The Book of Pastoral Rule (Care), Gregory the Great, Part I: Gregory to his … fellow-bishop, John (of Ravenna).

Gregory the Great’s Book of Pastoral Rule or Care (Lat. Liber Regulae PastoralisRegula Pastoralisor Cura Pastoralis) is his treatise on the responsibilities of ministers.   

Gregory wrote it shortly after his inauguration as Bishop of Rome in A.D. 590. At the time, Rome was in a shambles due to invasions, famine, and plague.  In AD 546 the Ostrogoths had plundered the city and starved the inhabitants. Safe travel and reliable trade ended. By Gregory’s inauguration, Rome’s once large population of more than 1,000,000 had shrunk to around 80,000.  The Church and its clergy in Rome and the whole Empire were in trouble.

As the Bishop of Rome, Gregory was not a Pope in the later Medieval or modern sense – infallible, supreme, etc., etc. – but he was shown deference by his fellow bishops and considered to have great wisdom.  He was the son of a former Roman Senator and had himself served as Prefect (like a mayor) of Rome. He eventually became a monk and turned his own large home into a monastery and later served as an diplomat to Constantinople. He also began to work on reform of the clergy and guide them in the essentials of their calling.

The Book of Pastoral Rule became what is likely the most influential work on the topic ever written.  Gregory’s contemporary in Constantinople, Emperor Maurice, had it translated and distributed to every bishop in his empire.  In the Carolingian Empire of Charlemagne it was recommended to bishops in a series of councils in 813.  A letter of Hincmar, Archbishop of Rheims (845-882), notes that a copy of it was given to bishops at their consecration.  In the latter 800s England suffered miserably at the hands of invading pagan Danes.  King Alfred believed the suffering was due in significant part to the nation’s lack of true biblical piety. Alfred himself learned Latin and worked on translating Gregory’s book for all the clergy in his kingdom. They needed to return to the essentials so they could better minister to the people. Augustine of Canterbury had taken Gregory’s book to England in AD 597, but its lessons had been forgotten. England went on to great successes and Alfred the Great’s translation is believed to be the oldest known book written in English.

The Church in every age should consider its lessons.

Part I introduction in short: Gregory acknowledges that he himself had sought to avoid his pastoral duties.  Men should be reminded that pastoral duties are heavy and not light, so that one who does not have them should not seek them “unwarily” and that one who has undertaken them should take them very seriously (“may tremble”).  He will address four areas in his book: 1) the manner by which one should come to take up ministry; 2) how he should live; 3) how he should teach; 4) how seriously he should learn daily his own infirmity so as to avoid pride and failure. – CSB

Part I. 

Gregory to his most reverend and most holy brother and fellow-bishop, John. 

With kind and humble intent thou reprovest me, dearest brother, for having wished by hiding myself to fly from the burdens of pastoral care; as to which, lest to some they should appear light, I express with my pen in the book before you all my own estimate of their heaviness, in order both that he who is free from them may not unwarily seek them, and that he who has so sought them may tremble for having got them.  This book is divided into four separate heads of argument, that it may approach the reader’s mind by allegations arranged in order—by certain steps, as it were.  For, as the necessity of things requires, we must especially consider after what manner every one should come to supreme rule; and, duly arriving at it, after what manner he should live; and, living well, after what manner he should teach; and, teaching aright, with how great consideration every day he should become aware of his own infirmity; lest either humility fly from the approach, or life be at variance with the arrival, or teaching be wanting to the life, or presumption unduly exalt the teaching.  Wherefore, let fear temper the desire; but afterwards, authority being assumed by one who sought it not, let his life commend it.  But then it is necessary that the good which is displayed in the life of the pastor should also be propagated by his speech.  And at last it remains that, whatever works are brought to perfection, consideration of our own infirmity should depress us with regard to them, lest the swelling of elation extinguish even them before the eyes of hidden judgment.  But inasmuch as there are many, like me in unskilfulness, who, while they know not how to measure themselves, are covetous of teaching what they have not learned; who estimate lightly the burden of authority in proportion as they are ignorant of the pressure of its greatness; let them be reproved from the very beginning of this book; so that, while, unlearned and precipitate, they desire to hold the citadel of teaching, they may be repelled at the very door of our discourse from the ventures of their precipitancy.

Next section: Part I, Chapter I: