FREE Catholic Classes
Pastoral theology is the science of the care of souls. This article will give the definition of pastoral theology, its relations to other theological sciences, its history, sources, and contents.
Pastoral theology is a branch of practical theology ; it is essentially a practical science. All branches of theology, whether theoretical or practical, purpose in one way or another to make priests "the ministers of Christ, and the dispensers of the mysteries of God " ( 1 Corinthians 4:1 ). Pastoral theology presupposes other various branches; accepts the apologetic, dogmatic, exegetic, moral, juridical, ascetical, liturgical, and other conclusions reached by the ecclesiastical student, and scientifically applies these various conclusions to the priestly ministry.
B. Relation to Other Theological Sciences
Dogmatic theology establishes the Church as the depository of revealed truth and systematizes the deposit of faith which Christ entrusted to His Church to hand down to all generations; pastoral theology teaches the priest his part in this work of Catholic and Christian tradition of revealed truth. Moral theology explains the laws of God and of the Church, the means of grace and hindrances thereto; pastoral theology teaches the practical bearing of these laws means, and hindrances upon the daily life of the priest, alone and in touch with his people. Canon law collects, correlates, and co-ordinates the laws of the Church ; pastoral theology applies those laws to the care of souls. In brief, pastoral theology begins, where the other theological sciences leave off; takes the results of them all and makes these results effective for the salvation of souls through the ministry of the priesthood established by Christ.
The name pastoral theology is new; the science is as old as the Church itself, as appears from the manifold instructions given by Jesus to His Apostles for the care of souls ( Matthew 10:6 sqq. ; Mark 6:8 sqq. ; Luke 9:3 sqq. ; 10:4 sqq. ; 22:35 ) and from the pastoral letters of St. Paul and the very detailed instructions they give to Timothy and to Titus in regard to the sacred ministry. The writings of the Fathers, from the Apostolic age onward, are replete with pastoral instruction. St. Ignatius of Antioch [A.D. 110 [Harnack]) scatters such advice throughout his epistles -- see, for instance, "Ad Magnesios" (Harnack's ed., "Patres apostolici", II, 29). The letters of St. Cyprian (A.D. 248) are, many of them, either wholly or in part written about the care of souls (cf. P. L., IV, 194 sq.) -- "Qui Antistites in ecclesia eligendi?", "Qualis esse debeat vita sacerdotum?" etc. His "De lapsis" (P. L., IV, 477) is a classic among pastoral instructions. St. Gregory Nazianzen (A.D. 389), explaining his flight to Pontus, tells his ideas of the pastor of souls in "Oratio apologetica de fuga sua", a work sometimes called "De sacerdotio" (P. G., XXXV, 408), and sets down pastoral care as a great science and art, "Ars quædam artium et scientia scientiarum mihi esse videtur hominem regere". Other landmarks in the history of pastoral theology are St. Ambrose, "De officiis ministrorum" (P. L., XV1, 25); St. John Chrysostom, "De sacerdotio" (P. G., XLVIII, 623); St. Isidore of Seville , "De institutione clericorum", "De institutionibus monachorum", "De regulis clericorum" (P. L., LXXXIV, 25, 45, 77); St. Bernard's letters and treatises "De consideratione", "De moribus episcoporum", "De conversione ad clericos" (P. L., CLXXXII, 727, 809, 833). The great classic among patristic works on the care of souls is "Regulæ pastoralis liber" (P. L., LXXVII, 13), written by St. Gregory the Great (c. A.D. 590) to John, Bishop of Ravenna.
