Chapter 2: Why Gregory?

Care of Souls in the Classic Tradition
by Thomas C. Oden

Chapter 2: Why Gregory?

We now introduce the pivotal figure who will occupy our attention throughout the remainder of these pages. In doing so, we will show why Gregory is a perennially plausible model for pastoral integration. We will seek to clarify the principal assumptions that shaped his distinctive approach to the guidance of souls.


Who was this character? Why should we return to writings that are now almost fourteen centuries old? Why is it appropriate that we look at his life, even if briefly? He taught that the surest witness to the authenticity of a teacher is his embodied behavior. It is hardly possible to speak properly of his theology apart from his unusual life.

Gregory is surely one of the most gifted persons in Western history. He had enormous influence on both the thought and the life of the medieval church, its organization, its mission, its forms of worship, its songs, preaching, and scriptural interpretation. He almost single-handedly developed a holistic pattern of theological and pastoral integration of the sort that we are still searching for today.

More than that of any theologian from Augustine to Luther, Gregory’s pastoral work had awesome political effect — so much so that it has become axiomatic that to understand the Middle Ages, one must understand Gregory. Just as Augustine’s theological formulations were essential to medieval Christian theology, so Gregory’s pastoral formulations were essential to the formation of medieval pastoral life. It is not unusual for church historians to divide pre-Reformation church history into two essential parts — before Gregory and after Gregory. For Gregory fittingly sums up and concludes the patristic period. And the medieval period begins with his transitional work, based on a firm Augustinian footing. Gregory is considered one of the four great Latin Fathers (along with Ambrose, Jerome, and Augustine) and is usually viewed as the principle founder of the medieval papacy.1

Gregory is popularly remembered for one contribution above all else — music. He was a music teacher, a musician, a composer, founder of the most influential school of music of his day, and the prime figure in the development of finely crafted Gregorian music. What other form of music can one name that has survived intact for more than a millennium?

The historical situation into which he was born was chaotic and frightening. It looked as if the ancient world was at that time being dismantled piece by piece. New nations were emerging. Barbarian powers were challenging ancient civilities. Pastoral theology during this period became not only the bearer of the Christian tradition but also of ancient culture and philosophy. Gregory was intent upon defending the achievements of ancient culture from irrevocable destruction.2

Born in A.D. 540 of patrician parents who owned large estates in Sicily and Rome, Gregory lived through a demanding series of extraordinary cultural crises and trying personal challenges. Between the time he was six and twelve years old (546-52) Rome was captured by the Goths under Titila, later garrisoned by Belisarius, again besieged by the Goths, and once again conquered by Narses. It may have been this chaotic historical context that later elicited a rugged historical realism bordering on historical pessimism in Gregory, who sincerely expected that the world historical tragedy would soon come to an end. The constant threat of anarchy may have given him a different attitude toward temporal power than he would have had if he had been born in less troubled times. His social location as a recipient of wealth makes all the more dramatic the fundamental decision in his early thirties to give away all his possessions to the poor and take up the monastic life.3

Any reader of Gregory quickly senses the man’s dialectical astuteness. His power of analysis reminds one of Socrates, Augustine, Kierkegaard, or Reinhold Niebuhr. All of these minds were able to hold together irony, paradox, and humor in good-spirited dialectical tension. They grasped the saliently competitive sides of a perplexing issue, pursuing the truth dialogically. Their habit of balancing statements with counterstatements makes the reader aware that they had taken seriously the crucial objections to their own arguments. Such was Gregory’s mind. He displayed the kind of wisdom that habitually reflects discretely about the consequences of what one is saying.

This dialectical bent of mind led Gregory early toward the study of law and the practice of political service. His rhetorical skill and gifts of leadership soon became widely recognized. As a very young man of thirty-three years, having already served in various political offices, Gregory was offered and accepted the highest civil office in the city of Rome — that of prefect. Yet he held this office only a short time. Having quickly reached the pinnacle of political power in one of the most important cities of the world, he just as readily gave up the life of political governance voluntarily for the monastic life of poverty and prayer.

When his father died, Gregory became the inheritor of vastly wealthy Sicilian and Roman estates. Then came the critical turning point of his life. After a profound inward struggle, he decided once for all to give these far-flung properties to the poor. He completely disavowed both wealth and power. In 574, at the age of thirty-four, taking the oath of poverty and celibacy, he became a monk according to the pattern of St. Benedict. Through his energy and beneficence six monasteries were established in Sicily and one remarkable monastic experiment in Rome, St. Andrew, from which so much of the seventh century leadership of the church was destined soon to come. He gave all else to the poor. Later, when Gregory would urge the whole church to give liberally to the poor, he was commending, not an abstract idea without any radical commitment of his own, but rather a maxim that he himself had decisively embraced at the crucial moment of his life.

The monasteries followed a rigorous daily order of work and worship, of praise, confession, and study. They withdrew from worldly affairs in order to intercede for the world before God in prayer. Gregory entered wholeheartedly into this proto-Benedictine way. Later he recalled these monastic years (574-78) as the happiest of his life. During this period he improved the arts of spiritual contemplation and, as mentor to fellow contemplatives, applied himself to learn the elements of pastoral counsel.

In 578 his life turned again toward a public direction. He was abruptly called out of the monastic life, which he loved, into public life, which he resisted. There is abundant evidence from his private letters that he preferred the monastery, but against his own inclination he was persuaded in 578 to respond to an important historical crisis. The Lombards had been attacking from the north, advancing toward Rome. The only hope of help was thought to be Constantinople. The pope, Pelagius II, chose Gregory as his nuncio, a crisis diplomat. Gregory consented to become the ambassador of Rome to the court of Byzantium, an awesome responsibility that he was to hold for six difficult years (579-86).

While in Byzantium, he learned that if Rome were to survive it had to do so on its own resources; it could not look always to Byzantium or Ravenna for help or protection. That information became a crucial lesson that would have much significance later when he was to acquire much wider responsibility.

One might imagine that the cosmopolitan city of Constantinople would be an inhospitable place for the quiet and thoughtful Gregory. With the help of several monks who moved to Byzantium with him, however, he was able to maintain his monastic disciplines, holding together the balance between the contemplative and active life. He was both monk and ambassador without ceasing to be either. It was there in Constantinople that he completed his first major theological work, on the morals of Job, or Moralia, a discussion of moral maxims and insights that emerged out of his metaphorical exposition of the text of Job.4

The last noteworthy event of his stay in Constantinople was his debate with the Patriarch of Constantinople on the critical question of the resurrection. Gregory argued for the palpability of Christ’s resurrected body, against the notion of an impalpable, unbodily, immaterial resurrection — a logos asarkos. This was for Gregory a hinge point of Christian teaching that could not be diminished without dire consequences. The conflict was finally adjudicated by the emperor in favor of Gregory.

