Notes, Sketches, Outlines and Exhibits of Pastoral Care Practices
in the Middle Ages and Reformation of the 16th Century
The structure of this presentation provides a framework for understanding
the pastoral care practices of the Reformers, most especially Martin
Luther, John Calvin and John Knox.
This essay is intended simply as an overview of the pastoral care
tradition of Western Christianity and its preparation and influence
on the pastoral care practices of the Reformers.
Beginning with Biblical foundations and a modest introduction to the
rich materials from the practice of the Early Church, our study moves
steadily toward one goal, namely, understanding how the Reformers
of the 16th century saw themselves as pastors dispensing care to their
I. Prospect and Retrospect
However, in order to understand the Reformers' response to existing
practices of the Roman Catholic Church of the Middle Ages, the Roman
sacrament of penance and the role of indulgences play in the history
of pastoral care must be examined early in this paper and in some
While the presentation of the later Roman Catholic understanding
of penance, indulgences and confession will be expanded and compared
with the Reformation point of view, the student will be well served
to understand the Roman Catholic position at the outset. The reason
is because there are nuances that emerge over the centuries that
produce an inevitable reaction against the abuses of the Roman Catholic
Church. The accumulation of abuses should become obvious as we make
our way through the original materials.
In addition to understanding the reason for the protests of the
Reformers of the 16th century, the student will come to understand
why the Roman Catholic Church condemned the "errors" of
predecessors of Reformation, namely, Huss and Wyclif.
That penance, indulgences and confession were seen as manifestations
of soul care or pastoral care in the life of the medieval Church,
a broader understanding of pastoral care emerges in the course of
these pages, too.
Thus, while the ministry of pastoral care originates from the earliest
days of the ministry of Christ and ultimately from Christianity,
pastoral care deserves a broad historical context, covering several
centuries of pastoral care practices, in order to observe how it
changed and how it is changing the 21st century.
II. Penance - Changes Over Time
The practice of penance is known in the age of the church fathers,
a point Roman Catholics make. Their understanding of the practice
of penance hinges on the doctrine of the Church one holds.
Furthermore, the practice of penance undergoes major shifts in emphasis
and practices in the Early Church and later when the Church encounters
the raw, pagan and barbarian people of Europe. This clash of cultures
influences the course and future of the practice of indulgences,
confession, church discipline and the like. Even later, as Roman
Catholic authors admit, the theory of indulgences was ahead in practice
but behind in theological justification.
The New Catholic Encyclopedia (II, 482-484) reports, "The theory
of indulgences lagged more than a century behind the practice. It
was not until the teaching of Hugh of Saint-Cher (c. 1230) that
the source of indulgence grants was related to the Church's treasury
of merits and good works stores by Christ, the Blessed Virgin Mary
(BVM), and the saints of the Church, living or dead. This insight
of Hugh -- and it reflected a return to the early principle of Christian
solidarity in the Mystical Body of Christ -- was canonized by Pope
Clement IV in his jubilee bull of 1343, Unigenitus Dei Filus . .
"Hugh's appeal to the principle of vicarious satisfaction was
developed by the great scholastic Doctors of the 13th century, including
St. Bonaventure and St. Thomas Aquinas. Both insisted that an indulgence
was not so much a remission of the debt of temporal punishment but
a payment (solutio) of the debt from the Church's treasury. To the
obvious objection that no one can do penance, or take medicine for
another's personal ailment, Bonaventure replied that penance is
twofold, satisfaction and medicinal. Punishment as medicinal must
be shouldered by the penitent personally; but punishment as vindictive
or expiatory can be vicariously assumed." (484).
This initial foray into a discussion of penance is useful if for
no other reason than framing the issue of pastoral care prior to
the Reformation and the theology and practices of pastoral care
among the Reformers.
But pastoral care involves more than a study of penance and indulgences,
Historically, pastoral care involves the pastor in a caring ministry,
simultaneously and on several levels in which this ministry is carried
out. One might designate it as a comprehensive or integrated ministry
of care of the person, though the word "person" is of
Seen in the light of a comprehensive and integrated ministry of
the Church, the ministry of pastoral care to individuals or persons
becomes a focal point of the Reformation of the 16th century.
Unfortunately, we may dismiss that component because we often reduce
the study of the Reformation either to its history or its theological
and doctrinal nuances.
In these sessions, history and Protestant theology will, of necessity,
come into play, because what and how they believe shaped pastoral
care practices of the Reformers. Observes in Luther's 95th Theses
the several theses that deal with pastoral care issues. But more
on that in due time.
In addition to laying for a historical perspective that commences
in the Early Church and through the Patristic period, and then the
Middle Ages and the Reformation critique of existing practices,
case studies and representative exhibits will be introduced to demonstrate
several points related to the presentations.
The exhibits are intended to give students a sense of working with
original materials, in English translation, but this practice will
be helpful in remembering the course of pastoral care throughout
the history of the Christian Church.
