“Pastoral Care” by St. Gregory the Great

In 590 C.E. St. Gregory the Great was elected as the bishop of Rome after the death of Pope Pelagius II.[1] Though he initially tried to avoid the position, he eventually agreed to serve the church and the people of Rome in that role. A year later, Gregory released his book Pastoral Care as “an apology for [his] wish to escape the burdensome office of a bishop.”[2] Within its pages, Gregory outlines the difficulties and challenges one must face in the office of a pastor along with some character guidelines for new recruits. As it happens, the book would become the “standard handbook of pastoral care” [3] for the next thousand years with priests and pastors around the world diving deep into its pages.

            The text itself is divided into four parts with each part building upon its predecessor.[4] The first part is focused on difficulties of pastoral ministry and the character traits required of the office. The second part “sets forth the inner and outer life of the good pastor.”[5] The next selection is the longest part of the book were Gregory outlines how to deal with “nearly forty different classes of people.”[6] The final part is a brief chapter reminding pastors to take care of themselves and refrain from pride as they are but humans serving others through the grace of God.

I first read St. Gregory the Great’s Pastoral Care about a decade ago when I timidly stepped into the role of an associate pastor at a small rural church. Though I enjoyed parts of the book, I found Gregory’s advice to be heavy handed rather than servant focused. This time around, however, I had an entirely different impression of the book, finding it beneficial and worth study. Part of this shift in thinking comes from reading Thomas Oden’s Care of Souls in the Classic Tradition in which he outlines the grace and love within Gregory’s tome.[7] The second part of my shift comes from personally experiencing the difficulties and challenges of pastoring. Having had to walk through some tough pastoral situations over the years, I have come to appreciate Gregory’s advice and encouragement. There is a reason this book has become a staple of pastoral care for the past fourteen hundred years.

[1] Gregory the Great, Pastoral Care, trans. Henry Davis, S.J. (New York City: Newman Press, 1978), 3.

[2] Gregory the Great, Pastoral Care, 4.

[3] Thomas C. Oden, Care of Souls in the Classic Tradition (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Fortress Press, 1984),https://www.religion-online.org/book-chapter/chapter-2-why-gregory/

[4] Gregory the Great, Pastoral Care, 20.

[5] Gregory the Great, Pastoral Care, 4.

[6] Gregory the Great, Pastoral Care, 8.

[7] Thomas C. Oden, Care of Souls in the Classic Tradition,https://www.religion-online.org/book-chapter/chapter-2-why-gregory/