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Pastoral Care, Gregory the Great

Today in my pastoral ministry course we discussed Gregory the Great’s Pastoral Care, written in AD 590. I first encountered this book after reading Eugene Peterson’s The Contemplative Pastor in which he referred to his views on pastoral ministry being shaped by Gregory among others. I did not know what book by Gregory he was referring to, so I went searching and found this book. This book became a key document shaping the views of pastoral ministry early in the history of the church. For that reason alone it is worth reading. Gregory states clearly that his purpose is to detail the solemn gravity of the task and to discuss how it should be done.

Reading this book is a bit different from reading a more recent book. As I told the class, “Don’t talk to me about it being harder or less fun to read, etc. We are not here to toy with trivialities but to wrestle with the weightiness of the oversight of souls. Those seeking nourishment are not worried with the thickness or toughness of the husk, but only with whether or not once the husk is cracked nourishment can be found.” And nourishment is available here.

The class detailed numerous strengths of the book. Gregory consistently hammers the absolute necessity of humility, the gravity of the task, the need to care for souls, and the work of the pastor as helping people to live Christ-like lives. The bulk of the book is taken up with examining various conditions and situations of life and how we can encourage and exhort people in such settings. This is refreshingly different from typical approaches today which see pastors as managers of programs (“running a church”) rather than shepherds of souls.

There are weaknesses as well. One can see the encroachment of a more works based theology already at work. Nonetheless, if we are (as we should be) mature enough to sift through wheat and chaff this is a useful read.

I will plan to post some more quotes in the future, but for now let this one suffice. Here Gregory is speaking of the importance of proper preparation for the work of overseeing souls.

“No one ventured to teach any art unless he has learned it after deep thought. With what rashness, then, would the pastoral office be undertaken by the unfit, seeing that the government of souls is the art of arts! For who does not realize that the wounds of the mind are more hidden than the internal wounds of the body? Yet, although those who have no knowledge of the powers of drugs shrink from giving themselves out as physicians of the flesh, people who are utterly ignorant of spiritual precepts are often not afraid of professing themselves to be physicians of the heart, and though, by divine ordinance, those now in the highest positions are disposed to show a regard for religion, some there are who aspire to glory and esteem by an outward show of authority within the holy Church.” (p.22)

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