Finally, I hope that whether one is a future pastor, a present pastor
and a dedicated church member, he or she will examine his or her
own ministry and practices in light of the long history of pastoral
We turn to definitions as the first order of business in discussing
the shape of pastoral care in the practice of Christian ministry.
PCHP identifies those representative persons who serve in the ministry
of the cure of souls.
First, "representative Christian persons, persons who, de jure
or de facto, bring to bear upon human troubles the resources, wisdom,
and the authority of Christian faith and life" (4).
At times, their office may be termed "elder," "minister,"
"pastor," "rector," "priest," "confessor,"
"bishop," "deacon," "presbyter," or
many other names are possible.
Second, who are the "troubled persons" to whom we minister?
Again PCHP notes that "pastoral care begins with an individual
person recognizes or feels that his trouble is insolvable in the
context of his own private resources, and when he becomes willing,
however subconsciously, to carry his hurt and confusion to a person
who represents for him, however vaguely, the resources and wisdom
and authority of religion." (5)
Third, what are meaningful troubles that elicit the aid of a wise
and perceptive Christian leader?
The definition of "meaningful troubles" as we will come
to see in the exhibits that are before us cover a wide range of
meanings, and some of these, according to the period under study,
a representative of presenting needs than at other times.
In the modern world, for example, C.W. Brister in Pastoral Care
in the Church offers the profile of contemporary troubled persons.
He writes, "Through ignorance, indifference, insecurity, emotional
instability, fear, or preoccupation with private burdens, many religious
folk leave life's injured bleeding and alone" (7).
On the other hand, Marsha G. Witten's provocative All Is Forgiven:
The Secular Message in American Protestantism [Princeton: Princeton
University Press, 1993) records the sad plight of an uncritical
She writes, "The Paradox of Protestantism" is this: There
is a sense in which cheerful lists of social and psychological pleasures
one might receive from a church fails to mention "whatsoever
of faith or God, let alone of suffering or spiritual striving"
Witten's study of preaching in American Protestantism focussed on
the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the Southern Baptist Convention.
The study was conducted by a close reading of sermons on the parable
of the Prodigal Son.
Witten's work is worth reading if one wishes to avoid an excessive
reliance on the shifting norms of relativism and secularism and
maintain the truth of the Gospel, and the Gospel's relevance for
working with troubled persons.
Fourth, PCHP notes there is a range of "other helping acts"
that are adjunct or contiguous to effective pastoral care. These
acts include "works of charity, of welfare, of education, of
binding up wounds of giving ethical counsel, and so forth . . .
" These acts "have been associated with the Christian
ideal of love for the neighbor." (7)
Before we press on with our overview and ultimately examine the
Reformation materials, it will be helpful to understand the functions
of pastoral care in historical perspective.
IV. Functions of Pastoral Care
A. Healing. "Healing is the function in which a representative
Christian person helps a debilitated person to be restored to a
condition of wholeness, on the assumption that this restoration
achieves also a new level of spiritual insight and welfare."
The range of options to begin healing include curative agents and
actions and may also seek to elicit spiritual attitudes or actions
from the person who is to be healed.
Illustrative of the range of sources available in undertaking a
ministry of healing includes instrumentalities as prayer, oil, herbs,
medicine, relics, shrines, words of excorism, vows and so forth.
Protestant avoid some of these instrumentalities, but some unwisely
lump the entire lot together and miss significant opportunity to
minister with a service of healing and wholeness and the use of
oil or granting words of absolution (as Luther advocated in dealing
B. Sustaining. "Sustaining consists of helping a hurting person
to endure and to transcend a circumstance in which restoration to
his former condition or recuperation from which his malady is either
impossible or so remote as to seem improbable." ( 9)
The ministry of sustaining has also used prayer, holy objects, regulations
and the like. In the large literature of the Christian pastoral
care tradition, there exist manuals to show persons how to deal
with the inevitable hurts of life and death. Awareness of the material,
whether one agrees with all of it or not, is essential if a modern
Christian ministry of counsel is to be effective.
The wise counselor identifies the issue or issues involved, presents
a range of alternative actions that may be undertaken and is available
and supportive of the person sufficiently to push for spiritual
growth and yet aware of any potential harm the individual may either
continue to do to himself or might likely do to himself.
C.Educative guidance. EG "tends to draw out of the individual's
experience and identifies the values and resources" the individual
possesses or does not possess. Though a modern term, the word "insight"
is a valuable clue and is indicative of how well the person can
function. Without an individual's having some insight into the meaning
of self, the pastoral counselor is hard-pressed and is likely to
take longer to achieve any successful conclusion to the work.
In order to separate the contemporary practice known as "client-centered
therapy" (Rogers) from the Inductive guidance of the Christian
tradition of pastoral care, it is important to recognize honestly
that the latter wisely appeals to the long standing tradition of
Christian moral theology and counsel.
