Faculty of Theology
theology@ustpaul.ca
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Graduate Diploma in
Contemplative Theology and Spiritual Mentorship

 

To see the description of the program of study, click here.

 

 

 

For Whom is this Diploma Intended?

For students in theology who have taken basic courses in spirituality and wish to deepen their knowledge in this area in its contemplative dimension.

For students in counselling and spirituality or for professionals in psychology who wish to deepen the spiritual dimension.

For all people who meet the criteria for admission.

Note that the program is open to both believers and non-believers.

 

Program Structure

This is a program of one year’s duration (from August to May). It consists of five (5) courses offered on campus (two in the Fall, two in the Winter, and one in the Spring) in the form of seminars in order to optimize interaction between students and professor. The program cohort is limited to fifteen people in order to assure group discussion and learning.

To allow for working professionals and people living at a distance from Ottawa to attend, four (4) courses (two in the Fall and two in the Winter) will be offered over three (3) weekends (from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Saturday and from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. on Sunday), or one weekend every two or three weeks. The fifth course will be an intensive that takes place in May spread over two weeks, from Monday to Friday.

The first course, Self-Understanding: Hermeneutical Theories and Methodological Integration (THO 5512), offers the conceptual framework needed for self-understanding, for the articulation and appropriation of one’s own religious and spiritual experience which is necessary for deepening the experience and of being open to the experience of another.

This course analyzes 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 or in psychology and the notion of consciousness that is specific to contemplative theology? Is it possible or necessary to distinguish between religious experience and its interpretation, 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?

The second course, Issues and Conditions for a Contemplative Renewal (THO 5512), seeks to understand the place and role of the contemplative and mystical tradition of Christian spirituality from its beginnings until today. The characteristics of this tradition will be highlighted along with its relevance in a world looking for new guideposts.

This course examines several controversial issues and challenges surrounding contemplative theology and 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.

The third course, Steps on the Path towards Union with God: Methods and Issues
(THO 5514), explores the contemplative’s journey and the need for discernment in order to avoid pitfalls. If, indeed, the path of silence gives access to happiness and fullness through union with the Transcendent (unio mystica), it is not without risks. 

This course explores the “mapping” of the road that leads to the summit of the spiritual life that has been done by mystical theologians (e.g., Origen, M. Eckhart, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Y. Raguin). What are the strengths and weaknesses of these “maps,” their commonalities and differences, their contribution to knowledge of humankind? Questions to be considered include: What are the main stages along this road? What type of healing and what relationship to suffering is inherent in it? What is the role of grace as it relates to personal effort and the use of meditation methods? Are there any basic spiritual diseases?

The fourth course, The Master-Disciple Relationship and Spiritual Mentorship
(THO 5515), is based on the idea that the contemplative theology has traditionally recognized the need for a guide when one embarks on the way of silence. Also, it will show the importance of being accompanied in order to be able in turn to accompany others.

The course will examine the issues, challenges, and modalities of this relationship. The master-disciple relationship can be viewed with suspicion in an era that questions authority and received traditions. Conversely, many put their trust in any self-proclaimed guide. How may the history and nature of the master-disciple relationship be understood today? How may one avoid falling into dependency or into a cult? Different models of guide – director, accompanier, soul friend, mentor, and counsellor – will be deepened. What points of convergence may exist between this relationship and other forms of spiritual authority – pastor, priest, guru, etc.?

The fifth course, Contemplative Theology, Psychotherapies, and Spiritual Traditions: A Dialogical Approach (THO 5516), will go into the need to reappropriate this experience in a dialogue with the sciences, other religions and the secular world. Christianity does not hold a monopoly on contemplative experience. This is a subject of interest to the health sciences, psychology, and neuroscience, and is found as well in many aspects of other spiritual currents.

Among the questions to be studied: What is the nature of a dialogical approach, its promises and implications for a 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 methods of 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 their theological content? In what ways do Hindu, Buddhist or Sufi traditions call the Christian experience of God into question?

 

Objectives

For over fifty years, contemplative theology has been neglected in faculties of theology. Today its relevance is being recovered in a society marked by a search for interiority and the need for a spiritual accompaniment appropriate to such a quest. The Graduate Diploma will deepen the nature and dynamism of the spiritual path by examining contemporary questions on religious phenomena along with the great writers and texts of Christian mysticism.  


Nowadays, many people are recovering a thirst for silence (a return to nature or to the desert, Christian or Buddhist meditation retreats, therapies, psychoanalysis, etc.). Silence is the privileged centre for the happiness of simplicity, for introspection and for the encounter with the transcendent, not to mention creativity and service of others. To be able to accompany another person along the way of silence requires not only that one have had the same experience, but also an ability to make sense of such experience by means of points of reference that are tried and true.

In psychoanalysis, the place for formation is found in the relationship between the analyst and the client. It is necessary to experience this place of silence in order to integrate the spirit of the analysis. In the same way, the students must experience silence where they come into relationship with the divine, if they are to appropriate the subtleties of spiritual mentorship. That is why a prerequisite for this program is participation in an intensive silent retreat.

Contemporary spiritual movements frequently lack rigour and can be abusive. This program offers a framework for advanced study and understanding that guarantees discernment and respect for the dignity of the person.

This is not a professional program. It does not lead to a practice of mentorship through field placements. What it does offer, by contrast, is a deep, rigorous knowledge of the spiritual path and the need for mentorship. It aims to prepare students to commit to training in this area. From a theological perspective, the program will empower students to understand the nature and dynamic of the contemplative path, to identify the connections with the sciences and with other spiritual traditions, as well as to develop the capacity to articulate experience in the light of this theoretical content. As a result, the Graduate Diploma gives theology itself an opportunity to move into contemporary interdisciplinary debates on spiritual experience and its impact on human development.

 

Spirit of the Program

In today’s secular society, the contemporary point of reference in the helping profession is psychology, which has replaced confession (Catholicism) and the cure of souls (Protestantism). At the same time, references to spirituality are increasing. Many people 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. The neurosciences are also taking an interest in the impact of spiritual practices on the brain and metabolism. In this specific context, spiritual mentorship is poised to play a role in the helping professions.


If, however, spiritual coaching is undergoing a growing success, and many people are becoming open to contemplative practices, few are aware of the rich contemplative tradition of Christianity. This program responds to a real need: that of giving access to the great teachers and writings of Christian mysticism in order to be able to draw from them such elements as may further spiritual discernment today. The program emphasizes contemplative spirituality, which is centred on the principle that the divine takes the initiative in the person and gives grace in a distinctive way through inner silence.

 

Steering Committee

  • Dr. Fabrice Blée
  • The Rev. Kevin Flynn

Logistics assistant

  • Edith Bélanger

Managing Committee

  • Yvan Clouthier
  • Dr. Denis Dancause, omi
  • Carol Edgar
  • Denise Lussier-Russel
  • Denis Paquette
  • Dr. Mark Slatter
  • The Rev. Gregor Sneddon

Academic Committee and Partners

  • Pierre de Béthune, OSB, Benedictine Monastery of Clerlande (Belgium)
  • Fr. François-Joseph, OSCO, Trappist Abbey, Val Notre-Dame, St-Jean-de-Matha (Canada)
  • Dr. Colette Poggi, Marseille University (France)
  • Dr. Gérard Siegwalt, University of Strasbourg (France)
  • Yves Girard, ocso, Trappist Abbey, Val Notre-Dame, St-Jean-de-Matha (Canada);
  • Jack Burnett, Former Federal MP and ex-Minister of the Government of Canada (Canada);
  • Dr. Susan Roll, Université Saint Paul (Canada).