Upon his return to Rome, Gregory soon became the key soul guide at St. Andrew monastery. Under his guidance the monks had wide effect upon distant parts of the known world. Vivid glimpses of monastic life of that time are seen in Gregory’s Dialogues. Gregory’s views of spiritual formation were decisively shaped through this intensive group experience. He lectured on the prophets, the historical books, and the wisdom literature of the Old Testament, to which his metaphorical imagination was irresistibly drawn.5 But the community of prayer was the decisive context for this creativity.

Out of the abbey of St. Andrew came many missionaries to Spain, to the Lombards, to Sardinia, and — most importantly — to England. It was to this period that the story as told by the venerable Bede and the monk of Whitby belongs, of Gregory’s memorable encounter with young Anglo-Saxons in the market (perhaps slaves), of whom he remarked: "non Angli, sed angeli" (not Angles, but angels). Gregory and his fellow monks began to conceive a mission to the English. He obtained permission from the pope to go to Britain and actually set forth on his mission. But when the people of Rome learned that he had left town headed for England, and was to be gone for a long time, they protested urgently to the pope. The local crowd of pursuers caught up with the departing band of missionaries on their third day out from Rome and, it is said, virtually forced Gregory to come back to Rome. Shortly thereafter Gregory took up the duties of papal secretary to the ailing pontiff.

It was from Gregory’s closest circle of fellow monks, however, that the first missionaries to England shortly thereafter came, led by Augustine, Gregory’s close friend from St. Andrew, who became the first bishop of Canterbury and the principal "Apostle to the English." Gregory’s name is thus intimately connected with the origins of the Christian community in England. Later the early medieval king of England, Alfred the Great, presided over a translation of Gregory’s Liber regulae pastoralis into Anglo-Saxon. This pastoral treatise became one of the earliest and best-preserved examples of primitive English style.

Even before Gregory’s ascension to the papacy he had refined a remarkable combination of theological and pastoral interests: the dialectic between contemplation and action, the balance between orthodoxy and orthopraxis, scripture study practically applied, the combination of political activity with theology, and the concern for preserving the external safety of the Christian community amid an intermittently hostile political environment. Whether we approve of his political activities or not, there is no doubt that Gregory was politically concerned and imaginatively active in decisively impacting his own world. Yet at the same time he rigorously maintained the contemplative life. Although wealthy by birth, he was deeply committed to relieving and improving the lives of the poor. While ensconced in the heart of Roman Christianity, he envisioned a world-wide Christian mission and was himself willing to become a missionary to a remote and primitive people who showed vast promise. All these things were present in his ministry prior to the time that, upon accession to the papacy, he wrote his famous book of pastoral care, which will be the primary interest of the pages that follow.6


The year 589 was a time of economic, military, and cultural disaster for Rome. Devastating floods followed by pestilence caused many deaths. The economy was moribund. Rome was constantly threatened with foreign invasion. Amid this dismal situation the aging Pope Pelagius II died in February of 590. Gregory, who had been serving as the pope’s confidant and secretary since about 586, was immediately and unanimously elected. He knew, however, that the acceptance of the office meant the end of the contemplative life that he so much desired. So he resolutely refused to accept the office. It was more than a polite refusal. He went to extraordinary lengths to disavow the election. He addressed a letter to the Emperor Maurice pleading with him not to confirm the election. By some accounts he went for a time into hiding.

Six months later his election was finally confirmed by the emperor. Gregory was horrified at the news of his confirmation, having implored the emperor to be relieved. The clergy and people of Rome, who desperately wanted Gregory as pope, seized him bodily it is said, and carried him to the basilica of St. Peter. The unwilling monk was consecrated on September 3, 590. There is no doubt from subsequent letters that for the rest of his life he regretted his elevation. He truly wanted to remain a monk, a modest director of souls, and a quiet contemplative. Instead, the last fourteen years of his life were spent in an energetic and amazingly creative papacy. At last accepting the unwelcome challenge, he transmuted the office itself in irreversible ways.

His first act in the papal office was to write his remarkable Pastoral Care. A book of pastoral instruction, it was originally intended primarily for bishops, but its counsel also applied to all those serving as pastoral guides or in tasks of spiritual direction. It quickly became a standard handbook of pastoral care for subsequent generations. It was undoubtedly one of the most widely read works of medieval literature, so highly esteemed that centuries later its many episcopal areas bishops were formally presented a copy of the book during their ordination and pastors were instructed to follow its precepts. It became the prime interpreter of the tasks of pastoral care for over a millennium following Gregory. Of no other work on pastoral care can such a claim be made. The remainder of this book will be a critical analysis of its argument.

The plague ended soon after Gregory’s succession to the papacy. Gregory was determined to find a way to peace with the attacking Lombards. Against heavy odds peace was finally concluded in stages between 592 and 593, but Gregory had to resort to making a separate peace when the civil authorities miserably failed. The price was high, requiring a costly ransom and continuing tribute in order to secure a stable peace.7

The pastoral care of the poor soon became the central preoccupation of his administration. He showed great skill in financial accountability and estate management. Those who had been managing the estates and papal patrimonies soon learned that they were not dealing with someone who could be easily deceived. They were required to be accountable. Gregory was exceedingly careful in watching over the temporal resources that were to be dedicated to the poor. He almost literally emptied the treasury of the papacy on behalf of the poor. He regarded himself as an administrator of this property for the sake of the poor, for whom one could never do enough. Due to wars, plagues, and floods, many refugees were strewn about the Roman countryside. No one who reads Gregory’s letters can dismiss this man as insensitive to the dispossessed. He basically reconceived the purpose of the papal patrimony. These valuable lands in Italy, Sicily, Gaul, and Northern Africa had great resources which Gregory channeled toward care of the poor, the ransom of captives, and support of hospitals and orphanages.

One memorable clue to Gregory’s servant image of the pastor emerged from a wrenching conflict that occurred between Gregory and John, Patriarch of Constantinople. In 595, John had assumed the auspicious title of Universal Bishop, which Gregory thought to be self-serving and regrettable.8 In order to demonstrate his own response Gregory publicly defined the role of the Roman bishop as the servant of the servants of God (servus servorum domini), a term that thereafter was used to describe the heart of papal authority and one which has been thereafter always associated with the Gregorian political imagination.

Gregory’s influence on liturgy and music matched his influence on theology and ministry. He reformed the sacramentary of Gelasius and set the mass very much in the shape in which it remained until this century. Yet Gregory is remembered for nothing more than his music. He is said to have instituted an academy for cantors and given them lessons himself. Deeply fond of music, he reformed the psalmody, wrote hymns and prayers with musical accompaniment, and supervised the composition of choral music for versicles and canticles. He saw to it that a stunning musical accompaniment would attend the Gregorian liturgical reforms.

Gregory did not think of himself as an original theologian. He might have winced at the thought that he had changed or even slightly revised any ecumenically accepted doctrine. Nonetheless he was an imaginative orthodox thinker, in the sense that he combined a commitment to orthodox church teaching (of the first four General Ecumenical Councils) with a thoughtful and creative application of ecumenical orthodoxy.

