The S.T.L. is a prerequisite for the S.T.D.  The requirements for the S.T.D. consist of: a limited number of seminars chosen with a dissertation topic in mind, ongoing direction from a faculty adviser, and the preparation and defense of a dissertation that i) defines an original research topic, ii) makes use of primary sources in the original languages, and iii) contributes to scholarship.

Prerequisites for Admission:

  1. The S.T.L. from the School of Theology and Religious Studies at The Catholic University of America, or its equivalent from another ecclesiastical faculty, as determined by the Ecclesiastical Degrees Committee; in the case of an S.T.L. earned elsewhere, additional seminars in the area of Church History and related fields may be required.  Students whose preparation (S.T.L. or its equivalent) is in an area of concentration other than Church History will be required to take additional courses and/or pass the Licentiate comprehensive examination (with a minimum grade of 3.0) in the area of Church History
  2. A cumulative grade point average of at least 3.3 for the S.T.L. or its equivalent.
  3. A letter of intent stating the proposed area of concentration within Church History, and detailing the student’s previous coursework, research, and language preparation.
  4. The results of the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or the Miller Analogies Test (MAT), and, as required by University guidelines, the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), taken within the last 5 years.
  5. Three letters of recommendation by persons who are in a position to judge the applicant's ability for doctoral studies in Church History.
  6. Applicants who are priests, deacons, seminarians or members of religious communities are required to submit a letter of endorsement from their Bishop or Religious Superior, as well as a separate letter from their Bishop or Superior attesting that their Diocese or Religious Community will provide funding for the applicant's studies.


Four semesters of residence are required.  If the student has completed the S.T.L. at The Catholic University of America, only two semesters of residence are required, followed by continuous registration during the preparation of the dissertation.

Course requirements

All students are required to attend the four proseminars that are offered for S.T.L and S.T.D students, if they have not already done so during their prior studies at Catholic University; students are required to take four doctoral seminars in Church History and related fields, at the 700 and 800 level, in which a research paper of approximately 8,000-10,000 words is required; students are required to take TRS 724 Methods in Church History and Historical Theology; students must maintain a cumulative grade point average of 3.0 or above. 

Registration requirements

No more than six credit hours of courses in addition to dissertation guidance may be taken during any of the student’s four semesters in the program.  Students must register for dissertation guidance (997) for each of their four semesters in the S.T.D. program. Students should choose a dissertation director, with the approval of the area chair, early in the program. Students must maintain continuous registration until completion of their requirements. 

Language requirements

Candidates for the S.T.D. degree must fulfill the following language requirements.  With the approval of the area director and the student’s adviser, language examinations passed in fulfillment of the S.T.L. do not need to be repeated:

  • Latin: Successful completion of the Latin examination, normally at the Doctorate level, administered by the Church History academic area. The Latin requirement should ordinarily be satisfied by the end of the first semester in the program.
  • Greek: Successful completion of i) a reading course in either biblical or patristic Greek or ii) an examination in either biblical or patristic Greek, depending on the student’s area of concentration, administered by the Church History academic area.
  • Modern Language: Reading ability in German and a Romance language (French, Italian, Spanish), demonstrated by the successful completion of an examination, administered in the Church History academic area.  The German requirement may be fulfilled by passing TRS 501 “Theological German.”  Another modern foreign language, relevant to the student’s doctoral research, may be substituted either for German or for the Romance language, with the approval of the student’s dissertation director and the area director.
  • Some exceptions may apply, at the discretion of the Church History academic area.


To be eligible for admission to candidacy for the S.T.D. degree, a student must have i) satisfied the language requirements, ii) completed the required coursework (see above), and iii) presented a document to the area director requesting admission to candidacy.


The student must write a dissertation that i) defines an original research topic, ii) makes use of primary sources in the original languages, and iii) contributes to scholarship.  The format of the dissertation must conform to the guidelines presented in the current version of the Dissertation/Thesis Handbook published by The Catholic University of America, which is available online from the Office of Graduate Studies.

