The Doctorate in Sacred Theology (S.T.D.) in Historical Theology is an academic degree conferred only after a student with a basic theological competence in a specialized area of historical theology has demonstrated ability for further scholarly research and publication. The S.T.D. program consists of a limited number of seminars chosen with a possible dissertation topic in mind, ongoing direction from a faculty adviser, and the preparation and defense of a dissertation that contributes to theological scholarship.  

The focus in the course work, comprehensive examinations, and research for and writing of the dissertation is on the thought and the works (including manuscripts) of individual theologians or schools of theology in their theological, philosophical, ecclesial, socio-political, and cultural contexts ranging from the first century to the present. A dissertation in Historical Theology should be a work of original scholarly analysis and interpretation that challenges, expands upon, modifies, and overcomes previous interpretations and that draws upon the methods of theological, philological, historical, philosophical, and literary interpretation.


The residency requirement for the S.T.D. is four full-time semesters, unless the student has completed the S.T.L. at The Catholic University of America; in this case, only two semesters of residence are required, followed by continual registration during the preparation of the dissertation.

Prerequisites for Admission

The following prerequisites will be evaluated by the Admissions Committee:

  1. Possession of the S.T.L. degree from the School of Theology and Religious Studies at Catholic University or from another ecclesiastical faculty; in the case of an S.T.L. earned elsewhere, additional seminars may be required so that a student’s preparation will be equivalent to the S.T.L. at Catholic University.  Students whose preparation (S.T.L. or its equivalent) is in an area of concentration other than Historical Theology 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 historical theology.
  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, previous preparation in that area, and anticipated achievements.
  4. Submission of Graduate Record Examination scores or Miller Analogies Test score; in the case of students whose first language is not English, the results of TOEFL must also be submitted.
  5. Three letters of recommendation sent to the admissions office by persons who are in a position to judge the applicant's ability for doctoral studies in historical theology.

Course Requirements

All students are required to attend the four proseminars that are offered for licentiate and doctoral students; students who fulfilled this requirement in the S.T.L. program are not required to repeat these proseminars.

Each S.T.D. student must complete a minimum of four doctoral seminars (12 credits) at the 800-level; all of these courses require a substantial research paper (of approximately 5,000 to 7,000 words). S.T.D. students must maintain at least a 3.0 cumulative grade point average. No more than six credit hours of theology courses plus dissertation guidance may be taken during any of the four semesters in the S.T.D. program.

S.T.D. 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, as early as possible in their S.T.D. program. S.T.D. students must maintain continuous registration until completion of all their requirements or obtain a leave of absence. 

Language Requirements

Candidates for the S.T.D. degree must fulfill the following language requirements, unless they have already fulfilled these requirements in the S.T.L. program in the School of Theology and Religious Studies:

  • Latin: Successful completion of the Latin Proficiency Examination. The Latin requirement should ordinarily be satisfied by the end of the first fall semester in the program.
  • Greek: Successful completion of a reading course in either biblical or patristic Greek or passing an examination in either biblical or patristic Greek, depending on the student’s area of concentration.
  • Modern Language: A reading ability in both German and a Romance language (French, Italian, Spanish) must be demonstrated by the successful completion of an examination. The requirement in theological usage in German may be fulfilled by passing TRS 504 “Theological German.”

Another modern foreign language may be substituted for German or a romance language — if the language is needed for the student's research — with the approval of the student’s dissertation director and readers and with the approval of the area director.


To be eligible for admission to candidacy for the S.T.D. degree, a student must (a) satisfy the language requirements and (b) complete at least six credit hours of course work.


Each S.T.D. candidate must write a dissertation which demonstrates the ability to contribute to theological research. The dissertation should make a contribution to theological knowledge. The dissertation must show the candidate's familiarity with basic methods and techniques in theological research, technical mastery of a specific area, and an ability to exercise sound theological judgment and formulate accurate conclusions.

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 Catholic University Office of Graduate Studies.

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

Upon 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 defense of the dissertation through the School of Theology and Religious Studies office.