His theology stressed penance as reparation. He thought that some active behavioral response was required for the proper reception of the Eucharist. Later this view became decisively influential in medieval doctrines of penance and purgation. This behavioral realism anticipates modern notions of behavior modification. For if you are serious about behavior change, Gregory thought, you will work incrementally by small steps to modify actually revisable behavior as evidence of your earnest desire for change. One cannot truly repent and then sit around and do nothing. Where that happens, repentance has been misunderstood.

Gregory is sometimes regarded as an original contributor to the idea of purgation of sins after death. But even this view correlated significantly with his view of contrition as requiring behavioral change and reparation. He was not proposing the unPauline view that one can merit God’s forgiveness through good works. Rather through good works we show evidence of our seriousness about God’s forgiveness. The omnipotent God visits the contrite through the grace of compunction, and the pastor declares the truly penitent absolved as a representative pastoral act. But this absolution does not abruptly end the task of soul care. For the penitent does well to show behavioral evidence of an earnest determination to live out the life of forgiveness. This is a distortable idea. It does not mean that our satisfaction supplants the satisfaction of God through Christ, but rather means that we work to amend the pain that our sin has caused by concrete acts of reparative penance. The truly penitent not only has a change of mind and a confession of the mouth, but also proceeds with some visible, demonstrative acts of restorative reparation, or deeds of penance. In Gregory we therefore have the kernel of the medieval doctrine of penance, the abuses of which Luther was later to recognize and struggle against. Otherwise Gregory’s theology is strongly Augustinian, although less complex and philosophically sophisticated than Augustine’s. Gregory’s preaching became the pattern for much of the preaching and moral instruction in the early medieval period.9

Despite his wide reputation as a person of empathic kindness and understanding, Gregory’s administration was known for its strictness. He was rigorous in oversight of church property on behalf of the poor. He was exceedingly discriminating in the appointment of new bishops, examining them carefully, not hesitating to reject one or propose another.10 He was equally strict in taking away ecclesiastical privileges from clerics who abused their authority. He vigorously protected clerics from incursions or usurpations of authority by civil tribunals which had become unjustly extended.

Throughout his administration he had to deal with volatile temporal authorities, notably with the Exarch Romanus of Ravenna, with King Agiluif of the Lombards and his family, and with the Byzantine emperors. He did not want Rome to be barbarized. He thirsted for peace, even on less than favorable terms. He was willing to look for available means of cooperation with the Emperor Maurice, and even with the Emperor Phocos after Phocos murdered Maurice. Gregory has been vilified by some Protestant writers for his willingness to work with whatever civil authority was in power. But this reflected his basic view of the relation of church and state. He viewed the emperor as God’s representative for temporal authority and church leaders as guides of spiritual affairs. It was only when this preferred division of authority broke down that he was willing as pope to take emergency responsibility for temporal power. He struggled constantly for a benign cooperation between the two spheres. Each should take care of its own sphere without much interference from the other. He especially wanted ecclesiastical independence from state power and royal bungling. It was only when temporal power failed to protect innocent people that he resorted to raising an army, consulting with generals on military strategy, instructing ambassadors to the king, and negotiating a separate peace. Above all he viewed himself as called to intercede with state authorities on behalf of the poor and dispossessed when they were unjustly treated. He was not rebellious against temporal power because he thought it, according to Romans 13, instituted by God and accountable to God.11

Gregory protected Jews, championed their rights, and resisted the obnoxious practice of forcing them to accept baptism. He insisted on their civil freedoms and on respect for their right to worship in their synagogues. He also was willing to resist excessive or unjust practices on the part of Jews, especially that of owning Christian slaves.

Gregory was the first monk to become pope. He is for that reason sometimes called pater monachorum, the father of monasticism. But of course he did not father monasticism. Rather, he expressed its ideals and furthered its growth. He placed stringent claims upon monastics and granted them special privileges.

Even though he did not have the breadth of classical learning to match Clement or Onigen or Augustine, he nonetheless was knowledgeable in the categories of Roman law, political thought, and medicine. He was the most important theologian of his century, in addition to being a brilliant administrator, a committed missioner, an imaginative biblical exegete, a beloved preacher, and above all a wise physician of souls.

This is the man to whom we appeal today as still relevant to our contemporary malaise in pastoral care. He is a man of many parts, with remarkably broad interests and versatile competencies. By all accounts he was remembered as a saintly soul and an inimitable soul guide.


We are seeking to show how classical pastoral reflection offers a viable pattern for pastoral care today. From among many exponents of the classical tradition, we have chosen Gregory the Great on the grounds of his wide influence and his extraordinary pertinence to our contemporary dilemmas.

The whole range of Gregory’s work reveals the scope of his pastoral-theological integration. The writing that most clearly and prominently displays the heart of this integration, however, is his Liber regulae pastoralis (literally Book of Pastoral Guidance), often translated as Pastoral Care after the first two words of the text (Pastorolis curae) or asPastoralia or Concerning Pastoral Care (De pastorali cura). To this, the most widely read single text in the history of pastoral care, may be added his letters of pastoral instruction to various persons in ministry concerning the special situations they were confronting. Of the many letters he wrote, 854 are extant. They cover widely diverse subject areas. Gregory also wrote biblical expositions on Job, a number of homilies on the Gospels, and twenty-two homilies on Ezekiel (593). Finally, he wrote four books of Dialogue on the L!fe and Miracles of the Italian Fathers and the Immortality of the Saints (593-94), in which he recounted the remarkable life of Benedict of Nursia, founder of the Benedictine order. This work became a model for early medieval hagiography12 We will focus mainly on one book, the liber regulae pastoralis his systematic treatise on pastoral care, using his biblical exegesis and correspondence as supportive resources.

Only two English translations are available of Gregory’s Pastoral Care, both regrettably dated. Henry Davis’s 1950 translation for Vol. 11 of the Ancient Christian Writers Series (hereafter noted as PC) is better than the 1894 translation by James Barmby (hereafter noted as BPR) for the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers (NPNF), though it, too, remains seriously deficient. Two limitations are particularly important: Davis rather woodenly translates regula consistently as rule rather than pattern or model, and he tends to render monere as admonish rather than counsel or advise. The impression is given that Gregory is addressing only bishops about matters of episcopal admonition and governance, instead of pastors generally about the whole pastoral task. Thus the pastor becomes a "supreme ruler" or "governor" who "rules" his flock, rather than a pastoral guide who provides wise counsel for the flock.

Among the recurrent themes of Gregory’s pastoral book are these four axioms: (1) that each pastoral case requires variable response, (2) that the display of an outstanding virtue may conceal a corresponding vice to which the pastoral counselor must attend, (3) that the pastor’s care mirrors Christ’s care for us, and (4) that authority in ministry is paradoxically validated only through humble service following the example of Jesus Christ. We will briefly explore these axioms.