Among the tools of a ministry of guidance, Guiding has employed
many different techniques of counseling, and has appealed to various
codifications of virtues and vices, manuals of advice, and so on.
D. Reconciling function. The goal of reconciliation is to seek "to
reestablish broken relationships between man and fellow man and
between man and God. (9). Reconciliation appears to require the
employment of a simultaneous recognition of a horizontal and a vertical
structure. One thinks immediate of the counsel of Jesus to the Rich
Young Ruler and the setting forth of the summary of the commandments.
As the PCHP authors suggest the horizontal and vertical relationships
are inseparable and operates on two fronts, namely, forgiveness
and discipline. This is the classical formulation of reconciliation.
"Classical Christian pastoral care has employed the mode of
forgiveness in the sacramental acts of confession and absolution,
both of which aim at amendment of life and the restoration of right
relations with God and with neighbor." (9)
"Discipline, on the other hand, has classically served as a
mode of reconciling function by placing alienated persons into situation
in which good relationships can be re-established." (9)
In order to concluded this section in proper fashion, it must be
underscored that any distinctions that have been made between the
function, the mode, and the means of Christian pastoral care are
devised for the sake of clarification but do not represent in practice
so sharp a division.
A contemporary example of how this might function is with a pregnant
married or unmarried woman who comes for counsel. The wise pastoral
counselor operates on many levels in dealing with her and the unborn
child, the families, the father (if known and part of the equation),
and identifies resources for completion of the pregnancy and how
best to deal with the future of the child and the mother.
Therefore, this presentation covers briefly the Old Testament, moves
to the New Testament materials, and includes information on the
Early Church and subsequently the Patristic period. Once this essential
background is in place, attention turns to the Middle Ages and then
covers the pastoral care practices of Luther and other Reformers.
Before beginning our thinking about pastoral care, it seems advisable
to define who is being counseled and the authority exercised by
V. Biblical Background.
A preface to New Testament practices of pastoral care would be
incomplete without mention of the wise men of Israel. The influential
advise of the Greek philosophers plays a role in Judaism but lies
beyond essential background to explain the resurgence of pastoral
care and counsel during the 16th century.
Yet it is important to mention the wise and sage counsels of the
leaders of Israel, including such a noteworthy person as Solomon
(I Kings 4:30) and most especially in the authors of the OT's Wisdom
Literature. Proverbs is a rich source of pastoral wisdom, as are
some of the books found in the OT Apocrypha. In Ecclesiasticus 6:18-19,
Wisdom 6:22, 25; 8:2, 9; Ecclesiasticus 6:34-35.
The teachers of Israel, as wise counsel, in public and private,
stressed godliness not less than moral rectitude (McNeill, 11).
In some sense, one may say with McNeill that "The prophets
were the crisis theologians of their era: the wise men were the
educators of conscience [because] they supplied the daily bread
of instruction in reverent attitudes and moral habits, and gave
stability to the character of their people." (11).
In the Gospels, one finds Jesus sympathetic and helpful to the suffering
among the humanity he encountered. Without exhausting the materials
available, it quite enough to remark that the preaching of Jesus
regarding repentance (Matthew 4:17) is the message with this his
public ministry begins. But the kingdom of heaven is a society of
changed individuals who have become fits to enter it through repentance.
The parables in Luke 15 - recovery of lost sheep, happiness of a
woman who finds a valuable and lost coin, and the father who rejoices
over the return of the lost son - is deemed important as illustrations
of redemption but also what joy there is in heaven (and on earth)
as a result of finding and restoring that which was thought irretrievably
If one examines the Synoptic Gospels with any case, a reader is
impressed with how striking and powerful pastoral images emerge
from the texts.
Mark 10:17-22, cf. Matthew 19:16-22.
Luke 19:1-10 - Zachaeus in the tree.
Matthew 9:2-7; Mark 7:24-30 - the Roman Centurion's faith.
In the Gospel according to John 3:1-10 (Nicodemus) and 4:7-42 (the
woman of Samaria) there is a great gift offered, namely, "the
life of God in the soul of man." New Birth! And essentially
a fresh start.
The Gospel according to John records a scene immediately following
the Resurrection. It is filled with commissioning 10 apostles present.
Thomas is missing. Jesus "breathed on them and said to them,
Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are
forgiven; if your retain the sins of any, they are retained"
On the other hand, the gift of authority appears in Matthew 16 with
Peter as the primary figure, or the whole group in Matthew 18 as
the primary figures, or the in the body of the living Apostles with
the exception of Thomas the Doubter in John 20:22-23.
Regardless of however authority is granted or received, the element
of discipline appears immediately, and it is formidable.
With the arrival of the Apostle Paul, the guidance of day-to-day
living is a prominent feature of Paul and the other NT Letters.
Sex ethics - I Corinthians 7:1.
Concept of New Life in Christ - Romans 6:4, 13.
Glorify God with your body - I Cor. 6:9-20.
