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Posted June 1, 2010

Book: Pastoral Life and Practice in the Early Church
Author: Carl A. Volz
Augsburg Fortress. Minneapolis, MN. 1990. Pp. 240

An Excerpt from the Introduction:

In recent years there has been considerable discussion over the role and function of the clergy, especially their relationship with the baptized community and their identity as ordained servants of God’s word. This book does not presume to offer answers to contemporary issues, but it describes the evolution of the ordained ministry during the formative years of the church. By doing so, it offers the context in which the clerical office developed, which may assist contemporary discussions. In this context there are elements both of continuity and change; continuity in that clergy have always been engaged in the proclamation of God’s word and in presiding at the sacraments, change in the influence of the culture that has shaped the role and identity of the clergy. In the early church the most significant such change came about when the clergy became officials of the Roman government and assumed positions previously reserved for leaders of the Roman cults.

An Excerpt from the Book:

The extremes were reached in fanatical devotion to spiritual heroics by the crowds of admirers attracted to the “stylites” or pole-sitters, monks who isolated themselves on small platforms raised up to thirty feet from the ground, and who remained there for weeks at a time. But these were eccentrics, and they did not represent the mainstream of monasticism, which contributed much to life and literature of the church in the late patristic period.

The new wave of asceticism produced literature that would influence the practice of pastoral care for centuries. One of the most distinguished writers was John Cassian (d. 435), a monk of Marseilles. His two principal works were the Institutes, which established the rules for monastic life, and the Conferences, which recall his conversations about spiritual life with the great leaders of Eastern monasticism. Although he wrote primarily for monks, the care of souls found useful in the monasteries became the standard for the laity as well. He popularized the idea that there were specific deadly sins:

There are eight principal faults which attack mankind; first is gluttony, secondly fornication, thirdly avarice or love of money, fourthly anger, fifthly dejection, sixthly acedia or listlessness and low spirits, seventhly boasting or vainglory, and eightly pride.

Later, Gregory the Great revised the list to seven principal vices. With perspective theological insight he placed pride at the head of the list as being the “mother” of all sin, followed by envy, anger, dejection, avarice, gluttony, and lust.

Cassian continues by describing the circumstances of each sin. Some, like gluttony and fornication, require external objects or people. Some sins are physical and some are mental. “It is extremely useful for those who aspire to purity to begin by withdrawing from themselves the material which feeds these carnal passions.” He suggests that one of the best cures for sin is to seek the company and friendship of honorable people, who will rebuke us when we have done wrong. In this he recognizes the powerful influence of peer pressure and of the salutary effect of one’s friends, provided they are carefully chosen.

Table of Contents:

1. The pastoral office

2. Pastor and people

3. Pastor and proclamation

4. The care of souls

5. The pastoral role of women