A History of Pastoral Care

Written by G.R. Evans (ed.) Reviewed By Vera Sinton

As pastoral theology has been assimilating insights from the human sciences and relating them to a pastoral care, a discontinuity has appeared between recent pastoral writing and the Church’s experience throughout history. Many today are keen to bridge that gap.

In this book twenty-three writers focus briefly on specific aspects of care in particular historical contexts. They represent an ecumenical spectrum with Anglican and Roman Catholic predominating. The team is international but the choice of topics indicates a largely British perspective.

In the biblical section J.W. Rogerson raises a thoroughly post-modern issue: was hostility to idols and magic in the OT largely an attempt to exercise social control by imposing uniformity of belief? He exonerates it, unconvincingly, because of the elements of protest and nonconformity running through the material. David Graham surveys the NT books in order, taking a moderate critical stance on questions of authorship and context. He notes the sheer variety of pastoral methods and models, but finds an overall theme in the need to form a cohesive Christian community in the face of persecution and poverty from without and divisions within. Paul’s theology is being increasingly seen as contextual rather than systematic.

The story follows the church through the patristic period where bishops are increasingly seen as the shepherds of Christ’s flock. Pope Gregory’s Pastoral Rule assumes they will maintain faith and good order, while being sensitive to individual needs. Effective discipline where there is sin proves to be complex. Public confession of serious sin gives way to detailed private penitence, which by 1215 becomes at least an annual obligation in the West.

Alongside the diocesan hierarchies, alternatives emerge. Monks renounce power, retreat in search of God and yet are sought out as sources of care and spiritual direction. In the thirteenth century the missionary zeal of the friars and their itinerant preaching ministry brings revival, especially in cities where parish clergy find it hard to take a prophetic stance towards social injustice.

Healing remains a thread in the story. The carnage of the crusades produces the Order of Hospitallers. Foundations are laid for institutional medical care. Education is another. Lambros Kamperidis tells a less well-known story of the Eastern Orthodox churches importing models of catechesis from the Western church in the eighteenth century. These were strongly influenced by Aquinas’ emphasis on the cultivation of virtues and the application of duties. He feels they formed a system that relegated the Holy Spirit to a supervisory role and deprived Orthodox spirituality of its lifeline to the patristic tradition.

As the story gets closer to the present day it becomes more obvious that hardly any of the writers are at home in contemporary pastoral theology. The familiar polarities are there. Is the fundamental pastoral problem pain or sin? Should the focus be on individuals or communities? Do we emphasise maintenance or mission? Is the pastor essentially an ordained minister or any baptised believer? G.R. Evans mentions most of these in the introduction and Ian Bunting gives a good account of the impact of pastoral counselling on the Church’s pastoral care. Their colleagues tend to keep their feet firmly on the historical bank. The book provides a mini-library of resources for those who would build a bridge between Christian tradition and contemporary pastoral care. It is not the bridge itself.

Vera Sinton