The Faculty of Theology at Saint Paul University offers a graduate program leading to a Graduate Diploma in Contemplative Theology and Spiritual Mentorship. This diploma is conferred jointly by the Senates of Saint Paul University and the University of Ottawa under the terms of the federation agreement between them.
Spirit of the Program
Psychology, the contemporary reference in helping relationships, has replaced confession (Catholicism) and cure of souls (Protestantism) in today’s secular society. At the same time, references to spirituality are increasing. Many are searching for a more authentic life, open to experience, interiority, and silence. In health care, for example, prayer, yoga and meditation are being introduced to complement conventional practices. Neuroscience is also interested in the impact of these spiritual practices on the brain and the metabolism. In this specific context, spiritual mentorship is poised to play a role in helping relationships.
Although spiritual coaching is increasingly popular and many people are starting to meditate, few are really conscious of the rich Christian contemplative tradition. This program aims to respond to a real need, that of making great authors and Christian mystical texts accessible, in order to facilitate modern spiritual discernment. It emphasizes contemplative spirituality based on the principle that the divine is to be found within ourselves and that grace is bestowed in a special way in interior silence.
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After sixty years of neglect by Faculties of Theology, contemplative theology is becoming relevant again in a society searching for interiority and the need for spiritual mentorship appropriate to the times. The GD deepens the nature and dynamism of the spiritual path through the study of contemporary religious phenomena, as well as great authors and Christian mystical texts.
Nowadays, many people are rediscovering an appreciation for silence (through a return to nature and or to the desert, Christian or Buddhist meditation retreats, stays in monasteries, pilgrimages, therapy and psychoanalysis, etc…). Silence is the ideal place for happiness and simplicity, for introspection and for meeting the transcendent, as well as for creativity and service to others. Mentoring others on the path of silence requires not only a personal experience of silence, but also the ability to give a meaning to this experience using validated and proven reference points.
Psychoanalysis uses the relationship between the professional and the client as a space for formation. One must experience this silence to integrate the spirit of psychoanalysis. In a similar manner, students of theology must experience silence where a relationship with the divine becomes possible, if he/she hopes to appreciate the subtleties of spiritual mentorship; hence, the program’s prerequisite of having participated in a silent retreat.
This program offers a framework for understanding and advanced studies intended to guarantee discernment, respect for the dignity of others, and protection of the public in a spiritual environment where lack of rigour and abuse are all too common. This diploma is not a professional program; its objective is not to train students to accompany others through the use of internships. What it does offer is deep and rigorous knowledge of the spiritual path and the need to be mentored. It will prepare students for engagement and formation on the ground. From a theological perspective, the program will help to understand the dynamics and the nature of the contemplative path, to identify the relationships between the latter and science and other spiritual traditions, as well as the development of one’s capacity to articulate experience according to theoretical content. Therefore, the GD provides theology with the opportunity to enter the fray of the interdisciplinary and modern-day debate on spiritual experience and its impact on individual and social human development. Upon completing the diploma, the graduate could:
use the training in his/her present professional setting (e.g. psychotherapy or pastoral);
undertake a Master’s (MA) in Theology with concentration in Spirituality (some of the credits obtained in the diploma can be applied to an MA).
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This is a one-year full time program (August to May). There are five (5) courses offered on campus (two in the Fall; two in Winter and one in the Spring), as seminars to promote optimal interaction between students and professor. The group will be limited to 18 students to encourage exchanges and group learning.
To encourage maximum participation for professionals and people living outside Ottawa, four (4) courses (two in the Fall and two in the Winter) are offered during three (3) weekends (Saturday 9-5 and Sunday 9-4), representing one weekend every two to three weeks (3 x (7+6)=39 hours).
The fifth course is intensive and takes place in May over fifteen (15) days (40 hours: Monday and Wednesday 9-12 and 2-4; Tuesday and Thursday 9-12; Friday 9-12 and 2-3).
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The GD will begin with a week long silent meditation retreat (the third week of August). What better way to taste deep interior silence before encountering great spiritual authors such as John Climacus, Saint John of the Cross, Therese D'Avila or Madame Guyon. All will be harmonized, over the course of this retreat, to allow each retreatant the opportunity to become, at each moment, available to their self as well as to what is greater than their self. One does not embark on this type of journey lightly. One needs to be properly guided. This is why we, annually, call upon the aid of competent retreat leaders having profound experience within the domain of contemplative spiritual accompaniment.
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The theological-spiritual journal is one of the major tool permitting the integration of knowledge acquired through the GD; it allows for a better understanding of self through the articulation of personal experience. It certainly consists of describing sentiments, emotions, or states of consciousness but it, as an added benefit (and this is what will be retained for the purposes of evaluation), also provides each person with the opportunity to express, in systematic form and in dialogue with the content of the program, the way in which they have been brought into question by their respective expériences.
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Of interest to whom?
Theology students who, having taken basic courses in Spirituality, want to deepen their understanding of the contemplative dimension.
Students of Counselling and Spirituality or professionals in the field of Health who wish to deepen the spiritual dimension.