And in the Book of Romans not only is there a profound exposition
of grace, but a brief code of Christian behavior expressed.
"Be transformed . . . renewing your minds" - Romans 12:1.
"Let love be genuine . . . brotherly affection . . . Live in
harmony " - Romans 12:9, 12, 16.
"Eating meat offered to idols" - Romans 14:2-6.
Underneath all of the NT pastoral care norms and practices, there
lie two principles: (1) edification and (2) fraternal correction.
"Pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding"
"Encourage one another . . . - I Thess. 5:11.
"Confess your sins to one another and prayer for one another,
that you may be healed." - James 5:16. The elders (14) offer
a prayer for healing.
In summary, just how far-reaching these norms, practices and habits
of pastoral care and counsel extended in the early Church one cannot
say with absolute certainty. However, by the time of the Age of
the Church Fathers, we discover there remain two functions worth
noting as they play a major role in the Reformation, namely, (1)
discipline and (2) consolation.
Before turning to the Reformation, the issues of that century must
be shown within the framework of earlier centuries and claims, beginning
with the early Church and continuing throughout in the Middle Ages.
Though it was the medieval penitential system that generated controversy
during the Reformation era, as the publication of the 95 Theses
makes clear, Luther, and other Reformers, identified the abuses
that had crept into penitential practice. And while penitential
practice was not altogether bad, because it to pastoral care.
VI. Documents from the Early Church
Some remarks, taken from Thom Oden's Care of Souls in the Classic
Tradition, will be used to introduce the Early Church's approach
1. Second Epistle of Clement (c. 150) "Enduring the End of
2. Tertullian of Carthage (c. 160-220) "Exomologesis."
3. Disascalia Apostolorum. "Instructions for Reconciliation."
4. Cyprian (d. 238) - "On Facing Martyrdom."
VII. Middle Ages (600-1500 AD)
The Middle Ages' approach to pastoral care or the cure of souls
begins with the 13th century penitential discipline that came to
prevail in the Western Church.
But the Medieval disciplines originated much earlier and are to
be found in the desert, the desert where monks struggled with God
and the inner self, and the origin of monastic life occurs during
the Early Church.
Eventually monks entered regulated communities or the monastery
and joined monastic orders, but an earlier history must be sketched
to make sense of the shift from one form to the other form that
is better known to students of the Reformation.
In the desert of the 3rd and 4th centuries of the Christian Era,
the eremitic (a hermit or recluse, especially one under religious
vow) gave way to the cenobitic (a member of a religious order living
in a monastery or convent) life. The change was gradual perhaps
but the latter way of religious life and devotion proliferated through
a century or two. In due time, the favored form of monastic life
became the cenobitic form, and it influences the story we are telling.
The rise of the cenobitic form of Christian life introduced a subtle
distinction into the ranks of the Christian folk.
Because the religious (monks and nuns) achieved a greater recognition
and were held in higher esteem than the ordinary Christians but
were held to a higher stand than the ordinary Christian. Nevertheless,
by the time of Luther, the abuses associated with the monastic life
and the convent often bordered on the scandalous.
Long before the Middle Ages became but shortly after 325 AD and
the Edict of Toleration of the Church by the Imperial Head of the
State Constantine, the standardization of Christian pastoral care
practices became easier and more predictable.
As Charles Norris Cochrane points out in his Christianity and Classical
Culture, it was "safe for Christianity" (197) after Constantine
and in a safer world, not in the world of periodic persecution,
the ministry of sustaining could now "focus on specific personal
troubles, like bereavement and incurable ills" (PCHP, 21).
In turn, the focus was on guiding the religious life of the individual
to the extent that, as the authors and compilers of PCHP, acknowledge
that "the cure of souls found useful in monasteries became
the standard for pastoring common folk as well" (21).
The application of monastic rules to common, ordinary, lay life
is extremely important if one is to understand the upheaval in the
established ecclesiastical and social created by Luther and the
other Reformers of the 16th century. More on that later, however.
"The penitentials are practical manuals for the use of confessors
and are designed to equip their users to deal with all sorts of
persons in all moral and spiritual predicaments," John T. McNeill
writes in HCS, 118.
As the earlier manuals were concerned with monks and clerics rather
than laymen, however, laity did not face neglect. In the manuals,
the severer penalties fell on the clergy and so did the glory.
To illustrate the point about the vitality of monasticism and its
relationship to common life at the beginning of the Middle Ages
and coursing throughout almost 1000 years, one introduces the revered
name of Saint Benedict of Nursia (AD 529). Benedict is well known
for the rules he promulgated in his "Order of Saint Benedict,"
rules that still influence countless communities and non-Roman Catholic
The rules promulgated by St. Benedict consist of 12-rungs on a ladder
that were to lead the monk to follow the monastic ideal.
The monastic ideal sought to "purge the desires of the fresh
not only out of fear of God but for the love of God - [and] evoked
precise schemes of spiritual development that would kill pride by
promoting humility" (21).