During the Middle Ages, there was not yet a separated and systematized science of pastoral theology. Scholasticism did not recognize this science apart from other branches of theology. Dogma and moral were so taught as to include the application of their conclusions to the care of souls. Still, even then writings of the great Doctors of the Church were at times purely pastoral; such were the "Opuscula", 17-20, of St. Thomas Aquinas ; St. Bonaventure's "De sex alis seraphim ", "De regimine animæ", "Confessionale"; the "Summa theologica" (Books II, III), together with the "Summa confessionalis" of St. Antoninus, Bishop of Florence. At the same time, writers on mystical theology (see V. MYSTICAL THEOLOGY) have often entered into the domain of pastoral theology. Not until the period of the Counter-Reformation did the science of pastoral theology take its present systematized form. During the latter half of the fifteenth century, in certain places, pastoral duties were very much neglected. By the dawn of the sixteenth century, the care of souls was to many priests and not a few bishops a lost or a never-acquired art, with the result that the laity were ready to throw off what was deemed to be a useless clerical yoke. In such places, a reform of the clergy was sorely needed. The Council of Trent set itself to bring about a true reformation of the priesthood. Catholic bishops and theologians followed the lead of the council. The result was the treatment of the care of souls as a science by itself. During the following centuries of true reform and of battle with false reform, the most scientific treatises on pastoral duties and rights were written. John of Avila, Louis of Granada, Peter de Soto, Claude le Jay (Institutiones practicæ), Neumayr (Vir apostolicus), Possevin (Praxis curæ pastoralis), Segneri, Olier, Molina, Toledo (De instructione sacerdotum), Cardinal Cajetan, St. Charles Borromeo (Instructio pastorum), the works of St. Francis de Sales , of Rodriguez, of Scaramelli -- such are a few of the scientific treatises that did much to illumine and to strengthen the pastors of the Counter-Reformation, In 1759 St. Alphonsus Liguori issued his great pastoral theology, "Homo apostolicus". He epitomized the conclusions reached by him in his "Moral Theology", applied these conclusions practically to the work of hearing confessions, and added four appendices bearing specifically upon such pastoral duties as the direction of souls, the assistance of the dying, the examination of those to be ordained priests, and the duties of confessors and pastors in regard to their own as well as their flock's sanctification. This work, together with the legislation of Benedict XIV in the matter of diocesan synods, gave a great impetus to the science of pastoral theology.
Tradition and the Holy Bible , in so far as they portray the ideal Priest, Teacher, and Pastor, and hand down to us His ideas for the care of souls, are the first sources of pastoral theology. As evidence of Tradition the decrees of general councils are of the highest moment. Next come pontifical Constitutions -- Bulls, Briefs, and Motu Proprios; decrees of Roman Congregations ; the works cited in Sanford-Drum, op. cit. below; the various sources of dogmatic and moral theology and of canon law, in so far as they bear directly or indirectly upon the care of souls. Decrees of various provincial councils and diocesan synods together with pastoral letters of archbishops and bishops are also among the sources whence pastoral theology draws. For ecclesiastical legislation, one must follow the "Acta Apostolicæ Sedis", a monthly official bulletin published in Rome ; the promulgation of laws authentic interpretations, decisions and rescripts of the Roman Curia is now effected ipso facto by publication in this periodical. For past decisions the various decreta authentica of different Roman Congregations must be consulted. Such are "Thesaurus resolutionum Sacræ Congregationis Concilii", from 1718 (Rome); "Decreta authentica Congregationis Sacrorum Rituum" (Rome, 1898); "Decreta authentica sacræ Congregationis Indulgentiis Sacrisque Reliquiis Præpositæ", from 1668 to 1882 (Ratisbon); Pallottini, "Collectio omnium decretorum Sacræ Congregationis Concilii" (Rome, 1868); Bizarri, "Collectanea Sacræ Congregationis Episcoporum et Regularium" (Rome, 1863, 1885); "Collectanea Sacræ Congregationis de Propaganda Fide" (Rome, 1893, 1907). A handy reference work in this matter is Ferraris, "Prompta bibliotheca", together with its supplement edited by Bucceroni (Rome, 1885). Ojetti, "Synopsis rerum moralium et juris pontificii" (Prato, 1904), is also useful. For the pastoral care of religious communities, necessary information may be obtained from Vermeersch, "De religiosis et missionariis supplementa et monumenta", together with the periodical supplements thereto (Bruges, 1904--), and Dom Bastien, "Constitution de Léon XIII sur les instituts a voeux simples et leur relations avec les autorités diocésaines" (Bruges), a work which has been translated into English by Lanslots ( Pustet, New York). Periodicals giving current direction and information as to the care of souls are: "Acta Sanctæ Sedis" (Rome, from 1865), now discontinued; "Analecta juris pontificii" (Rome, 1833; Paris, 1869), replaced by "Analecta ecclesiastica" (Rome, 1893-1911); "II Monitore Ecclesiastico" (Rome, 1876); "The American Ecclesiastical Review" (Philadelphia, 1889); "The Irish Ecclesiastical Record" (Dublin, 1865); "Nouvelle Revue Théologique" (Tournai, 1869); "Theologischpraktische Quartalschrift" (Linz); "Zeitschrift für katholische Theologie" (Innsbruck, 1877).
