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Friday, June 13, 2008

Pope Gregory the Great: The Pastoral Rule

Folio 1r
MS 504: The Pastoral Rule of Pope Gregory the Great
Manuscript copied in Rome (c. AD 600)
Pithou, Collège de l'Oratoire de Troyes
Now Bibliothèque Municipale, Troyes


Folio 48v
MS 504: The Pastoral Rule of Pope Gregory the Great
Manuscript copied in Rome (c. AD 600)
Pithou, Collège de l'Oratoire de Troyes
Now Bibliothèque Municipale, Troyes


Folio 155v
MS 504: The Pastoral Rule of Pope Gregory the Great
Manuscript copied in Rome (c. AD 600)
Pithou, Collège de l'Oratoire de Troyes
Now Bibliothèque Municipale, Troyes



Recently in two of his General Audiences, Pope Benedict XVI spoke of Pope Gregory the Great.

The two audiences were on Wednesday, 28 May 2008 and Wednesday, 4 June 2008

He spoke in particular of the great works of the Great Pope, and in particular of The Pastoral Rule (also known as Liber Regulae Pastoralis or Regula Pastoralis or The Book of the Pastoral Rule, commonly known in English as "Pastoral Care", a translation of the alternative Latin title Cura Pastoralis)

"Probably the most systematic text of Gregory the Great is the Pastoral Rule, written in the first years of his Pontificate.

In it Gregory proposed to treat the figure of the ideal Bishop, the teacher and guide of his flock. To this end he illustrated the seriousness of the office of Pastor of the Church and its inherent duties.

Therefore, those who were not called to this office may not seek it with superficiality, instead those who assumed it without due reflection necessarily feel trepidation rise within their soul.

Taking up again a favourite theme, he affirmed that the Bishop is above all the "preacher" par excellence; for this reason he must be above all an example for others, so that his behaviour may be a point of reference for all.

Efficacious pastoral action requires that he know his audience and adapt his words to the situation of each person: here Gregory paused to illustrate the various categories of the faithful with acute and precise annotations, which can justify the evaluation of those who have also seen in this work a treatise on psychology.

From this one understands that he really knew his flock and spoke of all things with the people of his time and his city.

Nevertheless, the great Pontiff insisted on the Pastor's duty to recognize daily his own unworthiness in the eyes of the Supreme Judge, so that pride did not negate the good accomplished.

For this the final chapter of the Rule is dedicated to humility: "When one is pleased to have achieved many virtues, it is well to reflect on one's own inadequacies and to humble oneself: instead of considering the good accomplished, it is necessary to consider what was neglected".

All these precious indications demonstrate the lofty concept that St Gregory had for the care of souls, which he defined as the "ars artium", the art of arts. The Rule had such great, and the rather rare, good fortune to have been quickly translated into Greek and Anglo-Saxon. "

The Rule was written by Pope Gregory I around the year 590, shortly after his papal inauguration.

It became one of the most influential works on the topic ever written. The title was that used by Gregory when sending a copy to his friend Leander of Seville.

The text was addressed to John, the Exarch of Ravenna, as a response to a query from him. Gregory later revised the text somewhat.

Troyes, Bibliotheque Municipale, MS 504 is an early 7th century illuminated manuscript of the Pastoral Care

It was probably written in Rome about AD 600, whilst Gregory was still alive, and contains his final revised text.

It is written in an uncial script.

The only ornamentation in the manuscript are penwork initials in red, green and yellow, and coloured text for the first lines after them.

It is one of the oldest complete manuscript books in existence.

Of course, Pope Benedict is not the first Pope to extol Pope Gregory the Great or the work The Pastoral Rule.

In his Encyclical, Iucunda Sane, Saint Pope Pius X devoted the entire encyclical to the life of Pope Gregory the Great. (12th March 1904) He, in particular paid particular attention to the Pastoral Rule as the following extract illustrates:

"27. But, Venerable Brethren, this weapon will lose much of its efficacy or be altogether useless in the hands of men not accustomed to the interior life with Christ, not educated in the school of true and solid piety, not thoroughly inflamed with zeal for the glory of God and for the propagation of His kingdom.

So keenly did Gregory feel this necessity that he used the greatest care in creating bishops and priests animated by a great desire for the divine glory and for the true welfare of souls.

And this was the intent he had before him in his book on the Pastoral Rule, wherein are gathered together the laws regulating the formation of the clergy and the government of bishops - laws most suitable not for his times only but for our own. Like an "Argus full of light," says his biographer, "he moved all round the eyes of his pastoral solicitude through all the extent of the world" (Joann. Diac., lib ii. c. 55), to discover and correct the failings and the negligence of the clergy.

Nay, he trembled at the very thought that barbarism and immortality might obtain a footing in the life of the clergy, and he was deeply moved and gave himself no peace whenever he learned of some infraction of the disciplinary laws of the Church, and immediately administered admonition and correction, threatening canonical penalties on transgressors, sometimes immediately applying these penalties himself, and again removing the unworthy from their offices without delay and without human respect.

28. Moreover, he inculcated the maxims which we frequently find in his writings in such form as this: "In what frame of mind does one enter upon the office of mediator between God and man who is not conscious of being familiar with grace through a meritorious life?" (Reg. Past.i. 10). "U passion lives in his actions, with what presumption does he hasten to cure the wound, when he wears a scar on his very face?" (Reg. Past. i. 9). What fruit can be expected for the salvation of souls if the apostles "combat in their lives what they preach in their words?" (Reg. Past. i. 2). "Truly he cannot remove the delinquencies of others who is himself ravaged by the same" (Reg. Past. i. 11).

29. The picture of the true priest, as Gregory understands and describes him, is the man "who, dying to all passions of the flesh, already lives spiritually; who has no thought for the prosperity of the world; who has no fear of adversity; who desires only internal things; who does not permit himself to desire what belongs to others but is liberal of his own; who is all bowels of compassion and inclines to forgiveness, but in forgiveness never swerves unduly from the perfection of righteousness; who never commits unlawful actions, but deplores as though they were his own the unlawful actions of others; who with all affection of the heart compassionates the weakness of others, and rejoices in the prosperity of his neighbor as in his own profit; who in all his doings so renders himself a model for others as to have nothing whereof to be ashamed, at least, as regards his external actions; who studies so to live that he may be able to water the parched hearts of his neighbors with the waters of doctrine; who knows through the use of prayer and through his own experience that he can obtain from the Lord what he asks" (Reg. Past. i. 10)."