of God, Eucharistic Celebration and the singing of the Divine Office. “An essential element of spiritual formation is the prayerful and meditated reading of the Word of God (Lectio Divina), a humble and loving listening of Him who speaks.”11 “The high point of Christian prayer is the Eucharist, which in its turn is to be seen as the ‘summit and source’ of the sacraments and the Liturgy of the Hours.”12 “They should be trained to consider the Eucharistic celebration as the essential moment of their day.”13
The Divine Office: “Because it is the public prayer of the Church the Divine Office is source of piety and nourishment for personal prayer.”14 “When this wonderful song of praise (Divine Office) is worthily rendered by priests and others . . . in approved form, it is truly the voice of the bride addressing her bridegroom; it is the very prayer which Christ himself, together with his body, addresses to the Father.”15
4. An Oriental Seminary
Another distinguishing feature of St. Ephrem’s is that it is a theologate of an oriental Church in North India, which has a special role and duty to fulfil. It is bound to promote the study of oriental Churches, the history, traditions and theology, especially of St. Thomas Church of India, presently called Syro-Malabar Church. According to the Vatican Council II, the various ecclesial traditions have their own distinct spirituality, liturgy, discipline and theology.16 That is to say each individual or autonomous Church possesses its own spirituality, form of worship, discipline and theological insights. The study of the St. Thomas Church should, therefore, cover all these aspects. he Council, moreover, enjoins on all the members of the Eastern Churches that they should preserve their liturgical rites and established way of life and practice them with the greatest fidelity.17 St. Ephrem's Theological College will give a lead in these matters and adhere to the instruction of the Holy See in this regard.
5. The Priests as Evangelizers in the North Indian Context
The specific objective of the Seminary is to give the right formation, mostly for the priests of the Syro-Malabar Church who are to work in North India. So the programme of the Theologate should equip the candidates for this task. Study of the religious beliefs of the people in the north and of their socio-cultural traditions will be given due importance in the curriculum. Tribal Religions, Brahmanic Hinduism, Popular Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Islam etc. should find a place in the programme of studies. So also the various cultures, like that of the tribal populations, Dalits, High Caste people etc.
Inculturation of the Gospel message or evangelization of cultures is of special importance in new mission areas. It means that the Gospel should penetrate these cultures and purify elements not compatible with Christian way of life and integrate into Christianity authentic cultural values in them. Inculturation does not signify merely external adaptation imitating other religions or any kind of syncretism.
6. Simple Lifestyle Adapted to Local Conditions
The priest is called upon to present to the world by his very life the image of Christ who "became poor for our sake, whereas he had been rich, so that we might be enriched by his poverty."18 The priest should avoid ostentatious and luxurious way of life incompatible with the spirit of evangelical poverty. urther it must be remembered that in our country vast sections of the people are living in poverty and misery. The priest should consider that these people are in a special way entrusted to him. His life should show a closeness to them, that he is their friend who cares for them. He "should be capable of witnessing to poverty with a simple and austere life-style, having learned the generous renunciation of superfluous things."19 If we keep in mind this vision of the seminary, this ideal, and try to put it into practice, this institution will be able to make its imprint in the Church, justifying its existence. Let us offer this theological seminary to the service of the Church and pray God to bless our efforts.
1 John Paul II, Pastores Dabo Vobis, 53.
2 Pastores Dabo Vobis, 53.
3 Synod of Bishops, Ratione Habita, 1.
4 Vatican II, Dei Verbum, 10.
5 Pastores Dabo Vobis, 55.
6 Ratione Habita, 2; Dei Verbum, 25.
7 Pastores Dabo Vobis, 55.
8 Vatican II, Presbyterorum Ordinis, 12.
9 Pastores Dabo Vobis, 20.
10 Vatican II, Optatam Totius, 8.
11 Pastores Dabo Vobis, 47.
12 Pastores Dabo Vobis, 48.
13 Pastores Dabo Vobis, 48.
14 Vatican II, Sacrosanctum Concilium, 90.
15 Vatican II, Sacrosanctum Concilium, 84.
16 Vatican II, Unitatis Redintegratio, 17.
17 Vatican II. Orientalium Ecclesiarum, 6.
18 2 Cor. 8:9.
19 Vatican II, Presbyterorum Ordinis, 17; Pastores Dabo Vobis, 30.