Pontifex University's Theology Doctorate (Th.D.) program consists of a dissertation on a subject in academic theology and approved Pontifex faculty. The length of the dissertation is 50,000 and 80,000 words. This is a research degree. It is 100% online and has no residential requirement. Even the thesis defense can be done via video conferencing.
For admission to either the Th.D. or to the dual-enrollment program, candidates are required to have earned an S.T.B., Pontifical Licentiate, or M.Th. Degree or:
• Have completed seminary instruction leading to ordination to Holy Orders or
• Hold an undergraduate degree plus a Pontifical Catechetical Diploma or
• Hold an undergraduate degree in Theology or
• Hold a graduate degree in a discipline other than Theology
Only candidates with a Pontifical Licentiate or M.Th. will be directly admitted to the Th.D. program. All other candidates will be admitted to the Dual-Enrollment M.T.S. / Th.D. Program. Dual-Enrollment M.T.S. and Th.D. Program / Core Studies Candidates in the dual-enrollment program must complete (or demonstrate that they have previously completed with a satisfactory competence in either a written or oral examination by Pontifex faculty) eight areas of core studies:
• Systematic Theology
• Moral Theology
• Dogmatic Theology
• Old Testament
• New Testament
• Ecclesiastical History
Successful completion of the eight areas of core study will qualify the candidate for a Diploma in Theological Foundation and when combined with an existing graduate degree, will constitute an acceptable foundation for entry to the Th.D. program.
For admission to the Th.D., candidates are required to have earned an S.T.B., Pontifical Licentiate, M.T.S., or M.Th. Degree or have completed seminary instruction leading to ordination to Holy Orders (MDiv).
Candidates with an S.T.B. degree will be required to complete two elective 3-credit directed reading courses together with a 3-credit Research Methodologies and Academic Writing program in order to be admitted to the Th.D. program.
Candidates holding a graduate degree in a field other than theology will be admitted to the combined Diploma of Theological Foundation/ Th.D. Program. Candidates in the combined program must complete (or demonstrate that they have previously completed with a satisfactory competence) eight core classes:
- Introduction to Systematic Theology
- Fundamental Moral Theology
- New Testament
- Old Testament
- Ecclesiastical History
- Liturgy and Sacraments
- Foundations of Catechetics
- Dogmatic Theology
Transfer credits for these classes will be judged on a case by case basis by the Academic Dean of Theology in consultation with other members of the graduate faculty, and only when an official graduate transcript from an accredited institution is provided. Students unable to provide an official graduate transcript may petition to take competency exams to demonstrate satisfactory completion of these areas.
Successful completion of the eight areas of core study will qualify the candidate for a Diploma in Theological Foundation and when combined with an existing graduate degree, will constitute an acceptable foundation for entry to the Th.D. program. Candidates who are awarded the DTF may decide that they do not wish to go on to the Th.D. but can complete instead a Master of Theological Studies, or an M.Th. degree as part of the Holy Spirit College graduate program (see below).
Candidates with only an undergraduate degree must complete all eight core courses (with a cumulative GPA of at least 3.0) together with three three-credit elective courses (or equivalent) and comprehensive exams (3 credits) to achieve completion of the M.T.S. Degree.
Mature candidates with a graduate degree in a discipline other than Theology, but an otherwise appropriate academic preparation, may petition for Advanced Candidature. If granted they will be required to complete two 3-credit directed reading courses in Theology and one 3-credit directed reading program in Philosophy to be admitted to the Th.D. program. Unless the candidates’ prior graduate degree requirements included a Thesis, the candidate will also be required to complete a 6-credit Research Methodologies and Academic Writing program Candidates with a Pontifical Licentiate are automatically granted Advanced Candidature and may proceed directly to the Proposal process. In all cases, prior to admission to the Th.D. dissertation work, the candidate must demonstrate a competence in Latin to the satisfaction of the University faculty.
Through the coursework of the M.T.S./ D.T.F., the student will emerge with a broad overview of the Catholic Theology faithful to the magisterium as well as critical and contemporary questions in Catholic theology. Students will also be able to concentrate in these areas. Through the Th.D. portion, the student will gain a deep understanding on one aspect of theology of the choice of the student as well as develop research, reading and writing skills suitable for academic research and writing. The overview will be assessed by the coursework element, which will require attendance of online lectures, completion of written work (essays and exams) for assessment by the teacher. The dissertation research, writing and defense will assess the student’s satisfactory completion of the dissertation portion of the Th.D. program, including the production of a dissertation of approximately 50,000 – 80,000 words which will be produced under the guidance of an Director who possesses an appropriate terminal degree and a specialization in the particular focus of the dissertation; and assessed by the academic committee appointed for the purpose.
For transfer credit or waiver of requirements for the M.T.S./D.T.F., core areas of study must have been completed at a Roman Catholic institution of higher education and a minimum of 3.0 GPA is required for transfer credit. All core studies must be 3-credit i.e. reflecting a minimum of 112.5 hours of engagement for each subject but may be completed by direct instruction (classroom or online) directed reading or research & report methodologies.