The 12-steps on the ladder for a devout monk are:
1. Constantly fear God, remembering that hell awaits those who
hold God in contempt and heaven those who fear him;
2. Neither love of his own will nor delight in his own desires;
3. Submit in total obedience to his superior;
4. Endure in silent patience all obstacles and even injuries, that
beset his path;
5. Hide neither his evil thoughts nor his secret sins but in humble
confession reveal them to his abbot;
6. Be content with lowliness and regard himself as a bad and worthless
worker in all that he is assigned to do;
7. Not only acknowledge him himself inferior to all others, but
believe it in the depths of his heart;
8. Do nothing unless authorized either by the monastic rule or by
the example of his superiors;
9. Keep silence until asked a question;
10. Never be easy or quick to laugh;
11. Speak gently, without laughter, humbly and gravely in a few
12. Exhibit his lowliness to all who see him or his deeds.
The objective of the rule was for the monk to achieve pure behavior
of a neighborly love and be able to keep the Church's precepts naturally,
not because of the fear of hell, but through love of Christ and
though a delight in virtue.
Benedict's Ladder to Heaven owed something to John Cassian's earlier
4th century Conferences. Benedict paraphrased and rearranged the
steps of humility devised by John Cassian, the authority on Eastern
Christian monasticism. An exhibit of John Cassian's work lies opens
[Exhibit No. 4 - John Cassian, Extract from PCHP]
See also John Cassian, Conferences. Found in The Classics of Western
Spirituality. Tr. By Colm Luibheid, Introduction by Owen Chadwick.
New York and Mahwah: Paulist Press, 1850.
While it is tempting to imagine the Church, East or Greek or West
and Latin, comparably free from political oversight or influence,
and thus able to regulate her life without undue outside interference,
that is not the case. Neither is it possible to imagine the life
of the Church without some sense of its standing or footing in the
culture that surrounded her.
When confronted by the Imperial order, either directly or indirectly,
the Church assumed her role in cultural transmission in concert
with an imperial partner or partners, and utilized existing cultural
traditions and models to transmit and interpret the Christian faith
to the masses, sometimes crude and illiterate peoples, they were.
Consequently, Christian worship, art, music, preaching and, of course,
guidance or care and cure of souls were no exception to the influence
and either modified or challenged Christian practice.
For example, after the 5th century in Western Christianity, the
Church was confronted with a Herculean task of drawing into itself
the hordes of rude peoples who swept over Western and Central Europe
at this time.1
The Herculean task facing the Church dictated the some order must
be imposed on the life of the Church, the realm, and the uncouth
peoples who were in the process of being Christianized.
"While an elite spiritual class [clergy and its ranks] took
the monastic ideal as their ideal, secular folks [laity] were to
be guided by their pastors." Quite naturally, the monastic
schemes of spiritual growth and the ladders of Christian devotion
became enormously important in guiding pastoral care not only for
the monks but of common, secular, ordinary people" (PCHP, 22).
But with mixed results no doubt.
By the 12th century, St. Bernard of Clairvaux elaborated the steps
of humility and placed them on a ladder. "This scheme of spiritual
and moral living . . [is] as an accomplishment to his own four-step
'ladder of love' : man loves himself for his own sake, then proceeds
to love God for man's own sake, then loves God for God's own sake,
and finally [in heaven] loves himself for God's sake only."
In Bernard's scheme, humility is reduced to three basic steps.
1. Fear God.
2. Purge one's desires.
3. Finally, obey the Church.
Application of this scheme to common life required a set of concrete
and detailed rules that were set forth under ecclesiastical guidance
and sanction, and with these basic elements of "moral theology"
in hand, pastors were to apply to the daily life of their people.
If Bernard's scheme required three steps, it seems feasible, in
retrospect, to recognize a matching scheme surfaced, or close to
it, that implemented the desired steps to humility and heaven.
1. The norms of Christian life were guided by rules for living
that were carefully devised.
2. Rigid in administration.
3. Strictly sanctioned.
Imagine if you will, as a pastor, you have a rather zestful flock
of uncivilized, sexy, sensuous, pagan, earthy folk in the early
Middle Ages, and it is your task to bring or introduce these lively
folk to a pattern of authentic Christian living.
In order to bring order to the process, an imaginative and gifted
Pope, Pope Gregory the Great at the end of the 6th century codified,
regularized and stressed the work of pastors as that of guiding
troubled people into Christian belief, Christian worship, and Christian
Thus equipped to some extent and facing a vital and undisciplined
society, pastors undertook their role with seriousness under these
1. Sacrament rites and practices covering every crisis of the common
life of individuals and groups were introduced.
2. Pastors taught disturbed people to lay their troubles before
the Church of identification and for relief.
3. The Teutonic and Frankish peoples whom the Church encountered
brought their own folk culture into Europe with them, providing
raw content and energy which, under the auspices and guidance of
Mother Church, built European civilization.