Before defending the dissertation, the S.T.D. candidate must pass an oral examination on the origins, history, and contemporary status of the major area of the dissertation. At least one month prior to the defense of the dissertation, the S.T.D. 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 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 have some demonstrable connection with the dissertation, but should not be such that would make the dissertation defense unnecessary. Thus, the lectio questions might concern methodologies other than that used in the dissertation or theories allied with that proposed in the dissertation, but not developed in it, etc.

Five days prior to the lectio, the area director will determine which of the 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 topic. The candidate may use a one page outline as lecture notes to guide the presentation. If the lectio presentation includes commentary on a theological text or a comparison of texts, then the candidate may use that material in the presentation as well.

The candidate's major professor will chair this examination. The time for questioning (30 minutes) 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 chair, in consultation with the major professor, will determine when the lectio may be repeated; ordinarily, a new lectio should not be scheduled in less than a month. 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 or not 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 present a summary of the dissertation, giving particular attention to the state of the question, the method used and the principal results of 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 employed 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, the original and one copy of the dissertation shall be returned to the candidate with the corrections that the major professor and/or the readers consider obligatory and/or advisable. The candidate must incorporate the obligatory corrections — the recommended ones may be incorporated if the student so wishes — into the dissertation before the dissertation is deposited with the University. If any corrections are required, the candidate must make them and submit a revised version to the major professor.

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

Criteria for Judging Dissertations

The following criteria for judging the doctoral dissertations should be kept in mind by the student:

  1. A doctoral dissertation should constitute a contribution to theological knowledge. Such contributions may be: the discovery of new facts; the establishment of new relations among facts already known; the solution of a problem hitherto unsolved; a critical study correcting errors or establishing negatives. The following should not be regarded as appropriate for a dissertation: mere compilation or digests of what is already known about a given subject; translations of works in foreign languages without commentary or critical apparatus; bibliographies or other works that are mere instruments of research, however needed and useful they may be; essays not based on detailed factual investigation, etc.
  2. A dissertation should demonstrate knowledge of the historical development of the topic as well as the contributions of previous investigations in regard to the subject of the dissertation and in regard to closely related subjects.
  3. A dissertation should demonstrate maturity, based on advanced graduate study, in classifying and analyzing data, and in discovering and formulating the broader and more generic aspects of such data.
  4. A dissertation should give evidence of the candidate’s ability in independent and constructive interpretation of the data gathered and of their bearing upon related data and problems.
  5. A dissertation should give evidence of balanced, objective, and critical judgment.
  6. A dissertation should give evidence of the candidate's ability to marshal facts and evidence, to organize the material around the major unifying idea or ideas, to emphasize important points, and to present data in orderly sequence.
  7. The presentation of data should include: a. A precise definition of the proposed contribution to knowledge; a summary of what has been done by previous investigators in regard to the problem under investigation; and an exposition of the method or techniques used by the candidate. b. The presentation of additional data assembled by the candidate and the exposition of the candidate's personal contribution. c. A brief summary stating the major results achieved in or the contribution made by the dissertation. d. A bibliography.
  8. A dissertation should be written in clear and simple language proving the candidate's mastery of style and expression.
  9. A dissertation must follow the format detailed in the Catholic University Dissertation/Thesis Handbook (available from the Catholic University Office of Graduate Studies).
  10. Failure in any one of the above requirements renders the dissertations liable to rejection.

Students who wish to write their dissertation in a language other than English must receive permission in advance from the Director, two readers, area chair, and Dean.


Catholic University graduates students in October, January, and May of each year, however, commencement exercises are held only in May. All students planning to graduate in May should submit a diploma card (available from the School of Theology and Religious Studies office or Office of the Registrar) to the Office of the Registrar by February 1. In addition, graduating students are to submit a “Commencement Book Information” sheet (available from the School of Theology and Religious Studies office) to the school's administrative assistant for graduate studies by April 1. This is to ensure that a student’s name and previous degrees will be correctly printed in the University commencement book.

When the School of Theology and Religious Studies office has received written verification from the Office of Graduate Student Services of the deposit of a student's dissertation, as well as the completion of all S.T.D. degree requirements, the student's name is then submitted to the faculty for approval for the next graduation date.