Pontifex University's Doctor of Theology (Th.D.) program is a research degree with the focus being the completion and defense of a scholarly dissertation of between 50,000 and 80,000 words if a first graduate dissertation, or at the discretion of the administration, proportionately shorter for a second or subsequent dissertation. This program is 100% online and home study. There is no residential requirement. Even the dissertation 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

• New Testament

• Old Testament

• Ecclesiastical History

• Liturgy

• Catechetics

• Philosophy


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 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 an Advisor: 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 Advisor is not compensated by Pontifex as the Advisor's role is separate and distinct from that of the “Supervisor” who is a member of the Pontifex administration or faculty assigned by Pontifex to 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 Advisor 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


Fee Structure 

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 advisor 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 committee may request one or more stages of revisions and/or clarifications. 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 advisor 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 University will appoint a chairperson with responsibility for convening a committee to conduct the defense of the dissertation. The chairperson will convene the committee (the chair and two other resident or visiting faculty) upon being advised by the Advisor 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 chairperson will notify the members of the committee, the Advisor 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 chairperson 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

move forward. 


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 advisor.



Rubric for Theses and Dissertations

  1. The research statement must be precisely stated and the goal should be to contribute more information to the discipline.
  2. The literature review must be accurate, complete, and professional.
  3. The data must be collected ethically and recorded accurately.
  4. The data analysis must be as comprehensive as possible.
  5. The thesis or dissertation must produce new knowledge, or a different way of approaching a topic.
  6. The writing of the thesis or dissertation must follow Pontifex style.


Master of Theological Studies

Traditional - Five concentrations; Dogmatic Theology, Moral Theology, Theological Anthropology, Sacred Scripture, and General Theology.

In addition to the courses below, at the end of your program you will be required to take a comprehensive exam, and write a thesis.


Eight Required Courses for Dogmatic, Moral, 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


* Combine 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 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 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