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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


Pastoral Care

Companion to Pastoral Care in the Late Middle Ages: 1200-1500  by Ronald J. Stansbury (Brill's Companion to the Christian Tradition: Brill Academic Publishers) The study of pastoral care in the middle ages has seen a resurgence in recent years. Scholars are now approaching this subject less from their respective ecclesiastical or parochial biases and more out of an effort to understand the significant role pastors (secular and religious) had in the shaping of medieval society at large. This book explores some of the new ways scholars are approaching this topic. Using a variety of sources and disciplinary angles: theology, preaching, catechesis, confessional literature, visitation records, monastic cartularies and the like, these studies show the many and varied ways in which pastoral care came to play such an important role in the day to day lives of medieval people.

Contrubutors include: C. Colt Anderson, Michelle Armstrong-Partida, Beth Allison Barr, Sabrina Corbellini, Alexandra da Costa, Laura Michele Diener, William Dohar, James Ginther, Joe Goering, Ann M. Hutchison, Greg Peters, C. Matthew Phillips, Andrew Reeves, Ronald J. Stansbury, Susan M.B. Steuer, Mathilde van Dijk, and Anne T. Thayer.

Excerpt: In the Gospel of John, when Jesus told Peter three times to "Feed my sheep," he was essentially giving a commission for the church to care for the souls entrusted to them; and this commission, along with the general imagery of the Good Shepherd in both the old and new testaments, provides much of the foundation for pastoral care throughout the history of western Christianity. The responsibility for this care fell to different groups of people within the church—the family, religious men and women, the clergy and especially the bishops—but the goal was always the same: to lead men and women safely and successfully through this earthly pilgrimage and ultimately to heaven. What actually constitutes pastoral care—that is the program of pastoral care—is an entirely different question altogether and one that this volume will explore to some degree. The sacramental system is certainly at the heart of this care as is preaching and other forms of catechesis; but the essays contained here suggest that the cura anamarum, especially in its late medieval context, involves or at least should involve more than the church serving as a sacramental vending machine of sorts. More importantly though is that these essays also make it clear that the models and ideals for pastoral care, offered best perhaps in the works of people like Gregory the Great or Augustine of Hippo, and certainly in what is described as the reforming or pastoral decrees of the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215, did not always match what actually happened in the real world of relationships between men and women and their assorted spiritual caregivers. But at the same time, while these ideals did not always match practice, what does come through in these essays is that people did, in fact, take seriously the vocation of pastoral care. Whether it was religious men and women teaching, training and caring for their own communities or even in some cases lay people; or bishops who were attempting to educate and prepare their priests who would, in turn, care for the laity; or even lay people at times who took seriously their responsibility to hold their pastors accountable, the late Middle Ages witnessed a vibrant attempt, essentially on the heals of Lateran IV, to make those ideals a reality.

The idea for this volume and many of the essays contained herein came out of several sessions sponsored by the International Medieval Sermon Studies Society at the International Congress on Medieval Studies in 2007 in Kalamazoo, Michigan. The volume is organized loosely around three larger sections 1) Pastoral Care and the Clergy, 2) Pastoral Care and the Laity and 3) Pastoral Care and Religious Men and Women. I say here "loosely" organized because obviously pastoral care involving any one group of people is rarely exclusive to that group. The Catholic Church is a communal organization and therefore these lines of ministry and pastoral activity should never be drawn too tightly.

The articles in this volume use a wide variety of pastoral/ecclesiastical sources and geographically cover much of western Europe. Chronologically, the period designated "Late Middle Ages" is interpreted broadly here to include the late twelfth century through the early sixteenth century. The reason for this early date should be clear in that the reforms of Lateran IV, so important for setting the course for pastoral care efforts in the late Middle Ages, did not simply appear ex nihilo from this council or the mind of Pope Innocent III. These moral, theological and religious reforms were part of a larger movement and trends (the so-called vita apostolica, scholasticism, urbanization, new forms of wealth, and so on) that had their roots in the late eleventh and twelfth centuries.

These essays begin where anyone looking at late medieval pastoral care should begin: the work of Father Leonard Boyle, O.P. After a decades long career at the Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies in Toronto, Father Boyle was, for many years, Prefect at the Vatican Library in Rome and is largely responsible for developing the field of medieval pastoral care with his groundbreaking work on William of Pagula in the mid 1950s. In this lead article, Joseph Goering offers some reflections on Father Boyle's most important contributions to the field and the way in which his study of pastoral care opened up wider avenues of inquiry into fields such as medieval law and education.

The first section of this book looks at some of the responsibilities and ideals for the clergy and pastoral care, particularly as they relate to the implementation of the reforms of Lateran IV. Ronald Stansbury looks at the importance of preaching as a form of catechesis in the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries. Studying several preachers in the so-called circle of Peter the Chanter, this essay shows how a revival of preaching at the turn of the century helped to set the stage for the preaching reforms of Lateran IV and the rise of the preaching orders—the Franciscans and Dominicans—so essential to pastoral care in later centuries. Andrew Reeves examines more specifically the episcopal reform program in England after Lateran IV. Studying episcopal legislation and also narrative sources, he looks at how this program was designed not only to teach the laity, but also to educate the clergy. He finds that the reform program was a surprisingly successful effort both to educate the clergy and in turn the laity in the basics of the Christian faith, the creed, the articles of faith and the sacraments. Colt Anderson, in an interesting take on the work of Mary Douglass, looks at the relationship between pastoral care and the requirements of ritual purity in relation to episcopal or priestly care. The main focus of his study is the thirteenth-century anonymous text, the Stella clericorum which, among other things, looks at purity requirements and pastoral duties for bishops and priests. He argues that notions of ritual purity are important for the reform movements popularized by the Dominicans and Franciscans, and in fact helped to shape their respective models of pastoral care. James Ginther then examines the sacramental and ecclesiastical aspects of Robert Grosseteste's theology of pastoral care. In particular, he looks at Grosseteste's Deus est, and suggests that this document offers some insight into how the sacrament of penance, especially, restores humanity to its proper "order and balance" in the world. Finally in this section, Anne Thayer studies the Manipulus Curatorum of Guido of Monte Rochen, which was a practical handbook that helped priests understand their duties and responsibilities for pastoral care. With the number of manuscripts and early printed editions, Thayer argues that this was one of the most popular pastoral texts in the late Middle Ages and one of our best examples of how the pastoral reforms of Lateran IV were implemented.