All interested persons who meet the admission requirements. The program is open to believers and non-believers.
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Candidats must satisfy the following conditions:
A Bachelor’s Degree in Theology, Psychology or Health Sciences, or a relevant discipline, with an average of B or higher.
Completion of a minimum of 12 credits in Theology or Religious Studies; a pastoral experience may be considered equivalent.
Comply with one of the following criteria (in each case, provide a letter of confirmation by the relevant person detailing the duration of the activity): experience as a spiritual accompanier, having been accompanied spiritually, experience as a psychologist or psychotherapist, psychotherapy experience as a client, pastoral experience.
Provide the following documents: a motivation letter (maximum 500 words), a curriculum vitae, two (2) letters of recommendation (professor, accompanier, employer, religious community superior, etc.) at least one from a university professor).
Completion of a silent retreat, preferably the one organized by Saint Paul University’s Faculty of Theology.
Note: If the student has not made a silent retreat (minimum 5 days) when he receives his admission offer to the GD, we ask that she/he agrees to participate in the retreat held in August organized by the Faculty of Theology.
Interview with the professors responsible for the program (to verify the candidate’s objectives and abilities for the program).
SELF-UNDERSTANDING; HERMENEUTICAL THEORIES AND METHODOLOGICAL INTEGRATION (THO 5112 - 3cr.)
The first course covers the conceptual frameworks needed for development of awareness, articulation and appropriation of one’s religious and spiritual experience, a necessary condition for deepening this experience and being open to the experience of others.
This course will therefore analyze several methods geared towards self-understanding and questions their limits and strengths. Religious experience holds within it some measure of self-understanding. What are the links between the different types of consciousness identified in philosophy and the notion of consciousness that is specific to contemplative theology? Religious experience is not to be confused with its articulation which depends on a particular psychological, cultural, and theological context. What are the issues related to this methodological distinction in the process of self-understanding?
ISSUES AND CONDITIONS FOR A CONTEMPLATIVE RENEWAL (THO 5113 - 3cr.)
This second course aims to understand the place and the role of the contemplative and mystical dimension in Christian spirituality, from its origins to the present. We will explore its characteristics and its relevance in a world searching for new reference points.
This course examines several current controversial issues surrounding contemplative theology, as well as related anthropological, theological and pastoral issues (e.g. pantheistic drift, negative relationship with the body, dangers of self-absorption and of a mind empty of thoughts, subversive attitude towards institutions). Exploring these issues can establish a link to similar controversies in the past, and allows reflection on the conditions necessary for a modern contemplative renewal.
STEPS ON THE PATH TOWARDS FULLNESS; METHODS AND ISSUES (THO 5114 -3cr.)
The third course explores the path of the contemplative person and the need for discernment to avoid obstacles. Although the path of silence allows one to have access to happiness and fullness in union with the Transcendent (unio mystica), it is not without risk.
This course deepens the mapping done by mystical theologians (e.g. Origène, M. Eckhart, Theresa of Avila, Jean de la Croix, Y. Raguin) of the path that leads to Fullness (unio mystica). What are the strengths and weaknesses of these maps; their commonalities and differences, their contribution to human knowledge? Among the questions to be studied: What are the principal steps on the path? What type of healing and what relationship to suffering is inherent in it? What is the place of grace and of personal effort, particularly in the use of meditation methods? Are there any basic spiritual diseases?
THE MASTER-DISCIPLE RELATIONSHIP AND SPIRITUAL MENTORSHIP (TH0 5115- 3cr.)
The fourth course Contemplative theology has traditionally recognized the need for a guide when one embarks on the spiritual path. Its objective is to demonstrate the importance of being mentored in order to be able to mentor others.
This course will examine the issues, challenges and modalities of this relationship. Such an insistence can be viewed with suspicion in an era which questions authority and received traditions. Conversely, many put their trust in any self-proclaimed guide. How may one avoid falling into dependency or into a cult? Different models of guide – master, director, accompanier, soul friend, mentor, and counsellor – will be explored. What points of convergence may exist between this relationship and other forms of spiritual authority – pastor, priest, guru, etc.?
CONTEMPLATIVE THEOLOGY, PSYCHOTHERAPIES, AND SPIRITUAL TRADITIONS; A DIALOGICAL APPROACH (THO 5116 - 3cr.)
The fifth and last course deepens the study of spiritual experience in dialogue with science, religion and a secular society. Christianity does not have a monopoly on spiritual experience, which is also of interest in health care, psychology, neuroscience and is found in other spiritual approaches. Among the questions to be studied: What is the nature of a dialogical approach, its promises and implications, within the framework of contemplative spiritual mentorship (e.g. Buber, Panikkar)? What issues arise in a social context in which interest in spirituality rubs shoulders with psychotherapies and Eastern meditation? What are the similarities between the main meditation methods, Christian or otherwise? Do they lead to the same experience? If so, what is the value of the theological content? How do Hindu, Buddhist and Sufi approaches challenge the Christian experience of God? .