Candidates with only an undergraduate degree must complete 36 credits to achieve completion of the M.T.S. Degree:
- All eight areas of core study (with a cumulative GPA of at least 3.0)
- Nine credits of electives
- A three credit capstone
Tuition for the full M.T.S. program is $10, 800 ($300 per credit hour). Candidates are expected to enroll in one course at a time. The deadline for completing a three credit course is 4 months.
Candidates with an S.T.B. degree will be required to complete two elective 3-credit directed reading courses together with a 6-credit Foundations of Academic Theological Writing program in order to be admitted to the Th.D. program. Mature candidates with a graduate degree in a discipline other than Theology, but an otherwise appropriate academic preparation, may petition for Advanced Candidature. If granted they will be required to complete two 3-credit directed reading courses in Theology and one 3-credit directed reading program in Philosophy to be admitted to the Th.D. program. Unless the candidates’ graduate degree requirements included a thesis, the candidate will also be required to complete a 6-credit Foundations of Academic Theological Writing program. Candidates with a Pontifical Licentiate are automatically granted Advanced Candidature and may proceed directly to the dissertation proposal process.
The maximum period of candidature (absent approval of an extension) is five years. The minimum period of candidature before the defense of the dissertation is:
a) For candidates with a Pontifical Licentiate - 12 months
b) For candidates with an M.Th. - 18 months
c) For all other candidates - 24 months
Candidates without an M.Th. but with prior graduate studies in Theology and an existing body of research may petition to have their minimum candidature reduced. Once admitted to candidature, and before proceeding to the dissertation writing process, the candidate must:
a) Demonstrate a satisfactory foundation in Theology and Philosophy
b) Demonstrate the required skills to research and write at an appropriate level
c) Secure a Director: Their role is to advise and mentor the student throughout the dissertation process and as such, they will only be approved if they have themselves successfully completed a thesis or dissertation process at a post-graduate level. The Director is not compensated by Pontifex as the Director's role is separate and distinct from that of the “Advisor” who is a member of the Pontifex administration who oversee the process from an institutional perspective.
d) Complete a Prospectus process that details the argument and proposed structure of the
dissertation, and obtain approval of it from the Director and the Academic Dean.
e) The prospectus must provide:
1. A clear thesis statement/ research question
2. A summary of the history of research
3. The significance of the thesis for the field of study
4. A detailed outline of the dissertation
5. A timeline for completion
6. A bibliography
Formal registration for the Foundations of Academic Theological Writing credits: This is a six credit guided reading class with a fee of $1,800. You can register online. This will guide you to, and culminate in, the production of the dissertation proposal which you will submit to your committee.
Formal registration for Coursework: $300 per credit taken. Depending on exemptions for prior credits or qualifications, students will take up to 30 credits of coursework. A student that completes the full 30 credits at Pontifex will be awarded an M.T.S. degree.
Formal registration for the Dissertation: This is a flat fee of $3,000 which is payable after you have completed all required coursework and prior to submitting your thesis proposal.
Writing and approval of Dissertation Proposal: Once your Director has been appointed, you should work with him or her to put together a research/reading-list/bibliography for your dissertation and finalize your dissertation proposal for submission to your committee. The Director of the Dissertation or of the Thesis is responsible for approving the proposal. The Director is to inform both the Dean and the student that the proposal is approved, and that the student may now start writing the Dissertation or the thesis. The request of one or more stages of revisions and/or clarifications is possible. Once your dissertation proposal has been approved you will be free to proceed with the dissertation and you will be asked for a second fee of $2,000.
Defense of Dissertation: Once your Director approves your dissertation for defense he/she will email me certifying that and we will agree a date and venue for the defense. The balance of $1,000 is payable when you schedule the defense.
At each stage you may pay the fees in a single payment or in $300 monthly installments. You may not proceed to the next stage until the fees from all prior stages have been paid. This fee structure applies to all students (lay, clergy, and religious).
The Director of the thesis or dissertation will decide when the student is ready to take the comprehensive exams. One the student has successfully passed the comprehensive exams, the Director will determine when the student is ready to defined the thesis/dissertation. Once the Director and the student together decide the student is ready to defend the thesis or dissertation, they both will share the responsibility for convening a committee to conduct the defense of the dissertation. The academic dean will confirm the committee that together the director and the student will suggest. The Director will convene the committee (the chair and two other resident or visiting faculty) upon being advised by the Director that the candidate is ready to defend. At the time of the request to schedule the defense, the candidate should submit five unbound copies of the dissertation in accordance with the University’s style guide. The Director will notify the members of the committee, the Director and the candidate of the place, date and time of the defense.
At the appointed time, the candidate presents his/her argument, summarizing the main points of the study. The Director then allows members of the committee to direct questions to the candidate concerning the defense. Following the candidate’s presentation and the fielding of questions, the candidate is excused from the room so that the chair and committee may discuss and subsequently vote on the candidate’s success or failure following which the candidate is escorted into the room to receive the results of the committee’s vote. If successful, the candidate will secure the signatures of members of the committee on the approval page, and the “Committee Report of Defense Results”.
