Arthur Middleton on Pastoral Ministry

The context of priests and pastors must always be ecclesial rather than secular, and rooted in a living relationship to Christian revelation: Baptism, the Eucharist, the ministry of Word and Sacrament, and the grace of orders out of which pastoral care emerges and to which it is accountable. If our priestly ministry is a ministry of reconciliation we need to know in what sense pastoral theology is and remains theology. This will help us to determine the classical model of the pastoral office and what pastoral care is. In order to recover this identity we will need to allow the tradition to be our teacher and guide.

Pastoral Theology

In that tradition we discover that the term pastoral theology is unknown to antiquity, but the science is as old as the Church itself. It appears in the many instructions Jesus gave to his Apostles for the cure of souls. It is there in the pastoral letters of Paul, and with the detailed instructions they gave to Timothy and to Titus in regard to the sacred ministry. But the term itself originated in Germany in the eighteenth century, on the title-page in Jacobi’s Introduction to Pastoral Theology in 1760, and was made more popular in 1797 by Johann Sailer’s Lectures on Pastoral Theology. It was not adopted in England until the nineteenth century, when in 1836 an Act of Parliament endowed a chair of Pastoral Theology at Oxford.

So we find no treatise entitled Pastoral Theology in patristic divinity or among the Fathers. They wrote of the duties and qualifications for Christian ministry, giving various titles to their treatises. Gregory Nazianzen called his an Apologia or Self-Defence, and John Chrysostom called his On the Priesthood. Ambrose wrote De Officiis Ministorum, and Jerome’s Letter to Nepotianus has the title De Vita Clericorum. Augustine’s De Doctrina Christiana and De Catechizandis Rudibus may both be called ‘pastoral essays’. Most famous of all, and written primarily for bishops, is Gregory the Great’s Liber Regulae Pastoralis. None of these Fathers treated the subject as a department of theology, or gave a scientific form to his discourse.

Similarly in Anglican divinity there is no treatise on Pastoral Theology properly so-called. There are a number of classical works, which include Bishop Burnet’s Discourse on Pastoral Care, published in 1692 to raise the standards of ordination candidates in the diocese of Salisbury; Archdeacon Wilson Evans’ The Bishoprick of Soulsl; William Perkins’ Of the Calling of the Ministry, George Herbert’s A Priest to the Temple, Thomas Fuller’s Pastor and People, and Richard Baxter’s The Reformed Pastor. In 1852 John James Blunt published his On the Duties of the Parish Priest, a series of practical counsels given as lectures to young men about to undertake the charge of a parish.

Gregory Nazianzen points out that Pastoral Theology should be to theology what the rules of an art are to the science on which it rests: an application of the truths of theology to the practical ministry of souls. He claims that being a healer of men is much more difficult than being a leader of men: the medicine of the cure of souls is more subtle than that of bodies. The Incarnation is the medicine of the soul, undoing the Fall and bringing man to the Tree of Life. The office of a priest is to administer this medicine, and theological training is therefore as necessary to the priest as medical training is to the physician.

Johann Sailer

The nearest approach to this scientific treatment of pastoral theology came from the Jesuit Johann Sailer, Professor of Pastoral Theology and Ethics at Dillingen in 1794, and Bishop of Ratisbon from 1829 until his death in 1832. His Lectures on Pastoral Theology have not yet been translated into English. Sailer’s age was dominated by the Enlightenment, which disputed the fundamental dogmas of Christianity and was characterised by externalism, contempt for Christian mysticism,

worldliness of the clergy, degradation of the pulpit by the treatment of secular topics, a relaxation of ecclesiastical discipline, and a one-sided training of the mind in education. Sailer opposed to these destructive tendencies his defence of faith in Christ and the fundamental principles of Christianity. His concern was for an inner, living, practical Christianity; for a faith that would manifest itself in charity; for the maintenance of godliness and for the training of a pious and intelligent clergy; that the pulpit should be reserved solely for the preaching of the Gospel; and that education should aim at the training both of body and mind. As teacher, parish priest, and preacher he was responsible for reconciling large numbers of people to Christianity and the Church. Thanks to Sailer, German piety – both Protestant and Catholic – learned again to pray. Do not expect from him any religious polemics: he abhorred them. What he cherished was the idea of cooperation between the various Christian bodies against the negations of infidelity. Sailer made a breach in Rationalism by opposing to it a piety in which both Christian bodies could unite.

To be more particular: fundamental to Sailer’s thesis in his lectures on pastoral theology is the Fall of Man, and his reconciliation with God made possible by Jesus Christ and carried on from age to age through the priestly ministry of His Church. The Church is itself the living realisation of this work of reconciliation and the embodiment of this reunion of men with God, and of men with one another. This being the mission of the Church there is a need for priests and pastors by whom the Church’s ministry shall be continually carried on, and they will require a double preparation: one scientific, which will qualify them to teach and to persuade; the other spiritual, which will give them the will and motive to fulfil these functions.

After sketching a true pastor of soulsSailer gives an account of scientific training at each step, laying down the principles on which he grounds his direction. The first part illustrates how to use the treasures of Holy Scripture in the several departments of his work, taking particular passages of the Bible and showing by careful analysis not only the doctrines they contain, but the practical duties that flow from them. He concludes with a careful examination of Paul’s great Pastoral Epistle to Timothy, showing how closely the Apostle connects his most practical precepts with dogmatic doctrine. The second part follows the Priest and Pastor into the various areas of ministry: preaching; catechizing in church or school; more private instruction: Bible Classes, for example; ministrations to the sick; liturgical work; and especially the way in which the Church’s festivals can demonstrate Christian doctrine. The third part concerns the Pastor’s relationships: to his home; his parish; his brother clergy; his country; with those who are not in communion with the Church; and with people in general.

I use Sailer to illustrate that Pastoral Theology is no mere guide or handbook to parish work. The word ‘theology’ is an essential ingredient: the generic element, declaring that in Pastoral Theology dogma, prayer, and life can never be separated. Liturgical prayer is primary: the unique expression of the Church – of its faith and life – and is the basic source of the Church’s thinking. It is a fine example of locus theologicus, because it is in the liturgy that the sources – Bible and Tradition – become a living reality. As Irenaeus puts it, ‘Our opinion is in accordance with the Eucharist, and the Eucharist in turn establishes our opinion.’ (Adversus Hæreses IV:18.5) ND