Gregory’s most influential assumption is that no two pastoral cases are to be handled in precisely the same way. Each requires a response gauged to the specific contours of the situation. Gregory calls the pastor to be keenly attentive to these contextual peculiarities, fine nuances, and ever-changing emotive qualities, rather than flatly applying rigid norms without listening to the situation.

Second, an apparent virtue may often conceal a hidden vice or moral deficit. There was a cautious realism in Gregory’s candid recognition that each desirable behavior or excellent action overtly displayed may betray or reveal a corresponding limitation or dysfunctional behavior. Gregory grasped clearly the inner complementarity of virtues and vices and was fascinated by their accompanying self-deceptions. Virtue was thought to be an appropriate balance of desirable behaviors. But Gregory was keenly aware that any excellent balance that is capable of being achieved is capable also of being easily upset in one direction or another, toward either an excess or a deficit, which is the essential definition of vitium, or vice. He understood how commonly vices pass themselves off as virtues, as when tightfistedness masquerades as frugality.13 He illustrated: A parishioner who is wasteful may pretend to be generous. Likewise, "Often inordinate laxity is believed to be kindness, and unbridled anger passes as the virtue of spiritual zeal. Precipitancy is frequently taken as efficient promptitude, and dilatoriness as grave deliberation."14 The analysis was rigorous and realistic.

Given these deceptions, it then becomes necessary for the discerning pastor to distinguish carefully between excellent behaviors that have intrinsic proportionality and those that are dysfunctionally excessive or deficient. At a broad level of generalization, Gregory’s pastoral care sought to nurture in the parishioner an appropriate balance of excellent behaviors without the self-deception that invites vice to parade as virtue.

A central feature of the caring process involves sorting out the layers of self-deception that prevent one from seeing these imbalances. The pastor therefore becomes an agent of realism on behalf of the parishioner to clarify prevailing self-deceptions. This occurs through deeply empathic interior participation in the other’s consciousness, deeply respecting the person. Through warmth, listening, patience, and spare advice, the pastor helps the parishioner to grasp and overcome the self-deception.

Third, our interpersonal care can at best be only a modest refraction of the radiance of God’s own caring for us in Jesus Christ. Throughout Gregory’s Pastoral Care the christological analogies are constantly interplaying with and infusing the pastoral images. Christ is the true pastor whose caring is manifested through our care. Our comfort points beyond itself to the comfort of God in Christ.

There is in good pastoral care a sensitive and subtle balance between caring for the person’s inward feeling process, and caring for the person’s outward behavioral change.15 God’s care for humanity in Christ is aimed not just at the temporary luxury of immediately "feeling better about ourselves," but at the long-term reshaping of behavioral responses, taking practical steps toward implementing constructive changes in order that a more richly grounded happiness may become possible.

Finally, all who are given responsibility to guide others ought to "consider in themselves not the authority of their rank, but the quality of their condition, and to rejoice not to be over [persons], but to do them good."16 The empathic pastor whose life is lived in Christ is able to see through historical distortions and class distinctions to grasp the fundamental unity and equality of persons. That respect for persons is reflected through the down-to-earthness of the good pastor, and it has its root in a christological analogy: God is empathetic with us in Jesus Christ, therefore we are being called to be empathic toward the lonely or alienated neighbor. Whatever authority is given the pastoral office, it is paradoxically validated only when it is accompanied by the sign of humility, signaling that it shares in Christ’s own empathy for human fallenness.17


One of the serendipities modern readers find in studying Gregory is that he seems to anticipate several psychological approaches and therapeutic developments that are currently considered to be wholly unprecedented innovations of contemporary psychotherapy. Imagined newness is often historical ignorance. Gregory anticipated modern therapies in five ways:

First, those who imagine that behavior modification techniques are a twentieth century innovation may have forgotten how prevalent some behaviorist assumptions have been in the Christian tradition generally, and particularly in the early medieval monastic and penitential traditions. Gregory’s work emerged out of the creative milieu of the formative stages of Benedictine monasticism. He placed a strong emphasis upon the regular and consistent positive reinforcement of desired behaviors. He was intently concerned with the careful identification and accurate tracking of preferred behaviors, with deliberate scheduling of realistic behavior change objectives, with accurate measurement of incremental changes, with deliberately programmed steps of behavior change, and, at selected times, with aversive conditioning.18

Second, many think of Freud as an unparalleled innovator who first learned to unpack the hidden layers of unconscious motivation through an analysis of one’s early interpersonal history, always alert to the tendency to self-deception and rationalization. Yet all these interests are recurrent dimensions of Gregory’s pastoral method. Self-deception is assumed by Gregory to be a constant tendency of the fallen will. Reality based self-knowledge is one of the central aims of a healing process.that proceeds by conversation. Some of Gregory’s images — chiseling at the wall, opening the door, or going through the door and beholding the beastly, the animal, the libidinal images inside — are much akin to the kinds of unraveling of dream images and unconscious symbolism that we find later in Freud and the psychoanalytic tradition.19

Third, those who think of Jung as consummate innovator will find much in Gregory that anticipates Jung’s affirmative view of the unconscious, of primordial fantasies, and his psychological fascination with mythic and mandalic meanings.20 Gregory understood well the coincidence of opposites, and the imaginative resolution of opposites into a higher synthesis or integration. He was intrigued by the ways in which every vice is correlated with its virtue so that personal interaction becomes a constant interplay of these opposites, complements, and corollaries. Powerful archetypical images float in and out of Gregory’s language and are constantly being treated imaginatively through his spiritualist biblical expositions.

Fourth, those who speak of the importance of body language and nonverbal communication may think of this as a distinctively modern notion,21 but again they maybe surprised to find Gregory constantly relating the caring process to nonverbal communication. Pastor and parishioner communicate not only through words but through acts, colors, symbols, clothing, and nonverbal gestures. Gregory was keenly attentive to the correspondence or lack of it between speech and life, language and act.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the three primary assumptions of client centered therapy were all operational already in Gregory’s pastoral method. Carl Rogers identified these three necessary and sufficient conditions for positive psychological change as accurate empathy, unconditional positive regard, and self-congruence.22 In subsequent sections we will show how each of these three points of the therapeutic triad function crucially in Gregory’s pastoral care.


Gregory’s central subject is pastoral guidance (governance or direction) rather than the more limited notion of pastoral rule (as the available English translations would suggest). Although written chiefly for the pastoral guidance by and for bishops, Gregory’s view of pastoral care finds many applications in all the pastoral offices, including deacons and presbyters as well. He teaches his readers how to become proper physicians of souls, able to recognize different spiritual diseases and to suit the treatment to the various cases so as to guide the soul toward spiritual health, toward happiness and wholeness, toward sanctification and fulfillment.23

The guidance of souls is an art exceeding all other arts in subtlety. It requires on the part of its practitioner accurate perception of complex data, a lifetime of scripture study, and practical wisdom. Objectively to understand spiritual precepts is not enough. A person may cognitively grasp and understand a precept yet not live in accordance with it. Pastoral counselors whose lives do not embody their teaching should not expect any prudent parishioner to take their counsel seriously.24

But how does one learn this art of arts, the governance of souls? "No one presumes to teach an art until he has first, with intent meditation, learnt it."25 Some misconceive the difficulty of the counselor’s task and prematurely yearn to "teach what they have not learned."26 The problem is an old one, for Isaiah complained that "the shepherds themselves have not known understanding" (Isa. 56:11; cf. Jer. 2:8), and Jesus himself wryly observed that when the blind lead the blind, "both fall into the ditch" (Matt. 15:14).

