Arthur Middleton on Thomas Oden

Thomas Oden, in his Care of Souls in the Classical Tradition, claims that in the last fifty years the classical tradition of pastoral care has been steadily accommodated to a series of psychotherapies. ‘It has fallen deeply into an amnesia toward its own classical past, into a vague absent-mindedness about the great figures of this distinguished tradition, and into what can only be generously called a growing ignorance of classical pastoral care.’ He chose ten key figures from Cyprian of Carthage to Jeremy Taylor, and checked seven nineteenth century works of pastoral theology and found every one of his ten authors quoted. In seven modern works none of his ten classical writers were mentioned. He concluded that classical pastoral thought was ignored.

References to modern psychologists numbered 330, with Freud, Jung and Rogers frequently quoted as authoritative pastoral guides. American pastoral theology was a thoughtless mimic of current psychological trends. A reversal of this trend is resulting from the

surprising ineffectiveness of average psychotherapy, and the psychotherapists who are recalling pastors back to their traditional pastoral identity. Similar research in England is not apparent, though there is a growing concern about the need to recover the classical model of the pastoral office.

This pastor is called into communion, into a new relationship to be the holy people of God, in which the Fall is reversed and restores the loss of communion with God, each other and creation. God’s holy people are called apart from dys-communion into Sobornost and the vocation to priesthood is particular and special, rooted in the call to holiness. Yet its essential attributes are being easily eroded by the task-orientated, commodity-minded, acquisitive values of modern secular culture.

Unconsciously, a priest and his people can suddenly discover that they have sold out to other gods. A priest can find himself, under the guise of pastoral ministry, filling his time with tasks that have no connection with what the pastors have done for twenty centuries. Too often they are shopkeeper’s concerns, how to keep the customers happy. Around us countless people are concerned to eliminate prayer, Scripture and spiritual direction from our lives.

Image has become the priority, a preoccupation with the measurable, successful church building and planting programmes, politically correct issues, sociological impact and economic viability. Timetables become cluttered with meetings leaving little time for solitude before God, to ponder Scripture, to be unhurried with people.

In this secularized context priests and parishes lose their bearings. A priest loses sight of his vocation in this violation of priestly vocation as disciples of Christ. I do believe that the roots of sexual misconduct among the clergy lie here. It violates his ministry of reconciliation and the announcing of the Kingdom of God by the purely Godward aspect of our lives, showing it forth through attentive celebration of the Eucharistic Liturgy and Daily Office, praying with and for the people, teaching them God’s Word.

This loss of vocation is subtle and slow and is essentially a faith and identity crisis arising from a compromise,