Following a successful defense, the candidate must submit a final review copy of the dissertation with any required revisions made. The revisions must be acceptable to all members of the committee. Upon notification of approval of the revisions, the candidate will submit five (5) unbound copies of the dissertation, on white, (at least) 20 pound, 25% rag, acid-free bond paper.
All core areas of study must have been completed at a Roman Catholic institution of higher education with a minimum GPA of 3.0 to transfer credit. All core studies must be 3-credit courses, reflecting a minimum of 112.5 hours of engagement per course. The courses must be completed by direct instruction in the classroom or online, directed reading, or research and report methods.
Any appropriate 3-credit philosophy course conducted by a Catholic university may be used for transfer credit but students Philosophy credit earned through Pontifex University will require completion of a directed reading program on The Summa Theologiæ of St. Thomas Aquinas. For degree awards, at least 25% of the credits applied to the degree must be completed through Pontifex University.
Policies Pertaining to of Graduate Culminating Work: Comprehensive Exams, Theses, and Dissertations
Effective July 1, 2023
The goal of most graduate programs is to produce scholars who will have the responsibility to teach the next generation of students in their discipline, and to ensure the students will be able to contribute to their field of study through research (and publication). This is of particular concern when the discipline is theology, as this subject matter as it can have eternal repercussions as to where individuals spend eternity.
At both the masters and doctoral level, students must master a course of study that includes the history, current work in, and possible future paths of the discipline, as well as the methods of research that enable the discipline to
The Comprehensive Exam Process is changing. The Academic Dean will send each student questions from the core and elective courses the student has taken. The exam will be composed of six questions chosen randomly from the pool of questions accumulated by the Dean. Students will have four hours to complete the exam and return it to the Dean by email on a to-be-established date. The dates will be different for those sitting for the Master’s comprehensive exam and for those sitting for the Doctoral comprehensive exam.
Note the comprehensive exam class will be canceled, and thus the comprehensive exam will no longer be worth three credits. This will enable the students to take a substantive course in its place.
When students have completed their coursework with a cumulative G.P.A. of 3.0 or higher, and proved their knowledge of the discipline by passing a comprehensive exam, they must write a thesis at the masters level or a dissertation at the doctorate level. This will prove they know how to do research (examine previous work on the topic, collect data, analyze the data, draw conclusions from the data, and write their findings according to the rules of their discipline), and then proceed to publish the findings and contribute to the discipline.
During the process of writing a thesis or dissertation, the student should have reasonable access to his or her Director.
Rubric for Theses and Dissertations
- The research statement must be precisely stated and the goal should be to contribute more information to the discipline.
- The literature review must be accurate, complete, and professional.
- The data must be collected ethically and recorded accurately.
- The data analysis must be as comprehensive as possible.
- The thesis or dissertation must produce new knowledge, or a different way of approaching a topic.
- The writing of the thesis or dissertation must follow Pontifex style.
Master of Theological Studies
Traditional - Seven Concentrations; Dogmatic Theology, Moral Theology, Theological Anthropology, Sacred Scripture, and General Theology.
In addition to the courses below, at the end of the program the student will be required to take a comprehensive exam, and write a thesis.
Eight Required Courses for Dogmatic Theology, Moral Theology, Pastoral Studies, Theological Anthropology, Sacred Scripture, and General Studies in Theology
THEO 500 Philosophy for Theology
THEO 515 * Introduction to Theology
THEO 510 Introduction to Scripture
THEO 550 Fundamental Moral Theology
THEO 570 A * One and Triune God
THEO 570 B Christology
THEO 570 C Pneumatology
THEO 670 Research Practicum
* Combined THEO 505 and 515 renumbered to THEO 515 - Introduction to Theology
** THEO 570 should be split into two courses and another one added
Three Required Courses for Dogmatic Theology Concentration
THEO 520 Introduction to Systematic Theology
THEO 550 Theology of Creation and Eschatology
THEO 600 Liturgy and the Sacraments
Three Required Courses for Moral Theology Concentration
THEO 650 Virtue and Grace: An Introduction to Moral Theology
THEO 610 Canon Law
THEO 675 Catholic Bioethics
Three Required Courses for Pastoral Studies
To Be announced
Three Required Courses for Theological Anthropology Concentration
THEO 550 Theology of Creation and Eschatology
THEO 560 Theological Anthropology
THEO 500 The Theology of Nature
Three Required Courses for Sacred Scripture Concentration
THEO 511 The Old Testament in Words and Images
THEO 512 The New Testament in Words and Images
THEO 514 The Psalms in Word, Images, and Prayer
One Elective Course for Dogmatic Theology Concentration
Select any one course
One Elective Course for Moral Theology Concentration
Select any one course
One Elective Course For Pastoral Studies Concentration
Select any one course
One Elective Course for Theological Anthropology Concentration
Select any one course
One Elective Sacred Scripture Concentration
Select any one course
Four Elective Courses for General Studies in Theology
Select any four courses