We will show how Gregory weaves scriptural resources intrinsically into his pastoral care in such a way that biblical texts and pastoral practice are inseparable, and the one cannot be conceived without the other. Some modern readers may be vaguely disgruntled to find in Gregory only what their modern eyes perceive to be a naively unhistorical treatment of texts of scripture. If so, we are properly reminded that Gregory’s treatment of scripture was exemplary of the typological, mystical, and anagogic hermeneutic that tended to prevail in his time. Neither Gregory nor any leading exegete of his time had a primary interest in objective historical evidentiary argument.

Gregory thought that a clearly conceived theory of pastoral care was required for effective pastoral practice. The art requires both study and personal mentioning.27 The guide who proposes to take the flock through steep places, precipices, or hazardous situations must be fittingly prepared both conceptually and experientially. No one should enter this task of counsel of souls who has not practiced in life what has been learned by study.28 Those who "penetrate with their understanding what they trample on in their lives"29 are not yet ready for care of souls.

From Ezekiel, Gregory developed a powerful symbol of the potential danger that an egocentric minister may bring to the flock. It is as if the leading cattle trample the best herbage while they graze, or, when some come to drink, they churn up the water so others cannot drink. "My flock has to eat what you have trampled up and drink what you have churned up" (Ezek. 34:19). Gregory’s analogy: A pastor may at first drink clear water, benefitting from the lofty wisdom of tradition, and graze in the pastures of scripture, but while he is in the pastoral charge he may be thoughtlessly churning up the clearest water and trampling the best grass from which others will later attempt to drink and feed.

Gregory thought that the pastor could create awful mischief for the congregation. "One who has the name and rank of sanctity, while he acts perversely" can do incalculable harm to the church.30 Jesus rightly remarked it would be better that a millstone were hanging around one’s neck than that one should harm defenseless "little ones" entrusted to one’s care (Matt. 18:16).

Gregory thought the expectation of an easy income was the clearest evidence of the disqualification of the pastoral counselor.31 Also, the hidden desire to "hold sway over others" was regarded as a particularly disastrous motive for ministry.32 The overarching pastoral model is Jesus who refused coercive power when offered (John 6:15). When the "lust of preeminence" infects pastoral counsel, even good things that may have been achieved already may be undone and come to nothing in our hands. But when the pastor is willing to face adversity for truth’s sake, then even evils of long standing can be wiped away.33 Gregory illustrated the hunger for preeminence by reference to both Saul and David: Saul was a good man until he achieved power (1 Kgs. 10:22), while David loved God, but upon attaining power fell into infidelity and cruelty. The art of pastoral care is not won cheaply. When we try to snatch it as a means of manipulative power or personal control, it disappears in our hands.


Gregory was convinced that the guidance of souls carried special hazards for the guide. There is the danger that one may become so engaged in another’s struggle that one decreases in level-headed self-awareness. Ironically, in offering help the helpers may in time become more and more ignorant of themselves. Preoccupation with the inner life of others may "dissipate the concentration of the mind." It is as though one were "so preoccupied during a journey as to forget what [one’s] destination was."34 When we are doing too many things for others without realistically knowing ourselves, we may inadvertently harm others. This is why rigorous preparation for pastoral counsel is necessary: "We would not have [those] who stumble on plain ground set their feet on a precipice."35

On the other hand those who have been called and prepared, who are spiritually formed and theologically grounded, must not refuse to undertake the risks of spiritual counsel. This would deprive others of the gifts they rightfully should receive. The maxim: One who fixates on one’s own self-fulfillment so as to ignore others’ needs may not only deprive others of gifts prepared for them but ultimately deprive oneself of serenity. Jesus said: "A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid" (Matt. 5:15). If you love me, he said to Peter, "feed my sheep" (John 21:17). For those who shrink from the task, who love only quiet and secret places, Gregory’s judgment is rather harsh: They are "undoubtedly guilty in proportion to the greatness of the gifts whereby they might have been publicly useful."36

In achieving a balance between self-care and care of others, Gregory spins this homely analogy: With only one shoe, one cannot walk easily. If one shoe is care of oneself and the other is care for others, both are needed. He hinges this analogy upon an amusing passage in Deut. 25:5-10, on which he happily dwells. According to Mosaic law, in the case of a brother’s death it would be the surviving brother’s duty to have intercourse with the wife in order to continue the line of Israel.

If the man is unwilling to take his brother’s wife, she shall go to the elders at the town gate and say "My husband’s brother refuses to perpetuate his brother’s name in Israel; he will not do his duty by me." At this the elders of the town shall summon him and reason with him. If he still stands his ground and says, "I will not take her," his brother’s widow shall go up to him in the presence of the elders; she shall pull his sandal off his foot and spit in his face and declare:

"Thus we requite the man who will not build up his brother’s family." His family shall be known in Israel as the House of the Unsandalled Man. (Deut. 25:7-10).

Gregory’s point (he savored these analogies!): If you are for others without caring for yourself, you have only one sandal. If you only take care of yourself, you have one sandal. If you are called and prepared to care for others and refuse, the circumstance is something like the woman who comes and takes the sandal off your foot and spits in your face!37

Everyone who has seriously thought about ministry has encountered the special temptation that says, yes, I feel called to ministry but I do not want to be thrust into this gravely responsible position of guidance of souls. I would prefer, in the interest of humility, not to undertake any direction of souls. Gregory answered candidly out of his own intense struggle with his vocation:

It is hardly genuine humility to refuse responsibility when you have understood that it is God’s call for you to take a certain kind of leadership. Here the vice of obstinacy may be parading under the guise of humility. This vice gains its power from the burdensome awareness that we still do not desire to take on responsibilities for which we have in fact been thoroughly prepared because they run counter to our egocentric inclinations.38


Gregory thought it hazardous to undertake the tasks of pastoral counsel without thinking deeply about one’s pastoral calling. He used Isaiah and Jeremiah as laudable, but opposite, prototypes. Isaiah is the ready one who said, "Here am I; send me" (Isa. 6:8). Jeremiah oppositely pleaded with the Lord not to send him: "I do not know how to speak; I am only a child" (Jer. 1:6). Both are valid responses. Jeremiah repeatedly had to be prompted to accept the call to prophetic ministry, the same call to which Isaiah seemed to be eagerly drawn. It is good that Jeremiah, who had refused, did not persist in his refusal and that Isaiah, who wanted to be sent, was willing to become thoroughly prepared to be sent. Thus one who is called and prepared for care of souls must not egocentrically decline to undertake the task, or in the guise of humility proudly resist it. And yet one who is hesitant about speaking has the right to give due resistance to ministry until such time as the calling becomes clear and unavoidable.39