4. On the whole, taken as a lot, this folk culture was "earthy,
virile, familial and loyal."
5. Pastor's work, therefore, naturally focused strongly upon matters
of sexual morality and upon disciplining the other natural appetites
6. Finally, Christianity tamed to some degree the nature-paganism
of the barbarians of the West.
In light of societal conditions facing Christian pastors, the early
Middle Ages required strong inductive guidance as the mode of choice.
Inductive guidance reduced the roles previously used the roles of
healing, sustaining, and reconciling in the cure of souls to secondary
status or shifted the emphasis. Shifts of this nature are not uncommon
in Church history, though the shifts are often subtle and not easily
detected at the time, but the shifts the Church's ministry to troubled
persons in surprising directions, as I believe Luther and the Reformers
of the 16th century and his Protestant predecessors and successors
recognized and altered.
If pastors were going to change the lives of their parishioners,
clearly spiritual realities were going to have to taken into account:
the frank recognition of the reality of existing pagan and raw vitality.
To meet the challenge of existing pagan and raw vitality, sacramental
means were used, of course, and these raw and rough people were
instructed by, exposed to and taught long lists of specific sins
and penalties involved in committing these sins.
In retrospect, over centuries, the sin of Pharisees may creep into
the Church and its administration. This is something we want watch
for in the course of the history of pastoral care, and in the 21st
VIII. Celtic Penitential Discipline
Celtic discipline dealt with a range of offenses, and the offenses
were itemized in the manuals.
"The manuals furnished an index to the censurable habits and
dark misdeeds, the evil imaginings and intentions, of medieval people.
The authors may not have known accurately the ancient canons but
they knew the sinners to whom their clerical readers were to minister.
The graver sins of homicide, adultery, sacrilege, theft and perjury
are treated in their many varieties and circumstances, and there
is much reference to gluttony, including drunkenness. Sexual offenses,
even the most repulsive, are listed without apology. We are frequently
reminded of the importance of the intention behind an act, and of
the time during which an evil course has been pursued. The confessor
must computer all factors, including the guilt of the one who 'sins
by planning to sin,' though the plan is frustrated (Irish Canons,
ca. 675 AD, #251)." [McNeill, 119-20.]
McNeill illuminates the range of offense and lists the remediation
1. One who "drinks holy oil to annul a judgment of God"
2. One who sets fire to a church (#336).
3. One who denies God (#272).
4. One who worships the moon or the sun or the stars (#330).
5. The woman who uses magical philters (#246).
6. The man who intends to hang himself (#291).
7. Those who keep pagan customs for the dead such as the Irish 'keening'
8. The wizard who conjures up storms (#227).
Clergy as offenders are not excluded from the Irish Canons.
1. The priest who induces another to get drunk for the sake of
- humanitatis gratis - good fellowship (#172).
2. The habitually drunken bishop (#153).
3. The monk who talks privately with a woman - for who case Columban
assigns a penalty of 200 strokes (#265).
4. The cleric who has stolen a horse (#172).
Then there are those rustic folk who on the way to the Church,
singing amatory songs (#273). Or women, who pretend to pray, engage
in gossip and [tell] stories during worship (#837).
McNeill demonstrates (120) how comprehensively and completely the
penitential manuals cover the range of occurrence in medieval life,
and some of the acts of penance were crude and harsh.
Penalties include singing the Beati (Psalm 119 with its Vulgate
176 verses seven times with arms extended in "honest cross-vigil"
(Old Irish Penitential, #146). This feat would test the most advanced
acetic or someone in very good physical condition.
In a letter ascribed to the Venerable Bede, a monk who is dejected
by bereavement or other sorrow is sent to another place and made
to fast on bread and water "until he can become joyful"
Another time, a penalty of one hundred palmatae, presumably and
apparently beating of the palms of the hand on a hard floor, is
prescribed for contaminating liquid food with a dirty hand (#231).
Floggings are frequently referred to as regular and substitute penalties
(#s 145, 163, 265).
A distinction is made between blows and strokes, with one Raban
Maur saying the former - blows - were the more severe.
A penance of "seven hundred blows of a lash" for lying
seems inhumanly excessive (#163).
In spite of what appears to us in the 21st century as extreme penalties,
McNeill reports that in later times, a majority of the prescriptions
of penance were more reasonable and the punishment made to fit the
crime, restrain the wicked, deliver the young from temptation, protect
the weak, and reclaim the fallen (HCS, 121).
In the Patristic period, penance had been controlled and regulated
by bishops, the bishops in the Frankish Church failed to exercise
Moreover, the large number of penitential manuals appears to take
into account local conditions. As Finnian is reported to have said,
"As ' a man of this world, the layman's guilt is lighter in
this world and his reward is less than in the world to come."
Thus we have the dual kingdoms of heaven, as I call it: one for
clergy, one for laity, but the latter is treated to a second-class
To note the value of a cleric as compared to a layman, an 8th century
penitential ascribed to Dom Bruno Albers to the Venerable Bede (d.
