On the Pastoral

There’s been a tendency since Vatican II to use “pastoral” to mean nuanced, qualified, soft-spoken and dialectical. The pastoral, so we’re told, recognizes the difficulty of the problem and identifies with the confusion of the one suffering it.

All this assumes that those seeking guidance never want something clear, straightforward and emphatic, though we know by experience this isn’t so. The problem is that pastoral is not a single ready-made style of discourse or rhetorical tone but a genius to adapt to one’s audience and the demands of the peculiar situation. We don’t become more pastoral by trying to sound like Gaudium et Spes but by, say, giving a close read to Gregory the Great, who has pastoral genius in a truly world-historical way. Even if one can’t give Pastoral Rule a close read, his genius is just as clear in the famous letter to Mellius, where one can see a 200 word masterpiece of nuance, clarity, psychological insight, balance, and dedication to principle.

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1 Comment

  1. Lucretius said,

    December 16, 2016 at 3:01 pm

    A hunter in the desert saw Abba Anthony enjoying
    himself with the brethren and he was shocked. Wanting to
    show him that it was necessary sometimes to meet the needs
    of the brethren, the old man said to him, ‘Put an arrow in
    your bow and shoot it.’ So he did. The old man then said,
    ‘Shoot another,’ and he did so. Then the old man said, ‘Shoot
    yet again and the hunter replied ‘If I bend my bow so much I
    will break it.’ Then the old man said to him, ‘It is the same
    with the work of God. If we stretch the brethren beyond
    measure they will soon break. Sometimes it is necessary to
    come down to meet their needs.’ When he heard these words
    “the hunter was pierced by compunction and, greatly edified
    by the old man, he went away. As for the brethren, they
    went home strengthened.

    One day Abba Serapion passed through an Egyptian
    village and there he saw a courtesan who stayed in her own
    cell. The old man said to her, ‘Expect me this evening, for I
    should like to come and spend the night with you.’ She
    replied, ‘Very well, Abba.’ She got ready and made the bed.
    When evening came, the old man came to see her and
    entered her cell and said to her, ‘Have you got the bed
    ready?’ She said, ‘Yes, Abba.’ Then he closed the door and
    said to her, ‘Wait a bit, for we have a rule of prayer and I
    must fulfil that first.’ So the old man began his prayers. He
    took the Psalter and at each psalm he said a prayer for the
    courtesan, begging God that she might be converted and
    saved, and God heard him. The woman stood trembling
    and praying beside the old man. When he had completed
    the whole Psalter the woman fell to the ground. Then the
    old man, beginning the Epistle, read a great deal from the
    apostle and completed his prayers. The woman was filled
    with compunction and understood that he had not come to
    see her to commit sin but to save her soul and she fell at his
    feet, saying, ‘Abba, do me this kindness and take we where
    I can please God.’ So the old man took her to a monastery
    of virgins and entrusted her to the Amma and he said, ‘Take
    this sister and do not put any yoke or commandment on her
    as on the other sisters, but if she wants something, give it
    her and allow her to walk as she wishes.’ After some days
    the courtesan said, ‘I am a sinner; I wish to eat every
    second day.’ A little later she said, ‘I have committed many
    sins and I wish to eat every fourth day.’ A few days later
    she besought the Amma saying, ‘Since I have grieved God greatly by my sins, do me the kindness of putting me in a
    cell and shutting it completely and giving me a little bread
    and some work through the window. ‘The Amma did so
    and the woman pleased God all the rest of her life.

    Christi pax.


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