Licentiate of Sacred Theology (STL) is the second cycle of studies of a faculty of theology offered by pontifical universities or Ecclesiastical Faculties of sacred theology in the Catholic Church. An ecclesiastical faculty offers three cycles of study: baccalaureate or fundamentals, licentiate or specialized, and the doctorate. The licentiate is a graduate degree with canonical effects in the Catholic Church. STL is the abbreviation of the Latin, sacrae theologiae licentiatus, which translates as "licentiate of sacred theology".
The programme for a licentiate's degree is equivalent to a total of two years or four semesters of full-time study after receiving a university degree and the Bachelor of Sacred Theology degree [STB] (SapC 72b). The STB, or first cycle, requires five years or ten semesters (SapC 72a). "In this cycle the special disciplines are taught corresponding to the nature of the diverse specializations being undertaken. Also seminars and practical exercises are conducted for the acquisition of the ability to do scientific research." (SapC 72b) The licentiate program develops research skills and treats theological questions in greater depth.
Students may pursue the license as either a transitional or a terminal degree. As a transitional degree, the STL program introduces students to a more scientific study of theology in pursuing Doctoral studies. "Nobody can be admitted to the doctorate unless first having obtained the licentiate" (SapC 49.2). As a terminal degree, the license prepares students to be teachers and resource persons.
A graduate of the STL program is prepared to teach theology in a college, seminary, or university, to function as a chaplain to various professional groups, and to act as a theological resource for a diocese and diocesan agencies. "The doctorate is the academic degree which enables one to teach in a Faculty and which is therefore required for this purpose, the licentiate is the academic degree which enables one to teach in a major seminary or equivalent school and which is therefore required for this purpose" (SapC 50.1). In several European countries, the master level degree is referred to as a license – from its original meaning as a "license to incept", i.e., that is, permission from the local bishop to actually take the degree of master or doctor, an event which took place through the ceremony of inception.
The usual prerequisites to become a Licentiate of Sacred Theology are that a candidate must have the Bachelor of Sacred Theology degree (STB) or its relative equivalent, thus, e.g., a Master of Divinity degree (M.Div.) from a Roman Catholic graduate school of theology. In order for a candidate to receive a license in sacred theology, he or she must engage in a two-year program of theological studies and propose an original thesis which contributes to the understanding of sacred theology.
The license in sacred theology is required for a person to teach sacred theology in a pontifical university (SapC 17) or major seminary (SapC 50.1). The license is also the prerequisite to the doctorate (STD) in the same field (SapC 49.2).
Notable faculties which offer the degree Licentiate of Sacred Theology include: Boston College School of Theology and Ministry; The Catholic University of Louvain); the Pontifical University of Salamanca; St. Mary's Seminary and University; The Catholic University of America; Pontifical John Paul II Institute; John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin in Poland; the University of Fribourg, Switzerland; the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (Angelicum); the Pontifical Gregorian University (Gregorianum); the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross (Santa Croce); the Pontifical Urban University (Urbanianum); St Patrick's College, Maynooth, Ireland; Regis College, University of Toronto; the Pontifical Lateran University (Lateranum); the University of Saint Mary of the Lake, Mundelein, Illinois, the Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University, and the Pontifical and Royal University of Santo Tomas in Manila, Philippines.
The Licentiate of Sacred Scripture is a similar degree in the field of biblical studies.