735) contains canons (laws or regulations) that illustrate the distinction
between clergy and laity.
"The slayer of a monk or cleric performs a seven-year penance,
of a layman only four years: for attempted murder the penalties
are respectively three months and three weeks." (HCS, 119).
The Irish Canons (ca. 675) puts values within the ranks of clergy.
Heavy payments were required for injuring a bishop. For every hair
an assistant plucked from a bishop's head of hair, the assistant
lost 12 hairs, which suggests retaliation.
If a bishop received a wound so that blood flows and a bandage is
require, "wise men judge that he who shed the blood be crucified
or pay [the value of] three female slaves." Princes and scribes
are given the same protective insurance (#124).
It is obvious, also, that in addition to penance, the punishments
or penalties helped toward security and the maintenance of rank
and authority in Church and State.
[Halitgar (c. 830) Prescriptions for Sins - Exhibit No. 3]
It seems that every parish or locality had its favorite handbook
for the administration of penance by which errant Christian folk
might make amends for their sins and be restored too good standing
in the Church.
Halitgar, bishop of Cambrai in the north of France from 817 to 831
to compiled a standard penitential handbook for all the clergy under
Ebbo, archbishop of Reims during the Reign of Louis the Pious, one
of Charlesmange's sons.
The penitential guide was to be prepared from the writings of the
Church Fathers and the official Canons of the Church. The new handbook
was to be used throughout Ebbo's jurisdiction.
The problem, however, is Haltigar's task was onerous because the
type of discipline of the Celtic penitential was unknown to the
Church Fathers and the Canons. (PCHP, 150ff.)
The manual was completed in 830 AD. Halitgar's penitential specified:
1. Confession, penance and reconciliation were to be done privately
rather than publicly, and it made the priest rather than the bishop
the chief officer in administering penance.
2. Fasting became a reduction in the amount of food or a temporary
omission of food, rather than involving, as many previous penitentials,
prescriptions against certain foods like meat, butter, wine or beer.
3. However, the usual practice of commuting penance penance into
money payment was allowed, and this payment was to be set in proportion
to the penitent's wealth.
4. Recitation of psalms and prayers, and employment of certain postures
and gestures, were regarded as especially therapeutic.
5. The penitent might be required to say the Lord's Prayer with
hands extended upward or with the body bent and arms held outward
- previously known in penitentials as a combination of genuflections
and bowings accompanied with psalmody and prayer which are recognized.
6. One of Halitgar's more severe innovations in penance is the use
of flagellations, which had been thought as appropriate for persons
prone to sins of the flesh like gluttony and lust. But Halitgar
imposed the penalty on a priest who stammered during his chanting
of the prayer after the elevation of the chalice during the Mass.
7. Absolutions in this penitential code were simple prayers of reconciliation
that appealed to the pardoning mercy of God.
8. Haltigar's model attempted to regulate the behavior of the zestful
and lively people. The Haltigar prescription attempted to deal with:
a. 67th prescription: against "simple kissing."
b. "lascivious kissing."
c. "kissing 'with pollution or embrace."' The last brought
a penance twice as heavy as the first.
IX. Medieval Christendom, Sacramental Healing and the Confessional
"The schemes of spiritual growth and ladders for Christian
devotion were of enormous importance for the pastoral care not only
of monks but of common, secular people," it must be emphasized
time and again. [PCHP, 23].
Throughout the early Middle Ages from the time of Pope Gregory the
Great at the end of the 6th century, pastoral care centered on guidance.
The purpose of this model, as we have said, was to bring troubled
people into Christian belief, introduce them to worship, using Christian
and regulated rites and rituals, and a firm grounding the elementary
and essential rules of Christian morality.
By the 11th century, the Roman Catholic Church had successfully
permeated European society and guidance became the means of pastoral
From Constantine's Edict of Toleration (325 AD) to the beginning
of the 1200s, the Christianizing society required a long period
of time and employed, deployed and made expendable an extensive
list of missionaries, martyrs, bishops, priests and ordinary Christian
The result of this process of penetration of society by Christian
influences led to religious and social cohesion and gave rise to
European unity under twin heads, namely, the Pope in Rome and the
Holy Roman Emperors.
The unity and influence of Church, empire and society during the
Middle Ages may be visually demonstrated. In the beginning settlements
became established villages and towns and many of parish church
or cathedral was deliberately located at the center of the village
The implication of this unification of Church, empire or state and
society is immense in terms of pastoral care for the flock and their
In the midst of such a startling exertion of power and prestige
afforded the Medieval Church and its pervasive influence throughout
the Empire and on the social structure, it was inevitable that the
cure of souls shifted.
Now, it was possible to institutionalize the power of divine grace
to heal the inherent and accidental deformities of human existence,
or attempt the same, and undertake and accomplish that through sacraments.
The modes of pastoral care easily acquired the aura of sacramental
embodiment or convey divine grace through Seven Sacraments.