A dissertation proposal must be approved by the director and two readers (who are ordinarily faculty members of the School of Theology and Religious Studies). After approval by the director and two readers, the proposal is circulated by email to the Church History academic area faculty for consideration. After receiving the approval of the Church History faculty, the proposal is then submitted to the Dean and the Associate Provost for Graduate Studies for final approval.

Upon the student’s completion of the dissertation. the director and the two readers signify their approval in writing. The director of the dissertation will then arrange for the lectio and for the defense of the dissertation through the School of Theology and Religious Studies office.


Before defending the dissertation, the candidate for the S.T.D. must pass an oral examination on the historiography, historical context, and primary sources of the major area of the dissertation. At least one month prior to the defense of the dissertation, the candidate must present a list of five topics related to, but not identical with, the topic of the dissertation to the dissertation committee, who will serve as examiners for the lectio. The dissertation director and the two readers collaborate with the candidate in drafting the topics for the lectio, which are then submitted to the area director for final approval. The lectio topics are to be related to the topic of the dissertation, but should not render the dissertation defense unnecessary. For example, the lectio topics might involve questions of historiography, context, and method other than those covered in the dissertation.

Five days prior to the lectio, the Dean will determine which of the proposed topics is to be presented at the lectio and will notify the members of the examining board. Twenty-four hours prior to the examination, the area director will notify the candidate of the topic.

The candidate prepares and delivers a 25-minute lecture on the assigned topic. The candidate may use a one-page outline as lecture notes to guide the presentation. If the lectio presentation includes commentary on a text or texts, then the candidate may use that material in the presentation as well.

The candidate's major professor will serve as chair for this examination. The time for questioning (30 minutes in total) will be allotted to the members of the board, as they determine. Each examiner will give a secret grade, and the final grade will be the average of the three grades.

The grading system will be as follows:

  • 3.75   or above:  Excellent
  • 3.50   or above:  Outstanding
  • 3.25   or above:  Superior
  • 2.50   or above:  Pass

A grade below 2.50 is a failure. A candidate who fails the lectio will not be permitted to defend the dissertation. The area director, in consultation with the major professor, will determine when the lectio may be repeated; ordinarily, a second lectio, with new topics, should not be scheduled earlier than a month after the initial lectio. A second failure means that the candidate is no longer eligible for the degree.

Defense of the Dissertation

When the members of the dissertation committee have received the dissertation in final written form, the area director will ask them to submit within twenty-one class days a simple affirmative or negative judgment as to whether the dissertation is ready for defense. In signifying that a dissertation is “ready for defense,” the examination board may still require or recommend further emendations to the dissertation.

The examination board for the defense shall include two faculty members from outside the School of Theology and Religious Studies, who shall serve as chair and secretary for the examination. At the defense, the candidate will first present a summary of the dissertation, giving particular attention to the status quaestionis, the method and primary sources used, and the principal conclusions of the research. For this presentation, the candidate may refer to a copy of the dissertation, but may not use other notes.

Each member of the board will then be given time to question the candidate on the dissertation. Time will be allotted as determined by the examining board, but the examination should not exceed two hours, nor be shorter than one hour and thirty minutes.

At the end of the defense, the dissertation will be graded by the three members of the dissertation committee and the oral defense will be graded by all the members of the examining board. The vote will be taken in secret and supervised by the chair of the board. The final grade in each case is the average of the grades given by all. The grading system will be the same as that used at the lectio (as explained above).

A candidate who fails this examination must obtain permission from the Dean to retake the examination. A candidate will not be permitted to retake the examination until at least one semester, or an equivalent period of time, has elapsed from the date of failure. A candidate who fails a second time in the oral examination ceases to be a candidate for the doctoral degree.

After the defense and prior to depositing the dissertation, the candidate must incorporate any corrections that the major professor and/or readers consider necessary, while the recommended corrections may be incorporated at the discretion of the student. The candidate must make any such required corrections and then submit the revised version to the major professor, who will ensure that all required corrections have been satisfactorily made.

Final Grade for the S.T.D. Degree

To be eligible for the degree, a candidate must obtain a 3.3 average in coursework and in both the lectio and dissertation defense.

The final grade for the degree shall be computed as follows:

  • 30%  Course work
  • 50%  Dissertation
  • 10%  Lectio
  • 10%  Defense