Gregory sees in Moses a proper combination of these two points of tension, which are brought together and integrated in the notion of humble consent. For Moses gave free consent to the task of leadership, yet he was fully aware of his own inadequacies. So we are called to resist, as Jeremiah did, the task of soul care in so far as we know our lack of preparation for it. Yet insofar as the calling is ascertained and preparation rightly made, we must, like Isaiah, consent willingly to the task.40

The same dialectic is found in the instruction to Timothy that "to aspire to leadership is an honourable ambition," which is immediately coupled with a rigorous list of desired behaviors that pastoral leadership should evidence, such as sobriety, good temper, courteousness, hospitality, and aptness to teach. The pastor "impels by approval and checks by alarms"41 in a dialectic that requires multiple interpersonal competencies, both empathy and confrontation, reinforcing desirable behaviors and resisting undesirable behaviors.

Gregory was fascinated with the psychology of self-deception in the call to ministry: "For the mind often lies to itself about itself, and makes believe that it loves the good work, when actually it does not, and that it does not wish for mundane glory, when, in fact, it does."42 We may deceive ourselves into thinking that once we have acquired the position of pastoral guide we will therefore respond magnanimously; yet once it is acquired we may quickly forget the compassionate energy that once motivated us. The remedy is sustained self-examination under the care of another experienced pastoral guide.

Effective ministry requires situational discernment, a due sense of which initiative is needed at which time. This is what the tradition has called "wisdom." For example, pastors may be "quickly moved by a compassionate heart to forgive," yet must not be so diverted by forgiveness that they forgive in excess or in such a way as to invite irresponsibility.43 Only deep and accurate empathy can prepare the way for this discernment.

Gregory concluded Book One of his Pastoral Care with a remarkable exegesis of a curious passage found in Leviticus 21: The Lord spoke to Moses and said, speak to Aaron in these words: No man among your descendants for all time who has any physical defect shall come and present the food of his God. No man with a defect shall come, whether a blind man, a lame man, a man stunted or overgrown, a man deformed in foot or hand, or with misshapen brows or a film over his eye or a discharge from it, a man who has a scab or eruption or has a testicle ruptured. No descendant of Aaron the priest who has any defect in his body shall approach to present the food-offerings of the Lord."44

Gregory does not take this passage literally, but he is fascinated with its symbolic meaning for those who provide counsel. Physical blemish is not his interest, but rather moral or spiritual deformation. Amusingly, Gregory focuses on the nose, metaphorically viewed: if it is too small, the counselor may not discern the stenches of human existence, but if too large, even as big as a "tower of Lebanon overlooking Damascus" (Cant. 7:4, RSV), such a nose will confuse itself by the variety of its own intake! Then the eyes are metaphorically treated: the bleary-eyed are not ready for offering counsel because their eyelids are weak and swollen by the flow, so they are not capable of fine, carefully balanced discrimination. Then the skin: one whose internal heat or undissipated anger is such that it continually breaks out in scabs and eruptions should not be charged with the care of souls, nor should one who has chronic skin itch, metaphorically a symbol of avarice. Finally, one who has a testicle ruptured should not take on the task of spiritual direction, for symbolically that suggests an interpersonal style that easily becomes overburdened with guilt.45 Whoever has these defects should not offer the loaves of bread. For one who is himself immobilized by these debilitating obstacles is not in a good position to reshape the immobilities of others.


One best prepares for pastoral counsel by meditating often on scripture and the patristic writers. It is only when one "pours continually on the examples of the fathers that went before him" and walks steadily in "the footsteps of the saints"46 that the requisite wisdom and discernment will emerge. The pastoral guide is to "think without intermission of the lives of the ancients" (namely, the apostles, martyrs, and church fathers). It is only out of the life of dialogue with the ancient ecumenical tradition that the life of the pastor will be empowered and guided.

The pastoral guide points the way to others more by example than by overt instruction: "His voice penetrates the hearts of his hearers the more readily if his way of life commends what he says. What he enjoins in words, he will help to execute by example."47 The soul guide must neither covet prosperity nor fear adversity. "Let neither smooth things coax him to the surrender of his will, nor rough things press him (own to despair."48

Few learnings are more important to the pastor than to learn when to keep silent and when to speak. Two equal dangers must be avoided: either speaking what should be left unspoken or failing to speak what must be spoken.49 The pastor must at times be like a bell — an open, clear, ringing public witness. But bells are irritating if rung incessantly. Bells are best heard sparingly and at the uniquely fitting time, especially at special, celebrative times (Exod. 28:33-35). The spiriual guide must not waste speech loquaciously but must save spech for the opportune moment of its greatest effect, when, symbdically, one may be able to "ring the bells" of another’s moral awareness or self-understanding.

Gregory employed a sexual analogy for the pastor who is "addicted to much speaking."50 Excessive loquacity is a little like lechery, like one who spreads his seed promiscuously. Good speech is more like a garden that is carefully weeded or a plant well-pruned. One produces a progeny of excellent thoughts with spare, well-ordered speech. But by spreading oneself out "in immoderate wordiness, he has an issue of seed, not for the purpose of progeny," but for self-assertive egocentricity. The pastoral counselor is duly warned against "uttering even that which is right overmuch."51 Spare pastoral speech is compared to the pomegranate which has many seeds, all of which are ordered within a firmly formed outer rind — symbolic to Gregory of the unity of ecumenical faith (Exod. 28:34).52


Order is the premise of freedom. Those who need assistance look to those capable of giving assistance. In the real world, parents and children do not stand on an equal footing, nor do teacher and learner. Yet soul care presupposes a more fundamental equality of human condition between the carer and those cared for.53

Gregory’s essential metaphor for the pastor is, not the powerful king, but the lowly and patient shepherd. The influence of the shepherd is noncoercive and benign. Gregory recognized clearly a dilemma intrinsic to all pastoral leadership: guidance is necessary yet tends toward pride. Anyone who undertakes the office of ministry is tempted to look down upon others he is called to serve. Those who exercise influence or power perennially tend to deceive themselves into imagining that the accidents of power are based on merit. Gregory thought that this temptation accompanies virtually all forms of power or influence. We tend to assume that we are wiser merely because we temporarily have power. In exercising the influence of guidance, we easily forget our basic equality with others (Isa. 14:13).54

How is this dilemma of power to be ordered within ministry? Gregory wisely held this dialectic together: "He orders this power well who knows both how to maintain it and to combat it."55

Gregory’s models for simultaneously maintaining and resisting pastoral power are Peter, Paul, and Jesus himself.