Illustrative of the sacramental means of grace and the rise of the
Seven Sacraments in the Roman Catholic Church is to examine briefly
the influence of the predecessors and successors of Peter Lombard
[John Hannah, Charts of Ancient and Medieval Church History]
The Medieval Period of Church History
From 600 to 1500 AD
Charts Nos. 94 through 108.
If one is to understand how the Seven Sacraments functioned in
pastoral care and in conferring divine grace, it is imperative that
one examine, not in minute detail, what was accomplished in and
The Seven Sacraments were and are:
3. The Eucharist.
5. Extreme Unction.
7. Holy Orders.
Jaroslav Pelikan's The Riddle of Roman Catholicism, correctly notes,
"For every Roman Catholic believer, five sacraments - baptism,
confirmation, Eucharist, penance and extreme unction - constitute
the sacramental life they should faithfully observe" (122).
And if one notes, however briefly, the development of Roman Catholic
sacramental theology, it owes a lot to Peter Lombard (1095-1160
AD) and Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274 AD), who argued that the sacraments
are essential for salvation. Unfortunately and naturally, the administration
and observance of the sacraments became mechanical in the hands
of many practitioners.
Pelikan's wise evaluation of how sacraments' function is related
to how one does pastoral care is useful to note.
The average Protestant . . . will frequently dismiss
Roman Catholic sacramentalism as "magic." He will accuse
the sacramental system of trying to manipulate God or to encase
Christ in some sacred objects or action. There is plenty of evidence
in Roman Catholic piety past and present to make such accusations
plausible. The tendency of Roman Catholicism is to debase the mystery
into magic, while Protestantism often shows signs that it will flatten
the mystery of the sacraments into a rationalistic formula of a
mere sign. (111)
What is a sacrament by Roman Catholic definition? The modern definition
of what constitutes a sacrament in Roman Catholicism must meet these
1. It must employ an external means that is perceptible to the
2. Christ must institute it as a permanent part of the Church's
3. It must be intended as a means of grace, both symbolizing and
conveying the grace of God. (111)
"In the early Middle Ages, catechetical training in basic
Christian ethics, along with elaborate penitentials classifying
sin and their appropriate penalties, was the dominant means of guiding
people" (PCHP, 13).
It was the medieval penitential system and its elaborate codification
of sins and requirements that generated much controversy during
the Reformation era.
The publication of the 95 Theses challenges the legitimacy of penance
and the marketing of indulgences.
Luther and other Reformers identified the abuses that had crept
into penitential practice. Initially, Luther retained the sacrament
of confession but later he came to see that unlike baptism or the
Eucharist, the sacrament of penance (or absolution) lacked any material
or physical (such as water, wine and bread) and thus the sacrament
of penance was not comparable to the other two (Arnold and Fry,
The Way. . ., 247.)
In spite of the lack of material or physical elements, Luther kept
the office of confession as a peculiar church power, according to
Arnold and Fry, and supported it from scripture and in the Small
Appended to the Small Catechism is a section on confession. "For
some, it is the sixth article of the Lutheran enchiridion"
(Arnold and Fry, 247), and confession is retained. Since confession
is part of the pastoral ministry of Lutheran Christianity, confession
is used as part of prayer and may also be consider a pastoral work
either private and in public. The public aspect may be thought of
as offering a corporate confession of prayer in worship.
X. Representative Roman Catholic and Protestant Approaches to Pastoral
Care Prior and During the Reformation
A. Roman Catholic Documents
[See Roman Catholic documents on grace, the Church, sacrament sin
general, penance (and confession) and indulgence consult The Church
Teaches: Documents of the Church in English Translation. St. Louis
and London: Herder, 5th printing, 1962.]
1. Grace - Condemnation of Luther's Errors
2. Church - Condemnation of Luther's Errors
3. Sacraments in General - a Reprise
4. Penance (and confession)
B. Protestant Documents
1. Kurt Aland, "The Ninty-Five Theses and A Sermon on Indulgence
2. From Luther's Works, edited by Hugh T. Kerr, and found in A Compendium
of Luther's Theology, we listen to Luther's own words regarding
the his understanding of repentance and confession (95-98).
3. Luther's understanding of justification by faith (98-99), and
then we move to the preaching of the Church (147-151).
4. Luther on "The Nature and Function of the Church"
5. Luther on "Consoling an Anxious Man."
6. John Calvin on "Death: The Moment of Truth."
7. John Knox on "A Liturgy for Reconciliation."
C. Luther As Pastoral Counselor
Based on August Nehe's, Luther als Seelsorger (1896).
1. How Luther Cared for His Own Soul.
2. How Luther Ministered to the Sick.
3. How Luther Interested Himself in the Forlorn.
4. How Luther Admonished the Earring.
5. How Luther Comforted the Mourning.
6. How Luther Strengthened the Tempted.
7. How Luther Dealt with the Dying.