A History of Pastoral Care

A History of Pastoral Care

Holifield, E Brooks

One of the virtues of these twenty-four essays is that the editor, G. R. Evans of Cambridge University, imposed no single definition of pastoral care on the authors. The essays reveal the striking extent to which the work of the pastor-and of monastic and other institutions engaged in Christian ministry-has varied throughout the history of the church. This virtue, however, does present a problem, for the essays range widely in subject matter, and the variety means that the volume has no one point of view, no guiding trajectory, and little explicit linkage between one essay and another. Since Americans concerned about pastoral care long tended to view it as an exercise of ministry toward individuals, and since numerous American writers on pastoral-care topics have for more than two decades raised critical questions about such an orientation, the breadth of the book’s angle of vision can be an aid for scholars rethinking the American traditions. The volume is less helpful for the reader seeking a coherent narrative history with an interpretive center.

The chapters move from ancient Israel to the late twentieth century in essays that range from large-scale analyses of discrete periods to closegrained readings of individual authors. J. W. Ryerson looks at Old Testament images of care and shepherding. David Graham summarizes prominent motifs in the New Testament. G. R. Evans describes membership, schism, heresy, superstition, suffering, and the shepherd theme in early Christianity. Benedicta Ward presents the pastoral activities of the fourth-century desert fathers and mothers. Thomas O’Loughlin studies medieval penitential practice. Norman Turner explains the decrees on ministry adopted by the Fourth Lateran Council. Michael Robson analyzes the preaching and service of Dominican and Franciscan friars. Malcolm Barber chronicles the charitable and medical activities of the Hospitallers and Templars. William Dohar analyzes the impact of the Black Death on English parishes. Lambros Kamperidis compares catechetical practice in the east and the west. David Cornick explores the crisis that resulted from the Reformation’s revisions of sacramental practice. John O’Malley describes the ministry of sixteenth-century Jesuits. Ralph Houlbrooke looks at sixteenth-century approaches to the family. Philip Sheldrake explicates the prose and poetry of George Herbert. Cornick analyzes the pastoral writings of William Perkins, Richard Baxter, and Gilbert Burnet. Peta Dunstan describes the twentieth-century Anglican Franciscans who worked with the poor in English cities. Evans argues that Charles Kingsley’s Water-Babies (1863) contained a theology of providence, good works, sin, and grace. Cornick returns to describe the challenge of the Enlightenment to older notions of the pastor’s work. Ian Bunting writes about twentiethcentury developments in the United States and Britain. Richard McBrien contributes a brief history of penance and the anointing of the sick. Rupert Bursell explains what Anglican canon law has determined about pastoral duties. Jeffrey Gros, Eamon McManus, and Ann Riggs trace the history of the ecumenical movement and ecumenical theology. Martyn Percy asks why people join cults, sects, and new religious movements. Christopher Lamb reflects on the problems of pastoral care for people of other faiths, especially in the context of British demographic diversity. Throughout the volume, much of the focus remains on developments in England.

Some of the essays are superb. Others seem too specialized or narrow in focus to carry forward a connected narrative. Nonetheless, the book provides ample information and offers thoughtful interpretation of the work of priests and ministers outside the pulpit throughout the past two millennia. Its breadth is both its weakness and its strength, weakness because the variety allows for no interpretive center, strength because the absence of focus itself hints at the irreducible complexity of the ministries of the church.


Emory University

Atlanta, GA

Copyright Theology Today Jan 2002

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