Peter, for example, deliberately refused to accept immoderate veneration. When Cornelius "bowed to the ground in deep reverence," Peter abruptly raised him to his feet and said, "Stand up, I am a man like anyone else" (Acts 10:26). Yet later, in the case of Ananias, Peter was fully capable of exercising bold, demonstrative leadership. Peter therefore was capable of both enjoying "the communion of equality" with those in his spiritual charge and asserting "the just claims of authority."56 Only a proper grasp of this dialectical tension could have made Peter a credible pastoral guide.

Similarly Paul was a called apostle, legitimately recognized by the community as a teacher of faith, yet he approached the Corinthians with exceptional empathic affinity: "Do not think we are dictating the terms of your faith; your hold on your faith is secure enough. We are working with you for your own happiness" (2 Cor. 1:23). This dialectic fascinated Gregory because it showed so forcefully that Paul regarded the Corinthians as equal to him in faith and that his authority was not to be exercised except in abuses of faith. These three Pauline themes are closely interwoven — authority of apostolicity, equality of faith, and servant ministry. Paul had legitimate authority in maintaining the apostolic faith, especially where correction was needed. But he regarded himself as inconspicuously equal among believers.57

The pastor hopes to sustain this subtle, sensitive dialectic between authority and equality. The assertion of equality can tend toward excess if the ownership of legitimate governance is avoided. On the other hand, authority may be excessively exercised so that we lose track of our basic finitude and the equality of believers. Wisdom lies in a sense of due proportionality and accurate situational discernment. The pastor is called to exercise the legitimate authority of ministry, but to do so in a self-critical spirit so that parishioners may behold the Christ-centered connection between authority and servanthood.58 Jesus distinguished between the Gentiles who "lord it over others" and you who are called "to serve" (Matt. 20:25). There is always a danger in ministry that under the pretense of exercising discipline we turn the ministry of governance into "the purpose of domination."59 Yet on the other side there is another danger that in the interest of preserving the equality of persons we may fail to exercise needed discipline.

This equilibrium is illumined by a medical analogy: If you have a fractured leg, it needs to be compressed; by proper constraint, you hold back the fracture so as to prevent the wound from bleeding mortally for lack of firm binding. However, fractures can be made worse by immoderate constraint. To heal a wound, the bonds of constraint must be in the right proportion — not too tight, not too loose. Similarly, in ministries of care "there is much wanting to discipline and to compassion if one be without the other. . . What one needs is both compassion justly considerate and discipline affectionately severe."60

Similarly, wine and oil, according to the medical practice of Gregory’s day, were applied to wounds. Wine was used to cleanse and purify the wound as a purgative; oil was applied as a balm "to the end that through wine what is festering may be purged, and through oil what is curable may be soothed."61 Similarly, pastoral gentleness must be mingled with firmness, and discipline with compassion. Only this combination of qualities makes a fit counselor.

The same dialectic is further symbolized by the rod and staff spoken of in Psalm 23. The rod is capable of restraint, while the staff provides support. Both are needed by the shepherd. Each is required in due proportion. Love must not be overpossessive, vigor must not be exasperating, and zeal must not be immoderately fiery. Rather, the pastor aims for a proportional blend of these caring qualities in all empathic counsel.62

Gregory warns against excessively wearying ourselves as pastors through overt action and praxis to the neglect of inner discipline and spiritual formation. One cannot provide good counsel for temporal happiness unless one has discovered that happiness which lives out of eternity. Gregory was critical of mindless pastoral activism that "delights in being hustled by worldly tumults" and yet remains "ignorant of the things that are within."63 Timothy was similarly instructed: "A soldier on active service will not let himself be involved in civilian affairs; he must be wholly at his commanding officer’s disposal" (2 Tim. 2:4). The pastoral counselor will not be inordinately involved in business matters or competitive enterprise.

Having stressed the importance of spiritual discipline, Gregory then turns to the importance of caring for one’s own temporal and physical life. The pastor has a duty to his body; physical needs are not to be despised. Spiritual discipline that is careless of the body may quickly become dissipated.

It was said that the religious leaders in Israel would neither shave their heads nor allow their hair to grow too long. Rather, they were to clip their hair in a modest way so that it would cover the head but not fall over the eyes. Symbolically that suggested to Gregory that the pastor is not to be entirely cut off from the life of the flesh (as symbolized by the shaven head of the monastic), nor should hair grow so nativistically over one’s eyes that one is unable to behold the light of eternity. The pastor lives between two worlds, eternity and time, body and spirit, in but not of the world.


The pastor must not be an advocate merely of what pleases the parishioner but more so of what ought to please.64 The pastor, like others, is tempted to please others, to seek inordinately to be approved and loved, and to prefer flattery to the plain truth. To covet being loved is an understandable, and recurring, temptation in ministry.

The pastoral guide may be perennially tempted either toward softness or roughness in excess. If one is prone always to offer pillows and cushions for everyone (Ezek. 13:18), the dimensions of admonition and correction may be lacking, rooted in a "lust of trying to please." On the other hand the pastoral counselor may tend toward harsh censoriousness or excessive roughness, trying to coerce change in others, forgetting kindness, and resorting to tactics of fear in order to force behavioral change on demand. For a more appropriate balance of softness and roughness, Gregory turned to the biblical models of Peter, who willingly accepted Paul’s rebuke (Gal. 2:11), and of David, who listened profitably to the straightforward reproof to Nathan (2 Sam. 12:7). Both counsels were uttered in the context of covenant love.

It is not surprising that the pastor has a desire to please others in a proportional way. But when this becomes linked with an excessive hunger for affirmation, one may lose candor and misplace truth. The pastoral desire to please needs a deeper purpose, namely, to draw persons nearer the truth. Pastoral conversation does not proceed merely to wallow in affirmation, but rather to live in the service of the truth. In this sense, the pastor does well to study to please others in order that a trust relation may be deepened. This is different from seeking affirmation for its own sake. Again Gregory’s pattern was Paul, who sought earnestly to please all persons in all things (1 Cor. 10:33), yet maintained his capacity for candid negation and constructive reproof. "Paul pleases and does not please, because in wishing to please he sought not to please men, but that through him truth might please men."65

Gregory’s pastoral care had room for the seasonable toleration of a persistently undesirable behavior. This medical analogy was used: If you apply medications that are unseasonable, not suited to the time or stage of the illness, they may entirely lose their medicinal function. The remedy must fit the precise time when it can be metabolized. If it cannot be currently assimilated, then the pastor may in good conscience deliberately tolerate the error and look for a better time for truthful disclosure.66 The pastor, however, should be aware both of the potential collusive quality of such counsel and of its temporary necessity.


There are other times, however, when such temporary collusions are inappropriate, when some painfully deep unpacking may need to be done. Note how similar Gregory’s procedure is, in this case, to that of modern psychoanalysis. When a matter is deeply hidden in self-deception, it needs delicate examination. Counselors may begin by examining little things, throwaway comments, minor irritations. They will chip away at tiny deceptions, things so small they are almost unnoticeable. Only then can they find a window into the larger passions and motivations.67 First, says Gregory, the pastoral conversation makes a tiny hole that later becomes a small door, which later may become a larger door through which both conversants can walk through to see what is inside.