Section two contains four essays that discuss various aspects of the laity and pastoral care. Not only do these essays examine some of the ways in which the laity were the recipients of this care, but also how they were direct participants in the cura animarium. For example, William Dohar looks the way in which local patrons and lay parishioners often went beyond the legal limitations or expectations of their patronal rights and became actively involved in the pastoral responsibilities of their parishes. Parishoners developed what Dohar suggests was a "sense of ownership of their churches:" they filed complaints, were advocates for parish needs and rights, and monitored the moral ethos of the parish. And in part due to the declining availability of clergy and the general rise of lay literacy, the laity also were involved in ritual and devotional aspects of parish life, especially seen in the work of lay church wardens and parish guilds, for example, which established services for the remembrances of the dead. This article suggests that in late medieval England at least, traditional models of pastoral care were greatly expanded.

Using visitation records and court documents from Barcelona and Girona, Michelle Armstrong-Partida looks at the sometimes-turbulent relationships that existed between clergy and laity in fourteenth-century Catalonia. She attempts to get beyond the typical "defects" of the clergy by using case studies to tease out the personal relationships that existed between these two groups. She finds that the clergy in Catalonia, as one might expect, were part of a real and human community which reflected many of the same problems found among the laity: some were petty thieves, they sometimes resorted to violence in order to exact payment for services rendered or dues owed; there were land disputes, murders, all the complexities one might find in any given community. She argues that it was in this rather messy "neighborhood" context that pastoral care took place. The interesting picture she paints is a somewhat more human image of the priest than the typical and ideal in persona Christi image that one finds in the larger treatises on pastoral care.

Beth Allison Barr then looks at the pastoral care of married women, particularly the confessional practices of priests and married women. Using exempla, sermons, and other pastoralia, Barr argues that for married women, spiritual authority was divided between both the priest and the husband making the confessional a potentially charged place. Ann Hutchison and Alexandra da Costa study the brethren associated with Syon Abbey. While these brothers were involved in the pastoral care of the sisters at the abbey, Hutchison and da Costa show that they also had a vigorous program of for laypeople.

The final section looks at the ways in which monks and nuns participated in the work of pastoral care. Greg Peters studies how monastic communities in England were actively engaged in the cura animarum. Vernacular preaching, even to non-monastic audiences, was perhaps the best example of this work; but there are also plenty of examples surrounding the care of children and of the sick and dying. The article suggests that this care should not necessarily be understood as something new; but that that it was, in fact, at the heart of the monastic vocation from the beginning. Matthew Phillips looks at how the cross served as an important image and instrument for the pastoral care of monks in the Middle Ages. Studying primarily sermons, Phillips explains this violent image of ascetic discipline, and suggests that this emphasis is in part concomitant with the shift toward a more interior devotion, following more closely the humanity of Christ. This ascetic "self-torture," he suggests, helped to eliminate vice and thus, in keeping with the reforms of Lateran IV, "transform the soul."

Susan Steuer then looks at the pastoral care of vowesses (chaste widows) in the diocese of York. She is particularly interested in the various expectations for these women and the processes involved in their taking of vows. These women make for an interesting study because they often lived what might otherwise be described a secular life apart from monastic enclosure. She makes the point that there was no standard program of supervision for these women. Laura Michele Diener looks a several twelfth-century monastic texts that illustrate various meditative practices for women religious. She points to a few specific images used in these texts in order to try and determine if the pastoral care for these women was gender specific to them or gender neutral—the same as what one finds with male religious communities. Mathilde van Dijk studies the Sermones ad novicios regulares of Thomas à Kempis in order to explain his program for the pastoral care of young brothers (novices) in the Windesheim community of Mount Saint Agnes. Above all, the program was tied to the rigorous ascetic ideals of the early desert fathers. But most important for this program, she notes how communal this process was for Thomas. He could not simply legislate this life for the novices; he had to model it as well in the community. Finally, Sabrina Corbellini examines the pastoral care of religious women in the convent of St. Agnes in Amersfoort in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. She offers some initial observations about the Manual for the Young Ones by Jan de Wael, confessor of that community from 1489 to 1531. Pastoral care for these sisters involved a detailed regiment of meditative discipline coupled with a detailed reading program that took them from their entrance into the community until their death. Over all this was a hierarchical structure of mentoring and accountability provided by older members of the community.

Taken together these studies show some of the fruitful directions and possibilities available to scholars working in this field. Years ago, Father Boyle set the stage and example for the close examination of different pastoral texts and what these studies could yield. We see here another generation gleaning the fruits of this labor and showing how a study of pastoral care can lead to a deeper understanding of medieval society at large.


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