From the days when St. Gregory the Great wrote his classic "Regulæ pastoralis liber", the duties that make for the care of souls have been conveniently divided into those of the teacher, of the minister of the sacred mysteries, and of the shepherd; pastoral theology purposes to impart the knowledge of these duties and of the treatise known as "pastoral medicine ", the medical knowledge requisite for the proper care of souls.
Under the head of teacher are treated the duty of teaching, the qualities of the teacher, his training, the models of teaching left us by the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, as well as by distinguished preachers and catechists, and the occasions and forms of instruction suited for the various needs of the faithful, young and old, literate and illiterate. The Council of Trent , in the fifth session, lays down a twofold duty of the teacher, to preach on Sundays and festivals, and to give catechetical instruction to children and to others who have need of such instruction. Benedict XIV, in his Constitution, "Etsi Minime", calls special attention to this latter most important duty. Pius X, in his Encyclical on the teaching of Christian doctrine (15 April, 1905), insists once again on the paramount need of catechetical instruction. All parish priests, and all others to whom the care of souls is committed, must teach the catechism to their young girls and boys for the space of one hour on all Sundays and holy days of the year without exception, and must explain to them what one is bound to believe and practise in order to be saved. These children shall, at stated times during each year, be prepared by more extended instruction for the Sacraments of Penance and Confirmation. Daily instruction during Lent, and even after Easter, will make the young children of both sexes ready for their first Holy Communion. Moreover, an hour every Sunday and holy day shall be devoted to the catechetical instruction of adults. This lesson in catechism, in plain and simple language, is to be given over and above the Sunday homily on the Gospel and the children's instruction in Christian doctrine.
As minister of the sacred mysteries, the priest must not only know the nature of the sacraments, so far as dogmatic theology explains it, besides what is needed for their valid administration, as taught in moral theology, but must also possess such additional knowledge as may serve him in his spiritual ministrations -- for instance, in attending the sick, in advising what is lawful or unlawful in critical operations, especially in such as may affect childbirth; in directing others, when necessary, how to baptize the unborn child; in deciding whether to confer extreme unction or other sacraments in cases of apparent death, etc.
Finally, as pastor, a variety of duties have to be mastered, which keep growing and varying in number constantly with the complicated conditions of modern life, especially wherever there is a tendency to mass people together in large cities, or wherever migration to and fro causes frequent change. This, perhaps, is the main part of pastoral theology. The organization of parishes ; the maintenance of a church and other institutions that grow up around it; the management of parish schools ; the formation of societies for men and women, young and old; the vast number of social works into which a priest in a modern city is almost necessarily drawn -- all these points furnish material for instruction, which, as the fruit of experience, can rarely be conveyed through books. Usually the priest acquires sufficient knowledge of all these things from prudent directors as he goes through his seminary course, or from his own experience under a competent pastor ; but gradually an extensive literature on these subjects has accumulated during the past half century, and it is the systematization of such writings that constitutes pastoral theology.
Copyright 2020 Catholic Online. All materials contained on this site, whether written, audible or visual are the exclusive property of Catholic Online and are protected under U.S. and International copyright laws, © Copyright 2020 Catholic Online. Any unauthorized use, without prior written consent of Catholic Online is strictly forbidden and prohibited.
Catholic Online is a Project of Your Catholic Voice Foundation, a Not-for-Profit Corporation. Your Catholic Voice Foundation has been granted a recognition of tax exemption under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Federal Tax Identification Number: 81-0596847. Your gift is tax-deductible as allowed by law.