To develop this procedure, Gregory commented upon a powerful metaphor from Ezekiel, who spoke of first digging at a wall until there appeared a door, through which he then went in where he beheld the "abominations," the hoary characters, the fantasies of deceit. This, says Gregory, is what pastoral counselors do. They first chip away by delicate probing, putting a wedge into the situation so that the hardness of heart will in some sense be softened or dented. Only then may there appear a larger door through which one can move into the interior world of affect of the neighbor. One may then go in and see what is there. In Ezekiel’s case, he beheld there "the creeping things" and the "idols" (Ezek. 8:7-13, RSV). Gregory was suggesting a conversational procedure that resembles in some ways what we know today as psychoanalytic therapy, where one "goes in, as it were, to see the abominations," and by examining certain external symptoms, "sees into the hearts of his subject, so that all the evil thoughts therein are disclosed to him."68 Here the counselor beholds the beasts, the appetites, the idols, the creeping things. This is a procedure for incrementally unpacking layers of self-deception, moving from a dent to a door and then into the inner heart and motivational roots of consciousness.

When should gentleness be the hallmark of counsel? Especially when the fault occurs as a result of ignorance. When finitude has played a greater role in freedom’s fall, then "it is certainly necessary that the very censure of it be tempered with great moderation."69 Pastors know that all flesh, including their own, is tempted toward infirmity, misconception, and corruption.

Here Gregory makes an astonishing observation akin to the psychoanalytic notion of projection: Whenever we are overly zealous in pursuing the infirmities of others, we may be fearing in them precisely what we are reproaching in ourselves. This is why Paul instructs the admonisher to "look to yourself, each one of you; you may be tempted too" (Gal. 6:1-2). Gregory elaborates:

"It is as though he meant to say in so many words that when the sight of another’s infirmity is displeasing, reflect on what you are, that the spirit may moderate itself in its zeal of reproving, in fearing in its own case that which it reproves."70

Some deficits are to be openly confronted and firmly encountered. This is especially so when the fault has been stubbornly left unrecognized. Then it must be called candidly to the attention of the hearer if any headway at all is to be made. Ezekiel suggests that there are times when you must virtually "draw a picture of it" (cf. Ezek. 4:lff.).

Yet if this is done too harshly, such a recognition may drive a guilt-prone parishioner to despair. Immoderately sharp pastoral admonition may cut too deeply. It is said in Mosaic Law that if you go into the woods to cut wood with a friend in simplicity of heart and accidentally the axe flies from your hand, your friend may be hit and killed (Deut. 19:4-5). When an axe flies accidentally from the hands of an overzealous counselor, regardless of high motives, the wound may be too deep.

We have reviewed Gregory’s views of the authority of ministry and the rudiments of pastoral counsel. The path is now clear to examine an extended series of cases of pastoral counsel that require discernment, good judgment, and contextual wisdom. Gregory has laid the groundwork by discussing the balance of virtues required of the spiritual guide, the dialectic of gentleness and severity, the recognition of vice that may parade as virtue, the relation of contemplation and action, and the need for silence as well as speaking. All of these themes are crucial in the preparation of the pastor for contextual discernment in pastoral conversation. Now Gregory turns to seventy-two case studies in pastoral response. These cases are the central concern of the remainder of his Pastoral Care and of Part Two of our analysis.



1. Frederick Homes Dudden, Gregory the Great (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1905), 1: chaps. 1, 2.

2. James Barmby, Gregory the Great (New York: Pott, Young & Co., 1879), chap. 1.

3. Dudden, Gregory the Great, 1: 31ff.

4. Gregory the Great, Morals on the Book of Job, 3 vols., trans. J. Bliss, Library of the Fathers of the Holy Catholic Church Series (Oxford: John Henry Parker, 1850).

5. Henry Hoyle Howorth, Saint Gregory the Great (London:J. Murray, 1912).

6. Pierre Batiffol, Saint Gregory the Great, trans. John L. Stoddard (London: Burns, Oates & Washbourne, 1929), chaps. 1, 2.

7. Barmby, Gregory the Great.

8. Gregory the Great, The Book of Pastoral Rule (hereafter noted as BPR), and Epistles, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers (hereafter NPN F), 2d series, vol. 12 (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1976), Epistles, chaps. 5, 18.

9. Dudden, Gregory the Great, 2 passim.

10. BPR, Epistles 1.40, 1.56, 7.38, 10.7.

11. Howorth, Saint Gregory, passim.

12. Gregory the Great, Dialogues, Fathers of the Church series, vol. 39 (New York: Catholic University Press, n.d.).

13. Gregory the Great, Pastoral Care, trans. Henry Davis, Ancient Christian Writers series, vol. 11 (Westminster, Md.: Newman, 1950), hereafter noted as PC. The reference here is to PC 3.20.

14. Ibid., 2.9.

15. Ibid., 2.7.

16. BPR 2.6.

17. Cf. Oden, Kerygma and Counseling, chap. 1.

18. Joseph Wolpe, The Practice of Behavior Therapy (New York: Pergamon Press, 1969); PC 3.3.

19. Sigmund Freud, Complete Psychological Works, Standard Ed. (London: Hogarth, 1953—), 14: 17.

20. Carl G. Jung, Collected Works (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1959—).

21. A. Mehrabian,Nonverbal Communication (Chicago: Aldine Publishing, 1972); Alexander Lowen,Betrayal of the Body (New York: Macmillan Co., 1967).

22. Carl R. Rogers, On Becoming a Person (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1961).

23. PC 2.1.

24. Ibid.

25. BPR 2.1.

26. PC 1.1.

27. Ibid., 1.2.

28. Ibid.

29. BPR 1.2.

30. Ibid.

31. PC 1.1-3.

32. Ibid., 1.2-3.

33. Ibid., 1.3.

34. Ibid., 1.4.

35. Ibid., 2.5.

36. BPR 1.5.

37. PC 1.5,6.

38. Ibid., 1.6.

39. Ibid., 1.7.

40. Ibid.

41. Ibid., 1.8.

42. Ibid., 1.9.

43. Ibid., 1, 10.

44. Ibid., 1.10,11.

45. Ibid., 1.11.

46. BPR 2.2.

47. PC 2.3.

48. BPR 2.3.

49. PC 2.4.

50. BPR 2.5.

51. PC 2.5.

52. Ibid., 2.4.

53. Ibid., 2.6.

54. Cf. ibid., 2.6.

55. Ibid.

56. BPR 2.6.

57. PC 2.6.

58. Ibid.

59. Ibid.

60. BPR 2.6.

61. Ibid.

62. PC 2.6.

63. BPR 2.7.

64. PC 2.8.

65. Ibid.

66. Ibid., 2.10.

67. Ibid.

68. Ibid.

69. Ibid.

70. Ibid.